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“to the meanest comprehension," or else you fail; and as to incidents, there must be a dozen in a farce, one after the other, if you mean that people should laugh or be pleased. This being clearly the case, I set to work, and, as I have just said, crammed the materials of some four or five light French pieces into my maiden drama, (as an Indian cook sticks kabobs upon a skewer,) and was, when I had finished it, convinced that I had at least equalled Foote, emulating therein the exultation which a dramatist of our own day expressed at having given “ Billy. the go by "-Billy meaning Shakspeare! I recollect so well the anxiety with which I copied out my MS., the infinite pains I took to dash and underline the points which I felt quite confident would set the house in a roar, and the nervous solicitude with which I confided my first effort to the hands of my young friend, by whom it was to be presented, as they call it, to the manager.

My exemplary mother, who had a sort of instinctive horror of actors and actresses, was not slow to find out the enormity-as she thought it --of which I had been guilty. Something fell from my young friend during a visit which we were paying her, which developed the important secret—for such I intended it to be; and the result of the discovery was the following letter. Upon recording which, it may be as well to observe that my surviving parent had, shortly after my admission into Lincoln’sinn, given up her house in Bolsover-street, and retired to the neighbourhood of Teddington, leaving me in possession of some ready-furnished lodgings in Great Suffolk-street, Haymarket. But for the letter--here it is :

" Teddington, March 8, 18— “My dearest Gilbert,- I take up my pen with regret to address you upon a subject to which I once before slightly alluded, and upon which I am quite aware our opinions are at variance.

“ I think I may assure myself of your readiness to give me credit for an anxious desire for your happiness as well as your respectability, and for having no wish either to curtail the enjoyments which your income justifies, or to restrain the amusements which are congenial to your age and inclinations; but there is one point upon which I feel it my duty to speak out,—to warn you of dangers by which what appears a most innocent pursuit is environed, and to endeavour, if possible, to check

eer which I know you are on the point of beginning, or, perhaps, have actually begun-I mean that of a dramatic author.

“I dare say you will laugh at me for my apprehensions, and even ridicule the partiality which, in the midst of my fears, magnifies my son into a dramatic author, because, as I happen to know, he has written a farce. Everything has a beginning; and if this farce is produced and succeeds, it will only be the first of a lengthened race; if it fail, you will be exposed to the ridicule of the newspapers and the green-room. Why adopt such an alternative?

Now, understand me, my dear Gilbert. Do not imagine that I really feel any of those blind and determined prejudices against actors and actresses which you have, more than once, half playfully and half in earnest, accused me of maintaining. I have no doubt that they may be extremely worthy persons in their way. What I contend for is, that while pursuing your studies for a serious avocation, in which no success can be hoped for without sedulous attention, it will be ruinous to associate with a class of men and women whose whole existence is one

you in a ca



tissue of artificiality; who see Nature not in her proper colours, but through the darkened medium of theatrical lamp-light, and who, from the constant mechanical repetition of exalted sentiments, and the nification of conflicting passions, and the assumption of a diversity of characters, are rendered callous to the realities of life, except when they may personally affect their own interests,--and are imbued with a contempt for those principles and qualities which they habitually treat as matter of acting.

“ It is curious to observe, although the effect may be extremely natural, how the force of habit weakens the value and importance of the most serious objects in our existence. How different are the feelings of the man who administers an oath to a witness in a court of justice from those of the individual to whom it is tendered! The undertaker's man at a funeral, if he be serious at all, is sad only in the way of business. No ceremony of that nature or character could be made either solemn or affecting to him. The butcher never could be brought to pity the struggles of a dying lamb. The dramatic performer, in the same way, talks of honour, and virtue, and the best affections of the heart, like a parrot; and although, here and there, there may be one whose taste for literature induces him to dwell upon some splendid passages of our great dramatic poets, he speaks and thinks even of those professionally,-and considers them relatively to the effect' they would produce in the delivery, and not with reference to the principles they inculcate or the virtues they applaud. 1 “ But it is not with the individuals I quarrel ; nor is it just that a universal censure should be applied to a community in which there are, no doubt, many exceptions to the general rule. It is to the art, or calling, and to the pursuits connected with it, I object, as affecting the study of the law. I hate lecturing, and, indeed, am not well qualified for it; but experience convinces me that the avocations of the lawyer and the dramatist are incompatible. You need not tell me that there are many attractions in the prospect of success as a dramatist, which, to a very young man, are in a high degree alluring-the facility which it affords to an introduction to the gay and lively,--the entrée to the playhouses,—the society of wits,- the association with talent and beauty. But ask yourself, my dear child, whether these enticements are to be admitted or rejected. Look round, and see whether any instance exists of high professional success in any other pursuit, where the equivocal avocation of play-writing has been adopted."

I recollect perfectly well throwing down my mother's letter when I came to this passage, absolutely indignant at the supposition of the incompatibility of my two pursuits. But when I came to the examination of facts, I found myself unable to make out a case.

Sheridan was my stronghold: but that failed me; for although his genius placed him in the first ranks of society, (and he was then yet in full strength and vigour,) he had never established himself in a profession. Murphy was a barrister; but although he was a good dramatic author, he never shone at the bar. Our own George Colman, with talent equal to anything, began with the law; he became an admirable dramatist, but no lawyer.

Then I bethought me of Addison, whose one great play established him in the first rank of dramatic authors, but I found myself little better off; for he, like Sheridan, made no figure in any learned profession: but having been for many years avowedly “a man of letters," married Lady Warwick, got into Parliament, and was made Secretary of State. Now, said I, I have my triumph. I'll quote Addison upon my exemplary parent. But no: what his biographer says of him settled that question :—“In 1717 he rose to his highest elevation, being made Secretary of State; but it is universally confessed that he was unequal to the duties of the place.” This, considering the Secretaries of State we have since seen flourishing in office, was rather a damper to my ardour in his behalf. “ In the House of Commons he could not speak, and therefore was useless to the Government. In the office he could not issue an order without losing his time in quest of fine expressions. What he gained in rank he lost in credit, and finding by experience his own inability, was forced to solicit his dismission with a pension of 15001. a-year. His friends palliated this relinquishment, of which both friends and enemies knew the true reason, with an account of declining health, and the necessity of recess and quiet. He now returned to his vocation, and began to plan literary occupations for his future life. He prepared a tragedy on the death of Socrates, and

Here I threw down the book in despair. The author, incompetent to the fulfilment of high office in real life, returns from the station to which he had ascended, and, resuming his vocation, prepares a tragedy. This vexed me.

Congreve was my next attempt. He died in honour and in affluence, and his body lay in state in the Jerusalem Chamber, and the Duke of Bridgewater, and Lord Godolphin, and Lord Wilmington, and the Lord knows whom besides, were pall-bearers. What can my exemplary parent say to that ? When I asked the “ authorities,” they answered


that Congreve was sent to school at Kilkenny, and thence to the University of Dublin, where he acquired a perfect skill in all the branches of polite literature; a little after the revolution in 1688, he was sent over to London, and placed in the Middle Temple, but- -What did I see ?—“ The law proving too dry for him, he troubled himself little with it, and continued to pursue his former studies.” He brought out his “ Old Bachelor" in 1693, and

“Well,” said I, “here is another break-down; but still his admirable plays have procured for him an immortal reputation. What signified the law to him? He must have been as proud of his place in society as any Lord Chief Justice in Christendom.” There again was I wrong, for Voltaire has recorded of him quite the contrary.

“ He raised the glory of comedy," says Voltaire, “ to a greater height than any English writer before or since our time-he wrote only a few plays, but they were excellent in their kind—the laws of the drama are strictly observed in them.' This praise elated and delighted me; what immediately follows I confess surprised me-" They abound with characters which are shadowed with the utmost delicacy, and we meet with not so much as one low or coarse jest.

What can more strongly mark the difference which exists between the manners and conversation of Congreve's day and our own? In order to render Congreve's comedies endurable on the modern stage, more than one-third of the dialogue is now either omitted or greatly modified—a circumstance which gave rise to that witty observation of Sheridan's, who, after witnessing the representation of “ Love for Love,”

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* Dict. Biog., vol. i., pp. 81, 82, ed. 1798.

purified for the refined public, said, -—" This is not Congreve's playthe popular fastidiousness has ruined it-such prunings for propriety's sake are like the emasculation of animals; you eradicate their vice, but you destroy their vigour."

Still, however, I dwelt upon Voltaire's praises. “ He was infirm,” says Voltaire, “ and come to the verge of life when I knew him. Mr. Congreve had one defect, which was his entertaining too mean an idea of his first profession, that of a writer."

What, said I, was even Congreve ashamed of play-writing—he who (as his French friend says) owed to it both fame and fortune ? This, thought I, is as bad an answer to my mother as any of the former ones which I had prepared.

