« السابقةمتابعة »
No. III.-WEDNESDAY, JAN. 23, 1828.
Something alone yet not alone, to be wished, and only to be found, in a friend."-SIR WILLIAM TEMPLE.
FRENCH PLAYS IN LONDON.-MOLIERE'S TARTUffe. ANECDOTES OF THE AUTHOR. A SPECIMEN OF THE PIECE ITSELF, AND REMARKS ON THE PERFORMERS.
THERE is something very delightful in the friendliness of intercourse that has sprung up between France and England, since the late troubles. Cabinets may quarrel again, and wars be renewed; but the more intimacy there is in the meantime between the two nations, the less they will be disposed to be gulled into those royal amusements. Formerly, this kind of intercourse was confined to kings and courtiers; and whenever these gentlemen were disposed to pick a quarrel with one another, the people were set on to fight, like retainers to a couple of great houses; their employers all the while making no more of the business, than if they were playing a game of chess. Nations are growing wiser on this head; and nothing will serve better to secure their wisdom, than an interchange of their socialities, and an acquaintance with the great writers that have made them what they are.
It was with singular pleasure therefore that we found ourselves, the other night, sitting at a French play in the British metropolis, and that play Molière's. There, on the stage, was Molière, as it were himself; there spoke his very words, warm as when he first uttered them; there he triumphed over hypocrisy, and was wise and entertaining and immortal. But what in the meantime had become of Louis XIV and his splendour? What of all those lords and courtiers, who used to make a brilliant assemblage around him (we could not help fancying them in this very pit), and praising or withholding
their praise of the immortal man, as the king spoke or held his tongue? Gone is all that once filled that splendid " parterre," like the flowers of any other garden: gone all their plumes, and ribbons, and pulvilio, and their bowing gallantries, and the very love that here and there lurked among them, like a violet among the tulips : but there stood the spirit of Molière, as fresh as ever, and casting on their memory (when you thought of it) its only genuine lustre.
It is curious to think how this great writer had to win his way into toleration through the prejudices attached to a stage life; and how he depended upon men who were comparatively nothing, for an intimation to the rest of the world, that a great and original genius was really worth something. It is to the credit of Louis, that he managed his kingship in this matter in good taste, and allowed the genius of Molière to be pitted against the marquises and grimaciers of his court. If he had not stood by him, those butterflies the petits-maîtres, and those blackbeetles the priests, had fairly stifled him. It was lucky that he wrote when the king was no older, and before he had become superstitious. It gives one a prodigious idea of the assumption of those times, and the low pitch at which an actor could be rated in spite of his being a great genius, that a shallow man of quality having found something ridiculous in Molière's mention of a 66 cream-tart" in one of his comedies, and not liking the raillery with which the author treated his criticism, contrived to lay hold of his head one day as the actor made him a bow, and crying out "Tarte à la créme, Molière! Tarte à la créme!" rubbed his face against his cut-steel buttons, till it was covered with blood. For this brutality, it never entered any one's head that an actor could have a remedy, except in complaining to the king; which the poet did, and the peer was disgraced. Another anecdote, to the same purport, is more agreeably relieved. Molière, by way of being honoured, and set on a level with gentlemen, had been made one of his Majesty's valets-de-chambre. Presenting himself one day to make the royal bed, his helper abruptly retired, saying that he should not make it "with an actor." Bellocq, another valet-dechambre, a man of a good deal of wit, and a maker of pretty verses, happening to come in at this juncture, said," Perhaps M. de Molière will do me the honour of allowing me to make the king's bed with him." Molière was a man of great heart, very generous; but sensitive also, and subject in the midst of his pleasantries to that melancholy which is so often found in the company of wit. Any delicacy towards him must therefore have been extremely felt; though on the subject of scorn and arrogance, he doubtless had no
proportionate soreness at heart. His wisdom and genuine superiority must have saved him from that. It was on the side of his sympathies and not his antipathies, that Molière was weak. He troubled himself with a wife too young for him; and after having ridiculed jealousy in his comedies, was fain to acknowledge that he felt it in all its bitterness himself. Candour takes away the degrading part of these mortifications: but the sting is there nevertheless. What endears us the more to his sincerity, and to the habitual kindness of his heart, is his saying to his friend Chapelle, whom he made his father-confessor on this occasion, that " finding how impossible it was to conquer his jealousy, he began to think that it might be equally impossible in the object of his affections to get rid of her coquetry." The worst of it was, that their ages were unequal. His young wife (the daughter of an actress in his corps dramatique, which gave rise to a scandal refuted by the date of their connection) was herself an actress, beautiful, and surrounded with admirers. She probably loved the poet as well as she could, but found that she loved people of her own age better; while he, taking his undying admiration of beauty for a right to possess it, forgot till too late that poets' hearts remain young much longer than their persons. The consequence was, that two people, both of them perhaps very worthy, became a grief and torment to one another, merely because incompatible marriages are permitted; for Molière had been a great ridiculer of marriage, and there no doubt lay a good part of the sting. He should have gone abroad more out of the society of his corps dramatique, and found some charmer to love less unsuitable to his time of life. There are born poetesses, in their way, among the women, whom temperance and the graces help to keep young even in person, and often in a more touching manner than the young and thoughtless. Molière should have laid his laurelled head in the lap of one these. She might have repaid his candour and tenderness with a like generosity.
