United Kingdom

Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain

Astley’s Amphitheatre, via V&A

Source: A French Traveller [Louis Simond], Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain, during the years 1810 and 1811: with remarks on the country, its arts, literature, and politics, and on the manners and customs of its inhabitants (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1815), p. 155

Text: May 9 [1811] … Astley’s is an equestrian spectacle. I supposed that a thing of that sort would be particularly good in England, which is a sort of island of the Houyhnhnms. I found, however, that the horses were but indifferently trained, and the men performed only common feats; and, instead of equitation, we had dramatic pieces and Harlequin tricks, — battles and assaults, — Moors and Saracens. The horses performed as actors, just as at Covent Garden; they galloped over the pit, and mounted the boards of the stage covered with earth, storming walls and ramparts. The interval between the exhibitions being very long, a parcel of dirty boys (amateurs), in rags, performed awkward tricks of tumbling, raising a cloud of dust, and showing their nakedness to the applauding audience; the vociferations from the gallery were perfectly deafening, and the hoarse vulgar voice of the clown eagerly re-echoed by them. Looking round the room, meanwhile, I saw the boxes filled with decent people, — grave and demure citizens, with their wives and children, who seemed to take pleasure in all this. It is really impossible not to form an unfavourable opinion of the taste of the English public, when we find them in general so excessively low and vulgar in the choice of their amusements.

Comments: Louis Simond (1767-1831) was a French travel writer. He journeyed through Britain over 1810-11, writing his published account in English. 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 Houyhnhnms are a race of intelligent horses in Jonathan Swift’s satire Gulliver’s Travels.

Links:

‘Neath the Mask

Source: Eric Lugg, quoted in John M. East, ‘Neath the Mask: The Story of the East Family (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1967), p. 140

Text: The whole atmosphere of playgoing at the Lyric was an exciting thing. It was something I shall never forget, and an experience I have never recaptured in any other theatre. Before the curtain rose everybody shouted greetings to each other like “’Ello, Liz!” and then a “Watcher ‘Arry” would come back. There was an incomparable, yet pleasant odour about the place, a mixture of human bodies, orange-peel and tobacco-smoke, and generally a tremendous air of expectancy. Then the band would come into the pit, and begin to tune up, and finally the curtain would rise. And what stage pictures they were! What vitality! What red-blooded magnificent acting! And the incidental music, that was exciting too. “Deberterdom, deberterdom, deberterdom” accompanied the sort of “Will he get there in time?” scene, and the violins would “Der, der, der, der, der, der, der, de, la la la la la la la” we the poor mite was begging for pennies in the snow. Yes, all this added up to a wonderful might in the theatre.

Comments: Eric Lugg (1890-1979) was a British stage and film actor. He is recalling his impressions of the company of John M. East at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, London (then known as the New Lyric Opera House), in the early 1900s. Lugg’s father and uncle had acted for East, a celebrated actor-producer of stage melodramas, also a silent film actor, whose grandson, the actor and broadcaster John M. East, wrote his biography.

Pepys’ Diary

Engraving of Nell Gwyn as Cupid, c.1672, a copy of which was owned by Samuel Pepys, via Wikipedia

Source: Diary of Samuel Pepys, 2 March 1667

Production: John Dryden, Secret Love; or, The Maiden Queen, King’s House, London, 2 March 1667

Text: After dinner, with my wife, to the King’s house to see “The Mayden Queene,” a new play of Dryden’s, mightily commended for the regularity of it, and the strain and wit; and, the truth is, there is a comical part done by Nell, which is Florimell, that I never can hope ever to see the like done again, by man or woman. The King and Duke of York were at the play. But so great performance of a comical part was never, I believe, in the world before as Nell do this, both as a mad girle, then most and best of all when she comes in like a young gallant; and hath the notions and carriage of a spark the most that ever I saw any man have. It makes me, I confess, admire her.

Comments: Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was a British naval administrator and diarist. John Dryden‘s tragicomedy Secret Love; or, The Maiden Queen was a particular favourite; he records seeing the play eight times in the diary. A large part of the attraction was undoubtedly due to Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwyn (1650-1687), the most celebrated actor of her time, and mistress to King Charles II. Pepys first saw her on 3 April 1665 in Roger Boyle‘s Mustapha, where he refers to her as “pretty witty Nell”. The performance of The Maiden Queen that he records he was the play’s debut, performed by the King’s Company at what would become the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. It was probably her most successful and celebrated role.

Links: https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1667/03/02/

At Home and Abroad

Rachel as Racine’s Phèdre, via Wikipedia

Source: Margaret Fuller Ossoli (ed. Arthur B. Fuller), At Home and Abroad; or, Things and Thoughts in America and Europe (New York: The Tribune Association, 1869 [orig. pub. 1956]), pp. 188-190

Productions: J.W. Marston, The Patrician’s Daughter, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, 1848, and Jean Racine, Phèdre, Théâtre-Français, Paris, 1848

Text: To turn to something a little gayer, – the embroidery on this tattered coat of civilized life, – I went into only two theatres; one the Old Drury, once the scene of great glories, now of execrable music and more execrable acting. If anything can be invented more excruciating than an English opera, such as was the fashion at the time I was in London, I am sure no sin of mine deserves the punishment of bearing it.

At the Sadler’s Wells theatre I saw a play which I had much admired in reading it, but found still better in actual representation; indeed, it seems to me there can be no better acting play: this is “The Patrician’s Daughter,” by J.W. Marston. The movement is rapid, yet clear and free; the dialogue natural, dignified, and flowing; the characters marked with few, but distinct strokes. Where the tone of discourse rises with manly sentiment or passion, the audience applauded with bursts of generous feeling that gave me great pleasure, for this play is one that, in its scope and meaning, marks the new era in England; it is full of an experience which is inevitable to a man of talent there, and is harbinger of the day when the noblest commoner shall be the only noble possible in England.

But how different all this acting to what I find in France! Here the theatre is living; you see something really good, and good throughout. Not one touch of that stage strut and vulgar bombast of tone, which the English actor fancies indispensable to scenic illusion, is tolerated here. For the first time in my life I saw something represented in a style uniformly good, and should have found sufficient proof, if I had needed any, that all men will prefer what is good to what is bad, if only a fair opportunity for choice be allowed. When I came here, my first thought was to go and see Mademoiselle Rachel. I was sure that in her I should find a true genius, absolutely the diamond, and so it proved. I went to see her seven or eight times, always in parts that required great force of soul and purity of taste even to conceive them, and only once had reason to find fault with her. On one single occasion I saw her violate the harmony of the character to produce effect at a particular moment; but almost invariably I found her a true artist, worthy Greece, and worthy at many moments to have her conceptions immortalized in marble.

Her range even in high tragedy is limited. She can only express the darker passions, and grief in its most desolate aspects. Nature has not gifted her with those softer and more flowery attributes that lend to pathos its utmost tenderness. She does not melt to tears, or calm or elevate the heart by the presence of that tragic beauty that needs all the assaults of Fate to make it show its immortal sweetness. Her noblest aspect is when sometimes she expresses truth in some severe shape, and rises, simple and austere, above the mixed elements around her. On the dark side, she is very great in hatred and revenge. I admired her more in Phèdre than in any other part in which I saw her. The guilty love inspired by the hatred of a goddess was expressed in all its symptoms with a force and terrible naturalness that almost suffocated the beholder. After she had taken the poison, the exhaustion and paralysis of the system, the sad, cold, calm submission to Fate, were still more grand.

I had heard so much about the power of her eye in one fixed look, and the expression she could concentrate in a single word, that the utmost results could only satisfy my expectations. It is, indeed, something magnificent to see the dark cloud live out such sparks, each one fit to deal a separate death; but it was not that I admired most in her: it was the grandeur, truth, and depth of her conception of each part, and the sustained purity with which she represented it.

