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is said to have distinguished him. Nor does it show much respect for religion, that the story of the chaste Susanna should be converted into a ballad opera. In this last piece the whole story is acted to the life. The chaste Susanna, who is personated by the handsome madame Belmont, is even represented as having made some progress towards preparing for the bath, when the elders surprise her. The rest of the piece is such as you know the original to be, with this addition, that the prophet Daniel, represented by a mademoiselle of no very good character, sings a song, and tells the Jews how much better the great nation will treat them than their law-giver does in the Old Testament. If it surprises you, as indeed it must, that such a piece should be permitted since the reestablishment of the catholic religion, and the restoration of good order in society, you must consider, as the police probably does, that there are seventeen or eighteen theatres open every night in Paris, that the actors can only live by drawing full houses, and that they must some way or other gratify the taste of the audience, who, like the tired glutton whom Pope describes as labouring through a feast, tries all ways to stimulate an appetite,
“and calls for something sweet and something sour."
Strict orders were given, during the revolution, that nothing should be presented to the audience but such pieces as were consistent with the temper of the times, and with the principles that were then avowed; and a whole company of actors have been conducted to prison for daring to give a play in which a king, or other titled person, had appeared to advantage, or when particular passages, which might seem to allude unfavourably to the measures of government, had not been omitted. The present master, however, knows better how to manage the nation ; for he is better acquainted with their character, with his own strength, and, perhaps. with human nature. Plays, containing passages which might seem to allude to him and to his usurpation, or to the propriety of cutting off tyrants, and restoring the true heir, or which might, in any way, awaken the slumbering affection of the people to the house of Bourbon, have been those he has particularly ordered. He has made one of the audience at the Death of Cæsar; and it was by his particular order that Athalie was represented. He has more than once been present at the “ Partie de chasse de Henri IV," which used to draw tears from the eyes of any good Frenchman; so at least it was pretended : but the fact is, that those tears were all affectation. The French were never attached to any of their monarchs, but as they would claim distinction from belonging to so great a prince. They were like the livery servants of a very rich man, who are proud of being in his suite, and of calling him master. Not having been in
England for many years, I cannot compare the actors of the two nations; but the French appear to me excellent in comedy. Every character has its representative, and the valet de chambre, the prude, the coquette, and the gamester, are represented to the life. They are all perfect in their parts too, and extremely well dressed. The man of fashion of former times may still be seen in Henri; and the countenance, manners, and tone of voice of mademoiselle Mars are all innocence and amiable simplicity. Indeed she acts her part, and looks it so well, that one is almost tempted to regret that such a mein and such a face should appear upon the stage. You may see in Kotzebue's travels an account of the different theatres and principal actors. Talma appeared to me, as to him, one of the best actors in the world; but I can conceive nothing more perfect than mademoiselle Duchenois, whom he disapproves. They have generally, both in comedy and tragedy, the great defect of looking at the audience, rather than at each other; but this, I am told, arises from their little disagreements, and, besides, from their living so much together, it is very natural they should wish to see other faces. The chaste Susanna has long quarrelled with her husband, and, being in great vogue, and very affluent circumstances, she takes the liberty of treating the poor man with great contempt. Unfortunately, however, as he is the lover of the troop, and she what is called the premiere amoureuse, for which I leave you to find an English expression, they generally act in the same piece, and are very often obliged to appear smitten with each other. He was, upon one of these occasions, so enraged with her, for having refused, that very morning, to be his security for a gaming debt, that, instead of kissing her hand, or the part required, he bit it, to the no small discomposure of the lady's smiles. The acting in general, with one or two exceptions, is better in comedy than in tragedy, where dignity is made to consist too much in a formal strut, a fierce look, and a certain violent emphatical manner of speaking. When Ulysses, in Racine's Iphigenie, in the language of the true pathetic, tells the unhappy father, that so far from blaming his tears, he is ready himself to weep, the most enlightened of the deaf and dumb, judging only from air and gesture, would suppose, that, shocked at some great offence towards the gods, he was going to immolate Agamemnon upon the spot. In another of Racine's interesting pieces, which he composed for St. Cyr, Haman answers the king's question of how he should reward a faithful servant, the saviour of the state, with so much glaring self-conceit, and such absurd pomposity, that, upon being ordered to carry his advice into execution in favour of Mordecai, the whole audience burst into a fit of laughter. Now certainly Racine, who was tremblingly alive to a sense of decorum, never meant to excite any such emotion. He intended, no doubt, that every honourable mind should
be gratified at the humiliation of an insolent and wicked courtier, but it would have mortified him to have heard the house laugh. Elvion, whom Kotzbue speaks of, is one of the best actors and singers on the stage, and appears to great advantage in some of the smaller pieces; he has also a handsome person, and is consequently in every respect an object of universal admiration. The play-houses are all of them rather commodious than handsome, and a great deal of decorum, descending to some seemingly trifling circumstances, is enforced by the audience, who are the more rigid, perhaps, from its being the only sort of jurisdiction which the revolution has left to any portion of the nation.* But the grand opera is what a Frenchman will tell you is most to be admired in France. It is a medley of music, painting, poetry, and dancing, with a perfection of skill in shifting the scenes which is said to be unrivalled. The French, it seems, excel all people in the dramatic art, the Germans in instrumental performance, and the Italians in music. It was from Italy the opera originally came. But poetry, though aided by the powers of some good writers, soon yielded the precedence to music, and the aid of dancing was called in afterwards. Ariadne, deserted by her lover, whom she had saved, and even Dido, may be supposed, without any great violation of propriety, to pour out her grief in song; and the elevated sentiments of some patriot or warrior might even be enforced by intervals of solemn or warlike music; but I am shocked to hear a hero sing. All the eloquence of Metastasio cannot reconcile me to such a degradation in the persons of Hector and Achilles, and much less so in those of Cicero or Cato; and what think you of Regulus, who, after having urged his countrymen upon the most solemn and important of all occasions, to watch over the dignity and safety of the state, turns round and gives them a song, before he ascends the Carthaginian vessel. In modern operas, however, we are not shocked with such inconsistencies. The story is generally taken from some old romance, or the Arabian Nights Entertainments, or the heathen mythology, and the music, for which a certain number of lines of certain length have been ordered, condescends, as little as possible, to borrow aid from sense. The wonders which we read of in the Dunciad are here to be seen in all the perfection of extravagant absurdity. The angel of dulness here plants his standard, and scatters his magic charms in profusion. Monsters and gods, nymphs, shepherdesses and furies, are seen to dance or to fight, as the case requires. The horrors of the infernal regions are laid open, the damned are even rolling about in flames and sulphur, and over them, at a distance, the mind is consoled with a view of the Elysian fields,
* Nam qui dabant olim.-Juv.
