Half Title
 Title Page
 Table of Contents
 List of Illustrations
 Part I. Sheridan, the Kembles,...
 Part II. Talma and the Romanti...
 Part III. Weimar and the Romantic...

Group Title: History of theatrical art in ancient and modern times
Title: history of theatrical art in ancient and modern times,
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00076221/00004
 Material Information
Title: history of theatrical art in ancient and modern times,
Physical Description: Book
Creator: Mantzius, Karl,
Publisher: Peter Smith,
Copyright Date: 1937
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00076221
Volume ID: VID00004
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
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Resource Identifier: 01241039 - OCLC

Table of Contents
    Half Title
        Page i
        Page ii
    Title Page
        Page iii
        Page iv
        Page v
        Page vi
    Table of Contents
        Page vii
        Page viii
        Page ix
        Page x
    List of Illustrations
        Page xi
        Page xii
        Page xiii
    Part I. Sheridan, the Kembles, and Kean
        Page 1
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Full Text


4. "

I.-John Philip Kemble.

From the painting by G. Stuart.


A History of Theatrical Art
In Ancient and Modern Times by

Karl Mantzius

Volume VI
Classicism and Romanticism

Authorised Translation by
C. Archer

-. .. -: ". : -
Sa : ". a ,- .. .

New York
Peter Smith

C'i z* oQ

/ L/ 1 I

1 "'I
.^ /' -


. .

* '*. .

*".. '.
"* *.: i *.r.*:*


I I m.- .


WITH the present Volume-Vol. VI.-I bring my History
of Theatrical Art to an end. Things have not gone quite
so badly with me as with the historian of the Drama,
J. L. Klein, whose thirteen mighty volumes come down no
farther than to the pre-Shakespearean period. But many
may perhaps think that they have gone badly enough. I
had planned to write three volumes-the three have grown
into six, and, even so, the sixth will appear in three parts-
though these are complete and ready for the press, so that
no further extension of the work is to be apprehended.
But these six volumes have brought me no farther than
the Romantic period.
In closing my book at this point, however, I am not
merely actuated by the consideration that everything must
come to an end. My chief reason is that, if my work has
been properly done, these six volumes should serve as a
description of the whole foundation on which modern
theatrical art is based. Historic completeness has not
been attempted in this book; it has not been the author's
aim to produce a work of reference in which the names
of all actors and of all theatres are to be found. The
intention has been to present a picture, mainly from the
sociological point of view, of the course of development
followed by theatrical art through the ages; and accord-
ingly only such phenomena have been selected for notice
as have in a marked degree furthered-or hampered-that
This work has occupied me for many-more than
twenty-years. I shall doubtless feel a sense of loss, now


that I can no longer, from time to time, put forth a volume
on the subject which long familiarity has endeared to me.
And, before bidding a final farewell to my task, I cannot
refrain from saying a word of thanks to my patient readers,
to say nothing of the many friends who, in various ways,
have stood by me with help and counsel.




I. The English theatre after Garrick-Drury Lane and Covent
Garden-Goldsmith and Sheridan-Sheridan assumes the
management of Drury Lane Theatre-The dramatic authors
of the time

II. Sheridan's management-Thomas King, Mrs Abington-John
Henderson, Miss Farren-The Sheridans, father and son 11

I. The Kemble family of actors-Mrs Siddons' triumph in London
-John Philip Kemble and the Classic School-Art of
Mrs Siddons. Her Lady Macbeth-John Kemble as
Hamlet and Cardinal Wolsey- Victorious progress of the
Classic School 22

II. The new Drury Lane under Sheridan-External conditions-
Lighting and precautions against fire-The fire-Sheridan
in Parliament-The final Drury Lane 40

III. John Kemble's management of Covent Garden-George
Frederick Cooke-Drink and Romanticism-Cooke and
Kemble 45

IV. The art of Mrs Siddons-The new Covent Garden-The
'O.P.' Riots-Last years of Mrs Siddons and John
Kemble 50

I. Legends about Kean's origin-His mother and old Moses
Kean-Kean's artistic education-His flight and life as a
stroller-His wife, and his friend, Sheridan Knowles-Kean
as rope-dancer and chimpanzee -63


II. Kean's debut at Drury Lane-His Shylock. Contrast between
his art and that of the Classic School-Kean's repertory-
His leading qualities as an actor 74

III. Kean at the summit of his fame-His decline-His private
life-A scandalous law-suit-His breach with the London
public-Tour to America-His death 86



I. The condition of the Com/die Franfaise before the Revolution-
Conventionality in dramatic art and in literature-Ducis'
Hamlet-The Conservatoire 97

II. The actors of the decadence-Preference for tragedy-Larive-
The Sainval sisters-Jens Baggesen and the younger
Mlle. Sainval- Mme. Vestris The masculine Mlle.
Raucourt-Rahbek's judgment of her and that of the
Parisians-Mlle. Mars' father-Vanbove and his Danish
admirers-Handkerchief and snuff-box o6. .

III. Comedy-Mol6-Mlle. Contat and her Suzanne-Beaumarchais
as innovator-League of French Dramatic Authors-Le
Marriage de Figaro and its significance-Beaumarchais
and the King-Preville and Dazincourt-Dugazon and
Desessarts-Triumph of Figaro 18

I. M.-J. Chdnier's Charles IX.-The youthful Talma-The painter
David and his Serment des Horaces-Talma's reforms in
costume-Captain Buonaparte and Talma 129

II. Talma as Charles IX.-The conflict within the ThItdre Francais
-Political complications-The disruption of the old
Theatre 141

III. The Republican' and the 'National' Theatres-Disturbances
at performance of L'Ami des Lois-Imprisonment of the
players of the Com/die Franfaise-Le Jugement dernier
des Rois-Charles de Labussibre to the rescue-Art under
the popular regime-The two companies reunited 151


I. Napoleon and dramatic art-Talma's development-Geoffroy's
criticism-Talma's relation to Romanticism-Napoleon
and Talma 162

II. Talma as teacher-The ugly and the beautiful 'leading
lady': Mlle. Duchesnois and Mlle. George-Mile. Mars,
her art and her character 174

I. Victor Hugo and Talma-Cromwell-Alexandre Dumas-
Hernani on the stage-Mlle. Mars and Romanticism-The
band of youth and the first performance of Hernani-The
relations of the ThIdtre Franfais with the Romantic School. 190

II. The Oddon Theatre-Harel and Mile. George-The first per-
formance ofAntony-Mme. Dorval and Bocage : the nature
of their art-" The great Fred6rick," his life as mummer
and as artist 204



I. The Court of Weimar-The Amateur Theatre-Goethe as
actor-The open-air theatre at Tiefurt 229

II. Foundation of the Weimar Court Theatre-Goethe becomes
Director-Goethe's Prologue for the opening performance:
its significance-Poverty of conditions at Weimar-The
actors 235

III. Goethe's theory and practice-His "Rules for Actors"-His
views on scenic art-The 'classic ideal' style-Goethe's
severe discipline 245

IV. Christiane Neumann and Goethe-Amalie Malcolmi and
P. A. Wolff-Goethe and the dramas of Schiller-Schiller
joins the management of the Weimar Theatre-Schiller as
producer 252

V. Goethe as sole Director-Defects of the Weimar School-The
opposition to Goethe-Caroline Jagemann, the Duke's
mistress-The performing poodle-Goethe's retirement 266

I. The relations of the German Romantic School with the stage
-Ludwig Tieck and his plays-The Drama of Fate-
Zacharias Werner's The Twenty-fourth of February-Play
manufacturers 273

II. Romantic artist-worship and the players-Court theatres and
bureaucracy-Count Briihl as Intendant-General of the
Berlin theatre 285

III. Tieck as Dramatic Adviser at Dresden-His theories on
theatrical art-His views on scenery and costume-The
reasons for his failure in practical theatre-craft 294

IV. Ludwig Devrient and his relation to Romanticism-Kean and
Devrient-Devrient's childhood and youthful escapades-
Ochsenheimer-Devrient joins a travelling company-The
nature of his art-His personality 304

V. Ludwig Devrient at Breslau-Heinrich Anschiitz-Breslau as
a theatrical centre-Devrient as Franz Moor-His Lear
and Shylock-His bodily weakness and his fantasy 316

VI. Iffand and Devrient-Devrient in Berlin-E. T. A. Hoffmann
-Devrient's comic parts-His increasing weakness 326

VII. The Burgtheater and Joseph Schreyvogel-Sophie Schrbder
and her contemporaries in the company-Devrient's
starring visit to Vienna-His death 334




1. John Philip Kemble
2. Quick as Tony Lumpkin
3. Richard Brinsley Sheridan
4. Mrs Fanny Abington .
5. Elizabeth Farren
6. Gentleman Smith
7. Yates as The Miser (L'Avare)
8. Palmer and Miss Hopkins
9. John Henderson as Iago
to. Mrs Sarah Siddons
i1. Mrs Siddons .
12. John Kemble as Hamlet
13. John Kemble as Coriolanus
14. John Kemble as Cardinal Wolsey
15. Mrs Siddons as Lady Macbeth
16. Miss Fanny Kemble as Juliet
17. A London Theatre (New Haymarket)
the Nineteenth Century
18. Covent Garden Theatre about 177o
19. Cooke as Richard III.
20. Mrs Jordan
21. Miss E. O'Neill
22. Edmund Kean
23. Kean as Shylock
24. John Bannister
25. Kean as Sir Giles Overreach .
26. Kean as Coriolanus
27. Kean as Richard III..
28. Kean as Barabbas
29. Macready as Rob Roy

.Toface page 4
S 10
S o
S 12
S 14
S 16
S 22
S 26
S 32
S 36
S 38

at the beginning


30. Mme. Vestris (Frangoise-Rose Gourgaud) To face age iIo
31. Jacques-Marie Boutet, alias Monvel. .,, o
32. Louise-Frangoise Contat .,, 11o
33. Mile. Raucourt as Cleopatra in Corneille's Rodogune ,, 112
34. Saint-Prix in the Tragedy of Pyrrhus .,, 12
35. Dugazon as Pare Bonnard in Les Amis de Coll/ge 126
36. Denis D6chanet, alias Desessarts ,, 126
37. Saint-Phal in L'Abbl de l'E e ,, 136
38. Grand-Mesnil in L'Avare ,, 136
39. Franqois Joseph Talma as Brutus ,, 138
40. Fleury .. ,, 146
41. The Theatre in the rue de Richelieu ,, 146
42. Talma as Hamlet (in Ducis' Tragedy) ,, 168
43. Talma as Mohammed II. ,, 168
44. Talma as Nero .,, 68
45. Talma in Private Life ,, 76
46. Mile. Duchesnois as Alzire ,, 78
47. Mile. George 178
48. Mile. Mars as Empress of Russia ,, 182
49. Joanny 194
50. Mile. Mars 194
51. Mile. George in Rodogune ,, 206
52. Mme. Dorval as Queen Elizabeth in Le Chdteau de
Kenilworth 206
53. Caricature of Bocage ,, 216
54. Lafon as Achilles in Iphigenia in Aulis ,, 216
55. Frederick Lemaitre ,, 216
56. Charles Deburau .,, 218
57. Frederick Lemaitre as Don Caesar de Bazan 224
58. Frederick Lemaitre 226


59. Goethe 230
6o. Goethe and Corona Schr6ter as Orestes and Iphigenia 230
61. Goethe's Fischerin-outdoor performance in the Tiefurter
Park 234


62. The Weimar Court Theatre in Goethe's Time To face page 234
63. Amalie Wolff ,, 256
64. Christiane Neumann-Becker. .. 256
65. Pius Alexander Wolff ,, 268
66. Karl August, Duke of Weimar .,, 268
67. Caroline Jagemann ,, 268
68. Ludwig Devrient 304
69. Ochsenheimer as Wurm in Kabale und Liebe ,, 31
70. Devrient and Hoffmann in Lutter's Tavern . 310
71. Heinrich Ludwig Schmelka ,, 320
72. Eduard Devrient ., 320
73. Ludwig Devrient ,, 320
74. Ludwig Devrient as King Lear ,, 322
75. Ludwig Devrient as Shylock. ,, 322
76. E. T. A. Hoffmann 330
77. Ludwig Devrient as Falstaff ,, 330
78. Seydelmann as Baron Scaraboeus 330
79. Raimund as Valentin in Der Verschwender ,, 334
8o. Sophie Schr6der as Medea ,, 334
81. Sophie Miiller ,, 338
82. Anschiitz as Wallenstein .,, 338
83. Ferdinand Esslair as Wallenstein ,, 338
84. Ludwig Lowe 340
85. Costenoble as The Friar (Nathan der Weise) ,, 340



The English Theatre after Garrick-Drury Lane and Covent Garden-Gold-
smith and Sheridan-Sheridan assumes the Management of Drury
Lane-The Dramatic Authors of the Time.
WITH Garrick's retirement from management and the
stage, the world of English theatrical art lost, as it were,
its fixed centre. Not only had his temperament, with its
fortunate blend of Gallic fire and British self-control, made
him the most consummate actor of the eighteenth century,
but his rare power of organization had enabled him to
make of the theatre an institution to be reckoned with in
the world of culture, and of the art of stage-presentation a
matter of consequence in and for itself, a matter worthy of
criticism, analysis and discussion. It is with the Garrick
period that theatrical criticism, properly so called, begins :
that literary men for the first time find it worth while to
interest themselves in theatrical art, as such. Travellers
in their letters give full and careful accounts of their visits
to the theatre, and describe the acting of the chief per-
formers in minute detail : the most eminent painters and
engravers employ all their art in producing characteristic
portraits of the leaders of the stage: voluminous biog-
raphies and memoirs of and about the members of the
theatrical profession find favour with the public-evidence,
all this, of a rapidly growing taste and feeling for the drama
and the art of stage-presentation. Especially, we must
note, for the latter; for the art of acting comes to over-

shadow the art of dramatic poetry. No new dramatists of
importance appear on the scene, and critics and the public
put up with the most incredible mutilations and distortions
of the existing dramatic repertory, even (and not least)
in the case of the national hero, Shakespeare, provided only
that the characters are represented by accomplished actors.
Of course this taste and feeling for theatrical art, which
had sprung up so rapidly, did not vanish at once on
Garrick's retirement from the stage. After it, as before,
people no doubt frequented the theatre, and at first
very likely hardly noticed any difference. Indeed, such
systematic and energetic cultivation as the public taste
for theatrical art had undergone must necessarily produce
far-reaching effects. Still, observers of later generations
cannot fail to see the period that followed as one of rapid
decline, from a high level of clearness, order and settled
purpose, towards a chaos of indifference, uncertainty, and
confusion of ideas.
This decline affected theatrical life in general, but was
in the nature of things especially marked in the case of
Garrick's own theatre, Drury Lane, which, on his retire-
ment in 1776, he had managed for some thirty years.
The only theatre in London, or indeed in Great
Britain, which was in a position really to compete with
Drury Lane, was Covent Garden.1
This theatre, built in 1732 by John Rich, who was
originally a Harlequin, but was also a capable man of the
theatre, had based its repertory, during his management,
mainly on spectacular pantomime.2 But after his death
(T761), and particularly when the direction of affairs came
into the hands of the dramatic author George Colman
(the elder), there was a change of policy. In the year
1767, when Colman, with three other partners, took over
the management, he was a man of thirty-five years of age,
in a good economic position, and with a creditable record
SBoth theatres have several times been burnt down and rebuilt. At
present Covent Garden is devoted almost exclusively to Opera, while
Drury Lane is used mainly for large-scale melodrama and Christmas
i For the conditions at Covent Garden in this period, see The Cibber Period
in vol. v. of this work.


as dramatic author. He had worked for and with Garrick,
and his two best-known comedies, The Jealous Wife and
The Clandestine Marriage, had been produced at Drury
Lane. He was not only a prolific and adroit playwright,
but possessed also real ability as a theatrical director. He
managed to attract and keep together a company of good
actors, but it was especially by his choice of repertory that
he succeeded in raising the status of the old Pantomime-
theatre. To him fell the honour of introducing to the
stage the two most distinguished comedy-writers of the
time, Goldsmith and Sheridan; and though, in the case of
the first-named, the honour could not rightly be ascribed
to Colman, since it was with the extremes reluctance that
he accepted and produced The Good-Natured Man and
She Stoops to Conquer, yet these productions shed a lustre
on his theatre, and raised it almost to an equality with
Garrick's own.
To us, at this day, it appears strange that Oliver Gold-
smith's dramatic work, which, with its fresh, spontaneous
and truly national humour, seems so obviously made to
go straight to the heart of the English public, should
have met with so much opposition and found so little
understanding and appreciation among the contemporary
managers and actors. But freshness and nature in comedy
were not at the moment in fashion: it was thus by some-
thing like a surprise attack that Goldsmith's comedies,
particularly She Stoops to Conquer," won such a brilliant
victory, giving the lie to the prophecies of all the wisest
theatrical strategists. Almost the only champion of this
now classical comedy was Goldsmith's friend, the formid-
able Dr Samuel Johnson, whose heavy artillery almost
forced the production of the play on the reluctant Colman,
in the face of protests continued literally till the curtain
had fallen on the last Act and the great success of the
Both in the repertory of the Danish Royal Theatre in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries.
She Stoops to Conquer, or The .Mistakes of a Night, was produced for the
first time at Covent Garden, 15th March 1773, was played throughout that
season, and immediately put on again at the opening of the next season. It
was produced at the Danish Royal Theatre in 1785, and kept its place in the
repertory till 1875.

piece was established. Several of the principal actors
threw up their parts before the rehearsals began, and the
cast, with one exception,1 consisted either of young and
untried, or of obscure, players. Several of these made
their name in this production, particularly a young actor
named Quick, who made a great success as Tony
Lumpkin, the mischievous ne'er-do-well bumpkin-squire,
an excellent character, which, strangely enough, had been
refused by Henry Woodward,2 an actor who had obtained
great popularity in just this line of parts.
It was fated that Oliver Goldsmith should not follow
up his victory in drama. He died only the year after,
without writing anything else for the theatre, except a little
farce thrown together for Quick's benefit in gratitude for
his impersonation of Tony Lumpkin.
The young Sheridan found much less difficulty in gaining
a foothold on the stage. On both sides, through his father,
the well-known provincial manager and actor, Thomas
Sheridan, and his mother, the authoress, Frances Sheridan,3
n&e Chamberlain, he was intimately connected with the
world of the theatre. Richard Brinsley Sheridan himself,
when he made his first public appearance as dramatic
author, was a handsome young man of twenty-four, well
known for his romantic love-affair with the charming young
oratorio-singer, Elizabeth Linley, whom he had carried off
from her home at Bath to free her from the pursuit of an
importunate admirer, and had married secretly in France,

1 The exception was Edward Shuter (born about 1728-died 1776), who
played Hardcastle, the old country-gentleman who is mistaken for an inn-
keeper. Shuter was a first-rate comedian, to whom Goldsmith was very
grateful-he played Croaker in The Good-Natured Man to the author's entire
satisfaction. He was withal an extraordinary being ; exceedingly religious, a
great drinker, and of a bottomless ignorance-he was barely able to read his
parts, and could not write at all; on the stage he had, when sober, a natural
wit and a certainty of touch in comedy, which elicited the highest admiration
from the best judges of the period, Garrick for instance.
2 It is true that Woodward (1714-1777) was at this time nearly sixty: but
this free-living, dashing actor was not usually deterred by his age from taking
youthful parts.
3 As to the father, see vol. v. (Great Actors of the Eighteenth Century),
p. 391. Frances Sheridan was a lady of talent and culture, who made a great
success with her novel, Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulfh (1761), and her
comedy, The Discovery, which Garrick produced in 1763. She died while
Richard Brinsley Sheridan was still a boy.