For the rest, I shall write somewhere a detailed critique upon the parts in which I saw her. It is she who has made me acquainted with the true way of viewing French tragedy. I had no idea of its powers and symmetry till now, and have received from the revelation high pleasure and a crowd of thoughts.

The French language from her lips is a divine dialect; it is stripped of its national and personal peculiarities, and becomes what any language must, moulded by such a genius, – the pure music of the heart and soul. I never could remember her tone in speaking any word; it was too perfect; you had received the thought quite direct. Yet, had I never heard her speak a word, my mind would be filled by her attitudes. Nothing more graceful can be conceived, nor could the genius of sculpture surpass her management of the antique drapery.

She has no beauty except in the intellectual severity of her outline, and bears marks of age which will grow stronger every year, and make her ugly before long. Still it will be a grandiose, gypsy, or rather Sibylline ugliness, well adapted to the expression of some tragic parts. Only it seems as if she could not live long; she expends force enough upon a part to furnish out a dozen common lives.

Though the French tragedy is well acted throughout, yet unhappily there is no male actor now with a spark of fire, and these men seem the meanest pigmies by the side of Rachel; — so on the scene, beside the tragedy intended by the author, you see also that common tragedy, a woman of genius who throws away her precious heart, lives and dies for one unworthy of her. In parts this effect is productive of too much pain. I saw Rachel one night with her brother and sister. The sister imitated her so closely that you could not help seeing she had a manner, and an imitable manner. Her brother was in the play her lover, —a wretched automaton, and presenting the most unhappy family likeness to herself. Since then I have hardly cared to go and see her. We could wish with geniuses, as with the Phoenix, to see only one of the family at a time.

Comments: Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli (1810-1850), commonly known as Margaret Fuller, was an American feminist and journalist, author of Woman in the Nineteenth Century. She travelled to Europe in 1846 for the New York Tribune, meeting in Italy her partner, the revolutionary Giovanni Angelo Ossoli. John Westland Marston was a British poet and dramatist. Rachel (Elisa Félix) (1820-1858) was one of the great stars of the Comédie-Française, known especially for her performances in classical roles, including Racine‘s Phèdre. her sister Lia Félix was an actress and presumably the sister referred to here. Her brother was Raphael Félix.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Jack Drum’s Entertainment

Source: John Marston, Jack Drum’s Entertainment (The Tudor Facsimile Texts, 1912 [orig. pub. 1600])

Text:
SIR EDWARD FORTUNE:… Now by my troth and I had thought ont too,
I would haue had a play; Ifaith I would.
I saw the Children of Powles last night,
And troth they pleasde mee prettie, prettie well.
The Apes in time will do it handsomely.
PLANET. Ifaith, I like the Audience that frequenteth there
With much applause: A man shall not be choakte
With the stench of Garlicke; nor be pasted
To the barmy Iacket of a Beer-brewer.
BRABANT IUNIOR. Tis a good, gentle Audience, and I hope the Boyes
Will come one day into the Court of requests.
BRABANT SIGNIOR: I and they had good Playes, but they produce
Such mustie fopperies of antiquitie,
And do not sute the humourous ages backs
With cloathes in Fashion.

Comments: John Marston (1576-1634) was an English playwright and poet. His romantic comedy Jack Drum’s Entertainment was written c.1599-1600 and entered in the Stationer’s Register on 8 September 1600. It was first performed by the boy actors’ troupe Children of Paul’s (i.e. St Paul’s Cathedral), the subject of this passage from Act V of the play. Marston wrote regularly for the Children of Paul’s.

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive

An East End Music-Hall

Source: Robert Machray, The Night Side of London (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1902), pp. 112-124

Text: AN EAST END MUSIC-HALL

Let youth, more decent in their follies, scoff
The nauseous scene, and hiss thee reeling off.”

Steele, The Tatler, No. 266.

