« PreviousContinue »
doubt that a suflicient contribution of materials towards a History of Private Theatres might be found.
In England the Drama, in its rise and progress, has followed pretty nearly the same course as in France. The sacred comedy, or mystery, was its first essay, and showmen and priests the earliest actors. From the church, too, after a simi? jar sort of divorce, the histrionic art passed to universities and schools,–in the former of which it flourished to a very late period, while in the latter some relics of it even still remain.
Gammer Gurton's Needle, the production of a Bishop of Bath and Wells, and the first approach to anything like a regulat comedy in our language, was acted at Christ's College, Cambridge, in the year 1522. About forty years afterwards, both Oxford and Cambridge represented plays before Queen Elizabeth, in English as well as in Latin; and a Drama composed by a learned Doctor of Divinity of Cambridge, had the honour; we are told, of putting his Majesty King James I. fast to sleep.
Warton is of opinion, that; to these early collegiate repre sentations, the dramatic taste of the nation was, in no small degree, indebted for its improvement; nor must some share of the merit be denied to another class of private actors, the Gentlemen of the Inns of Court, who, both by writing and acting, conduced considerably to the same object. John Roos, a student of Gray's Inn, and afterwards serjeant at law, wrote a comedy which was acted in the Hall of the Society in 1511; and the Tragedy of Ferrex and Porrex, the first specimen of a heroic play in our language, was performed by the students of the Inner Temple, in the year 1561, before Elizabeth at Whitehall.
We have seen that, in Italy and France, the cultivation of the liistrionic art among amateurs of rank and station, had prevailed long before the establishment of public actors. But in England, mercenary stage-players existed from a very early period, and most of the entertainments we read of at coart, and at the houses of nobility, were evidently performed by persons of this description. From the very infancy, indeed, of the Drama, there appears to have been a regular company of actors attached to the court, both in England and Scotland, and the only entertainments, of a theatrical nature, in which royal and noble personages themselves condescended to appear, were those allegorical Pageants and Pomps, with which it was the custom to celebrate all solemn occasions.
These costly shows, becoming gradually more refined and dramatic, assumed, at a later period, a more elevated character under the name of masques, and, calling incident and beautiful
poetry to their aid, have been enshrined imperishably in our Îiterature, by the pens of Jonson and Milton.*
It was in the reigns of James I. and his successor, that these splendid creations attained their highest perfection. • Thus • magnificently constructed,' observes Mr Gifford, “ the Masque was not committed to ordinary performers. It was composed, as Lord Bacon says, for princes, and by princes it was played. • The prime nobility of both sexes, led on by James and his · Queen, took upon themselves the respective characters; and
it may be justly questioned whether a nobler display of grace, 6 and elegance and beauty, was ever beheld, than appeared in
the masques of Jonson. The songs in these entertainments • were probably intrusted to professional men; but the dia• logue, and above all the dances, which were adapted to the
fable, and acquired without much study and practice, were • executed by the court themselves.'
It would be by no means an unamusing or uninstructive task, to collect such particulars as are recorded of these rich and fanciful spectacles, on which the Veres, the Derbys, the Bedfords, the Cliffords, the Arundels, and other historical names, reflect such lustre. In Jonson's Masque of Blackness, the Queen, and the ladies Suffolk, Derby, Effingham, Herberts, &c. personated the parts of Moors, and had, as we are informed by Sir Dudley Carleton, their faces and arms, up to the elbows,
painted black.'- But it became them,' adds the learned Secretary, ' nothing so well as their own red and white. In the Masque of Oberon, Sir John Finnet tells us, the little Duke • Charles (Charles I.) was still found to be in the midst of the • fairy dancers. The 6.Hue and Cry after Cupid,' as performed at Lord Haddington's marriage, 1608, transcended in expensiveness even the ever memorable fête this year at Boyle Farm-having cost the eleven noblemen and gentlemen concerned in it, L.300 a man.'+
The last attempt made to revive this species of entertainment was in the reign of Charles II., when the two future Queens, Mary and Anne, assisted by many of the young nobility of both sexes, performed a masque, called Calisto,' written by Crowne,
* The Arcades of Milton was performed by the children of the Countess Dowager of Derby, at her seat Harefield-Place; and the Comus, says Johnson,' was presented at Ludlow, then the residence • of the Lord President of Wales, in 1634, and had the honour of be*ing acted by the Earl of Bridgewater's sons and daughters.'
† Lodge's Illustrations, vol. iii. p. 343.
and the unfortunate Duke of Monmouth appeared among the dancers. Evelyn thus speaks of this representation :- Saw a comedy at night at court, acted by the ladies only; amongst
them, Lady Mary and Anne, his R. H.'s two daughters, and • my dear friend Mrs Blagg, who, having the principal part, performed it to admiration.'
From that time we hear no more of such courtly pageants in England; though, within these few years, a taste for performances somewhat similar seems to have sprung up in some of the courts on the Continent, where spectacles founded on the stories of Ivanhoe and Lalla Rookh have been got up with a splendour which even the masques of our ancient Kings could hardly parallel. In the · Divertisement' from Lalla Rookh, performed at the court of Berlin in 1822, the present Emperor and Empress of Russia played the parts of Feramorz and Lalla Rookh : the Duke of Cumberland personated Abdallah, the father of the Royal Minstrel; and the other characters in the Tableaux, selected from the poem, were represented by the Princes and Princesses of Prussia, and by the most distinguished persons of the court and society of Berlin.*
We should have mentioned, that during the reign of Oliver and his Saints, when stage-plays in public were so strictly prohibited, there were, besides the entertainments set on foot by Sir William Davenant at Rutland-House, occasional representations of plays at the houses of the nobility; and Holland-House, among its other memorable associations, is particularly mentioned as having been used for this purpose. These performances, however, though clandestine, or at least connived at by the ruling powers, cannot fairly be classed under the head of Private Theatricals; their object being to give relief to the unemployed players, who chiefly, if not exclusively, performed on these occasions. The same remark applies to what is called the • Private' Theatre of DavenantMr Malone, we believe, having no authority for asserting, that in the pieces at RutlandHouse, “no stage-player performed.'
