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it is yet more unreal than fiction itself. It can exhibit nothing but the idea of an idea. It has neither voice, motion, action, nor manner, but as these are given to it by the Dramatist, the stage-manager, and the audience. All its outward attributes are the property of others, over which it exercises power only in the right of its ideality. idea, enlarging and re-producing-giving a greater grasp to poetry, a higher grace to action, and a more harmonious refinement to deportment—it has a separate and distinct office, where it is independent and beyond dictation. If it does not elevate, it has resigned its title to be recognized; for in any lower sphere it ceases to exist; and the character which on the stage is not exhibited as infinitely grander and more capacious—in other lights and elements--than a reader could possibly perceive it in the closet, may at once be concluded not to have been properly performed. When plays not fitted for the stage are talked of, a reproach is then passed on either the Stage as it is, or the Drama alluded to. No composition can be poetically unfit for representation. The more poetical, the more fitted to be developed by an art which is of its nature poetical.
We have now endeavoured to comprehend what acting is, how it is influenced, and the means by wliich'it was created. All these points turn the attention to the Drama for an understanding of the rise and history of the Stage. The Drama and the Stage are even at this day connected, though their association is far less harmonious than originally it was.
The distinction between them which has been proved, was in former times unperceived. The two arts were regarded as one element, and none sought to separate them, or even conceived such a separation to be possible. Shakspere alludes to the moral object of the Drama, as
the purpose of playing ; " and the Dramatists of his time, whenever they repudiated the accusations cast on their art, always undertook the defence of the Stage. The poet was then frequently an actor also ; and the union in his person of the two arts, no doubt, was friendly to this communion of feeling. The pride was in the object; and whoever assisted to attain it was hailed as a participator in all its glories. It was something to share such honours in such times, when the whole force of literature, invigorated by the discovery of printing, was concentrated on the Drama.
The monarch gave suggestions to the author. The prelate wrote for the theatre. The noble was ambitious to be distinguished as a Dramatist. The colleges were the schools of play-wrights; for “ Small Latine and less Greek” was a deficiency to note in a successful writer of those days. Thus was the body formed, within whose circle raged high debate, while round it stalked fanatic adversaries to keep the zeal from slumbering. Unrestrained competition-facility of production-certainty of attention--difficulty of achievement-and necessity of defence-combined to call forth the Genius which, in England, during the short space of thirty years, conceived and perfected that form of composition we now regard as our National Drama. Nor was this genius confined to persons. It was felt by all. Shakspere is but the first of many, for his spirit moved but in obedience to the impulse which a nation was agitated by; and the actors, even. more than the authors,—for the former appropriated by consent the poet's merit,-must have been, as they were more exposed to, more directly influenced by, its workings.
In what “ the purpose of playing" anciently was thought to consist, there is neither reason nor room to dispute. The spirit declaring the object of the Drama and the Elizabethan Stage has descended to us uninfluenced by time, in the writings of the period. There is no mistaking or denying it. It was to embody the ideal. And as all arts, when moved by the same causes produce similar effects, so in the sculpture of the Greeks, the paintings of the Italians, and the Drama of the English, the success necessitated by a conception of ideal beauty is apparent; while in the pictures of the Dutch, and the exhibitions of the modern stage, the result of a desire to portray reality is evidenced to be sensuality and grossness. The Dramatist and the actor of our early theatres were borne up by a faith which saw a truth more true than fact, a loveliness more pure than beauty. They believed in something that was to be felt only, and to be therefore only depicted through feeling which was too vast to grasp, too fine to be retained, too spiritual to be portrayed, but which infused every thing, though it could be entirely in nothing. It was a Deity in its conception, and it was in its effects as an inspiration. It gazed on goodness, and it believed itself to be good—and all around it shared the faith. It was gloried in, and honoured. The English Drama has never, since this faith departed from it, been so beloved or reverenced.
On the art of acting its consequence was the production of an excellence, that, evanescent in its nature, may be conjectured through the circumstances it led to; yet that it was excellent (these circumstances forgotten) might, with more certainty than facts can inculcate or warrant, be believed —-because many men, having a living faith in ideality, cannot meet together but genius must be born of them. This faith is in its nature procreative of genius. It sets no limit to possibility. It fixes, therefore, no bounds to achievement. It purifies the mind. It quickens the intellect, while it gives a courage that no obstacles can quell. Great things are seen ; but the idea growing with the sight, greater things are conceived, and a higher excellence developed.
Contemplating the nature of acting in the qualities it employs, the power of a faith in ideality to perfect is perceived. An imaginative art requiring complete abstraction, a confidence amounting to outward forgetfulness, which ideality, as enlarging the fancy, engrossing the intellect, and impressing the mind with a belief in spiritual existences, necessarily induces, could not escape from an influence thus calculated to operate, while the love it in its nature inspires would elevate the player above the petty prejudices and illiberal sneers of the ignorant. The professional devotedness of the original players must have amounted to an enthusiasm. The feelings of the present race will not help us to understand the sustainment and affection which, when fanaticism denounced and law prohibited—when all theatres were suppressed and actors banished, so that for years the art was in England annihilated—cherished and supported it in secret above all power and persecution ; for, on the Restoration, the Stage came forth again fresh as it had never suffered.
The mistaken zeal of the Puritans was impotent on the stage, which, so long as its old faith remained, was beyond mortal injury. The death wound was given by its patron, who interposed the littleness of his individual taste between the theatre and the national impulse of the Drama, and thus meanly cut off the root of inspiration.
The Patents are the parents of Melodrama, as we will prove at some future time, and the generators of every vice which has tended to corrupt the theatre. These selfish grants have annihilated the Stage. Their first effect was to exclude the Romantic Dramatist and to mutilate the Shaksperian Drama, thus closing or defiling the source at which the artists then living had been nourished. The potent ideal of our English Plays was sneered down, and the place to assert its dignity locked against reply. Nevertheless, ideality was not extinguished, but a weaker and less impressive kind of belief was substituted in the place of that which was indigenous to the mind of the country. The * Classic Drama," as it is called, was, underthe patronage of Charles the Second, introduced. This kind of entertainment did not attempt to be real. It presumed, indeed, to be of a more elevated nature than its predecessor." It acknowledged the ideal, but aimed at what was foreign alike to the native genius, or modern conception, and, therefore, was incapable of producing any effect beyond what belonged to it to corrupt as an innovation. It never made a convert of the player. The Stage received it, but has never displayed anything like faith in its pretension. We have not recorded a single actor whose reputation rests on personation in this form of entertainment. All histrionic fames are based on, and all competitive struggles have been made in, the legitimate Drama, in which the art of acting was conserved; for he who could appear in Coriolanus might play with Alexander, the genius demanded for the first being altogether removed from the talent required for the last.
The course of “classic" triumph is not to be traced by what was accomplished, but by what has been prevented. The faith it taught, it could not itself exemplify, and none could therefore receive. It was a fanaticism in its love of forms, not a religion in its feeling and its spirit. Its operation was to engross the theatre, to displace; so the belief the Elder Dramatists had established, deprived of fair exercise, and fed by scraps, died of sheer exhaustion. The old belief, however, was long dying, but its strength soon faded. It was once openly expressed, and all could hear. Thus Genius caught its impulse before he sought its shrine; but when it was shut up, imprisoned in the Patents, it ceased to be spirit to be felt, and became a tradition to be learned, for soon in the playhouse one learnt of another, and that which had been done formerly was regarded and noted down; the spirit which had first moved to do, being in each weaker and weaker, till now it has ceased altogether, and is to be traced only in superstitions.
To the Elder, or the legitimate Drama, we attribute the excellence of all the actors who have lived since its declaration. They form but one body or school of art, and their connection is to be traced in a direct line of succession down to that gentleman now living whom we regard as the last of the race, and to whom we anticipate no successor. In this light we regard Mr. Macready. His title to be thus regarded may be perceived no less in his educational acquirements than in the spirit he has inherited. The first we discern in the command he possesses over a thick, harsh, and guttural voice of small compass, and in the management he has acquired over a naturally ungainly deportment -in the refinement which enables him to be, spite of heavy personal disadvantages, superior in grace and elocution to all who have no defects to conquer. The last we discover in a faith, perhaps confused and undefined-all he aims at declares for something beyond the outward purpose of the Drama—a constant straining after some idealperhaps shadowy and indistinct-yet still desired. He has a hope in some mystical beauty involved in his art. It is perceptible in his imprudences. It involves as often as it directs him. Nevertheless, he has the enthusiasm ; and the confidence of the public, which he possesses in so eminent a degree, is no more than the response such a feeling will ever awaken. They who would attribute his fame to his position, are refuted in the fact that this was by that produced. Such as assert his station is the result of the circumstances in which he lives, are not borne out, since isolation shows circumstances have been resisted. Others, who account for his pre-eminence by citing the money he receives and the propriety he observes in his social relations, are equally groundless in their assumptions. He is not the first in the scale of remuneration, and his private life, exemplary as it is, might be easily paralleled among the brethren of his profession. He is alone only in his art, and there alone only, because, since the day of his initiation, the educational process of the theatre has altered. He yet feels the influence of that spirit in which formerly the Drama and the Stage were wedded. The influence of that period when our English plays had a palace for their theatre-a monarch for their critic-a court for their audience-and genius for their director-is still at work within him, and he is the last of that school of actors we shall here denominate the Dramatic.
The term school does not insist that the styles of all the disciples were similar. The performances of Quin and Kemble were regarded as “classic,” because these were in conformity with the critical canons of their day,--but the very modifications such conformity implies, teach that Kean and Garrick were nearer to the original, or the manner of personating Shakspere's characters as the author conceived and directed they should be played. A contempt for opinion, or taste, left the pure spirit unfettered, and the impulse was obeyed in accordance with its dictates ; for a Drama of passion finds its proper supporters in vehement or impulsive actors, rather than in the studied or refined, however critics may labour to establish the contrary. The classification rests only on a general likeness to be traced in a similarity of object, and pretends not to define or proscribe the manner of seeking. The cessation of this general desire in one class denotes the rise of a new order of artists, whom—as imbibing their tastes from the new order of entertainment of recent birth, which, by its vigour, has absorbed the tragedy of Dryden, and forced the comedy of Congreve into farce, and which, dealing only with the picturesque and the effective, generates a habit of posturing, and encourages an ambition to exaggerate-- we shall presume to call the Melodramatic.
The effect produced on the theatres by the appearance of Melodrama was particularly marked and speedy. The Stage, as has been shown, was feeble and incapable of self-sustainment at the time; little, therefore, was it fitted to resist or make any stand against further innovation. Kemble, who was at its head during the period, has, by the superficial writers on the art, been greatly lauded; but they who look deeper will regard him as a misfortune in the hands of Fate. No man following any pursuit, and holding a like position, under similar circumstances, could display more blindness, behave worse, or care less. He can be excused only by reference to the time in which he lived, and the ideas he had in common with his craft; but he is far below the lowest praise whom consideration must shield from blame. The Drama he pretended to sustain, probably, it required an event to restore ; for its feebleness had become such as threatened its decease when Melodrama arose. This order of entertainment pretends to no belief. It has no faith of any kind; and its writers vaguely speak of the moral purpose of the Drama, like the actors, not knowing or caring in what this purpose consists. It aims to inculcate no truth. It assumes only to know how to do, but in that it is earnest; and by the mere power of intentness, having no higher strength, it swept the Stage, which, without ideas to oppose against it, was at its mercy. The players, indeed, boasted to resist its potency, and not a few held themselves up as martyrs to their orthodoxy; however, even the pictures that remain to us prove how quickly the most“ classical” were subjected to its energy. A comparison of the portraits of Garrick and of Kemble will serve to illustrate the remark; nor may any two in particular be selected, lest it seem these were chosen rather to Hatter an opinion than to demonstrate a truth, Let the whole of them be turned over, and Garrick will be seen always in motion. In his conception the character was a whole--and the possibility of dividing into parts, much less of condensing its vastness into so petty a frivolity as an attitude, had not entered the mind of a performer when he lived; but in Kemble's likenesses, a resemblance to the actor, taken as he passed through a long part, and showing therefore only so much as might be caught at a glance, is not perceived-but a set attitude, studied and strained, evidently laboured to present a symbol of the entire idea. No difficulty can be felt to trace whence Kemble derived a habit which makes a distinction between him and Garrick, opposed to any notion that could be found of their different styles, simply grounded on the repute each name enjoys.
Melodrama has, however, chiefly operated in a sphere apart from the London theatres, and its effect in this distant sphere now in a great degree controls the art of acting. In the country, Melodrama is the staple commodity of the stage: the legitimate Drama being announced for the most part only on benefit nights, or the advent of a Star from the Metropolis. The players who from time to time appear in town are taken from the provinces; and as it is a condition of the Stage to receive its impulse from the Drama, seeing how all future aspirants to histrionic honours are educated, it is almost impossible any fresh performer should come forward, so long as the present customs continue, worthy to be called a Tragedian, or to be classed with