The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb, Volume 2
Charles Lamb

Part 4 out of 11


Nothing is to me more distasteful than that entire complacency and
satisfaction which beam in the countenances of a new-married couple,
in that of the lady particularly: it tells you, that her lot is
disposed of in this world: that _you_ can have no hopes of her.
It is true, I have none; nor wishes either, perhaps: but this is
one of those truths which ought, as I said before, to be taken for
granted, not expressed. The excessive airs which those people give
themselves, founded on the ignorance of us unmarried people, would be
more offensive if they were less irrational. We will allow them to
understand the mysteries belonging to their own craft better than we
who have not had the happiness to be made free of the company: but
their arrogance is not content within these limits. If a single person
presume to offer his opinion in their presence, though upon the most
indifferent subject, he is immediately silenced as an incompetent
person. Nay, a young married lady of my acquaintance, who, the best
of the jest was, had not changed her condition above a fortnight
before, in a question on which I had the misfortune to differ from
her, respecting the properest mode of breeding oysters for the London
market, had the assurance to ask with a sneer, how such an old
Bachelor as I could pretend to know any thing about such matters.

But what I have spoken of hitherto is nothing to the airs which these
creatures give themselves when they come, as they generally do,
to have children. When I consider how little of a rarity children
are,--that every street and blind alley swarms with them,--that the
poorest people commonly have them in most abundance,--that there
are few marriages that are not blest with at least one of these
bargains,--how often they turn out ill, and defeat the fond hopes
of their parents, taking to vicious courses, which end in poverty,
disgrace, the gallows, &c.--I cannot for my life tell what cause
for pride there can possibly be in having them. If they were young
phoenixes, indeed, that were born but one in a year, there might be a
pretext. But when they are so common--

I do not advert to the insolent merit which they assume with their
husbands on these occasions. Let them look to that. But why _we_, who
are not their natural-born subjects, should be expected to bring our
spices, myrrh, and incense,--our tribute and homage of admiration,--I
do not see.

"Like as the arrows in the hand of the giant, even so are the young
children:" so says the excellent office in our Prayer-book appointed
for the churching of women. "Happy is the man that hath his quiver
full of them:" So say I; but then don't let him discharge his
quiver upon us that are weaponless;--let them be arrows, but not to
gall and stick us. I have generally observed that these arrows are
double-headed: they have two forks, to be sure to hit with one or the
other. As for instance, when you come into a house which is full of
children, if you happen to take no notice of them (you are thinking
of something else, perhaps, and turn a deaf ear to their innocent
caresses), you are set down as untractable, morose, a hater of
children. On the other hand, if you find them more than usually
engaging,--if you are taken with their pretty manners, and set about
in earnest to romp and play with them, some pretext or other is sure
to be found for sending them out of the room: they are too noisy or
boisterous, or Mr. ---- does not like children. With one or other of
these forks the arrow is sure to hit you.

I could forgive their jealousy, and dispense with toying with their
brats, if it gives them any pain; but I think it unreasonable to be
called upon to _love_ them, where I see no occasion,--to love a whole
family, perhaps, eight, nine, or ten, indiscriminately,--to love all
the pretty dears, because children are so engaging.

I know there is a proverb, "Love me, love my dog:" that is not always
so very practicable, particularly if the dog be set upon you to tease
you or snap at you in sport. But a dog, or a lesser thing,--any
inanimate substance, as a keep-sake, a watch or a ring, a tree, or
the place where we last parted when my friend went away upon a long
absence, I can make shift to love, because I love him, and any thing
that reminds me of him; provided it be in its nature indifferent, and
apt to receive whatever hue fancy can give it. But children have a
real character and an essential being of themselves: they are amiable
or unamiable _per se_; I must love or hate them as I see cause for
either 'in their qualities. A child's nature is too serious a thing to
admit of its being regarded as a mere appendage to another being, and
to be loved or hated accordingly: they stand with me upon their own
stock, as much as men and women do. O! but you will say, sure it is
an attractive age,--there is something in the tender years of infancy
that of itself charms us. That is the very reason why I am more nice
about them. I know that a sweet child is the sweetest thing in nature,
not even excepting the delicate creatures which bear them; but the
prettier the kind of a thing is, the more desirable it is that it
should be pretty of its kind. One daisy differs not much from another
in glory; but a violet should look and smell the daintiest.--I was
always rather squeamish in my women and children.

But this is not the worst: one must be admitted into their familiarity
at least, before they can complain of inattention. It implies visits,
and some kind of intercourse. But if the husband be a man with whom
you have lived on a friendly footing before marriage,--if you did not
come in on the wife's side,--if you did not sneak into the house in
her train, but were an old friend in fast habits of intimacy before
their courtship was so much as thought on,--look about you--your
tenure is precarious--before a twelve-month shall roll over your head,
you shall find your old friend gradually grow cool and altered towards
you, and at last seek opportunities of breaking with you. I have
scarce a married friend of my acquaintance, upon whose firm faith I
can rely, whose friendship did not commence _after the period of his
marriage_. With some limitations they can endure that: but that the
good man should have dared to enter into a solemn league of friendship
in which they were not consulted, though it happened before they
knew him,--before they that are now man and wife ever met,--this
is intolerable to them. Every long friendship, every old authentic
intimacy, must be brought into their office to be new stamped with
their currency, as a sovereign Prince calls in the good old money that
was coined in some reign before he was born or thought of, to be new
marked and minted with the stamp of his authority, before he will
let it pass current in the world. You may guess what luck generally
befalls such a rusty piece of metal as I am in these _new mintings_.

Innumerable are the ways which they take to insult and worm you out
of their husband's confidence. Laughing at all you say with a kind of
wonder, as if you were a queer kind of fellow that said good things,
_but an oddity_, is one of the ways;--they have a particular kind of
stare for the purpose;--till at last the husband, who used to defer to
your judgment, and would pass over some excrescences of understanding
and manner for the sake of a general vein of observation (not quite
vulgar) which he perceived in you, begins to suspect whether you are
not altogether a humorist,--a fellow well enough to have consorted
with in his bachelor days, but not quite so proper to be introduced
to ladies. This may be called the staring way; and is that which has
oftenest been put in practice against me.

Then there is the exaggerating way, or the way of irony: that is,
where they find you an object of especial regard with their husband,
who is not so easily to be shaken from the lasting attachment founded
on esteem which he has conceived towards you; by never-qualified
exaggerations to cry up all that you say or do, till the good man,
who understands well enough that it is all done in compliment to him,
grows weary of the debt of gratitude which is due to so much candour,
and by relaxing a little on his part, and taking down a peg or two
in his enthusiasm, sinks at length to that kindly level of moderate
esteem,--that "decent affection and complacent kindness" towards you,
where she herself can join in sympathy with him without much stretch
and violence to her sincerity.

Another way (for the ways they have to accomplish so desirable
a purpose are infinite) is, with a kind of innocent simplicity,
continually to mistake what it was which first made their husband fond
of you. If an esteem for something excellent in your moral character
was that which riveted the chain which she is to break, upon any
imaginary discovery of a want of poignancy in your conversation, she
will cry, "I thought, my dear, you described your friend, Mr. ---- as
a great wit." If, on the other hand, it was for some supposed charm
in your conversation that he first grew to like you, and was content
for this to overlook some trifling irregularities in your moral
deportment, upon the first notice of any of these she as readily
exclaims, "This, my dear, is your good Mr. ----." One good lady whom
I took the liberty of expostulating with for not showing me quite so
much respect as I thought due to her husband's old friend, had the
candour to confess to me that she had often heard Mr. ---- speak
of me before marriage, and that she had conceived a great desire
to be acquainted with me, but that the sight of me had very much
disappointed her expectations; for from her husband's representations
of me, she had formed a notion that she was to see a fine, tall,
officer-like looking man (I use her very words); the very reverse of
which proved to be the truth. This was candid; and I had the civility
not to ask her in return, how she came to pitch upon a standard of
personal accomplishments for her husband's friends which differed so
much from his own; for my friend's dimensions as near as possible
approximate to mine; he standing five feet five in his shoes, in which
I have the advantage of him by about half an inch; and he no more than
myself exhibiting any indications of a martial character in his air or

These are some of the mortifications which I have encountered in the
absurd attempt to visit at their houses. To enumerate them all would
be a vain endeavour: I shall therefore just glance at the very common
impropriety of which married ladies are guilty,--of treating us as if
we were their husbands, and _vice versa_. I mean, when they use us
with familiarity, and their husbands with ceremony. _Testacea_, for
instance, kept me the other night two or three hours beyond my usual
time of supping, while she was fretting because Mr. ---- did not come
home, till the oysters were all spoiled, rather than she would be
guilty of the impoliteness of touching one in his absence. This was
reversing the point of good manners: for ceremony is an invention to
take off the uneasy feeling which we derive from knowing ourselves to
be less the object of love and esteem with a fellow-creature than some
other person is. It endeavours to make up, by superior attentions in
little points, for that invidious preference which it is forced to
deny in the greater. Had _Testacea_ kept the oysters back for me, and
withstood her husband's importunities to go to supper, she would have
acted according to the strict rules of propriety. I know no ceremony
that ladies are bound to observe to their husbands, beyond the point
of a modest behaviour and decorum: therefore I must protest against
the vicarious gluttony of _Cerasia_, who at her own table sent away a
dish of Morellas, which I was applying to with great good will, to her
husband at the other end of the table, and recommended a plate of
less extraordinary gooseberries to my unwedded palate in their stead.
Neither can I excuse the wanton affront of ----.

But I am weary of stringing up all my married acquaintance by Roman
denominations. Let them amend and change their manners, or I promise
to record the full-length English of their names, to the terror of all
such desperate offenders in future.


The casual sight of an old Play Bill, which I picked up the other
day--I know not by what chance it was preserved so long--tempts me to
call to mind a few of the Players, who make the principal figure in
it. It presents the cast of parts in the Twelfth Night, at the old
Drury-lane Theatre two-and-thirty years ago. There is something very
touching in these old remembrances. They make us think how we _once_
used to read a Play Bill--not, as now peradventure, singling out a
favorite performer, and casting a negligent eye over the rest; but
spelling out every name, down to the very mutes and servants of
the scene;--when it was a matter of no small moment to us whether
Whitfield, or Packer, took the part of Fabian; when Benson, and
Burton, and Phillimore--names of small account--had an importance,
beyond what we can be content to attribute now to the time's best
actors.--"Orsino, by Mr. Barrymore."--What a full Shakspearian sound
it carries! how fresh to memory arise the image, and the manner, of
the gentle actor!

Those who have only seen Mrs. Jordan within the last ten or fifteen
years, can have no adequate notion of her performance of such parts as
Ophelia; Helena, in All's Well that Ends Well; and Viola in this play.
Her voice had latterly acquired a coarseness, which suited well enough
with her Nells and Hoydens, but in those days it sank, with her steady
melting eye, into the heart. Her joyous parts--in which her memory now
chiefly lives--in her youth were outdone by her plaintive ones. There
is no giving an account how she delivered the disguised story of her
love for Orsino. It was no set speech, that she had foreseen, so as to
weave it into an harmonious period, line necessarily following line,
to make up the music--yet I have heard it so spoken, or rather _read_,
not without its grace and beauty--but, when she had declared her
sister's history to be a "blank," and that she "never told her love,"
there was a pause, as if the story had ended--and then the image of
the "worm in the bud" came up as a new suggestion--and the heightened
image of "Patience" still followed after that, as by some growing (and
not mechanical) process, thought springing up after thought, I would
almost say, as they were watered by her tears. So in those fine

Write loyal cantos of contemned love--
Hollow your name to the reverberate hills--

there was no preparation made in the foregoing image for that which
was to follow. She used no rhetoric in her passion; or it was nature's
own rhetoric, most legitimate then, when it seemed altogether without
rule or law.

Mrs. Powel (now Mrs. Renard), then in the pride of her beauty, made
an admirable Olivia. She was particularly excellent in her unbending
scenes in conversation with the Clown. I have seen some Olivias--and
those very sensible actresses too--who in these interlocutions have
seemed to set their wits at the jester, and to vie conceits with him
in downright emulation. But she used him for her sport, like what
he was, to trifle a leisure sentence or two with, and then to be
dismissed, and she to be the Great Lady still. She touched the
imperious fantastic humour of the character with nicety. Her fine
spacious person filled the scene.

