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walking backwards and forwards-by his sticking the point of his sword in the ground, and then recovering and flourishing it—by his sighing and silent attempts to speak,—by his unequalled by-play,and by the matchless expression of his countenance, so obvious, so intelligible, so irresistibly eloquent, that no capacity however dull can fail to understand, no heart however obtuse can help to feel it; and his last words “Good Night,” surpassed the whole.
In the act of dying, Cooke may truly say in the words of Richard “ I am myself alone!”—It is remarkable of this extraordinary man, that in playing a character frequently, he will perform each time differently from the rest, and yet all so well that it would almost amount to presumption to affirm which was best, because, play it in what style he will, he never, for a moment, loses sight of the character. One time in the dying Richard he makes an ineffectual effort to rise, and failing in it dashes away his sword in despair; another time he drops his sword, and, in making a vain effort to recover, falls again; both equally characteristic of the intrepid furious Richard. But that which gives the finishing stroke to the picture is the look which, raising himself on his elbow, he darts at Richmond. It was 'terrible, it had soul in it; it looked a testamentary curse, and made the death exactly correspondent to the life and living character of the monster Richard.
Many people were surprised at Cooke's delineation of Richard, because they could not possibly understand the application of acting, whether good or bad, to a character they did not know: and because they had never before seen any thing likeit, they flattered themselves it could not possibly be right. They no doubt had frequently heard good declamation, recitation and ranting; but when before and where had they ever seen a part perfectly acted? What actor had they ever seen before Cooke exhibit the passions as they appear disclosed by their various effects upon the material frame? -Cooke has studied Man in all his classes, and has caught from his observation every diversity of bodily symptom, by which the passions indicate their dominion over the human heart. These he displays in his face in general his eyes, nose and lips, his chin, his brow-over which, as well as over the muscles of his neck, he has got such perfect power that they are the instant and faithful servitors of his thoughts and feelings. Nor is his expression confined to his physiognomy alone: his shoulders, arms, hands, nay his very fingers speak, in a way which shows that, in addition to his mighty genius, he has
called no common industry to his aid, and has hunted the passions through all the windings of their operation on our clay, not merely to the recesses of the human heart, but through every muscle, and to the very ends of the fingers. With the beating of his left thumb upon the hilt of his sword he did more to picture the perturbation and rage of Richard than ordinary actors do with the whole exertion of their aggregate powers.
One of the characteristics of Richard is conscious superiority of talents and consequent scorn for all other men. Except when he is flattering or making use of them as agents, Cooke, in Richard, rarely faces the other persons of the scene: . his back is generally turned or half turned upon them; and if he condescends to look at. them, it is to read their intentions in their faces, to cut them with a contemptuous sneer, or to knock them down with a terrible frown. Nor while they are speaking is he idle; but with his countenance and by-play tells plainly the separate effect of every line they utter upon him, while at the same time he appears so rapt up in his selfish purposes, that he seems in reality to confer only with himself. We could not help smiling at some observations which were made the first night upon his acting. What does he do that for? said one-when Cooke was in dumbshow by-play speaking to the young prince. Another asked why he bit his lips. We wished at the moment to have the book in our hands to show him where Shakspeare himself marks it as a habit of Richard when angry. Catesby says “The king is angry, see he gnaws his lips.” Yet this, and actions equally correct and characteristic, we heard censured as grimace. Mr. Cooke's Gloster has not the Lion-like spirit and stately majesty of Mossop; nor the princely port of Kemble, who decorates “ the bloody and devouring boar” of the fifteenth century with all the artificial graces of the modern courtier: but it was truly Shakspearean. Cooke is too clear in his conception to associate the manners and deportment of one age with the argument and dress of another; his Richard, therefore, is marked with the blunt, uncouth stateliness, and the harsh and brutal pride that may be supposed to have belonged to a ferocious prince of four centuries ago.
His voice too was censured. Brains may be dispensed with, and therefore are not always looked for; but those who have ears may be expected to hear. Is it a thing of absolute necessity, that any character must have a particular kind of voice? If it be, we should feel obliged
to some' genius' to make 'a scate for the various degrees of voice according to his notions, and to appropriate them to their proper characters. It is to be apprehended that the human voice is not extensive enough to mark all the distinctions from the sovereign tyrant to the petitioning beggar. If we put 'a 'sweep chimney at No. I., what Number shall we find for Bonaparte! Imagination and language united are incompetent to find words to express such absurdity. But what is the truth of Mr. Cooke's voice? It is harsh, says one. So it is, at times, and so it should be, because, in nature, the human voice is sometimes harsh, and harshness is fit for some characters, Richard being one'of them. But is it nothing more? Has it not great power and compass? Has it not some of the finest undertones? Has it not brilliant and piercing expression? Above all, has it not the very first requisite of a good voice, clear distinct articulation?--We say it has all these. His soliloquy while the murder of the children is perpetrating, and his underspeaking in every place, disclosed as perfect harmony_not whining—but manly harmony as the most fastidious ear could wish to drink in. And for clear articulation we need only instance his delivery of the first speech in the fifth 'scene of the fifth act. Mr. Cooke was seated in his tent at the very back of the stage, where other actors can scarcelý máke their voices audible. From that place he (without elevating his voice) spoke to be so distinctly heard, that each syllable forcibly beat, as we are informed, upon the drum of every ear in the gallery. The whispers of Cooke are more audible than the roaring of others.
