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drama. To a complete and vital civilization | compared him unfairly with his elders; they it is essential that no province of art should expected from the incepting the completelie fallow and unproductive. If it be desira-ness of the matured actor. The press, which ble that the thought of every age should be he never courted, repaid his indifference with embodied in words, colors, marble, or bronze occasional hostility or general silence. He -if it be important that our material progress had no declamatory tricks to catch the unshould be accompanied by a corresponding wary; he never condescended to play at moral and intellectual development,-not less either pit or gallery. And the audience of desirable and important is it that the drama, those days was not easily contented. Nightly which claims from all the arts "suit and in the habit of witnessing performances of a service" in their turn, should retain its station high order, their demands were high on all among the educational instruments of the who aspired to win their favor. There was, age. indeed, less smart newspaper criticism in those days; but there was instead of it a more competent and formidable bench of judges in the pit and boxes to probe and admonish the actor. The audiences of that period came with comparatively fresh emotions to the theatre. Their sensations had not been blunted by the semi-dramatic excitement of Byron's poems or Scott's tales. The novel of that time did not anticipate the business of the scene. Neither had the men and women of that time, artificial as were their manners in many respects, reached that morbid condition of civilization which now renders the indulgence or expression of feeling in public little short of a social crime. They went to the theatres to be moved, and they required that the actor should be able to open the sources of their mirth or sorrow. They met him half-way, but they expected that on his part he should be able to evoke the sympathy which they were ready to afford. Nor, at the time when John Kemble and Mrs. Siddons were in the zenith of their fame, did spectators flock to the theatre merely to be moved or amused. The stage was looked upon as a school of manners, and as the most intellectual of all entertainments. Orators, artists, men of wit and men of fashion then resorted to Covent-garden or Drury-lane as they now flock to the Opera. To canvass the merits and to attend the representations of English actors was not then considered a token of inferior breeding. It was as legitimate to profess admiration of Shakspeare and Jonson as now of Rossini or Donizetti. Nous avons changé tout celawith what profit appears from the present condition of the English stage.
But without a great school of actors the drama itself necessarily pines and dwindles. Men capable of casting their thoughts into dramatic forms, will not be at the pains to write when none are competent to embody them worthily; and the more cultivated and critical portion of the public abandon the theatre to those who are content with rant, buffoonery, spectacle, and burlesque. That we have still some actors who do honor to their art, and still some authors to supply them with plays worthy to outlive the present, is rather a proof that the ancient spirit is not wholly dead, than of the existence of a generally sound condition of the drama itself. A brief account of one who inherited and transmitted a great name may, in some measure, illustrate the causes of the former high estate and the present comparative decline of the histrionic art among us.
The youngest, by nearly twenty years, of a family who for almost three generations formed the central group of all that was excellent on the stage, Charles Kemble was indebted for his eventual position as much to the discipline he underwent, as to the dramatic powers which he shared or inherited. Nature had been bountiful to him in its gifts: his form was noble, his features classical and expressive, his voice, although not strong, remarkably melodious. But it was the diligent cultivation of these gifts which finally earned and secured for him his later and mature fame. His brother-who, from the difference of their years, stood to him also in loco parentis-knew well that there is no royal road to histrionic excellence. Hence he imposed upon the young débutante a probation as strict and regular as he was in the habit of prescribing to the least gifted of his associates. Charles Kemble was for some years an actor of third and fourth rate parts, both in public and professional estimation, and for many more was intrusted with only secondary characters. Nor was he an actor who rose rapidly in public favor. The public
In such a period as we have sketched, Charles Kemble served his apprenticeship. Behind the curtain, his discipline was severe; before it, his judges were exacting. Bat there was a further cause of his final excellence-a cause which hardly survives in the present day. If we compare a sheaf of playbills fifty years old with the present an
