Afterpieces

Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain

Sir Thomas Lawrence, ‘John Philip Kembel as Hamlet’ (1802), via Wikimedia Commons

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), pp. 121-125

Production: William Shakespeare, Hamlet and George Colman the Younger, The Grand Dramatic Romance Bluebeard, or Female Curiosity, Covent Garden Theatre, London, 21 April 1811

Text: April 21. — Hamlet was acted yesterday at Covent-Garden, and Kemble, the reigning prince of the English stage, filled the principal part. He understands his art thoroughly, but wants spirit and nature. His manner is precise and artificial; his voice monotonous and wooden; his features are too large, even for the stage. Munden in the part of Polonius, and Fawcett in the grave-digger, played charmingly. It is enough to mention the grave-diggers, to awaken in France the cry of rude and barbarous taste; and, were I to say how the part is acted, it might be still worse. After beginning their labour, and breaking ground for a grave, a conversation begins between the two grave-diggers. The chief one takes off his coat, folds it carefully, and puts it by in a safe corner; then, taking up his pick-axe, spits in his hand,— gives a stroke or two,— talks,— stops,— strips off his waistcoat, still talking, — folds it with great deliberation and nicety, and puts it with the coat, then an under-waistcoat, still talking, — another and another. I counted seven or eight, each folded and unfolded very leisurely, in a manner always different, and with gestures faithfully copied from nature. The British public enjoys this scene excessively, and the pantomimic variations a good actor knows how to introduce in it, are sure to be vehemently applauded. The French admit of no such relaxation in the dignité tragique.

L’éroite bienseance y veut être gardée;

and Boileau did not even allow Moliere to have won the prize of comedy, because he had

Quitté pour le bouffon l’agréable et le fin
Et sans honte a Terence allié Tabarin

much less would he or his school have approved of an alliance between tragedy and farce. Yet it may well be questioned whether the interest is best kept up by an uninterrupted display of elevation. For my part, I am inclined to think that the repose afforded by a comic episode renovates the powers of attention and of feeling, and prepares for new tragical emotions more effectually than an attempt to protract these emotions during the whole representation could have done. It is by no means usual for the different actors of the same scene, in real life, to be all equally affected. The followers of a hero do not feel as magnanimous as himself, and are even apt to laugh among themselves at his vices or his virtues. The hero himself is not always a hero, and does not speak invariably in the same tone. Indeed I do not know that it is unnatural for the same person to laugh and cry, within the same half hour, at the very same thing, or at least various views of the same thing; nor that this inconsistency of the human mind might not furnish stronger dramatic touches than the contrary quality. Poetical excitement cannot be maintained long at a time; you must take it up and lay it down like a flower, or soon cease to be sensible of the fragrance. If real illusion could ever take place in dramatic representation, it would certainly be produced rather by that diversity of tone and character which exists in nature, than by an artificial unity. But nobody does, in point of fact, forget for a moment, that what he sees is a fable, and, if he did, the effect of a tragedy would hardly be pleasure. We look on poetical terrors as we do from the brink of a precipice upon the yawning chasm below; it makes our head turn, and takes off our breath for very fear ; but, leaning on the parapet-wall, we feel all safe. Looking on the verdure and mild beauties around us, we enjoy the contrast; and, meeting the eye of our companion, exchange a smile.

Voltaire, D’Alembert, and many other foreign critics, agree in reproving this scene of the grave-diggers as horribly low, while they extol the soliloquy of Hamlet. Supposing, however, the sentiments of the prince had been put into the mouth of the peasant, and those of the peasant given to the prince, I question whether these critics would not still have taken part with the latter against the former. It is the spade and the jests which discredit the philosophy, yet there is a certain coarse but energetic fitness between the one and the other, — and the tone of buffoonery does not ill accord with the contempt of life, its vanities, and empty greatness. I have made a free translation of these two scenes, endeavouring to convey the ideas rather than the words, that my French readers may judge for themselves.

The tragedy of Hamlet is much more objectionable on other points, —being, in my opinion, one of the most ill conceived and inexplicable of Shakespeare’s plays,— which are all of them little else than mere frames for his ideas, comic or philosophical, gloomy or playful, as they occurred, without much attention to time and place; expressed with a vigour, a richness, and originality, quite wonderful in the original, but nearly lost in any translation. We might apply to Shakespeare what has been said of our Montaigne: “que personne ne savoit moins que lui, ce qu’il alloit dire, ni mieux ce qu’il disoit.” I have remarked before, that the style of Shakespeare is not old; and the inartificial texture of his plays appears the more strange on that account :— this style, just as it is, might be applied to the best conducted fable, and most regular argument. Of the dramatic writers who followed him, some avoided his irregularities, but missed his style, or rather had not his depth, his strength and genius; while others, and there is a recent example, approached that style, and had some sparks of that genius, but adopted, in their zeal, the inconsistencies, the coarseness, and even the puns. You can excuse, in a Gothic cathedral of five or six hundred years standing, those monkish figures carved on the walls, lolling their tongues out, or pointing the finger of scorn at each other, in low derision, and others still more indecent, in favour of the wonderful art, which, in such an age of darkness and ignorance, durst conceive, and could execute the idea of building this religious grove, rearing its arched boughs, and
lofty shades of hewn stones 150 feet above your head; — while the country-house of the wealthy citizen of London, mimicking that taste of architecture, excites a smile, — and if he should carry the imitation beyond the pointed arch, and painted windows, to the very indecencies I have mentioned, the ridicule would be complete.