2.-Quick as Tony Lumpkin.



afterwards returning to England to chastise his ruffianly
This first great adventure of his life furnished Sheridan
with some of the motives and incidents of his first comedy,
The Rivals, but he exercised extreme discretion in dis-
guising the incidents used, and it cannot be denied that the
young author's presentment of the theme falls considerably
short of the real-life story in interest and dramatic movement.
The Rivals, now a classic of the English theatrical
repertory, is a gay comedy, written in an amiably youthful
and flippant yet polished style, and exhibiting a gallery of
characters, which, though greatly exaggerated, yet proved
capable in good hands of appearing natural and human
on the stage, because, like Goldsmith's, they were per-
meated by an easy flow of humour, and still more because
the straightforward, unaffected style gave them an air of
reality, which did not intrinsically belong to them, but which
stood out in contrast with the artificial delicacy and affected
sentiment of the work of most contemporary dramatists.
Sheridan submitted this, his first, play to Covent
Garden, where his young wife had appeared before her
marriage in Oratorio.' It was at once accepted, and
produced without delay (i7th January 1775). At the first
performance the piece fell short of the success Sheridan
had expected, and he at once withdrew and rewrote it, and
had the parts to some extent recast, with the result that
The Rivals in its revised form attained a great and genuine
success. Sir Anthony Absolute, the blustering old father
Mrs Malaprop, with her many mangled polysyllables; the
Irish baronet, Sir Lucius O'Trigger, and the exquisitely
sentimental Miss Lydia Languish, took their place from that
time among the permanent figures of the English stage.2
Sheridan further confirmed his quick-won fame-apart
from the little farce St Patrick's Day-by the production
of a musical play, The Duenna, for which his father-in-law,
1 After her marriage to Sheridan she never appeared again in public,
though she had a splendid voice, which she used with great expression and
3 The piece became famous abroad as well as in England. It was in the
repertory of the Danish Royal Theatre from 1799 till past the middle of the
nineteenth century.

Linley,' wrote the music. It was produced the next year
(1776), also at Covent Garden, and was an enormous
success. It was performed seventy-five times in succession
--in those days a quite unusual 'run'-and Sheridan
became a celebrity in the world of the theatre. Great
things were expected of the charming, highly-gifted young
man, and it surprised no one that he should aim at nothing
less than to be Garrick's successor in the direction of the
first theatre in London, the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
What was more surprising was that he should attain his
ambitious aim so quickly and at such an early age,
especially as he possessed no capital and the theatre was
a very expensive property to acquire. It was valued at
70,000o, of which Garrick owned one-half, and his business
partner, one Lacy, the other half. It was arranged that
Lacy should retain his share for the time, and that Garrick
should be bought out by a payment of 35,000. Of this
sum Sheridan engaged for two-sevenths, his father-in-law,
Linley, for another two-sevenths, and a friend, Dr Ford,
for the remaining three-sevenths.
It has puzzled many historians of the theatre and of
literature how a penniless young man like Sheridan can
have suddenly attained a financial position which enabled
him to pay up so considerable a sum as 1o,ooo; and
malicious persons have not failed to suggest that he settled
this item of debt on the principle on which he dealt with
so many others later: by simply not paying it. It must
not be forgotten, however, that the theatrical business in
England was at that time monopolized by the patent
theatres, and that the possession of a monopoly such as
that of Drury Lane Theatre, which had brought Garrick
an enormous fortune, constituted such excellent security
that few would hesitate to advance even large sums on the
strength of it. Garrick evidently had confidence in the
capable young dramatist, and it is nowhere stated that his
money was not forthcoming in due course.
At first, indeed, all went well. Sheridan set his whole
Thomas Linley was a musician and composer of ability, residing in Bath-
the most fashionable watering-place of the period-where Sheridan became
acquainted with him and his family. The elder Sheridan at this time also
lived at Bath, where he taught rhetoric and elocution.


family to work in the theatre. He himself attended to the
general management and choice of repertory, but, as he was
hopelessly unbusiness-like and ignorant in money matters,
his wife, Elizabeth Linley, the lovely young girl of
eighteen, took over charge of the accounts. His father,
the stubborn and pedantic old Thomas Sheridan, he ap-
pointed stage-manager; his father-in-law, Thomas Linley,
musical composer to the theatre and director of Oratorio ;
his mother-in-law, Mrs Linley, became wardrobe-keeper;
and his brother-in-law, Richard Tickell-married to Mary
Linley, a singer like her sister-was a sort of secretary,
who among other duties saw to the advertising.2
Under these apparently favourable auspices Richard
Brinsley Sheridan was able to open the new era in the
history of Drury Lane Theatre, on the 21st September
1776, with a production of The Rivals, the piece which
had made him famous.
It was as a dramatist that he had made his name, and
in the beginning he seems to have understood that he
must rely for success as manager chiefly on his talent as a
dramatic author. It must have been clear to him that
this was the only respect in which, from the point of view
of theatrical management, he had the advantage of his
predecessor. Whereas Garrick had been but a mediocre
playwright, Sheridan possessed an innate, natural 'faculty
for comedy-writing, comparable to Garrick's own genius
for acting, and, but that he tired so early in its exercise,
might undoubtedly have developed it into a mastery as
consummate as that attained by Garrick in his art.
1 It was customary at this period to include Oratorio along with the regular
drama in the repertories of the great theatres. Thus Handel was for many
years-up to the time of his death-director of Oratorio at Covent Garden.
The art of advertisement--'the puffing,' as it was called -had in recent
years, particularly in England, been carried to a height previously unknown.
One of Sheridan's biographers found among his posthumous papers a small
manuscript, which shows that theatrical managers, even at that early date, were
not unacquainted with the very practical plan of themselves supplying the
newspapers with criticisms of their productions. The curious little document
runs thus : "The Manager has got it up in his usual style of liberality ; the
performers highly merit the thanks of the author, the manager and the public.
The performers were all at home in their respective parts. Mr Henderson was
great beyond description, and if possible excelled his usual excellence. Miss
Young and Charles Lewis shone with incomparable lustre, and received, from
a most crowded and brilliant audience, repeated bursts of applause."

Meanwhile, however, he set to work with energy, pro-
ducing, as the novelty of his first season, the Schoolfor
Scandal, the play which made him world-famous, and
which stands out as the culminating point of the comedy of
this period, and is, indeed, perhaps the only product of the
eighteenth century English drama which still possesses
real vitality.
Sheridan was no originator. On the contrary, even this
his best comedy is in essentials an outgrowth or culmina-
tion of the movement which, having its original source in
France, had flourished during the Restoration period.1
Time had worn away the sharp, the too sharp, edges of
that gay and far from prudish period. People were now, if
not much more moral, at least much more delicate in their
methods of expression. True, the works of Wycherley,
Vanbrugh, and Congreve, the witty amateurs of the Restora-
tion theatre, were still popular on the stage, but only in
revised and expurgated versions. These frivolous 'gentle-
men writers' had in their day written for their own
pleasure and as it pleased themselves: in the new age a
band of professional dramatists had arisen, who for the
most part wrote to earn their bread and to please the
public. The themes and characters of the drama were not
so very different from those of the Restoration period: but
they were served up sweetened with a sugar of sentiment,
mingled with a good deal of dilute enthusiasm a la Rousseau
for the innocence of the country in contrast with the corrupt
civilization of cities, and rendered very much more accept-
able to the taste by the more delicate handling of the love
The same boisterous, blustering old country-gentleman
was still constantly seen on the stage; only now he hid
under his crusty exterior an astonishingly tender heart,
which obliged him, every time he had treated his servant to a
volley of the fantastic terms of abuse in which the English
tongue is so rich, suddenly and without visible reason to
wring the same servant by the hand and burst out:
" Faithful old friend "; and to brush away a tear at least
once in every Act at some proof of nobility of soul in
See vol. v. (Great Actors of the Eighteenth Century) pp. 306-314.

3.-Richard Brinsley Sheridan.


himself or others. The sons of these old gentlemen were
still the same sadly frivolous and impertinent sparks,
engaged in ruining themselves and all connected with
them by play and riotous living: but now they invariably
reformed at the right moment, and were usually lucky
enough to inherit considerable fortunes in the last Act,
from distant relatives who did not otherwise appear in the
piece, and whom the author could thus slaughter in
cold blood without interfering with the joy either of the
heirs or the spectators. There were the same comic Irish
majors, the same, but now developing a hitherto unexampled
moderation and contempt for worldly goods; the same old
maids or widows, eager for husbands or finery; the same
booby sportsmen talking nothing but horses and bets; the
same drunken gardeners and jovial countrymen. The only
new addition, one may say, to this gallery of stock theatrical
types was the naive young girl, the ingenue, who for more
than a hundred years has devastated the stage, and who
then, as now, made her entrance skipping and clapping her
hands, touching all right-feeling hearts and putting all evil
designs to shame by her complete and utter ignorance of
all things between earth and heaven.'
These were the puppets that formed the stock-in-trade
of the ordinary playwrights of the day: such as the very
prolific Richard Cumberland, several of whose pieces,
for example The West Indian, The Choleric Man, The
Natural Son, The Jew, etc., had great success both in
England and abroad;2 the two George Colmans, father
and son, who both attained a certain prominence, the first
with his Jealous Wife, and Clandestine Marriage, the
second with Ways and Means, John Bull, and Bluebeard;
See, for example, Holcroft's Road to Ruin, where an early type of this
theatrical figure, so popular even down to Pailleron's day, is to be found in
Sophia Warren.
s The Danish Royal Theatre, which at this period went to England for
much of its repertory, played four of Cumberland's pieces. Of these The
Natural Son in particular (performed fifty-nine times between 1791-1795) had
remarkable success. The Jew held the stage until well on in the nineteenth
century, when it was played by Dr Ryge and C. Winsl6w.
Ways and Means, or A Trip to Dover, performed at the Danish Royal
Theatre under the name of Imprudent Hospitality. The other Colman plays
named above were also performed in Denmark, all but Bluebeard, which was a
musical entertainment.


Thomas Holcroft and Frederick Reynolds, both capable
and popular playwrights, whose many productions-Rey-
nolds alone wrote about a hundred-flooded the stages of
Europe :1 the actress Mrs Inchbald (n6e Simpson), John
Kemble's friend, who wrote nearly a score of plays, some
of which were very popular, if not otherwise of much
note; the witty and refined Mrs Cowley, who rarely
set foot inside a theatre, but who produced one of the
greatest successes of the period in The Belle's Stratagem,
which was played within our own times by Henry Irving and
Ellen Terry; lastly, the unfortunate Isaac Bickerstaffe-
the ex-officer of marines whose fate resembled that of Oscar
Wilde, and whose specialty was the musical idyll depicting
rustic innocence (Love in a Village, The Maid of the Mill).
It cannot be said that it was because Sheridan's
character-drawing went much deeper than that of these
very superficial playwrights, or because he had anything
of great importance to say, that his plays, and especially
The School for Scandal, had such a powerful effect upon
the public, and have retained their effectiveness in such a
surprising degree. It is possible that, in the case of The
School for Scandal, his original conception was serious;
that he had the idea of writing a satire which should strike
scandal-mongering a real, crushing blow-he had already
had personal experience of the cunning and treacherous
attacks of slanderous tongues, and there is something in
the scheme of the play which seems to hint that he had a
serious intention of the kind-but the light and easy taste
of the time and his own light and easy temperament carried
him away, and The School for Scandal became a society-
comedy like so many others, with the single difference that
its natural, unsentimental humour, its ready and brilliant
wit, and above all, its intuitive dramatic power,2 make it ap-
pear on the stage, what in reality it is not, a strikingly true
picture of the men, the minds and manners of the times.
1 Reynolds was beforehand with J. L. Hejberg in writing a vaudeville
named No, which, however, has nothing in common with the Danish piece
except the "No" motive. See K. Mantzius: The "No" Motive in English
-Dania, vol. v.
The fourth Act, containing the celebrated Screen-scene, is rightly regarded
as a masterpiece of naturally-managed dramatic construction.

4.-Mrs Fanny Abington (p. I2)

5.-Elizabeth Farren (p. 17).


It is clear that such was its effect upon the public at its
original production-on the 8th May 1777. It was a
triumph the like of which had not been seen for very
many years. The public thronged the theatre whenever
The School for Scandal was announced, the first twelve
performances brought in some 3300, at that time a
colossal figure, and two years later the treasurer of the
theatre could still write in his diary that The School for
Scandal diminished the interest taken in new pieces.

Sheridan's Management-Thomas King, Mrs Abington-John Henderson,
Miss Farren-the Sheridans, father and son.
HORACE WALPOLE, whose celebrated Letters contain much
sharp but at the same time penetrating and well-informed
criticism of plays and acting, writes1 of the performance
of The Schoolfor Scandal:
To my great astonishment there were more parts per-
formed admirably in The School for Scandal than I almost
ever saw in any play. Mrs Abington was equal to the first
of her profession; Yates (the husband),2 Parsons, Miss
Pope, and Palmer, all shone. It seemed a marvellous
resurrection of the stage. Indeed, the play had as much
merit as the actors. I have seen no comedy that comes
near it since The Provoked Husband." 3
The company which Sheridan had inherited from Garrick
was in fact specially trained for and excellently suited to
comedy of this kind. And Sheridan the elder, who staged
the piece, evidently did not succeed in destroying the ex-
cellent ensemble that was a legacy from Garrick's time,
though he was so incredibly foolish as to reject the friendly
advice offered by thac accomplished pastmaster of the stage,
and though, no doubt by reason of his morbid jealousy of
his more brilliant son, he himself could see no merit in the
1 In a letter to R. Jephson, Esq., July, 1777.
Walpole is wrong here. Yates played Sir Oliver Surface, not the husband
(Sir Peter Teazle).
3 The Provoked Husband, or A Journey to London, by Vanbrugh and C.


The company included Thomas King, a steadfast pillar
of Drury Lane during many years; a tall thin man of dis-
tinguished appearance; one of those valuable actors who,
without possessing genius, by dint of taste and industry
work themselves up to a high rank in the favour of their
managers and the public. He played Sir Peter Teazle,
and the part became his very best character. It was in it
that he bade farewell to the stage many years later, at the
ripe age of seventy-two.'
The part of Lady Teazle was played by Mrs Fanny
Abington, whose popularity had recently somewhat de-
clined, but who gave it a new and vigorous life by her
performance of this part, so suitable to her talent, if not to
her age.2
Mrs Abington was one of those actresses, so numerous
in the eighteenth century, who, sprung from the dregs of the
people, blossomed rapidly into brilliant ornaments of the
polite world, and who charmed their audiences by their
extreme elegance, their brisk, ready-witted command of
dialogue, and their beautiful, costly clothes. By the time she
was sixteen years old, little Fanny Barton, known as Nose-
gay Fan because she haunted the London taverns selling
flowers, had known pretty nearly every experience that the
vicissitudes of a long life may bring to a more ordinary
woman; experience for the most part of the dark side of
life-hunger, want, low and sordid love-affairs-but bring-
ing with it the power of fending for herself and the gift of
a ready tongue that could give as good as she got in any
exchange. She went on the stage very early, and toured
widely with strolling companies; but it was only on her
appearance for the second time at Drury Lane under
Garrick that she developed her full powers and established
herself for a time as the reigning queen of London
theatrical fashion. She was neither pretty nor amiable;
she had a sharp, high-pitched voice, and was completely
devoid of the sweetness and sentiment which the English-
King was born in 1730 and died in 1805. During most of his career he
was attached to Drury Lane, where he succeeded Thomas Sheridan as stage-
manager. Like most other actors, however, he had played in the provinces for
a number of years.
2 Mrs Abington was born in 1737 and died in 1815.