The part of Malvolio has in my judgment been so often misunderstood,
and the _general merits_ of the actor, who then played it, so unduly
appreciated, that I shall hope for pardon, if I am a little prolix
upon these points.

Of all the actors who flourished in my time--a melancholy phrase
if taken aright, reader--Bensley had most of the swell of soul,
was greatest in the delivery of heroic conceptions, the emotions
consequent upon the presentment of a great idea to the fancy. He had
the true poetical enthusiasm--the rarest faculty among players. None
that I remember possessed even a portion of that fine madness which he
threw out in Hotspur's famous rant about glory, or the transports of
the Venetian incendiary at the vision of the fired city. His voice had
the dissonance, and at times the inspiriting effect of the trumpet.
His gait was uncouth and stiff, but no way embarrassed by affectation;
and the thorough-bred gentleman was uppermost in every movement. He
seized the moment of passion with the greatest truth; like a faithful
clock, never striking before the time; never anticipating or leading
you to anticipate. He was totally destitute of trick and artifice. He
seemed come upon the stage to do the poet's message simply, and he
did it with as genuine fidelity as the nuncios in Homer deliver the
errands of the gods. He let the passion or the sentiment do its own
work without prop or bolstering. He would have scorned to mountebank
it; and betrayed none of that _cleverness_ which is the bane of
serious acting. For this reason, his Iago was the only endurable one
which I remember to have seen. No spectator from his action could
divine more of his artifice than Othello was supposed to do. His
confessions in soliloquy alone put you in possession of the mystery.
There were no by-intimations to make the audience fancy their own
discernment so much greater than that of the Moor--who commonly stands
like a great helpless mark set up for mine Ancient, and a quantity of
barren spectators, to shoot their bolts at. The Iago of Bensley did
not go to work so grossly. There was a triumphant tone about the
character, natural to a general consciousness of power; but none of
that petty vanity which chuckles and cannot contain itself upon any
little successful stroke of its knavery--as is common with your small
villains, and green probationers in mischief. It did not clap or crow
before its time. It was not a man setting his wits at a child, and
winking all the while at other children who are mightily pleased at
being let into the secret; but a consummate villain entrapping a noble
nature into toils, against which no discernment was available, where
the manner was as fathomless as the purpose seemed dark, and without
motive. The part of Malvolio, in the Twelfth Night, was performed by
Bensley, with a richness and a dignity, of which (to judge from some
recent castings of that character) the very tradition must be worn out
from the stage. No manager in those days would have dreamed of giving
it to Mr. Baddeley, or Mr. Parsons: when Bensley was occasionally
absent from the theatre, John Kemble thought it no derogation to
succeed to the part. Malvolio is not essentially ludicrous. He becomes
comic but by accident. He is cold, austere, repelling; but dignified,
consistent, and, for what appears, rather of an over-stretched
morality. Maria describes him as a sort of Puritan; and he might have
worn his gold chain with honour in one of our old round-head families,
in the service of a Lambert, or a Lady Fairfax. But his morality and
his manners are misplaced in Illyria. He is opposed to the proper
_levities_ of the piece, and falls in the unequal contest. Still his
pride, or his gravity, (call it which you will) is inherent, and
native to the man, not mock or affected, which latter only are the
fit objects to excite laughter. His quality is at the best unlovely,
but neither buffoon nor contemptible. His bearing is lofty, a little
above his station, but probably not much above his deserts. We see no
reason why he should not have been brave, honourable, accomplished.
His careless committal of the ring to the ground (which he was
commissioned to restore to Cesario), bespeaks a generosity of birth
and feeling. His dialect on all occasions is that of a gentleman, and
a man of education. We must not confound him with the eternal old, low
steward of comedy. He is master of the household to a great Princess;
a dignity probably conferred upon him for other respects than age or
length of service. Olivia, at the first indication of his supposed
madness, declares that she "would not have him miscarry for half of
her dowry." Does this look as if the character was meant to appear
little or insignificant? Once, indeed, she accuses him to his face--of
what?--of being "sick of self-love,"--but with a gentleness and
considerateness which could not have been, if she had not thought
that this particular infirmity shaded some virtues. His rebuke to the
knight, and his sottish revellers, is sensible and spirited; and when
we take into consideration the unprotected condition of his mistress,
and the strict regard with which her state of real or dissembled
mourning would draw the eyes of the world upon her house-affairs,
Malvolio might feel the honour of the family in some sort in his
keeping; as it appears not that Olivia had any more brothers, or
kinsmen, to look to it--for Sir Toby had dropped all such nice
respects at the buttery hatch. That Malvolio was meant to be
represented as possessing estimable qualities, the expression of the
Duke in his anxiety to have him reconciled, almost infers. "Pursue
him, and entreat him to a peace." Even in his abused state of chains
and darkness, a sort of greatness seems never to desert him. He
argues highly and well with the supposed Sir Topas, and philosophises
gallantly upon his straw.[1] There must have been some shadow of worth
about the man; he must have been something more than a mere vapour--a
thing of straw, or Jack in office--before Fabian and Maria could have
ventured sending him upon a courting-errand to Olivia. There was some
consonancy (as he would say) in the undertaking, or the jest would
have been too bold even for that house of misrule.

Bensley, accordingly, threw over the part an air of Spanish loftiness.
He looked, spake, and moved like an old Castilian. He was starch,
spruce, opinionated, but his superstructure of pride seemed bottomed
upon a sense of worth. There was something in it beyond the coxcomb.
It was big and swelling, but you could not be sure that it was hollow.
You might wish to see it taken down, but you felt that it was upon an
elevation. He was magnificent from the outset; but when the decent
sobrieties of the character began to give way, and the poison of
self-love, in his conceit of the Countess's affection, gradually to
work, you would have thought that the hero of La Mancha in person
stood before you. How he went smiling to himself! with what ineffable
carelessness would he twirl his gold chain! what a dream it was! you
were infected with the illusion, and did not wish that it should be
removed! you had no room for laughter! if an unseasonable reflection
of morality obtruded itself, it was a deep sense of the pitiable
infirmity of man's nature, that can lay him open to such frenzies--but
in truth you rather admired than pitied the lunacy while it
lasted--you felt that an hour of such mistake was worth an age with
the eyes open. Who would not wish to live but for a day in the conceit
of such a lady's love as Olivia? Why, the Duke would have given his
principality but for a quarter of a minute, sleeping or waking, to
have been so deluded. The man seemed to tread upon air, to taste
manna, to walk with his head in the clouds, to mate Hyperion. O! shake
not the castles of his pride--endure yet for a season bright moments
of confidence--"stand still ye watches of the element," that Malvolio
may be still in fancy fair Olivia's lord--but fate and retribution say
no--I hear the mischievous titter of Maria--the witty taunts of Sir
Toby--the still more insupportable triumph of the foolish knight--the
counterfeit Sir Topas is unmasked--and "thus the whirligig of time,"
as the true clown hath it, "brings in his revenges." I confess that I
never saw the catastrophe of this character, while Bensley played it,
without a kind of tragic interest. There was good foolery too. Few now
remember Dodd. What an Aguecheek the stage lost in him! Lovegrove, who
came nearest to the old actors, revived the character some few seasons
ago, and made it sufficiently grotesque; but Dodd was _it_, as it
came out of Nature's hands. It might be said to remain _in puris
naturalibus_. In expressing slowness of apprehension this actor
surpassed all others. You could see the first dawn of an idea stealing
slowly over his countenance, climbing up by little and little, with
a painful process, till it cleared up at last to the fulness of a
twilight conception--its highest meridian. He seemed to keep back
his intellect, as some have had the power to retard their pulsation.
The balloon takes less time in filling, than it took to cover
the expansion of his broad moony face over all its quarters with
expression. A glimmer of understanding would appear in a corner of his
eye, and for lack of fuel go out again. A part of his forehead would
catch a little intelligence, and be a long time in communicating it to
the remainder.

I am ill at dates, but I think it is now better than five and twenty
years ago that walking in the gardens of Gray's Inn--they were then
far finer than they are now--the accursed Verulam Buildings had not
encroached upon all the east side of them, cutting out delicate green
crankles, and shouldering away one of two of the stately alcoves
of the terrace--the survivor stands gaping and relationless as if
it remembered its brother--they are still the best gardens of any
of the Inns of Court, my beloved Temple not forgotten--have the
gravest character, their aspect being altogether reverend and
law-breathing--Bacon has left the impress of his foot upon their
gravel walks--taking my afternoon solace on a summer day upon the
aforesaid terrace, a comely sad personage came towards me, whom, from
his grave air and deportment, I judged to be one of the old Benchers
of the Inn. He had a serious thoughtful forehead, and seemed to be
in meditations of mortality. As I have an instinctive awe of old
Benchers, I was passing him with that sort of subindicative token of
respect which one is apt to demonstrate towards a venerable stranger,
and which rather denotes an inclination to greet him, than any
positive motion of the body to that effect--a species of humility and
will-worship which I observe, nine times out of ten, rather puzzles
than pleases the person it is offered to--when the face turning
full upon me strangely identified itself with that of Dodd. Upon
close inspection I was not mistaken. But could this sad thoughtful
countenance be the same vacant face of folly which I had hailed so
often under circumstances of gaiety; which I had never seen without
a smile, or recognised but as the usher of mirth; that looked out
so formally flat in Foppington, so frothily pert in Tattle, so
impotently busy in Backbite; so blankly divested of all meaning, or
resolutely expressive of none, in Acres, in Fribble, and a thousand
agreeable impertinences? Was this the face--full of thought and
carefulness--that had so often divested itself at will of every trace
of either to give me diversion, to clear my cloudy face for two or
three hours at least of its furrows? Was this the face--manly, sober,
intelligent,--which I had so often despised, made mocks at, made merry
with? The remembrance of the freedoms which I had taken with it came
upon me with a reproach of insult. I could have asked it pardon. I
thought it looked upon me with a sense of injury. There is something
strange as well as sad in seeing actors--your pleasant fellows
particularly--subjected to and suffering the common lot--their
fortunes, their casualties, their deaths, seem to belong to the scene,
their actions to be amenable to poetic justice only. We can hardly
connect them with more awful responsibilities. The death of this fine
actor took place shortly after this meeting. He had quitted the stage
some months; and, as I learned afterwards, had been in the habit of
resorting daily to these gardens almost to the day of his decease. In
these serious walks probably he was divesting himself of many scenic
and some real vanities--weaning himself from the frivolities of the
lesser and the greater theatre--doing gentle penance for a life of no
very reprehensible fooleries,--taking off by degrees the buffoon mask
which he might feel he had worn too long--and rehearsing for a more
solemn cast of part. Dying he "put on the weeds of Dominic."[2]

If few can remember Dodd, many yet living will not easily forget the
pleasant creature, who in those days enacted the part of the Clown
to Dodd's Sir Andrew.--Richard, or rather Dicky Suett--for so in
his life-time he delighted to be called, and time hath ratified the
appellation--lieth buried on the north side of the cemetery of Holy
Paul, to whose service his nonage and tender years were dedicated.
There are who do yet remember him at that period--his pipe clear and
harmonious. He would often speak of his chorister days, when he was
"cherub Dicky."

What clipped his wings, or made it expedient that he should exchange
the holy for the profane state; whether he had lost his good voice
(his best recommendation to that office), like Sir John, "with
hallooing and singing of anthems;" or whether he was adjudged to lack
something, even in those early years, of the gravity indispensable to
an occupation which professeth to "commerce with the skies"--I could
never rightly learn; but we find him, after the probation of a
twelvemonth or so, reverting to a secular condition, and become one
of us.

I think he was not altogether of that timber, out of which cathedral
seats and sounding boards are hewed. But if a glad heart--kind and
therefore glad--be any part of sanctity, then might the robe of
Motley, with which he invested himself with so much humility after
his deprivation, and which he wore so long with so much blameless
satisfaction to himself and to the public, be accepted for a
surplice--his white stole, and _albe_.

The first fruits of his secularization was an engagement upon the
boards of Old Drury, at which theatre he commenced, as I have been
told, with adopting the manner of Parsons in old men's characters. At
the period in which most of us knew him, he was no more an imitator
than he was in any true sense himself imitable.

He was the Robin Good-Fellow of the stage. He came in to trouble all
things with a welcome perplexity, himself no whit troubled for the
matter. He was known, like Puck, by his note--_Ha! Ha! Ha!_--sometimes
deepening to _Ho! Ho! Ho!_ with an irresistible accession, derived
perhaps remotely from his ecclesiastical education, foreign to
his prototype of,--_O La!_ Thousands of hearts yet respond to the
chuckling _O La!_ of Dicky Suett, brought back to their remembrance by
the faithful transcript of his friend Mathews's mimicry. The "force of
nature could no further go." He drolled upon the stock of these two
syllables richer than the cuckoo.

Care, that troubles all the world, was forgotten in his composition.
Had he had but two grains (nay, half a grain) of it, he could never
have supported himself upon those two spider's strings, which served
him (in the latter part of his unmixed existence) as legs. A doubt
or a scruple must have made him totter, a sigh have puffed him down;
the weight of a frown had staggered him, a wrinkle made him lose his
balance. But on he went, scrambling upon those airy stilts of his,
with Robin Good-Fellow, "thorough brake, thorough briar," reckless of
a scratched face or a torn doublet.

Shakspeare foresaw him, when he framed his fools and jesters. They
have all the true Suett stamp, a loose and shambling gait, a slippery
tongue, this last the ready midwife to a without-pain-delivered jest;
in words, light as air, venting truths deep as the centre; with idlest
rhymes tagging conceit when busiest, singing with Lear in the tempest,
or Sir Toby at the buttery-hatch.

Jack Bannister and he had the fortune to be more of personal
favourites with the town than any actors before or after. The
difference, I take it, was this:--Jack was more _beloved_ for his
sweet, good-natured, moral pretensions. Dicky was more _liked_ for
his sweet, good-natured, no pretensions at all. Your whole conscience
stirred with Bannister's performance of Walter in the Children in the
Wood--but Dicky seemed like a thing, as Shakspeare says of Love, too
young to know what conscience is. He put us into Vesta's days. Evil
fled before him--not as from Jack, as from an antagonist,--but because
it could not touch him, any more than a cannon-ball a fly. He was
delivered from the burthen of that death; and, when Death came
himself, not in metaphor, to fetch Dicky, it is recorded of him by
Robert Palmer, who kindly watched his exit, that he received the
last stroke, neither varying his accustomed tranquillity, nor tune,
with the simple exclamation, worthy to have been recorded in his
epitaph--_O La! O La! Bobby!_

The elder Palmer (of stage-treading celebrity) commonly played Sir
Toby in those days; but there is a solidity of wit in the jests of
that half-Falstaff which he did not quite fill out. He was as much too
showy as Moody (who sometimes took the part) was dry and sottish. In
sock or buskin there was an air of swaggering gentility about Jack
Palmer. He was a _gentleman_ with a slight infusion of _the footman_.
His brother Bob (of recenter memory) who was his shadow in every thing
while he lived, and dwindled into less than a shadow afterwards--was
a _gentleman_ with a little stronger infusion of the _latter
ingredient_; that was all. It is amazing how a little of the more or
less makes a difference in these things. When you saw Bobby in the
Duke's Servant,[3] you said, what a pity such a pretty fellow was only
a servant. When you saw Jack figuring in Captain Absolute, you thought
you could trace his promotion to some lady of quality who fancied
the handsome fellow in his topknot, and had bought him a commission.
Therefore Jack in Dick Amlet was insuperable.

Jack had two voices,--both plausible, hypocritical, and insinuating;
but his secondary or supplemental voice still more decisively
histrionic than his common one. It was reserved for the spectator; and
the dramatis personas were supposed to know nothing at all about it.
The _lies_ of young Wilding, and the _sentiments_ in Joseph Surface,
were thus marked out in a sort of italics to the audience. This secret
correspondence with the company before the curtain (which is the
bane and death of tragedy) has an extremely happy effect in some
kinds of comedy, in the more highly artificial comedy of Congreve
or of Sheridan especially, where the absolute sense of reality (so
indispensable to scenes of interest) is not required, or would rather
interfere to diminish your pleasure. The fact is, you do not believe
in such characters as Surface--the villain of artificial comedy--even
while you read or see them. If you did, they would shock and not
divert you. When Ben, in Love for Love, returns from sea, the
following exquisite dialogue occurs at his first meeting with his

_Sir Sampson._ Thou hast been many a weary league, Ben, since I saw

_Ben._ Ey, ey, been! Been far enough, an that be all.--Well, father,
and how do all at home? how does brother Dick, and brother Val?

_Sir Sampson._ Dick! body o' me, Dick has been dead these two years. I
writ you word when you were at Leghorn.

_Ben._ Mess, that's true; Marry, I had forgot. Dick's dead, as you
say--Well, and how?--I have a many questions to ask you--

Here is an instance of insensibility which in real life would be
revolting, or rather in real life could not have co-existed with the
warm-hearted temperament of the character. But when you read it in the
spirit with which such playful selections and specious combinations
rather than strict _metaphrases_ of nature should be taken, or when
you saw Bannister play it, it neither did, nor does wound the moral
sense at all. For what is Ben--the pleasant sailor which Bannister
gives us--but a piece of satire--a creation of Congreve's fancy--a
dreamy combination of all the accidents of a sailor's character--his
contempt of money--his credulity to women--with that necessary
estrangement from home which it is just within the verge of
credibility to suppose _might_ produce such an hallucination as is
here described. We never think the worse of Ben for it, or feel it as
a stain upon his character. But when an actor comes, and instead
of the delightful phantom--the creature dear to half-belief--which
Bannister exhibited--displays before our eyes a downright concretion
of a Wapping sailor--a jolly warm-hearted Jack Tar--and nothing
else--when instead of investing it with a delicious confusedness of
the head, and a veering undirected goodness of purpose--he gives to it
a downright daylight understanding, and a full consciousness of its
actions; thrusting forward the sensibilities of the character with a
pretence as if it stood upon nothing else, and was to be judged by
them alone--we feel the discord of the thing; the scene is disturbed;
a real man has got in among the dramatis personae, and puts them out.
We want the sailor turned out. We feel that his true place is not
behind the curtain but in the first or second gallery.

[Footnote 1:_Clown_. What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wild
_Mal_. That the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a bird.
_Clown_. What thinkest thou of his opinion?
_Mal_. I think nobly of the soul, and no way approve of his opinion.]

[Footnote 2: Dodd was a man of reading, and left at his death a choice
collection of old English literature. I should judge him to have been
a man of wit. I know one instance of an impromptu which no length of
study could have bettered. My merry friend, Jem White, had seen him
one evening in Aguecheek, and recognising Dodd the next day in Fleet
Street, was irresistibly impelled to take off his hat and salute him
as the identical Knight of the preceding evening with a "Save you,
_Sir Andrew_." Dodd, not at all disconcerted at this unusual address
from a stranger, with a courteous half-rebuking wave of the hand, put
him off with an "Away, _Fool_."]

[Footnote 3: High Life Below Stairs.]


The artificial Comedy, or Comedy of manners, is quite extinct on our
stage. Congreve and Farquhar show their heads once in seven years
only, to be exploded and put down instantly. The times cannot bear
them. Is it for a few wild speeches, an occasional license of
dialogue? I think not altogether. The business of their dramatic
characters will not stand the moral test. We screw every thing up to
that. Idle gallantry in a fiction, a dream, the passing pageant of
an evening, startles us in the same way as the alarming indications
of profligacy in a son or ward in real life should startle a parent
or guardian. We have no such middle emotions as dramatic interests
left. We see a stage libertine playing his loose pranks of two hours'
duration, and of no after consequence, with the severe eyes which
inspect real vices with their bearings upon two worlds. We are
spectators to a plot or intrigue (not reducible in life to the point
of strict morality) and take it all for truth. We substitute a real
for a dramatic person, and judge him accordingly. We try him in our
courts, from which there is no appeal to the _dramatis personae_, his
peers. We have been spoiled with--not sentimental comedy--but a tyrant
far more pernicious to our pleasures which has succeeded to it, the
exclusive and all devouring drama of common life; where the moral
point is every thing; where, instead of the fictitious half-believed
personages of the stage (the phantoms of old comedy) we recognise
ourselves, our brothers, aunts, kinsfolk, allies, patrons,
enemies,--the same as in life,--with an interest in what is going on
so hearty and substantial, that we cannot afford our moral judgment,
in its deepest and most vital results, to compromise or slumber for
a moment. What is _there_ transacting, by no modification is made
to affect us in any other manner than the same events or characters
would do in our relationships of life. We carry our fire-side concerns
to the theatre with us. We do not go thither, like our ancestors,
to escape from the pressure of reality, so much as to confirm our
experience of it; to make assurance double, and take a bond of fate.
We must live our toilsome lives twice over, as it was the mournful
privilege of Ulysses to descend twice to the shades. All that neutral
ground of character, which stood between vice and virtue; or which in
fact was indifferent to neither, where neither properly was called in
question; that happy breathing-place from the burthen of a perpetual
moral questioning--the sanctuary and quiet Alsatia of hunted
casuistry--is broken up and disfranchised, as injurious to the
interests of society. The privileges of the place are taken away
by law. We dare not dally with images, or names, of wrong. We bark
like foolish dogs at shadows. We dread infection from the scenic
representation of disorder; and fear a painted pustule. In our anxiety
that our morality should not take cold, we wrap it up in a great
blanket surtout of precaution against the breeze and sunshine.

I confess for myself that (with no great delinquencies to answer
for) I am glad for a season to take an airing beyond the diocese of
the strict conscience,--not to live always in the precincts of the
law-courts,--but now and then, for a dream-while or so, to imagine a
world with no meddling restrictions--to get into recesses, whither the
hunter cannot follow me--

--Secret shades
Of woody Ida's inmost grove,
While yet there was no fear of Jove--

I come back to my cage and my restraint the fresher and more healthy
for it. I wear my shackles more contentedly for having respired
the breath of an imaginary freedom. I do not know how it is with
others, but I feel the better always for the perusal of one of
Congreve's--nay, why should I not add even of Wycherley's--comedies. I
am the gayer at least for it; and I could never connect those sports
of a witty fancy in any shape with any result to be drawn from them to
imitation in real life. They are a world of themselves almost as much
as fairy-land. Take one of their characters, male or female (with
few exceptions they are alike), and place it in a modern play, and
my virtuous indignation shall rise against the profligate wretch as
warmly as the Catos of the pit could desire; because in a modern play
I am to judge of the right and the wrong. The standard of _police_
is the measure of _political justice_. The atmosphere will blight
it, it cannot live here. It has got into a moral world, where it has
no business, from which it must needs fall headlong; as dizzy, and
incapable of making a stand, as a Swedenborgian bad spirit that has
wandered unawares into the sphere of one of his Good Men, or Angels.
But in its own world do we feel the creature is so very bad?--The
Fainalls and the Mirabels, the Dorimants and the Lady Touchwoods, in
their own sphere, do not offend my moral sense; in fact they do not
appeal to it at all. They seem engaged in their proper element. They
break through no laws, or conscientious restraints. They know of none.
They have got out of Christendom into the land--what shall I call
it?--of cuckoldry--the Utopia of gallantry, where pleasure is duty,
and the manners perfect freedom. It is altogether a speculative scene
of things, which has no reference whatever to the world that is. No
good person can be justly offended as a spectator, because no good
person suffers on the stage. Judged morally, every character in
in these plays--the few exceptions only are _mistakes_--is alike
essentially vain and worthless. The great art of Congreve is
especially shown in this, that he has entirely excluded from his
scenes,--some little generosities in the part of Angelica perhaps
excepted,--not only any thing like a faultless character, but any
pretensions to goodness or good feelings whatsoever. Whether he did
this designedly, or instinctively, the effect is as happy, as the
design (if design) was bold. I used to wonder at the strange power
which his Way of the World in particular possesses of interesting you
all along in the pursuits of characters, for whom you absolutely care
nothing--for you neither hate nor love his personages--and I think it
is owing to this very indifference for any, that you endure the whole.
He has spread a privation of moral light, I will call it, rather
than by the ugly name of palpable darkness, over his creations; and
his shadows flit before you without distinction or preference. Had
he introduced a good character, a single gush of moral feeling, a
revulsion of the judgment to actual life and actual duties, the
impertinent Goshen would have only lighted to the discovery of
deformities, which now are none, because we think them none.

Translated into real life, the characters of his, and his friend
Wycherley's dramas, are profligates and strumpets,--the business of
their brief existence, the undivided pursuit of lawless gallantry. No
other spring of action, or possible motive of conduct, is recognised;
principles which, universally acted upon, must reduce this frame of
things to a chaos. But we do them wrong in so translating them. No
such effects are produced in _their_ world. When we are among them, we
are amongst a chaotic people. We are not to judge them by our usages.
No reverend institutions are insulted by their proceedings,--for
they have none among them. No peace of families is violated,--for
no family ties exist among them. No purity of the marriage bed is
stained,--for none is supposed to have a being. No deep affections
are disquieted,--no holy wedlock bands are snapped asunder,--for
affection's depth and wedded faith are not of the growth of that soil.
There is neither right nor wrong,--gratitude or its opposite,--claim
or duty,--paternity or sonship. Of what consequence is it to virtue,
or how is she at all concerned about it, whether Sir Simon, or
Dapperwit, steal away Miss Martha; or who is the father of Lord
Froth's, or Sir Paul Pliant's children.

The whole is a passing pageant, where we should sit as unconcerned at
the issues, for life or death, as at a battle of the frogs and mice.
But, like Don Quixote, we take part against the puppets, and quite
as impertinently. We dare not contemplate an Atlantis, a scheme, out
of which our coxcombical moral sense is for a little transitory ease
excluded. We have not the courage to imagine a state of things for
which there is neither reward nor punishment. We cling to the painful
necessities of shame and blame. We would indict our very dreams.

Amidst the mortifying circumstances attendant upon growing old, it
is something to have seen the School for Scandal in its glory. This
comedy grew out of Congreve and Wycherley, but gathered some allays of
the sentimental comedy which followed theirs. It is impossible that it
should be now _acted_, though it continues, at long intervals, to be
announced in the bills. Its hero, when Palmer played it at least, was
Joseph Surface. When I remember the gay boldness, the graceful solemn
plausibility, the measured step, the insinuating voice--to express it
in a word--the downright _acted_ villany of the part, so different
from the pressure of conscious actual wickedness,--the hypocritical
assumption of hypocrisy,--which made Jack so deservedly a favourite
in that character, I must needs conclude the present generation of
play-goers more virtuous than myself, or more dense. I freely confess
that he divided the palm with me with his better brother; that, in
fact, I liked him quite as well. Not but there are passages,--like
that, for instance, where Joseph is made to refuse a pittance to a
poor relation,--incongruities which Sheridan was forced upon by the
attempt to join the artificial with the sentimental comedy, either
of which must destroy the other--but over these obstructions Jack's
manner floated him so lightly, that a refusal from him no more shocked
you, than the easy compliance of Charles gave you in reality any
pleasure; you got over the paltry question as quickly as you could, to
get back into the regions of pure comedy, where no cold moral reigns.
The highly artificial manner of Palmer in this character counteracted
every disagreeable impression which you might have received from the
contrast, supposing them real, between the two brothers. You did not
believe in Joseph with the same faith with which you believed in
Charles. The latter was a pleasant reality, the former a no less
pleasant poetical foil to it. The comedy, I have said, is incongruous;
a mixture of Congreve with sentimental incompatibilities: the gaiety
upon the whole is buoyant; but it required the consummate art of
Palmer to reconcile the discordant elements.

A player with Jack's talents, if we had one now, would not dare to do
the part in the same manner. He would instinctively avoid every
turn which might tend to unrealise, and so to make the character
fascinating. He must take his cue from his spectators, who would
expect a bad man and a good man as rigidly opposed to each other as
the death-beds of those geniuses are contrasted in the prints, which
I am sorry to say have disappeared from the windows of my old friend
Carrington Bowles, of St. Paul's Church-yard memory--(an exhibition
as venerable as the adjacent cathedral, and almost coeval) of the bad
and good man at the hour of death; where the ghastly apprehensions
of the former,--and truly the grim phantom with his reality of a
toasting fork is not to be despised,--so finely contrast with the
meek complacent kissing of the rod,--taking it in like honey and
butter,--with which the latter submits to the scythe of the gentle
bleeder, Time, who wields his lancet with the apprehensive finger of
a popular young ladies' surgeon. What flesh, like loving grass, would
not covet to meet half-way the stroke of such a delicate mower?--John
Palmer was twice an actor in this exquisite part. He was playing to
you all the while that he was playing upon Sir Peter and his lady. You
had the first intimation of a sentiment before it was on his lips.
His altered voice was meant to you, and you were to suppose that his
fictitious co-flutterers on the stage perceived nothing at all of it.
What was it to you if that half-reality, the husband, was over-reached
by the puppetry--or the thin thing (Lady Teazle's reputation) was
persuaded it was dying of a plethory? The fortunes of Othello and
Desdemona were not concerned in it. Poor Jack has past from the stage
in good time, that he did not live to this our age of seriousness.
The pleasant old Teazle _King_, too, is gone in good time. His
manner would scarce have past current in our day. We must love or
hate--acquit or condemn--censure or pity--exert our detestable
coxcombry of moral judgment upon every thing. Joseph Surface, to go
down now, must be a downright revolting villain--no compromise--his
first appearance must shock and give horror--his specious
plausibilities, which the pleasurable faculties of our fathers
welcomed with such hearty greetings, knowing that no harm (dramatic
harm even) could come, or was meant to come of them, must inspire a
cold and killing aversion. Charles (the real canting person of the
scene--for the hypocrisy of Joseph has its ulterior legitimate ends,
but his brother's professions of a good heart centre in downright
self-satisfaction) must be _loved_ and Joseph _hated_. To balance one
disagreeable reality with another, Sir Peter Teazle must be no longer
the comic idea of a fretful old bachelor bridegroom, whose teasings
(while King acted it) were evidently as much played off at you, as
they were meant to concern any body on the stage,--he must be a real
person, capable in law of sustaining an injury--a person towards whom
duties are to be acknowledged--the genuine crim-con antagonist of the
villanous seducer Joseph. To realise him more, his sufferings under
his unfortunate match must have the downright pungency of life--must
(or should) make you not mirthful but uncomfortable, just as the same
predicament would move you in a neighbour or old friend. The delicious
scenes which give the play its name and zest, must affect you in
the same serious manner as if you heard the reputation of a dear
female friend attacked in your real presence. Crabtree, and Sir
Benjamin--those poor snakes that live but in the sunshine of your
mirth--must be rippened by this hot-bed process of realization
into asps or amphisbaenas; and Mrs. Candour--O! frightful! become a
hooded serpent. Oh who that remembers Parsons and Dodd--the wasp and
butterfly of the School for Scandal--in those two characters; and
charming natural Miss Pope, the perfect gentlewoman as distinguished
from the fine lady of comedy, in this latter part--would forego
the true scenic delight--the escape from life--the oblivion of
consequences--the holiday barring out of the pedant Reflection--those
Saturnalia of two or three brief hours, well won from the world--to
sit instead at one of our modern plays--to have his coward conscience
(that forsooth must not be left for a moment) stimulated with
perpetual appeals--dulled rather, and blunted, as a faculty without
repose must be--and his moral vanity pampered with images of notional
justice, notional beneficence, lives saved without the spectators'
risk, and fortunes given away that cost the author nothing?

No piece was, perhaps, ever so completely cast in all its parts as
this _manager's comedy_. Miss Farren had succeeded to Mrs. Abingdon
in Lady Teazle; and Smith, the original Charles, had retired, when I
first saw it. The rest of the characters, with very slight exceptions,
remained. I remember it was then the fashion to cry down John Kemble,
who took the part of Charles after Smith; but, I thought, very
unjustly. Smith, I fancy, was more airy, and took the eye with a
certain gaiety of person. He brought with him no sombre recollections
of tragedy. He had not to expiate the fault of having pleased
beforehand in lofty declamation. He had no sins of Hamlet or of
Richard to atone for. His failure in these parts was a passport to
success in one of so opposite a tendency. But, as far as I could
judge, the weighty sense of Kemble made up for more personal
incapacity than he had to answer for. His harshest tones in this part
came steeped and dulcified in good humour. He made his defects a
grace. His exact declamatory manner, as he managed it, only served
to convey the points of his dialogue with more precision. It seemed
to head the shafts to carry them deeper. Not one of his sparkling
sentences was lost. I remember minutely how he delivered each in
succession, and cannot by any effort imagine how any of them could be
altered for the better. No man could deliver brilliant dialogue--the
dialogue of Congreve or of Wycherley--because none understood it--half
so well as John Kemble. His Valentine, in Love for Love, was, to my
recollection, faultless. He flagged sometimes in the intervals of
tragic passion. He would slumber over the level parts of an heroic
character. His Macbeth has been known to nod. But he always seemed
to me to be particularly alive to pointed and witty dialogue. The
relaxing levities of tragedy have not been touched by any since
him--the playful court-bred spirit in which he condescended to the
players in Hamlet--the sportive relief which he threw into the darker
shades of Richard--disappeared with him. He had his sluggish moods,
his torpors--but they were the halting-stones and resting-places of
his tragedy-politic savings, and fetches of the breath--husbandry of
the lungs, where nature pointed him to be an economist--rather, I
think, than errors of the judgment. They were, at worst, less painful
than the eternal tormenting unappeasable vigilance, the "lidless
dragon eyes," of present fashionable tragedy.


Not many nights ago I had come home from seeing this extraordinary
performer in Cockletop; and when I retired to my pillow, his whimsical
image still stuck by me, in a manner as to threaten sleep. In vain
I tried to divest myself of it, by conjuring up the most opposite
associations. I resolved to be serious. I raised up the gravest topics
of life; private misery, public calamity. All would not do.

--There the antic sate
Mocking our state--

his queer visnomy--his bewildering costume--all the strange things
which he had raked together--his serpentine rod, swagging about in his
pocket--Cleopatra's tear, and the rest of his relics--O'Keefe's wild
farce, and _his_ wilder commentary--till the passion of laughter, like
grief in excess, relieved itself by its own weight, inviting the sleep
which in the first instance it had driven away.

But I was not to escape so easily. No sooner did I fall into slumbers,
than the same image, only more perplexing, assailed me in the shape
of dreams. Not one Munden, but five hundred, were dancing before me,
like the faces which, whether you will or no, come when you have been
taking opium--all the strange combinations, which this strangest of
all strange mortals ever shot his proper countenance into, from the
day he came commissioned to dry up the tears of the town for the loss
of the now almost forgotten Edwin. O for the power of the pencil
to have fixed them when I awoke! A season or two since there was
exhibited a Hogarth gallery. I do not see why there should not be a
Munden gallery. In richness and variety the latter would not fall far
short of the former.

There is one face of Farley, one face of Knight, one (but what a one
it is!) of Liston; but Munden has none that you can properly pin down,
and call _his_. When you think he has exhausted his battery of looks,
in unaccountable warfare with your gravity, suddenly he sprouts out an
entirely new set of features, like Hydra. He is not one, but legion.
Not so much a comedian, as a company. If his name could be multiplied
like his countenance, it might fill a play-bill. He, and he alone,
literally _makes faces_: applied to any other person, the phrase is a
mere figure, denoting certain modifications of the human countenance.
Out of some invisible wardrobe he dips for faces, as his friend
Suett used for wigs, and fetches them out as easily. I should not be
surprised to see him some day put out the head of a river horse; or
come forth a pewitt, or lapwing, some feathered metamorphosis.

I have seen this gifted actor, in Sir Christopher Curry--in Old
Dornton--diffuse a glow of sentiment which has made the pulse of a
crowded theatre beat like that of one man; when he has come in aid of
the pulpit, doing good to the moral heart of a people. I have seen
some faint approaches to this sort of excellence in other players.
But in the grand grotesque of farce, Munden stands out as single and
unaccompanied as Hogarth. Hogarth, strange to tell, had no followers.
The school of Munden began, and must end with himself.

