Page images

but the art of the performer is to distinguish the proper or most striking mode of exhibiting them. The author has done little to help him in the management of the piece, which as a story indicates nothing decisive respecting the real character of Hamlet. He does not resemble Richard or Macbeth, or most of Shakspeare's other distinguished characters, who show themselves and purposes not by their words and sentiments only, but by their actions, and whose actions therefore are the best commentaries on their characters and motives. On the contrary, Hamlet being passive almost through the whole piece, and only hurried into action in its conclusion, does nothing by which we can infer the precise meaning of much that he says. There exists therefore a latitude about the representation of Hamlet, which scarcely belongs to that of any other character in the drama. It consists of many notes, and the dwelling upon or the slurring of any of them ' totally changes the effect of the air.

It is natural to expatiate on these peculiarities in the character, because Kemble in representing it was to encounter at once the shade of the murthered King of Denmark, and, in the mind's eye of the audience, that of the lost Garrick. The young performer had never seen and could not imitate Garrick. He, was relieved from that great stumbling-block in the path of a novice—the temptation to copy some honoured predecessor. Those who are subjected to this temptation and give way to it, seldom rise above respectability in their performances. They are admitted to play the line of characters possessed by the wellraced actor who has left the stage, but it is merely in the character of substitutes: those who aim at great eminence must show originality of conception.

Originality however in a novice has its perils; and it was often objected to Kemble, that in playing Shakspeare's best-known characters he frequently sought to give them effect by a mode of delivery and action daringly opposed to what the audience had been used to. This, in the beginning of his career, was often hardly received by pedantic critics, who had become so much bigoted to, one style of acting that they were unable to tolerate any departure from it. Such venturing on new ground is no doubt a hazard-> ous task, and demands both the powers and perseverance of decided genius; and Garrick was, in his time, equally censured as an innoyator on the solemn and pompous manner of Booth and Betterton. But were it possible to promulgate and enforce a scale of the tones in which each speech of Hamlet or any other character should be delivered, or to issue a tariff of the emphasis to which each striking passage should be subjected, it is evident we should destroy one great source of the pleasure we receive from the stage



He was

namely, that of comparing and deciding between the different species of efforts which rivals in the scenic art bring to illustrate the same character.

For this Hamlet offers a fair field, and Kemble entered on it with characteristic courage and skill. Beginning already to act upon the principles of dramatic criticism, he discarded the alterations which Garrick had ventured to introduce into the works of Shakspeare; and which Mr. Boaden justly calls feeble and trashy. The following is an accurate and pleasing description of Kemble as he then was stepping forwards to offer himself as a rival to Garrick, and disdaining all that had interposed between them.

* His person seemed to be finely formed, and bis manners princely; but on his brow hung the weight of “ some intolerable woe. Apart from the expression called up by the situation of Hamlet, there struck me to be in him

a peculiar and personal fitness for tragedy. What others assumed, seemed to be inberent in Kemble. “ Native, and to the manner born,” he looked an abstraction, if I may so say, of the characteristics of tragedy.

* The first great point of remark was, that his Hamlet was decidedly original. He had seen no great actor whom he could have copied. His style was formed by his own taste or judgment, or rather grew out of the peculiar properties of his person and his intellectual habits. of a solemn and deliberate temperament—his walk was always slow, and his expression of countenance contemplative--bis utterance rather tardy for the most part, but always finely articulate, and in common parlance seemed to proceed rather from organization than voice.'-Boaden's M[emoirs of Kemble, vol. i. p. 92.

It must strike the dramatic reader at once that a more complete contrast to the former Roscius could not appear, in almost every point, than in this new candidate for the honours of the buskin. Garrick was short though well formed, airy, and light in all his movements, possessed of a countenance capable of the most acute or the most stolid, the most tragic or the most ridiculous expression. Kemble, on the contrary, was tall and stately, his person on a scale suited for the stage, and almost too large for a private apartment, with a countenance like the finest models of the antique, and motions and manners corresponding to the splendid cast of his form and features. Mirth, when he exhibited it, never exceeded a species of gaiety chastened with gravity; his smile seemed always as if it were the rare inhabitant of that noble countenance. There was unquestionably great sweetness of expression in that smile, but it indicated more of benevolence than of gaiety, the momentary stooping of a mind usually strung to a serious mood to the joy which enlivened the meaner natures around him.

Even the habits of life and manners peculiar to these two great performers intimated such a strong difference in their characters


as must necessarily have greatly influenced their taste in the art. Garrick was what is called a man of fashion, desirous to maintain his place as such among the great, among whom his talents made him a welcome associate. But in mixing with them he paid them a sort of homage. He was desirous to procure their notice more than a man of his commanding genius ought perhaps to have been. The situation was a difficult one, and he is represented to have been something too eager to show off and entertain the company, as one who had some tax to pay for being where he was when in the society of men of rank and eminence. It is to be sure an ungracious behaviour on the part of what is technically called a lion, to refuse gruftly to show his jaws and extend his talons when he chuses to enter into mixed company.

For if he should as lion come in strife

Into such place 'twere pity on his life.' But this is a failing of a very different order from that overeager love of gaining interest, which will court the attention of the foot-boy, if it cannot fix that of the master.

