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palpable simplicity of nature, which was so utterly his own, that he was often as unaccountably diverting in his common speech, as on the stage. I saw him once, giving an account of some table-talk, to another actor behind the scenes, which, a man of quality accidentally listening to, was so deceived by his manner, that he ask'd him, if that was a new play he was rehearsing? It seems almost amazing, that this simplicity, so easy to Nokes, should never be caught by any one of his successors. Leigh and Underhil have been well copied, tho' not equall'd by others. But not all the mimical skill of Estcourt (fam'd as he was for it) tho' he had often seen Nokes, could scarce give us an idea of him. After this, perhaps, it will be saying less of him, when I own, that though I have still the sound of every line he spoke, in my ear, (which us'd not to be thought a bad one) yet I have often try'd, by myself, but in vain, to reach the least distant likeness of the vis comica of Nokes. Though this may seem little to his praise, it may be negatively saying a good deal to it, because I have never seen any one actor, except himself, whom I could not, at least so far imitate, as to give you a more than tolerable notion of his manner. But Nokes was so singular a species, and was so form'd by nature, for the stage, that I question if (beyond the trouble of getting words by heart) it ever cost him an hour's labour to arrive at that high reputation he had, and deserved.
"The characters he particularly shone in, were Sir Martin Marrall, Gomez in the Spanish Friar, Sir Nicolas Cully in Love in a Tub, Barnaby Brittle in the Wanton Wife, Sir Davy Dunce in the Soldier's Fortune, Sosia in Amphytrion, &c. &c. &c. To tell you how he acted them, is beyond the reach of criticism: but, to tell you what effect his action had upon the spectator, is not impossible: this then is all you will expect from me, and from hence I must leave you to guess at him.
"He scarce ever made his first entrance in a play, but he was received with an involuntary applause, not of hands only, for those may be, and have often been partially prostituted, and bespoken; but by a general laughter, which the very sight of him provoked, and nature cou'd not resist; yet the louder the laugh, the graver was his look upon it; and sure, the ridiculous solemnity of his features were enough to have set a whole bench of bishops into a titter, cou'd he have been honour'd (may it be no offence to suppose it) with such grave and right reverend auditors. In the ludicrous distresses, which by the laws of comedy, Folly is often involved in; he sunk into such a mixture of piteous pusillanimity, and a consternation so rufully ridiculous and inconsolable, that when he had shook you, to a fatigue of laughter, it became a moot point, whether you ought not to have pity'd him. When he debated any matter by himself, he would shut up his mouth with a dumb studious powt, and roll his full eye into such a vacant amazement, such a palpable ignorance of what to think of it, that his silent perplexity (which would sometimes hold him several minutes) gave your imagination as full content, as the most absurd thing he could say upon it. In the character of Sir Martin Marr-all, who is always committing blunders to the prejudice of his own interest, when he had brought himself to a dilemma in his affairs, by vainly proceeding upon
his own head, and was afterwards afraid to look his governing servant and counsellor in the face; what a copious and distressful harangue have I seen him make with his looks (while the house has been in one continued roar, for several minutes) before he could prevail with his courage to speak a word to him! Then might you have, at once, read in his face vexation, that his own measures, which he had piqued himself upon, had fail'd ;—envy, of his servant's superior wit;—distress, to retrieve the occasion he had lost;—shame, to confess his folly;— and yet a sullen desire, to be reconciled and better advised for the future! What tragedy ever shew'd us such a tumult of passions, rising, at once, in one bosom ? or what buskin'd heroe, standing under the load of them, could have more effectually mov'd his spectators, by the most pathetick speech, than poor miserable Nokes did, by this silent eloquence, and piteous plight of his features?
"His person was of the middle size, his voice clear, and audible; his natural countenance grave, and sober; but the moment he spoke, the settled seriousness of his features was utterly discharg'd, and a dry, drolling, or laughing levity took such full possession of him, that I can only refer the idea of him to your imagination. In some of his low characters, that became it, he had a shuffling shamble in his gait, with so contented an ignorance in his aspect, and an aukward absurdity in his gesture, that had you not known him, you could not have believ'd, that naturally he could have had a grain of common sense. In a word, I am tempted to sum up the character of Nokes, as a comedian, in a parodie of what Shakespear's Mark Antony says of Brutus as a hero:
His life was laughter, and the ludicrous
So mixt in him, that Nature might stand up,
And say to all the world—This was an actor."