6.-Gentleman Smith (p. 14).


and others also for that matter-prize so highly in a
woman. But she was smart, piquante, and ready-tongued
to a degree; she could deliver a witty speech so that it
went straight to the mark; and Garrick managed to utilize
her talent to the best advantage, by casting her for the
parts of society ladies whose characteristics much resembled
her own. In return, by her incredible arrogance and
caprice, she made herself his worst tormentress. She
had intended to retire from the stage at the same time
as Garrick, but finally remained on under Sheridan, and
in his first season found in Lady Teazle the part with
which her name is most indissolubly connected.1
As a matter of fact Mrs Abington was not young
enough for the part-she was over forty when she played
it for the first time, only a few years younger than King,
who played Sir Peter. But all witnesses agree that in
her own way she was perfect, that the r61e exactly suited
her peculiar qualities. It is true she did not bring out the
countrified innocence which underlies in the character the
external veneer of worldly frivolity. The wit and sophis-
tication of her Lady Teazle were, one may be sure, deeper
in grain than Sheridan had conceived them, but, such as
she was, she enchanted the whole theatrical public of the
time, and her impersonation established itself as the
traditional model for future times of how such parts should
be played.2
The other chief characters were all in the hands of the
public favourites of the hour, and fitted them as if they
had been written for them, as indeed they very likely
The flighty, elegant and irresistibly amiable Charles
Surface was played by William Smith, also too old in
I She had already, earlier in the season, played Lydia Languish in
Sheridan's Rivals, and Miss Hoyden in his A Trip to Scarborough, an adapta-
tion of Vanbrugh's The Relapse.
2 Later, however, Mrs Jordan tried to present the character in a manner
more in accordance with Sir Peter's sketch of his wife as she was before their
marriage. In Denmark, where, since 1784, The Schoolfor Scandal has had a
place in the standing repertory of the Royal Theatre, it may be said that only
Fru Heiberg has really succeeded in holding the balance between the two
sides of the character, while her successors inclined one to the one side, one
to the other: Fru Eckardt being more of the coquettish Society lady, Fru
Bloch of the innocent country girl.

years for the character,1 but a warm favourite with the
public in jeune premier parts. He was always known as
'Gentleman' Smith, not only on account of his line of
parts, but also because he was the son of a city merchant
and had been educated at Eton, the most aristocratic school
in the country, an upbringing in strong contrast with that of
most of his colleagues. As, in addition, he was married to
the daughter of a Viscount, had private means, and was
noted for his elegant manners and his pretty taste in dress,
he had everything to qualify him as the ideal representative
of the amiable young scapegrace of the stage 2
A somewhat similar type was John Palmer,3 a much
younger man, who succeeded Smith injeunepremier parts.
In The Schoolfor Scandal he played Joseph Surface. He
had a good figure and finely cut features, a careless and
easy-going elegance of bearing, and the sort of insinuating
amiability that rings a trifle false-all qualities well-suited
to the part of the fascinating and hypocritical Joseph.4
Yates and Parsons, whom Horace Walpole singles
out for mention in his letter, were two popular actors, both
in the line of comic old men, but of rather differing types.
While Yates belonged to the older, somewhat coarse-
grained school, and was consequently the bluff, downright
Sir Oliver Surface to the life, Parsons possessed more
refinement of style, and a sharper, more modern vein of
comedy, and was thus excellently suited to the part
allotted to him, the malicious scandal-monger Crabtree.
Lastly, the part of Sir Benjamin Backbite fell as a
matter of course to James Dodd, the acknowledged darling
of the public as the impersonator of the more or less
idiotic coxcombs, the brainless idlers, lineal descendants
1 Smith was born about 1730 and died in 1819.
s Gentleman Smith did not confine himself to this line of business, though
characters of the Charles Surface type were those with which he was chiefly
identified. He even ventured on the part of Richard III., and played it not
without effect.
3 John Palmer was born about 1742 and died in 1798.
This part seems to have become a second nature with him. After a
dispute with Sheridan he came up to the manager with great meekness, his
hand on his heart, saying: If you could but see my heart, Mr Sheridan. . .
Sheridan drily interrupted him : "Why, Jack; you forget that I wrote it."
Richard Yates was born at the beginning of the century, about 1706 and
died in 1796.

7.-Yates as The Miser (L'Avare).

8.-Palmer and Miss Hopkins (pp. 14 and 15).


of Lord Foppington,' without one of whom no comedy
was complete. In the art of wearing an ultra-fashionable
costume, poising a cane, offering his porcelain snuff-box
and helping himself to a pinch, he stood unrivalled.
Besides Mrs Abington the cast included, on the female
side, the excellent comic actress Miss Pope, Kitty Clive's
only true successor.2 She was a true child of the theatre,
and particularly of the Drury Lane Theatre, where her
father held the post of wig-maker, and where she was a
member of the company from her fourteenth to her sixty-
sixth year. In early youth she played the merry young
ladies' and chambermaids' r6les, but soon passed on from
these to become a remarkably finished interpreter of the
parts of elderly ladies dowered with every variety of
comic eccentricity in which English comedy is so rich. Mrs
Candour fell to her as of right, and this, with Mrs Heidel-
berg in The Clandestine Marriage (by George Colman
and David Garrick), was among her very best parts.
The somewhat tiresome part of the young heroine
Maria may also be said to have fallen into suitable hands,
since it was played by the at least equally tiresome Miss
Hopkins, of whom it was remarked that she never was
known to draw either a smile or a tear from her audience.
She was the daughter of the Drury Lane prompter, and
afterwards became John Kemble's wife, without thereby
becoming in any notable degree a better actress.
It will be seen that the body of players with whom
Sheridan opened his career as a manager, while very far
from being a bad one, was essentially a company of
comedians, and was very weak on the side of tragedy and
Shakespearean drama, which still remained the criterion
of great acting. There was indeed no touch of greatness
about this polished period of decline. It was a facile,
elegant world, with good manners and good clothes,
sharp-tongued and witty, and not without sentimental
1 As regards the Lord Foppington-type, so popular on the stage till well on
in the nineteenth century, see vol. v. (Great Actors of the Eighteenth Century)
p. 352.
For Kitty Clive, see vol. v. (Great Actors of the Eighteenth Century)
pp. 373-4. Jane Pope, who never married, was born in 1742 and died in x818.
She retired in 1808.


leanings; eminently fitted for the brilliant presentation of
lightly-touched, elegant comedy, but containing absolutely
no one, whether man or woman, capable of going below
the surface in search of the deeper things of the soul,
the very existence of which seemed for the time to have
been forgotten.
Of course the Drury Lane company included many
other actors and actresses besides those who had taken
part in the triumph of The Schoolfor Scandal, and made
that piece the great theatrical event of the time. But
none of these were of any greater mark. It was thought
for a time that a great and versatile genius, a worthy
successor to Garrick, had been discovered in a young
man named Henderson, who had won his spurs in the
provinces in several of the classical parts-Richard III.,
Macbeth, Benedick; and Sheridan made haste to secure
the new star immediately after his highly successful d6but
in London, which took place at the little Haymarket
Theatre, where George Colman, who had left Covent
Garden, had now begun a very successful management.
John Henderson, at his first appearance on the boards
of Drury Lane (30th September 1777), was thirty years
of age. He had gone on the stage late in life, having
been a silversmith in London till his twenty-fifth year,
when he attracted Garrick's attention, and on his recom-
mendation was engaged to appear at the Bath Theatre,
which in those days served as a sort of preparatory school
for the London stage. With characteristic caution he
appeared under an assumed name, which he retained till
his reputation as an actor was established. After five
years at Bath, where he was the most popular member
of the company, he at last found an opening in London.
His d6but as Shylock at the Haymarket made a consider-
able sensation, and the performances of Hamlet and
Falstaff which followed, aroused such enthusiasm that
he began to be regarded as a worthy successor to the
great Garrick himself.1 As already stated, Sheridan at
1 Garrick himself was not so enthusiastic. When he was asked his opinion
after he had seen Henderson's d6but in The Merchant of Venice, he replied :
"Well, Tubal was very creditably played indeed."

1N V:


9.-John Henderson as lago.


once engaged him, and he made his d6but at Drury
Lane as Hamlet. It cannot justly be said that Henderson's
career in this, the premier theatre in England, proved a
disappointment. He filled not unworthily the place in
the great repertory of classical parts which Garrick's
retirement had left vacant. But he himself never developed
into a Garrick. Garrick had been an originating genius,
Henderson was merely a man of talent continuing an
established tradition. And the continuation in this case
proved too brief to leave any considerable mark.
Henderson's health was delicate; only eight years had
elapsed when he died, worn out, at the early age of
thirty-eight. His name is held in high respect in English
theatrical history, but it is clear that he was not a really
great actor. His physical equipment was against him.
His voice was weak and unresonant: his appearance in-
significant and somewhat plebeian: his face, and especially
his eyes, lacking in expression. Nor does it appear that
on the intellectual side he made any important contribu-
tion to his art, or was able by originality of treatment
to throw fresh light on the famous characters it fell to
him to portray. He deserves all credit, however, as a
diligent, thoughtful actor, who took his art seriously, and
who evidently possessed that feeling for the great in
theatrical art which was so conspicuously wanting in most
of his contemporaries.
Another important recruit obtained by Sheridan from
the Haymarket company was the bewitchingly beautiful
Miss Farren. Mrs Abington had begun to run to seed
a little, and was, besides, so excessively unreasonable
and troublesome, even for a 'leading lady,' that it was
exceedingly difficult to work with her.1 It was thus only
prudent on Sheridan's part to make sure of a fitting
successor to replace her, and he could not have made
a happier choice than the young and charming Elizabeth
Farren.2 True, she brought no new variety of talent to
1 Mrs Abington, indeed, left Drury Lane a few years later (1782), and joined
Covent Garden.
2 She made her first appearance at Drury Lane (8th September 1778), as
Charlotte Rusport in The West Indian (by Cumberland). She was then


the company. She, too, was the elegant society lady of
light comedy. But she far surpassed Mrs Abington in
beauty and refinement, and had besides, what was wanting
to her predecessor, a winning, softly musical voice. With
no great command of feeling, she yet gave consummate
expression to the ideal of feminine perfection prevailing
in that over-refined transition period, her exquisite grace
and restrained well-bred wit enrapturing the polite world
who set the fashion in theatrical affairs. Horace Walpole,
who had seen much, declared that she was the most
perfect actress he had ever seen. Her theatrical career
was not a very long one. She retired from the stage,
when only thirty-eight years old, to marry the Earl of
Derby-famous as the founder of the classic race-who
had been her lover for many years previously, and whom
the death of his first wife had recently set free.1
Sheridan's first years of theatrical management were in
one sense very fortunate. His own plays were brilliantly
successful; the additions made by him to the company
were judicious ; the world of fashion and elegance flocked
to his theatre with delight. But recently a very poor man,
he was now earning an income of thousands a year.
Helped by his young and beautiful wife, he kept open
house, entertaining with lavish hospitality. And being
no less charming as host than he was witty and pleasant
as boon-companion, he soon blossomed into one of the
most popular and sought-after men in London.
But this wide and ceaseless sociability, which was and
remained a necessity of existence for Sheridan, led to a
dispersion of his interests, and diverted his energies and
his talents from the theatre into other paths. His dramatic
vein seemed to dry up. His only production after The
School for Scandal was the gay little burlesque, The Critic,
or A Tragedy Rehearsed, a witty parody of the modern
French pseudo-classic tragedy, which had had a temporary
vogue in England, though the attempts made to transplant
I She married Lord Derby in 1797, and lived as Lady Derby for many
years, dying in 1829. It was she who trained her husband's grandson, Edward
Stanley, Earl of Derby, the well-known statesman who abolished slavery, in
the art of oratory, for his command of which he later became famous.


it had usually been without success, Sheridan himself, in
the course of his management, having burnt his fingers
on them.1 Not even the extraordinary success which,
in common with all his previous pieces, this amusing farce
attained, served to rekindle his zest for dramatic author-
ship. As dramatist, from this time forward, he falls
completely silent, except for the production many years
after-in 1799-of an adaptation of Kotzebue's drama
Pizarro-this too achieving a great stage-success.2
The fact of the matter was that he had been captured
by politics. He had struck up a connection with politicians
like Lord Townshend, and more especially Charles James
Fox, whose intimate friend he soon became. He joined
the Whig party, and in 1780 was returned to Parliament,
where his brilliant eloquence, which had nothing theatrical
about it, and his considerable practical ability soon made
him one of the chief pillars of the party. But it was
inevitable that the zeal with which he threw himself into
his new career should react injuriously both on his talent
as author and his activities as theatrical manager. In
fact, as we have seen, his dramatic talent died away
completely, while the theatre came more and more to be
to him a mere source of income, to the increase of whose
productivity he now and again devoted a passing attention,
but which he left for the most part to the care of others,
chiefly the members of his own family. Not, however,
that this was the view he himself took of the matter. It
was his greatest ambition to be a first-rate theatrical
manager, while he regarded with a natural, and sometimes
strongly expressed, disgust the tricks anry subterfuges of
parliamentary politics. None the less, by a singular irony
of fate, it came to pass that he devoted nearly the whole
of his energies to his political career, while the happy-go-
lucky unconcern with which he managed his theatre may
be gauged by the fact that, excellent judge as he was
both of plays and acting, he never read through himself
x For example with Voltaire's Semiramis, which was one of the first pieces
produced by him.
9 No fewer than twenty-nine editions of it were published, and the chief part
(Rolla) was a standing dish in the repertories of the great actors Kemble
and Kean.


the pieces submitted for his acceptance, and hardly knew
by sight the actors who appeared upon his stage.1
Though he left nearly all the work to others-except
the work of raising money, an operation in which he was
as adroit and efficient as he was lavish in spending it-
he was yet unwilling to delegate to his assistants the
authority necessary for the control of their depart-
ments; the natural result being that great disorder and
indiscipline prevailed in the daily working and interior
economy of the theatre.
By appointing his father as stage-manager he had
saddled himself with an incubus. The elder Sheridan
was beyond question a man of probity and of culture, but
he was at the same time most pedantic, most old-fashioned,
much too intensely convinced of his own infallibility, and,
worst of all, morbidly jealous of his son's genius and good
fortune. As already mentioned, he had committed at the
outset a stupid blunder by repulsing Garrick, of whom he
was likewise jealous, with an arrogance which could not
fail to strike the whole company as ludicrous to the last
degree. He had been all his days a mediocre actor, of the
bombastic-declamatory school, and to his intense disgust,
though doubtless most fortunately for the public, he was
now absolutely debarred from acting, his appointment as
stage-manager having been made on that express condi-
tion. This prohibition exasperated his natural bitterness,
and he constantly did all he could to thwart his son's
plans, thereby incidentally undermining his own authority
and the discipline which Garrick's firm and masterful leader-
ship had built up. Small wonder that the embittered old
actor's reign lasted only three years. He was obliged to
resign his post to King,2 who proved an exceedingly
A He is said to have come down to the theatre after a good dinner, and,
after standing for a moment in the wings listening, to have said to some of his
actors: "Who is that on the stage?", adding immediately: "Don't let him
ever act again."
2 With what feelings the elder Sheridan left his son's theatre we may gather
from his remarks of a few years later, in a letter to his eldest son, Charles
Francis (quoted by Fraser Rae: Sheridan II. 4). He writes :
". .. At length a scene opened which promised better days. Garrick's
retiring, whose jealousy had long shut the London theatres against me, such
an opening) was made for me both as manager and actor as might soon have
retrieved my affairs, and in no long space of time have placed me in easy


conscientious, though not an inspired, stage-manager, but
who had great difficulty in maintaining his authority in
face of his manager's intellectual superiority and habit
of capricious, though never unamiable, interference.
Thus did the great theatre, after Garrick's retirement,
go veering before the wind, without steady ballast, without
plan, without discipline, and without a commander able to
gather his actors round him like a well-trained crew and
direct them to a definite goal.
circumstances. But here a son of mine steps into possession, whose first step
was to exclude me wholly from having any share in it. Afterwards when by
extreme ill conduct they were threatened with ruin, he agreed to put the
management into my hands on condition that I should not appear as a per-
former. . I desire to know whether, if the theatre of Drury Lane had fallen
into the hands of the worst enemy I had in the world, determined upon ruining
me and my family, he could have taken more effectual means of doing it, than
those which have been pursued by my own son."


The Kemble family of Actors-Mrs Siddons' triumph in London-John Philip
Kemble and the Classic School -Art of Mrs Siddons. Her Lady
Macbeth-John Kemble as Hamlet and Cardinal Wolsey-Victorious
progress of the Classic School.

SHERIDAN'S period of activity as a theatrical manager was
a long one; it extended to thirty-two years, and it was not
with his consent that it then came to an end.1 During
this long period of years much of course came to pass;
there were good years and bad years, great successes and
great disappointments, but what most concerns posterity
is that during this period and at this theatre English
theatrical art developed new methods and a new direction.
This was not owing to any influence of Sheridan's, but
to a change in the popular taste of the times; and the
instruments of this new current of taste were found in a
family of actors who became and continued for many years
the ruling force in English theatrical life, and especially
in two of its members: John Philip Kemble and his sister
Sarah Siddons.
The great theatrical clan of the Kembles took its rise
from a strolling provincial actor-originally a hairdresser,
later a theatrical manager-Roger Kemble,2 and his wife
Sarah Ward, daughter of the Irish manager John Ward.
This worthy and handsome couple had twelve children,
of whom more than half went on the stage. As these
again married actors and actresses and produced a new
generation of Kembles who in their turn joined the
1 It was after the destruction by fire (1809) of the theatre built by him in
1794 that Sheridan was excluded from the management of the new theatre.
The details of the affair are given below.
2 Born 1721, died 1802. The brother and sister would seem to have
inherited their talent from their mother. The father was a bad actor, though
a handsome and estimable man.