Ben Jonson was a bricklayer, and then a soldier, but the “ said Ben” neither built houses nor reaped laurels. Beaumont was the son of a judge, and entered at the Inner Temple; but, says his biographer," it does not appear that he made any proficiency in the law, his passion for the Muses being such as made him devote himself entirely to the Muses. Foote was educated at Oxford, and thence removed to the Temple, as designed for the law. “ The dryness and gravity of this study, however, not suiting the vivacity and volubility of Foote's spirit, and his fortune, whatever it was, being dissipated, he took to the stage." I then began to despair; I looked round me, but found no more justification in the successes of my contemporaries than in those of my predecessors, and accordingly, instead of replying with the pertness of self-sufficiency to my mother, upon a point where, as it seemed to me, she was unassailable, I fell to calculating, since there must be a choice, and since

two trades could never agree,” which was likely to be the pleasanter and more profitable of the two.

The result of these deliberations was a resolution for the present to temporise-to finish my one farce, if I never wrote another, and then to judge, by its reception and success, whether I should entirely renounce or decidedly embrace the craft of play-writing, for which, as every dunce who spoiled paper thought before me, I fancied I had a wonderful talent."

It was to the effect of procrastinating my final decision upon these points that I wrote to my excellent mother, imploring her to believe that Ī duly appreciated all her care and kindness, and assuring her, that, let me take what course I might, she might be perfectly certain that I should do nothing to disgrace the family of the Gurneys, or its alliance with that of Gataker.

I had, however, accidentally placed myself in a situation full of temptation. I could not obtain chambers in Lincoln’s-inn, which I was anxious to secure, and, as I have already mentioned, took a first floor in Suffolk-street, Charing Cross, then extremely unlike what it afterwards became, in the course of the improvements in that neighbourhood. It then consisted for the most part of tailors' houses, the upper floors of which were tenanted in their different degrees by gentlemen loose upon town, visiters to the metropolis, and officers on half-pay, of which it appeared the greater proportion were considered to be “frae the North,” inasmuch as Suffolk-street was nicknamed in that day “ The Scotch Barracks."

I had been settled in these apartments a few days only, when I perceived from my windows during the morning, a constant passing and repassing of pretty-looking women, with a certain perking, jerking pace,


gaily drest, particularly smart about the feet and ancles, with parasols over their heads, and little rolls of paper in their hands; and men with their hats on one side, and frills, and chains, and frogged coats with fur collars, although it be May; and I heard them hum songs and quaver out cantabiles as they swaggered down the street, and up the street. I thought I could not be mistaken in their vocation, and thrust my head out of the window to watch where they went, for the street was a cul de sac, and the only place to which I fancied they could resort was a sort of tavern, which I one day explored, in the right-hand corner. To my surprise I saw them all enter a house exactly opposite that tavern-then I saw a smart chariot drive up and stop at the same place—then I saw come out of it two well-known London performers. I was delighted I was in the middle of Attica—in the region of Thespis. I rang the bell, and inquired of the rosy-cheeked maid of the house, what place “ that was ?" pointing to the spot whence the stars disappeared from my sight.

“ La! Sir," said the girl," don't you know? that's the stage-door of the Little Theatre."

What charm had Lincoln’s-inn for me after I made this discovery ? There, in the plenitude of my devotion to the drama, could I see all the wit and beauty of the stage and the age in constant motion—there could I hear them talk in common parlance-and there I resolved I would renew, or rather improve, my acquaintance with the agreeable Mathews, and endeavour by his means to procure the representation of my farce, and the consequent entrée of the coulisses,

It sounds indicative of either grievous affectation or woeful ignorance that I, professing myself theatrical, should not know where the stagedoor of the Little Haymarket was located; it is, however, true that I did not, till the house-maid enlightened me. No sooner had I made the discovery, than my

intuitive and instinctive love of the “ art” induced me to prowl up the street and look into the dark dirty passage, progress through which was checked by a well-spiked gate; there, however, my heart lingered; and when my fellow-pupil, who had just returned from playing truant, called upon me, we partook together the delights of this peep into Tartarus, and joined in a sympathetic anticipation of the privileges and pleasures we should enjoy when my admirable two-act piece had been received with unbounded applause by an "overflowing and delighted audience.”

How childish do all these anxieties and expectations now seem! How wonderful does it appear to me now that a mind which has since been destined to bear with mighty evils, and endure the saddest reverses without shrinking or flinching, should have been so acted upon by hopes and fears, and doubts and wishes, the overthrow or fulfilment of which was, after all—for that was the great object-the power of smelling“ lampoil, orange-peel, and sawdust,” behind the scenes of a playhouse !

The Fates seemed propitious; for, availing myself of my previous introduction to the modern Aristophanes, I addressed him in the street the very first day I met him. There was a frankness and plainness of manner about him which quite delighted me; and after having conversed with him touching my farce,"

," he told me that he would not only read it, if I wished it, but that he would himself present it to Mr. Colman, with whom he was on habits of intimacy. This was the very point I had been longing to gain ; and when my new friend invited me

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