The after-piece was Blue-Beard, which outdoes, in perversion of taste, all the other showy stupidities of the modern stage. A troop of horse (real horse) is actually introduced, or rather two troops, charging each other full speed, — the floor is covered with earth, — the horses are Astley’s, and well drilled; they kick, and rear, and bite, and scramble up walls almost perpendicular, and when they can do no more, fall, and die as gracefully as any of their brethren, the English tragedians. All this might do very well at Astley’s, but what a pity and a shame that horses should be the successors of Garrick, and bring fuller houses than Mrs Siddons!

Comments: Louis Simond (1767-1831) was a French travel writer. He journeyed through Britain over 1810-11, writing his published account in English. The production of Hamlet that he saw at Covent Garden featured John Philip Kemble as Hamlet and Joseph Munden as Polonius and John Fawcett as the gravedigger. The afterpiece was George Colman the Younger‘s 1798 play The Grand Dramatic Romance Bluebeard, or Female Curiosity. Astley’s Amphitheatre in London was famed for its circus and equestrian entertainments.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Boswell for the Defence

Source: William K. Wimsatt, Jr. and Frederick A. Pottle, Boswell for the Defence: 1769-1774 (London: William Heinemann, 1960), p. 238

Production: George Colman the elder, The Man of Business, and William O’Brien, Cross Purposes, Edinburgh, 16 July 1774

Text: Saturday 16 July [1774]: … At six I had a hackney-coach which carried Mrs. Montgomerie, Claud, my wife, and me to the play. There was just forty people in the boxes and pit. The play was The Man of Business, and the farce, Cross Purposes. It was wonderful to see with what spirit the players performed. In one view it was more agreeable tonight than being at a crowded play. One could attend fully to what passed on the stage, whereas in a great audience the attention is distracted and one has a great deal to do in behaving properly. The difference was the same as viewing a country when upon a calm horse at a slow walk or viewing it upon a fiery horse at a gallop, when you must attend to the reins and to your seat. But the laughable passages did not go off so well as in a crowd, for laughter is augmented by sympathetic power. Supped quietly at home.

Comments: James Boswell (1740-1795) was a Scottish lawyer, biographer and diarist, best known for his Life of Samuel Johnson. He was born in Edinburgh, the son of Lord Auchinleck. The plays he saw were the comedy The Man of Business by George Colman the Elder and the afterpiece Cross-Purposes by the actor William O’Brien, both men being known to Boswell. I have not been able to identify the small theatre Boswell visited.

An Unconscious Autobiography

Source: Thatcher T.P. Luquer (ed.), An Unconscious Autobiography: William Osborn Payne’s diary and letters, 1796 to 1804 (New York: privately printed, 1938), pp. 21-22

Production: Arthur Murphy, The Grecian Daughter plus The Shipwreck, Holliday Street Theater, Baltimore, 3 December 1798

Text: 1798 Decem 3. Went to the Play – which was the Grecian Daughter. Mrs. Merry acted the Part of Euphrasia. In it she exceeded every Thing, that I have ever seen before in the Theatrical Way – Her voice – Attitudes – Expression & Countenance were admirable – & I cannot conceive an Idea above her performance. Mr. Wynel [sic] acted the Part of Evander – with much Taste & accuracy. Mr. Warren as Dionysius played correctly – but I do not think him a Pleasing Actor. Mr. Hardinge as Phocion was but middling – his Irish Brogue hurt the Performance. He possesses no Dignity of Action or Attitude.

The Farce, which was the Shipwreck, afforded amusement – but observations take too much Time to bestow them on a Farce.

The Tragedy of the Grecian Daughter is the most Pleasing one I ever saw – it concludes happily, which the most of Tragedies do not. The Affection of Euphrasia to her Father, her Constancy, her Fortitude & Heroism – charm the mind & the happy Issue which ended all her misfortunes renders the Spectator happy.

