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rather seem to exceed than to fall short of what is required to form classical exhibition.
Where, then, are we to look for that unfortunate counterbalance, which confessedly depresses the national Drama in despite of the advantages we have enumerated ? We apprehend it will be found in the monopoly possessed by two large establishments, which, unhappily for the progress of national taste, and, it is said, without any equivalent advantage to the proprietors, now enjoy the exclusive privilege of dramatic representation. It must be distinctly understood, that we attribute these disadvantages to the system itself, and by no means charge them upon those who have the administration of either theatre. The proprietors have a right to enjoy what the law invests in them; and the managers have probably discharged their duty to the public as honourably as circumstances would admit of; but the system has led into errors which affect public taste, and even public morals. shall briefly consider it as it influences, Ist, the mode of representation ; 2dly, the theatrical authors and performers; and, 3dly, the quality and composition of the audience.
The first inconvenience arises from the great size of the theatres, which has rendered them unfit for the legitimate purposes of the Drama. The persons of the performers are, in these huge circles, so much diminished, that nothing short of the mask and buskin could render them distinctly visible to the audience. Show and machinery have, therefore, usurped the place of tragic poetry; and the author is compelled to address himself to the eyes, not to
the understanding or feelings of the spectators.
author or actor of genius. Besides, all attempts at decoration, beyond what the decorum of the piece requires, must end in paltry puppet-show exhibition. The talents of the scene-painter and mechanist cannot, owing to the very nature of the stage, make battles, sieges, &c. any thing but objects of ridicule. Thus we have enlarged our theatres, so as to destroy the effect of acting, without carrying to any perfection that of pantomime and dumb show.
Secondly, The monopoly of the two large theatres has operated unfavourably both upon theatrical writers and performers. The former have been, in many instances, if not absolutely excluded from the scene, yet deterred from approaching it, in the same manner as men avoid attempting to pass through a narrow wicket, which is perpetually thronged by an importunate crowd. Allowing the managers of these two theatres, judging in the first and in the last resort, to be possessed of the full discrimination necessary to a task so difficultsupposing them to be at all times alike free from partiality and from prejudice—still the number of plays thrust upon their hands must prevent their doing equal justice to all; and must frequently deter a man of real talents, either from pride or modesty, from entering a competition, clogged with delay, solici
tation, and other circumstances, “ haud subeunda ingenio suo." It is unnecessary to add, that increasing the number of theatres, and diminishing their size, would naturally tend to excite a competition among the managers, whose interest it is to make experiments on the public taste ; and that this would infallibly secure any piece, of reasonable promise, a fair opportunity of being represented. It is by such a competition that genius is discovered ; it is thus that horticulturists raise whole beds of common flowers, for the chance of finding among them one of those rare varieties which are the boast of their art.
The exclusive privilege of the regular London theatres is equally, or in a greater degree, detrimental to the performer ; for it is with difficulty that he fights his way to a London engagement, and when once received, he is too often retained for the mere purpose of being laid aside, or shelfed, as it is technically called ;-rendered, that is, a weekly burden upon the pay-list of the theatre, without being produced above four or five times in the season to exhibit his talents. Into this system the managers are forced from the necessity of their situation, which compels them to enlist in their service every performer who seems to possess buds of genius, although it ends in their being so crowded together that they have no room to blossom. In fact, many a man of talent thus brought from the active exercise of a profession, in which excellence can only arise from practice, to be paid for remaining obscure and inactive in London, and supported by what seems little short of eleemosynary bounty, either becomes careless of his business or disgusted with it; and, in either case, stagnates in that mediocrity to which want of exercise alone will often condemn natural genius.
Thirdly, and especially, the magnitude of these theatres has occasioned them to be destined to company so scandalous, that persons not very
nice in their taste of society, must yet exclaim against the abuse as a national nuisance. We are aware of the impossibility of excluding a certain description of females from public places in a corrupted metropolis like London ; but in theatres of moderate size, frequented by the better class, these unfortunate persons would feel themselves compelled to wear a mask at least of decency. In the present theatres of London, the best part of the house is openly and avowedly set off for their reception ; and no part of it which is open to the public at large is free from their intrusion, or at least from the open display of the disgusting improprieties to which their neighbourhood gives rise. And these houses, raised at an immense expense, are so ingeniously misconstructed, that, in the private boxes, you see too little of the play, and, in the public boxes, greatly too much of a certain description of the company. No man of delicacy would wish the female part of his family to be exposed to such scenes; no man of sense would wish to put youth, of the male sex, in the
way of such temptation. This evil, if not altogether arising from the large size of the theatres, has been so incalculably increased by it, that, unless in the case of strong attraction upon the stage, prostitutes and their admirers usually form the principal part of the audience. We censure, and with justice, the corruption of morals in Paris. But in no public place in that metropolis is vice permitted to bear so open and audacious a front as in the theatres of London. Barefaced infamy is in foreign cities never permitted to insult decency. Those who seek it must go to the haunts to which its open disclosure is limited. In London, if we would enjoy our most classical public amusement, we are braved by gross vice on the very threshold.
We notice these evils, without pretending to point out the remedy. If, however, it were possible so to arrange the interests concerned, that the patents of the present theatres should cover four, or even six, of smaller size, we conceive that more good actors would be found, and more good plays written ; and, as a necessary consequence, that good society would attend the theatre in sufficient numbers to enforce respect to decency. The access to the stage would be rendered easy to both authors and actors ; and although this might give scope to some rant, and false taste, it could not fail to call forth much excellence, that must otherwise remain latent or repressed. The theatres would be relieved of the heavy expense at present incurred, in paying performers who do not play; and in maintaining, as both Drury-Lane and Covent-Garden do at present, three theatrical corps, for the separate purposes of tragedy, comedy, and musical pieces; only one of which can be productive labourers on the same evening, though all must be supported and paid. According to our more thrifty plan, each of these companies would be earning at the same time the