1o.-Mrs Sarah Siddons.
[From the parnung by Thomas Gainsborough.


profession, there would have been good grounds for speak-
ing of the Kemble School, simply on account of the
cumulative effect of numbers, even if none of this prolific
family had been remarkable for talent or genius. How
much more so when, as was actually the case, one at least
of the family possessed great genius, and another achieved
importance and distinction, if only by the tenacity and
vigour with which he adhered to and enforced his artistic
The genius of the family was Roger Kemble's eldest
child, Sarah; the forceful and tenacious spirit who made
the Kemble name itself famous was the eldest son, John
Both of them -and for that matter their younger
brothers and sisters as well-were early broken to the
stage as junior members of their parents' touring company,
in which, as a matter of course, the whole family made
itself useful ; by the time they were ten or twelve years
old they had already appeared in a great variety of parts.
The parents, however, had the good sense to break off
their children's theatrical career in good time and arrange
for their receiving a proper education. The boy was
entered, at ten years old, in a Roman Catholic school,
with a view to his studying for the priesthood; and the
twelve-year-old Sarah was also sent to a good school,
where she received a sound education. At a very early
age she became engaged to Henry Siddons, a handsome
young actor without a spark of talent; an entanglement
which was very unwelcome to her mother, and which led
1 Both sister and brother came into the world in the course of their parents'
wandering life as touring players. Sarah was born in an inn at Brecknock
(Wales) on 5th July 1755; John Philip, also in an inn, at Prescott (Lancashire),
Ist February 1757.
2 The eccentric writer William Combe, author of Dr Syntar's Tour, had at
that time, in consequence of temporary pecuniary embarrassment, enlisted as
a private soldier, and happened to be quartered in a certain inn when the
Kemble family came there. The private soldier greatly amazed and impressed
the guests at the inn by talking Greek and Latin, and Roger Kemble was so
struck by him that he engaged him as tutor to his young and talented daughter,
Sarah, a relation which, however, did not last long-doubtless a fortunate
circumstance for one of the parties. Combe, however, used to say later, when
his pupil had become the great, renowned Mrs Siddons, that his first memory
of her upon the stage was seeing her standing in the wings rubbing a pair of
snuffers on a brass candlestick to counterfeit the noise of a windmill.

to the dismissal of Siddons from the company, while Miss
Sarah was sent to a place as lady's maid in a wealthy
family.1 She remained faithful, however, to her handsome
lover; the parents' consent was at last obtained, and at
eighteen years of age she became Mrs Siddons. The
young couple now rejoined Roger Kemble's company, she
as the popular 'leading lady,' he in the humble sphere of
general utility.
Meanwhile her brother, John Philip, had entered the
French Seminary at Douai, where he received excellent
instruction and made good progress in his studies, but
without developing any vocation for the priesthood. His
clerical upbringing had no doubt considerable influence on
him through life, and coloured his later professional career.
At any rate his acting, both in diction and in gesture, was
marked throughout by a certain priestly solemnity and
measured deliberation which could not fail to bring to
mind his education as the Douai seminarist.
At eighteen years old he left the Seminary, determined,
in spite of his father's opposition, to become an actor.
Refused by his father, he sought and obtained an engage-
ment in another touring company.
Meanwhile Sarah Siddons was playing asprima donna
assoluta in her father's troupe, with so much success that
her provincial reputation soon penetrated to London,
and one fine day Garrick despatched his trusted ad-
viser, Thomas King, to see and report on her playing.
The report was so favourable that Garrick offered the
young actress an engagement at five pounds a week,
which she gladly accepted. On the 29th December 1775
-almost at the same time as her brother left the Seminary
for the stage-she made her formal d6but at Drury Lane,
as Portia in The Merchant of Venice.
At this time Mrs Siddons was twenty years old.
Beautiful as she was, and refined in appearance, she was
yet most unlike the type, compounded of lady of fashion
and stage-queen, which in 1775 was still in vogue. She
In later years, when Mrs Siddons had become queen of the stage, her
worshippers would have been glad to conceal this circumstance, and indeed
her early biographers regard it as so terrible that they scarcely dare refer to it.
But a lady's maid she was.


was very tall, and still so slender as to seem almost bony ;1
and she moved, as a natural consequence, with a certain
slowness and angularity. Her face was of a noble but
somewhat severe and cold beauty, her features large, her
eyebrows black and strongly marked, her mouth nobly
formed, and her eyes large and grave-in short she was
the very reverse of the petite, lively, elegant figure in
rococo style, with boldly developed bust, laughing cherry
lips, and coquettish eyes, which the fashion of the period
had made its ideal. The prevailing style of dress, with its
short, hooped skirt, its paniers, its high, pointed heels,
must have been most unbecoming to her. She was
formed by nature for the draperies of tragedy, but as yet
she either did not know how to choose the style of costume
that suited her, or had not sufficient authority to impose
her taste. Her voice, trained to the acoustics of the small
provincial theatres, sounded thin and indistinct in the
great spaces of Drury Lane.2 No wonder, then, that her
debut was unsuccessful, and that none, or hardly any one,
was able to discern her special gifts. It was not to be
expected that she should attract the favour and patronage
of any of the noblemen or politicians, amateurs of the
theatre, who sometimes used their wealth and interest to
launch young debutantes, for she was no complaisant little
actress, ready for a flirtation in the wings or the green-
room. On the erotic side she was unapproachable; the
saying went that you would as soon think of making love
to the Archbishop of Canterbury as to her.
Garrick, who was probably the only person who saw
clearly what she might come to be, retired from manage-
ment at the end of the season, and the public gave her no
support. Her last r61e in this year of her d6but was
Lady Anne in Richard III., a part which should have
suited her well. But by this time she had lost heart, and

1 Afterwards her figure filled out; and in her later years she became ex-
ceedingly stout.
2 Though the Drury Lane of 1775 was not nearly so large as it was when
rebuilt by Sheridan in 1794, it yet could seat an audience of 2000. All the
critics of the day, including even the few who praised her, mentioned as a
serious defect her feeble voice, which made it quite impossible to hear some
of her speeches.

.. .. ': -.":%
.. -'......... : : .. ..

....:.:..." ". :...

she made even less impression in this than in her earlier
comedy r6les.
When Sheridan took over the theatre, he declined to
renew her engagement, and after this single unsuccessful
season she left Drury Lane with bitter resentment in her
heart (directed, with an actress's usual unreasonableness,
mainly against Garrick), and returned to the provincial
The next seven years, spent in touring throughout the
provinces, were years of development, in which her
character ripened and matured, and she advanced in
mastery of her art, and constantly extended and confirmed
her popularity with provincial audiences-particularly at
fashionable Bath. Thus when she returned to London it
was as a mature artist, conscious of her aims and confident
in her powers. Her second d6but at Drury Lane--oth
October 1782-was accordingly a triumph which made her
at one blow the first tragic actress in England; and her
conquest of the fashionable world of the theatre was now
as complete as its previous neglect of her had been.
This revolution in the fortunes of the actress was due
not only to her own progress as an artist, but also, quite
as much, to a turn in the tide of public feeling and taste.
The tone of light, cool scepticism, of smooth yet sparkling
wit, of polite repression and concealment of all feeling,
had long since given way to a certain vague sentimentalism.
But the feeling for the tears of things was still on the
increase. As if with a foreboding of the mighty events
that were soon to convulse Europe, art was turning to
the treatment of the simpler, greater emotions, to deep
sorrow, lofty simplicity, noble resignation.
Whereas, earlier in the century, tragedy had produced
most of its effects by sudden transitions from polished
elegance to violent outbursts of passion, exciting rather
than moving the spectators, the new age had begun to
look for a more evenly maintained pathos, an uninterrupted,
penetrating seriousness, a plastic solemnity, informing the
whole performance, and a mastery of feeling, capable of
drawing warm floods of tears down cheeks recently so
cool and dry beneath their powder.

o ,o

II.-Mrs Siddons.
[From the painting by Sir W. Beechev.


To this change in the public taste, of which the public
itself was still but half conscious, and which only attained
to clear self-consciousness in the ideals of the great French
Revolution, with their demand for classic elevation and
Roman civic virtue,-to this change Sarah Siddons and
her brother were the first to give expression in the world
of the theatre.
No one who saw Mrs Siddons on that memorable
evening when, as Isabella,' she melted the vast critical
London audience into floods of tears, could doubt for a
moment that he had before him a great actress; no one
but those who had been present at Garrick's debut forty-
one years before had ever known an evening of such
enthusiasm in a theatre.
At the time, however, no one seems to have realized
that, as in the case of Garrick's first appearance, this
evening marked the beginning of a new era in the art of
acting. The press of the day abounded in eulogy, the critics
laid great stress on the actress's 'noble appearance,' her
'classic profile,'2 the simplicity of her expression of grief;
while remarking on a certain monotony in her playing.
But the profound differences between her and her nearest
predecessors, the marked peculiarities of temperament, of
external appearance, of diction, which made her in a real
sense the founder of a new school, the initiator of the
'classic' style, seem at first to have escaped remark.
Perhaps the secret of the matter was that she herself had
no consciousness of any great novelty of method. In
those days the recipe now followed for innovations in art-
first invent a name suitable for a new 'school,' then
think out a number of peculiar tenets in some degree
corresponding to the name, and finally set about enlisting
proselytes for the new movement-was not yet in vogue.
Mrs Siddons had ambition, talent and intelligence in a high
i In Southern's tragedy The Fatal Marriage, an old, very popular play
(dating from 1694) which Garrick had adapted to the taste of the time, and
which now went under the name of Isabella. It remained one of Mrs Siddons'
best parts.
It was in fact only in this connection that the word 'classic' was used.
And yet her profile was perhaps the least 'classic' thing about her. Both
her nose and her chin, as Horace Walpole quite rightly remarked (Letters,
xii. 357), were, according to Greek standards, distinctly too large.

degree; her peculiar natural gifts, both bodily and mental,
eminently fitted her to be the leader of a new development
in her art. But, unlike Garrick in his day, she would
seem to have had no distinct consciousness of breaking
with the old, and initiating a new, order.
It was reserved for her brother, John Philip, who had
more intuition in matters of theory, more personal idiosyn-
cracies, but far less natural genius than his sister, to give
clear and systematic expression to the principles of the
new school.
John Kemble, after leaving the Douai Seminary, had
found considerable difficulty in making his way as an
actor, even on the provincial stage. In spite of his
culture, his handsome figure, his correct and gentlemanlike
appearance and manners, he had no great success with
the theatrical public. He was looked on as a somewhat
stiff and tedious performer-and it is undeniable that both
then and throughout his career there was justice in the
complaint. At the same time the young man possessed
qualities-a seriousness, partly inborn, in part acquired by
training, an imperturbable stateliness and a plastic grace-
that made it impossible to pass him by unnoticed. His
very appearance and figure, which much resembled his
sister's, seemed to mark him out in advance as a leader
of men. He was very tall, very dark, with the same
large nobly-cut features as Sarah Siddons, and the same
beautiful, deep eyes. But his temperament had no spark
of her fire and passion. He was not without feeling, but
his feeling found expression in diction, gesture and move-
ment so deliberate and restrained that it often produced
the effect of mere sluggishness; he was not without
humour, but his humour was so absolutely lacking in any
touch of nimbleness, and went so ill with his solemnity
and unchanging beauty of countenance, that it rarely
succeeded in stirring his audience to laughter. He had
great courage and still greater tenacity, and these qualities,
harmonizing as they did with his imperturbable, almost
indifferent composure, were clearly those to which he gave
the surest and best expression on the stage and by which
he made the strongest impression on the British public,


to whom just these qualities have always appealed as the
attributes of an ideal man.
At the time of his sister's second, brilliantly successful
debut in London, John Kemble had an engagement in
Dublin, where he had worked his way into the front rank
of the company at the well-known Smock Alley Theatre,
managed by the Irishman, Daly, and was playing in an
extensive range of parts-much too varied for his powers-
making now a success, and again a failure.
After her first triumphant season had brought London
to her feet, his sister came over to Dublin and appeared
along with him at the Smock Alley Theatre as a visiting
star. Her visit was a success, but it would seem that there
was no real sympathy between her and the Irish public.
She writes about the Irish in a letter to a friend 1:
"... I like not the people either" (she has been
writing of the dirt and untidiness of Dublin) ; they are all
ostentation and insincerity, and in their ideas of finery very
like the French, but not so cleanly; and they not only
speak but think coarsely. This is in confidence.; therefore,
your fingers on your lips, I pray. They are tenacious of
their country to a degree of folly that is very laughable,
and would call me the blackest of ingrates were they to
know my sentiments of them. I have got a thousand
pounds among them this summer. I always acknowledge
myself obliged to them, but I cannot love them."
It is clear enough from these utterances that, while the
public had flocked to see the newly-risen star, there was no
real hearty liking between her and her Irish audiences;
and it becomes still more clearly evident, from jeering news-
paper articles of the time, that the solemn, severe art of the
Kemble school was incapable-except as a momentary
sensation-of making any real appeal to the lively, variable,
laughter-loving Irish public. Thus, in an article combining
mock criticism with a parody of the manager's methods of
advertising, we read: On Saturday, Mrs Siddons, about
whom all the world has been talking, exposed her beautiful,
adamantine, soft and comely person, for the first time, in
the Theatre Royal, Smock Alley. The house was crowded
I Mr Whalley : letter quoted by Fitzgerald : The Kembles, i. 138.

with hundreds more than it could hold, with thousands of
admiring spectators that went away without a sight. . .
Several fainted, even before the curtain drew up. . The
fiddlers in the orchestra blubbered like hungry children
crying for their bread and butter; and when the bell rang
for the music between the acts, the tears ran from the
bassoon player's eyes in such showers, that they choked
the finger stops, and [made] a spout of the instrument. . .
The briny pond in the pit was three feet deep, and the
people that were obliged to stand upon the benches were
in that position up to their ankles in tears. An Act of
Parliament against her playing will certainly pass, for she
has infected the volunteers, and they sit reading The Fatal
Marriage, crying and roaring all the time ...
Heartily tired of this gibe-loving, malicious public, Mrs
Siddons left Dublin, taking her brother with her to Drury
Lane, where he obtained an engagement, and made his
debut as Hamlet-30th September 1783. He at once
impressed the public by his unusually handsome face, his
manly figure, and his great authority and restraint; and
astonished the critics by the many new 'readings' and
novelties of emphasis and interpretation which his diligent
study of the text had enabled him to think out in this most
famous of all stage parts. For Kemble was not-and this
was at once recognized-a mere declamatory actor, taking
hold of a part at one end and reeling it off till he arrived at
the other end, without much more trouble to himself than
the mere physical exertion, and without other profit to his
audience than that of getting through the whole of the part.
His presentation of a character was always thoroughly
worked out, often indeed too thoroughly, in the sense that
the work showed too clearly, and that essentials became
confused with inessentials owing to the too great attention
and prominence given to the latter.
He was immeasurably superior to that most abhorrent
type of actor who lives and flourishes upon the mere
exploitation of a handsome presence and an untiring pair
of lungs. But as an impersonator of human beings he had
a serious, though not very uncommon, defect-he was able
to impersonate only one human being, to wit, himself, John


Philip Kemble. Whether his part was that of a dusky
Moor, a white-haired old man, a ragged vagabond, or a
dandified fine gentleman, it was always a case of John
Philip Kemble demonstrating to his audience how a Moor,
an old man, a vagabond or a fine gentleman ought to live
and move and have his being, not of these various person-
ages themselves living and moving before the eyes of the
audience. And as it happened that John Philip Kemble
was a dignified, serious, classically handsome but some-
what stiff and pedantic person, his impersonations only
approached perfection in cases in which these qualities
stood him in stead by harmonizing with those of the
personages he had to represent.
They were of course very far from harmonizing in the
case of the character of Hamlet. The welter of changing
moods, the distraction of feeling, the sudden veering shifts
of thought, the constant attempts at self-concealment under
a mask of words and of inconsequent actions, that make the
interpretation of the part of Hamlet so tempting to every
actor and so unattainable by any but the born genius-all
this belonged to a domain forever barred and inaccessible
to a talent so incapable of variety as Kemble's. Thus his
Hamlet was little more than a beautiful lifeless picture;
he moved through the part like a graceful minuet-dancer,
who knows all the figures thoroughly and never for a
moment loses the stately measure. Ludwig Tieck, whose
judgment carries weight both because of his thorough
knowledge of Shakespeare, and because as a foreigner he
looked with fresh and impartial eyes at English theatrical
art, says of Kemble's Hamlet:1 "It was above all the
plaintive melancholy, the noble suffering in the part that
Kemble brought out: he wept much and too often; many
scenes, for example the scene with the players,2 he spoke
1 Dramaturgische Blitter, ii. 160. Tieck did not see Kemble till 1817,
when the actor was sixty years old. But we can hardly doubt that the funda-
mental conception and the style of execution of the performance as he saw
it were the same as when Kemble made his debut at Drury Lane as a young
actor of twenty-six.
Kemble had omitted this scene on his first appearance, probably because,
as a young beginner, he was shy of making himself the mouthpiece of satire
which might not have left the withers of some of his older colleagues unwrung ;
but he very soon restored the scene to his acting version.

excellently, and he moved and bore himself throughout
with a manly dignity. But in this case, as always, hardly
any difference was made between the lighter and the graver
parts of the drama; and again, it was impossible to dis-
tinguish at any point between prose and verse. The great
scenes of passion seemed almost insignificant; the scene
with the Ghost at any rate produced no effect whatever.
"At such points as the beginning of the first soliloquy:
0 that this too, too solid flesh would melt,'
Kemble draws out the O for some seconds with a strong
At the words the rugged Pyrrhus,' where Hamlet says:
' If it live in your memory, begin at this line-let me see,
let me see :-
"The rugged Pyrrhus, like the Hyrcanian beast"-
it is not so ;-it begins with Pyrrhus-'
there was again1 general, resounding applause throughout
the theatre, because this casting about for the beginning of
the speech, this lapse of memory, was expressed in such
a natural manner. And certainly, when one has been
listening for a considerable time to slowly-moving, monot-
onously plaintive rhythms, punctuated at regular intervals
by long pauses, it comes as an unusually effective surprise
to hear again suddenly the natural tones of everyday life
in the ordinary dialogue form."
The English theatrical criticism of the time was fully
alive to these and other similar objections to Kemble's
style; and saw clearly the difference between Sarah
Siddons' inborn tragic temperament, kindling with its
sparks the imagination of her hearers, and John Kemble's
dignified, elaborate manner, flowing like an even, glassy
stream, the very negation of all impetuosity and fire. But
on his own merits, such as they were, he too obtained
acceptance, and in course of time acquired great influence.
The brother and sister soon took a dominating posi-
tion in the tragic repertory of the theatre; and when
1 Tieck had noticed on several occasions that, when Kemble for once in a
way abandoned his usual solemn sermonizing tone and made a sudden change
into an everyday mode of speech, the transition always drew loud applause
from the audience.

12.-John Kemble as H[amlet. I3.-John Kemble as Coriolanus (p. 38).
[3rd Act.]