The portrait of Underhil has not less the air of exact resemblance, though the subject is of less richness.
"Underhil was a correct and natural comedian; his particular excellence was in characters, that may be called still-life, I mean the stiff, the heavy, and the stupid: to these he gave the exactest and most expressive colours, and in some of them, look'd, as if it were not in the power of human passions to alter a feature of him. In the solemn formality of Obadiah in the Committee, and in the boobily heaviness of Lolpoop in the Squire of Alsatia, he seem'd the immoveable log he stood for! a countenance of wood could not be more fixt than his, when the blockhead of a character required it: his face was full and long; from his crown to the end of his nose, was the shorter half of it, so that the disproportion of his lower features, when soberly compos'd, with an unwandering eye hanging over them, threw him into the most lumpish, moping mortal, that ever made beholders merry! not but, at other times, he could be wakened into spirit equally ridiculous.—In the course, rustick humour of Justice Clodpate, in Epsome Wells, he was a delightful brute! and in the blunt vivacity of Sir Sampson, in Love for Love, he shew'd all that true perverse spirit, that is commonly seen in much wit and ill-nature. This character is one of those few so well written, with so much wit and humour, that an actor must be the grossest dunce, that does not appear with an unusual life in it: but it will still shew as great a proportion of skill, to come near Underhil in the acting it, which (not to undervalue those who soon came after him) I have not yet seen. He was particularly admir'd too, for the Gravedigger in Hamlet. The author of the Tatler recommends him to the favour of the town, upon that play's being acted for his benefit, wherein, after his age had some years oblig'd him to leave the stage, he came on again, for that day, to perform his old part; but, alas! so worn and disabled, as if himself was to have lain in the grave he was digging: when he could no more excite laughter, his infirmities were dismiss'd with pity: he dy'd soon after, a superannuated pensioner, in the list of those, who were supported by the joint sharers, under the first patent granted to Sir Richard Steele."
We - pass reluctantly over the account of Mrs. Barry, Mrs. Betterton, and others of less note, to insert the following exquisite picture, of one who seems to have been the most exquisite of actresses:
"Mrs. Monfort, whose second marriage gave her the name of Verbruggen, was mistress of more variety of humour, than I ever knew in any one actress. This variety, too, was attended with an equal vivacity, which made her excellent in characters extremely different. As she was naturally a pleasant mimick, she had the skill to make that talent useful on the stage, a talent which may be surprising in a conversation, and yet be lost when brought to the theatre, which was the case of Estcourt already mention'd: but where the elocution is round, distinct, voluble, and various, as Mrs. Monfort's was, the mimick, there, is a great assistant to the actor. Nothing, tho' ever so barren, if within the bounds of nature, could be flat in her hands. She gave many heightening touches to characters but coldly written, and often made an author vain of his work, that in itself had but little merit. She was so fond of humour, in what low part soever to be found, that she would make no scruple of defacing her fair form, to come heartily into it; for when she was eminent in several desirable characters of wit and humour, in higher life, she would be in as much fancy, when descending into the antiquated Abigail of Fletcher, as when triumphing in all the airs, and vain graces of a fine lady; a merit, that few actresses care for. In a play of D'Urfey's, now forgotten, call'd The Western Lass, which part she acted, she transform'd her whole being, body, shape, voice, language, look, and features, into almost another animal; with a strong Devonshire dialect, a broad laughing voice, a poking head, round shoulders, an unconceiving eye, and the most bediz'ning, dowdy dress, that ever cover'd the untrain'd limbs of a Joan Trot. To have seen her here, you would have thought it impossible the same creature could ever have been recover'd, to what was as easy to her, the gay, the lively, and the desirable. Nor was her humour limited to her sex; for, while her shape permitted, she was a more adroit pretty fellow, than is usually seen upon the stage: her easy air, action, mien, and gesture, quite chang'd from the quoif, to the cock'd hat, and cavalier in fashion. People were so fond of seeing her a man, that when the part of Bays in the Rehearsal, had, for some time, lain dormant, she was desired to take it up, which I have seen her act with all the true, coxcombly spirit and humour that the sufficiency of the character required.
