United Kingdom

The Journal of a London Playgoer

‘Charlotte Cushman as Meg Merriles’ (c.1855) Library of Congress, via Wikipedia

Source: Henry Morley, The Journal of a London Playgoer: from 1851-1866 (London: George Routledge, 1866), pp. 80-81

Production: Daniel Terry, Guy Mannering, Haymarket Theatre, London, 11 February 1854

Text: 1854, February 11.— ‘Guy Mannering’ is very nicely produced at the HAYMARKET. The scenery is new, the grouping is effective, the cast is tolerably good, and there is one piece of acting in it of an excellent and very striking kind. Miss Cushman’s melodramatic Meg Merrilies has quite as indisputably the attributes of genius about it as any piece of poetry or tragedy could have. Such is her power over the intention and feeling of the part that the mere words of it become a secondary matter. It is the figure, the gait, the look, the gesture, the tone, by which she puts beauty and passion into language the most indifferent. The effect is not wholly agreeable. Nevertheless it is something to see what the unassisted resources of acting may achieve with the mere idea of a fine part, stripped of fine language, unclothed as it were in words. The human tenderness blending with that Eastern picturesqueness of gesture, the refined sentiment breaking out from beneath that heavy feebleness and clumsiness of rude old age, are wonderfully startling. Mr. Compton is a good Dominie Sampson, and Miss Harland looks and sings very pleasingly in Lucy Bertram. Mr. Howe is not enough of the ruffian in Dirk Hatteraick. He looks rather an honest fellow; and though he might have been as innocently fond of a garden of tulips as Scott makes his Dutch smuggler, he would not have plundered and murdered on all sides simply to get at that source of natural enjoyment.

Comments: Henry Morley (1822-1894) was a British academic and writer. He was Professor of English at University College London from 1865-1889. His Journal is a record of his attendance at most new production in the leading London theatres over a fifteen-year period. The journal he kept served as the basis for his dramatic reviews in The Examiner, which he edited 1859-1864. Charlotte Cushman (1816-1876) was one of the great figures of the nineteenth-century American stage. The role of Meg Merrilees in Daniel Terry‘s adaptation of Walter Scott’s novel Guy Mannering was one of her signature roles.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Epistle to Daiphantus, or the Passions of Love

From page of Epistle to Daiphantus via Shakepeare Documented

Source: ‘An. Sc.’ [Anthony Scoloker?], extract from Epistle to Daiphantus, or the Passions of Love (William Cotton, 1604)

Text:
[From the introductory section]

It should be like the Neuer-too-well read Arcadia, where the Prose and Verce, (Matter and Words) are like his Mistresses eyes one still excelling another and without Coriuall for to come home to the vulgars Element, like Friendly Shake-speares Tragedies, where the Commedian rides, when the Tragedian stands on Tip-toe: Faith it should please all, like Prince Hamlet.

[From the poem]

His breath, he thinkes the smoke; his tongue a cole,
Then calls for bottell-ale; to quench his thirst:
Runs to his Inke-pot, drinkes, then stops the hole,
And thus growes madder, then he was at first.
Tasso, he finds, by that of Hamlet, thinkes.
Tearmes him a mad-man; than of his Inkhorne drinks.

Calls Players fooles, the foole he iudgeth wisest,
Will learne them Action, out of Chaucers Pander:
Proues of their Poets bawdes euen in the highest,
Then drinkes a health; and sweares it is no slander.
Puts off his cloathes; his shirt he onely weares,
Much like mad-Hamlet; thus as Passion teares.

Comments: Daiphantus, or the Passions of Love is a poem, printed in 1604, expressed from the point of view of a courtier, Daiphantus, whose character commentators have seen as being similar to William Shakespeare‘s Hamlet. The poem is credited to ‘An. Sc’, sometimes identified as the printer Anthony Scoloker, though he died in 1593, or a relative of his. When Hamlet was first performed Richard Burbage almost certainly took the leading role. The reference to Hamlet wearing only his shirt indicates an actual piece of stage business witnessed by the author.