14.-John Kemble as Cardinal Wolsey (p. 36).


in 1788 Thomas King resigned the stage-management,
Kemble, who had become a friend and ardent admirer of
Sheridan's, succeeded to the post. King had been unable
to get on with Sheridan, who, in his own easy-going amiable
way, played the tyrant to his stage-manager, giving him
much responsibility and little power, till at last King threw
up his appointment in sheer disgust, declaring publiclythat he
had been left so completely without authority in his depart-
ment that he "could not have a costume cleaned, or order
a yard of imitation gold-lace to trim it with; things which
it must be allowed were often badly needed."
John Kemble was better fitted to inspire respect both
in Sheridan and in the members of the company. There
was about him an inborn, natural authority which fitted
him to command. He was upright and courageous too,
and held well-defined theories and ideas on dramatic art in
general and the art of stage-setting in particular. It need
not surprise us then, even if we hold his theories and
ideas to have been faulty in themselves, that he acquired
a position of great power and influence in the theatrical
life of the time, and was able to establish firmly a style of
stage presentation, chiefly distinguished by a rich stateli-
ness, a measured nobility, a dignified solemnity, which no
doubt came perilously near the borders of the genre
which Voltaire considered the only inadmissible one,
but which yet undeniably bore the stamp of seriousness
and plastic beauty, things which had long been absent from
the theatre.
With Sheridan, as was inevitable in dealing with such
a lax and unbusiness-like manager, he had many disagree-
ments; but though Kemble in private life, as on the stage,
had a temperament somewhat inclined to stiffness and
tragic gloom, Sheridan was always able to appease his
resentment, mainly because Kemble in his heart had an
admiration not far short of idolatry for his manager's easy,
brilliant endowments and bright, gay disposition. They
thus managed to hold together, in spite of innumerable
quarrels, till 1802. By that time Sheridan, who had
gradually made it a fixed principle never willingly, and as
seldom as possible under compulsion, to pay what he owed,


had wounded his friend so often and so deeply in money
matters, a specially tender point both with Kemble and his
sister, that it became inevitable that they should part.
But in John Kemble's long reign as stage-manager of
Drury Lane he accomplished much towards the establish-
ment of his principles. Not much of any value was being
written during those years in the higher drama, and his
efforts were thus naturally directed mainly towards the
production of Shakespeare. Amongst other achievements
he placed to his credit a production of Macbeth marked by
a great advance in appropriateness and magnificence of
setting, which furnished his sister with one of her best and
most admired parts in Lady Macbeth.
Mrs Siddons' conception of this famous figure, so
terrible in its truth-a conception which she has left on
record in one of a series of notes on her parts-is especially
interesting as embodying the true Kemble attitude towards
art, in its striving for the attainment of nobility, beauty,
elevation, at any and all costs. She sees in Lady Macbeth
first and foremost a devoted wife, loving her husband and
loved by him, a beautiful and intelligent woman, who is
driven to crime by ambition-on behalf of her beloved
husband-and who, after the commission of the crime,
suffers as terribly as he from the pangs of conscience.
It is still more interesting, however, to note that this
strained reading of the part differs completely from the con-
ception that her impulsive, temperamental genius forced
her to carry out on the stage. All contemporary witnesses
agree that from the very beginning and throughout the
play she presented, with fearful, appalling clearness, a
recklessly ambitious, coldly passionate woman, without
scruple, without remorse, without feeling for anything but
herself, driving her husband relentlessly forward to the
goal she has set before him. In her very first scene,
where Lady Macbeth, after the reading of her husband's
letter, says:
"Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promised,"
she uttered the words "shall be" with such violent, such


truly terrible energy, as at once to give the key to
the woman's character and to the idea of the whole
In the sleep-walking scene she produced a great and
thrilling effect, and one quite new to the public of the day,
since to obtain it she had the courage to break with an old
tradition. In the text of the play the well-known stage-
direction runs: "Enter Lady Macbeth, with a taper."
The earlier representatives of the part, including the much-
admired Mrs Pritchard,1 had gone through the whole
scene faithfully carrying round this 'taper' in its elegant
candlestick, and it was looked on as a fool-hardy innova-
tion, nay almost as a piece of sacrilege that might well be
fatal to the success of the performance, when Mrs Siddons
declared at rehearsal her intention of setting down this
time-honoured candlestick on a table. She carried her
point, however, thereby making possible much greater
variety in her by-play, gaining the 'free hands' so
necessary in this scene, and producing a dramatic effect
far greater than her predecessors had attained.
The only points in which Mrs Siddons seems to have
followed her theoretic conception in the actual stage
presentation of the part were her external appearance-
her Lady Macbeth, at least in the years when she first
played the part,2 was a beautiful young woman, a delicate
blonde-and a single speech, on which she herself laid
much stress, and by which, in her view, the lady's originally
gentle and loving disposition was unmistakably shown.
This was the passage where Lady Macbeth says:
"Had he not resembled
My father as he slept, I had don'tt"
Mrs Siddons charged this speech with a wealth of filial
tenderness which moved the spectators deeply, and aroused
the critics' warmest admiration. It is hardly necessary,
at the present day, to point out that this is an exceedingly
forced interpretation.
I Cf. vol. v. (Great Actors of the Eighteenth Century) p. 388.
2 It is certain that, in the course of her long stage career, Mrs Siddons
made many changes both in her playing and in the costumes of her characters.

Another Shakespearean revival by which John Kemble
rendered good service was his production of Henry VIII.
He staged it, for one thing, for the first time for many
years, with the magnificence of mounting and of pageantry
appropriate to a festival play written for the glorification of
Queen Elizabeth; and, more important still, he was able
to extract from it a degree of dramatic beauty which had
probably never been attained by previous performances,
even in Shakespeare's time. Much of his success, it is true,
was again due to the help of his sister, whose performance
of the unhappy Queen Katherine was perfection itself.
The beauty and nobility, the deep grief and calm resigna-
tion with which Mrs Siddons managed to inform this short
part aroused the greatest admiration, and many considered
her Queen Katherine as great an achievement as her Lady
But John Kemble himself, too, found in Cardinal
Wolsey one of the parts which suited his style, and which
went far towards justifying himself and others in believing
that he was a great actor. He was ordinarily incapable
of entering in imagination into a character foreign to his
own temperament, of getting into its skin as the saying
goes. As a contemporary critic 2 wittily said of him :
He is chiefly afraid of being contaminated by too
close an identity with the characters he represents .. .
He endeavours to raise Nature to the dignity of his own
person and demeanour, and declines, with a graceful smile
and a wave of the hand, the ordinary services she might do
But the qualities and feelings which characterize the
part of Cardinal Wolsey-sacerdotalism, authority, self-
mastery, and later, plaintive grief and manly resignation-
were all well within Kemble's range of expression, and he
produced a powerful effect in this r6le, which has ever since
been a favourite one with all prominent character actors,
1 He did not, however, himself take the part when he first produced
Henry VIII.
William Hazlitt (1778-I830), an excellent essayist and critic, whose
penetrating judgment of literature and the stage had no small influence and
3 William Hazlitt: A View of the English Stage, p. 284.



15. -Mrs Siddons as Lady Macbeth (p. 34).




whereas before Kemble's time it had been comparatively
Ludwig Tieck, who saw Kemble as Cardinal Wolsey, no
doubt on one of the last occasions on which he played the
part, writes of his performance :
"My ear had at last become more accustomed to this
extremely deliberate, plaintive style of declamation, and as
most of the characters, particularly the King, spoke much
more quickly, and as, moreover, this tone of solemnity was
much more defensible in the case of the old Cardinal, the
general effect produced by the performance was just and
This evening Kemble showed himself a truly great
artist, particularly in the scene after his fall, in which
the nobles assembled round him rejoice in his misfortunes,
and he, still unbowed and haughty in his sorrow, speaks
out his whole mind to them. This figure, majestic in the
depths of grief, this heart already broken, but rising once
more in all its strength above the malice of his enemies,
this trembling voice, regaining, after a hard struggle, its
firm manly tones,-all this was incomparably fine and of
the utmost completeness and excellence."
It was the so-called' Roman' parts, however, that were
best of all suited to John Kemble's peculiar gifts. Roman,
or pseudo-Roman, classicism was coming more and more
into fashion in literature, in painting, even in dress and the
style of wearing the hair. And about the time when
Talma, with youthful ardour and the assurance of genius,
was forcing through to victory on the French stage, despite
the horror of the old societaires, his new vision of the
pictorial and plastic in dramatic art, John Kemble, a some-
what older man, in his heavier and more deliberate but
equally pertinacious fashion, was bringing the same theories
to the front in England. The classic style, however, had
a longer reign before it, and was of greater permanent
importance, in France than in England, the French national
genius having more kinship with the Roman spirit, and
more inclination to declamatory pathos, than the English,
which is more apt to wander in the winding wood-paths of
'Ludwig Tieck: Dramaturgische BlItter, ii. 153 seq.

romance than to follow the parallel straight lines of
Meanwhile the new methods acted in both countries as
a reviving force on the classical drama of the eighteenth
century, and by their introduction of some approach to
correctness in Roman costume, and of statuesque attitude
and bearing, aroused a sense of historical colour which had
hitherto been completely lacking on the stage, as in pictorial
Kemble had all the physical, and many of the mental
and spiritual qualities suited to this new style of art.
He looked magnificent in a Roman toga, and had all the
dignity and force suited to the costume. It is thus with
parts like Addison's Cato and Coriolanus that his name
and fame are especially connected. He was much admired
in particular as Coriolanus, and he himself loved this part
above all others. It should be remarked, however, that
he did not present unadulterated Shakespeare's drama,
through which plays so vigorously the fieriest blood of
the Renaissance, but a twice-diluted version, compounded
of James Thomson's heroic tragedy of the same name,
produced in 1748, and a rehash concocted by Kemble him-
self and the prompter, Wrighton,1 and entitled Coriolanus,
or The Roman Matron, a Tragedy altered from Shakespeare
and Thomson (1789).
Thus the Kemble school marched on, borne victoriously
forward by Mrs 'Siddons' commanding genius and John
Kemble's persevering energy, supported by a Court other-
wise uninterested in the stage, and by the world of fashion,
and enlisting many recruits, most of them, however, from
among the numerous members of the Kemble family itself.
Of these Charles Kemble,2 a much younger brother,
displayed most talent and had the most successful career.
He had more lightness of touch than his brother John, to
whom he gave efficient support by his playing in the
secondary tragic r6les. He was best, however, in high
It is the Biograhlia Dramatica (ii. 129) which lays this crime to the
prompter's charge. The hotch-potch was successful, and Kemble chose it for
his farewell performance on quitting the stage.
SCharles Kemble was born in 1775 and died in 1854; his d6but at Drury
Lane took place 2nd April 1794, and he retired in 1836.

I6.-Miss Fanny Kemble as Juliet (p. 39).




comedy parts, his Mercutio and Petruchio especially being
much praised. But even better than he was his wife,
Maria Theresia de Camp, born in Vienna, of French
parents, but brought up in England, at first as a dancer,
in which capacity she had the somewhat doubtful honour
of attracting the interest of the Prince of Wales, later
George IV., who obtained an engagement for her at a
'legitimate' theatre. She applied herself with great energy
to mastering the English language, and became in time
an exceedingly engaging actress, and even a popular
This couple again had two daughters, who both went
on the stage; one, Adelaide, becoming a singer, while the
other, Fanny (Frances) Kemble, rose to fame as a tragic
The brother next to John Philip, Stephen Kemble, was
also both himself an actor and married to an actress, Miss
Satchell. He by no means resembled his two brothers in
respectability and correctness of life and manners, being
rather the typical dissolute strolling player. His greatest
title to renown as an actor was that he was able to play
Falstaff without stuffing.
Two of the sisters, Frances (Fanny)-not to be confused
with the niece-and Elizabeth, were also on the stage, the
latter being married to an actor and manager, Whitlock,
the former to the dramatic critic, Twiss. They were such
exceedingly poor actresses that not even Mrs Siddons' and
John Kemble's united authority and influence could induce
the public to believe in their talent.
To complete the lengthy catalogue of this band of
brothers and sisters, brothers- and sisters-in-law and their
children, we must add John Kemble's wife (nee Hopkins),'
previously the wife of the mad actor Brereton ; and also Mrs
Siddons' son.
Surrounded by this family body-guard, and by a faithful
troop of adherents both in 'the profession 'and among the
public, the Kemble school marched forward almost un-
Miss Fanny Kemble afterwards became Mrs Butler, and was known by
that name also, both as actress, reciter and authoress.
See above, p. 15.

opposed to power, honour and riches, dominating the
theatrical world from the day of Mrs Siddons' first conquest
of London, till the hour when, full of years and honour, she
finally retired from the stage.

The new Drury Lane under Sheridan-External Conditions-Lighting and
Precautions against Fire-The Fire-Sheridan in Parliament-The final
Drury Lane.
THE external conditions of the theatre were very greatly
modified during the period dealt with in the preceding
chapter, and the modifications had important effects on
the methods of theatrical art and on theatrical life in general.
The old Drury Lane of Garrick's day was a very large
theatre, in reality too large to suit the spoken drama. It
held 2000 spectators, or about 400 more than, for example,
the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen. Yet as time went on
Sheridan began to regard it as rather out of date and
inadequate, particularly for the production of the great
spectacular pieces and pantomimes, which he had recourse
to more and more, alongside of his legitimate artistic produc-
tions, partly because he thought such measures necessary in
order to attract the public in greater numbers, partly in order
to make head against the competition of Covent Garden.
Accordingly in 1791 he pulled down the old playhouse,
and three years after, a new, enormous Drury Lane,
erected at very great expense, was ready, and he was able
to open it on the 12th March 1794.
The new theatre was the second largest in Europe;
only the San Carlo in Naples surpassed it, while La Scala
in Milan was about the same size. It held 3611 spectators,
and even at the comparatively low prices charged, the
receipts from a full house were 6771.1 The proscenium
opening was 43 feet wide and 38 feet high, the height
of the auditorium from floor to ceiling was 56 feet.
The enormous size of the stage had serious disadvan-
tages, to remedy which various measures were resorted
1 H. Barton Baker: The London Stage, Its History and Traditions, i. 97.


7.--A London Theatre (New Haymarket) at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century (p. 41).



to. The present device of an adjustable proscenium, per-
mitting the width of the stage to be reduced or increased
according to circumstances, was then unknown, The plan
adopted was to utilize for the most important scenes the
portion of the stage 1 between the two proscenium walls,
which in the English theatre extended a considerable
distance backward from the footlights.2 This was facili-
tated by the existence of two large doors, one in each
proscenium wall, which could be used for entrances and
exits. For example, in the third Act of Hamlet the Ghost
entered by one of these doors and moved across the wide
stage obliquely towards the background. By this means
there was provided, as it were, a separate rostrum or speak-
ing stage, apart from the space occupied by the actual
scene-picture, where the figures of the actors would have
been dwarfed and their voices would have been indistinct
and inaudible, not only because of the vastness of the
theatre, but also because, the art of plastic scenic construc-
tion being as yet unknown, the scenery was composed of
open canvas wings, borders of painted drapery, and flimsy
back-'flats.' Amid all this loose, open canvas scenery
the voices of the actors were lost. Accordingly, when-
ever possible, important scenes of dialogue were thrown
forward, between the solid proscenium walls, where the
players could be seen and heard, while the back-stage form-
ing the actual picture was used as a rule only for entrances
and exits, for crowds, or such scenes as absolutely required
the aid of scenery in order to produce their due effect.
The lighting arrangements had now been considerably
improved. While in the old Drury Lane Theatre the
stage was lighted by six chandeliers, each having twelve
candles in brass sockets,3 and by a row of oil lamps as
footlights (an innovation of Garrick's), things had now
progressed so far that the sources of illumination were

1 Known as 'the apron.' (Trans. note.)
This arrangement still exists in certain old or old-fashioned theatres, such
as the Copenhagen Royal Theatre. But the doors in the proscenium walls
were a specially English feature, which, so far as known, was not imitated else-
3 See Tate Wilkinson: Memoirs, ii. 33. The chandeliers of course hung
down amidst the scenery.


everywhere hidden behind the wings and borders, and the
only remains of the old system of lighting were a pair of
magnificent drop-chandeliers in the proscenium.
With a conservatism which in this instance was most
salutary, the constructors of the new theatre forbore to
adopt that ugly device, so destructive of illusion, known as
the prompter's box, which had been introduced every-
where outside England. In the theatre of Shakespeare's
time such an arrangement would of course have been an
impossibility, and, as far as can be gathered, it has never
in later times been introduced on the English stage. The
prompter with his book was-and is-placed in the wings
on the right-hand side (with reference to the spectators),
which was accordingly called at Drury Lane the P.S. (the
prompter's side),' while the left-hand side was the O.P.
(opposite to the prompter).
As regards the actual stage-setting, it had hitherto
been very unusual, except in the case of great productions
of spectacular pantomime, to provide new scenery for new
plays or productions. The theatres contented themselves
with a small collection of stock scenes; one or two rooms,
a large hall, a wood, a street, which were used in every
production in turn.2 All this was now changed; special
scenery was painted for almost every new piece, and for
the first time people began to talk more about the staging
of a piece than about the piece itself or the actual perform-
ance. So it was in the case of the first performance3 at
the new Drury Lane, when Macbeth was produced by
John Kemble in a setting which, according to the standard
of the time, was of extraordinary magnificence. All the
Similarly in the Copenhagen Royal Theatre, to avoid confusion between
right and left, the right (from the spectators) is called D.S. [Ladies' (Dame)
Side-the box for the Ladies-in-waiting being on that side], while the other is
called K.S. (King's Side-from the Royal Box).
"There is," Tate Wilkinson tells us (Memoirs, iv. 91 seq.), "one scene at
Covent Garden used from 1747 to this day" (1790) "which has wings and
flat, of Spanish figures at full length, and two folding doors in the middle:--
never see those wings slide on but I feel as if seeing my very old acquaintance
3 The theatre was opened to the public for the first time, as stated above,
on the 12th March 1794. On this occasion a selection from HandePs
Oratorios was performed. The first dramatic performance took place on the
21st April.