"But what found most employment for her whole various excellence at once, was the part of Melantha, in Marriage-Alamode. Melantha is as finish'd an impertinent, as ever flutter'd in a drawing-room, and seems to contain the most compleat system of female foppery, that could possibly be crowded into the tortured form of a fine lady. Her language, dress, motion, manners, soul, and body, are in a continual hurry to be something more than is necessary or commendable. And though I doubt it will be a vain labour, to offer you a just likeness of Mrs. Monfort's action, yet the fantastick impression is still so strong in my memory, that I cannot help saying something, tho* fantastically, about it. The first ridiculous airs that break from her, are, upon a gallant, never seen before, who delivers her a letter from her father, recommending him to her good graces, as an honourable lover. Here now, one would think she might naturally shew a little of the sexe's decent reserve, tho' never so slightly cover'd! No, sir; not a tittle of it; modesty is the virtue of a poor-soul'd country gentlewoman; she is too much a court lady, to be under so vulgar a confusion! she reads the letter, therefore, with a careless, dropping lip, and an erected brow, humming it hastily over, as if she were impatient to outgo her father's commands, by making a compleat conquest of him at once; and that the letter might not embarrass her attack, crack! she crumbles it at once, into her palm, and pours upon him her whole artillery of airs, eyes, and motion; down goes her dainty, diving body, to the ground, as if she were sinking under the conscious load of her own attractions; then launches into a flood of fine language, and compliment, still playing her chest forward in fifty falls and risings, like a swan upon waving water; and, to complete her impertinence, she is so rapidly fond of her own wit, that she will not give her lover leave to praise it: silent assenting bows, and vain endeavours to speak, are all the share of the conversation he is admitted to, which, at last, he is relieved from, by her engagement to half a score visits, which she swims from him to make, with a promise to return in a twinkling."
In this work, also, the reader may become acquainted, on familiar terms, with Wilkes and Dogget, and Booth—fall in love with Mrs. Bracegirdle, as half the town did in days of yore—. and sit amidst applauding whigs and tories on the first representation of Cato. He may follow the actors from the gorgeous scene of their exploits to their private enjoyments, share in their jealousies, laugh with them at their own ludicrous distresses, and join in their happy social hours. Yet with all our admiration for the theatrical artists, who yet live in Cibber's Apology, we rejoice to believe that their high and joyous art is not declining. Kemble, indeed, and Mrs. Sicjdons, have forsaken that stateliest region of tragedy which they first opened to our gaze. But the latter could not be regarded as belonging to any age; her path was lone as it was exalted, and she appeared, not as highest of a class which existed before her, but as a being of another order, destined " to leave the world no copy," but to enrich its imaginations for ever. Yet have we, in the youngest of the Kemble line, at once an artist of antique grace in comedy, and a tragedian of look the most chivalrous and heroic—of "form and moving most express and admirable"—of enthusiasm to give vivid expression to the highest and the most honorable of >
human emotions. Still can we boast of one, whose rich and
noble voice is adapted to all the most exquisite varieties of tenderness and passion—one, whose genius leads him to embody characters the most imaginative and romantic—and who throws over his grandest pictures tints so mellow and so nicely blended that, with all their inimitable variety, they sink in perfect harmony into the soul. Still have we a performer of intensity
never equalled—of pathos the sweetest and the most profound '—whose bursts of passion almost transport us into another order of being, and whose flashes of genius cast a new light on the darkest caverns of the soul. If we have few names to boast in elegant comedy, we enjoy a crowd of the richest and most original humourists, with Munden—that actor of a myriad unforgotten faces—at their head. But our theme has enticed us beyond our proper domain of the past; and we must retire. Let us nope for some Cibber, to catch the graces of our living actors before they perish, that our successors may fix on them their retrospective eyes unblamed, and enrich with a review of their merits some number of our work, which will appear, in due course, in the twenty second century.
Art. II. The Works of Ben Jonson, folio, 1616.
The reader, who may compare the length of this article with the dignity and importance of its title, may justly consider us no unworthy disciples of Procrustes. To remove his scruples, and to explain our plans, we shall state, that in the subsequent article two only of his plays are minutely considered, which we have selected for their similarity of construction, and as forming a class of themselves among the dramas of Jonson. They are the most careful and high-wrought of his works. Trusting that the elucidation of so great a master may prove a subject well worthy the attention of our readers, we shall not confine ourselves to the present attempt, but probably, in future numbers