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Upon this the English translator makes the following judicious remarks.
“ It is surely a subject of great moral and literary curiosity to afford authentic specimens of the progress of the stage; and to pretend to represent and make palpable to the vulgar, a miracle so impossible justly to conceive, as that of the Descent of the Holy Ghost, must denote a dangerous excess of rash ignorance in the people and the age. Yet, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, similar exhibitions were the amusement of all ranks: they were the contrivances of monks, respected by the wealthy, and the delight of the people.
“ In the Pinelli library, which was sold by auction some years ago, were four volumes, No. 3576,* containing a collection of these holy mysteries; and from volume IV. of this collection the above piece is taken. The translation is as nearly literal as can be required: it is a faithful picture of the verbosity, insipidity, and irreverend manner, which pervade these pieces. The attempt at the politeness of urbanity, in this piece, is remarkable. It was chosen at a venture; for human patience could scarcely endure the fatigue of going through the volumes to discover either the worst or best. I have read enough to convince myself that the difference is not great: of the dull, the profane, and the ludicrous, they are all composed. Some are founded on histories, in the Old and New Testaments; others on legendary tales of Saints; and many on the miracles.
“ Notwithstanding the absurdity, and even that which a more enlightened age might perhaps call blasphemy, of these pieces, while they show the simplicity of the people, they also afford sufficient proofs of the reverence, admiration, and zeal, with which they listened to the holy tale, thus represented. They could not admire the diction, eloquence, or wit of them, for they possessed none: in the subtle refinements of mind, such spectators could find no enjoyment: but the miracles, which they believed conduced to their salvation, were listened to with a rapture such as only could be felt by implicit faith. They believed what they heard, were astonished at the information they received, and felt all the raptures
* The third and fourth volumes are in the possession of the editor: they contain ninety-eight pieces, many of them duplicates, and are labelled by the Italian binder- Antiche Rapprezentazione Sacre. Their titles and extracts may hereafter be given in the Theatrical Recorder, as curiosities.
proper to credulity. Saint Jerom, with his lion in the wilderness, Saint Antony, his pig, and diabolical temptations, or Saint Paul, preaching before Felix, were to them equally true.
« Such historical facts as these, respecting the change of ages and the progress of the human mind, truly interpreted, are awful: they should warn us that it is the propensity of the mind to hold opinions, which are common to the age in which men live; that, while they are only entertained as opinions, though absurd, they are innocent and ought to be respected; and, that persecution for opinion is the most dangerous of the mistakes of man."
LIFE OF GEORGE FREDERICK COOKE.
The justly celebrated actor. IT may be considered as a proof, not the least satisfactory, of the superior greatness of a man, that nations contend for the credit of having given him birth. Seven illustrious cities of Greece disputed the claim of having given birth to Homer: or to use the expressive lines of the poet,
Smyrna, Chios, Colophon, Salamis, Rhodes, Argos, Athenæ,
Orbis de patria certit, Homere. And the English, with Dr. Johnson at their head, have endeavoured to steal the cradle of Swift from a small court in Castle street Dublin, where Letitia Pilkington has in her Memoirs, and Mr. Thomas Sheridan, who knew all about it much better than Dr. Johnson could, has in his life of the Dean, nailed it down for ever.
Respecting the birth of Mr. Cooke, there was for a short time some contention, between England and Ireland; the former claiming his birth because he owed his education to her, while the latter laid claim to his education because she gave him birth. The truth however is now publicly ascertained in different biographical sketches; and, to such honour as a nation can derive from the birth of a man of genius, and an illustrious actor, Ireland is intitled, on the score of Mr. Cooke. His father was a subaltern officer in the British army, and whether Irish or English by birth, was quartered in the barracks in Dublin, in the year 1756, at which time and place, the hero of these memoirs was born. Indeed, his being an Irishman, is rendered probable by the circumstance of his marriage; our hero's mother who was a lady of very high Scottish extraction, having clandestinely married him for love; thereby entailing upon herself the displeasure of her family, whose proud sense of dignity and hereditary loftiness even narrow circumstances could not depress. Adventures of this kind are generally supposed to belong more peculiarly to young Irishmen than to others: But since there are fortunehunters of every country, we should not hazard a conjecture on the subject if it had been an interested match on his part: money however was not in the case; the connexion therefore was one of those mere love matches, to which the Irish are so much more prone than their fellow subjects, and which their more cool and calculating neighbours call imprudent.
