« السابقةمتابعة »
AN APOLOGY FOR THE LIFE OF COLLEY CIBBER
[The Apology was written after Cibber's retirement from active work on the stage in 1733, and published in his seventieth year. The extracts are from chapters VIII and XIV.]
OUR theatrical writers were not only accused of immorality, but profaneness; many flagrant instances of which were collected and published by a nonjuring clergyman, Jeremy Collier, in his View of the Stage, etc., about the year 1697. However just his charge against the authors that then wrote for it might be, I cannot but think his sentence against the stage itself is unequal; reformation he thinks too mild a treatment for it, and is therefore for laying his axe to the root of it. If this were to be a rule of judgment for offenses of the same nature, what might become of the pulpit, where many a seditious and corrupted teacher has been known to cover the most pernicious doctrine with the mask of religion? This puts me in mind of what the noted Jo. Hains, the comedian, a fellow of a wicked wit, said upon this occasion; who being asked what could transport Mr. Collier into so blind a zeal for a general suppression of the stage, when only some particular authors had abused it, whereas the stage, he could not but know, was generally allowed, when rightly conducted, to be a delightful method of mending our morals, "For that reason," replied Hains; " Collier is by profession a moral-mender himself, and two of a trade, you know, can never agree."
The authors of The Old Bachelor and of The Relapse' were those whom Collier most labored to convict of immorality, to which they severally published their reply. The first seemed too much hurt to be able to defend himself, and the other felt him so little that his wit only laughed at his lashes.
1 Congreve and Vanbrugh.
My first play of The Fool in Fashion, too, being then in a course of success, perhaps for that reason only this severe author thought himself obliged to attack it; in which, I hope, he has shown more zeal than justice. His greatest charge against it is that it sometimes uses the word " Faith" as an oath, in the dialogue. But if Faith may as well signify our given word, or credit, as our religious belief, why might not his charity have taken it in the less criminal sense? Nevertheless, Mr. Collier's book was upon the whole thought so laudable a work that King William, soon after it was published, granted him a nolo prosequi, when he stood answerable to the law for his having absolved two criminals, just before they were executed for high treason. And it must be farther granted that his calling our dramatic writers to this strict account had a very wholesome effect upon those who writ after this time. They were now a great deal more upon their guard; indecencies were no longer writ; and by degrees the fair sex came to fill the boxes on the first day of a new comedy, without fear or censure. But the Master of the Revels, who then licensed all plays for the stage, assisted this reformation with a more zealous severity than ever. He would strike out whole scenes of a vicious or immoral character, though it were visibly shown to be reformed or punished. A severe instance of this kind falling upon myself may be an excuse for my relating it. When Richard the Third, as I altered it from Shakespeare, came from his hands to the stage, he expunged the whole first act, without sparing a line of it. This extraordinary stroke of a Sic volo occasioned my applying to him for the small indulgence of a speech or two, that the other four acts might limp on with a little less absurdity. No! he had not leisure to consider what might be separately inoffensive. He had an objection to the whole act, and the reason he gave for it was, that the distresses of King Henry the Sixth, who is killed by Richard in the first act, would put weak people too much in mind of King James, then living in France; - a notable proof of his zeal for the government! Those who have read either the play or the history, I dare say, will think he strained hard for the parallel. In a word, we were forced for some few years to let the play take its fate, with only four acts, divided into five; by the loss of so considerable a limb may one not modestly suppose it was robbed of at least a fifth part of that favor it afterwards met
with? For though this first act was at last recovered, and made the play whole again, yet the relief came too late to repay me for the pains I had taken in it. Nor did I ever hear that this zealous severity of the Master of the Revels was afterwards thought justifiable..
From this time to the year 1712, my memory (from which repository alone, every article of what I write is collected) has nothing worth mentioning, till the first acting of the tragedy of Cato. As to the play itself, it might be enough to say that the author and the actors had their different hopes of fame and profit amply answered by the performance; but as its success was attended with remarkable consequences, it may not be amiss to trace it from its several years' concealment in the closet to the stage.
In 1703, nine years before it was acted, I had the pleasure of reading the first four acts (which was all of it then written) privately with Sir Richard Steele. It may be needless to say it was impossible to lay them out of my hand till I had gone through them, or to dwell upon the delight his friendship to the author received, upon my being so warmly pleased with them. But my satisfaction was as highly disappointed, when he told me, whatever spirit Mr. Addison had shown in his writing it, he doubted he would never have courage enough to let his Cato stand the censure of an English audience; that it had only been the amusement of his leisure hours in Italy, and was never intended for the stage. This poetical diffidence Sir Richard himself spoke of with some concern, and in the transport of his imagination could not help saying, "Good God! what a part would Betterton make of Cato!" But this was seven years before Betterton died, and when Booth - who afterwards made his fortune by acting it was in his theatrical minority.
In the latter end of Queen Anne's reign, when our national politics had changed hands, the friends of Mr. Addison then thought it a proper time to animate the public with the sentiments of Cato. In a word, their importunities were too warm to be resisted, and it was no sooner finished than hurried to the stage, in April, 1712, at a time when three days a week were usually appointed for the benefit plays of particular actors.
But a work of that critical importance was to make its way through all private considerations; nor could it possibly give place to a custom which the breach of could very little prejudice the benefits, that on so unavoidable an occasion were (in part, though not wholly) postponed. It was therefore (Mondays excepted) acted every day for a month to constantly crowded houses. As the author had made us a present of whatever profits he might have claimed from it, we thought ourselves obliged to spare no cost in the proper decorations of it. Its coming so late in the season to the stage proved of particular advantage to the sharing actors, because the harvest of our annual gains was generally over before the middle of March, many select audiences being then usually reserved in favor to the benefits of private actors, which fixed engagements naturally abated the receipts of the days before and after them; but this unexpected after-crop of Cato largely supplied to us those deficiencies, and was almost equal to two fruitful seasons in the same year; at the close of which the three managing actors found themselves each a gainer of thirteen hundred and fifty pounds.
But to return to the first reception of this play from the public. Although Cato seems plainly written upon what are called Whig principles, yet the Tories of that time had sense enough not to take it as the least reflection upon their administration; but, on the contrary, they seemed to brandish and vaunt their approbation of every sentiment in favor of liberty, which by a public act of their generosity was carried so high, that one day while the play was acting they collected fifty guineas in the boxes, and made a present of them to Booth, with this compliment: "For his honest opposition to a perpetual dictator, and his dying so bravely in the cause of liberty."
HENRY ST. JOHN, VISCOUNT
[Bolingbroke's writings, as published during his lifetime, were chiefly political; but his notes and essays on philosophy and religion were well known in MS. (several of them being written for Pope and used by him, as in the Essay on Man). The essays here represented were published by Mallet after the author's death, the "Use of Retirement" in the same book with "A Plan for a General History" and "Reflections on Exile," the Letter to Pope with "A Letter to Sir W. Wyndham" and "Reflections on the State of the Nation." The extracts well represent certain aspects of eighteenth-century deism; e. g., the curious fashion in which its spokesmen attacked the established faith and organization of the church, while disclaiming any desire to abolish or supplant it.]
OF THE TRUE USE OF RETIREMENT AND STUDY
THERE is a strange distrust of human reason in every human institution. This distrust is so apparent that an habitual submission to some authority or other is forming in us from our cradles; that principles of reasoning, and matters of fact, are inculcated in our tender minds, before we are able to exercise that reason; and that, when we are able to exercise it, we are either forbid or frightened from doing so, even on things that are themselves the proper objects of reason, or that are delivered to us upon an authority whose sufficiency or insufficiency is so most evidently.
On many subjects, such as the general laws of natural religion, and the general rules of society and good policy, men of all countries and languages, who cultivate their reason, judge alike. The same premises have led them to the same conclusions, and so, following the same guide, they have trod in the same path. At least the differences are small, easily reconciled, and such as could not of themselves contradistinguish nation from nation, religion from religion, and sect from sect. How comes it, then, that there are other points on which the most opposite opinions are entertained, and some of these with so much heat and fury