very much in the nature of a Mahometan paradise, and this medley of absurdities, ending,as Pope says, by
* A fire, a jig, a bottle, and a ball,"
is received with as much applause as the victory of Austerlitz. Racine, meanwhile, at the French theatre, hardly commands attention ; and Moliere is acted to empty benches, and by the most ordinary actors; and the little ballad opera of former times, in which French music, if they have any, appears to advantage, is rather declining. The dancing of the opera is what chiefly draws a crowd, but the art has, I think, degenerated. It is no longer the expression of gayety, nor is it the serious dance, the school of the graces. It is what Young calls a tempest of agility, a violent exertion of bodily force, a turning round with velocity, and jumping as high as possible to light upon one leg, in imitation of those leaden figures of Mercury you see on houses or on walls, and all this is attended with an exposure of the person in the female dancers which admits of no description. It does now and then happen that the composer of an opera, who has to lull to sleep some vigilant monster, or to charm some guardian of a captive beauty, indulges his genius in strains of simple melody, and that the inventor of a ballad wishes to make his dance emblematical of rural happiness, that they both, in short, return to Nature in their several departments, and to genuine taste, and the performance is then delightful. There is a moment in the Mysteries of Isis when the sister arts of music, poetry, and dancing are thus most happily united ; and I was struck with the redoubled attentionof the audience : but such moments pass very rapidly, and one soon returns to the screaming of the great opera, and to the jumping of Duport and Vestris. The establishment of the opera costs a large yearly sum, exclusively of the receipts, and this is defrayed by the government, which fixes the salaries of the performers, and allows them a benefit after twenty years service. The exertions of a dancer are generally fatal to health in a few years, and this is said to be particularly the case with the female dancers, who, after a strange variety of fortune and of situation, very often, if they live to be old, take their station, I am told, as beggars at a church door, and die in an hospital. The demand of the establishment, meanwhile, is kept up by a supply from needy parents, who are satisfied that their children should be taught to dance, without any other education whatever, and, as a great majority of them can rise no higher than to figurantes, with salaries of not more than thirty pounds per annum, they inevitably become outcasts of society. One cannot surely but lament that the opera, which affords no very rational amusement after all, should be thus converted into a gulf which swallows up so much youth, innocenc and beauty. The principal dancers and singers are supposed to be always at the orders of the court, and are sent for by the emperor, when ever he chooses to relax a little from state affairs ; nor does he spare reproaches if they arrive a moment too late, or are less well dressed than he thinks they should be, or do not perform entirely to his satisfaction. “ Vous avez chanté comme des cochons" was the salutation he received the singers with when they came to pay their respects to him after his coronation.
The theatre has afforded us a great deal of amusement during our stay here; but I confess myself to have been disappointed at the representation of some of Moliere and Regnard's pieces ; not that the acting was deficient, but from a great deal of stage trick, which is said to have been handed down by tradition, is now as powerful on the stage as it ever was in the church. When I observed to a person I once sat next to, at the representation of Regnard's Joueur, that there was nothing in the play, as it was printed, to justify Hector's endeavouring repeatedly to steal money out of his master's hat, or the extreme familiarity which takes place between them, I was answered, that it was always acted in that manner. And when the parterre found fault with Durincourt's squeezing his handkerchief, which was wet with lavender water, into the prompter's seat, he silenced them by stepping forward and observing that Preville had always acted the part in that manner. It was at the theatre I first saw the emperor : but so great a man deserves to be the subject of a separate letter.
CORRESPONDENCE-FOR THE PORT FOLIO.
The communication from your intelligent correspondent E. C. respecting Brydone's Tour has placed the doubts which hung over that work in a proper point of view: that it was written by “a Grub-street garetteer” is certainly “ an unfounded assertion," but that the author has in many of his