Mr. Taylor objects strongly to my visiting the Plays – he says he cannot find an excuse, either to himself, or to my Father, for bringing me up in such a dissipated Way, as he pleases to name it. I am sorry for it. Certainly it is expensive, but I think it the Best possible School for Morality & Knowledge of the World – my Father always told me so & that if he could afford it, I should attend the Theatre constantly. Mr. T. calls it Dissipation; to most of those who attend Plays it is so, but I am always an attentive observer of what Passes without entering into any of the Dissipated scenes which I see going on. I never walk the Lobby, stand at the Bar drinking – or in the Oyster House – but always get the most Instruction I can out of everything I see and hear – whether Real or acted. It is a School which in some measure supplies the Plan of experience by shewing scenes which tho’ Generally a little Exaggerated, Still shew the Passions, the Faults, the Weaknesses of men – & there are those who will Learn Wisdom only by Experience – who if They will Pay attention, may make the Stage answer a very good Purpose to Them.

Comments: William Osborn Payne (1783-1804) was an American who died young, leaving a diary that was later printed privately. His younger brother was the actor, playwright and poet John Howard Payne (author of ‘Home Sweet Home’). The Grecian Daughter was a tragedy by the Irish author Arthur Murphy. The leading performer in the production seen by Payne at the Holliday Street Theater, Baltimore, was Ann Brunton Merry (1768-1808), a British actress who enjoyed considerable success in America from 1796 onwards. The part of Euphrasia in The Grecian Daughter was one of her signature roles. Other performers mentioned include Thomas Wignell (later Ann Merry’s second husband) and William Warren (later Ann Merry’s third husband). The play was accompanied by the comic opera The Shipwreck.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain

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), pp. 258-259

Production: Thomas Morton, The Cure for the Heart-ache and George Colman the Younger, The Quadrupeds of Quedlinburgh; or, The Rover of Weimar, Haymarket Theatre, London, July 1811

Text: The comedy called the Cure for the Heart-ache was acted yesterday at the theatre of the Hay-market. Elliston and Munden appeared in it, and gave us great pleasure, although they exaggerated the exaggerations of the play. But the taste of the English public requires this, — as thistles alone have power to stimulate the palate of certain animals. The object of the petite piece called the Quadrupeds of Quedlinburgh, was to ridicule the perverted morality and sentiments of the German drama, and at the same time the exhibition of horses on the stage. One of the personages has two wives, and one of the wives two husbands. One of the husbands, a prisoner in the castle of a merciless tyrant (Duke of Saxe Weimar) is liberated by the other husband, for no other apparent purpose but to get rid of one of his wives. He besieges the castle with a troop of horse, and batters down its walls with pistol-shot. The horses consist of a head and a tail, fastened before and behind the performers, with two sham legs of the rider, dangling about on each side, and a deep housing hiding the real legs. All the cant, childishness, grossness, and crude philosophy of the German drama was, of course, mustered together, and excited much risibility; the horses climbed walls, leapt, kicked, fought, lay down, and died, as Mr Kemble’s horses might have done. All this was very ridiculous, — but I am not sure that the laugh of the audience was not more with the thing ridiculed, than at it. The English public is not easily burlesqued out of its pleasures, and to it a caricature is still a likeness. Some friends of the real quadrupeds hissed, but clapping got the better. The pale face and nares acutissimae of the ex-minister, Mr Canning was pointed out to us in the next box, in company with Lord M.; he laughed very heartily, — and the nature of the laugh of the author of the Antijacobin could not be mistaken.

Comments: Louis Simond (1767-1831) was a French travel writer. He journeyed through Britain over 1810-11, writing his published account in English. The productions he saw at the Haymarket were Thomas Morton‘s comedy The Cure for the Heart-Ache, with Robert Elliston and Joseph Munden, and the afterpiece The Quadrupeds of Quedlinburgh; or, The Rover of Weimar, by George Colman the Younger. This was a parody of Timour the Tartar, a popular equistrian afterpiece by M.G. ‘Monk’ Lewis which had been put on at Covent Garden. The British politician (and future Prime Minister) George Canning had founded the newspaper The Anti-Jacobin and had written a dramatic parody, The Rovers, from which Colman borrowed ideas.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Journal of an Excursion to the United States of North America

‘Interior View of Chestnut Street (New) Theatre’ (1798?), Penn Library

Source: Henry Wansey, The Journal of an Excursion to the United States of North America in the Summer of 1794 (Salisbury/London: J. Easton/ G. and T. Wilkie, 1796), pp. 126-127

Production: Elizabeth Inchbald, Every One Has His Fault, Chestnut Street (New) Theatre, Philadelphia, 6 June 1794

