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CHARACTERISTIC EPISTLES.-NO. II.
From the Coliection of an Amateur. As we ventured to express our opinions in regard to letters generally, in the introductory remarks to the first number of these papers, we shall, in this and the subsequent ones, indulge ourselves in little more than a few prefatory words on each specimen, as we present it for perusal; for, if we are for once pretty confident in our expectations of affording amusement to the reader by the matter we shall offer to him, our confidence arises from the certainty that what we are presenting is, in every instance, the genuine and unalloyed effusion of the heart and mind from which it proceeded; that it is always written with perfect good faith—, sentence which can be scarcely pronounced of any thing that was ever yet written expressly for the public eye. We shall venture, also, to linger a little longer among the theatrical letters ; because this subject is at all times one of almost universal interest; and because, moreover, it is capable of taking a firmer and more effective hold of the mind, for the time being, than most others, and is consequently calculated to produce more characteristic results.
The first specimen we shall present may be accepted as one of the most compendious examples of amateur criticism that has lately been penned. The critical acumen displayed throughout is scarcely surpassed by that of “my Grandmother's Review" on similar matters; the happiness of the various epithets is perfect; and the modesty of the critic in preserving a strict anonyme, cannot be too much admired !What, too, can be more conclusive than the reason he gives why tragedy is sometimes “ too deep"-viz. that the heart is seldom sufficiently“ loaded with sorrow" to be able to bear so great an additional load ? And what, in fine, can be more delicate, and at the same time decisive, than the distinction that he draws between tragedy and comedy-viz. that the one is " quite the reverse" of the other?
To CHARLES Mathews, Esq.
London, April 18, 1818. Sir, I am very sorry to hear that you have been indisposed, but hope it will not be for a long continuance, and hope you will soon be able to honor the public with your company which has met with unbounded applause. I had rather go three miles oui of my way to see you—which I shall do if you appear on Saturday. Not even the stalking Hamlet or the deep and lov. ing Romeo and Juliet, or the great Kemble or the mighty Kean, should debar me from a glimpse of yourself. Little as you may think of what I write to you in this letter, I can assure you all I write is true even to my very heart. In becoming a spectator of Ronieo and Juliet, which I once saw, and in which Miss O'Neil performed Juliet and Mr. C. Kemble Romeo, it appeared a well-written tragedy, but almost coo deep unless the heart is naturally loaded with sorrow. Unless a man is a deep studiosum he cannot enjoy such a scene as Romeo and Juliet. The dirge is the most impressive and likewise the most pleasant. Now, on the other hand, a comedy pleases—and not only so, but 'tis quite the reverse to tragedy of course.
Teasing made Easy I thought was very entertaining and at the same time instructing- light and not burthensome-jocular and witty., The Actor of all Work was well acted—superior to any thing exhibited at this present
be reckoned as being one of the finest and at the same time deepest of Shakespear's tragedys-so likewise Richard 3rd and Coriolanus. I have read all these tragedys twice through, to which may be added Julius
VOL. XI. NO, XLV.
Caesar. These are the finest specimens of dramatic literature which perhaps this great world may ever produce. But still at the same time I prefer comedy, and then tragedy, but not always for tragic. I should not wish to see a tragedy more than one dozen times in a season, and comedy as often as you please, provided you acted in it. Now I close this short letter--wishing you better health, and hope this indisposition is better.
Our next specimen has the merit of brevity, at least. It is impossible for any thing to be much more literal and to the purpose. Seriously, the first of these characteristics is not a little curious, with reference to the natural deficiencies of the writer.
Sir, I am a salamander. Do you want me to perform at this theatre for some nights? I am deaf and dumb, and much able to read and write, &c. I can resist the power of heat (inore) than the female salamander.
We shall, as in duty bound, be somewhat tender of the reputations of professed authors (and especially of distressed ones) in these extractsholding, as we do, that it is hardly fair to expose them to the public view en deshabille. But the “ improvident disciple of the Muses,” who writes the following, is evidently almost as much knave as fool, and certainly will not thank us for our tenderness towards him even in omitting his name-if indeed he is still alive to recognise his own effusion. He seems to have despatched an epistle of a similar kind with the following to all the principal London performers on their arrival in Dublin : for we meet with others in this collection.
“ To Mrs. EDWIN. Madam,- The bearer of this-(an inprovident disciple of the Muses) as eccentric as the celebrated Edwin himself in his own doggrel line-though rendered gloomy by adversity as a weeping mourner of Melpomene—untill exhilarated by the staggering God from the fountain of humour-is come to beg your mite to enable him to bring forward a small production of a fanciful imagination, in which his generous patronisers shall have honourable mention. He is, Madam, Your necessitous bard, to command
W. R. O'C- -
Come now your benevolence let me see! We shall now present the reader with two or three epistles from aspirants after theatrical fame. For our own parts, we cannot help perceiving something deeply interesting and even pathetic in these letters.
The writers of them (particularly of the first) are evidently the victims of a hopeless passion. And whenever this is the case, a well-constituted mind can no more withhold its serious and sincere sympathy, than it can, in cases like the present, forbear to smile while it accords it.In the first of these letters, the reader will not fail to detect the most unaffected diffidence and modesty struggling with an all-absorbing desire—a desire that the writer dare not encourage, and yet cannot repress. She alludes, at the end, to the combat she has had with her feelings, before she could persuade herself to take the step of making her wishes known ; that her struggle was a severe one is proved by the tears which have evidently been shed over the paper as she wrote. She is perfectly sincere, too, in thinking that her motive in wishing to act points at the service of others, not the gratification of herself. It was lucky for the "prior engagement” she alludes to, that Mr. Trotter did not offer her one in his company-for if he had, it would have puzzled Love himself to forge a chain that would have held her from accepting it.
Sir,-) hope my motive for writing will plead my excuse for the liberty. I take. The young woman who now addresses you, Sir, presumes to offer you her service to perform at any time you may think proper to request her to attend while she remains in Brighton. She has no other motive than that of serving Mr. Trotter or any of his performers whose benefits are not already past. She has never given any proof of her abilities in public only by atracting the attension of the managers of the taunton and exeter theatres--at that time I ceartinly had a great wish to join them had I not been prevented by my friends and I should be happy in a situation now as an actress if a prior engagement did not render it impossible.
The name of a stranger performing will no doubt be the means of gaining a few more than would otherwise attend—if so, believe me, Sir, my object will be gained. The favour of an answer is required if you please. Very possible, Sir, it would be satisfactory for you to speak to me in person. If so my lodging is at 43 West Clist, and to enquire for Miss ; at any hour I may be found until the evening at which time I shall be at the theatre with a party of friends.-I must again beg pardon for this liberty, Sir, I can asure you I never had a more severe combat with my feelings than on the present occasion.
With profound respect,
The next is remarkable chiefly for the state of mental cultivation which it exhibits, in connexion with the desire to be “a Tragic Performer.” The writer is evidently in the very lowest state of mingled ignorance and fatuity; but he sees no reason on earth why this should prevent him from embodying the characters of Cæsar, of Hamlet, or of Coriolanus. It is singular that, while the ambition of the half-cultivated mind, when it does run riot, never bounds itself by less than the idea of being a king or a hero,—that of the mere vulgar never flies at higher game than that of acting these parts.
Mr. Smith, Surray Theatre. Sir,-lt is my inclanation to be a tragic Performer could i sir be so happy as to meet with your approbacion. Sir I hope, and trust, i shall not be wantin In a Gratefull 'Heart. Sir, Salary is not so much a object at present. Sir it is all my inclanations And no thing can i settle my mind upon. Sir i have att last obtained free concent of my parants to pursue my Hearts desire. Sir
I am aware of my tender age and shallow Facculties. If i am approved O it shall be my constant endeavours to cultivate that Blessing that God hath besstowed upon me?
I remain your most obedient
W. J. E. The next is short and summary enough to speak for itself.
T. Dippin Esq. T. R. D. L. Sir, I take the liberty as I have apartickler desier to git on the stage if you wod grant me the faver of speakin a word or too you will oblige
Your humble Sirvent
M. M. There is no profession the members of which excite so intimate a sense of personal interest in the breasts of strangers as public performers do-not even popular preachers. We long to do them little acts of kindness; and can scarcely help stopping to enquire after their health when we meet them in the street; which is more than we are always disposed to do in regard to our most intimate acquaintance. Perhaps the following short letter exhibits a stronger proof of this than any thing else that could be adduced. How long might any of us walk up and down Bond-street with a dish-clout pinned to our skirts, before any of the passers-by would shew good-nature enough to point out to us the cause of the ridicule we were exciting! And yet here is a strangerand, he a police-officer too—who takes the trouble to write a note on wire-wove and gilt edged paper, to make Mr. Mathews acquainted with a little mishap, which probably none but his eye discovered the effects of, and which none would have cared a pin about if they had !—The reader may smile when we say so, but really we never remember to have met with a more delicate and unequivocal instance of good-nature.
To Charles Mathews, Esq. Sir, I take leave to mention that I observed in the midst of my delight with
your exhibition last night, that some of the stitches about the left armpit of your blue body-coat had sprung, and your shirt appeared through the opening, and which may escape your eye before Saturday evening. Hoping you will excuse this liberty, I remain respectfully,
Sir, your most obedient and faithful servant,
J. H. Superintendant of Police. The following exhibits a scarcely less gratuitous act of good-natured simplicity, by which the writer evidently thinks that he may be the humble means of serving two very deserving persons at once, viz. Mr. Mathews, and George the Fourth!
Sir,- Permit me to say I heartily joined in the universal pleasure you afforded the audience on Tuesday evening in your description of what passes at a race-course. The effect so operated on my imagination and the conception so naturally conveyed, that poetry or painting could not have given a more decisive idea to those who have not been present at the real life. There is one thing which forcibly struck upon my mind, which I hope you will excuse me in suggesting to you, which I humbly think would be of advantage to yourself and tend to give great interest to the description, as well as the loyal part of the audience! viz. to introduce the advancement of his majesty's equipage in the distance, and his arrival at the royal stand full of healthy looks and the pleasure he enjoys in such sports. This with your abilities would draw down thunders of applause !
Your obedient servant,
If we were not able to assure the reader that these letters bear the real names and addresses of the writers, he might reasonably doubt of their being written in serious simplicity of heart, and good faith. We may perhaps be excused for repeating that he cannot too constantly bear this in mind in perusing what we present to him; since it is on this chiefly that we found our hope of affording him mingled instruction and amusement.
The reader bas, no doubt, heard of plays being performed by particular desire;" but probably he never had an opportunity of perusing any of the documents in which “ desires" of this nature are expressed. We shall therefore present him with one, which, we will venture to say, is not unique in its kind; though undoubtedly the preservation and printing of such an epistle is a unique proceeding hitherto. The truth is, many such a letter as this has been written and sent; but they have happened to fall into the hands of readers who were ignorant and vulgar enough to see nothing in them but ignorance and vulgarity, and who therefore flung them into the fire after perusing the first line. Our readers are not of this cast; they know that nothing is vulgar but pretence and affectation ; and that as for ignorance—it is at least as interesting a study in the eyes of the wise as wisdom and learning themselves. For ourselves, as caterers on this occasion, we must be allowed to say, that there is something inexpressibly delightful in perusing the following epistle. It half restores those days "of glory in the grass, of splendour in the flower”-those days of delight we hardly dare 10 think how long gone by—when we too, like the writer of this letter, could look forward for a whole fortnight beforehand to the hour that was to bring the great curtain of a theatre before our sight-and could, when that hour came, sit with a kind of watchful patience, waiting for the “ something very noble, grand, merry, or serious," (no matter what) which was presently to be disclosed to us from behind that green mystery; and could, when the pageant came, laugh, or wonder, or weep, by the week together, if that might have been, without once feeling that there was
a world elsewhere," or wishing to be any thing but quiet spectators of that which was before us! Alas! we have learned better now—and think it no small sacrifice to put up with a chop for an early dinner, in order that we may get to the theatre towards the end of the first act because we would not lose our places, and occupy them listlessly till towards the end of the last act, because we must see piece!" What, in a word, would not most of our London play-goers give for the feelings which dictated the following letter!
" the new
To Mr. Hindes, Manager of the Theatre, Norwich.
Monday, January 20, 1817. Mr. Hindes is very respectfully asked to perform something very noble, grand, merry, or serious, on Saturday week, February 1st, and the writers of this letter will esteem it an unspeakable favour-who will send in due time for places in the boxes, and have for many years attended Mr. Hindes's theatre and those plays which we last saw are the following the Iron Chest, Catherine and Petricho, Gymannering, Brother and Sister, a Chip of the Old Block, and the petite comedy of Is he Jealous—and in consequence of the same we trust Mr. Hindes will favour us with different pieces on the evening in question and such as Mr. Hindes fix upon he may express it in the newspaper that it is by particular desire. We doubt Mr. Mathews from