nouncements of the theatre, we shall find | generally is among the lost arts of the stage, that, in the one case, there was a constant and has been supplanted by a trick of enuncirepetition of established dramas, in the other, ation that relieves the dramatic poet from there is a rapid succession of novelties. If any obligation to write in poetic measures. we examine these documents more minutely, Throughout his career, Charles Kemble rewe shall discover, also, that, while the scene- flected the influences of his early discipline. painter and the upholsterer are now at least He was, in the first place, a veracious actor, as important personages as the performers, neither adding to nor falling short of the then the main burden of the play lay on the conceptions of his author. He was, moreactors' shoulders. Now the effect of repeat- over, a most industrious and painstaking actor, ing accredited dramas was to render the per- thinking nothing done while aught remained former more skilful, to improve his manipu- to do; inspired with a high ideal, assiduouslation of character, to concentrate his atten- ly striving to reach it, and probably in his tion upon the details of his art. To make own conception-for such are the feelings of up for the superficial attractions of novelty, every genuine artist-never wholly attaining he was compelled to give a higher finish to it. He loved his vocation with all his mind his habitual impersonations. Whatever may and with all his strength. He was not one have been the demerits of theatrical mo- of those actors who regard their efforts as nopoly, it possessed this inestimable advan- task-work, and rejoice when the mask is laid tage to the actors. They played better in aside. He highly rated his profession, as dividually and collectively. They were ani- one ministering to the intellect and the heart mated by a common spirit, and by an emu- of man-as at once the mirror and the auxlation not always ungenerous. To sustain iliary of the poet, the painter, and the sculpthe character of the house was no unusual tor. or unworthy ambition.
All his opportunities were made subservient to it-his reading, his travels, his observation of man and man's works, of society, of nature, of contemporary actors, native and foreign. In all respects, the work he had in hand he wrought diligently. He had none of the petty jealousies of his profession. At the zenith of his reputation he would undertake characters which inferior actors would have declined as derogatory. He envied no one; he supplanted and impeded no one. For his art he was often jealous-never for himself. He possessed, in an eminent degree, the love of excellence; but he was no seeker of preeminence. Stanch in maintaining his opinions as to the proper scope and import of acting, he was tolerant of opposition, and prompt in discovering and acknowledging me it in others.
It appears to us, moreover, that the elder actors proposed to themselves a different, and, in some respects, a higher standard of art, than prevails among their present representatives. They may have been more mannered," for the age to which they played was more precise and formal. This, however, was an accident of their generation, balanced by other and perhaps less artistic peculiarities in our own. We believe the elder school to have been more ideal. They held fast at least one principle of art of the highest value and moment. They were not content with a succession of fragmentary efforts; they aimed at unity of effect; they were not disposed to accept of occasional bursts of passion as a compensation for the neglect of the harmony and repose which enter so largely into every genuine work of art. They estimated the performance on the stage rather by its total veracity than by its spasmodic and irregular strength-even as they would have preferred the chastised grace of Reynolds to the exuberant and capricious fancy of Turner.
There may have been somewhat too much of system, too elaborate a display of art, in the declamation of John Kemble; and we, whose ears are unused to such modulations, and inured, if not reconciled, to the harsh and broken tones of modern elocution, should very possibly be affected with a feeling of surprise if we heard Hamlet or Macbeth so intoned. Be this as it may, the art of reciting blank verse and dramatic dialogue
His career as an actor began in one generation, and terminated in another. It commenced at Sheffield in 1792, and closed at Covent Garden Theatre in 1840. During that period revolutions took place, both in social life and in literature, which directly and in various ways affected both the form and substance of the drama. Within the first twenty years of the present century a new literature arose-a literature which differed essentially from that of either the sixteenth or the eighteenth centuries. The wits of Queen Anne's reign would have deemed the productions of Byron and Scott as a recurrence to the earlier and ruder periods of Elizabeth; the Elizabethan poets would have regarded them as deficient in earnest
of decline were as yet in operation. Mrs. Siddons, though somewhat past her prime, was still in the full majesty of matronly beauty; and John Kemble stood confessed the legitimate successor of Betterton, Quin, and Barry. Nor, although they were in shape and gesture proudly eminent, were they unsupported. A host of actors, the least accomplished of whom might now be the protagonist of any London theatre, seconded and sustained-on the spear side, Bensley, Holman, the Palmers, and Barrymore-on the spindle side, Mrs. Powell, Mrs. Crawford, Miss Brunton, &c. In this most high and palmy state of the drama, and before audiences at once susceptible of emotion and skilful in judgment, the younger Kemble made his first appearance, in the tragedy of Macbeth, and in the subordinate character of Malcolm.