Text: In the evening, I went to the new Theatre, to see Mrs. Cowley’s Play, “Every One has his Fault,” with the Farce of “No Song No Supper.” Mrs. Whitlock, sister to Mrs. Siddons, is the chief actress; and, to my surprise, I recognized Darley, one of our actors, last winter at Salisbury, in the character of Crop. It is an elegant and convenient theatre, as large as that of Covent Garden; and, to judge from the dress and appearance of the company around me, and the actors and scenery, I should have thought I had still been in England. The ladies wore the small bonnets of the same fashion as those I saw when I left England; some of chequered straw, &c. some with their hair full dressed, without caps, as with us, and very few in the French style. The younger ladies with their hair flowing in ringlets on their shoulders. The gentlemen with round hats, their coats with high collars, and cut quite in the English fashion, and many in silk striped coats. The scenery of the stage excellent, particularly a view on the Skuylkill [i.e. Schuylkill River], about two miles from the city. The greatest part of the scenes, however, belonged once to Lord Barrymore’s Theatre, at Wargrave. The motto over the stage is novel:— “The Eagle suffers little Birds to sing.” Thereby hangs a tale. When it was in contemplation to build this Theatre, it was strongly opposed by the Quakers, who used all their influence with Congress to prevent it, as tending to corrupt the manners of the people, and encrease too much the love of pleasure. It was, however, at length carried, and this motto from Shakespear was chosen. It is applicable in another sense; for the State House, where Congress sits, is directly opposite to it, both being in Chesnut-street, and both houses are often performing at the same time. Yet the Eagle (the emblem adopted by the American government) is no ways interrupted by the chattering of these mock birds with their mimic Tones.

Comments: Henry Wansey (1752?-1827) was an English antiquarian and traveller. In 1794 he visited the United States of America and two years later published an account of his travels, including meeting President George Washington. The play he saw at the Chestnut Street Theatre (aka The New Theatre), Every One Has His Fault, was written by Elizabeth Inchbald, not Hannah Cowley, while the operatic afterpiece No Song No Supper had music by Stephen Storace and a libretto by Prince Hoare. The lead actress was Elizabeth Whitlock, sister to Sarah Siddons. Philadelphia acted as the temporary capital of the United States, 1790–1800, while Washington D.C. was under construction. “The Eagle suffers little Birds to sing” comes from Titus Andronicus.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Diary of Sylas Neville

Source: Basil Cozens-Hardy (ed.), The Diary of Sylas Neville 1767-1788 (London: Oxford University Press, 1950), p. 292

Production: Charles Johnson, The Wife’s Relief: or, The Husband’s Cure and Edward Ravenscroft, The London Cuckolds, Covent Garden, London, 10 April 1782

Text: Apr. 10. At C[ovent] G[arden] Theatre to see the Wife’s Relief, a comedy of — but not one of the best. The dialogue is tollerably [sic] animated & the business interesting. The sentiments of the first four acts are licentious to a degree, the edge of which may not perhaps be blunted by the black colors in which they are painted in the last. The underplot creates some confusion & the character of young Cash is unnatural & disagreable [sic]. . . . The parts of Riot & Volatil were not too good for Wroughton & Lewis like many others in which they appear. Such a character as Cynthia sits easy on Miss Satchel & Miss Mattocks was no bad Arabella. That kind of pert humour is her forte. If the ‘London Cuckolds’ was no better in its original state than when it appeared this evening cut down into an entertainment I never saw a sillier thing. They must be Cits. indeed, if not cuckolds, who can relish such low & absurd stuff.

The performers were of no note except Quick in Ald Doodle & Mrs Wilson in Jane, the intriguing chamber maid. Quick spoke a tollerable prologue to this piece as the ghost of Sir Richᵈ Whittington – his cat peeping from underneath his gown. The venerable magistrate compared the amusements of the citizens of London of his time with those of the present day.

It was Quick’s benefit & I never saw a fuller house. He deserves it as a performer of great merit in his cast.

Comments: Sylas Neville (1741-1840) was an English gentleman of unclear origins, who had studied medicine but spent much of his adult life travelling while being continually short of money. His surviving diary frequently mentions visits to the theatre in London. The Wife’s Relief: or, The Husband’s Cure was a popular comedy written in 1711 by Charles Johnson. The performers included Richard Wroughton, William Thomas Lewis, Elizabeth Satchell, Isabella Mattocks and the popular comic actor John Quick. It was accompanied by the afterpiece The London Cuckolds by Edward Ravenscroft, with Quick and (presumalby) Sarah Wilson, and a prologue from the ghost of Dick Whittington. ‘Cit’ was a slang term for someone who was not a gentleman.

The O.P. War

George and Isaak Cruikshank, ‘Acting magistrates committing themselves being their first appearance on this stage as performed at the National Theatre Covent Garden. Sepr 18 1809’ © The Trustees of the British Museum. The Riot Act was read from the stage on 18 September, but the placards, rattles etc. did not start appearing until the following day.

