Page images
PDF
EPUB

notice by personating the mouthing and melancholy hero, and which example many clever actors have since inconsiderately followed.

But, alas! for the dashing gallants and wits that glitter in the pages of Wycherly, Congrève, Vanburgh, and Farquhar. Their day, it would seem, is gone for ever; and what have we in their place ? Look at modern comedy, and in nine cases out of ten you will find a variety of the “Tom and Jerry" species for its hero ;—some heedless spendthrift, worthless but not witty enough for a rake; who commits all sorts of folly with impunity through the space of five acts, and then ends by laying his five fingers on his bosom, and informing the dramatis personæ in general, and the young lady in white, whose hand he of course receives, in particular, that “though his head may have erred, his heart is still in the right place!” What the deuce have the audience to do with his heart? It is from his head that they expect entertainment, and if they are disappointed in that, what satisfaction to them, after the infliction of his slang and impertinence in the place of genuine wit and spirit, is the information that he intends to reform and live decently and soberly with his wife?

But objections, and in some instances, on good grounds, have been raised to the representation of the older dramatists, on the score of indelicacy ; though it is one which might easily be obviated by judicious pruning; and, after all, the gay and polished libertinism of some of the old comedies is not half so indelicate, and not one quarter so disgusting, as the vulgar liberties so frequently taken with modern would-be fastidious audiences, and which they not only suffer, but chuckle over with evident satisfaction. But the old comedies have a bad character on this account, and we all know the force of the proverb "give a dog a bad name," &c. There is too much truth in what a clever writer has said, that "the cant of delicacy has done thrice the injury to the drama that sheer downright fanaticism has ever done; and shallow refinement is ten times more hopelessly inaccessible than the prejudices of the narrowest bigotry.” Even George Colman the younger, who ought to have known better, and who in his younger days was by no means fastidious, has joined in the pestilential cry, that has been one great cause of driving the gay and sparkling Thalia from the stage, and substituting a Merry Andrew in her place.

IMITATION.

their own,

All men are of opinion that they have a will of

and nothing vexes them more than any assertion to the contrary. The great majority are “ led by the nose as easy as asses are;" yet as they trot along in the wake of some shrewd fellow, who is in turn led by some still shrewder than himself, they actually imagine themselves free agents, that their opinions are their own, and that their actions are the result of those opinions. This delusion is universal and very complete, and, (heaven knows the reason, it appears to be the most provoking thing in the world to awaken any one from it. Tell a man that he is a sad profligate, and he is proud of the appellation; but tell him he is an honest well meaning gentleman, though somewhat liable to be guided by the example of others rather than his own judgment, and he gets into a perfect fury, and asks you what you take him for? A monkey is an imitative animal, but nothing to a man, who is at once the most servile copyist in creation, and a sturdy asserter of his moral independencea being who tells you it is his pleasure to do so and so, because “every body does so." He sacrifices his ease and convenience, to do as other people do; and eats, drinks, and sleeps, not when it suits himself, but when it pleases others. The fashion of the hour is a moral despotism, whose omnipotent decrees he dares not dispute, however curious a figure he may cut in obeying its mandates. The effect of this is often singular in consequence of the inappropriateness of the fashion to the individual, or the unhappy attempts of the individual to assimilate with the fashion. In dress, for instance, it is strikingly

Some lady and gentleman of sufficient notoriety to entitle them to “set the fashion” for the season, array themselves in such garments as they think best adapted to their figure and complexion, and such as will give prominency to their beauties, and throw into the shade their defects. As soon as they have arranged this to their satisfaction, it becomes “the mode;" and the whole tribe of bipeds, great and small, thick and thin, short and tall, judiciously follow their example without any reference to the shape or color heaven has given them. You will see a brunette blackening her complexion by bringing it in violent contrast with straw-color and lilac,

so.

because it is the fashion ; and a blonde, looking sickly and consumptive, by having glaring orange, purple, or dark green, in the vicinity of her delicate skin :---you will see a long column of humanity, of no thickness at all, with a broad-brimmed beaver on his head, and a sporting-jacket on his back; and a short, pursy, corpulent individual waddling along in a swallow-tailed coat and steeple-crowned hat, all because it is the fashion ! Yet these people imagine they have a will of their own.

In literature the imitative principle has been, and is, in full operation, though it is perhaps half intentional and half unconscious. A master-spirit starts from the crowd of men, strikes out some new course, ranges through unexplored and unthought of regions, and there reigns an object of wonder and admiration. Immediately a whole troop of pigmies attempt to tread in his giant footsteps, imitate his faults, exaggerate his defects, and imagine, before they advance one step up the hill of fame, that they are nearly at its summit. It will be in the remembrance of all, when Byron was in the zenith of his glory, what an immense quantity of second-hand misanthropy was afloat among the poetasters; how they all set to work to draw their own portraits for the amusement of the public, and what a precious set of good-for-nothing vagabonds they made themVOL. II.

10

[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »