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Slaughter-house. The place of exhibition was in a loft over a cowhouse; the ascent by a step-ladder. Had our hero stuck to tragedy, and died upon the stage, neither his head nor his heels could have been seen by the audience. The performance was the “ Chapter of Accidents,” and the farce of the “ Prize.” The play presented no great difficulties, but the farce involved some almost insurmountable ones. In the second act two mummy cases should be brought on the stage, in one of which Mathews was to have been inclosed; the bringing them on was out of the question, therefore it was agreed that one case should be discovered and another supposed: but what could be substituted for a mummy case? “A lucky thought,” said the manager, who was the tragic hero, and an undertaker in Clare-market; “ I'll lend you a shell.” The shell was brought, and a fresh difficulty was started : it would only stand the wrong end upwards, and the narrow part was too small for Mathews's head, it was also a little too short, or Mathews a little too long; but as there was no alternative, he was somehow or other squeezed into it in a crouching position. In the mummy cases used on the stage there are holes made to admit air, but that would have been too great a bore to the manager, so that Mathews was not only jammed into the coffin, but nearly suffocated, before the time of his release, and when he did come out, he was in a high state of perspiration.
Another whimsical occurrence happened at the same place the following week. The play was “ Hamlet;" Hamlet by the undertaker. The only entrance to the loft was a trap-door at the top of the step-ladder, which trap-door was in the centre of the stage close behind the curtain. In the closet scene, when the enraptured audience were all attention to its cunning, the undertaker had thrown himself into one of his most elegant attitudes, and with awful grandeur exclaimed, “ Look on this picture--and on this ;”—up came the trap, and an arm thrust up
before the Danish Prince a pot of porter with a beautiful cauliflower head. The Ghost, who was waiting to enter at the wing, burst into a loud laugh, in which the whole audience joined, to the no small annoyance of the actors.
On the 19th of June, in the same year, having quitted home, he appeared on the Dublin stage, in Lingo, for Mrs. Wells's benefit, and repeated the part for Miss Campion's (afterwards Mrs. Pope), but meeting with only ordinary success, he was compelled to accept an engagement from Daly, at half-a-guinea a-week, to play the Walking Gentleman ; and his first part was Beaufort, in the “Citizen,” to Miss Farren's Maria, which he played in a red coat brought with him from London; which, he being remarkably thin, and wearing it in almost every part he played, obtained him the soubriquet of the Stick of Sealing Wax.
From the foregoing facts it is clear to me that he must have been at least three years older than he is stated to have been at this time. A boy at sixteen being editor of a magazine, an actor of old men, and engaged to play the Walking Gentleman in the Dublin Theatre in his seventeenth year, are certainly not common occurrences : and it is further confirmed by his own words, before quoted—“ Neither of these gentlemen have attained their twentieth year.”
When his father found all remonstrance vain, and his son determined on a theatrical life, he gave him twenty guineas on his departure, with a promise of twenty more when he should feel inclined to return to his home and his business. In Dublin he suffered as many deprivations, though engaged at the Theatre Royal, as if he had been in a strolling company. The twenty guineas were soon exhausted—his salary was not regularly paid-instead of half-a-guinea, he frequently found it difficult to get half-a-crown,—and the Dublin treasurer, like the treasurer of Drury-lane Theatre in Sheridan's time, considered those performers very pressing who came to the treasury two following Saturdays ; by-the-by, this practice has lately become fashionable in some of our London theatres.
The irregularity of Daly's payments caused considerable havoc in Mathews's wardrobe. One morning his only shirt came home from the wash so wet he was obliged to keep his bed till the kitchen fire had cured the evil. To save time, he sent for the barber; on his entering his apartment he told him that being very unwell, he would thank him to shave him where he was, and, wrapping the sheet close round himself, prepared for the operation. The barber, observing his shirtless state, said, “ Oh, Mr. Mathews! I see how it is; Daly is at his old tricks—no money in the treasury. My good friend, you have had no breakfast ; I'll not shave you till you have,” and very abruptly quitted the room. Mathews's shirt being by this time dry, he dressed himself
, and was wondering why that very worthy and kind-hearted man (as he had hitherto thought him) should have departed in so extraordinary a manner, when the door flew open, and in he walked, bearing a plentiful repast, which Mathews partook of with an appetite of gratitude and delight.
Many years after, Mathews and Incledon went out in the summer starring it at various places. Before they started Mathews stipulated with Incledon that they should travel on an economical plan, which Incledon rather reluctantly agreed to. On their arrival at their hotel in Dublin, Mathews ordered the best breakfast that could be served. Incledon, surprised at his fellow-traveller breaking through his own enforced regulation, in vain inquired the cause. When everything was ready, Mathews sent for his old friend the barber, who entered the room in a few minutes-his dress, face, everything appeared to be the same as when he last saw him, nearly twenty years before. After making his usual bow, he, as usual, prepared for business-a momentary pause ensued-they recognised each other--Mathews seized him by the hand. My worthy friend,” said he, you once gave me a good breakfast when I had not the means of procuring one.