From the time of Charles II., till near the end of the last century, the Théâtre de Société of England affords but little, as far as we know, that is interesting. In the Memoirs of Lord Orford, we find, under the date 1751, the following curious notice : The 7th was appointed for the Naturalization Bill, but
* Lalla Roûkh, Divertissement mélé de Chants et de Danses, executé au Château Royal de Berlin, le 27 Janvier, 1822, &c. &c.• avec 23 planches coloriés.'
" the House adjourned to attend at Drury-Lane, where Othello • was acted by a Mr Delaval and his family, who had hired the theatre on purpose. The crowd of people of fashion was so great, that the footmen's gallery was bung with blue ri.bands.'
The performances at the Duchess of Queensberry's, for the amusement of the royal personages of Leicester-House, are only memorable, we believe, for having enabled the favourite, Lord Bute, to display his fine legs (of which he was so proud) in the gay character of Lothario. We might next pass in review the theatricals of Winterslow, where no less an actor on the stage of life than the late Charles Foxcælestis hic in dicendo vir played Horatio in the Fair Penitent, and Sir Harry in High Life below Stairs. At Holland-House, too, Mr Fox played Hastings to the Jane Shore of the beautiful Lady Sarah Bunbury.
Richmond-House presents another patrician theatre of the by-goue times, whose attractions, on one occasion, shortened the solemn sittings of the Senate, and brought Mr Pitt himself (ta use his own words, on another occasion,) - under the wand of • the enchanter. If the anecdote be true, which attributes to that festive evening the glory of having collected Pitt, Fox, and Sheridan together in one hackney-coach-of which hackney-coach: it might well be said, "sideraque alta trahit'-- it is an event that, among the memorabilia of Private Theatres, is deserving of special and emphatic record.
We have thus hastily, and, we rather fear, tiresomely, put together the few particulars relating to Private Theatres that have fallen within the range of our research. It is now time, we feel, to take a little notice of the volume which has been the innocent cause of all this causerie, and wbich, though not intended, we believe, for circulation beyond the members of the institution to which it refers, appeared to us to warrant, by its connexion with the general history of the drama, the use that we have made of it.
The city of Kilkenny-where the performances commemora, ted in this volume were continued annually, with but few interruptions, from the year 1802 to 1819--possesses some ancient claims on the reverence of all lovers of the drama. The celebrated Bale, whose tragedy of Pammachius was acted at Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1544, inhabited for some time, as Bishop of Ossory, the Palace of Kilkenny; and two of his sacred comedies, or mysteries, were, as he himself tells us, acted at the market-cross in that town. On the xx daye of August was ! the Ladye Marye, with us at Kilkennye, proclaimed Queen of • England, &c. The yonge men in the forenone played a tragedye of God's Promises in the Old Lawe,' at the marketcrosse, with organe-plaingis and songes, very aptely. In the afternone, again, they played a comedie of. Sanet Johan Bap65 tiste's Preachings, of Christe's Baptisynge, and of his Temp6tacion in the Vildernesse.' '*
From that period, till the middle of the last century, Ireland furnishes but few materials for a History of the Stage, Public or Private. So slow, indeed, was the progress of the drama in that country, that, in the year 1600, when England had been, for some time, enjoying the inspirations of Shakspeare's muse, we find the old tragedy of Ferrex and Porrex, the first rude essay of the art, represented before Lord Montjoy at the Castle of Dublin. It was, indeed, about the same period, when, as we have said, the taste for private aeting reappeared in England, that a similar feeling manifested itself among the higher ranks of society in Ireland ; and, in the year 1759, a series of amusements of this kind took place at Lurgan, in the county of Armagh, the seat of that distinguished Member of the Irish Parliament, William Brownlow. To this meeting,' says the editor of the volume before us, in his Introduction, the stage is • indebted for the popular entertainment of Midas. It was
written upon that occasion by one of the company, the late Mr • Kane O'Hara, and originally consisted of but one act, com• mencing with the fall of Apollo from the clouds. The cha
raeters in the piece were undertaken by the members of the s family, and their relatives, with the exception of the part of • Pan, which was reserved by the author for himself. Many
additions were made to it before its introduction to the pub ·lic, and, among others, the opening scene of Jove in his 6. Chair, as it is now represented.'
To these representations succeeded, in 1760, a sort of Theatrical Jubilee, at Castletown, the residence of the Right Hon. Thomas Conolly,--where, after the performance of the First Part of Henry 4th,' an epilogue was, it appears, spoken by Hussy Burgh-afterwards Baron of the Exehequer-one of the most accomplished men that the Bar of Ireland has ever produced. In the year 1761, the Duke of Leinster opened his princely mansion at Cartown, to a series of entertainments of the same description; and, in a list of the characters of the Beggar's Opera, which was one of the pieces performed on this occasion, we find, among a number of other distinguished names (Lord Charlemont, Lady Louisa Conolly, &c.) the rather startling an