The music-hall must be considered a chief feature of the Night Side of London; it is certainly one of the most popular, whether in the West End or the East. Its leading comedian, Mr. Dan Leno, has been honoured by a “command” of the King. It is a far cry, however, from the humour and whimsicalities of “good old Dan” to the comicalities of the typical East End music-hall star. But it matters not whether the hall is within a stone’s throw of Piccadilly or outside the radius, it is ever a popular institution. One of the sights of the town is the long queue of people standing outside the Alhambra, the Empire, the Palace, the Tivoli, the “Pav.,” the Oxford, and other halls, until the
doors leading to pit and gallery are thrown open. The queue often has to wait for a considerable time, sometimes in the pouring rain, but it does so with wonderful patience and good-humour — the wait being frequently enlivened by the strains of the n[—–] minstrel, or some other open-air entertainer. To-night you shall go to the Palace of Varieties at Greenwich. Last night you were at Deptford, and now you travel half a mile or more further south-eastward. Perhaps you begin this particular evening with a fish-dinner at the famous Ship, just opposite Greenwich Hospital, and though the Ship is not quite the fashionable resort it once was, you may do a great deal worse than dine there.

You make your way to the Palace of Varieties, Greenwich. You are. perhaps, a trifle late, and on inquiry you find the only seats left are “fauteuils,” price one-and-six. For a thorough appreciation of the humours of the scene you should have come earlier and got a place in the gallery, price threepence. But you have no option, so you plunge recklessly, and bang goes one-and-sixpence. The fauteuils prove to be seats in the front row, and those vacant when you arrive are immediately behind the conductor of the orchestra. Well, you are a bit too near the music, but there is some compensation, for you are able to see how the conductor conducts and at the same time adds to the quality and tone of his band. With his left hand, you observe, he plays a piano what time he manipulates a harmonium with his right. And all the while he seems to be able to exchange confidences with the first violin, who, you cannot fail to perceive, is a wag. You do not take this in all at once, for your eyes at first are fastened on the stage, where two comely females are engaged in a vigorous encounter of words, which you surmise may lead eventually to something very like blows — as it does. You pick up the subject or the object, which you please, of the duel of tongues between the two ladies, one of whom is dressed like a superior shop-assistant, while the other might be a factory-girl. They both lay claim to the affections of a certain “Charlie,” and in the wordy warfare that ensues they do not spare each other. “Do you know,” asks the superior shop-assistant in a shrill voice, “that I have blue blood in my veins?” “What I do know,” retorts the other, with great deliberation, “is that you’ll soon have red blood on your nose!” Whereat the house, hugely tickled, roars delightedly. “Do you know,” cries the first, “that my father occupies an important, a very important, position in the town?” “As a mud-pusher, I suppose!” And again the audience screams its appreciation; indeed, the audience does this on the slightest provocation during this particular “turn.” Finally, the end you have foreseen comes. A little fisticuff battle concludes the action — without any damage to either of the scrappers, who suddenly stop, shake hands, and stand bowing and smiling before the footlights. The curtain descends, and the band plays a loud and lively air, the cornet, in particular, adding several horse-power to its volume and momentum, so to speak.

Next appears upon the stage a young lady, rouged, powdered, decolletée, short-frocked; she is a mimic, and, as you soon perceive, a clever one. She gives personations of some well-known popular music-hall favourites. Thus, she imitates Eugene Stratton in his “Lily of Laguna,” and Happy Fanny Fields in a American-German song. In the latter character she says to the audience, “Why don’t you applaud me more? Don’t you know that the more you applaud me the more money I make?” And don’t they applaud! The place fairly rocks with laughter and hoarse shouts. To this young lady succeeds the Artist Lightning Sketcher — he is also a ventriloquist. He provides himself with the figures ventriloquists usually introduce into their pieces by a very simple device. He draws them on a large sheet of paper with chalks of red, black, and green, while you look on. Next he makes you a picture of St. Peter’s at Rome on a big smoked plate — and all in a minute or two. Then he does something even more ambitious — it is his great lightning picture, called “The Home of the Sea Gull.” There is a large white sheet of paper on a board; he takes various chalks — vermilion, blue, green, black, orange — and hey! presto, there are blue sky, green water, black rocks, white gulls, and a black steamer (a Newcastle boat, evidently) belching forth black smoke, to say nothing of a black man in a black boat! And all in a moment. No wonder the audience shouts its approval. This spurs the lightning artist to a Still More Amazing Feat. Stepping forward with a profound bow, he announces that he will, in a couple of moments, without rubbing out a single mark on “The Home of the Sea Gull,” convert that masterpiece into another, and very different, picture, entitled ” A Summer Evening Walk in the Country.” And he does it! Wonderful man! Again flash the chalks of vermilion, blue, green black, orange. The blue sk ynow gorgeous with the splendours of a dying sunset; the green water becomes green earth; the black rocks are transformed into black trees; the black steamboat, and the black man, and the black boat, are replaced by black trees with black foliage; and the white gulls roost under cover of the black leaves also. Finally, a touch or two, and there is a pair of lovers in the foreground. “I calls that fine,” says a deep voice behind you; “‘e’s clever, ‘e is!” Every one thinks the same, for the lightning artist is awarded thunderous applause, as is only right in the circumstances. And yet there may be some who say that Art is not appreciated in this country!

Now there trips upon the platform another young lady. First she sings a song about a young angel from the Angel (at Isling-t-u-n) who had four little angels at ‘ome, although the gay young spark who was courting her appeared to be unaware of this extremely interesting fact.
Somehow, the fact does not interest the audience, and the song is received with the sort of silence that is audible half a mile awav. “Ain’t no good,” says the deep voice in the rear: “she’ll ‘ave to go!” Poor girl! But her second turn is a dance, and this is received with considerable favour, so perhaps she will be kept on after all. To fail at even an East End hall must be a terrible business for an artiste; it means, if it means anything, the streets, starvation, death. While your mind may, perhaps, run on in this melancholy fashion a lion comique puts in an appearance, and your thoughts are whirled away. The lion comique is nothing if not immensely patriotic. In an enormous voice he shouts that King Edward is “one of the best” of kings; is a second verse he yells that Lord Charles Beresford is “one of the best” in the navy; in a third that General Buller is “one of the best” in the army — all of which statements are uproariously welcomed. This patriotic ditty is followed by a sentimental song, “When the Children are All in Bed,” and it is keenly appreciated. The audience, led by the first violin, who plays and, at the same time, sings the air with all the strength of his lungs, takes up the chorus with might and main. For your East Ender loves a sentimental song nearly as much as he loves his beer.

And now there comes the chief turn on the programme — it is a Sketch, by the Lynn family — Brother Lynn, so to speak, and two Sisters Lynn, though the family resemblance between them all is remarkably faint. The two ladies prove to be the same who appeared in the Abusive Duet of which “Charlie” was the subject a little while back. Mr., or Brother, Lynn, is new to you. The superior shop-assistant is now “Mrs. Guzzle,” and the factory-girl is her servant, “Sloppy.” Brother Lynn is “Mr. Guzzle,” Mr. Peter Guzzle. These are the dramatis personae. When the curtain goes up Mrs. Guzzle is bewailing to Sloppy the sad fact that her Peter no longer comes home early o’ nights, and that when he does come he is invariably the worse, much the worse, for “booze.” They take counsel together as to what is to be done to win Guzzle from his evil ways, and they hit on a great idea. This is nothing less than to lie in wait for Peter this very evening as ever was, get him to bed, and then pretend when he wakes up that he is dead — as dead as a red herring, or anything else that is most emphatically dead. Peter arrives upon the scene very drunk — he explains that he has been presiding at a teetotal meeting, and that it has gone slightly to his head. He is got off to bed, but in a surprisingly short time he reappears attired in his nightshirt, which is a commodious garment, whereunto is attached an enormous frill. He announces that he is come in search of the “water-bottle,” a statement which the audience receives with a yell of derision. And now enter Sloppy, who with tears (perhaps they keep her from seeing her master) laments the death of “poo’ mahster,” but is inclined to rejoice that her missus is rid of such a scamp. “It won’t be long before she marries agin. There was that ‘andsome feller that admired her sech a lot – o’ course, they’ll make a match of it!” And so on. Guzzle listens in amazement, exclaiming that he is not dead, but Sloppy makes as if Guzzle did not exist. So much so that Mr. Guzzle begins to think there must be some truth in what she says — he is dead, and he howls out the question, “Where am I — in Heaven, or in the Other Place?” (Great laughter.)

