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hear a player placing an unnatural stress upon particular words, I cannot help comparing him to the paviour, who at every thump of his hammer cries hem.
I have observed, that the tragedians of the last age studied fine speaking; in consequence of which, all their action consisted in little more than strutting with one leg before the other, and waving one or both arms in a continual see-saw. Our present actors have perhaps run into a contrary extreme: their gestures sometimes resemble those afflicted with St. Vitus's dance; their whole frame appears to be convulsed; and I have seen a player in the last act so miserably distressed, that a deaf spectator would be apt to imagine he was complaining of the cholic or the toothach. This has also given rise to that unnatural custom of throwing the body into various strange attitudes. There is not a passion necessary to be expressed, but has produced dispositions of the limbs not to be found in any of the paintings or sculptures of the best masters. A graceful gesture and easy deportment is, indeed, worthy the care of every performer: but when I observe him writhing his body into more unnatural contortions than a tumbler at Sadler's Wells, I cannot help being disgusted to see him " imitate humanity so abominably." Our pantomime authors have already begun to reduce our comedies into grotesque scenes; and if this taste for attitude should continue to be popular, I would recommend it to those ingenious gentlemen, to adapt our best tragedies to the same use, and entertain us with the like jealousy of Othello in dumb shew, or the tricks of Harlequin Hamlet.
Before I dismiss this article, it may be expected that I should say something concerning the behaviour proper for our ladies. We must allow them on all occasions to roll the eye, stretch up the neck, heave the chest, and with a thousand little tricks set off their person, if not their part, to the most advantage.
The pomp of the old stage has not yet been altogether reformed, either with respect to our heroines or our heroes. A weeping princess (though perhaps she is hurried on the stage with grief and despair) cannot decently make her entrance without being led in between two mourning damsels in black; and a heroine must always be accompanied by one or more pages, to smooth her train when ruffled by passion. The hero now seldom sweats beneath the weight of a nodding plume of swan feathers, or has his face half hid with an enormous bush of white horse-hair: I could also wish (if possible) that the manager was saved the unnecessary expence of three yards of velvet for the trains of his Amazons; and that the chambermaids (as well as the militia of the theatres) were dismissed, and the pages, together with the dirty lord's in waiting, blotted out of the mute Dramatiz Persona.
The mention of these particulars naturally reminds me, how far the Juggle of the Theatre is concerned in the affair of dress. Many will agree with me, that almost the only distress of the last act in the Fair Penitent arises from the pitiful appearance of Calista in weeds, with every thing hung in black bays about her; and the players are afraid we should Jose sight of Hamlet's pretended madness, if the black stocking discovering a white one underneath, was not rolled half way down the leg. A propriety in dress is absolutely necessary to keep up the general deception; and a performer properly habited, who by his whole deportment enters deeply in the circumstances of the character he represents, makes us for awhile fancy every thing before us real: but when, by some ill-judged piece of art, he departs from the Simplicity of imitation, and "o'ersteps the modesty of nature," he calls us back to the theatre, and exeites passions very different from those he aims at.
I cannot better illustrate what has been said on this last subject, than by giving instances of two artifices of this kind; one of which is employed (as I conceive) to raise pity, and the other terror.
When the Romeo of Drury-Lane comes to die at Juliet's monument, we are surprised to see him enter in a suit of black. This, I suppose, is intended as a stroke of the pathetic; but not to dwell on the poverty of the artifice, it is in this place a manifest violation of the poet's meaning. Romeo is supposed to come post from Mantua........" Get me post-horses, I will hence to-night"....so that if our Roscius must be so very exact in dressing the character, he should appear at the tomb in a riding frock and boots. But a mourning coat will excite pity, "and let the devil wear black, (says our Hamlet-Romeo), for I'll have a suit of sabics."........The same player, after having acted that noble scene in the second act of Macbeth, in so fine a manner, that one would almost imagine both the poet and player must have been murderers to represent one so well, goes out to execute the supposed murder. After a short space he returns as from the fact: but though the expression in his face is still remarkably excellent, one cannot but smile to observe, that he has been employing himself behind the scenes in putting his wig awry, and untying one of the tyes to it. This doubtless is designed to raise terror; but to every discerning spectator, it must appear most absurdly ridiculous: for who can forbear laughing, when he finds that the player would have us imagine, that the same deed, which has thrown all that horror and confusion into his countenance, has also untwisted one of the tails of his periwig?
No. XXXV. THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 26.
Facundi calices quem non fecere disertum !
The fool sucks wisdom, as he porter sups,
TO MR. TOWN.
AS I am willing to do every thing in my power to celebrate so illustrious a body as the Robin Hood Society, I have taken the first opportunity of laying the following letter before the public.
THAT part of your last paper, in which you considered the Art of Speaking as far as it regards theatrical performances, gives me reason to hope, that you will not overlook the merits of the Robin Hood Society, where that art is practised in it's greatest perfection. You would do well to recommend it to the gentlemen of the theatre to attend those weekly meetings for their improvement as soon as possible; and I dare say you will join with me in giving the same advice to the younger part of our clergy and our lawyers, as well as our members of parliament. The stage, the pulpit, the bar, and the senate-house cannot furnish us with such glorious examples of the power of oratory, as are to be met with in this society; where the most important questions in every branch of knowledge are discussed, and where the disputants are all of them equally versed in religion, law, politics, and the drama.
The institution of this school of eloquence far exceeds any thing, that the ancients could boast. Every sect, that was known among the Grecians and Romans, has it's votaries here also. I have seen a taylor a Stoic, a shoemaker a Platonist, and a cook
an Epicurean. They affect to entertain a profound veneration for Socrates, often preferring him to any of the apostles: though, instead of declaring with this wise philosopher, that they know nothing, the members of the Robin Hood Society profess to know every thing.
For my own part, I confess myself so charmed with their proceedings, that I constantly attend them: and when I see all their members assembled with each his pewter-mug before him, I cannot help preferring this social meeting to any ancient Symposium whatever; and when I further observe them first take a swig, and then speak with such amazing force of argument, I am apt to conclude that truth, instead of being hid in a well, as was said by an old philosopher, must lay at the bottom of a tankard of porter.
There is no grace or excellence in oratory, but is displayed in the Robin Hood Society to the greatest advantage. Demosthenes being asked what was the first quality in an orator, replied....action; what the second,....action; what the third,....action. Upon this principle one of the members, for whom I have a vast respect, is the greatest orator that ever lived. He never troubles himself about the order or substance of what he delivers, but waves his hand, tosses his head, abounds in several new and beautiful gestures, and from the beginning of his speech to the end of it, takes no care but to set it off with action. Tully tells us, that it is the business of an orator "to prove, delight, and convince." Proof and conviction our Society is always sure to give us: for else how could it ever come to pass, that so many young men should have learned from these disquisitions that there is no God, that the soul is mortal, that religion is a jest, and many other truths, which they would otherwise never have discovered. The nature of their questions is also for the most part so entertaining, that the disputes about them cannot fail of giving