Links: Copy at Early English Books Online

Journal of Frances Anne Butler

‘Mr Kean as Othello’, lithograph print, c.1830, via Victoria and Albert Museum

Source: Journal of Frances Anne Butler (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Blanchard, 1835), vol. 1 (of 2), p. 147

Text: Kean is gone — and with him are gone Othello, Shylock, and Richard. I have lived among those whose theatrical creed would not permit them to acknowledge him as a great actor; but they must be bigoted, indeed, who would deny that he was a great genius, a man of most original and striking powers, careless of art,perhaps because he did not need it; but possessing those rare gifts of nature, without which art alone is as a dead body. Who that ever heard, will ever forget the beauty, the unutterable tenderness of his reply to Desdemona’s entreaties for Cassio. “Let him come when he will, I can deny thee nothing;” the deep despondency of his “Oh now farewell;” the miserable anguish of his “Oh, Desdemona, away, away.” Who that ever saw, will ever forget the fascination of his dying eyes in Richard; when deprived of his sword, the wondrous power of his look seemed yet to avert the uplifted arm of Richmond. If he was irregular and unartist-like in his performances, so is Niagara, compared with the water works of Versailles.

Comments: Frances Anne ‘Fanny’ Kemble (1809-1893) was a British stage actress and writer, a member of the celebrated Kemble theatrical family. She married Pierce Mease Butler in 1834. The British actor Edmund Kean died 15 May 1833.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Pepys’ Diary

Source: Diary of Samuel Pepys, 18 February 1667

Production: Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, The Maid’s Tragedy, King’s House, London, 18 February 1667

Text: Thence away, and with my wife by coach to the Duke of York’s play-house, expecting a new play, and so stayed not no more than other people, but to the King’s house, to “The Mayd’s Tragedy;” but vexed all the while with two talking ladies and Sir Charles Sedley; yet pleased to hear their discourse, he being a stranger. And one of the ladies would, and did sit with her mask on, all the play, and, being exceeding witty as ever I heard woman, did talk most pleasantly with him; but was, I believe, a virtuous woman, and of quality. He would fain know who she was, but she would not tell; yet did give him many pleasant hints of her knowledge of him, by that means setting his brains at work to find, out who she was, and did give him leave to use all means to find out who she was, but pulling off her mask. He was mighty witty, and she also making sport with him very inoffensively, that a more pleasant ‘rencontre’ I never heard. But by that means lost the pleasure of the play wholly, to which now and then Sir Charles Sedley’s exceptions against both words and pronouncing were very pretty. So home and to the office, did much business, then home, to supper, and to bed.

Comments: Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was a British naval administrator and diarist. The Maid’s Tragedy was written by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. Sir Charles Sedley was a politician, dramatist and notorious libertine.

Links: www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1667/02/18/

Pleasant Notes Upon Don Quixot

Source: Edmund Gayton, Pleasant Notes upon Don Quixot (London, 1654)

Text: And although the only Laureat of our stage (having compos’d a Play of excellent worth, but not of equall applause) fell downe upon his knees, and gave thanks, that he had transcended the capacity of the vulgar; yet his protestation against their ignorance, was not sufficient to vindicate the misapplication of the argument; for the judicious part of that Auditory condemn’d it equally with those that did not understand it, and though the Comaedy wanted not its