The action is advanced another stage by the arrival of the undertaker to measure Guzzle for his coffin. The undertaker, you see without any wonder whatever, is no other than Mrs. Guzzle. Assisted by Sloppy, they lay out Mr. Guzzle on a sofa — Guzzle keeps on protesting he is
not dead, hut that makes no difference — and measure him. “He’s the sort o’ size,” says the pretty undertaker, otherwise the superior shop-assistant, otherwise Mrs. Guzzle, with husiness-like grasp of the situation and of Peter, “that we keep in stock. I’ll send the coffin round at once. He’ll look pretty well laid out.” (Peter groans.) But, hold, something has been forgotten. Peter died suddenly, it seems, and the circumstances are a little suspicious. It is necessary, therefore, that there shall be an inquest by the coroner — Peter will have to be “opened up.” (Loud and long-contiimed shrieks from Peter: “Cut up! Opened up! I won’t be cut up! I won’t be opened up! I’m not dead! O! what a bad dream! What an awful nightmare!”) Then Sloppy and the undertaker talk about the “dear departed.” Sloppy tells him that her master was a good ‘usband to missus until he took to bettin’ and drinkin’. Well, Guzzle was dead now (“I must be dead!” cries Guzzle, with sudden conviction), and missus would soon console herself — ” A ‘andsome woman like ‘er won’t have to wear the willer long.” (Peter groans dismally.) Exit undertaker, promising to send the coffin at once.

Meanwhile there is a noise outside, and Sloppy remarks that must be the coroner come to hold the inquest, and he must be sharpening up his instruments to “open up mahster.” (Peter shrieks, howls, kicks, tears his hair — the audience shouting with inextinguishable laughter the
while.) But the coroner never comes upon the stage; instead of him enter the Devil to take Peter off to the Other Place. (The Devil, you will notice, has on this occasion a trim female figure — in fact, that of Mrs. Guzzle.) The Devil is too much for Peter, and he (Peter) goes off into a fit. When he comes out of it, his wife and Sloppy are by his side. He tells them he’s had a frightful nightmare, but that, thank goodness, it was nothing else. “Do you know,” he says confidingly, “I dreamt I was dead, and that the undertaker came to measure me for my coffin, and that there was to be an inquest, and that I was to be opened up, and that the Devil — but it was all a bad dream! Well, my dear, it’s taught me a lesson. I’ll never bet or go to the Pig and Whistle again.” Brother Lynn and the two Sisters Lynn now join hands, while the crowd rocks and reels with tumultuous cheers, hand-clappings, and cat-calls. The Lynn Family, or Guzzle Family, as you like it, has scored a huge and gorgeous success!

To them succeed acrobats, who appear to think that jumping in and out of barrels, blindfolded, is quite a usual way of “getting around,” — but by this time you have seen enough. You abandon your fauteuil, get out of the smoke-laden, beer-stained atmosphere, and pass out into the street.

Comments: Robert Machray (1857-1946) and illustrator Tom Browne (1870-1910) wrote The Night Side of London, a observant and vividly illustrated account of all kinds of entertainment in Edwardian London, from which this chapter on the music hall comes. The illustrations are those that feature in the text. Machray was a journalist and a crime novelist; Browne was a prolific comic artist. The Parthenon Theatre of Varieties at Greenwich was renamed the Hippodrome and continues today as the Greenwich Theatre. The text has had one word removed which could cause offence.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Memoirs of John Quincy Adams

‘Edmund Kean as Richard III in “Richard III”‘.engraving, University of Illinois Digital Collections, https://digital.library.illinois.edu/items/85885f10-4e7d-0134-1db1-0050569601ca-9

Source: Charles Francis Adams (ed.), Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, comprising portions of his diary from 1795 to 1848 (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1874-77), vol. 3, pp. 466-467

Production: William Shakespeare (adapted by Colley Cibber), Richard III and Harlequin Horner, or, The Christmas pie, Drury Lane Theatre, London, 3 February 1817

Text: February 3rd [1817] … We went to Drury Lane, and saw “Richard the Third,” with the pantomime of “Harlequin Horner,” with a clown issuing from the Christmas pie. Kean performed Richard. The play is not exactly Shakspeare’s. Colley Cibber brought it out improved and amended, and John Kemble has improved upon it again. More than half the original tragedy, including many of the finest scenes, is discarded. Two or three scenes from the third part of Henry the Sixth are transferred to this play. There are modern additions, not well adapted to Shakspeare’s [sic] style, and his language itself is often altered, and seldom for the better. As it is, however, it has constantly been from Cibber’s time one of the standing favorites of the public on the English stage, and the character of Richard is one of the trying tests of their greatest tragic actors. I never saw it performed but once before, and that was at Boston in 1794. It is by many of Kean’s admirers considered as his greatest part; but his performance this night in some degree disappointed me. There is too much of rant in his violence, and not smoothness enough in his hypocrisy. He has a uniform fashion of traversing the stage from one side to the other when he has said a good thing, and then looks as if he was walking for a wager. At other times, he runs off from the stage with the gait of a running footman. In the passages of high passion he loses all distinct articulation and it is impossible to understand what he says. But he has much very good subsidiary pantomime, which is perhaps the first talent of a first-rate actor. He has a most keen and piercing eye, a great command and expression of countenance, and some transitions of voice of very striking effect. All the other male performers were indifferent, and the women below mediocrity. The two children (girls) were very good. The house was crowded, and the applause of Kean incessant during the tragedy. The fight between Richard and Richmond was skilful and vigorous. Kean always contrives to make a claptrap of his dying scenes. The clapping at his death continued five minutes long. The Duke and Duchess and Princess Sophia of Gloucester were present, and received with great applause. At their entrance, “God save the King” was performed by the orchestra, and sung by part of the players, the audience all standing.

Comments: John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) was the sixth President of the United States (1825-1829). In 1817, at the time of this diary entry, he was the US ambassador to Britain, before becoming Secretary of State to James Monroe. Edmund Kean (1787-1833) played Gloucester in a version of Shakespeare’s Richard III heavily rewritten by Colley Cibber. Harlequin Horner; or, Christmas Pie was a popular pantomime piece, first produced at Drury Lane in 1816.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Pepys’ Diary

Source: Diary of Samuel Pepys, 27 February 1668

Production: Thomas Dekker and Philip Massinger, The Virgin-Martyr, King’s House, London, 27 February 1668

Text: All the morning at the office, and at noon home to dinner, and thence with my wife and Deb. to the King’s House, to see “The Virgin Martyr,” the first time it hath been acted a great while: and it is mighty pleasant; not that the play is worth much, but it is finely acted by Becke Marshall. But that which did please me beyond any thing in, the whole world was the wind-musique when the angel comes down, which is so sweet that it ravished me, and indeed, in a word, did wrap up my soul so that it made me really sick, just as I have formerly been when in love with my wife; that neither then, nor all the evening going home, and at home, I was able to think of any thing, but remained all night transported, so as I could not believe that ever any musick hath that real command over the soul of a man as this did upon me: and makes me resolve to practice wind-musique, and to make my wife do the like.

Comments: Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was a British naval administrator and diarist. The Virgin-Martyr, set during the period of the Roman emperor Diocletian, is a tragedy co-written by Thomas Dekker and Philip Massinger, published in 1622. Pepys first saw the play on 16 February 1661 (“a good but too sober a play for the company”), then three times in 1668, above, on 2 March 1668 and 6 May 1668, in each case because of his love of the music. Rebecca (Becke) Marshall (dates not known) was one of the leading actresses of the Restoration period, mentioned several times by Pepys alongside her actress sister Anne Marshall.