But we are forgetting the play.-The house (the Lyceum) opened for these performances last Wednesday. It has been newly fitted up for the purpose, with fresh mouldings or compartments round the boxes (we forget exactly what) and a drapery of scarlet and white, very handsome. The prices, to nearly the whole of the pit, remain the same as before, three and sixpence; but six shillings are paid for seats on a bench or two, and seven for those in a part of the orchestra. Some boxes may be taken by the evening, at two, three, and four guineas, according to the number of persons and the situation of the box. The rest are let for the season at prices which look enormous; being 80, 120, or 160, guineas for 40 nights.
The performances will be three times a-week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, till Lent. Money is not taken at the door. There is a list of the places where you can get tickets, at the bottom of the play-bill; such as the booksellers in Bond street; Marsh's, in Oxford street; Wilson's, at the Royal Exchange, &c. We bought ours at Mr Neele's, a door or two on the left of the main entrance to the theatre out of the Strand; which we mention, in order to shew, that people may go as usual, with no more trouble than if they paid at the door.
The performances of the evening were Tartuffe, followed by a coronation of the bust of Molière; La Fille Mal Gardée, a vaudeville in one act; and L'Ambassadeur, another, in which Perlet, who acted Tartuffe, and who is the principal performer of the company, reappeared in the chief character. We shall confine ourselves to the first piece, which indeed is the only one we saw, and which is quite sufficient to see and to think about for one time. Our observations upon it will not be directed to scholars only, and readers of French; but, agreeably to the plan pursued by former publication, we shall endeavour to give all such readers as have a relish for what is good, a taste of it somehow or other, let them have missed scholarship, great or small, as they may. French is a very common acquirement; yet there are numbers unable to read even French, who very much deserve to do so, and who have a genuine perception of a good thing when it comes before them.
Few readers need be informed, but all will be glad to know, that the comedy of Tartuffe (from which our popular play of the Hypocrite is taken, which made the selection of it on this occasion every way judicious) may be ranked among the avant couriers of the knowledge and liberality of these times. It is a masterly satire upon religious hypocrisy; and on its first appearance at Paris, in an age full of well-fed devotees and gallant confessors, was received accordingly. The first three acts were brought out originally before the court at Versailles in the year 1664; but what may be called the first public representation of the entire piece, did not take place till 1667, when it was performed at Paris, and prohibited next day by an order from the First President of Parliament. Molière himself had to announce the prohibition, which he did in the following manner:-"Gentlemen, we reckoned this evening upon having the honour of presenting you with the Hypocrite; but Monsieur the First President does not wish us to play him." Our author must have reckoned very confidentially on the king's protection, to be able to joke in this manner.* The time indeed
Another turn was given to this bon-mot in one of the provinces. The bishop, in a place where they were going to perform the comedy, had lately died. His successor was not equally disposed in favour of theatrical representations; and orders were given to the actors, that they should quit the town before he made his appearance, which he was to do the next day. Accordingly, when the time was come for giving out the performances of the next evening, the announcer, affecting not to know that his lordship was to arrive so soon, said "The Hypocrite, gentlemen, tomorrow."
was lucky for him so far. Louis was then young and gay, and equally victorious in war and gallantry. He had a minister the avowed patron of men of letters (Colbert), and a general who loved humour and original genius (Turenne).* He did not think fit to let the piece re-appear for a year or two; but Molière remained on the best terms with him; and in 1669, Tartuffe rose again in spite of its enemies, and has remained ever since a stock acting piece, the glory of the French stage, and the hatred of bigots and impostors. Perhaps they are more bitter against it in their hearts this very moment, than they have been for these hundred years; the Jesuits having trimmed their dark lanterns once more, and pieces of this kind offering the most insurmountable barriers against the re-action of priestcraft.+
It has been thought curious by some, that in the English Hypocrite the ridicule should be confined to sectarians, while in the original it attacks hypocrites of the establishment. This is to be accounted for on a variety of grounds. In the first place the Catholic establishment, especially as it existed in France at that time, did not make such an exclusive matter of difference of opinion, as the hierarchy in England; while on the other hand certain disputes in it were so fierce, and yet all parties pretended pretty nearly to such an equal measure of piety, that to make an heterodox person of the Turtuffe would have been absolutely to neutralize the satire on hypocrisy. It would have been a mere party libel. An English Methodist pretends to peculiar sanctity; but formalists of a similar description in France were hardly known till a later period. Again, a Catholic establishment is of a much more miscellaneous nature than a Protestant; admits a host of lay members; and otherwise affords pretences for quacks and hypocrites of all sorts. It is a much larger world; in which vice may be found in the particular, with less offence to the main body. Then again, there is confession, and the admission of interferers and regulators into the tenderest privacies of life. These people were very often at variance with the rest of the families whose heads they lorded it over (as Molière has taken care to shew); they were sometimes very officious in state matters and at court, here indeed the clerical power claimed a kind of sovereignty of its own, independent of that of the civil and executive, (a pretension, against which our anti-popery men are still warning us); and above all, at the time when Molière wrote, the king was not only young, and gay, and inclined to "cut,"
See in the works of La Fontaine a pleasant account of a chat that took place on the road between Turenne and that poet, when the former was on his way to one of his campaigns.
+ The speech of Father Nitard to the Duke of Lerma may be taken as a specimen of the pitch of insolence, worthy of Tartuffe, to which priests could be transported in those days. He was a Jesuit, and confessor to Louis's mother-in-law, the Queen of Spain. He told the Duke one day, "that he ought to treat him with more respect; as he had every day his God in his hands (the Eucharist) and his Queen at his feet."