Source: Thomas Tegg, The Rise, Progress, and Termination of the O.P. War, in Poetic Epistles, or Hudibrastic Letters, From Ap Simpkins in Town, to his Friend Ap Davies in Wales; including all the best songs, placards, toasts &c. &c.Which were written, exhibited, and given en the Occasion; with illustrative notes (London: Thomas Tegg, 1810), pp. 1-6

Production: William Shakespeare, Macbeth, plus The Quaker, New Covent Garden Theatre, London, 18 September 1809

Text: LETTER I

From Ap Simpkins to Ap Davies

SINCE now the O.P. battle’s o’er,
And peace the partisans restore,
To you, Ap Davies, my dear friend,
A brief account of all I’ll send,
From the beginning to the end:
But, lest your patience I should tire,
And send you more than you’d desire,
Lest I too many letters might
On this theatric contest write,
Which letters, as they’ll go by post.
Would in the end some shillings cost,
On leading points I’ll only dwell,
And all that’s entertaining tell.

Where the old playhouse lately blazed,
In Covent Garden, soon was raised
Another playhouse, as intended,
On which the managers expended
A sum indeed beyond all bounds,
It was thrice fifty thousand pounds!!!
In ten month’s time it was erected,
And from th’ exterior much expected.
But though so very grand without,
Within, ’tis very plain no doubt,
‘Twas on the eighteenth of September,
(The day I very well remember)
For which Macbeth was advertised;
A play so generally prized.
Near to the doors what numbers push’d!
As soon as opened in they rush’d.
At first the pit seem’d rather dull —
By six o’clock the house was full;
And the first lady that appear’d,
With loud huzzas by all was cheer’d.
The band struck up God save the King,
And several times the song they sing :
Then Rule Britannia next they play’d,
Which some to sing also essay’d.
The band their music might have sav’d,
While hats and handkerchiefs were wav’d.
At length the curtain up they drew,
And Kemble on the stage we view.
To give us an address he came.
To talk of “sparks from Greece” — the “flame
Of “an illumined age” — “the fire
Of Shakspeare,” which we must admire:
But so vociferously they roar’d,
I did not hear a single word.
The play began, but at this time
‘Twas like the Circus pantomime,
And gave as little satisfaction
As Elliston’s ballet of action.
When Kemble entered as Macbeth,
It was in vain he spent his breath,
For not a word could reach the ear:
E’en Mrs. Siddons I cou’dn’t hear.
With noise was Charles Kemble hail’d —
The uproar every where prevail’d.
“Off! off!” “Old prices!” were the cries;
“No Catalani!” and “No rise!”
What hissing, yelling, howling, groaning!
What barking, braying, hooting, moaning!
The people bellow’d, shouted, storm’d,
The actors in dumb show perform’d.
Those in the pit stood up with rage,
And turn’d their backs upon the stage.
Yes, my dear friend, their backs they turn’d,
And thus were the performers spurn’d.
The tragedy thus tragediz’d,
Brunton came forward, as surmis’d,
T’ announce for the next night the play;
But still they bark, and yell, and bray.
I heard him not, and all could see,
Was his lips move, then exit he.
The Quaker was the farce, they say;
I thought it was the Devil to pay
In short, it went on like the play.
I’m certain that the quaker quaked.
Each head too with the tumult ach’d.
About ELEVEN, or before,
The stage amusements all were o’er
But not until the clock struck one
Were those before the curtain done;
The cry of “Managers!” went round;
From all parts did the cry resound.
The eager, the impetuous crowd,
Then for old prices call’d aloud.
In vain they call’d — they brandish’d sticks,
The boards too trembled with their kicks;
When lo! upon the stage, indeed,
Two magistrates — yes, Nares and Read,
Made their appearance — ’tis a fact —
They came to read the Riot Act,
But all these worthies wish’d to say
Was treated like the farce and play —
“No magistrates! off! off! away!
Let Harris, if you please, appear,
Or send John Philip Kemble here.”
They thought to make the gentry quiet,
To prove that words were acts of riot:
But ‘twould not do — “Off! off! enough!”
So exeunt Ambo in a huff.
And now the galleries began:
They curs’d the building and the plan.
They thought the managers unkind —
They were in pigeon-holes confin’d.
Pat cries — ” I will be squeez’d to death;
I will be kilt for want of breath.”
Those in the upper boxes now
Assisted in the general row,
And, ‘midst their fury and their heat,
They happen’d to break down a seat.
Impossible, in such a fray,
But that some benches must give way;
At this, however, much displeased,
The Bow-street runners came and seized
Two or three gentlemen — they swore —
They dragg’d them out — their coats they tore.
These men it seems, on this condition,
Had to all parts a free admission.
‘Twas to the managers’ disgrace.
An officer, in such a place,
Should, uninvited, show his face.
But to the rest — the bell was heard,
And engines* on the stage appear’d.
This gave the folk some discontent:
They thought that Mr. Kemble meant
To play upon them. This gave rise
To further hisses, groans, and cries.
Some in the pit now form’d a ring,
They danc’d, and sung God save the King;
And while performing these wild feats,
They play’d the devil with the seats.
No matter — they evinc’d their spite,
Then bade the managers good night;
And I the same must bid my friend —
But take my word—on this depend —
My pen I will resume again, –
Till when your servant I remain.

