Page images
PDF
EPUB

will of every apartment, knew every nook and corner, won dered 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 soods distant from the mansion-half hid by trees, what ) judged some romantic lake, such was the spell which bound me to the house, and such my caresulness 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, oh brambles, chain me too,

And, courteous briers nail me through. I was here as in a lonely temple. Snug firesides, the low-built roof-parlours ten feet by ien-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 worn away like a tarnished garter?

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 surviver 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 gayety ; which I had never seen without a smile, or recognised but as the usher of mirth ; that looked out so sormally 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 diverson, 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 actorsyour 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 afterward, 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.”

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 lifetime 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.

* 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.

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-hoho! with an irresistible accession, derived, perhaps, remotely from his ecclesiastical education, foreign to his prototype of

Oh la! Thousands of hearts yet respond to the chuckling Ok la! of Dicky Suett, brought back to their remembrance by the faithful transcript of his friend Mathews' mimicry. The “force of nature could no further go.” He drolled rpon the stock of these two syllables richer than the cuckoo.

Care, that troubles all the world, was forgotten in his com. position. Had he had but two grains (nay, half a grain) of it, he could never have supported himself upon those two spiders? 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, "through brake, through brier," reckless of a scratched face or a torn doublet. Shakspeare foresaw him when he framed his fools and jest

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. Ile 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 burden of that death; and when Death came himself, not in metaphor, to fetch Dicky

ers.

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-Oh! la! Oh 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 everything while he lived, and dwindled into less than a shadow afterward—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,* 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 topknoi, 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 persone 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 father:

'Sir Sampson. Thou hast been many a weary league, Ben, since I saw thee. “ 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?

* High Life Below Stairs.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »