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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.
TO THE SHADE OF ELLISTON.
Joyousest of once imbodied spirits, whither at length hast thou flown ? to what genial region are we permitted to conjecture that thou hast flitted ?
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 among us, was in truth anything but a prison to thee, as the vain Platonist dreams of this body to be no better than a county jail, 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 fleshy tenement. It was thy Pleasure-house, thy Palace of Dainty Devices; thy Louvre, or thy Whitehall.
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 schoolmen 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
Abortive, monstrous, or unkindly mix'd,
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 stiil be acting thy managerial pranks, great disimbodied 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, Fy on sinful fantasy.
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, stripped of thy regalities, thou shouldst ferry over, a poor forked shape, 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 QARS."
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, (oh 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 propertyman's wardrobe with thee, enough to sink a navy ;) the judge's ermine; the coxcomb's wig; the snuff-box à la Foppingtonall 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. Ay, now 'tis done.
You are just boat weight ; pura et
But, bless me, how little
look! So shall we all look-kings and keysars-stripped for the
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 party-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 extravagances 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 0. P. side of Hades—that conducts to masks and merry-makings in the Theatre Royal of Proser pine.
PLAUDITO, ET VALETO.
My acquaintance with the pleasant creature, whose loss we all deplore, was but slight.
My first introduction to E., which afterward 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 die 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 Kingstreet. 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 aster repentance, to be a person with whoin 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 per former 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 wherever Elliston walked, sat, 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 io 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 poetizes. 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 realize your laudable intentions. A length the final bell rings, and this cordial representative of all that is amiable in hunian 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, bis 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 prototype ?
" 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.