Links: https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1668/02/27

Journey Through England and Scotland

The Beargarden and the Rose Theatre, from Norden’s Map of London, 1593, via Wikipedia

Source: Lupold von Wedel, extract from travel account given in Lawrence Manley (ed.), London in the Age of Shakespeare: An Anthology ((university Park/London: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986), p. 34, originally published in English as G. von Bülow (trans.), ‘Journey Through England and Scotland Made by Lupold von Wedel in the Years 1584 and 1585’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (London 1895)

Text: … The Thames is crossed by a bridge, leading to another town on the other side of the water called Sedorck [i.e. Southwark]. This bridge is built of stone, 470 paces long, but its upper part has not the appearance of a bridge, being entirely set ine houses filled with all kinds of wares, very nice to look at. …

On the 23rd we went across the bridge to the above-mentioned town. There is a round building three storeys high, in which are kept about a hundred large English dogs, with separate wooden kennels for each of them. These dogs were made to fight singly with three bears, the second bear being larger than the first, and the third larger than the second. After this a horse was brought in and chased by the dogs, and at last a bull, who defended himself bravely. The next was, that a number of men and women came forward from a separate compartment, dancing, conversing, and fighting with each other; also a man who threw some white bread among the crowd, that scrambled for it. Right over the middle of the place a rose was fixed, this rose being set on fire by a rocket: suddenly lots of apples and pears fell out of it down upon the people standing below. Whilst the people were scrambling for the apples, some rockets were made to fall down upon them out of the rose, which caused a great fright but amused the spectators. After this, rockets and other fireworks came flying out of all corners, and that was the end of the play. …

Comments: Lupold von Wedel (1554-1615?) was a German mercenary and travel writer. He travelled widely, visiting England and Scotland between August 1584 to May 1585. Wedel presumably visited the Beargarden, a theatre-like round structure on Bankside. The entertainment following the baiting starts as a dance of some kind, but thereafter becomes strange.

On Actors and the Art of Acting

Playbill from The Theatrical Observer, 16 November 1832

Source: George Henry Lewes, On Actors and the Art of Acting (Leipzig: B. Tauchnitz, 1875), pp. 16-17

Production: William Shakespeare, Othello, Drury Lane Theatre, London, November 1832

Text: Kean’s range of expression, as already hinted, was very limited. His physical aptitudes were such as confined him to the strictly tragic passions and for these he was magnificently endowed. Small and insignificant in figure, he could; at times become impressively commanding by the lion-like power and grace of his bearing. I remember, the last time I saw him play Othello, how puny he appeared beside Macready, until in the third act, when roused by Iago’s taunts and insinuations, he moved towards him with a gouty hobble, seized him by the throat, and, in a well-known explosion, “Villain! be sure you prove,” &c., seemed to swell into a stature which made Macready appear small. On that very evening, when gout made it difficult for him to display his accustomed grace, when a drunken hoarseness had ruined the once matchless voice, such was the irresistible pathos—manly, not tearful—which vibrated in his tones and expressed itself in look and gestures, that old men leaned their heads upon their arms and fairly sobbed. It was, one must confess, a patchy performance considered as a whole; some parts were miserably tricky, others misconceived, others gabbled over in haste to reach the “points”; but it was irradiated with such flashes that I would again risk broken ribs for the chance of a good place in the pit to see anything like it.

Comments: George Henry Lewes (1817-1878) was an English literary critic and philosopher, best-known now as the partner of the author George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans). The ailing Edmund Kean, reaching the end of his career and his life, and William Macready disliked one another. Kean had previously avoided acting opposite his younger rival. Macready complained at how Kean upstaged him by taking up unfair positions on the stage. Kean died just a few months later, on 15 May 1833.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust