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ALBION AND ALBANIUS.
This opera, like the play which precedes it, had an avowed political object. It was intended to celebrate the victory of the crown over its opponents, or, as our author would have expressed it, of loyalty over sedition and insurrection. The events, which followed the Restoration, are rapidly, but obviously and distinctly, traced down to the death of Charles, and the quiet accession of his brother, who, after all the storms which had threatened to blast his prospects, found himself enabled to mount the throne, with ease sufficient to encourage him to the measures which precipitated him from that elevation. The leading incidents of the busy and intriguing reign of Charles II. are successively introduced in the following order. The city of London is discovered occupied by the republicans and fanatics, depicted under the allegorical personages Democracy and Zeal. General Monk, as Archon, charms the factions to sleep, and the Restoration is emblematized by the arrival of Charles, and the Duke of York, under the names of Albion and Albanius. The second act opens with a council of the fiends, where the popish plot is hatched, and Democracy and Zeal are dismissed, to propagate it upon earth, with Oates, the famous witness, in their train. The next entry presents Augusta, or London, stung by a snake, to intimate the revival of the popular faction in the metropolis. Democracy and Zeal, under the disguise of Patriotism and Religion, insinuate themselves into the confidence of the city, and are supposed to foment the parliamentary opposition, which, ending on the bill of exclusion, rendered it necessary, that the Duke of York should leave the kingdom. We have then, in allegorical representation, the internal feuds of the parties, which, from different causes, opposed the crown. The adherents of Monmouth, and the favourers of republican tenets^ are represented as disputing with each other, until the latter, by the flight of Shaftesbury, obtains a final ascendancy. In the mean while, Charles, or Albion, has recourse to the advice of Proteus; under which emblem an evil minded whig might suppose Halifax, and the party of Trimmers, to be represented; actuated by whose versatile, and time-serving politics, Charles gave way to each wave, but remained buoyant amid the tempest. The R)e- house plot is then presented in allegory,—an unfit subject for exultation, since the dark intrigues of the inferior conspirators were made the instruments of the fall of Sidney and Russell. The return of the Duke of York, with his beautiful princess, and the rejoicings which were supposed to take place, in heaven and earth, upon Charles' attaining the pinnacle of uneontrouled power, was originally the intended termination of the opera; which, as first written, consisted of only one act, introductory to the drama of" King Arthur." But the eye and the ear of Charles were never to be regaled by this flattering representation: he died while the opera was in rehearsal. A slight addition, as the author has himself informed us, adapted the conclusion of his piece to this new and unexpected event. 'l he apotheosis of Albion, and the succession of Albanius to the uncontrouled domination of a willing people, debased by circumstances expressing an unworthy triumph over deceased foes, was substituted as the closing scene. Altered as it was, to suit the full-blow•n fortune of James, an ominous fatality attended these sugared scenes, which were to present the exulting recapitulation of his difficulties and triumph. While the opera was pet 'forming, for the sixth time only, news arrived that Monmouth had landed in the west, the audience dispersed, and the players never attempted to revive a play, which seemed to be of evil augury to the crown.
Our author appears to have found it difficult to assign a name for this performance, which was at once to address itself to the eye, the ear, and the understanding. The ballad-opera, since invented, in which part is sung, part acted and spoken, comes nearest to its description. The plot of the piece contains nothing brilliantly ingenious: the deities of Greece and Rome had been long hacknied machines in the masks and operas of the sixteenth century; and it required little invention to paint the duchess of York as Venus, or to represent her husband protected by Neptune, and Charles consulting with Proteus. But though the device be trite, the lyrical diction of the opera is most beautifully sweet and flowing. The reader finds none of these harsh inversions, and awkward constructions, by which ordinary poets are obliged to screw their verses into the fetters of musical time. Notwithstanding the obstacles stated by Dryden himself, every line seems to flow in its natural and most simple order; and where the music required repetition of a line, or a word, the iteration seems to improve the sense and poetical effect. Neither is the piece deficient in the higher requisites of lyric poetry. When music is to be " married to immortal verse," the poet too commonly cares little with how indifferent a y okc-mate he provides her. But Dryden, probably less from a superior degree of care, than from that divine impulse which he could not resist, has hurried along in the full stream of real poetry. The description of the desolation of London, at the opening of the piece, the speech of Augusta, in act second, and many other passages, fully justify this encomium.
The music of the piece was entrusted to Louis Grabut, or Grabu, the master of the king's band, whom Charles, French in his politics, his manners, and his taste, preferred to the celebrated Purcell. "Purcell, however," says an admirable judge, "having infinitely more fancy, and, indeed, harmonical resources, than the Frenchified Tuscan, his predecessor, now offered far greater pleasure and amusement to a liberal lover of music, than can be found, not only in the productions of Cambert and Grabu, whom Charles II., and, to flatter his majesty, Dryden, patronised in preference to Purcell, but in all the noisy monotony of the rhapsodist of Quinault."—Burnet)'s History of Music, Vol. III. p. 500.
It seems to be generally admitted, that the music of " Albion and Albanius" was very indifferent. From the preface, as well as the stage directions, it appears that a vast txpencc was incurred, in shew, dress, and machinery. Downes informs us, that, owing to the interruption of the run of the piece in the manner already mentioned, the half of the expence was never recovered, and the theatre was involved considerably in debt.— Rose. Anglic, p. 40. The whigs,against whom the satire was levelled, the rival dramatists of the day, and the favourers of the English school of music, united in triumphing in its downfall*.
• The following verses are rather better worthy of preservation than most which have been written against Dryden.
From Father Hopkins, whose vein did inspire him,
Bayes sends this raree-show to public view;
Thanks patron, painter, and Monsieur Grabu.
Each actor on the stage his luck bewailing,
Finds that his loss is infallibly true;
Curse poet, painter, and Monsieur Grabu.
Mr Luttrell's manuscript note has fixed the first representation of " Albion and Albanius" to the 3d of June, 1685; and the laudable accuracy of Mr Malone has traced its sixth night to Saturday the 13th of the same month, when an express brought the news
Betterton, Betterton, thy decorations.
Damme, says Underbill, I'm out of two hundred.
Who thought infallible Tom * could have blundered?
Lane, thou hast no applause for thy capers, Though all, without thee, would make a man spew;
And a month hence will not pay for the tapers,
Bayes, thou wouldst have thy skill thought universal,
Then, whilst we strive to confute the Rehearsal,
With thy dull prefaces still thou wouldst treat us,
Yet, if thou thinkest the town will extoll them.
Instead of angels subscribed for the volume,
In imitating thee, this may be charming,
And let this song be sung next performing,
• Thomas Betterton.
t An expression in Dryden's poem on the death of Cromwell, which his libeller insisted on applying to the death of Charles I.