Can any man _wonder_, like him? can any man _see ghosts_, like
him? or _fight with his own shadow_--"SESSA"--as he does in that
strangely-neglected thing, the Cobbler of Preston--where his
alternations from the Cobbler to the Magnifico, and from the Magnifico
to the Cobbler, keep the brain of the spectator in as wild a ferment,
as if some Arabian Night were being acted before him. Who like him
can throw, or ever attempted to throw, a preternatural interest over
the commonest daily-life objects? A table, or a joint stool, in his
conception, rises into a dignity equivalent to Cassiopeia's chair. It
is invested with constellatory importance. You could not speak of it
with more deference, if it were mounted into the firmament. A beggar
in the hands of Michael Angelo, says Fuseli, rose the Patriarch of
Poverty. So the gusto of Munden antiquates and ennobles what it
touches. His pots and his ladles are as grand and primal as the
seething-pots and hooks seen in old prophetic vision. A tub of butter,
contemplated by him, amounts to a Platonic idea. He understands a leg
of mutton in its quiddity. He stands wondering, amid the common-place
materials of life, like primaeval man with the sun and stars about him.


(_From the 1st Edition_, 1833)



This poor gentleman, who for some months past had been in a declining
way, hath at length paid his final tribute to nature.

To say truth, it is time he were gone. The humour of the thing, if
there was ever much in it, was pretty well exhausted; and a two years'
and a half existence has been a tolerable duration for a phantom.

I am now at liberty to confess, that much which I have heard objected
to my late friend's writings was well-founded. Crude they are, I grant
you--a sort of unlicked, incondite things--villainously pranked in an
affected array of antique modes and phrases. They had not been _his_,
if they had been other than such; and better it is, that a writer
should be natural in a self-pleasing quaintness, than to affect a
naturalness (so called) that should be strange to him. Egotistical
they have been pronounced by some who did not know, that what he tells
us, as of himself, was often true only (historically) of another; as
in a former Essay (to save many instances)--where under the _first
person_ (his favourite figure) he shadows forth the forlorn estate
of a country-boy placed at a London school, far from his friends and
connections--in direct opposition to his own early history. If it
be egotism to imply and twine with his own identity the griefs and
affections of another--making himself many, or reducing many unto
himself--then is the skilful novelist, who all along brings in his
hero, or heroine, speaking of themselves, the greatest egotist of all;
who yet has never, therefore, been accused of that narrowness. And how
shall the intenser dramatist escape being faulty, who doubtless, under
cover of passion uttered by another, oftentimes gives blameless vent
to his most inward feelings, and expresses his own story modestly?

My late friend was in many respects a singular character. Those who
did not like him, hated him; and some, who once liked him, afterwards
became his bitterest haters. The truth is, he gave himself too little
concern what he uttered, and in whose presence. He observed neither
time nor place, and would e'en out with what came uppermost. With the
severe religionist he would pass for a free-thinker; while the other
faction set him down for a bigot, or persuaded themselves that he
belied his sentiments. Few understood him; and I am not certain that
at all times he quite understood himself. He too much affected that
dangerous figure--irony. He sowed doubtful speeches, and reaped
plain, unequivocal hatred.--He would interrupt the gravest discussion
with some light jest; and yet, perhaps, not quite irrelevant in ears
that could understand it. Your long and much talkers hated him. The
informal habit of his mind, joined to an inveterate impediment of
speech, forbade him to be an orator; and he seemed determined that,
no one else should play that part when he was present. He was _petit_
and ordinary in his person and appearance. I have seen him sometimes
in what is called good company, but where he has been a stranger, sit
silent, and be suspected for an odd fellow; till some unlucky occasion
provoking it, he would stutter out some senseless pun (not altogether
senseless perhaps, if rightly taken), which has stamped his character
for the evening. It was hit or miss with him; but nine times out of
ten, he contrived by this device to send away a whole company his
enemies. His conceptions rose kindlier than his utterance, and his
happiest _impromptus_ had the appearance of effort. He has been
accused of trying to be witty, when in truth he was but struggling
to give his poor thoughts articulation. He chose his companions for
some individuality of character which they manifested.--Hence, not
many persons of science, and few professed _literati_, were of his
councils. They were, for the most part, persons of an uncertain
fortune; and, as to such people commonly nothing is more obnoxious
than a gentleman of settled (though moderate) income, he passed with
most of them for a great miser. To my knowledge this was a mistake.
His _intimados_, to confess a truth, were in the world's eye a ragged
regiment. He found them floating on the surface of society; and the
colour, or something else, in the weed pleased him. The burrs stuck
to him--but they were gbod and loving burrs for all that. He never
greatly cared for the society of what are called good people. If any
of these were scandalised (and offences were sure to arise), he could
not help it. When he has been remonstrated with for not making more
concessions to the feelings of good people, he would retort by asking,
what one point did these good people ever concede to him? He was
temperate in his meals and diversions, but always kept a little on
this side of abstemiousness. Only in the use of the Indian weed he
might be thought a little excessive. He took it, he would say, as
a solvent of speech. Marry--as the friendly vapour ascended, how
his prattle would curl up sometimes with it! the ligaments, which
tongue-tied him, were loosened, and the stammerer proceeded a statist!

I do not know whether I ought to bemoan or rejoice that my old friend
is departed. His jests were beginning to grow obsolete, and his
stories to be found out. He felt the approaches of age; and while he
pretended to cling to life, you saw how slender were the ties left to
bind him. Discoursing with him latterly on this subject, he expressed
himself with a pettishness, which I thought unworthy of him. In our
walks about his suburban retreat (as he called it) at Shacklewell,
some children belonging to a school of industry had met us, and bowed
and curtseyed, as he thought, in an especial manner to _him_. "They
take me for a visiting governor," he muttered earnestly. He had
a horror, which he carried to a foible, of looking like anything
important and parochial. He thought that he approached nearer to that
stamp daily.. He had a general aversion from being treated like a
grave or respectable character, and kept a wary eye upon the advances
of age that should so entitle him. He herded always, while it was
possible, with people younger than himself. He did not conform to the
march of time, but was dragged along in the procession. His manners
lagged behind his years. He was too much of the boy-man. The _toga
virilis_ never sate gracefully on his shoulders. The impressions
of infancy had burnt into him, and he resented the impertinence of
manhood. These were weaknesses; but such as they were, they are a key
to explicate some of his writings.


I do not know a pleasure more affecting than to range at will
over the deserted apartments of some fine old family mansion. The
traces of extinct grandeur admit of a better passion than envy: and
contemplations on the great and good, whom we fancy in succession
to have been its inhabitants, weave for us illusions, incompatible
with the bustle of modern occupancy, and vanities of foolish present
aristocracy. The same difference of feeling, I think, attends us
between entering an empty and a crowded church. In the latter it is
chance but some present human frailty--an act of inattention on the
part of some of the auditory--or a trait of affectation, or worse,
vain-glory, on that of the preacher--puts us by our best thoughts,
disharmonising the place and the occasion. But would'st thou know the
beauty of holiness?--go alone on some week-day, borrowing the keys of
good Master Sexton, traverse the cool aisles of some country church:
think of the piety that has kneeled there--the congregations, old
and young, that have found consolation there--the meek pastor--the
docile parishioner. With no disturbing emotions, no cross conflicting
comparisons, drink in the tranquillity of the place, till thou thyself
become as fixed and motionless as the marble effigies that kneel and
weep around thee.

Journeying northward lately, I could not resist going some few miles
out of my road to look upon the remains of an old great house with
which I had been impressed in this way in infancy. I was apprised that
the owner of it had lately pulled it down; still I had a vague notion
that it could not all have perished, that so much solidity with
magnificence could not have been crushed all at once into the mere
dust and rubbish which I found it.

The work of ruin had proceeded with a swift hand indeed, and the
demolition of a few weeks had reduced it to--an antiquity.

I was astonished at the indistinction of everything. Where had stood
the great gates? What bounded the court-yard? Whereabout did the
out-houses commence? a few bricks only lay as representatives of that
which was so stately and so spacious.

Death does not shrink up his human victim at this rate. The burnt
ashes of a man weigh more in their proportion.

Had I seen these brick-and-mortar knaves at their process of
destruction, at the plucking of every pannel I should have felt the
varlets at my heart. I should have cried out to them to spare a plank
at least out of the cheerful store-room, in whose hot window-seat I
used to sit and read Cowley, with the grass-plat before, and the hum
and flappings of that one solitary wasp that ever haunted it about
me--it is in mine ears now, as oft as summer returns; or a pannel of
the yellow room.

Why, every plank and pannel of that house for me had magic in it.
The tapestried bed-rooms--tapestry so much better than painting--not
adorning merely, but peopling the wainscots--at which childhood ever
and anon would steal a look, shifting its coverlid (replaced as
quickly) to exercise its tender courage in a momentary eye-encounter
with those stern bright visages, staring reciprocally--all Ovid on the
walls, in colours vivider than his descriptions. Actaeon in mid sprout,
with the unappeasable prudery of Diana; and the still more provoking,
and almost culinary coolness of Dan Phoebus, eel-fashion, deliberately
divesting of Marsyas.

Then, that haunted room--in which old Mrs. Battle died--whereinto I
have crept, but always in the day-time, with a passion of fear; and
a sneaking curiosity, terror-tainted, to hold communication with the
past.--_How shall they build it up again?_

It was an old deserted place, yet not so long deserted but that
traces of the splendour of past inmates were everywhere apparent.
Its furniture was still standing--even to the tarnished gilt leather
battledores, and crumbling feathers of shuttlecocks in the nursery,
which told that children had once played there. But I was a lonely
child, and had the range at will of every apartment, knew every nook
and corner, wondered and worshipped everywhere.

The solitude of childhood is not so much the mother of thought, as
it is the feeder of love, and silence, and admiration, So strange a
passion for the place possessed me in those years, that, though there
lay--I shame to say how few roods distant from the mansion--half hid
by trees, what I judged some romantic lake, such was the spell which
bound me to the house, and such my carefulness not to pass its strict
and proper precincts, that the idle waters lay unexplored for me; and
not till late in life, curiosity prevailing over elder devotion, I
found, to my astonishment, a pretty brawling brook had been the Lacus
Incognitus of my infancy. Variegated views, extensive prospects--and
those at no great distance from the house--I was told of such--what
were they to me, being out of the boundaries of my Eden?--So far from
a wish to roam, I would have drawn, methought, still closer the fences
of my chosen prison; and have been hemmed in by a yet securer cincture
of those excluding garden walls. I could have exclaimed with that
garden-loving poet--

Bind me, ye woodbines, in your 'twines,
Curl me about, ye gadding vines;
And oh so close your circles lace,
That I may never leave this place;
But, lest your fetters prove too weak,
Ere I your silken bondage break,
Do you, O brambles, chain me too,
And, courteous briars, nail me through!

I was here as in a lonely temple. Snug firesides--the low-built
roof--parlours ten feet by ten--frugal boards, and all the homeliness
of home--these were the condition of my birth--the wholesome soil
which I was planted in. Yet, without impeachment to their tenderest
lessons, I am not sorry to have had glances of something beyond;
and to have taken, if but a peep, in childhood, at the contrasting
accidents of a great fortune.

To have the feeling of gentility, it is not necessary to have been
born gentle. The pride of ancestry may be had on cheaper terms than
to be obliged to an importunate race of ancestors; and the coatless
antiquary in his unemblazoned cell, revolving the long line of a
Mowbray's or De Clifford's pedigree, at those sounding names may warm
himself into as gay a vanity as those who do inherit them. The claims
of birth are ideal merely, and what herald shall go about to strip me
of an idea? Is it trenchant to their swords? can it be hacked off as a
spur can? or torn away like a tarnished garter?

What, else, were the families of the great to us? what pleasure should
we take in their tedious genealogies, or their capitulatory brass
monuments? What to us the uninterrupted current of their bloods,
if our own did not answer within us to a cognate and correspondent

Or wherefore, else, O tattered and diminished 'Scutcheon that hung
upon the time-worn walls of thy princely stairs, BLAKESMOOR! have
I in childhood so oft stood poring upon thy mystic characters--thy
emblematic supporters, with their prophetic "Resurgam"--till, every
dreg of peasantry purging off, I received into myself Very Gentility?
Thou wert first in my morning eyes; and of nights, hast detained my
steps from bedward, till it was but a step from gazing at thee to
dreaming on thee.

This is the only true gentry by adoption; the veritable change of
blood, and not, as empirics have fabled, by transfusion.

Who it was by dying that had earned the splendid trophy, I know not,
I inquired not; but its fading rags, and colours cobweb-stained, told
that its subject was of two centuries back.

And what if my ancestor at that date was some Damoetas--feeding
flocks, not his own, upon the hills of Lincoln--did I in less
earnest vindicate to myself the family trappings of this once proud
AEgon?--repaying by a backward triumph the insults he might possibly
have heaped in his life-time upon my poor pastoral progenitor.

If it were presumption so to speculate, the present owners of the
mansion had least reason to complain. They had long forsaken the
old house of their fathers for a newer trifle; and I was left to
appropriate to myself what images I could pick up, to raise my fancy,
or to soothe my vanity.

I was the true descendant of those old W----s; and not the present
family of that name, who had fled the old waste places.

Mine was that gallery of good old family portraits, which as I have
gone over, giving them in fancy my own family name, one--and then
another--would seem to smile, reaching forward from the canvas, to
recognise the new relationship; while the rest looked grave, as
it seemed, at the vacancy in their dwelling, and thoughts of fled

That Beauty with the cool blue pastoral drapery, and a lamb--that hung
next the great bay window--with the bright yellow H----shire hair, and
eye of watchet hue--so like my Alice!--I am persuaded she was a true
Elia--Mildred Elia, I take it.

Mine too, BLAKESMOOR, was thy noble Marble Hall, with its mosaic
pavements, and its Twelve Caesars--stately busts in marble--ranged
round: of whose countenances, young reader of faces as I was, the
frowning beauty of Nero, I remember, had most of my wonder; but the
mild Galba had my love. There they stood in the coldness of death, yet
freshness of immortality.

Mine too, thy lofty Justice Hall, with its one chair of authority,
high-backed and wickered, once the terror of luckless poacher, or
self-forgetful maiden--so common since, that bats have roosted in it.

Mine too--whose else?--thy costly fruit-garden, with its sun-baked
southern wall; the ampler pleasure-garden, rising backwards from the
house in triple terraces, with flower-pots now of palest lead, save
that a speck here and there, saved from the elements, bespeak their
pristine state to have been gilt and glittering; the verdant quarters
backwarder still; and, stretching still beyond, in old formality,
thy firry wilderness, the haunt of the squirrel, and the day-long
murmuring woodpigeon, with that antique image in the centre, God or
Goddess I wist not; but child of Athens or old Rome paid never a
sincerer worship to Pan or to Sylvanus in their native groves, than I
to that fragmental mystery.

Was it for this, that I kissed my childish hands too fervently in your
idol worship, walks and windings of BLAKESMOOR! for this, or what sin
of mine, has the plough passed over your pleasant places? I sometimes
think that as men, when they die, do not die all, so of their
extinguished habitations there may be a hope--a germ to be revivified.


A poor relation--is the most irrelevant thing in nature,--a piece of
impertinent correspondency,--an odious approximation,--a haunting
conscience,--a preposterous shadow, lengthening in the noontide of
your prosperity,--an unwelcome remembrancer,--a perpetually recurring
mortification,--a drain on your purse,--a more intolerable dun upon
your pride,--a drawback upon success,--a rebuke to your rising,--a
stain in your blood,--a blot on your scutcheon,--a rent in your
garment,--a death's head at your banquet,--Agathocles' pot,--a
Mordecai in your gate,--a Lazarus at your door,--a lion in your
path,--a frog in your chamber,--a fly in your ointment,--a mote in
your eye,--a triumph to your enemy, an apology to your friends,--the
one thing not needful,--the hail in harvest,--the ounce of sour in a
pound of sweet.

He is known by his knock. Your heart telleth you "That is Mr.
----." A rap, between familiarity and respect; that demands, and,
at the same time, seems to despair of, entertainment. He entereth
smiling, and--embarrassed. He holdeth out his hand to you to shake,
and--draweth it back again. He casually looketh in about dinner
time--when the table is full. He offereth to go away, seeing you
have company--but is induced to stay. He filleth a chair, and your
visitor's two children are accommodated at a side table. He never
cometh upon open days, when your wife says with some complacency,
"My dear, perhaps Mr. ---- will drop in to-day." He remembereth
birth-days--and professeth he is fortunate to have stumbled upon one.
He declareth against fish, the turbot being small--yet suffereth
himself to be importuned into a slice against his first resolution.
He sticketh by the port--yet will be prevailed upon to empty the
remainder glass of claret, if a stranger press it upon him. He is
a puzzle to the servants, who are fearful of being too obsequious,
or not civil enough, to him. The guests think "they have seen him
before." Every one speculateth upon his condition; and the most part
take him to be--a tide-waiter. He calleth you by your Christian
name, to imply that his other is the same with your own. He is too
familiar by half, yet you wish he had less diffidence. With half the
familiarity he might pass for a casual dependent; with more boldness
he would be in no danger of being taken for what he is. He is too
humble for a friend, yet taketh on him more state than befits a
client. He is a worse guest than a country tenant, inasmuch as he
bringeth up no rent--yet 'tis odds, from his garb and demeanour, that
your guests take him for one. He is asked to make one at the whist
table; refuseth on the score of poverty, and--resents being left
out. When the company break up, he proffereth to go for a coach--and
lets the servant go. He recollects your grandfather; and will thrust
in some mean, and quite unimportant anecdote of--the family. He
knew it when it was not quite so flourishing as "he is blest in
seeing it now." He reviveth past situations, to institute what
he calleth--favourable comparisons. With a reflecting sort of
congratulation, he will inquire the price of your furniture; and
insults you with a special commendation of your window-curtains. He
is of opinion that the urn is the more elegant shape, but, after all,
there was something more comfortable about the old tea-kettle--which
you must remember. He dare say you must find a great convenience in
having a carriage of your own, and appealeth to your lady if it is not
so. Inquireth if you have had your arms done on vellum yet; and did
not know till lately, that such-and-such had been the crest of the
family. His memory is unseasonable; his compliments perverse; his talk
a trouble; his stay pertinacious; and when he goeth away, you dismiss
his chair into a corner, as precipitately as possible, and feel fairly
rid of two nuisances.

There is a worse evil under the sun, and that is--a female Poor
Relation. You may do something with the other; you may pass him off
tolerably well; but your indigent she-relative is hopeless. "He is
an old humourist," you may say, "and affects to go threadbare. His
circumstances are better than folks would take them to be. You are
fond of having a Character at your table, and truly he is one." But
in the indications of female poverty there can be no disguise. No
woman dresses below herself from caprice. The truth must out without
shuffling. "She is plainly related to the L----s; or what does she at
their house?" She is, in all probability, your wife's cousin. Nine
times out of ten, at least, this is the case. Her garb is something
between a gentlewoman and a beggar, yet the former evidently
predominates. She is most provokingly humble, and ostentatiously
sensible to her inferiority. He may require to be repressed
sometimes--_aliquando sufflaminandus erat_--but there is no raising
her. You send her soup at dinner, and she begs to be helped--after the
gentlemen. Mr. ---- requests the honour of taking wine with her; she
hesitates between Port and Madeira, and chooses the former--because
he does. She calls the servant _Sir_; and insists on not troubling
him to hold her plate. The housekeeper patronizes her. The children's
governess takes upon her to correct her, when she has mistaken the
piano for a harpsichord.

Richard Amlet, Esq., in the play, is a notable instance of the
disadvantages, to which this chimerical notion of _affinity
constituting a claim to acquaintance_, may subject the spirit of a
gentleman. A little foolish blood is all that is betwixt him and
a lady of great estate. His stars are perpetually crossed by the
malignant maternity of an old woman, who persists in calling him
"her son Dick." But she has wherewithal in the end to recompense his
indignities, and float him again upon the brilliant surface, under
which it had been her seeming business and pleasure all along to sink
him. All men, besides, are not of Dick's temperament. I knew an Amlet
in real life, who, wanting Dick's buoyancy, sank indeed. Poor W----
was of my own standing at Christ's, a fine classic, and a youth of
promise. If he had a blemish, it was too much pride; but its quality
was inoffensive; it was not of that sort which hardens the heart, and
serves to keep inferiors at a distance; it only sought to ward off
derogation from itself. It was the principle of self-respect carried
as far as it could go, without infringing upon that respect, which he
would have every one else equally maintain for himself. He would have
you to think alike with him on this topic. Many a quarrel have I had
with him, when we were rather older boys, and our tallness made us
more obnoxious to observation in the blue clothes, because I would not
thread the alleys and blind ways of the town with him to elude notice,
when we have been out together on a holiday in the streets of this
sneering and prying metropolis. W---- went, sore with these notions,
to Oxford, where the dignity and sweetness of a scholar's life,
meeting with the alloy of a humble introduction, wrought in him a
passionate devotion to the place, with a profound aversion from the
society. The servitor's gown (worse than his school array) clung to
him with Nessian venom. He thought himself ridiculous in a garb, under
which Latimer must have walked erect; and in which Hooker, in his
young days, possibly flaunted in a vein of no discommendable vanity.
In the depth of college shades, or in his lonely chamber, the poor
student shrunk from observation. He found shelter among books, which
insult not; and studies, that ask no questions of a youth's finances.
He was lord of his library, and seldom cared for looking out beyond
his domains. The healing influence of studious pursuits was upon him,
to soothe and to abstract. He was almost a healthy man; when the
waywardness of his fate broke out against him with a second and worse
malignity. The father of W---- had hitherto exercised the humble
profession of house-painter at N----, near Oxford. A supposed interest
with some of the heads of the colleges had now induced him to take
up his abode in that city, with the hope of being employed upon some
public works which were talked of. From that moment I read in the
countenance of the young man, the determination which at length tore
him from academical pursuits for ever. To a person unacquainted with
our Universities, the distance between the gownsmen and the townsmen,
as they are called--the trading part of the latter especially--is
carried to an excess that would appear harsh and incredible. The
temperament of W----'s father was diametrically the reverse of his
own. Old W---- was a little, busy, cringing tradesman, who, with his
son upon his arm, would stand bowing and scraping, cap in hand, to
any-thing that wore the semblance of a gown--insensible to the winks
and opener remonstrances of the young man, to whose chamber-fellow, or
equal in standing, perhaps, he was thus obsequiously and gratuitously
ducking. Such a state of things could not last. W---- must change
the air of Oxford or be suffocated. He chose the former; and let the
sturdy moralist, who strains the point of the filial duties as high
as they can bear, censure the dereliction; he cannot estimate the
struggle. I stood with W----, the last afternoon I ever saw him, under
the eaves of his paternal dwelling. It was in the fine lane leading
from the High-street to the back of ***** college, where W---- kept
his rooms. He seemed thoughtful, and more reconciled. I ventured to
rally him--finding him in a better mood--upon a representation of the
Artist Evangelist, which the old man, whose affairs were beginning to
flourish, had caused to be set up in a splendid sort of frame over his
really handsome shop, either as a token of prosperity, or badge of
gratitude to his saint. W---- looked up at the Luke, and, like Satan,
"knew his mounted sign--and fled." A letter on his father's table
the next morning, announced that he had accepted a commission in a
regiment about to embark for Portugal. He was among the first who
perished before the walls of St. Sebastian.

I do not know how, upon a subject which I began with treating half
seriously, I should have fallen upon a recital so eminently painful;
but this theme of poor relationship is replete with so much matter for
tragic as well as comic associations, that it is difficult to keep
the account distinct without blending. The earliest impressions which
I received on this matter, are certainly not attended with anything
painful, or very humiliating, in the recalling. At my father's table
(no very splendid one) was to be found, every Saturday, the mysterious
figure of an aged gentleman, clothed in neat black, of a sad yet
comely appearance. His deportment was of the essence of gravity; his
words few or none; and I was not to make a noise in his presence. I
had little inclination to have done so--for my cue was to admire in
silence. A particular elbow chair was appropriated to him, which was
in no case to be violated. A peculiar sort of sweet pudding, which
appeared on no other occasion, distinguished the days of his coming.
I used to think him a prodigiously rich man. All I could make out of
him was, that he and my father had been schoolfellows a world ago at
Lincoln, and that he came from the Mint. The Mint I knew to be a place
where all the money was coined--and I thought he was the owner of
all that money. Awful ideas of the Tower twined themselves about his
presence. He seemed above human infirmities and passions. A sort
of melancholy grandeur invested him. From some inexplicable doom I
fancied him obliged to go about in an eternal suit of mourning; a
captive--a stately being, let out of the Tower on Saturdays. Often
have I wondered at the temerity of my father, who, in spite of an
habitual general respect which we all in common manifested towards
him, would venture now and then to stand up against him in some
argument, touching their youthful days. The houses of the ancient
city of Lincoln are divided (as most of my readers know) between the
dwellers on the hill, and in the valley. This marked distinction
formed an obvious division between the boys who lived above (however
brought together in a common school) and the boys whose paternal
residence was on the plain; a sufficient cause of hostility in
the code of these young Grotiuses. My father had been a leading
Mountaineer; and would still maintain the general superiority, in
skill and hardihood, of the _Above Boys_ (his own faction) over the
_Below Boys_ (so were they called), of which party his contemporary
had been a chieftain. Many and hot were the skirmishes on this
topic--the only one upon which the old gentleman was ever brought
out--and bad blood bred; even sometimes almost to the recommencement
(so I expected) of actual hostilities. But my father, who scorned to
insist upon advantages, generally contrived to turn the conversation
upon some adroit by-commendation of the old Minster; in the general
preference of which, before all other cathedrals in the island, the
dweller on the hill, and the plain-born, could meet on a conciliating
level, and lay down their less important differences. Once only I saw
the old gentleman really ruffled, and I remembered with anguish the
thought that came over me: "Perhaps he will never come here again."
He had been pressed to take another plate of the viand, which I have
already mentioned as the indispensable concomitant of his visits. He
had refused, with a resistance amounting to rigour--when my aunt,
an old Lincolnian, but who had something of this, in common with
my cousin Bridget, that she would sometimes press civility out of
season--uttered the following memorable application--"Do take another
slice, Mr. Billet, for you do not get pudding every day." The old
gentleman said nothing at the time--but he took occasion in the course
of the evening, when some argument had intervened between them, to
utter with an emphasis which chilled the company, and which chills me
now as I write it--"Woman, you are superannuated." John Billet did not
survive long, after the digesting of this affront; but he survived
long enough to assure me that peace was actually restored! and, if I
remember aright, another pudding was discreetly substituted in the
place of that which had occasioned the offence. He died at the Mint
(Anno 1781) where he had long held, what he accounted, a comfortable
independence; and with five pounds, fourteen shillings, and a penny,
which were found in his escrutoire after his decease, left the world,
blessing God that he had enough to bury him, and that he had never
been obliged to any man for a sixpence. This was--a Poor Relation.


A play is said to be well or ill acted in proportion to the scenical
illusion produced. Whether such illusion can in any case be perfect,
is not the question. The nearest approach to it, we are told, is, when
the actor appears wholly unconscious of the presence of spectators.
In tragedy--in all which is to affect the feelings--this undivided
attention to his stage business, seems indispensable. Yet it is, in
fact, dispensed with every day by our cleverest tragedians; and while
these references to an audience, in the shape of rant or sentiment,
are not too frequent or palpable, a sufficient quantity of illusion
for the purposes of dramatic interest may be said to be produced in
spite of them. But, tragedy apart, it may be inquired whether, in
certain characters in comedy, especially those which are a little
extravagant, or which involve some notion repugnant to the moral
sense, it is not a proof of the highest skill in the comedian when,
without absolutely appealing to an audience, he keeps up a tacit
understanding with them; and makes them, unconsciously to themselves,
a party in the scene. The utmost nicety is required in the mode of
doing this; but we speak only of the great artists in the profession.

The most mortifying infirmity in human nature, to feel in ourselves,
or to contemplate in another, is, perhaps, cowardice. To see a coward
_done to the life_ upon a stage would produce anything but mirth.
Yet we most of us remember Jack Bannister's cowards. Could any thing
be more agreeable, more pleasant? We loved the rogues. How was
this effected but by the exquisite art of the actor in a perpetual
sub-insinuation to us, the spectators, even in the extremity of the
shaking fit, that he was not half such a coward as we took him for? We
saw all the common symptoms of the malady upon him; the quivering lip,
the cowering knees, the teeth chattering; and could have sworn "that
man was frightened." But we forgot all the while--or kept it almost a
secret to ourselves--that he never once lost his self-possession; that
he let out by a thousand droll looks and gestures--meant at _us_, and
not at all supposed to be visible to his fellows in the scene, that
his confidence in his own resources had never once deserted him. Was
this a genuine picture of a coward? or not rather a likeness, which
the clever artist contrived to palm upon us instead of an original;
while we secretly connived at the delusion for the purpose of greater
pleasure, than a more genuine counterfeiting of the imbecility,
helplessness, and utter self-desertion, which we know to be
concomitants of cowardice in real life, could have given us?

Why are misers so hateful in the world, and so endurable on the stage,
but because the skilful actor, by a sort of sub-reference, rather than
direct appeal to us, disarms the character of a great deal of its
odiousness, by seeming to engage _our_ compassion for the insecure
tenure by which he holds his money bags and parchments? By this subtle
vent half of the hatefulness of the character--the self-closeness
with which in real life it coils itself up from the sympathies of
men--evaporates. The miser becomes sympathetic; _i.e._ is no genuine
miser. Here again a diverting likeness is substituted for a very
disagreeable reality.

Spleen, irritability--the pitiable infirmities of old men, which
produce only pain to behold in the realities, counterfeited upon a
stage, divert not altogether for the comic appendages to them, but in
part from an inner conviction that they are _being acted_ before us;
that a likeness only is going on, and not the thing itself. They
please by being done under the life, or beside it; not _to the life_.
When Gatty acts an old man, is he angry indeed? or only a pleasant
counterfeit, just enough of a likeness to recognise, without pressing
upon us the uneasy sense of reality?

Comedians, paradoxical as it may seem, may be too natural. It was the
case with a late actor. Nothing could be more earnest or true than the
manner of Mr. Emery; this told excellently in his Tyke, and characters
of a tragic cast. But when he carried the same rigid exclusiveness of
attention to the stage business, and wilful blindness and oblivion of
everything before the curtain into his comedy, it produced a harsh and
dissonant effect. He was out of keeping with the rest of the _Personae
Dramatis_. There was as little link between him and them as betwixt
himself and the audience. He was a third estate, dry, repulsive, and
unsocial to all. Individually considered, his execution was masterly.
But comedy is not this unbending thing; for this reason, that the same
degree of credibility is not required of it as to serious scenes. The
degrees of credibility demanded to the two things may be illustrated
by the different sort of truth which we expect when a man tells us a
mournful or a merry story. If we suspect the former of falsehood in
any one tittle, we reject it altogether. Our tears refuse to flow at a
suspected imposition. But the teller of a mirthful tale has latitude
allowed him. We are content with less than absolute truth. 'Tis the
same with dramatic illusion. We confess we love in comedy to see an
audience naturalised behind the scenes, taken in into the interest
of the drama, welcomed as by-standers however. There is something
ungracious in a comic actor holding himself aloof from all
participation or concern with those who are come to be diverted by
him. Macbeth must see the dagger, and no ear but his own be told of
it; but an old fool in farce may think he _sees something_, and by
conscious words and looks express it, as plainly as he can speak, to
pit, box, and gallery. When an impertinent in tragedy, an Osric, for
instance, breaks in upon the serious passions of the scene, we approve
of the contempt with which he is treated. But when the pleasant
impertinent of comedy, in a piece purely meant to give delight, and
raise mirth out of whimsical perplexities, worries the studious man
with taking up his leisure, or making his house his home, the same
sort of contempt expressed (however _natural_) would destroy the
balance of delight in the spectators. To make the intrusion comic,
the actor who plays the annoyed man must a little desert nature; he
must, in short, be thinking of the audience, and express only so much
dissatisfaction and peevishness as is consistent with the pleasure of
comedy. In other words, his perplexity must seem half put on. If he
repel the intruder with the sober set face of a man in earnest, and
more especially if he deliver his expostulations in a tone which in
the world must necessarily provoke a duel; his real-life manner will
destroy the whimsical and purely dramatic existence of the other
character (which to render it comic demands an antagonist comicality
on the part of the character opposed to it), and convert what was
meant for mirth, rather than belief, into a downright piece of
impertinence indeed, which would raise no diversion in us, but rather
stir pain, to see inflicted in earnest upon any unworthy person. A
very judicious actor (in most of his parts) seems to have fallen into
an error of this sort in his playing with Mr. Wrench in the farce of
Free and Easy.

Many instances would be tedious; these may suffice to show that comic
acting at least does not always demand from the performer that strict
abstraction from all reference to an audience, which is exacted of
it; but that in some cases a sort of compromise may take place, and
all the purposes of dramatic delight be attained by a judicious
understanding, not too openly announced, between the ladies and
gentlemen--on both sides of the curtain.


Joyousest of once embodied spirits, whither at length hast thou flown?
to what genial region are we permitted to conjecture that thou has

Art thou sowing thy WILD OATS yet (the harvest time was still to come
with thee) upon casual sands of Avernus? or art thou enacting ROVER
(as we would gladlier think) by wandering Elysian streams?

This mortal frame, while thou didst play thy brief antics amongst us,
was in truth any thing but a prison to thee, as the vain Platonist
dreams of this _body_ to be no better than a county gaol, forsooth, or
some house of durance vile, whereof the five senses are the fetters.
Thou knewest better than to be in a hurry to cast off those gyves; and
had notice to quit, I fear, before thou wert quite ready to abandon
this fleshly tenement. It was thy Pleasure House, thy Palace of Dainty
Devices; thy Louvre, or thy White Hall.

What new mysterious lodgings dost thou tenant now? or when may we
expect thy aerial house-warming?

Tartarus we know, and we have read of the Blessed Shades; now cannot I
intelligibly fancy thee in either.

Is it too much to hazard a conjecture, that (as the school-men
admitted a receptacle apart for Patriarchs and un-chrisom Babes) there
may exist--not far perchance from that storehouse of all vanities,
which Milton saw in visions--a LIMBO somewhere for PLAYERS? and that

Up thither like aerial vapours fly
Both all Stage things, and all that in Stage things
Built their fond hopes of glory, or lasting fame?
All the unaccomplish'd works of Authors' hands,
Abortive, monstrous, or unkindly mix'd,
Damn'd upon earth, fleet thither--
Play, Opera, Farce, with all their trumpery--

There, by the neighbouring moon (by some not improperly supposed
thy Regent Planet upon earth) mayst thou not still be acting thy
managerial pranks, great disembodied Lessee? but Lessee still, and
still a Manager.

In Green Rooms, impervious to mortal eye, the muse beholds thee
wielding posthumous empire.

Thin ghosts of Figurantes (never plump on earth) circle thee in
endlessly, and still their song is _Fye on sinful Phantasy_.

Magnificent were thy capriccios on this globe of earth, ROBERT WILLIAM
ELLISTON! for as yet we know not thy new name in heaven.

It irks me to think, that, stript of thy regalities, thou shouldst
ferry over, a poor forked shade, in crazy Stygian wherry. Methinks I
hear the old boatman, paddling by the weedy wharf, with raucid voice,
bawling "SCULLS, SCULLS:" to which, with waving hand, and majestic
action, thou deignest no reply, other than in two curt monosyllables,
"No: OARS."

But the laws of Pluto's kingdom know small difference between king,
and cobbler; manager, and call-boy; and, if haply your dates of life
were conterminant, you are quietly taking your passage, cheek by
cheek (O ignoble levelling of Death) with the shade of some recently
departed candle-snuffer.

But mercy! what strippings, what tearing off of histrionic robes,
and private vanities! what denudations to the bone, before the surly
Ferryman will admit you to set a foot within his battered lighter!

