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Wilks first came on the stage in Ireland—from thence he was recommended toBetterton about 1691 —his 1st appearance was in Lycippus in the Maid's Tragedy—when he had to address Betterton in the 5th act, he was so struck with awe that he had much ado to get through the few lines he had to speak— however he soon shook off his apprehensions and began to rise in the esteem of the audience—he pressed for an addition to his salary, which every body but the Patentee thought he deserved—his request not being complied with, he accepted an advantageous offer made him to return to Ireland—when he went to take his leave of Betterton, that great actor expressed some concern at his leaving the company, "I "fancy," said he, "that Gentleman " (pointing to the Patentee who happened to be present) "if he has not "too much obstinacy to own it, will be the first that "repents your parting, for if I foresee aright, you "will be greatly wanted here "—Wilks told Chetwood that this speech gave him infinite pleasure, and made him resolve to search into himself to find out what Betterton's known judgment seemed to promise he might find—from that time he grew more assiduous, and thought every moment lost, that was not laid out upon his studies. (Chetwood.)
On his return to the T. R. he was but a raw actor in comparison with what he afterwards attained to be —he was however young, erect, of a pleasing aspect, and on the whole gave the town sufficient hopes of him —Powell was at this time the principal actor at D. L., and in possession of all Mountfort's parts —he was much hurt at Wilks' success—their interests clashed continually—a downright quarrel ensued —in
VOL. II. h
consequence of which Powell went over to L. L F. for one season*—but not liking his situation there he returned to D. L.—at last he became a martyr to negligence, and quietly submitted to the advantages and superiority that Wilks had gained over him. ( Cibber.)
Curll, in his History of the Stage 1741, says that the King in the Island Princess was the first part Wilks played at his return to England—this is an inexcusable mistake, as he might have seen in Gibber's Apology that the part was Palamede in Marriage a-laMode—the author of the Laureat says—"I remember "I had the pleasure to see Wilks play Palamede on ** his first appearance after his return from Ireland— he spoke a Prologue written by Farquhar; and was "received with great and general applause."
Powell seems to have been formed by nature for a first rate actor, but to have ruined himself in a great measure by his negligence and drunkenness—Cibber acknowledges that Wilks in the part of Palamede, fell short of Powell, and missed a good deal of the loose humour of the character, which the latter hit off more happily—Powell had from nature much more than Wilks—in voice and ear, in elocution in Tragedy, and humour in Comedy he had greatly the advantage of him—yet by his neglect of this natural superiority, he suffered Wilks to be of thrice the service to the
* It is sufficiently clear that Powell was two seasons at L. I. F. —his name does not appear in any of the D. L. plays printed in 1702—it does appear in 6 of the L. I. F. plays printed in 1702— he did not return to D. L. till June 1704.
theatre—nor was his memory less tenacious than Wilks', but he trusted too much to it, and idly deferred the studying of his parts—whereas Wilks never lost an hour of precious time, and was in all his characters perfect to the greatest nicety—to be master of this uncommon diligence is adding to the gifts of nature all that is in an actor's power—and this duty of studying perfect, whatever actor is remiss in, he will proportionably find, that nature may have been kind to him in vain—for tho' Powell had an assurance that covered this neglect much better, than a man of more modesty could have done, yet with all his intrepidity, the concern for what he was to say would very often make him lose the look of what he was to be—while therefore Powell presided at D. L. his idle example made this fault common to others—but when Wilks became Stage Manager he was indefatigable himself and took delight in keeping the other actors to their duty—to be employed on the stage was the delight of his life, and he never left it, till he left the world. (Cibber.)
Chetwood says, that Wilks was not only perfect in every part he acted, but in those that were concerned
with him in every scene and the author of the
Laureat assures us, that he has known Wilks lay a wager and win it, that he would repeat the part of Truewit in the Silent Woman, which consists of 30 lengths, without misplacing a single word.
Besides this Wilks had the advantage of a sober character in private life, which Powell not having the least regard to, laboured under the disfavour, not to say contempt of the public, to whom his licentious courses were no secret—even when he did well, that natural prejudice pursued him—neither the Hero, nor the Gentleman, the young Amnion or the Dorimant, could conceal from the conscious spectator the true George Powell—and this sort of disesteem or favour every actor will feel, and more or less have his share of, as he has, or has not, a regard to his private life and reputation. (Cibber.)
In this last remark Cibber is too severe on Powell —for tho' the Public have an undoubted right to censure an actor for his neglect and drunkenness, yet they have no business to concern themselves, with any faults that he may have, unconnected with the stage —but whatever truth there may be in the remark, it comes with a bad grace from Cibber, whose private conduct was so reprehensible, and whose love of gaming rendered him a negligent father, and unkind to his family and relations—this attention to the Gaming-table would not, we may be assured, render him fitter for his business on the stage—after many an unlucky run, he has arrived at the theatre, hummed an Opera tune, and then walked on the stage with great composure very imperfect in the part he was to act—Davies says that he has seen him at fault, where it was least expected, in parts which he had acted a hundred times—for instance in Sir Courtly Nice— but Cibber dexterously supplied the deficiency of his memory by prolonging his ceremonious bow to the Lady, and drawling out "your humble servant Madam" to an extraordinary length—then taking a pinch of snuff and strutting deliberately across the stage, he would gravely ask the Prompter "what is next?"
L. L F. 1698.
Queen Catharine, or the Ruins of Love. Duke of Gloucester = Arnold: Duke of Clarence = Verbruggen: Owen Tudor = Batterton: Sir James Thyrrold (a villain, in the Queen's service) = Thurmond: King Edward the 4th = Scudamore: Earl of Warwick = Kynwaston: Malavill — Baily: Lord Dacres = Freeman: Queen Catharine (relict of Henry the 5th, and married to Owen Tudor) = Mrs. Barry: Isabella (her ward) = Mrs. Bracegirdle:—this T. was written by Mrs. Pix—it is a poor play both as to plot and language, but without any egregious fault—it is founded on history, but almost all the incidents seem to be fictitious.
Heroic Love. Agamemnon = Betterton: Achilles = Verbruggen: Ulysses = Sandford: Nestor = Bowman: Chryses = Kynaston: Patroclus = Scudamore: Chalcas = Freeman: Chruseis = Mrs. Barry: Briseis = Mrs. Bracegirdle :—Agamemnon and Chruseis are deeply in love with each other—Chryses demands his daughter—Agamemnon and Achilles quarrel—Agamemnon sends Talthybius to Achilles' tent for Briseis—he protests however to Nestor, that he does not mean to be naughty with her—Chruseis becomes jealous of Briseis—Agamemnon wishes t: exculpate himself, but Chruseis on one hand, and Briseis on the other, will not give him an opportunity to speak —Briseis arrogates as much to her beauty as Achilles does to his arms—she returns to Achilles—he doubts whether she has been true or false to him—he grows