world was talking of the marvellous banquet-scene, such
of them at least as were not too busy discussing the new
arrangements for the prevention of fire, which indeed were
practically exhibited to the public in very effective fashion.
Before the play began Miss Farren spoke a Prologue,
in which she dwelt upon the various excellences of the
new playhouse, and declared in particular that in future no
outbreak of fire need cause disturbance or anxiety, as there
were at command streams of water amply sufficient to
extinguish any fire.1 The curtain then rose and discovered
the stage converted into a large lake, on which a man in a
boat was rowing about, while into it from the background
tumbled a rushing waterfall. An iron curtain then de-
scended and was subjected to a vigorous hammering to
prove that it was genuine.
In spite of this confident defiance to the Spirits of Fire,
not more than fifteen years had passed before the magni-
ficent theatre was a smoking heap of ruins. It was burnt
down on the 24th February 1809, while its Manager was
in the House of Commons taking part in a debate on the
conduct of the war in Spain.2 The glare of the fire shone
in through the windows of the House, and the speakers
were frequently interrupted by the shouts of Fire outside.
Sheridan had been informed of what was happening, but
he remained sitting calmly in his place, and merely
whispered across the table to a friend that Drury Lane
was burning. Lord Temple then rose and moved that
the debate be adjourned, on account of the great mis-
fortune which threatened an Honble. Member of the
House. But Sheridan replied that "whatever might be
the extent of the individual calamity, he did not consider
it of a nature to interrupt their proceedings on so great a
national question." 3 On which the debate was continued
S" The very ravages of fire we scout,
For we have wherewithal to put it out;
In ample reservoirs our firm reliance,
Where streams set conflagration at defiance."
Prologue at the opening of Drury Lane, 2ist April 1794. Quoted by Barton
Baker: The London Stage, i. 98.
Where Wellington was fighting against Napoleon's armies, led by Massena.
3 Parliamentary Debates, quoted by W. Fraser Rea, Sheridan, ii. 175.

till half-past two in the morning, while Sheridan's theatre
was burning to the ground.
It proved indeed a great misfortune for Sheridan, inas-
much as the result of the fire was to exclude him for good
and all from theatrical management. He could not raise
money to rebuild Drury Lane. His conduct of the
finances of the theatre had been so notoriously bad, that it
was now clear to everyone how impossible it was to entrust
him with the management of a great, economically risky,
undertaking; and on the artistic side things had not been
much better.
As long as Kemble retained the management of the
stage a certain level of artistic propriety had been steadily
maintained. But John Kemble and Mrs Siddons with
their following had left him in 1802. And, left to himself,
and driven on by the constant craving for 'successes'
that would at least supply funds for his private needs, he
had recourse to ever lower and lower forms of entertain-
ment, at last (like the Duke of Weimar, but unlike Goethe),
not even disdaining the assistance of four-footed artists in
attracting the public to his theatre. Thus in 1803 he
produced Reynolds' Caravan, in which 'serio-comic
romantic drama' a Newfoundland dog played a leading
part, and in which the most thrilling situation occurred
when the faithful animal, answering to the name of Carlo,
leaped into a waterfall of real water-supplied from the
fire-engine-and rescued a child, whom the villain, from
rage at the child's mother's rejection of his wicked
advances, had flung into the water from a cliff. Never
did Garrick or Betterton . obtain louder plaudits than
this four-footed actor from Newfoundland during a long
run of the piece."
Accordingly Sheridan was given no share in the new
Drury Lane Theatre, though he made the most strenuous
efforts to raise money. It was a brewer named Samuel
Whitbread who raised by subscription the immense
sum of 40oo,ooo, the cost of rebuilding the theatre
in its fourth and final form.2 It was opened on the
i Biographia Dramatica, ii. 83.
2 Drury Lane Theatre dates from 1663 ; it was burnt down only nine years


ioth October 1812, under the artistic direction of the
dramatist Samuel James Arnold,' and Sheridan was forced
to retire from the field, a ruined man. The last years
of his life were passed in a perpetual struggle with his
creditors. But it is clear that his daily life was untouched
by actual want, and he certainly had no reason to envy the
new managers of his old theatre. Samuel Whitbread, the
rich brewer, committed suicide two years later, worn out
by the hopeless struggle to make the working of the over-
capitalized theatre pay. Though the new theatre was a
good deal smaller than the one destroyed by the fire, it was
yet found impossible to fill it, even in the first year, which
ended with a large deficit. A regular committee of' noble-
men and gentlemen,' who had invested money in the
enterprise, took it on themselves to interfere in the ordinary
working of the theatre, and naturally, as is always the case
with such committees, reduced the management to an
indescribable state of confusion and disorder. In short,
the state of the new Drury Lane threatened to be even
worse than that of the old.

John Kemble's Management of Covent Garden-George Frederick Cooke-
Drink and Romanticism-Cooke and Kemble.
MEANWHILE John Kemble, after he and his whole family
had left Sheridan, had taken over the artistic management
of Covent Garden, in which he acquired at the same time
a considerable proprietary share.2 He began his manage-
ment in the season I803-4,3 supported by his sister, Mrs
later (1672), and was rebuilt, and reopened in 1674. This was the theatre
pulled down by Sheridan. The existing theatre is the one built by Whitbread,
and has undergone no essential modification. Its arrangements, equipment,
etc., were imitated from those of the great theatre at Bordeaux, which was then
considered one of the handsomest in Europe.
I Arnold, who was a son of the well-known musician, Dr Arnold, had
previously been manager of the Lyceum, a summer theatre where opera was
performed. He was the author of a number of light plays, of which one (Man
and Wife) was performed at the Danish Royal Theatre in 1821.
2 The chief proprietor was Thomas Harris, who was likewise financial
3 In the intermediate year-between leaving Drury Lane and taking over


Siddons, and his brother Charles, and immediately gave a
new direction to the activities of the theatre. No less than
eleven of Shakespeare's best plays were produced in this
first season, besides several modern plays of the emotional
sort then so popular, such as Kotzebue's Pizarro and
Mensckenkasz und Reue (called in England The Stranger),
the colossal success of which is as incomprehensible to us
as the 'world-successes' of the present day will doubtless
be a hundred years hence.
His management seems on the whole to have been
both prudent and energetic, and Covent Garden in the
years that followed became incontestably the leading
theatre. Though he and his sister were naturally the
most prominent members of the company, he yet found
room for the artists who had belonged to the theatre
before he joined it, and even made over some of his
principal parts to them when they seemed to him to fit
Among the forces he found at his disposal special
mention should be made of George Frederick Cooke. He
and John Philip Kemble were as opposite as fire and
water. Though belonging to the same generation,1 they
differed as completely in every respect, in their views of
their art, in life and conduct, as if they represented two
different periods, as indeed, in the inner and spiritual
sense, they actually did.
As Henderson was the last of Garrick's school, so
Cooke must be regarded as the precursor of Kean.
With Cooke there appears on the stage for the first
time the strain of wildness, nay almost of madness, which
is the mark of romanticism in theatrical art; a wildness in
many cases inflamed by unbridled indulgence in strong
drink-not the ordinary convivial tippling which has been
usual with a certain class of comic actors and has brought
forth many alcohol-inspired drolleries, but a shattering,
Covent Garden-John Kemble made an extensive tour abroad, through France
and Spain. He was much f&ted, in Paris particularly by his great fellow-artist
Talma, though his journey was not the triumphal progress that Garrick's in his
time had been.
They were within a year of the same age. Cooke was born in 1756,
Kemble the year'after. But while Cooke died in 1811, Kemble lived on till 1826.

i8.-Covent Garden Theatre about 1770.

19.-Cooke as Richard III.


reckless use of stimulants, often driving its victim to the
verge of madness, while raising him at moments to dizzy
heights of imaginative creation.
It was a hard-drinking time all round, especially in Eng-
land. Authors, men of science, learned jurists, statesmen,
artists, clergymen and princely personages, each and all
consumed many bottles of wine daily; William Pitt would
often put away his four bottles of heady port before going
down to the House of Commons to make one of the
finished, masterly speeches for which he was famous; it
was an unknown thing for Sheridan to be sober when he
came down to the theatre in the evening; even the correct
and dignified John Kemble had a great liking for a good
drinking bout. But this vigorous, systematic consumption
of great quantities of good wine was not to be looked on
as anything in the nature of debauchery. It was a good
old custom, to which it behoved a gentleman to conform,
and which indeed does not seem to have injured either the
health or the power of work of the strong-constitutioned
gentlemen who conformed to it.
The drinking indulged in by the Romantics, on the
other hand, was of a quite different sort. They drank, just
as in some cases they smoked opium or chewed hashish, to
intoxicate themselves, to deaden the pains of life, to escape
from reality into a fantastic dreamland.
It was in this fashion that Cooke, and Kean after him,
drank. In one of his diaries Cooke writes about himself:
"To use a strange expression, I am sometimes in a kind
of mental intoxication; some, I believe, would call it
insanity. I believe it is allied to it. I then can imagine
myself in strange situations and strange places. This
humour, whatever it is, comes uninvited, but it is never-
theless easily dispelled,-at least, generally so. When
it cannot be dispelled, it must, of course, become madness."
Cooke never became the man his powers should have
made him. He was well on in life-forty-four years old-
when, after a long, agitated career in the provinces, he
obtained a permanent engagement in London, and by
this time he was already so deeply sunk in habitual
drunkenness that he was an extremely precarious support

for his theatre. He would sometimes appear at a perform-
ance-even a first performance-so drunk that he could
neither speak, stand, nor walk. Sometimes he would
suddenly and utterly vanish from the visible world for
a considerable time, and would then as suddenly reappear
from his subterranean haunts with a frank confession
and apology to the public, who would always forgive
The fact was that, in spite of these fatal weaknesses,
he was capable, for brief moments, of striking out such
powerful and passionate flashes of art, of presenting such
glimpses into a wild, distracted human soul, that the
current correct, solemnly classic style of acting paled,
and seemed flaccid and chilly, in comparison. He did
not play many parts well," it has been said,' "but those
he did play well he played better than anyone else. But
dissipation marred his vast powers even in these."
In I8oo, when Cooke appeared at Covent Garden in
Richard III., John Philip Kemble was playing the same
part at Drury Lane, and there arose between the two
a contest similar to that between Quin and Garrick2 in
an earlier generation. Here again the artist of genius,
in league with nature, won a victory over the polished,
artificial declaimer. Unlike Garrick, however, Cooke was
incapable, for lack of continuity of talent, of maintaining
and confirming his victory. His genius was like a blazing
fire of straw, dying down as quickly as it flared up; it
could not hold its own in the long run against John
Kemble's steady, calmly-burning waxen taper.
Naturally enough, Cooke felt a hearty hatred for
Kemble, though he was artist enough to admit that
Kemble's restrained and impressive art was superior to
his own in many characters. Thus when Kemble took
over the management of Covent Garden it was a severe
blow to Cooke, who expected the worst from his rival.
In this respect, however, he found himself mistaken.
Kemble treated him well and even generously, letting
him play the parts he had made his own and retain the
1 Dr Doran's Annals of/ he English Stage, ed. R. W. Lowe, iii. 230.
2 See vol. v. (Great Actors of the Eighteenth Century), pp. 381-3 and 391-4.

position in the company to which he was entitled. But
it was impossible that there should be any real sympathy
between them. Cooke saw only treacherous cunning
in Kemble's considerate treatment of him, and was in the
habit, when drunk, of abusing Black Jack,' as he called
him, like a pickpocket. What probably irritated Kemble
even more was that Cooke, when they were playing
together-as, for example, in Othello 1-was given to
upsetting his pedantically pondered, prearranged busi-
ness' by sudden and brilliant extempore strokes, which
annoyed and embarrassed Kemble as much as they
enraptured the audience.
An association of this kind could not, in the nature
of things, last very long. After a career, frequently in-
terrupted, of less than ten years in London, Cooke went
to America, where at first he made an immense success,2
and seemed in a fair way to win renown and riches as
the leading actor in the country. But his ungovernable
passion for drink, combined with his immense contempt
for 'the Yankees,' a contempt he took no pains to conceal,
and which sometimes found the most fantastic expression,
ruined these prospects, and he died in poverty and wretched-
ness only two years later (1812). In his last years he
composed a series of moral and religious 'thoughts,'
specially directed against the vice of drunkenness.
Cooke's disappearance marked the suppression of the
first attempts of Romanticism, as yet unconscious of its
powers, to revolt against the ruling Classical school.
Edmund Kean, the victorious hero of the Romantic move-
ment, whose fate resembled Cooke's in many ways, had
evidently a deep feeling of kinship with his unfortunate fore-
runner. During his tour in America in 1821, when Cooke
was already forgotten, Kean erected a handsome monument
to his memory in St Paul's Church, New York.
1 Kemble played Othello; Cooke, lago.
2He first appeared in New York, 2nd November 181o.


The Art of Mrs Siddons-The new Covent Garden-The 'O.P.' Riots-
Last years of Mrs Siddons and John Kemble.
MRS SIDDONS was forty-eight years old when, along with
her brother, she left Drury Lane and went over to
Covent Garden Theatre. She was thus past the age
when an actress is at her best, and the most important
part of her artistic career lay behind her. None the less
she was still, beyond dispute, the first tragic actress in
England, and any theatre of whose company she was for
the time a member became, in virtue of her name and
of her noble art, the leading theatre of the day. The
English stage has never been remarkably rich in great
tragic actresses, and Mrs Siddons in her time had no
rivals' worth mentioning in tragedy and serious drama.
She appeared therefore to her contemporaries, as she still
appears in history, as the complete, the ideal embodiment
of tragic art, and it was not without reason that Joshua
Reynolds, doubtless with deliberate intention, represented
her, in his famous picture, as the Tragic Muse, or that in
these latter days a monument has been erected to her
in London,2 probably the first and hitherto the only
statue of an actress that has ever been erected in a public
The effect produced by her on the public and on her
fellow-actors was of the immediate and irresistible kind that
can only be created by a strongly-marked and vigorous
personality. While there were marked differences of
opinion about Kemble's art, which found at least as many
opponents as adherents, the wonderful power which invested,
like an atmosphere, every appearance of Sarah Siddons on
the stage, was uncontested and incontestable, though she
was of course exposed, no less than others, to malicious
1 Mrs Crawford (1734-1801) would, however, have been such a rival had
she not been in her decline when Mrs Siddons, a much younger woman, was
at the height of her powers. Mrs Crawford was an able actress in the old,
pre-classic style. She was thrice married, first to the actor Dancer, next to
the famous Barry, Garrick's rival, and lastly to Crawford, a man much younger
than herself.
2 In Paddington, where she died.


and envious criticisms by colleagues and professional
To the powerful effect produced by the mere appearance
on the stage of this remarkable personality, a younger
fellow-artist, George Bartley, gives very vivid testimony.
When quite a young man he acted with Mrs Siddons in a
very tedious tragedy by Dr Thomas Franklin, entitled
The Earl of Warwick, in which she appeared as Margaret
of Anjou, while Bartley played the youthful Edward IV.
The situation in the scene described by him is as follows:
The Earl of Warwick has taken prisoner Margaret of
Anjou and her son, and King Edward is expecting
Warwick to appear before him and recount his triumph.
But, in place of Warwick, Margaret of Anjou appears,
having succeeded in surprising and killing the Earl, just as
he was bending in triumph over her son. Neither King
Edward nor the audience knows that this has happened.
Bartley goes on to describe the scene thus:
"The scene had a large archway, in the centre, at the
back of the stage. She (Mrs Siddons) was preceded by
four guards, who advanced rapidly through the archway,
and divided, two and two on each side, leaving the opening
quite clear. Instantly, on their separating, the giantess
burst upon the view, and stood in the centre of the arch
motionless. So electrifying was the unexpected impression,
that I stood for a moment breathless. But the effect ex-
tended beyond me; the audience had full participation of
its power; and the continued applause that followed gave
me time to recover and speculate upon the manner in
which such an extraordinary effect had been made. I
could not but gaze upon her attentively. Her head was
erect, and the fire of her brilliant eyes darted directly upon
mine. Her wrists were bound with chains, which hung
suspended from her arms, that were dropped loosely
1 G. W. Bartley (1782(?)-I858), son of the box-keeper of the Bath Theatre,
began his career in the 'juvenile lead,' playing Orlando on the occasion of his
debut at Drury Lane (1802), but later went over to the line of comic old men,
etc., in which he made his chief successes. He was stage-manager at Covent
Garden from 1829 for a number of years, and did not retire till 1852. He states
that the performance he describes took place in 1809 or 1810. Mrs Siddons was
thus fifty-four or fifty-five years old. (Trans. note.)

on each side; nor had she, on her entrance, used any
action beyond her rapid walk and sudden stop, within the
extensive archway, which she really seemed to fill. This,
with the flashing eye, and fine smile of appalling triumph
which overspread her magnificent features, constituted all
the effort which usually produced an effect upon actors and
audience never surpassed, if ever equalled."
Practically all witnesses are in agreement as to the
immediate, thrilling effect which Mrs Siddons, by the
dramatic power of her personality, was able to produce by
her mere appearance on the stage. Washington Irving,
for example, who saw the famous actress when he was a
young man fresh from America, uninfluenced by precon-
ceived enthusiasm or traditional piety, writes about her
"Were I to indulge without reserve in my praises of
Mrs Siddons, I am afraid you would think them hyper-
bolical. What a wonderful woman! The very first time
I saw her perform I was struck with admiration. It was
in the part of Calista.1 Her looks, her voice, her gestures,
delighted me She penetrated in a moment to my heart.
She froze and melted it by turns; a glance of her eye, a
start, an exclamation, thrilled though my whole frame.
The more I see her, the more I admire her. I hardly
breathe while she is on the stage. She works up my
feelings till I am like a mere child. And yet this woman
is old, and has lost all elegance of figure: think then
what must be her powers, that she can delight and astonish
even in the characters of Calista and Belvidera.2
In person Mrs Siddons is not unlike her sister Mrs
Whitlock,3 for she has latterly outgrown in size the limits
even of embonpoint. I even think there is some similarity
in their countenances, though that of Mrs Siddons is in-
finitely superior. It is in fact the very index of her mind,
SIn N. Rowe's tragedy, The Fair Penitent (1703), one of the most popular
of the older tragedies. It went the rounds of the European theatres in a variety
of adaptations.
2 In Thos. Otway's Venice Preserved. Both these parts are those of young
3 Elizabeth Kemble, who had gone to America with her husband, the
theatrical manager Whitlock. Irving had seen her in America. She afterwards
returned to London, where she appeared at Drury Lane, but without success.




'0 '

20.-Mrs Jordan (p. 53).
[From the painting 6y Sir 1. Lawrenc.

