+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

attempt was to see Garrick; and on a night
when he was acting Hamlet, he forced his way
into Drury Lane. He found him in all respects
greatly above the standard of the performers
who surrounded him, yet thought him even
more perfect in the expression of his face,
than in the accent and pronunciation of his
voice. But it is to be remembered that the
great actor, now in his sixtieth year, was
arrived at his last season, and after this was
to be seen no more; a fact of which Mr.
Curwen had no very agreeable evidence in
attempting to get into Drury Lane a few
months later to see him play Archer in
Farquhar's delightful comedy, when, so
enormous was the crowd, that after "suffering
thumps, squeezes, and almost suffocation
for two hours," he was obliged to "retire
without effecting it." He attempted it with
no better success a few weeks later, when the
dazzling performance of Richard, which had
first startled London five-and-thirty years
before, was given for the last time; when
their Majesties both were present, the theatre
was again crammed to suffocation, and Mr.
Curwen again turned back a disappointed
man. He had to console himself as he might
with Mrs. Barry at Covent Garden, where he
saw and admired her fine person in Constance;
where also he saw a lady play Macheath,
thinking it "a great impropriety, not to say
indecency"; where he thought Quick a good
actor, too; and discreetly singled out Moody
for praise before the merits of that performer
were publicly acknowledged. On the whole,
though, this particular time was but a dull
time for theatres, as the interval between the
sinking of a great star and the rising of any
other generally is; and there seems no reason
to attribute to anything but the correctness
of his taste the formal complaint of our
American critic, that he has no wish to
indulge a cynical or surly disposition, yet cannot
help declaring that he finds great disappointment
at the London theatrical performances.
The bulk of the actors fell below his idea of
just imitation. To his seeming they
overacted, underacted, or contradicted nature;
the nicest art of the stage, which is to mark
the lines of separation between humours or
passions bearing to each other only general
resemblances, appeared to be lost altogether;
the hero was a bully, the gentleman a coxcomb,
the coxcomb a fool, the fine lady affected,
insipid, or pert; and nothing but the lower
grades of character, the gamesters, chamber-maids,
or footmen, were represented to the
mark of what was true. As a reward to this
well-informed lover of the theatre, however,
for reaching London so late as the last season
of Garrick, it so befell that he did not quit
London till he had assisted at the first success
of Mrs. Siddons, and saw the stage as it
were re-awaken at the inspiration of her

Nor was he, meanwhile, without other
resources. He went to Vauxhall Gardens,
a "most enchanting spot" in those days, with
glorious gravelled walks, shrubberies,
illuminated alcoves, and everywhere such myriads
of variegated lamps, that the lord of
Strawberry Hill was wont to protest he should never
again care a button for trees that hadn't red
or green lamps to light themselves up with. He
took boat at Temple Stairs and went to
Ranelagh, where he found infinite numbers of
well dressed people, and rubbed up against
the Duke of Gloucester and the French
Ambassador. At an exhibition, silly enough
in itself, called Les Ombres Chinoises, a badly
arranged puppet-show, he saw, among several
well dressed people of fashion, an elderly
gentleman with a star on his coat, who was
pointed out to him as Lord Temple and
"supposed author of Junius" a notion which
seems strangely to have slept from that hour
till an examination of the Stowe papers
re-awakened it not many months ago. He went
to the Royal Academy Exhibition in Pall
Mall (it was its last year there), and was yet
more struck by it in the year next following
its first in Somerset House. In a very
full house at the Haymarket he heard the
humorous George Alexander Stevens's
Lecture on Heads; and saw subsequently (of
course) an imitation and attempted improvement
of the same, where the heads shone forth
in transparency, Captain Cooke's calling forth
elaborate eulogium, and Lawrence Sterne's
the accompaniment of a pathetic apostrophe;
the exhibitor passing afterwards to very
surprising tricks with cards, and winding up
the whole with marvellous imitations of the
thrush, blackbird, skylark, nightingale, woodlark,
and quail. But songs more wondrous
than these, the good new Englander heard on
another occasion at Covent Garden Theatre,
where, in honour of Handel (the musical
saint of England, he exclaims, whose
performances are as much read and studied
as Romish manuals of devotion by their
admirers), a performance of the oratorio of
Messiah was given, with an effect he can
only describe by heaping epithet on epithet, as
noble, grand, full, sonorous, awfully majestic.
"The whole assembly as one, rising,"
continues the earnest old man, "added a solemnity
which swelled and filled my soul with an
I know not what, that exalted it beyond
itself, bringing to my raised imagination a
full view of that sacred assembly of blessed
spirits which surround the throne of God."

Such was the character of the amusements
that our great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers
patronised, and incident to which,
not seldom, other sights more grave were
intruded. Thus, when our American holiday
maker was crossing Clerkenwell Green one
day in the hope of passing a pleasant evening
in company with a fellow-refugee from New
England, "Mr. Copley the limner" and his
family (among whom played a sprightly child
of two years old, who was destined to become
Lord High Chancellor of England), he was