Crowns, sceptres; shield, sword, and truncheon; thy own coronation
robes (for thou hast brought the whole property man's wardrobe with
thee, enough to sink a navy); the judge's ermine; the coxcomb's wig;
the snuff-box _a la Foppington_--all must overboard, he positively
swears--and that ancient mariner brooks no denial; for, since the
tiresome monodrame of the old Thracian Harper, Charon, it is to be
believed, hath shown small taste for theatricals.

Aye, now 'tis done. You are just boat weight; _pura et puta anima_.

But bless me, how _little_ you look!

So shall we all look--kings, and keysars--stript for the last voyage.

But the murky rogue pushes off. Adieu, pleasant, and thrice pleasant
shade! with my parting thanks for many a heavy hour of life lightened
by thy harmless extravaganzas, public or domestic.

Rhadamanthus, who tries the lighter causes below, leaving to his
two brethren the heavy calendars--honest Rhadamanth, always partial
to players, weighing their parti-coloured existence here upon
earth,--making account of the few foibles, that may have shaded thy
_real life_ as we call it, (though, substantially, scarcely less a
vapour than thy idlest vagaries upon the boards of Drury,) as but of
so many echoes, natural repercussions, and results to be expected from
the assumed extravagancies of thy _secondary_ or _mock life_, nightly
upon a stage--after a lenient castigation, with rods lighter than
of those Medusean ringlets, but just enough to "whip the offending
Adam out of thee"--shall courteously dismiss thee at the right
hand gate--the O.P. side of Hades--that conducts to masques, and
merry-makings, in the Theatre Royal of Proserpine.



My acquaintance with the pleasant creature, whose loss we all deplore,
was but slight.

My first introduction to E., which afterwards ripened into an
acquaintance a little on this side of intimacy, was over a counter
of the Leamington Spa Library, then newly entered upon by a branch
of his family. E., whom nothing misbecame--to auspicate, I suppose,
the filial concern, and set it a going with a lustre--was serving in
person two damsels fair, who had come into the shop ostensibly to
inquire for some new publication, but in reality to have a sight of
the illustrious shopman, hoping some conference. With what an air did
he reach down the volume, dispassionately giving his opinion upon the
worth of the work in question, and launching out into a dissertation
on its comparative merits with those of certain publications of a
similar stamp, its rivals! his enchanted customers fairly hanging on
his lips, subdued to their authoritative sentence. So have I seen a
gentleman in comedy _acting_ the shopman. So Lovelace sold his gloves
in King Street. I admired the histrionic art, by which he contrived to
carry clean away every notion of disgrace, from the occupation he had
so generously submitted to; and from that hour I judged him, with no
after repentance, to be a person, with whom it would be a felicity to
be more acquainted.

To descant upon his merits as a Comedian would be superfluous. With
his blended private and professional habits alone I have to do;
that harmonious fusion of the manners of the player into those of
every day life, which brought the stage boards into streets, and
dining-parlours, and kept up the play when the play was ended.--"I
like Wrench," a friend was saying to him one day, "because he is the
same natural, easy creature, _on_ the stage, that he is _off_." "My
case exactly," retorted Elliston--with a charming forgetfulness,
that the converse of a proposition does not always lead to the same
conclusion--"I am the same person _off_ the stage that I am _on_." The
inference, at first sight, seems identical; but examine it a little,
and it confesses only, that the one performer was never, and the other
always, _acting_.

And in truth this was the charm of Elliston's private deportment.
You had a spirited performance always going on before your eyes,
with nothing to pay. As where a monarch takes up his casual abode for
a night, the poorest hovel which he honours by his sleeping in it,
becomes _ipso facto_ for that time a palace; so where-ever Elliston
walked, sate, or stood still, there was the theatre. He carried about
with him his pit, boxes, and galleries, and set up his portable
playhouse at corners of streets, and in the market-places. Upon
flintiest pavements he trod the boards still; and if his theme chanced
to be passionate, the green baize carpet of tragedy spontaneously rose
beneath his feet. Now this was hearty, and showed a love for his art.
So Apelles _always_ painted--in thought. So G.D. _always_ poetises.
I hate a lukewarm artist. I have known actors--and some of them of
Elliston's own stamp--who shall have agreeably been amusing you in
the part of a rake or a coxcomb, through the two or three hours of
their dramatic existence; but no sooner does the curtain fall with
its leaden clatter, but a spirit of lead seems to seize on all their
faculties. They emerge sour, morose persons, intolerable to their
families, servants, &c. Another shall have been expanding your heart
with generous deeds and sentiments, till it even beats with yearnings
of universal sympathy; you absolutely long to go home, and do some
good action. The play seems tedious, till you can get fairly out of
the house, and realise your laudable intentions. At length the final
bell rings, and this cordial representative of all that is amiable
in human breasts steps forth--a miser. Elliston was more of a piece.
Did he _play_ Ranger? and did Ranger fill the general bosom of the
town with satisfaction? why should _he_ not be Ranger, and diffuse
the same cordial satisfaction among his private circles? with _his_
temperament, _his_ animal spirits, _his_ good-nature, _his_ follies
perchance, could he do better than identify himself with his
impersonation? Are we to like a pleasant rake, or coxcomb, on the
stage, and give ourselves airs of aversion for the identical character
presented to us in actual life? or what would the performer have
gained by divesting himself of the impersonation? Could the man
Elliston have been essentially different from his part, even if he
had avoided to reflect to us studiously, in private circles, the
airy briskness, the forwardness, and 'scape goat trickeries of his

"But there is something not natural in this everlasting _acting_; we
want the real man."

Are you quite sure that it is not the man himself, whom you cannot, or
will not see, under some adventitious trappings, which, nevertheless,
sit not at all inconsistently upon him? What if it is the nature of
some men to be highly artificial? The fault is least reprehensible in
_players_. Cibber was his own Foppington, with almost as much wit as
Vanburgh could add to it.

"My conceit of his person,"--it is Ben Jonson speaking of Lord
Bacon,--"was never increased towards him by his _place_ or _honours_.
But I have, and do reverence him for the _greatness_, that was only
proper to himself; in that he seemed to me ever one of the _greatest_
men, that had been in many ages. In his adversity I ever prayed that
heaven would give him strength; for _greatness_ he could not want."

The quality here commended was scarcely less conspicuous in the
subject of these idle reminiscences, than in my Lord Verulam. Those
who have imagined that an unexpected elevation to the direction of a
great London Theatre, affected the consequence of Elliston, or at all
changed his nature, knew not the essential _greatness_ of the man whom
they disparage. It was my fortune to encounter him near St. Dunstan's
Church (which, with its punctual giants, is now no more than dust
and a shadow), on the morning of his election to that high office.
Grasping my hand with a look of significance, he only uttered,--"Have
you heard the news?"--then with another look following up
the blow, he subjoined, "I am the future Manager of Drury Lane
Theatre."--Breathless as he saw me, he stayed not for congratulation
or reply, but mutely stalked away, leaving me to chew upon his
new-blown dignities at leisure. In fact, nothing could be said to
it. Expressive silence alone could muse his praise. This was in his
_great_ style.

But was he less _great_, (be witness, O ye Powers of Equanimity,
that supported in the ruins of Carthage the consular exile, and
more recently transmuted for a more illustrious exile the barren
constableship of Elba into an image of Imperial France), when, in
melancholy after-years, again, much near the same spot, I met him,
when that sceptre had been wrested from his hand, and his dominion was
curtailed to the petty managership, and part proprietorship, of the
small Olympic, _his Elba?_ He still played nightly upon the boards
of Drury, but in parts alas! allotted to him, not magnificently
distributed by him. Waiving his great loss as nothing, and
magnificently sinking the sense of fallen _material_ grandeur in
the more liberal resentment of depreciations done to his more
lofty _intellectual_ pretensions, "Have you heard" (his customary
exordium)--"have you heard," said he, "how they treat me? they put me
in _comedy_." Thought I--but his finger on his lips forbade any verbal
interruption--"where could they have put you better?" Then, after a
pause--"Where I formerly played Romeo, I now play Mercutio,"--and so
again he stalked away, neither staying, nor caring for, responses.

O, it was a rich scene,--but Sir A---- C----, the best of
story-tellers and surgeons, who mends a lame narrative almost as
well as he sets a fracture, alone could do justice to it--that I was
witness to, in the tarnished room (that had once been green) of that
same little Olympic. There, after his deposition from Imperial Drury,
he substituted a throne. That Olympic Hill was his "highest heaven;"
himself "Jove in his chair." There he sat in state, while before
him, on complaint of prompter, was brought for judgment--how shall
I describe her?--one of those little tawdry things that flirt at
the tails of choruses--a probationer for the town, in either of its
senses--the pertest little drab--a dirty fringe and appendage of the
lamps' smoke--who, it seems, on some disapprobation expressed by a
"highly respectable" audience, had precipitately quitted her station
on the boards, and withdrawn her small talents in disgust.

"And how dare you," said her Manager--assuming a censorial severity
which would have crushed the confidence of a Vestris, and disarmed
that beautiful Rebel herself of her professional caprices--I verily
believe, he thought _her_ standing before him--"how dare you, Madam,
withdraw yourself, without a notice, from your theatrical duties?" "I
was hissed, Sir." "And you have the presumption to decide upon the
taste of the town?" "I don't know that, Sir, but I will never stand
to be hissed," was the subjoinder of young Confidence--when gathering
up his features into one significant mass of wonder, pity, and
expostulatory indignation--in a lesson never to have been lost upon a
creature less forward than she who stood before him--his words were
these: "They have hissed _me_."

'Twas the identical argument _a fortiori_, which the son of Peleus
uses to Lycaon trembling under his lance, to persuade him to take his
destiny with a good grace. "I too am mortal." And it is to be believed
that in both cases the rhetoric missed of its application, for want
of a proper understanding with the faculties of the respective

"Quite an Opera pit," he said to me, as he was courteously conducting
me over the benches of his Surrey Theatre, the last retreat, and
recess, of his every-day waning grandeur.

Those who knew Elliston, will know the _manner_ in which he pronounced
the latter sentence of the few words I am about to record. One proud
day to me he took his roast mutton with us in the Temple, to which
I had superadded a preliminary haddock. After a rather plentiful
partaking of the meagre banquet, not unrefreshed with the humbler sort
of liquors, I made a sort of apology for the humility of the fare,
observing that for my own part I never ate but of one dish at dinner.
"I too never eat but one thing at dinner"--was his reply--then after
a pause--"reckoning fish as nothing." The manner was all. It was as
if by one peremptory sentence he had decreed the annihilation of all
the savory esculents, which the pleasant and nutritious-food-giving
Ocean pours forth upon poor humans from her watery bosom. This was
_greatness_, tempered with considerate _tenderness_ to the feelings of
his scanty but welcoming entertainer.

_Great_ wert thou in thy life, Robert William Elliston! and _not
lessened_ in thy death, if report speak truly, which says that
thou didst direct that thy mortal remains should repose under no
inscription but one of pure _Latinity_. Classical was thy bringing
up! and beautiful was the feeling on thy last bed, which, connecting
the man with the boy, took thee back in thy latest exercise
of imagination, to the days when, undreaming of Theatres and
Managerships, thou wert a scholar, and an early ripe one, under the
roofs builded by the munificent and pious Colet. For thee the Pauline
Muses weep. In elegies, that shall silence this crude prose, they
shall celebrate thy praise.


To mind the inside of a book is to entertain one's self with
the forced product of another man's brain. Now I think a man of
quality and breeding may be much amused with the natural sprouts
of his own.

_Lord Foppington in the Relapse._

An ingenious acquaintance of my own was so much struck with this
bright sally of his Lordship, that he has left off reading altogether,
to the great improvement of his originality. At the hazard of
losing some credit on this head, I must confess that I dedicate no
inconsiderable portion of my time to other people's thoughts. I dream
away my life in others' speculations. I love to lose myself in other
men's minds. When I am not walking, I am reading; I cannot sit and
think. Books think for me.

I have no repugnances. Shaftesbury is not too genteel for me, nor
Jonathan Wild too low. I can read any thing which I call a _book_.
There are things in that shape which I cannot allow for such.

In this catalogue of _books which are no books--biblia a-biblia_--I


Back to Full Books