I have now provided one for you, and I hope you will partake of it with as much gratification as I partook of yours”-and, saiting the action to the word, he placed him at the table. Mathews has often said this was one of the happiest moments of his life : even Incledon shed tears. Mathews's gratitude did not stop here; he allowed the poor man a small annuity for the rest of his life, and never went to Dublin without shaking him by the hand.*
Driven almost to the last extremity, he wrote to his father, but the old gentleman refused him supplies, on the ground that it would be adding
This is but one of numerous traits of generosity and high feeling on the part of Mathews, during a season of trial and unmerited adversity, with which the public will shortly be made acquainted in the interesting life of that extraordinarily-gifted man, which is preparing for publication by his widow.-ED.
to his damnation, but, if he would return, he would receive him kindly. “ His poverty and not his will consented;" and, after eighteen months' purgatory, at the latter end of the year 1795, accompanied by Montague Talbot, the actor, who was somehow mixed up with Ireland in the Shakspeare forgeries, he sailed from Cork to Bristol on the way home to his father ; bad weather drove them into Swansea, where they put up at a little public-house, the Bristol boat being to sail in a few hours. Having, like many other geniuses, barely enough to take them to London, they contented themselves with some bread and cheese and porter. While partaking of this homely meal, the door opened, and a hand, they saw no more, threw in a paper on the sanded Aoor. “Ha! what's this?” said Montague, picking up the paper. “Why, Mat, it's a playbill. The players are here. Shall we have a taste of their quality ? shall we go to the play to-night?” “ The play! pretty talking,” says Mat: “ where's the money to come from? Besides, the boat starts at four.” Talbot saw by the bill that an old acquaintance of his was in the company, and accordingly he took French leave, but soon returned. “ Here it is, Mat, my boy; here it is,” said he;
“ an order for the play—I've got it!” Mathews could not resist the temptation : he forgot the emptiness of his pocket and No. 18 in the Strand. Off they went to the theatre at rather an early hour; and, as soon they were seated in the pit, Talbot made some excuse for quitting his friend. When the curtain drew up, who should walk on but Talbot! It appeared that when Talbot left him at noon, he went to the theatre, and found them in great distress, their principal actor being only a few minutes before taken ill: Talbot volunteered his services, which were gladly accepted. The next morning they proceeded to the theatre (no vessel left for Bristol that day), when they found the person who was to have played Lingo that night had run away. Mathews played the part that night with such success, that the next day Masterman engaged him, and he continued in his circuit three years.
In October, 1797, Mathews married Miss E. Kirkman Strong, at Swansea. She was not an actress. She wrote some novels, and published a book of poems shortly before her death, which occurred in July, 1802.
When Emery went from the York circuit to Covent Garden Theatre in September, 1798, Mathews took his place, where he remained with great success till May, 1803. In the early part of that year George Colman “skirred the country round," selecting provincial actors, in order that he might open his theatre in the Haymarket with a company independent of the winter theatres, which were year after year making further encroachments on his season, and engaged Mathews at ten pounds a week, to form one of his “Rural Company," as they were styled. In March, previous to his appearance in London, he married the present Mrs. Mathews-Miss Jackson, then of the York company, and who had acted as a child at Drury Lane Theatre. Miss Jackson was a pupil of Michael Kelly, whose brother married her mother, and was by that lady father of Miss Kelly, the popular actress.
Mathews says, in his letter to Pierce Egan, that, at Christmas, 1792, he had never seen a play; and it is well known he could have been present at very few, and those must have been by stealth. He left London in the spring of 1794, and did not return to London till 1803 : it is therefore an extraordinary circumstance that he should have been able, Dec.-VOL. LI. NO. CCIV.
in 1800, to give imitations, at York, of Kemble, Holman, Lewis, Munden, Suett, &c. &c., persons of whom he could have seen so little.
His first appearance on the London boards was at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, on the 16th of May, 1803, in Jabel, in “The Jew," and Lingo, in the "Agreeable Surprise." His friend (who acted Richard with him at Richmoud) was at that time editor of a theatrical magazine, and devoted its pages to his praise. Colman also did much for him by writing a part in “ Love laughs at Locksmiths,” to introduce his mimicry.
His first new part was Mr. Wiggins. His father, after much persuasion, consented to enter the Devil's House and see his son perform that part, in consequence of Mrs. Mountain and some others having attended his chapel in Westminster. The kind-hearted old man got as far as the middle of Suffolk-street-repented-turned back-and never saw his son act.
On the 18th September, 1804, Mathews appeared at Drury Lane, in Don Manuel (“She Would and She Would Not”); but his second appearance was retarded by his father's death, which took place on the 19th of the same month, at the age of 63.
In March, 1808, Mathews was present at a pigeon-shooting match near Barnet, and was induced to fire a shot. Unfortunately the fowling. piece burst into numberless pieces, and shattered his left hand in a very dreadful manner. His whole frame was shaken, he was greatly indisposed, and unable to act for some days.
In June, 1808, he attempted Falstaff; but it wanted force. In 1809 “ Killing no Murder” was produced at the Haymarket Theatre. This very successful piece gave him the first opportunity of making a DECIDED HIT: it was written expressly for him ; indeed, the first act was all Mathews.
In 1810 he tried Touchstone; but it was a failure: with all his merit and all his mimicry, he was not equal to it. In truth, who is ? That poignant personage of the drama was entombed with King.
In August, 1810, he lost his mother.
He joined the Covent Garden company in Oct., 1812, where his first new character was Flexible in “ Love, Law, and Physic.” On its sixth representation, when he came to that part of the piece where he had been previously accustomed to take off a high legal character, the omission of the imitations gave great offence to the audience; the cries of “ Off, off, off, Mathews !-No curtailments-Imitation,” &c., were heard from all parts of the house ; till Flexible at length came forward and addressed the audience in the following words—" Ladies and Gentlemen, I am desired by the managers most respectfully to ask what is your pleasure ?"
A multitude of answers were here given, the purport of which it was not easy precisely to collect. The general call was for that which had been omitted. Mathews replied, “I understand what you mean : as an actor, it is my interest and my duty to do everything in my power to contribute to the entertainment of the public; the imitation which is called for, which has been named by a gentleman just under my ear, was introduced without any earthly intention to give offence to any person: it was taken by the audience and applied in a particular manner, which I did not exactly understand. I am certain there was no intention on the part of either author or actor to give offence to any one. I feel myself placed in a very awkward situation ; but a circumstance has occurred, in consequence of which, for particular reasons, I can only say I am positively obliged to omit it.” His speech was received with great applause, and the piece went on without further interruption.
The next evening, however, the uproar was renewed on the same account; and a gentleman in the pit insisted on Mathews serving up the caricature as usual. Having succeeded in obtaining silence, Mathews most solemnly disavowed having ever intended to ridicule any particular person in the imitations he had given—his aim was innocently to amuse, and his objects for that purpose drawn from nature; but it having been insinuated in one of the daily prints (the “ Morning Post”) that he was endeavouring to bring the constituted authorities of the country into contempt, and having heard that a noble and learned lord was much offended, he must, in future, omit that part which had given rise to the supposition.
In 1812 the “Sleep-Walker” was brought out at the Haymarket Theatre. This farce was repeatedly rehearsed by the Drury Lane company at the Lyceum Theatre, and given up at the general wish of the actors, who, one and all, were of opinion that it could not succeed. Dowton was to have played Somno, and Jack Johnstone Sir Patrick Maguire; and it was at this period produced without any great hope of its succeeding, but as a dernier ressort. The facts were these: Munden was taken ill during the rehearsal of a new farce, the “Child of Chance" —the hope of the season—it could not be played without him, and the “Sleep-Walker” was taken from the shelf after a long nap. The same opinion was expressed by the actors as before; but“ needs must when,' &c. Mathews, at a rehearsal, accidentally made an exit like Kemble in Octavian; the manager took the hint, and Mathews subsequently introduced imitations throughout the part, which the author never thought of, but looked on, and neither approved nor objected to what was doing. These imitations, the excellent acting of Mr. Jones, and of Mr. Finn in the little part of the Waiter, made it one of the most successful pieces that had been produced for some time, and it was acted fifty-two nights. On Munden's recovery, the “Child of Chance” was produced and condemned the first night : such is the uncertainty of success in the production of new pieces.
On the 8th of June, 1814, Mathews performed, for his benefit at Covent Garden, Sir Archy M‘Sarcasm (for that night only), after the Inanner of the late Mr. Cooke.
On the 23rd of July, 1814, Mathews left the theatre in the middle of a rehearsal, and took Terry with him in his gig. A very short time elapsed when news was brought that, at the corner of Cannon-row, in Parliament-street, the reins had got entangled with the horse's legs, and Mathews's efforts to disengage them were ineffectual. The horse began kicking, broke the shaft, and threw them with great violence on the pavement. They were carried to a surgeon's; Terry was much bruised, but Mathews suffered considerably more. His hip-bone was fractured, his face much cut, and he was otherwise so greatly injured, that he was unable to resume his professional duty until the 12th of August, when he appeared as Harlequin in the new piece called “Dr. Hocus Pocus, of which I have already spoken, and was obliged to hobble through the