All the sketches of Mr. Cooke's life, which have appeared in the periodical publications, are so very barren of biographical facts that little more is to be collected from them, than that he was born, educated and became a player; all of which was sufficiently known before: but respecting his family, the fate of his father and mother, and whether they died or still live, these productions are all silent. While destitute of authentic materials from the press, discretion enjoins us to be cautious of making use of those which we have been able to collect from report and hearsay information. Much, very much, has been related of Mr. Cooke, in private conversation; much too in the public prints, and in the vagrant train of paragraphs, anecdotes, bonmots, greenroom gabble, and theatrical chitchat with which the newspapers of England abound. The far greater part of these we distrust too much to adnjit them into this sketch, as facts. We recollect, however, to have heard some years ago, from persons who not only well knew'Mr. Cooke, but took, as we thought, a deep and sincere interest in his fame and wel. fare, that his parents highly resented his going on the stage, and carried that resentment to the grave, to his entire exclusion from the little patrimony to which his birth intitled him; and, that this circumstance made an impression upon his sensibility which had nearly been fatal to his life, and was thought to be the radical cause of all his subsequent misfortunes. As this was given not only with overy appearance of sincere sorrow, but with a minute circumstantiality of detail, seldom associated with falsehood, we did at the time give it full credence; and we have not since had any reasonable ds for withdrawing our belief; at the same time we VOL. III.
should be sorry to be responsible for the authenticity of the facts, and therefore will barely say that from collateral circumstances, they seem to us at least probable. If they be true, then it may reasonably be inferred from them, as well as from his being an officer in the army, that Mr. Cooke's father, as well as his mother, was of a high gentleman's family; since inveterate prejudices against the stage life, and a contempt of actors, have for a long time been unknown to any other description of people.
While our hero was yet a child, his father went, probably with his regiment, to London, where he remained five years, then moving to the North of England, placed George at a school, at which he remained till he had accomplished his fifteenth year. It was during this period of his life he first conceived an attachment to the stage, or to use his own words, as they are related of him, became infected with the theatrical mania.
The first play Cooke ever read was Venice Preserved; than which, not one in the British drama is more calculated to fasten itself upon the heart of a boy of warm imagination, or to nourish in him and augment a secret natural predisposition for the drama. The same cannot be said of the first play he ever saw: the courtly gravity of Lord Townly in the Provoked Husband, even if it had been better performed than it could have been by Mr. James Aickin, being little calculated to kindle the flame of genius in a youthful bosom: Venice Preserved, however, was fully sufficient; and the boy felt his appetite for dramatic poetry now so very keen, that he had no rest till he borrowed from a clergyman, who resided in the town, a complete set of Shakspear's works, which he may be said rather to have devoured than perused. A volume of his adored poet-was his manual by day, the companion of his pillow by night: On him he meditated incessantly, and, to use the words of Hamlet, hung upon the great bard, “as if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed upon.” His exclusive devotion to this object of idolatry broke in upon his school studies; his tasks were neglected, or but half performed; and he was often compelled to pay the smarting price of birchen discipline, for the delight he received from the drama: but the severity of his master, however just, had only the effect of all severe persecutions, and attached him the more violently to his ruling passion. The bent was fixed in his nature; opposition increased it; and soon enough opportunities occurred of practical operation, which completely confirmed his propensity, and gave to the predisposing influence of his will, the full force and effect of habit.
The enthusiasm of our hero imparted itself, though in a less degree to his companions. The glowing effusions of Shakspear's muse poured forth by him incessantly “with good emphasis, and good discretion,” could not be entirely resisted by the warm sensibility of ingenuous youth; and it was at length agreed that a play should be got up among themselves, and acted privately. The choice of the piece being left to Cooke, he selected Hamlet, intending to perform the principal character himself: He had the mortification, however, to find that his youth evicted him from the part in the opinion of his companions, and to see a comparative dunce usurp it, only because he was elder. He was obliged to take up with Horatio therefore, which he did with great regret. He had, nevertheless, cause to rejoice in the end, for he had the consolation of a complete triumph over his rival Hamlet; since, circumscribed and unimportant as the character of Horatio is, his performance of it was such that he made it in acting the superior character of the two, and obtained more applause than the Hero of the piece. The next play, which our juvenile party enacted, was Cato; in getting up which, a circumstance occurred still more unpropitious and revolting to our hero's feelings. To avoid all cause of altercation, it was agreed to determine the cast of the dramatis persona by lot. Cooke drew Lucia: and such was the chagrin he experienced at the idea of wearing a petticoat, instead of strutting in a Roman toga, that the supposed degradation had nearly quenched the ardor of his passion, and crushed his scenic ambition in its very outset. But the plaudits, he received, afforded a seasonable relief to his irritation.
On his emancipation from school discipline, in 1771, he went to sea, and afterwards embarked in business; but less from inclination than necessity. Accordingly, at the age of twenty-one, he spurned at trade, as an occupation unworthy of his aspiring mind, and, coming into possession of a legacy bequeathed him by a distant relation, quitted all employment, to indulge his favourite passion and pursuit. It was not, however, till he had run through his inheritance, that he made his debut on the public boards.
His first appearance on any regular stage was in the spring of 1778, when he performed the part of Castalio in the Orphan, at the Hay Market theatre, for the benefit of Mrs. Massey; and, with such complete success as determined him to embrace the profession as