The earlier impersonations of an actor who rises gradually in his profession are rarely remarked at the time, or remembered afterwards. We have, however, Mr. Boaden's testimony to the "poetry of Charles Kemble's acting" in Guiderius, and his princely demeanor in Malcolm. But it was as the representative of second parts that his powers were first manifested. Those who are old enough to remember the Hamlet, Macbeth, and Coriolanus of his majestic brother; or the Lady Macbeth, Volumnia, and Mrs. Beverley of his matchless sister, will also recall the younger Kemble's chivalrous energy in Macduff, the classical grace of his Aufidius, and the pathos he ingrafted upon Lewsou. We do not select these characters as among his best, but merely as illustrations of his powers as an auxiliary to the mature artists of his youthful days. In secondary parts he was indeed at all times unsurpassed, and he continued to perform them long after he occupied the foremost station in the ranks of scenic artists. How full of winning grace and good humor was his Bassanio; how humorous and true his drunken scene in Cassio; how fraught with noble shame after Othello's dismissal of his "officer." He was the only Laertes whom it was endurable to see in collision with Hamlet; the only Cromwell worthy of the tears and favor of Wolsey.
ness and erudition. As a satirist, Byron might have won the applause of Dryden and Pope, and Addison have written a Spectator upon the poetical descriptions in Childe Harold. As a novelist, Scott might have ranked with Defoe, and as a poet, with Davenant; but the age which admired the Grand Cyrus and Claelia would have had little relish for Waverley and the Heart of Mid-Lothian. The influence of both these poets was unfavorable to the drama. They supplied the public with sufficient theatrical excitement at the fireside, and weaned them from the theatre by embodying in their writings scenes and sentiments hitherto monopolized by the stage.
They were not the only, and perhaps not the greatest poets of their age; but they were the leaders in a species of literature which more than any other has proved prejudicial to the taste for theatrical entertainments. Shelley, Wordsworth, and Keats, and even Rogers and Campbell, were either too limited in their several influences, or too remote and abstract in their genius to affect materially the public at large; whereas Scott and Byron embraced and commanded a range of sympathies of similar kind, and nearly commensurate with the drama itself. Nor was popular literature the only rival of the theatre. The Continent, long sealed to Englishmen, was, in the fifteenth year of this century, suddenly thrown open to them, and novel forms of art and untried objects of intellectual interest prodigally afforded to the wealthy and refined classes of the community. Beside such attractions the theatre paled and waned. The treasures of statuary, painting, and music, in their native homes, were simultaneously thrown open, and the frequenters of the pit and boxes became travellers by land and sea, and connoisseurs in arts more intellectual and permanent than any theatrical show or any actor's impersonation. Nor must we omit the increased religiosity of the times. Whether abstract scruples against the stage be well-founded or not, this is neither the time nor the place to inquire. But it is certain that the passions and sentiments of the theatre are frequently such as the moralist would discourage; and although the actor may at times be a useful auxiliary to the preacher, yet his text and his doctrines are not necessarily in accordance with those of the pulpit. And thus, at nearly the same period, these counter attractions-literature, foreign travel, and religion-combined their opposite influences against the drama, and drew off from it myriads of votaries.