The leading properties of Mr. Cooke, as an actor, are evidently these: a genius active and capacious, versatile and penetrating; a shrewd discernment; spirits lively and strong; animation which no exercise can exhaust; a judgment practised and correct; a luminous and exact discrimination, and a perfect, comprehensive knowledge of his business;
not the common by-rote knowledge of ordinary ståge drudges, but the scientific, profound knowledge of a philosophic actor. To give effect to these intellectual endowments, nature has bestowed upon him, besides an excellent voice, a stout, manly person, and features full of mind and expression, bold, strong, of matchless flexibility, fitted for the display of most passions; but chiefly for those of contempt, sarcasm, scorn and overbearing pride.
In tragedy the American stage was, before the arrival of Cooke, pretty much in the state of the British at the time Garrick made
of their particular favourite. We should be sorry to extend deri
his first appearance, as it is described by Murphy in his life of that great actor., “ Declamation roared in a most unnatural strain; “ rant was passion; whining was love. Garrick saw that nature 6 was banished from the theatre; but he flattered himself that he « should be able to introduce a better taste, and succeed by the “ Truth of IMITATION.-He was frightened by the difficulties " that stood in his way. A new school of acting was to be estab“ lished, and the attempt, he was aware, would be called in“ novation. He shrunk back, not being sure of his own powers; « but the impulse of nature was not to be resisted. His genius
drove him on." i What Garrick said to Murphy of Doctor Johnson's tragedy of Irene as compared with the tragedies of Shakspeare, may be applied with some truth to the difference between other actors and Cooke, “ Declamation roars, while passion sleeps; but Shakspeare dipped his pen in the heart.”
Among all the men of learning, of judgment, and of taste uncorrupted by prejudice or vain affectation, in Philadelphia, there is but one opinion, and that is fixed and unalterable, because founded in truth-viz. that Mr. Cooke has, for the first time, let the people of America into that which was before a secret to them what true acting is. That hitherto declamation has roared while passion slept: but that Cooke is the true disciple of the bard who dipped his pen in the heart.
The observations of a number of ignorant persons on this actor have occasioned great merriment. Some wags are ill natured enough to mix with circles of the greasy caps,* not only to hear their luminous criticisms, but to encourage them to expose their folly. In this way it has actually from time to time happened that every actor of our stage, not merely Mr. Cooper, Mr. Fennell and Mr. Wood, but all others in descent down to the very lowest, has had his smug friends to prefer him to Mr. Cooke; and these, by a perversion of judgment peculiar to presumptuous ignorance, seem intent upon establishing their point in proportion to the incapacity
sion or circulate the laugh at the expense of those victims of foolish friendship, else we could mention persons who have been
They threw up their greasy caps, says Coriolanus of the mob, as if they would hang them on the horns of the moon.
set up as competitors of Mr. Cooke, some whose names can scarcely be mentioned without exciting a smile from the judicious; and some who, even as makeshifts, are by all people of taste considered dead burdens to the scenes they jumble through.
While folly o'er the stage her standard bore,
And common sense stood frighted at the door. These are some of what Sir Fretful Plagiary calls your damned good friends, who, to show their own cleverness, strip the objects of their admiration and expose them, in their shivering nakedness, to the mortifying blasts of public contempt.
We are sorry to be compelled to censure such an actor, and above all in a point in which it would be scarcely pardonable for him to go astray if he thought of it. We mean his incorrect pronunciation of certain words: for instance, “ Either," which he pronounced as if it were spelled Yther instead of eether; Guildhall, which he pronounced as if sounded like guile instead of Geeldhall; and saycrifice which he ought to know is by all gentlemen pronounced sakrifice. He pronounces too the final 8 in words ending with 88 much more hard than in general elegant speakers do; we own it astonished us to hear Mr. Cooke give the French termination to the words “pursuivant” and “ odour.” These have long been denizened as English words. As to the pronunciation of the letter R, which has been so ridiculously censured, we think it not merely correct, but beautiful, as stamping the character of a necessary letter which feebleness and vanity are gradually melting down to nothing.
Those who cannot be satisfied with less than unmixed perfection, we recommend it to seek, in other actors, that which they certainly will not find in Mr. Cooke. But for those who can, with us, be contented with the greatest number of excellences, alloyed by the fewest faults, we hazard nothing in recommending Mr. Cooke in preference to all actors now living.
We are free to confess our incapacity to point out half the beauties of this actor, who has from the first time we saw him in London in the year 1800, up to the present moment, been invariably the object of our unfeigned admiration. We have done our best however; and with equal candor have stated his blemishes.But what are they after all? Motes in the blaze of the sun: indeed such as could not be discerned in any but an object the most bright and luminous.