Of all men, John Kemble, though not destitute of his share of vanity, was most averse from this peculiar mode of drawing attention: his nature revolted from courting display and obsequiously condescending to be what has been vulgarly called the fiddle of the company. He took a ready and agreeable part in the general conversation. And when it turned naturally upon his own art, he always showed himself willing to entertain and instruct the company from the funds of experience and study, as well as the original conceptions of his own genius. But he never, in the language of the old dramatists, came aloft or showed tricks from Tripoli.? He never stooped to be the amusing and exhibiting man of the company. He never even read or recited for the amusement of the circle; and those who desired the pleasure of his society could only obtain it on the condition of his being an equal contributor, and no more, to the social enjoyment of the day. Perhaps he even carried this point of etiquette a little too far. But on these terms he enjoyed the familjar friendship of many of the first families in England.

He was a frequent and favourite guest at Bentley Priory, wbich was then the resort of the most distinguished part of the fashionable world, Its noble owner, the late Marquis of Abercorn, has been so long with the dead, that to do justice to his character, much misrepresented in some points during his life, can be ascribed to, no motive which interest or adulation could suggest. He was a man highly gifted by nature, and whose talents had been improved by sedulous attention to an excellent education. Ļf he had remained a Commoner, it was the opịnion

Chi Altangi, in the Citizen of the World. Boaden, on the other hand, draws us a double flagon of old English liquor, not the sophisticated potion which the vulgar denominate heavy wet, but Anno Domini, regularly dated and regularly tapped, like that which honest Boniface ate and drank, and upon which he always slept.

Allowing precedence to be due to the more dignified person, we advert first to the Memoirs of John Kemble, combined as they are with a history of the stage from the time of Garrick to the present period. A great deal of curious information is accumujated in these two volumes, by a man who has had the best opportunities of collecting the dramatic history of the last half century.

We cannot, however, altogether approve of his blending the Memoirs of Kemble with an account of the theatre, so general, diffuse, and disproportioned in length to the pages which the life of his proper hero occupies. The fore-ground and back-ground are too extensive for the principal figure. We might have been very glad to have possessed the work arranged in two separate departments, one containing the Memoirs, the other the history of the stage.

The present plan has rendered unavoidable the mingling the account of this distinguished man of talent with that of many ordinary performers, of whom we either never heard before, or never wish to hear again. Mr. Boaden, we have no doubt, has been just in his estimate of these subordinate persons; but there are many whom he might have dismissed like Virgil with a single fortemque,' and whom he ought not to have suffered to crowd the scene which they never adorned, and on which they are not now, perhaps, remembered at all. A man should have some title beyond mere respectability before he is handed • What shall an honest man do in my

closet ?'

says Caius, and what business has a merely respectable man in our library? say we. We think it is John Dunton in his Life and Errors, who, in a history of the literature of Boston, the capital of New England, which he visited in the course of his wanderings, gives not only an account of authors, publishers, retail booksellers, and printers, but descends to stationers and bookbinders, has a few flying hints on printer's devils, and makes us unnecessarily acquainted with every one of these respectable persons as necessary appendages to literary history. We are far from quarrelling with the minute information conveyed by Mr. Boaden in a miscellaneous manner, somewhat similar to that of Dunton, but we wish it had been a little better arranged, and more connected in its topics than by the mere category of time. The history of Kemble is divided into so many detached pieces, that

up to fame,

E farce, he should maintain a sort of ubiquity in the eyes of the

public. In the play he could be Hamlet, and perform Fribble in the farce, yet delight the audience equally in both characters. In fact, as we have been assured by a venerable father of literature, most able to judge, and happily at an advanced period of life most able both to recollect and discriminate concerning the amusements of his youth, Garrick's versatility, nay, almost universality of talent, was the quality on which his extraordinary popularity chiefly rested. He was like Ariel on board the King's ship.

now on the beak Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabbin,

He Alamed amazement.' The peculiar talents of Kemble confined him within a much more limited range, although it was soon ascertainėd that this was capable of being extended far more than the critics had at first been able to anticipate. Kemble's noble person and graceful demeanour was totally inconsistent with the ludicrous, and almost with the comic. His cast of features was decidedly heroic, and when the best disguise was put on them he must have looked like Alfred playing the clown, or the elder Brutus in his assumed state of idiotcy. The very voices of these great actors were totally different; that of Garrick was full, melodious, commanding, and he might exert it with unsparing profusion. Kemble's, though perfectly distinct and impressive, was early affected by an asthmatic tendency, which rendered it necessary for him to husband his efforts, and reserve them for those bursts of passion to which he gave such sublime effect.

But besides this limitation, arising from taste, temper, figure, and organic conformation, the schools, if they may be called so, of Garrick and Kemble were founded upon different principles. We had almost said they were the schools of nature and of artbut luckily we suppressed a phrase which, like the whistle of a captain of marksmen, might have raised from thicket and ravine a swarm of controversial sharp-shooters like wasps about our ears. Let us then vary the phrase, and say, that Garrick made his im pression from his skill in seizing and expressing with force and precision the first and most obvious view of his part; and that Kemble, more learned and more laborious, studied earnestly and long ere he could fix his own ideas of the true meaning of doubtful passages, often illustrated them by what is called a new reading, and was careful to express that he did so by the punctilious accuracy of the corresponding action and enunciation. Indeed Kemble, a profound scholar in his art, was metaphysically curious in expressing each line of his part with the exactly appropriate accent and manner. Sometimes this high degree of study threw


a degree

« PreviousContinue »