Strand, Jan. 1810. S.

* The introduction of the water-engines on the stage was, it is asserted, through a mistake. Engines are kept in the theatre, and placed on the stage after the evening’s performances, in case of danger, particularly as the fire offices have refused to insure the house to the full amount. Mr. Kemble perceiving from his private box that the audience were not gone, ordered the bell to be rung for the stage lights to be replaced. This order was misunderstood by the prompter, and instead of the lights the engines were brought upon the stage. Certainly they might have been designedly brought on to intimidate the malcontents, but without the manager’s knowledge.

Comments: Thomas Tegg (1776–1845) was an English bookseller, publisher and author. His long poem ‘The O.P. War’ documents, through a series of ‘letters’ the turmoil that followed the decision made by Covent Garden Theatre to raise ticket prices to help cover the cost of the rebuilding of the theatre after the fire of 20 September 1808. At the re-opening of what was named New Covent Garden Theatre on 18 September 1809, and for three months thereafter, there were vehement protests inside the theatre from audience members against the price rises, dubbed the Old Price, or O.P., Riots. The actor-manager John Philip Kemble was eventually forced to lower the prices. Tegg’s poem documents the events in some detail across eighteen letters, with annotations as above. Letter I covers the day of the re-opening. The Riot Act was indeed read from the stage during the evening. The production of Macbeth included John Philip Kemble as Macbeth, his sister Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth and their brother Charles Kemble as Macduff, though such was the noise throughout (and for the afterpiece The Quaker) that the performances were rendered inaudible.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Diary of Sylas Neville

Source: Basil Cozens-Hardy (ed.), The Diary of Sylas Neville 1767-1788 (London: Oxford University Press, 1950), p. 299

Production: Ben Jonson, The Alchemist, Drury Lane, London, 21 October 1782

Text: Mon, Oct. 21. At Drury Lane to see Mrs Siddons, the celebrated actress just transplanted from Bath. She is by no means equal to a Yates or a Barry, but having said this I allow she has great merit. She enters into her part with infinite judgement, energy & propriety. Her action is good, her voice pleasing. She excels in the pathetic. Her Isabella in the Fatal Marriage this evening drew tears from every eye of sensibility. A pretty figure of the middle size, fine eyes & a melancholy complacency of feature … I almost wish I had not staid to see the Alchemist now cut down into an entertainment of two acts. It hurt me to see Dade play Abel Drugger. Alas! O Garrick, we shall never see thy like again.

Comments: Sylas Neville (1741-1840) was an English gentleman of unclear origins, who had studied medicine but spent much of his adult life travelling while being continually short of money. His surviving diary frequently mentions visits to the theatre in London. The Fatal Marriage was a 1694 play by Thomas Southerne, which David Garrick adapted in 1757 as Isabella; or the Fatal Marriage. The Yates and Barry against whom Neville judges Sarah Siddons are Mary Ann Yates and Ann Street Barry. ‘Dade’ is the comic actor James William Dodd.

Covent-Garden Theatre

Source: Anon., ‘Covent-Garden Theatre’, The Morning Post, 6 October 1829, p. 3

Production: William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Covent Garden, London, 5 October 1829

Text: The name of KEMBLE was exercised with magic-like effect at this Theatre last night. Plunged into difficulties, almost overwhelming, Mr. CHARLES KEMBLE exerted his best strength and influence: his wife returned to the stage, his daughter made her debut, and a brilliant and overflowing audience was the consequence. This was precisely as every friend of the Drama must have wished. the name of a family which has for half a century contributed so largely, and with so much distinction and honour, to the most rational  and intellectual of our amusements, ought not to be used in vain, or to be heard without cheering and liberal encouragement. On this occasion it met with enthusiastic support, and those who anticipated a display of hereditary genius were happily confirmed in their kindly hopes. That the difficulties of the Theatre have been most alarming there can be no question; but however desperate they may have been in their character, or however distressing to the Managers, we can hardly help rejoicing in their occurrence, since thy have been the immediate cause of giving to the stage another KEMBLE, and one too who promises to enhance rather than to depreciate the unrivalled reputation of her family. With the debut of Miss FANNY KEMBLE too, we are inclined to date the disappearance of the distresses of the Theatre, and therefore we shall make no further mention of them, but content ourselves with expressing a hope that the young Lady’s introduction to the stage will only be one of many acts of good judgment on the part of the Manager.

Before the commencement of the play, “God save the King” was sung by the Company, which mustered unusually strong, the different solos being given by Miss HUGHES, Mr. WOOD (who acquitted himself remarkably well), and Mr. HORNE, who appears to have returned to this Theatre. The national song was warmly encored, and the Theatre looked extremely handsome while it was singing: the whole of the audience were standing, the private boxes were full, and the dress and first circle of boxes were adorned by a great number of Ladies. As for the rest of the House, it was crowded to excess. The play was Romeo and Juliet, Miss KEMBLE of course being Juliet. In stature she is like her mother, being rather under than over the middle size; but she may not yet have completed her growth, being, as we are informed, and as she really appears, not more than eighteen. Her form, however, is rich in beauties. The contour of her throat, neck, and head, reminded us forcibly of Mrs. SIDDONS; and her arms have that roundness and capability of majestic action in which her aunt was so entirely unrivalled, In her countenance Miss KEMBLE partakes more of the beauties of Mrs. SIDDONS, and the expression of JOHN KEMBLE, than she does of the features of her father and mother. Her brow is like that of all the KEMBLES – lofty and full of deep expression; her eye is finely placed, dark and powerful; her nose is sufficiently prominent to give a good profile, and to ad to the effect of the other features; and her mouth has much of the character of that of her great predecessor, Mrs. SIDDONS, being capable of expressing tenderness, scorn, and triumph, in all their depth, bitterness, and lofty joy. The general character of her face is dignity; it is plainly and beautifully traced, although she has hardly yet attained the state of womanhood. Her voice is equal to every demand that even Tragedy can make. It is powerful, rich, and has great variety. It has none of the poverty of her uncle’s in particular passages, and little of the monotony of her aunt’s in level speaking. It often resembles her mother’s in sweetness, and is capable of declamation without any of the evidently acquired facility of her father’s. In the peculiar expression, however, for which each of her distinguished relatives have been celebrated, they are likely still to stand unrivalled. Without challenging the triumphant declamation and the agonizing bursts of Mrs. SIDDONS, Miss KEMBLE has an ample field before her, wherein she may gather

“Golden opinions of all sorts of men.”

On her entrance Miss KEMBLE was most enthusiastically welcomed: the pit rose in a body, and the cheers from the boxes were loud and long continued. She appeared to be greatly embarrassed, and did not recover her self-possession during her first scene. In her next scene, the masquerade, she made a certainty of success; the only difficulty was to predict the degree she would attain. There was in the delivery of the passage –

My only love sprung from my only hate!
Too early seen unknown, and known too late!”

a sensibility and a depth of feeling which gave an unquestionable indication of the possession of fine powers. Her exit too was marked by a melancholy but soul-searching passion, which admirably prepared for the succeeding scene. It was in this scene that her conception and her capabilities were at once developed. The garden scene is in itself a thing of beauties, and many of the passages received ample justice at her hands. the soliloquies appeared to flow from a heart wrapped up in a new and all-absorbing passion, and which, during the absence of the object it idolised, existed but in thinking of it. Nor did she deliver the passages addressed to Romeo with less felicity. They were full of fervour, and the passion was unrestrained, but it was pure, and natural from its purity.

“But farewell compliment!
Dost thou love me?”

was most beautifully given. The full effect was produced without violence of any description. The heart seemed to prompt the tongue, and nature to lend every grace to give the interrogatory force. Again, in the latter part of the scene, she characterised her love with admirable emphasis and expression. Her delivery was fully equal to the comprehensive words which SHAKESPEARE has assigned to Juliet :-

“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee
The more I have; for both are infinite.”

In her tone and manner there was something which bespoke the capability of Juliet, though yet a girl, undertaking the dangerous and appalling course she subsequently pursues. In her next scene, the scene in which the Nurse brings tidings from Romeo, there was a great deal of sweetness, but nothing calling for particular remark, unless perhaps we except the lines –

“Had she affections, and warm youthful blood,
She’d be as swift in motion as a ball;
My words would bandy her to my sweet love,
And his to me.”

In delivering these her action was peculiarly appropriate and original. In the next scene, however, she made “a giant’s step” in reputation. She rushed into the depths of tragedy, and although there was a great poverty or rather total want of action while she delivered the lines –

O, break, my heart! poor bankrupt, break at once!
To prison, eyes, ne’er look on liberty!
Vile earth, to earth resign; end, motion, here;
And thou and Romeo press one heavy bier!

the defect was more than compensated for by the agonizing burst with which she exclaimed –

“Banished! is Romeo banished?”

It was entirely in the manner of SIDDONS, as was the passage commencing-

“Blistered be thy tongue” &c.

In the next scene she achieved another triumph, and perhaps the greatest of the evening. After having in vain implored her parents to postpone her marriage with Paris, Juliet has recourse to the Nurse for advice:-

JULIET: O. Nurse, how shall this be prevented?
NURSE: – Faith, here it is,
Romeo is banished: all the world to nothing
That he dares ne’er come back to challenge you;
Or, if he do, it needs must be by stealth;
Then, since the case so stands, I think it best
You married with the Count.
JULIET. Speak’st thou from they heart?
NURSE. From my soul, too;
Or else beshrew them both.
JULIET. Amen!
NURSE. What? what?
JULIET. Well, thou has comforted me marvellous much.

The effect of these passages was splendid in the extreme. the dignity of the wife was suddenly called into action, and it was commanding as it was pure and lovely in its nature. The Theatre rang with applauses. The arduous soliloquy in the next scene she finished by one of the most perfect and beautiful attitudes we have seen for a long time. The last scene was unfortunately the least successful of the whole; she was badly dressed and badly painted, and the Romeo on the night was not of the slightest assistance to her. But Miss KEMBLE had been the admiration of the audience long before the close of the play; and looking at her performance, we should most decidedly give it the preference to every debut made since that of Miss O’NEILL. To say that it was destitute of fault would be as absurd as to say that it not did display a conception of the highest order, and much execution of a similar character. Having said thus much, we shall be content to await her next performance without more remark, when me may find time and opportunity to return to the subject.

Mr. C. KEMBLE sustained the part of Mercutio for the first time. On his entrance the applause was enthusiastic, and he acknowledged the compliment with great grace and feeling. Of his acting we have only space sufficient to say that his readings were perfect, if he was  not quite so airy as LEWIS, or quite so humorous as ELLISTON was wont to be. His death was managed very beautifully, and with much originality. The kindness with which he took leave of Romeo was excellently conceived and executed. As the peculiarity of the circumstances has induced him to resign Romeo, we are happy to see him in possession of Mercutio; on no other occasion, however, could we consent to his quitting the lover. Of Mr. ABBOTT we need say but little. He is precisely the same as he was before he went to France, and therefore a very moderate Romeo. He is destitute of tenderness. Mrs C. KEMBLE trod the stage and acted with so much excellent sense and spirit as Lady Capulet, that we could  hardly believe she had ever been absent from it, and heartily wished for her permanent return to it. Mrs. DAVENPORT as the Nurse was a delightful as ever. It was a piece of acting in itself worth a journey to witness. She was most cordially received. The other parts were sustained as usual; and at the fall of the curtain the applause was unanimous and most hearty. Mr. KEMBLE came forward and addressed the audience in the following words:- “Ladies and Gentlemen, from the kind indulgence with which you have been pleased to receive the first efforts of my daughter on any stage, I am induced to announce this tragedy for repetition on Wednesday, Friday, and Monday next.”

This announcement was received with great approbation, and the entertainments concluded with The Miller and his Men.

Comments: The review is of a production of William Shakespeare‘s Romeo and Juliet, at Covent Garden, London, 5 October 1829. Fanny Kemble (1809-1893) was the daughter of the actor Charles Kemble and niece of his sister, the actress Sarah Siddons. The financial fortunes of the ailing Covent Garden (in which Charles Kemble was a shareholder) were greatly improved following the great success of Fanny Kemble in Romeo and Juliet, and the production was a further success touring North America. The remaining lead performers named in this review were Theresa Kemble (Mrs Charles Kemble), William  Abbott, and Mrs Davenport (Fanny Vining), while other actors mentioned are Eliza O’Neill, Robert Elliston and William Lewis. The Miller and his Men was a two-act romantic melodrama by Isaac Pocock.

Links: British Newspaper Archive (£)

Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence of Henry Crabb Robinson

Source: Thomas Sadler (ed.), Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence of Henry Crabb Robinson (London: Macmillan, 1869), vol. III, pp. 517-518

Production: William Shakespeare, King John, Drury Lane, London, 12 October 1866

Text: October 12th. — Went to Drury Lane Theatre, to see “King John.” I had little pleasure. The cause manifold: old age and its consequents — half-deafness, loss of memory, and dimness of sight — combined with the vast size of the theatre. I had just read the glorious tragedy, or I should have understood nothing. The scene with Hubert and Arthur was deeply pathetic. The recollection of Mrs. Siddons as Constance is an enjoyment in itself. I remember one scene in particular, where, throwing herself on the ground, she calls herself “the Queen of sorrow,” and bids kings come and worship her! On the present occasion all the actors were alike to me. Not a single face could I distinguish from another, though I was in the front row of the orchestra-stalls. The afterpiece was “The Comedy of Errors,” and the two Dromios gave me pleasure. On the whole, the greatest benefit I have derived from the evening is that I seem to be reconciled to never going again.

Comments: Henry Crabb Robinson (1775-1867) was an English lawyer and diarist, whose published journals document his acquaintance with literary figures of the period and refer regularly to theatre productions that he saw. He saw Shakespeare‘s King John at the Drury Lane Theatre, London, 12 October 1866. He recollects seeing Sarah Siddons as Constance from years before; she was of course long dead by the time of this performance.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive