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AN AUTHOR'S POCKET-BOOK.
DURING one of my rambles last week I found a curious old pocket-book secured by an humble piece of tape, which from its contents appeared to have been the Vade Mecum of some unfortunate Garreteer. I make use of the word Garreteer here according to the meaning which has been given of it by an English lexicographer-“ a mean author ;' though I am conscious of the absurdity of Entick's definition, for many, who live in garrets, can neither read nor write. Convinced that this pocket-book contained the chief part of his Fancy's treasure, I felt very much for its late owner's loss, and heartily wished it was possible to restore it! but this I judged to be impracticable : for I guessed if I advertised it, the owner would be either ashamed to acknowledge it ; or (which is more probable), not to be able to defray the expense of an advertisement. I therefore endeavoured to overcome all serious reflections, and reap some benefit from what I had found. This pocket-book, I own, has led me into
many crets relative to dramatists-one part was appropriated to—Thoughts for characters--another to names,-another to plots and incidents,-another to jokes, another to sentiments, temporary allusions, &c.&c.-in short, any one with the least docility might with such an assistant be capable of producing a modern play, whether tragedy, comedy, opera, farce, spectacle, pantomime, or all united.
By thoughts for characters I perceived that á favourite word was sometimes sufficient to constitute one-for instance—“Mr. Wiseacre is to foretel every thing that was told.”- This put me in mind of the fore-seeing gentleman in the " Belle's Stratagem,” which is a plagiary upon Congreve's Foresight. I say plagiary, Mr. Editor, as I adhere to the old words and despise the new ones, plagiarism and plagiarist, invented, I believe, by the author of the “Critic,” though not to be found
in his father's dictionary. Certain cants or phrases were other characteristics--these reminded me of “that 's your sort”—“that accounts forit”-"my spouse and I” “what do you think of that, eh?” Contradictory or paradoxical characters I perceived to be dramatic beauties-viz..."an honest thief," - a kind assassin,” and “a tender-hearted murderer.”
I was very much diverted with the thoughts on names. Titles I find are given to remarkable characters. A Baron is generally a villain-a Lord a seducer or for, and a Baronet-some stupid old fellow. The names of the inferior dramatis personæ are direct indications of their professions or intentions-for instance, Mr. Buckrain is a tailor-Mr. Quirk a pettifogger--Mr. Hammer a carpenter-Mr. Folio a bookseller-Mr. Thoughtful a student-Mr. Project a schemer, &c. &c. We must suppose the godfathers and godmothers of those respective persons most wonderfully anticipated their future vocations and ideas, when they bestowed on them names so very applicable! I know that in ancient times they gave names which accorded with the most remarkable events at the birth, or with the predicted faculties of the child; but, according to dramatists, the present is a wiser age.
One hint it seems is sufficient for a plot, but two at the most, which constitutes a double plot. If any
droll incident occurs to the fancy, no matter how foreign to the general subject, it may be introduced in any place this accounts for the several unconnected scenes with which modern plays abound.
The valuable jokes contained in this pocket-book were in my opinion-miserable puns. Some applied to the very names in the piece" Mr. Tempest, you are never calm ; " " Mr. Egotist, you annoy my ears with your I I, (i. e. eyes). Among these jokes were hints for equivoque scenes—an apothecary was to be suddenly mistaken for a painter—but if suddenly, how is it pos. sible that the audience should know i Who's Who?" -When there is no preparation for equivoques, I always tremble for the author's jokes.
By these memoranda I am convinced that if a dramatist can hit upon any strange event, he may easily spin out five acts. A few scattered sentiments, and some allusions to the times, cannot fail of setting criticism at defiance. By the hints with which this pocketbook has furnished one, I am convinced that the following are infallible receipts for writing a MODERN
Let the scene be at a Castle, for a tragedy should be grand, and the chief characters noblemen, but one must be a consummate villain. The lines need not be always metrical-some may be lame-Let the language border upon bombast, and introduce a long and terrible oaththe more blasphemy the better. A secret should be the ground work of a tragedy, and it may remain a secret throughout the five acts-Let there be a grand procession-an awful tribunal and then-exeunt omnes the author and friends—the latter to disperse their encomiums, and the former to receive their congratulations.