But in the year 1792 none of these causes
We have great pleasure in calling in the evidence of an excellent judge of acting, to support our own recollections of Charles Kemble.
goer), saw an actor with more buoyancy of spirit I never (says Mr. Robson, in his Old Playthan Charles Kemble; Lewis had wonderful vivacity, airiness, and sparkle, but he was finicking
compared with Charles. Who ever played a drunken gentleman as he did? His efforts to pick up his hat, in Charles Oakley, were the most laughable, the most ridiculous, the most natural, that can be imagined. I have seen him perform the character of Friar Tuck, in a dramatic version of Mr. Peacock's Maid Marian, with such an extraordinary abandonment and gusto, that you were forced back to the "jolly green wood and the forest bramble." He absolutely rollicked through the part, as if he had lived all his life with Robin and his men, quaffing fat ale and de
vouring venison-pasties. But perhaps his masterpiece in this way was Cassio, the insidious creeping of the "devil" upon his senses; the hilarity of intoxication, the tongue cleaving to the roof of the mouth, and the lips glued together; the confusion, the state of loss of self, if I may so term it, when he received the rebuke of Othello, and the wonderful truthfulness of his getting sober, were beyond description fine, nay, real. No drunken scene I ever saw on a stage was comparable to it.
But the continued labor, the earnest study, and unwearied self-examination pursued for many years, were rewarded by greater achievements than even these, and crowned, at length, with the highest recompense which an actor can receive for his efforts-viz., that after witnessing his performance of particular characters the spectator ever afterwards, even in his solitary studies and remembrances, embodies the poet's creations in the very image of the actor himself. The names of Faulconbridge and Mark Antony instantly evoke the person, the tones, and the look of Charles Kemble. In the one we had before us the express image of the mediæval warrior, in the other, that of the Roman triumvir. His Faulconbridge bore us back to Runnymede and the group of "barons bold" who wrested the "great charter" from the craven John. His Mark Antony transported us to the Forum and the Capitol, to the Xth Legion at Pharsalia, to Alexandrian revels, and to the great Actian triumph. In such characters we again appeal to the Old Play-goer" he just hit the difficult mark. He was noble without bluster; self-possessed without apparent effort; energetic without bombast; elegant without conceit."
With the single exception of Garrick, Charles Kemble played well-we emphasize the word, because other actors whom we have seen, have been ambitious of variety, and imagined they could assume diversified powers when nature had denied them-the widest range of characters on record. If he had no equal in Benedict, neither had he in Jaffier; if his Leon and Don Felix were unsurpassed, so also were his Edgar in Lear,
VOL. XXXIV.—NO. II.
and his Leonatus in Cymbeline. He was the most joyous and courteous of Archers, Charles Surfaces, and Rangers. His Jack Absolute was the most gallant of guardsmen; his Colonel Feignwell a combination of the best high and the best low comedy, as he successively passed through his various assumptions of the Fop, the Antiquary, the Stockbroker, and the Quaker. In young Mirabel, again, he united the highest comic and tragic powers. In the first four acts, he revelled in youth, high spirit, and lusty bachelorhood: in the last, his scene with the Bravoes and the "Red Burgundy" was for its depth of passion equalled alone by Kean's agony and death in Overreach.
We should exceed our limits without exhausting the list of characters in which Charles Kemble had no equal, and in which, without a combination of the same personal and intellectual qualities, and the same strenuous cultivation of them, we shall never look upon his like again. Slightly changing the arrangement of the words, we take Mr. Hamilton Reynolds' admirable lines as the fittest expression of our conviction, that with Charles Kemble departed from the stage the gentleman of high life, and the representative of the classic or romantic hero:
In his provincial engagements at all times, and latterly on the metropolitan boards, Charles Kemble performed a range of characters for which his talents or his temperament were not so well adapted as for parts of chivalry, sentiment, or comic humor. He played Shylock, Macbeth, and Othello occasionally, but not with the marked success of his Hamlet, Romeo, or Pierre. His performance of this order of characters arose, latterly at least, from the circumstance that he alone, from his position and reputation, was qualified to support in tragedy his accomplished daughter, on whom had descended the mantle of Mrs. Siddons. But whether it proceeded from his theory of art, or from his peculiar idiosyncrasy, Charles Kemble, so excellent in the representation of sentiment, did not in general answer the demands of
