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Braham rosses us, in a siren Catalani charms and captivates us,—that the musical, expressive human voice should be converter into a rival of the noises of silly gree, and irrational, venomous snakes?
I never shall forget the sounds on my night. I never before that time fully felt the reception which the Author of All Ill, in the “ Paradise Lost," meets with from the critics in the pit, at the final close of his “ Tragedy upon the Human Race,”— though that, alas! met with too much success :
From innumerable tongues
For hall substitute theatre, and you have the very image of what takes place at what is called the damnation of a piece,-and properly so called ; for here you see its origin plainly, whence the custom was derived, and what the first piece was that so suffered. After this, none can doubt the propriety of the appellation.
But, sir, as to the justice of bestowing such appalling, heart-withering denunciations of the popular obloquy upon the venial mistake of a poor author, who thought to please us in the act of filling his pockets, --for the sum of his demerits amounts to no more than that,-it does, I own, seem to me a species of retributive justice far too severe for the offence. A culprit in the pillory (bate the eggs) meets with no severer exprobration.
Indeed, I have often wondered that some modest critic has not proposed that there should be a
wooden machine to that effect erected in some convenient part of the proscenium, which an unsuccessful author should be required to mount, and stand his hour, exposed to the apples and oranges of the pit. This amende honorable would well suit with the meanness of some authors, who, in their prologues, fairly prostrate their skulls to the audience, and seem to invite a pelting.
Or why should they not have their pens publicly broke over their heads, as the swords of recreant knights in old times were, and an oath administered to them that they should never write again?
Seriously, Messieurs the Public, this outrageous way which you have got of expressing your displeasures is too much for the occasion. When I was deafening under the effects of it, I could not help asking what crime of great moral turpitude I had committed : for every man about me seemed to feel the offence as personal to himself; as something which public interest and private feelings alike called upon him, in the strongest possible manner, to stigmatize with infamy.
The Romans, it is well known to you, Mr. Reflector, took a gentler method of marking their disapprobation of an author's work. They were a humane and equitable nation. They left the furca and the patibulum, the axe and the rods, to great offenders : for these minor and (if I may so term them) extra-moral offences, the bent thumb was considered as a sufficient sign of disapprobation, vertere pollicem ; as the pressed thumb, premere pollicem, was a mark of approving.
And really there seems to have been a sort of fitness in this method, a correspondency of sign in the punishment to the offence. For, as the action of writing is performed by bending the thumb forward, the retroversion or bending back of that joint did not unaptly point to the opposite of that action; implying that it was the will of the audience that the author should write no more: a much more significant as well as more humane way of expressing that desire than our custom of hissing, which is altogether senseless and indefensible. Nor do we find that the Roman audiences deprived themselves, by this lenity, of any tittle of that supremacy which audiences in all ages have thought themselves bound to maintain over such as have been candidates for their applause. On the contrary, by this method they seem to have had the author, as we should express it, completely under finger and thumb.
The provocations to which a dramatic genius is exposed from the public are so much the more vexatious as they are removed from any possibility of retaliation, the hope of which sweetens most other injuries ; for the public never writes itself. Not but something very like it took place at the time of the 0. P. differences. The placards which were nightly exhibited were, properly speaking, the composition of the public. The public wrote them, the public applauded them; and precious morceaux of wit and eloquence they were, -except some few, of a better quality, which it is well known were furnished by professed dramatic writers. After this specimen of what the public can do for itself, it should be a little slow in condemning what others do for it.
As the degrees of malignancy vary in people according as they have more or less of the Old Serpent (the father of hisses) in their composition, I have sometimes amused myself with analyzing this manyheaded hydra, which calls itself the public, into the
component parts of which it is “complicated, head and tail," and seeing how many varieties of the snake kind it can afford.
First, there is the Common English Snake.This is that part of the auditory who are always the majority at damnations ; but who, having no critical venom in themselves to sting them on, stay till they hear others hiss, and then join in for company.
The Blind Worm is a species very nearly allied to the foregoing. Some naturalists have doubted whether they are not the same.
The Rattlesnake.—These are your obstreperous talking critics,—the impertinent guides of the pit,who will not give a plain man leave to enjoy an evening's entertainment; but, with their frothy jargon and incessant finding of faults, either drown his pleasure quite, or force him, in his own defence, to join in their clamorous censure. The hiss always originates with these. When this creature springs his rattle, you would think, from the noise it makes, there was something in it; but you have only to examine the instrument from which the noise proceeds, and you will find it typical of a critic's tongue,-a shallow membrane, empty, voluble, and seated in the most contemptible part of the creature's body.
The Whipsnake.—This is he that lashes the poor author the next day in the newspapers.
The Deaf Adder, or Surda Echidna of Linnæus. -Under this head may be classed all that portion of the spectators (for audience they properly are not), who, not finding the first act of a piece answer to their preconceived notions of what a first act should be, like Obstinate in John Bunyan, positively thrust their fingers in their ears, that they may not hear a word of what is coming, though perhaps the very next act may be composed in à style as different as possible, and be written quite to their own tastes. These adders refuse to hear the voice of the charmer, because the tuning of his instrument gave them offence.
I should weary you, and myself too, if I were to go through all the classes of the serpent kind. Two qualities are common to them all. They are creatures of remarkably cold digestions, and chiefly haunt pits and low grounds.
I proceed with more pleasure to give you an account of a club to which I have the honour to belong. There are fourteen of us, who are all authors that have been once in our lives what is called damned. We meet on the anniversaries of our respective nights, and make ourselves merry at the expense of the public. The chief tenets which distinguish our society, and which every man among us is bound to hold for gospel, are,
That the public, or mob, in all ages, have been a set of blind, deaf, obstinate, senseless, illiterate savages. That no man of genius, in his senses, would be ambitious of pleasing such a capricious, ungrateful rabble. That the only legitimate end of writing for them is to pick their pockets; and, that failing, we are at full liberty to vilify and abuse them as much as ever we think fit.
That authors, by their affected pretences to humility, which they made use of as a cloak to insinuate their writings into the callous senses of the multitude, obtuse to everything but the grossest flattery, have by degrees made that great beast their master ; as we may act submission to children till we are obliged to practise it in earnest. That