prodesse, & delectare,

Had it been exhibited to a scholastick confluence; yet men come not to study at a Play-house, but love such expressions and passages, which with ease insinuate themselves into their capacities. Lingua, that learned Comaedy of the contention betwixt the five senses for the superiority, is not to be prostituted to the common stage, but is only proper for an Academy; to them bring Iack Drumm’s entertainment, Greens tu quoque, the Devill of Edmunton, and the like; or if it be on Holy dayes, when Saylers, Water-men, Shoomakers, Butchers and Apprentices are at leisure, then it is good policy to amaze those violent spirits, with some tearing Tragaedy full of fights and skirmishes: As the Guelphs and Guiblins, Greeks and Trojans, or the three London Apprentises, which commonly ends in six acts, the spectators frequently mounting the stage, and making a more bloody Catastrophe amongst themselves, then the Players did. I have known upon one of these Festivals, but especially at Shrove-tide, where the Players have been appointed, notwithstanding their bils to the contrary, to act what the major part of the company had a mind to; sometimes Tamerlane, sometimes Iugurth, sometimes the Jew of Malta, and sometimes parts of all these, and at last, none of the three taking, they were forc’d to undresse and put off their Tragick habits, and conclude the day with the merry milk-maides. And unlesse this were done, and the popular humour satisfied, as sometimes it so fortun’d, that the Players were refractory; the Benches, the tiles, the laths, the stones, Oranges, Apples, Nuts, flew about most liberally, and as there were Mechanicks of all professions, who fell every one to his owne trade, and dissolved a house in an instant, and made a ruine of a stately Fabrick. It was not then the most mimicall nor fighting man, Fowler, nor Andrew Cane could pacifie; Prologues nor Epilogues would prevaile; the Devill and the fool were quite out of favour. Nothing but noise and tumult fils the house, untill a cogg take ‘um, and then to the Bawdy houses, and reforme them; and instantly to the Banks side, where the poor Beares must conclude the riot, and fight twenty dogs at a time beside the Butchers, which sometimes fell into the service; this perform’d, and the Horse and Jack-an-Apes for a jigge, they had sport enough that day for nothing.

Comments: Edmund Gayton (1608-1666) was an English physician and writer. His Pleasant notes upon Don Quixot, known as also as Festivous Notes upon Don Quixot is a rambling study of Don Quixote which many asides anecdotes, including observations on the theatre. It was published in 1654, when theatrical performances in England were banned under Cromwell’s regime, so his recollections of the misbehaviour of audiences at theatrical performances during Shrovetide probably refers to the 1630s. The plays referred to include The Merry Devil of Edmonton, John Marston’s Jack Drum’s Entertainment, Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and Tamburlaine the Great, William Boyle’s Jugurth (possibly), and presumably Thomas Heywood’s The Four Prentices of London.

Links: Copy at Early English Books Online

Lewis Carroll’s Diaries

‘Henry VIII: Queen Katherine’s Dream’, from Illustrated London News 2 June 18855, reproduced in Shakespeare’s Staging

Source: Edward Wakeling (ed.), Lewis Carroll’s Diaries: The Private Journals of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), vol. 1 (Lewis Carroll Society: Publications Unit, 1993), pp. 104-106

Productions: John Maddison Morton, Away with Melancholy and William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, Henry VIII, Princesses’s Theatre, London, 22 June 1855

Text: Went to the Gallery of the British Artists where I scarcely got the worth of my shilling – then heard a very good lecture on the model of Sebastopol in Leicester Square, and at five joined Ranken and a man of the name Brown at the Wellington Hotel, where we dined before going to the ‘Princess’. The evening began with a capital farce, Away with Melancholy, and then came the great play, Henry VIII, the greatest theatrical treat I ever had or expect to have. I had no idea that anything so superb as the scenery and dresses was ever to be seen on the stage. Kean was magnificent as Cardinal Wolsey, Mrs. Kean a worthy successor to Mrs. Siddons in Queen Catherine, and all the accessories without exception were good – but oh, that exquisite vision of Queen Catherine! I almost held my breath to watch: the illusion is perfect, and I felt as if in a dream all the time it lasted. It was like a delicious reverie, or the most beautiful poetry. This is the true end and object of acting – to raise the mind above itself, and out of its petty everyday cares – never shall I forget that wonderful evening, that exquisite vision – sunbeams broke in through the roof, and gradually revealed two angel forms, floating in front of the carved work on the ceiling: the column of sunbeams shone down upon the sleeping queen, and gradually down it floated a troop of angelic forms, transparent, and carrying palm branches in their hands: they waved these over the sleeping queen, with oh! such a sad and solemn grace. So could I fancy (if the thought be not profane) would real angels seem to our mortal vision, though doubtless our conception is poor and mean to the reality. She in an ecstasy raises her arms towards them, and to sweet slow music they vanish as marvellously as they came. Then the profound silence of the audience burst at once into a rapture of applause; but even that scarcely marred the effect of the beautiful sad waking words of the Queen, “Spirits of peace, where are ye?” I never enjoyed anything so much in my life before: and never felt so inclined to shed tears at anything fictitious, save perhaps at that poetical gem of Dickens, the death of little Paul.

Comments: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), who wrote under the pen name Lewis Carroll, was a British mathematician, photographer and children’s author, best known for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The production of Shakespeare and Fletcher‘s Henry VIII that he saw at the Princess’s Theatre in London was produced by the theatre’s manager, Charles Kean (son of Edmund Kean). It was one a number of spectacular Shakespearean revival presented at the Princess’s, which placed emphasis on historical ‘authenticity’. Queen Katherine was played by Ellen Tree, Charles Kean’s wife. Away with Melancholy was a one-act farce written by John Maddison Morton, best known for Box and Cox.

A Journal of Travels in England, Holland, and Scotland

Source: Benjamin Silliman, A Journal of Travels in England, Holland, and Scotland, and of two passages over the Atlantic, in the years 1805 and 1806, vol. 1 (Boston: T.B. Wait and Co. for Howe and Deforest, and Increase Cook and Co. Newhaven, 1812), pp. 268-269

Production: Zittaw; or, The Woodman’s Daughter, Astley’s Amphitheatre, London, 19 July 1805

Text: ASTLEY’S AMPHITHEATRE. July 19. — I had made an appointment to meet an American friend this evening, at the door of Astley’s amphitheatre, which is just over Westminster bridge on the Surry side. This theatre is precisely on the plan of the royal circus, and the entertainments are of the same kind, that is, pantomime, buffoonery, and riding. The house is very splendid, and the scenery, decorations, and machinery are in a style of very uncommon elegance.

The evening was opened with the pantomime of Zittaw, or the Woodman’s daughter. It was the most intelligible pantomime that I have ever seen ; this was owing to the liberty they took of speaking certain parts in plain English — of singing others, and of frequently displaying pieces of painted cloth, containing, in large capitals, a hint of the story.

And what was the subject of the pantomime? Do you ask? It was that which is the first, second and third thing in all theatrical performances.

If we are to believe the theatres, love is a most sanguinary passion, for it rarely comes to a catastrophe without murder. They killed no fewer than four, in the course of this pantomime. Even the lady herself, who is the heroine of the story, is made, in the progress of the representation, to appear on the stage, and to fence for a good while, with one of her unsuccessful suitors, whom at length, (being unable to des patch him with the sword,) she destroys with a pistol ball. It is to be hoped that this was not a very faithful copy of life, for, surely, it is enough to be repulsed, without being murdered besides.

Comments: Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864) was a pioneering American chemist. The ‘pantomime’ he saw while visiting London in 1805 was presumably based on the gothic story Zittaw the Cruel; or The Woodsman’s Daughter, A Polish Romance by prolific writer of chapbooks Sarah Wilkinson. Astley’s Amphitheatre was originally a circus (opened 1770), but later put on pantomimes and other such entertainments. It was located by Westminster Bridge and had burned down twice before it became famous in the 1800s for its equestrian spectaculars.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Pepys’ Diary

Source: Diary of Samuel Pepys, 29 October 1666

Production: George Etheredge, The Comical Revenge; or, Love in a Tub, Whitehall Palace, London, 29 October 1666

Text: About five o’clock I took my wife (who is mighty fine, and with a new fair pair of locks, which vex me, though like a foole I helped her the other night to buy them), and to Mrs. Pierces, and there staying a little I away before to White Hall, and into the new playhouse there, the first time I ever was there, and the first play I have seen since before the great plague. By and by Mr. Pierce comes, bringing my wife and his, and Knipp. By and by the King and Queene, Duke and Duchesse, and all the great ladies of the Court; which, indeed, was a fine sight. But the play being “Love in a Tub,” a silly play, and though done by the Duke’s people, yet having neither Betterton nor his wife, and the whole thing done ill, and being ill also, I had no manner of pleasure in the play. Besides, the House, though very fine, yet bad for the voice, for hearing. The sight of the ladies, indeed, was exceeding noble; and above all, my Lady Castlemayne.

The play done by ten o’clock. I carried them all home, and then home myself, and well satisfied with the sight, but not the play, we with great content to bed.

Comments: Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was a British naval administrator and diarist. The comedy The Comical Revenge; or, Love in a Tub (1664) was the first play of Sir George Etherege. The performance seen by Pepys featured the actors Thomas Betterton and his wife Mary Saunderson. Barbara Villiers, or Lady Castlemaine, was one of the mistresses of King Charles II, frequently mentioned by Pepys.

Links: www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1666/10/29

Letters of Anna Seward

‘Mrs. Siddons as Rosalind’, via Folger Shakespeare Library under a CC BY-SA 4.0 licence

Source: Anna Seward, letter to Sophia Weston, in Letters of Anna Seward: written between the years 1784 and 1807 (Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1811), pp. 165-266

Production: William Shakespeare, As You Like It,

Text: Lichfield, July 20, 1876 … For the first time, I saw the justly celebrated Mrs Siddons in comedy, in Rosalind :—but though her smile is as enchanting, as her frown is magnificent, as her tears are irresistible, yet the playful scintillations of colloquial wit, which most strongly mark that character, suit not the dignity of the Siddonian form and countenance. Then her dress was injudicious. The scrupulous prudery of decency, produced an ambiguous vestment, that seemed neither male nor female. When she first came on as the princess, nothing could be more charming; nor than when she resumed her original character, and exchanged comic spirit for dignified tenderness. One of those rays of exquisite and original discrimination, which her genius so perpetually elicits, shone out on her first rushing upon the stage in her own resumed person and dress; when she bent her knee to her father, the Duke, and said—

“To you I give myself—for I am yours”

and when, falling into Orlando’s arms, she repeated the same words,

“To you I give myself—for I am yours!

The marked difference of her look and voice in repeating that line, and particularly the last word of it, was inimitably striking. The tender joy of filial love was in the first; the whole soul of enamoured transport in the second. The extremely heightened emphasis on the word yours, produced an effect greater than you can conceive could re sult from the circumstance, without seeing and hearing it given by that mistress of the passions.

Comments: Anna Seward (1742-1809) was an English poet, known as the ‘Swan of Lichfield’. Sarah Siddons was on a tour of regional theatres and it is unclear in which town Seward saw her performing in As You Like It.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Travels in England in 1782

1783 drawing of the original Haymarket Theatre, via Charles John Smith, Historical and Literary Curiosities (1847)

Source: Charles P. Moritz [Karl Philipp Moritz], Travels in England in 1782 (London: Cassell, 1886), pp. 73-74, orig. pub. Reisen eines Deutschen in England im Jahre 1782 (1783) and in English as Travels, chiefly on Foot, through several parts of England in 1782, described in Letters to a Friend (1795)

Productions: Samuel Foote, The Nabob and Samuel Arnold/John O’Keefe, The Agreeable Surprise, Haymarket Theatre, London, 4 June 1782; and George Colman (the elder), The English Merchant and The Agreeable Surprise, 15 June 1782

Text: Last week I went twice to an English play-house. The first time “The Nabob” was represented, of which the late Mr. Foote was the author, and for the entertainment, a very pleasing and laughable musical farce, called “The Agreeable Surprise.” The second time I saw “The English Merchant:” which piece has been translated into German, and is known among us by the title of “The Scotchwoman,” or “The Coffee-house.” I have not yet seen the theatres of Covent Garden and Drury Lane, because they are not open in summer. The best actors also usually spend May and October in the country, and only perform in winter.

A very few excepted, the comedians whom I saw were certainly nothing extraordinary. For a seat in the boxes you pay five shillings, in the pit three, in the first gallery two, and in the second or upper gallery, one shilling. And it is the tenants in this upper gallery who, for their shilling, make all that noise and uproar for which the English play-houses are so famous. I was in the pit, which gradually rises, amphitheatre-wise, from the orchestra, and is furnished with benches, one above another, from the top to the bottom. Often and often, whilst I sat there, did a rotten orange, or pieces of the peel of an orange, fly past me, or past some of my neighbours, and once one of them actually hit my hat, without my daring to look round, for fear another might then hit me on my face.

All over London as one walks, one everywhere, in the season, sees oranges to sell; and they are in general sold tolerably cheap, one and even sometimes two for a halfpenny; or, in our money, threepence. At the play-house, however, they charged me sixpence for one orange, and that noways remarkably good.

Besides this perpetual pelting from the gallery, which renders an English play-house so uncomfortable, there is no end to their calling out and knocking with their sticks till the curtain is drawn up. I saw a miller’s, or a baker’s boy, thus, like a huge booby, leaning over the rails and knocking again and again on the outside, with all his might, so that he was seen by everybody, without being in the least ashamed or abashed. I sometimes heard, too, the people in the lower or middle gallery quarrelling with those of the upper one. Behind me, in the pit, sat a young fop, who, in order to display his costly stone buckles with the utmost brilliancy, continually put his foot on my bench, and even sometimes upon my coat, which I could avoid only by sparing him as much space from my portion of the seat as would make him a footstool. In the boxes, quite in a corner, sat several servants, who were said to be placed there to keep the seats for the families they served till they should arrive; they seemed to sit remarkably close and still, the reason of which, I was told, was their apprehension of being pelted; for if one of them dares but to look out of the box, he is immediately saluted with a shower of orange peel from the gallery.

In Foote’s “Nabob” there are sundry local and personal satires which are entirely lost to a foreigner. The character of the Nabob was performed by a Mr. Palmer. The jett of the character is, this Nabob, with many affected airs and constant aims at gentility, is still but a silly fellow, unexpectedly come into the possession of immense riches, and therefore, of course, paid much court to by a society of natural philosophers, Quakers, and I do not know who besides. Being tempted to become one of their members, he is elected, and in order to ridicule these would-be philosophers, but real knaves, a fine flowery fustian speech is put into his mouth, which he delivers with prodigious pomp and importance, and is listened to by the philosophers with infinite complacency. The two scenes of the Quakers and philosophers, who, with countenances full of imaginary importance, were seated at a green table with their president at their head while the secretary, with the utmost care, was making an inventory of the ridiculous presents of the Nabob, were truly laughable. One of the last scenes was best received: it is that in which the Nabob’s friend and school-fellow visit him, and address him without ceremony by his Christian name; but to all their questions of “Whether he does not recollect them? Whether he does not remember such and such a play; or such and such a scrape into which they had fallen in their youth?” he uniformly answers with a look of ineffable contempt, only, “No sir!” Nothing can possibly be more ludicrous, nor more comic.

The entertainment, “The Agreeable Surprise,” is really a very diverting farce. I observed that, in England also, they represent school-masters in ridiculous characters on the stage, which, though I am sorry for, I own I do not wonder at, as the pedantry of school-masters in England, they tell me, is carried at least as far as it is elsewhere. The same person who, in the play, performed the school-fellow of the Nabob with a great deal of nature and original humour, here acted the part of the school-master: his name is Edwin, and he is, without doubt, one of the best actors of all that I have seen.

This school-master is in love with a certain country girl, whose name is Cowslip, to whom he makes a declaration of his passion in a strange mythological, grammatical style and manner, and to whom, among other fooleries, he sings, quite enraptured, the following air, and seems to work himself at least up to such a transport of passion as quite overpowers him. He begins, you will observe, with the conjugation, and ends with the declensions and the genders; the whole is inimitably droll:

Amo, amas,
I love a lass,
She is so sweet and tender,
It is sweet Cowslip’s Grace
In the Nominative Case.
And in the feminine Gender.

Those two sentences in particular, “in the Nominative Case,” and “in the feminine Gender,” he affects to sing in a particularly languishing air, as if confident that it was irresistible. This Edwin, in all his comic characters, still preserves something so inexpressibly good-tempered in his countenance, that notwithstanding all his burlesques and even grotesque buffoonery, you cannot but be pleased with him. I own, I felt myself doubly interested for every character which he represented. Nothing could equal the tone and countenance of self-satisfaction with which he answered one who asked him whether he was a scholar? “Why, I was a master of scholars.” A Mrs. Webb represented a cheesemonger, and played the part of a woman of the lower class so naturally as I have nowhere else ever seen equalled. Her huge, fat, and lusty carcase, and the whole of her external appearance seemed quite to be cut out for it.

Poor Edwin was obliged, as school-master, to sing himself almost hoarse, as he sometimes was called on to repeat his declension and conjugation songs two or three times, only because it pleased the upper gallery, or “the gods,” as the English call them, to roar out “encore.” Add to all this, he was farther forced to thank them with a low bow for the great honour done him by their applause.

One of the highest comic touches in the piece seemed to me to consist in a lie, which always became more and more enormous in the mouths of those who told it again, during the whole of the piece. This kept the audience in almost a continual fit of laughter. This farce is not yet printed, or I really think I should be tempted to venture to make a translation, or rather an imitation of it.

“The English Merchant, or the Scotchwoman,” I have seen much better performed abroad than it was here. Mr. Fleck, at Hamburg, in particular, played the part of the English merchant with more interest, truth, and propriety than one Aickin did here. He seemed to me to fail totally in expressing the peculiar and original character of Freeport; instead of which, by his measured step and deliberate, affected manner of speaking, he converted him into a mere fine gentleman.

The trusty old servant who wishes to give up his life for his master he, too, had the stately walk, or strut, of a minister. The character of the newspaper writer was performed by the same Mr. Palmer who acted the part of the Nabob, but every one said, what I thought, that he made him far too much of a gentleman. His person, and his dress also, were too handsome for the character.

The character of Amelia was performed by an actress, who made her first appearance on the stage, and from a timidity natural on such an occasion, and not unbecoming, spoke rather low, so that she could not everywhere be heard; “Speak louder! speak louder!” cried out some rude fellow from the upper-gallery, and she immediately, with infinite condescension, did all she could, and not unsuccessfully, to please even an upper gallery critic.

The persons near me, in the pit, were often extravagantly lavish of their applause. They sometimes clapped a single solitary sentiment, that was almost as unmeaning as it was short, if it happened to be pronounced only with some little emphasis, or to contain some little point, some popular doctrine, a singularly pathetic stroke, or turn of wit.

“The Agreeable Surprise” was repeated, and I saw it a second time with unabated pleasure. It is become a favourite piece, and always announced with the addition of the favourite musical farce. The theatre appeared to me somewhat larger than the one at Hamburg, and the house was both times very full. Thus much for English plays, play-houses, and players.

Comments: Karl Philipp Moritz (1756-1793) was a German essayist and literary critic. He visited England over June/July 1782, publishing an account of his travels as Reisen eines Deutschen in England im Jahre 1782 in 1783, which was published in English as Travels, chiefly on Foot, through several parts of England in 1782, described in Letters to a Friend (1795). The above comes from this translation, though improved translations have been published subsequently. He first visited the Haymarket on 4 June 1782, where he saw Samuel Foote‘s comedy The Nabob and Samuel Arnold and John O’Keefe‘s comic opera afterpiece The Agreeable Surprise. He returned on 15 June 1782 to see George Colman the Elder‘s The Englishman Merchant, followed by a repeat performance of The Agreeable Surprise. The performers described include John Palmer, John Edwin and (presumably) James Aickin.

Links: Copy at Project Gutenberg