passion. His Shylock has been commended | in his demeanor, unfavorable to the sudden by no incompetent judge for "its parental transitions and vivid flashes of emotion which tenderness;" but the infusion of tenderness such impersonations require. There were, into Shylock's nature we conceive to have perhaps, also the corresponding intellectual been an error. Shylock may have been deficiencies-a want of intensity, vigor, and attached to Jessica as a wolf to its cub; but concentrating power. And, it may be unif he loved her at all, he loved gold and re- consciously, his theory of art led him to disvenge more; and Shakspeare has, in our opin- regard too much the occasional demands of ion, afforded no hint of this palliating virtue the more intense and uncontrollable passions, in his Jew. On the contrary, in her pre- and to direct his attention rather to the finer sence, Shylock's language to Jessica is stern and more fleeting shades of character-tenand abrupt; and after she has forsaken him, derness, grace, the elaboration of the minor his lamentations are rather for his ducats and strokes of the picture, and the classic unity Leah's ring, than for his daughter. Again, of the whole. Mr. Kemble's Moor was certainly of a noble and loving nature, and his form and bearing afforded a good excuse for Desdemona's pref. erence of him to the "curled darlings of her nation." But his Roman features and his elaborate manipulation of the character were not so well suited to the rapid alternations of Othello from absorbing love to consuming anger, from profound tenderness to yet more profound despair, from faith to doubt, from accomplished though erring retribution to overwhelming and fathomless remorse. His impersonation of the Moor was too statuesque, and beside the quickening spirit of terror and pity which Edmund Kean infused into the part, seemed unreal, and was in effective.
Between the impersonations of Kean and Charles Kemble there was a frontal opposition, arising from the opposite nature of their respective temperaments. Kean never played
part thoroughly: he disregarded unity altogether-probably he was incapable of forming for himself a complete or harmonious idea of any dramatic character. He acted detached portions alone, but upon these he flung himself with all his mind, and soul, and strength, moral and physical. For such abrupt and spasmodic efforts he possessed particular physical qualifications. An unrivalled command of sinewy and expressive gesture; eyes that emitted tender or baleful light; a brow and lips that expressed vigor, intensity, and indomitable resolution; and a voice running through the entire gamut of passion, and passing easily from an exquisitely touching tenderness to the harshest dissonance of vehement passion. Hence Kean, who was seldom happy in long-sustained speeches, was incomparable in all striking, sudden, and impulsive passages. Who that ever heard can ever forget the unutterable tenderness of his reply to Desdemona soli
Macbeth, again, was a character in which Mr. Kemble, if it be compared with his other impersonations-for we are now contrasting him with himself in various parts - was less distinguished. Perhaps the recollection of his brother's preeminence in the Thane of Fife acted as a drawback upon his own conceptions, and affected him with a kind of despair of rivalry or reproduction. But his performance of it lacked the usual individual-citing for Cassio's restoration to favor—“ Let ity of his historical and heroic parts: his him come when he will, I can deny thee Macbeth was as much "an antique Roman nothing:" the blank comfortless despair of as a Dane; " in his Antony, the real man his "Farewell the tranquil mind, farewell seemed to have revisited the glimpses of the content; " or the hot tearless agony of his moon; but on the heath and at the Palace of "Oh! Desdemona, away, away. Who that Scone the historical veracity was less marked. ever saw them can ever forget his attitude For the line of characters, indeed, in which and look-the one graceful as a panther in Edmund Kean surpassed all the actors of act to spring-the other deadly as a basilisk this century-Othello, Shylock, Richard, prepared to strike-when awaiting the close Overreach, &c.-Charles Kemble needed of Anne of Warwick's clamorous passion of certain physical qualifications. The dulcet grief: or the glance of Overreach when Martones of his voice, which in Romeo and Ham- rall turns against him: or the recoil of Luke let went home to the hearts of his audience from his overweening mistress Lady Frugal: on the wings of the noble poetry it uttered, or Shylock's yell of triumph, "a Daniel come were less adapted to convey the trumpet to judgment:" or the fascination of his dying notes, the anguish, and the wail of darker eyes in Richard, when, unarmed and wounded passions. There were also a faintness of to death, his soul seemed yet to fight with coloring in his face, and a statuesque repose Richmond. In recording these gifts-en