Imágenes de páginas

he had made was by no means a slight one. The trial scene (though highly applauded) was rather an anti-climax in effect: such, in fact, it always was, for his scene with Salanio and Tubal was so overwhelming, that nothing could exceed it. Shylock ends in the fourth act, and before the play was over, Kean had left the theatre*.

Mr. Arnold had long enjoyed the reputation of being one of the best judges of acting in England; yet he was trammelled and not allowed to exercise his discretion at Drury-lane : for, notwithstanding what in these days would have been termed Kean's “ triumphant success,” he was coldly announced to re-appear on that day week.

But what was the feeling at the rival theatre ? for be it known in those days, previous to the union, or as it has been more poetically expressed,

“ Before Covent-garden theatre had married Drury-lane," there was generally as much anxiety displayed to know how a new performer succeeded at the other house as in his own. The persons deputed reported progress,“ that it had gone very well, but that it couldn't do ;" one of the persons who delivered this judgment being a pantomimist, who never had, and up to this hour never has, spoken a word upon

the stage. Indeed, if more instances were needed of the fallibility of the members of the profession in judging of one another, it is afforded by that of —, an actor at Drury-lane theatre, then obscure, but who rose indirectly through Kean's appearance, saying repeatedly that the new tragedian had talent, but to name him in the same breath with such a man as Young was ridiculous.

The only time I ever heard John Kemble speak of his great rival was before Coriolanus had seen Richard; he said, “I must go myself, for I can't form an idea of what he is; they tell me tha he like John Bologna,” -a fact, that the writer of this article must confess he is amazed never to have heard mentioned in any other quarter : yet those who have seen Bologna's Juan will own how striking the resemblance was, and that Kean was not dishonoured by the comparison : could Bologna have spoken as well as he acted, no one I have ever seen could for a moment have competed with him.

Notwithstanding the effect produced by Shylock, so unwillingly is the wreath of genius accorded to the brow of a stranger, that there was no general feeling in theatrical circles of a master mind having risen amongst them, until after his performance of Richard.

The anecdotes that follow have been thrown together to aid others hereafter in forming an estimate of his character as a man, or to trace the steps of the actor. From the January of 1814 to that of 1833, Edmund Kean was the star of the British stage, and what may be reckoned most noticeable in this nation of shopkeepers is, that his individual talents drew more, and for the exertion of those talents he himself received more, than any three performers that co-existed with him. His books show a sum nearly averaging 10,0001. a year for eighteen years. How with his active life so vast a sum could have been expended for he never gambled—is one of the things that those who knew him best

* He walked to the theatre to play, and carried his own bundle.

† I am not aware that any person of note in the profession was in the house on the night of his debût; very different was the feeling on the first appearance of Macready; among the persons present that nigbt, (Oct. 1816,) were Kean, Bannister, Betty, Rae, and Young,

can never cease to wonder at. He had some silly habits of display, -such as travelling on all occasions in a carriage and four,—but his household expenses were always on a moderate scale; yet, a few days before his .death, he was in danger of an arrest for a sum not exceeding 1001.

Injury or insult struck deep into Kean’s heart; and though he seldom, in words, betrayed his triumph when in after years he met those who had scoffed or ed him, yet over his looks he did not hold equal mastery, and if once the cup went round, Kean could not always restrain his feelings from finding vent in language.

Some one or two years after his metropolitan debût, he was engaged in the circuit of Mr. J --- C- His success was immense, and he received nightly half the receipts of the house; the amount varied of course according to the size of the theatres, but the average exceeded 501. per night; Kean's share was brought to him each night, after the play, by Mr. J

C---, to whom however nothing could induce him to speak one word; but with a doggedness that appeared premeditated, when the well-known knock came to the door of his dressing-room, he always said aloud to his attendant, “ M-tt, see what that man wants.” Years rolled on, and time, which generally strengthens our attachments and weakens our asperities, brought Mr. J—C


and Kean in contact, (about 1827,) when the once flourishing manager, stricken by sorrows and by years, was feeling the pangs of poverty his own exertions could no longer avert; his theatres had passed into other hands, and as an actor his services were not required. Kean came into a town where Mr. Cwas sojourning, and he applied to the tragedian to play one night for his benefit. Kean consented; the night was fixed for the one after Kean's engagement. Some nights previous to its occurrence, he, with some of the actors of the company, met at a tavern in the town; the room was a public one, where the comedians and many of the patrons of the theatre occasionally assembled; there, on the occasion in question, was Mr. C-; the jest went round, not unaccompanied with the bowl, of course; and the ci-devant manager, thinking all former ill feeling buried, rose, made a speech allusive to Kean's generosity, and acquainted the company that Kean having known him in his prosperity, had consented to play gratuitously for his benefit. This was received with loud acclamations, amid which Kean rose, (and those who were present are as little likely to forget the expression of his countenance at that moment as in any of his dramatic triumphs,) and said,“ Don't let us misunderstand one another; I am bound to you by no ties from former acquaintance; I don't play for you because you was once my manager, or a manager. If ever man deserved his destiny, it is you; if ever there was a family of tyrants, it is yours; I do not play for you from former friendship, but I play for you because you are a fallen man.The effect was electrical

, but the person to whom it was addressed pocketed the affront and the receipts of the night in question, which were very great. Kean explained his conduct thus-- I believe I may say exactly in these words: “I am sorry that to I forgot myself; but when me and mine were starving, that fellow refused to let a subscription for me be entertained in the theatre.”

One of his greatest peculiarities was to disappoint expectation by acting, in some known instance, entirely at variance with his friends anticipations. From his reputed generosity, many have imagined that he would, with ample largess, repay all favours conferred upon him in the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

days of his obscurity ; but where expectancy stood highest, he was most often found wanting. To the party who lent him half-a-guinea on his wedding-day, he some years afterwards returned that amount with " Mr. Kean's compliments ;" yet he zealously exerted himself, and procured a three years' engagement for one person (who was unrecommended by talent), enabled that person to proceed to the theatre properly equipped at his (Mr. Kean's) expense, and lavished other kindnesses upon that individual--for what? take the tragedian's own words:

was at Richmond when I walked down to play there for one night, sent by Sims; I was to have ten shillings for playing; the rehearsal was called at ten; I sat up all night at the Harp, for I had no lodging, and started at six in the morning. About nine o'clock I was crossing Richmond Green, and was observed by and invited to breakfast; hungry enough I was, and I had not one halfpenny about me; I breakfasted and dined with acted like a Trojan, and then walked back to London with my earnings (minus a parting-glass at Richmond). I shall never forget the invitation or the inviterbis dat, qui cito dat."

Poor Kean, probably imagining that, with the multitude, it might favour the fiction of his Etonian education, was prone to the quotation of classical commonplaces; and a story told of R. Phillips (his secretary) shows how much this weakness was remarked by his associates. Kean was at some nocturnal vigil, and Phillips waiting for him, when this colloquy arose :-

Time, two in the morning. Phillips.—“ Waiter, what was Mr. Kean doing when you left the room?"

Waiter.—“ Playing the piano, sir, and singing,"
Phillips.-" Oh, come, he's all right, then.”

Quarter past two.
Phillips.—“What's Mr. Kean doing now?"
Waiter.-“ Making a speech, sir, about Shakspeare.”
Phillips.—“He's getting drunk; you'd better order the carriage.”

Half-past two.

What’s he at now?”
Waiter.-" He's talking Latin, sir."
Phillips.-" Then he is drunk. I must get him away.”

Kean was uncertain in his temper, and the associates of his lower carousals were always doubtful whether he would be offended or pleased with their familiarity. Higman, a bass-singer, who died some years since, was an acquaintance of the tragedian's; he took a publichouse in Villiers-street, Strand, and changed the sign to “ Richard the Third.” At this house Kean at one time resorted much, and had on several occasions noticed one Fuller, a ventriloquist and mimic. Kean was told that Fuller imitated him among others admirably, but the mimic (bearing in mind probably the story of Henderson and Garrick) always omitted his portraiture when he saw the great original present. One evening, however, Kean came into the room after Fuller had commenced his imitations, which were announced, in a sort of concert-bill, to be of Mathews, Emery, Knight, Bannister, Young, Kemble, and Kean! The tragedian took his seat, and Fuller proceeded; Kean tapping the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

table ever and anon in token of approbation. Fuller paused before he attempted the last imitation, but Kean looked approval, and he essayed. Before Fuller had enunciated five lines, Kean threw a glass of wine in his face; a scuffle ensued, in the course of which Kean said if he thought he was such a wretch as Fuller depicted, he would hang himself.

Another night, at the Harp, a set of country actors were assembled, and among them one Anderton, from Liverpool, a person who soon afterwards made his appearance as an imitator at the Coburg. Kean and some friends came in. Anderton, who had played Ratcliff to his Richard, at Manchester, addressed him, but Kean did not appear to recollect him, and sat apart with his friends, discussing “ potations pottle deep." The society assembled at the Harp on this occasion delighted in the appellation of “ The Screaming Lunatics,” and every one present was expected, by “song or recitation,” to prove his claim to the title of a brother of the order. Anderton, when called on, gave imitations, wisely omitting any attempt at the dramatic lord of the ascendant; the heroes of the Harp, however, were by no means satisfied—“Kean, give us Kean!" echoed from all sides. Stung by Kean's non-recognition, Anderton essayed and imitated him in Bertram : those who remembered the scene at Higman's anticipated a row, and one of the tragedian's friends said he should leave the room, for he would not sit and hear the greatest living genius degraded by a mountebank. Kean looked at his friend with the most profound contempt, and then, in the very tone with which he was wont to enunciate “ Winterton !” from behind the scenes, in the “Iron Chest,” exclaimed, “ Anderton !" adding, “ I didn't see you; why didn't you speak to me when I came in ?”—and the imitator and the imitated finished the night in each other's company.

I know that for years he felt annoyed by Reeve's imitation, and he absolutely quarrelled with Oxberry for giving a burlesque of his last scene of Sir Giles, in “ Tereza Tomkins :" yet, some months before Kean's death, Mrs. Yates's father (Mr. Brunton) took the Richmond Theatre for a benefit; Yates played Sylvester Daggerwood, and advertised and gave an imitation of Kean, who, on the night, was sitting as usual in his box, immediately over the stage *, laughing, applauding, and apparently enjoying the performance.

For many years, whenever Kean met Anderton, he made him give his imitations, and was particularly delighted by the mimic's portrait of a distinguished provincial performer, whom the tragedian certainly

“ Hated with a hate known only on the stage," and whom he only spoke of as “that farthing-candle actor, that the people like at

All this was weak and unworthy; but Rousseau, Byron, Bacon, and Buonaparte, have shown us that great genius and meanness, generosity and injustice, can co-exist. When the author of " Childe Harold ” said he had been compared to Kean, he was perhaps unaware of the fact that Kean in many things aped him : unless, indeed, which is most probably the fact, they had the common nature of men who possess great powers, but not great souls, and who, acting continually on immediate impulses,

* It may be as well to state to those who have not heard these imitations, that Oxberry's and Reeve's have been allowed on all hands to be admirable, and that Mr. Yates's is generally considered a failure.

and ever mystifying their motives to the million, present a mass of incongruities, and, however they may profess the contrary, inwardly rejoice in doing so. Byron and Kean equally mistook notoriety for fame; they were neither of them so anxious to win the wise as to sway the

many ; in their ambition to be mob-leaders, they were, in fact, mob-led; they pandered to the taste they wished to govern; and whilst, in the aggregate, they succumbed to the opinions of the vulgar, they would occasionally diverge in detail, merely to show their independence of spirit. Kean cared less for delineating human nature than he did for making a point tell; and never asked what sort of a character he was to represent, but what sort of a part he was to play—not what individual he should delineate, but what effects he should produce. King Lear was to him only an admirablemedium of obtaining applause, and valued in proportion to that applause. He is reported to have said (during the illness of George III., when that play was interdicted) that the public had never seen what he could do, nor would they, until they saw him over the dead body of Cordelia. Yet, when the accession of George IV. enabled him to appear as Lear, he was content to play it according to Nahum Tate's version. Some years afterwards, when Hazlitt's essays, and Hazlitt's advice and remonstrance had aroused him, he persuaded the Drury-lane management to restore the fifth act of Shakspeare; it was thus played a few nights, but the effect (!) was not equal to his expectations, and he relinquished Shakspeare, and resumed Tate's tragedy. Had he really thought of the divine bard's drama as the sacred


he was to expound” (his own powerful expression), and not as a means by which he should gain ephemeral applause, he would have insisted on the restoration of every line of that matchless and wonderful tragedy; above all, he would have made it a sine quâ non that the part of the Fool should be restored ; but no, that might mar, could not aid, the individual effects to be produced by Kean in King Lear. Alas! alas ! from Garrick to Kemble, and from Cooke to Kean, the same story. Your mere actor has no care for the fame of author, living or dead. Garrick had a volume of Shakspeare buried with him--Garrick, who had countenanced mutilations in all his acting dramas that will remain as monuments of his ignorance and chicanery, when all recollections of the excellence of the actor have faded.

Kean was so sensitive to ridicule, that he often said he could see a sneer across Salisbury Plain. On the night he played “ The Admirable Crichton,” an exhibition of which he was afterwards thoroughly ashamed, the house had been surfeited with the tragedy of “ Venice Preserved" and the dulness of the afterpiece, and were willing to indulge in a laugh at any thing that offered a shadow of an excuse for risibility. Unluckily, the occasion arose during his pas-de-deux ; Edmund was then puffy and protuberant of stomach-a peculiarity that his tight white silk pantaloons made the more apparent; -as he advanced, the front row tittered; his expression altered instantly; in another instant he drew up his leg, as if suddenly struck by cramp, and taking Miss Vallancy's hand limped off the stage. S. Russell came forward to say that he had strained the tendon Achilles ! but that if the public would permit the omission of the dance, Mr. Kean would give the imitations promised in the bills, and that would conclude the entertainment. This was acceded to, he reappeared and imitated Incledon, Braham, Bannister, &c., &c., and whilst

« AnteriorContinuar »