A MODERN COMEDY-the hero must be an oddity and very poor-his servant a punster-the heroine may have little or nothing to do, but her servant, with whom the hero's servant (like master like man) must be in love, for the sake of stratagems, &c. must do a great deal, and affect more airs than her mistress.
The rest of the characters must be written expressly for the performers. Plots formerly were concealed till the last act, but, except in one case, and that is when there is no plot—they may be discovered by the fall of a screen, &c. in the fourth act, and the last act may be employed in reconciling the parties, arranging estates, &c. &c. Immense sums must always be given by the benevolent, and instead of virtue being rewarded, as formerly, let prodigality be held up as a model.
It appears by the memoranda in the pocket-book, that an OPERA can be very easily produced. This is only a vehicle for good music, therefore the airs, &c. must be written and composed long before the dialogue is thought of. About twenty years ago, we had a very
ingenious divertissement at the Theatre Royal, Coventgarden, composed of original dialogue and borrowed songs. When a dramatic work is neither tragedy, comedy, nor opera, I find it is called A Play, or, A Play with Songs. Hitherto I understood a Play to be the general name of any dramatic performance; but dramatists have certainly a right to introduce their productions by whatever appellation they think most applicable. We have had dramatic proverbs, now we have grand spectacles and melo-drames, the novelty of of which renders them, it seems, very popular.
By several memoranda under the head of Characters, denoting that the honourable such a one, the duke of such a place, or an amateur of fashion, would make admirable caricatures or old fellows, I perceive that personality is highly relished. Such pieces, however, can never have a long existence. All the pockets in this lately found pocket-book were crammed with several loose papers-acts of plays-detached speeches, accounts of MURDERS for melo-drames list of French plays to be translated— list of modern novels to be dramatised, &c. &c. I am certain the loss of this vade mecum must be very grievous to the owner, as, in all probability, they were the only full pockets he could boast of.
A WHALE-CHASE. On the 25th of June, 1812, one of the harpooners belonging to the Resolution, of Whitby, under my command, struck a whale by the edge of a small toe of ice. Assistance being promptly afforded, a second boat's lines were attached to those of the fast-boat, in a few minutes after the harpoon was discharged. The remainder of the boats proceeded at some distance, in the direction the fish seemed to have taken. In about a quarter of an hour, the fast-boat, to my surprise, again made a signal for lines. As the ship was then
of a spare
within five minutes sail, we instantly steered towards the boat, with the view of affording assistance, by means
boat we still retained on board. Before we reached the place, however, we observed four oars displayed in signal order, which, by their number, indicated a most urgent necessity for assistance. Two or three men were at the same time seen seated close by the stern, which was considerably elevated, for the purpose of keeping it down,—while the bow of the boat, by the force of the line, was drawn down to the level of the sea,--and the harpooner, by the friction of the line round the bollard, was enveloped in smoky obscurity. At length, when the ship was scarcely 100 yards distant, we perceived preparations for quitting the boat. The sailors' pea-jackets were cast upon the adjoining ice,—the oars were thrown down, the crew leaped overboard,—the bow of the boat was buried in the water,--the stern rose perpendicular, and then majestically disappeared. The harpooner having caused the end of the line to be fastened to the iron ring at the boat's stern, was the means of its loss*; and a tongue of the ice, on which was a depth of several feet of water, kept the boat, by the pressure of the line against it, at such a considerable distance, as prevented the crew from leaping upon the floe. Some of themi were, therefore, put to the necessity of swimming for their preservation ; but all of them succeeded in scrambling upon the ice, and were taken on board of the ship in a few minutes afterwards.
I may here observe, that it is an uncommon circumstance for a fish to require more than two boats' lines in such a situation ; none of our harpooners, therefore, had any scruple in leaving the fast-boat, never suspecting, after it had received the assistance of one boat
* " Giving a whale the boat," as the voluntary sacrifice of a boat is termed, is a scheme not unfrequently practised by the fisher when in want of line. By submitting to this risk, he expects to gain the fish, and still has the chance of recovering his boat and its materials. It is only practised in open ice or at fields.