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and in its mutable transitions may be read those nice
gradations of passion that language is inadequate to express.
In dignity and grace she is no way inferior to Kemble,
and they never appear to better advantage than when
acting together.
What Mrs Siddons may have been when she had the
advantages of youth and form, I cannot say; but it appears
to me that her performance at present leaves room to wish
for nothing more. Age has planted no visible wrinkles on
her brow, and it is only by the practice and experience of
years that she has been enabled to attain her present con-
summate excellence."
Mrs Siddons, of course, played all the important female
characters, as well as a number of unimportant ones, in
the English tragic repertory of the time. But she did not
confine herself to these. She was not afraid to undertake
gay, lively characters, like Beatrice in Much Ado about
Nothing; and even seems to have felt a certain preference
for such parts, a preference by no means shared by her
audiences. While in tragedy she had no competitors
whom she could not crush and extinguish with the
greatest ease-as she extinguished Mrs Crawford, who
before her appearance had been so much admired-
the weight of her style, her seriousness, her lofty beauty,
all hindered rather than helped her in lighter passages.
Even the young heroine-lovers' parts were not particularly
well suited to her temperament, so insensible to erotic
feeling; and in these, as in gay and lively r6les, she
had to yield the palm to actresses in other respects by
no means her superiors, such as the beautiful, elegant Miss
Farren and the petite and joyous Mrs Jordan.' In her
I Jordan was not this charming actress's real name, but a nickname given
in jest, by Tate Wilkinson, the strolling manager, to the youthful Dorothy Bland,
when she joined his company after crossing the water from Ireland for
the first time, as the Jews crossed the river Jordan. She was the natural
daughter of an actress, Miss Phillips; the father being a Captain Bland.
After playing in the provinces she was engaged, when in her twenty-fourth year
(she was born in 1762), as a sort of understudy to Mrs Siddons at Drury Lane.
In the serious drama, however, she never made any mark, whereas in comedy
she soon acquired extraordinary popularity. Less elegant than Miss Farren,
but plumper and fully as attractive, she became the acknowledged darling of
the public in the roguish young girls' and merry soubrette parts, which were
outside Mrs Siddons' line. Apart from her charming talent as an actress she

somewhat uniform repertory Lady Macbeth and Queen
Katherine always shone out as the summits of her achieve-
ment, amid the tear-compelling heroines' parts, only
raised into importance by her genius, such as Isabella in
Southern's tragedy, Mrs Beverley in Edward Moore's
Gambler, Belvidera in Otway's Venice Preserved, and Calista.
Mrs Siddons' private life was an uneventful one, un-
disturbed by emotional or economic vicissitudes. In this
respect, too, she was a great contrast to her predecessors
and contemporaries in the theatre. Since the days of
Charles II. and the merry Nell Gwynn, the reigning
London actresses had usually been of the race of glorified
courtesans, leading a life of varied amorous adventure,
setting the standard of fashion and elegance, mistresses of
political salons frequented by the first men of the time, dissi-
pating princely fortunes, and sometimes, when their physical
charms had vanished, and the fortunes with them, ending
their lives in a debtor's prison or the poorhouse-unless
they had gained the lifelong protection of some great man
by a more or less morganatic marriage. Such were the
careers of Miss Bellamy, Mrs Abington, Mrs Robinson-
the youthful Prince of Wales's beautiful' Perdita'-such,
though of a less ignoble cast, were those of Miss Farren
and Mrs Jordan.
Sarah Siddons, on the contrary, lived in peaceful
domesticity with her handsome, insignificant husband,
amassed methodically by her work as an artist a consider-
able fortune, was a favourite at Court, where she appeared,
not as the declared mistress of a Royal Prince, but as a
reader to virtuous princesses, was sought by the greatest
of the land, not for her physical attractions but for her
intellect, and was subject to no breath of suspicion, except
perhaps among the great playgoing public, who took no
delight in all this righteousness, thinking that a great
actress ought to have her lover, just as a great actor ought
to be fond of the bottle.
is noted for her quasi-matrimonial connection with the Duke of Clarence, after-
wards King William IV., a connection which lasted twenty years and in which
she conducted herself with much delicacy. To her great grief he finally broke
it off, for political reasons.


Levity and extravagance, however, were not Mrs
Siddons' affair. On the side of the passions she was
throughout unassailable, and even in her youth her
prudence in money-matters was excessive. At thirty years
old she writes with great satisfaction to her friend, Mr
Whalley: I have at last, my dear friend, attained the ten
thousand pounds which I set my heart upon; and am now
perfectly at ease with respect to fortune. I thank God,
who has enabled me to procure myself so comfortable an
income." This sum, a very considerable one in that day,
she had saved from her earnings after barely four years
work on the London stage. She did not stop at this point,
however, but left at her death, when she had been nineteen
years in retirement, about four times as much. And this
was by no means an excessive fortune, in view of the very
high salaries she demanded and obtained. Her savings
had been considerably reduced by more than one economic
misfortune, such as, in particular, Sheridan's bankruptcy,
and later, the burning of Covent Garden Theatre. The
latter misfortune, which occurred in 1808-on the 3oth
September, or about five months before Drury Lane was
burnt-was no doubt an even harder blow to her brother,
John Kemble, who was one of the proprietors, but Mrs
Siddons' loss, too, was considerable.
Covent Garden Theatre, during the first five years of
John Kemble's management, had made great progress both
artistically and from the business point of view. Against
strokes of business adroitness, such as the engagement of
the infant phenomenon Master Betty, (a boy who for a time
aroused wild enthusiasm by his playing in tragic r6les), and
the production of numerous spectacular pantomimes, might
fairly be set the studious care with which the legitimate
repertory was maintained on the boards. It was thus a
very heavy blow when the theatre, just as it had estab-
lished itself in the favour of the best class of playgoers,
was destroyed by this terrible fire.
It is true that Kemble found no serious difficulty in
raising capital for the erection of a new theatre. His and
his sister's numerous rich and aristocratic admirers placed
great sums at his disposal, and a new playhouse rose, with

surprising rapidity, from the ashes of the old.' But the
new theatre was soon experiencing the same difficulties as
Drury Lane; it was too large, too magnificent and too
costly; the artistic effort was eternally at odds with the
necessities of the struggle for economic existence.
The difficulties began at once. To meet the expenses,
which for the period were enormous, the prices had been
somewhat increased-the box tier seats from six to seven
shillings, the pit from three and six to four shillings-and
this insignificant enhancement gave enormous offence and
occasioned disturbances of unexampled violence, which
now, a hundred years after, strike us as merely ludicrous,
but which at the time were exceedingly serious for those
interested in the theatre, and indeed came very near to
being regular mob-riots.
The disturbances began at the opening performance,
the moment John Kemble entered to speak the prologue.
Every seat in the house had been taken at the new prices,
but the audience was determined not to give any of the
performers a hearing, and their exasperation and resent-
ment were specially directed against John Kemble. The
moment he tried to open his mouth a deafening, infernal
hubbub arose-hisses, whistles, groans and cat-calls,-
while through this Babel of strange primitive sounds
resounded the steady rhythmic refrain: "Old Prices-Old
Prices." So it went on all through the evening; Macbeth
was played as a pantomime, since no one either would or
could hear a word of what the players said, and the Riot
Act was read from the stage, without producing the least
For sixty-one nights in succession these disturbances
were kept up. They grew more and more regularly
organized, and came to be the favourite pastime of the
town, in spite of numerous arrests and of the thrashings
administered to individual rioters by hired prize-fighters.
People came down with rattles, post-horns and bells to
The old theatre was burnt down 3oth September 1808, and the new one,
the foundation-stone of which had been laid with great pomp on 3oth December
1808 by the Prince of Wales, was opened i8th September i809. The mag-
nificent new theatre was again burnt down, 4th March 1856, on-which the
present large Opera House took its place.


drown the players' voices; banners were displayed with
the letters O.P. for their device; men had O.P. letters
sewn on to their hats and waistcoats; ladies wore O.P.
medals; and a special 'O.P. dance' was invented, and
was performed by the whole audience.
It is thus described by an eye-witness :
"When the performers entered they were greeted with
applause, to indicate that what would follow was not meant
personally to them; but the instant they attempted to
speak, 'Off! off!', overpowering hisses, appalling hoots,
and the 'O.P. dance' commenced, in which the whole
audience joined. The dance was performed with deliberate
and ludicrous gravity, each person pronouncing the letters
O.P.' as loud as he could, and accompanying the pro-
nunciation of each with a beat, or blow on the floor or
seat beneath him with his feet, a stick or a bludgeon, and
as the numerous performers kept in strict time and unison
with each other, it was one of the most whimsically
tantalizing banters or torments that could be conceived."
For close on three months2 John Kemble, on whom
the whole burden fell-his co-manager, Thomas Harris,
being old and infirm-held out with great external calmness,
but not without internal qualms, against these furious and
stupid attacks. He tried by every means in his power to
show the people how unreasonable they were, but all in
vain. He was at last forced to give way-on the sixty-
first night he came forward with a quasi-apology, and a
promise to revert to the old prices. An enormous placard
bearing the words: 'We are satisfied' was shoved high
into the air from the pit, and with this ridiculous ceremony
the equally ridiculous contest, which for a quarter of a year
had set all London by the ears, came to an end.
1 Thomas Dibdin, who for many years was pantomime- and occasional-
play-writer-in-ordinary to Covent Garden Theatre. Among other pieces he
had the honour," he tells us in his Reminiscences, "of producing the first
new piece ever acted, but never heard : it might have been as good as Shake-
speare's or as bad as the worst of my own, for anything the audience knew,
but O.P. and nothing but O.P. was to be listened to, and therefore the success
or failure of my piece . remains completely undecided." Th. Dibdin:
Reminiscences, i. 193.
SThe disturbances continued for just sixty-one performances; but there
were of course a number of off nights. They terminated the i 5th December 1809.

This was not the first, nor the last, time that a body of
theatre-goers have forgotten that their purchase of seats
merely gives them the rights of spectators, and that, while
judgments expressed by them on the entertainment pre-
sented on the stage are relevant and legitimate, they have
no right whatever to interfere with the private affairs
of the management or the actors. The fault, however,
originally lay with the managers and the actors themselves.
From being 'His Majesty's Servants' they had become
'the servants of the public,' and this servile attitude had
been so often and so emphatically insisted on by them, as
to develop the mob-instinct latent in the public into a sort
of megalomania. The liberties which an audience of the
time was capable of taking with a theatrical manager, and
even with its own favourite actors and actresses, often
merely to show its power, or from sheer caprice, sound
almost incredible at the present day. Innumerable cases
are on record in which a manager has been forced, by
threats and uproar, to appear upon the stage and apologize
for some imaginary or quite trivial offence against the
sovereignty of the public; in which the stage has been
stormed and sacked by furious, half-drunken spectators;
in which the audience has prevented the performance of
the play announced for presentation and has demanded
and obtained the substitution of another; in which actors
or actresses have been fetched from their homes and com-
pelled to appear upon the stage and beg humbly for the
theatre-mob's forgiveness.
John Kemble, indeed, was by nature the very reverse
of servile. His conduct and bearing were in keeping with
his imposing outward appearance; towards the public, as
to individuals, they were commanding, calmly superior, a
trifle haughty. And he had more than once proved capable
of taming the rowdy elements in the theatrical public by
his dignified decision and his command of words to fit the
During a performance of Shakespeare's Coriolanus, for
example (1806), while he and his sister were on the stage,
someone in the gallery threw an apple at Mrs Siddons'
head. John Kemble stepped forward, in the midst of


the general noise and confusion, and said: "Ladies and
Gentlemen,-I have been many years acquainted with the
benevolence and liberality of a London audience, but we
cannot proceed this evening with the performance unless
we are protected, especially when ladies are thus exposed
to insult." A voice was now heard from the gallery,
shouting: "We can't hear you." Kemble then proceeded
with great heat: I will raise my voice, and the galleries
shall hear me.-This protection is what the audience owe
it to themselves to grant; what the performers, for the
credit of their profession, have a right to demand, and
what I will venture so far to assert, that, on the part of
the proprietors, I have offered one hundred guineas to any
man who will disclose the ruffian who has been guilty of
this act." Here there were loud murmurs and much noise
among the audience, but Kemble went on calmly: "I
throw myself, ladies and gentlemen, upon the high sense
of breeding that distinguishes a London audience, and I
hope I shall never be wanting in my duty to the public; but
nothing shall induce me to suffer insult." With these words
he left the stage amidst loud applause from the audience,
and the play proceeded without further interruption.
It would appear as if the outrageous display of mob-
violence in these too-famous 'O.P. riots' had satiated the
appetite of the London theatrical public, or perhaps made
them a little ashamed of such abuse of their strength. At
any rate from this time forward their lust of power seems to
diminish, interference of this scandalous kind with the
administrative measures of managers, or the private affairs
of performers, becomes more and more rare, and nowa-
days a point has been reached at which it would be
difficult to find anywhere theatrical audiences more easily
pleased, amiable, and well-mannered, and at the same time
more lively and alert, than the London public.
In reality, despite occasional spurts of animosity on the
part of the baser sort of theatre-goers, or in the columns
of the gutter-press, which flourished greatly in those days,
London was exceedingly proud of the stately sister and
brother, Sarah Siddons and John Kemble, and they ended
their theatrical career amidst enthusiastic demonstrations in


their honour, showered on them by the same public which
not long since had abused and insulted them, and with a
pomp eminently suitable to the style of their art and to
their personal tastes.
Mrs Siddons was the one who tired first. She aged
early, principally by reason of her increasing corpulence,
which after she was fifty became so marked as to interfere
greatly with her movements. In her fifty-seventh year, on
the 29th June 1812, she bade farewell to the stage, in the
character of Lady Macbeth. The occasion was of course
marked by great enthusiasm, among other manifestations
of which was the demand by the audience, after the sleep-
walking scene, that the play should cease then and there.
She appeared indeed again at rare intervals, at performances
for the benefit of one or other of her numerous relations,
but not much to her own satisfaction. Her life as an artist
she considered at an end. She lived for many years more,
however, a calm and dignified life of honoured privacy,1
surrounded by a large circle of attached friends, and died,
8th June 1831, when seventy-six years of age.
John Kemble remained longer on the stage, but quitted
life earlier. His management of the immense new theatre
at Covent Garden shaped itself into a hard struggle for his
own and his co-proprietor's economic existence, a struggle
which drove him, perhaps unavoidably, to the adoption of
none too fastidious methods of attracting the public, and
in which the interests of art were lamentably sacrificed.
For a series of years Covent Garden was little more than
a sort of circus, where spectacular pantomime, or troupes of
acrobats, horses, elephants, wild beasts, and clowns, were the
usual attractions, while serious drama and high comedy only
ventured now and then to invite the attention of the public.
In spite of this decadence, of which the whole blame
1 Tragic solemnity had become a second nature to her, and even in the most
everyday matters of ordinary life she was unable to throw it off. Her tall,
commanding figure attracted attention wherever she went about the streets in
London, and there are many ludicrous anecdotes of her solemn and stately
bearing in shops, in restaurants or at dinner parties ; as when, having bought
a piece of stuff from a shopkeeper, she appalled him by fastening her large
dark eyes upon him and asking, in a deep, tragic voice, "Will it wash ?" ; or
when she addressed a young waiter in involuntary blank-verse: I asked for
porter, boy; you've brought me beer."


cannot be laid on the public, which has to be guided in
such matters, but part at least must be assigned to Kemble,
who should have guided it-in spite of all this, it was a
melancholy day when the great John Philip, the dis-
tinguished John Philip, the stately John Philip, stood for
the last time on the boards of a theatre and bade farewell
to the fickle-minded public.
The same public which a few years before had insulted
him, lampooned him, hooted and howled at him for months
together like a pack of wild beasts, acclaimed him at his re-
tirement as a national hero, and wept as at a public calamity.
Ludwig Tieck, who was then in London and was present
at Kemble's farewell,' gives in one of his letters from
England a lively picture of the proceedings, showing the
lengths to which the sympathy of the theatrical audiences
of the day could carry them. The loudest applause," he
writes, "which I had ever heard, even in Italy, was a
weak murmur beside the indescribable fury of noise which,
on the fall of the curtain, arose on every side, from above,
from below, the whole audience shouting, clapping, ham-
mering and tramping, working desperately with hands
and feet. The theatre was tightly packed with thousands
of people, and the great, spacious, high-domed building
seemed transformed into a single enormous machine
thundering out a preternatural fury of applause, as men
and women shouted, clapped, beat for dear life on the
woodwork with fans and sticks, at the same time tramping
continuously with their feet. After this incredible din had
lasted a long time, Kemble again appeared, deeply moved
and dissolved in tears. What had seemed absolutely im-
possible then occurred: the din swelled yet louder, becoming
a thundering uproar, at once terrible and sublime.
Kemble bowed, and tried several times in vain to
speak his few words of farewell; at last with a struggle
he attained composure, but his utterance was often broken
by tears. Not a sound in the house, except here and there
a low, stifled sob. But as soon as he had done, the storm
broke out again in all its might." 2
1 23rd June 1817. Kemble appeared at this last performance as Coriolanus.
Ludwig Tieck: Dramaturgische Bldtter, ii. 166 seq.

After this farewell ovation, which was followed by a
formal and very magnificent farewell dinner, at which,
among many other famous persons, his great French col-
league Talma was present, Kemble left England to travel
in Southern Europe-France, Switzerland, and Italy. He
was not an old man-only sixty years of age-but his
health, originally strong, had been undermined by over-
work in his double capacity of manager and actor. He
did not enjoy his well-earned leisure for many years. After
a long period of ill-health he died at Lausanne on the 2oth
February 1823.
Mrs Siddons and John Philip Kemble were the true
founders and the most distinguished and imposing repre-
sentatives of the Classic School in England. The School
never attained greater heights than those to which the
brother and sister carried it, but it did not die with them.
Mrs Siddons found a beautiful and gifted successor in Miss
O'Neill, and later in her own niece, Miss Fanny Kemble;
and, in Charles Young,1 John Kemble had a worthy
disciple, who preached and practised his doctrine with
faith and enthusiasm.
But before the old prophet of classicism had yet finished
his course, the new Messiah had appeared, he that was
to shake men's faith in the elder gods and break in sunder
the tables of the ancient law, Edmund Kean, the Romantic.
Charles Mayne Young (I777-1856) was a cultured and capable actor, and
a zealous adherent of the Kemble School. He made his debut in London in
1807, and retired from the stage in 1832.

21.-Miss E. O'Neill (p. 62).
[From the painting by J. J. Masauerier.


Legends about Kean's Origin-His Mother and old Mos&s Kean-Kean's
Artistic Education-His Flight and Life as a Stroller-His Wife, and
his Friend, Sheridan Knowles-Kean as Rope-dancer and Chimpanzee.
EDMUND KEAN leaped on to the English stage like
Romance personified, and like a little David he straight-
way smote the mighty Goliath of Classicism in the fore-
head. Unknown, appearing from a mysterious darkness,
a starving, wandering merry-andrew, a pathetic mascu-
line Mignon, performing his tricks in village taverns and
market-places, he suddenly stood on the stage of Drury
Lane, with none but himself for friend, with no other sup-
port than his faith in his own powers, with no other guide
than the pillar of fire of his genius. The next morning
his fame as an actor was established throughout London,
and before a year was out his name was known the world
over to all lovers of the theatre. The man himself was a
feted, spoiled hero; money flowed in upon him almost
as fast as even he could spend it again in his eccentric
caprices; like an enchanted prince, he could reward the
good who had shown him friendship in the days of his
abasement, and punish the wicked who had thrust the poor
juggler away from them.
There was an atmosphere of mystery and romance even
about his birth and early childhood, an atmosphere partly
due to distance, but much intensified by the fantastic and
contradictory stories with which Kean in later years was
fond of mystifying his associates.
One of these stories of Kean's, as taken down by one of
his listeners,' runs as follows :-
I was born in the year 1787, and if anybody asks you
1 See Dr Doran's Their Majesties' Servants, iii. 360, n. 2.


who was my mother, say Miss Tidswell, the actress; my
father was the late Duke of Norfolk, whom they called
Jockey.1 I am not the son of Moses Kean, the mimic, nor
of his brother, as some people are pleased to assert, though
I bear the same name. I had the honour of being brought
up at Arundel Castle till I was seven years old, and there
they sometimes, I do not know why, called me Duncan!
After I quitted Arundel Castle, I was soon put upon the
stage by my mother. . I was at Arundel Castle a few
years ago, and, as I showed to the people who had charge
of it, I knew every room, passage, winding and turning in it.
In one of the large apartments hung a portrait of the old
Duke of Norfolk, and the man who was with me said:
'You are very like the old Duke, Sir.' And well he
might. I am his son! "
In this account, which is so detailed and circumstantial
as to produce a convincing effect of truth, there is in fact
only one true statement-that concerning the year of
his birth. All the rest is sheer invention. But the truth
about his birth and up-bringing is fully as romantic as the
romances improvised by Kean for the benefit of his eagerly
receptive friends.
There is no longer any doubt as to who Edmund
Kean's mother was. He was the son, not of Miss
Tidswell, the actress, but of a certain Ann Carey,2 who
was also an actress of a sort, but of the very lowest sort,
and who eked out her living by hawking powder,
perfumery, and other articles of the toilet round the
streets and alleys. Who his father was is less certain,
possibly because Ann Carey herself was not quite clear on
the point. She was not married, and belonged to the
loosest tribe of votaries of the stage and the street. The
general opinion is, however, that the father was either an
1 Kean must here be speaking of Charles Howard, II th Duke of Norfolk,
who died in I815. Kean christened his eldest son Howard, presumably with
reference to this romantic tale.
Kean might, however, without having recourse to inventive fantasy, have
traced his descent through his mother to an aristocratic source, since Ann
Carey's grandfather, Henry Carey, musician and author-author of the English
national anthem among other things-was the illegitimate son of the Marquis
of Halifax, George Saville. Her father, George Saville Carey, was an actor
and author of exceedingly inferior calibre.


artisan named Aaron Kean l-a tailor or carpenter,
doubtless attached to the theatre in one or both of these
capacities-or his brother Moses Kean, a ventriloquist
well-known in the humbler stage circles.
So much, at least, is certain, that the little Edmund
Carey-he did not assume the name of Kean till long after
he was grown-up-first saw the light in a wretched room
in a London slum on the 4th November 1787. His
mother, evidently a thoroughly depraved woman, deserted
him when he was three months old, and he was looked
after partly by the actress previously mentioned, Miss
Tidswell, and in part by complete strangers, who, it is
said, found the child starving and half-frozen on a door-
step. The accounts of his early childhood, however, are
so confused and untrustworthy, that we can hardly be said
to know anything about it, except, what is clear enough,
that he was tossed hither and thither, a little, wretched,
ragged plaything of Fate, picked up now by one, now
by another of the strollers connected with him-his
mother, the wandering 'artiste' and street-hawker, Miss
Tidswell, also a strolling actress, and his uncle or father,
Moses Kean the ventriloquist.
Of these guardians of his childhood it was doubtless
Moses Kean whose influence on him was most important,
and who set his feet on the paths he was to follow. This
Moses Kean, from the little we can ascertain about him,
seems to have been a highly original, even a fantastic,
personage, like a character in a tale of Hoffman or of
Dickens. He was a large, heavy man, with bushy coal-
black hair and a wooden leg. His usual costume was a
scarlet tail-coat, white satin waistcoat, black satin knee-
breeches, and light blue silk stockings; with a three-
cornered cocked hat, shoes with large buckles, and a long
stick. His profession, as we have said, was that of
ventriloquist and 'mimic,' that is to say, he practised the
very popular art of imitating the appearance, mannerisms
and speech of well-known persons. In this line of business
I Sometimes referred to as Edmund Kean; among others by his famous
son's first biographer Bryan Walter Procter (Barry Cornwall). See Life of
Edmund Kean, i. 5.

he was very popular with the great public, and gave his
'Evening Entertainments' all over England, and even in
Paris. But his passion was for dramatic art in the grand
style, from which he himself was debarred; it was his
dream to play King Lear-but how could one play Lear
with a wooden leg?
While, then, he was initiating his little nephew into
some of the mysteries of the humbler branches of art, he
taught him at the same time to know and prize his
Shakespeare. He made the boy study and rehearse the
most famous Shakespearean rBles, Hamlet for instance,
he himself taking the secondary parts with gusto. One
almost seems to see the fantastic picture: the slender,
handsome, ragged little boy playing Hamlet with the
utmost gravity and ardour, while the great burly uncle
with the scarlet coat and the wooden leg impersonates
with equal gravity the majesty of buried Denmark.
The little London street-urchin grew up in the
atmosphere of the showman's booth and the play-house.
Beautiful as a gipsy child, with black hair and sparkling
brown eyes, well-formed and active as a kitten, he was
very early an exploitable commodity for stage purposes,
and accordingly his mother, as soon as she saw that
he could be made useful, took the earliest opportunity
to put him on the stage. At three years old he made his
first appearance, as Cupid in one of Noverre's ballets, and
from this time onwards he was trailed around the various
theatres to appear in the parts of goblins, imps, or the
other spirits, good and evil, for which such poor little
children of the theatre can be made useful. Never has
any great tragic actor, with the possible exception of
Friedrich Ludwig Schr6der, undergone such an early,
thorough, and long-continued training as Kean. From his
earliest childhood on he was trained in rope-walking and
the most break-neck balancing feats, as well as in danc-
ing, fencing, singing, and boxing, while 'Aunt' Tidswell
instructed him in declamation, and Uncle Moses played
Shakespeare with him and taught him ventriloquism.
In spite of all this, however, he was no infant pheno-
menon, no Master Betty, winning gold and renown by his


forced, artificial precocity. No one seems to have found
him specially remarkable, or to have expected that any
thing particular would come of him, though now and then
he had the chance of exhibiting his dramatic abilities in
private circles, playing Richard III. in his Sunday clothes,
with a little sword at his side, to the immense but short-
lived admiration of an audience of elderly ladies.
Thus, in his early years, he went the rounds of London,
a little, hungry, unconsidered apprentice to the wandering
showman's trade, not taking at all kindly, so far as we can
gather, to his professional training, but nevertheless as
proud as Punch of his accomplishments. Whenever he
got a chance, he ran away from his trainers and wandered
about as his own master. Miss Tidswell,1 with whom,
after Moses Kean's death, he seems oftenest to have lived,
had to tie him up to the bed-post to prevent his making
off while she was out of the house; at one time, indeed,
when he took to running away oftener than usual, she had
a sort of dog-collar made for him, with 'Drury Lane
Theatre' inscribed on it, so that honest finders might
know to what address to return him. Sometimes he ran
away so far that even such effective means as this could
not ensure his return. Once he even got as far as Madeira;
enraged by a beating he had received at home, the little
fellow made his way on foot to Portsmouth, where he was
taken on as ship's boy on a Madeira-bound vessel. He
had not been many days at sea, however, before he dis-
covered that the realities of the profession of ship's boy did
not at all answer to the interesting imaginary picture which
he, in common with most small boys, had formed of it.
But, with an originality that few boys of his age could have
matched-he was eight years old-he hit upon a brilliant
plan for getting off work without missing the coveted sea-
voyage. He pretended to have lost his hearing owing to
a bad cold, and played the part of deafness with such
1 Miss Tidswell had for some time an engagement at Drury Lane, where she
played subordinate parts, such as confidantes, courtesans, etc., without much
talent, it would appear, but with some taste. She was the daughter of an
officer, and had had a good education. She had gone on the stage, more from
necessity than inclination, when her father's death left her without means of
livelihood.-Secret History of the Green Room, i. 267.

energy and success that he was sent into a shore hospital
at Madeira, and, after the united efforts of the medical
experts, continued for two months, had failed to effect any
improvement, was declared incurable and sent back to
Portsmouth, where, once safely landed, he suddenly regained
his hearing, danced a triumphant hornpipe on the quay
before his astonished shipmates, and was lost among the
When he reached an age at which his many and varied
talents could be turned into money, his mother reappeared
as a chief factor in his existence, making use to the very
utmost of his earning powers, till at last, tormented and
tired out by her unscrupulous exploitation, he left her for
good. On this she once more disappeared, not to emerge
again till he had won success and fortune and she could
claim her share of these as a mother's right.
The events of his life during several years of his early
youth have eluded all research. Some maintain that dur-
ing these years he was at school at aristocratic Eton,
receiving the education of a gentleman's son. This story
seems almost incredible, and no substantial evidence for
it has ever been forthcoming, though it is not absolutely
impossible that it may be true. Certain it is that when he
appears once more as a youth, he is still as poor as ever,
still as wild and of a mettle as roving, but now, it would
seem, he has become conscious of a definite aim in life : to
become a great actor.
This goal, however, still lay in a somewhat remote
distance. Without friends or influential connections an
engagement at any of the great London Theatres was out
of the question. Moreover, he was still a mere boy, small
in size and insignificant in appearance, and it would appear
that the gipsy blood still ran so strongly in his veins that
it was hard for him to stay for long at a time in any one
place. Accordingly he wandered about, now with one
troupe, now with another, so miserably paid and such a
bad husband of his means, that he rarely had money for
his coach-fare when travelling from one engagement to
another, but tramped it on foot with his little bundle of
clothes on his back, swimming the rivers, with his bundle


in his teeth, to save ferry-tolls, and not unwilling to accept
the hospitality of the peasants' cottages along the road.
And yet young Master Carey, as he was still called,
was an exceedingly useful man to have in one's troupe.
Nothing came amiss to him. He had been at home from
infancy in the 'legitimate' repertory, his training as a
dancer had been so thorough, that he could act as ballet-
master on occasion, he was an excellent singer, in many
towns he was much more popular as Harlequin than as
Hamlet, and he was quite competent to add to the attrac-
tions of the show by a boxing match with a local bruiser
or a performance on the tight-rope, inserted as an inter-
mezzo between the tragedy and the pantomime.
In the course of this strolling life he was at one time in
London playing small parts at the Haymarket Theatre,
without, however, attracting any special notice or feeling
at all in his element. Once or twice his wanderings brought
him into contact with one or other of the great theatrical
stars ; once he even played the lover's r6le in a performance
in which the heroine was Mrs Siddons herself, who as far
as age went might easily have been his mother, and who at
this time of their lives must have looked more like his
grandmother. It is not wonderful that the mighty
tragedienne was far from enthusiastic when the little, thin,
shabby, blackavised youth was presented to her as the
gentleman who was to play Jaffier to her Belvidera.1 It
is related, however, that before the rehearsal had gone far
the touch of something peculiar and original in him aroused
her attention. The other players she corrected in her
usual awe-inspiring manner, but when it came to the turn
of the 'horrid little man,' as she had at first called him,
she sat quite still, gazing fixedly at him, and at last, when
he came to the end of a scene, said to him with an impres-
sive gravity: "Very well, Sir; very well! I have never
seen the part played in that manner before."
Words like these, falling to him from time to time, kept
heart in the young player. We may be sure that it was
early clear to him that he did not act, and did not wish to
act, in the same 'manner' as the others. What had he
The lovers in Otway's Venice Preserved.


in common with these tall, handsome, deliberate gentle-
men with sleepy, sentimental blue eyes, whom provincial
audiences applauded as their ideal stage-heroes? Evi-
dently he was striving to find an artistic form which should
give expression to his peculiar temperament-a temperament
nervous, unbalanced, wild, now exalted to the seventh
heaven, now plunged in the depths of despair, irresistibly
drawn towards the night-side of life and of the human
soul, infinitely remote from the daylight sobriety of the
previous generation. It is evident, too, that he felt how
different he was from others, that he was conscious of
being abnormal, and, above all, of his great superiority to
his surroundings. Doubtless, during the whole of this
strolling variety-show period, which lasted long-up to his
twenty-seventh year-he was keenly on the watch for
the moment when he should see, and should be strong
enough in his art to seize, some chance of breaking with his
stupid fellow-strollers and still more stupid petty provincial
audiences, and going to London to show what he could
do before a tribunal that could understand and appreciate
Not much understanding fell to his lot in these his years
of wandering, and many a time he would go home from
the theatre in despair, after a night when he had put all
his soul into a Shakespearean part before a completely
indifferent audience, which his Harlequin or his comic
songs had then roused to wild applause. On such nights
he would drink away his cares, and, sleeping, dream him-
self a great and renowned artist.
He did, however, find two appreciative friends. One
was a young actress, Miss Chambers, whom he married
when he was twenty; who held to him faithfully through
all the bodily and spiritual travails of his life-and these
were very many; whom he sometimes forsook, when his
restless heart went astray after other women, but to whom
he always came back again for refuge and consolation.
The other was the young actor and dramatist James
Sheridan Knowles, another youth troubled with vague
stirring of genius, who had been thrown out upon the
world, and who longed to be something else, and if possible


something better, than the other aspirants to immortality.
As far as acting was concerned his ambition was never
fulfilled, for as an actor he was and remained of no account,
but he became a much admired dramatic author, probably
the most celebrated of his period. Kean evidently looked
up greatly to this comrade,' a man some years older and
much better educated than himself; and Knowles on his
part wrote expressly for his friend a romantic play, Leo,
or the Gzisy, in which Kean made an immense success in
the provinces, and which he admired so enthusiastically,
that he had set his heart on making his first appearance
in London in it, and might probably have succeeded in
carrying his point, but that in the meantime he had
been so unlucky-or, possibly, so lucky-as to lose the
But years of struggle and want still lay between Kean
and his longed-for entry on the London stage. He married
in 1808, and soon the youthful couple had a weakly little
son, Howard, who, to his father's intense grief, died when
about five years old. A second son, Charles, well-known
in after days as actor and manager, was born a few years
Innumerable more or less authentic stories are told of
the Kean family's wanderings in the provinces and of the
wild doings and escapades of the head of the family.
Sometimes they would have a good, regular engagement;
sometimes they had none at all, but wandered about with
their two children and their dog in a little hired cart from
town to town, from tavern to tavern, giving evening
' entertainments' to any audience they could gather, usually
a scanty one, at sixpence a head. Whether in or out of
an engagement, however, they were always equally hard
up. For if their luck was in, a festive cup would make
1 J. S. Knowles was born in 1784 and died in 1862. He was the son of a
schoolmaster, and related to R. B. Sheridan. He wrote a great many plays,
which were very successful in their day, and in which it is still possible to
discern a certain originality and force, but which display no such poetic
ingenuity, and still less any such constructive talent, as might make up for their
romantic absurdities. The best known are: Caius Gracchus (1815), Virginius
(182o), The Hunchback (1832), and The Love Chase (1837).
2 The date of Charles Kean's birth is not certainly fixed. It is usually
stated that he was born at Waterford, i8th January 1811.


good fortune the sweeter, and if luck was against them,
all Kean's troubles would be drowned in the bottle.
Still, when they were in employment, Kean was not
the man to shirk taking his full share of the burden. For
some time they were in the old Irish town of Waterford,
and we have an account of their doings on one evening of
their sojourn there which is of double value as being
authentic, and as throwing a very clear light on Kean's
activities in these years, not so very long before his epoch-
making London debut, when he was still a struggling
stroller. The story is told by an eye-witness,' and runs
as follows: "The last thing I recollect of Kean in
Waterford, was the performance for his benefit. The play
was Hannah More's2 tragedy of Percy, in which he of
course played the hero. Edwina was played by Mrs
Kean, who was applauded to her heart's content. Kean
was so popular, both as an actor and for the excellent
character he bore, that the audience thought less of the
actor' s demerits than of the husband's feelings; and
besides this, the ddbutante had many personal friends in
her native city, and among the gentry of the neighbour-
hood, for she had been governess to the children of a lady
of good fortune, who used all her influence at this benefit.
After the tragedy, Kean gave a specimen of tight-rope
dancing, and another of sparring with a professional
pugilist. He then played the leading part in a musical
interlude, and finished with Chimpanzee, the monkey, in
the melodramatic pantomime of La Pdrouse,4 and in this
character he showed agility scarcely since surpassed by
Mazurier or Gouffe, and touches of deep tragedy in the
monkey's death scene, which made the audience shed
1 A Mr Grattan: quoted by Dr Doran (Their Majesties' Servants, iii. 369).
2 The well-known philanthropist and authoress, Mrs Hannah More, wrote,
among other works, a number of plays, of which the above-named tragedy was
the best known. Percy was produced for the first time at Covent Garden
in 1778.
SQuery 'actress's.'
4 La PA-ouse, or The Desert Island was a dramatic pantomime with songs,
which was first performed at Covent Garden in o181. The subject was taken
from a play of Kotzebue's and dealt with the casting-away of the celebrated
explorer La Pdrouse on a South Sea Island, his adventures there, and his
struggles for existence, in which he is aided by a faithful man-ape.

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