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No man that ever appeared on the British stage, from its first commencement up to the present day, has engaged in a larger share or for a longer time, the attention of the world in which he moved, than Mr. Macklin. As a man, his longevity—as an author, . his vigorous intellectual powersand as an actor, his genius, science and skill have, for considerably more than half a century, held him up as an object of delight and admiration to all dramatic amateurs, and as a subject of severe examination and manifold cri. tical discussion in the circles of literature. “Sent into this breathing world” under the most unpropitious circumstances of fortune, but with a frame of mind and bodily structure calculated to encounter difficulties, to subdue opposition, and to stem the roughest tides of adversity, he rose superior to the niggard destinies of his birth, and self-taught and self-supported, mowing nothing to the world, or to those that inhabited itacquired high renown as an author and an actor, and, as a man, maintained the character of an honest gentleman, and lived, if not in affluence, at least in a genteel competency from the end of the seventeenth century nearly to the beginning of the nineteenth, though not without troubles, probably with less sickness or bodily pain than ever fell to the share of any man who had lived an equal number of days.
Of so very interesting an object as this prime veteran of the stage, it would be unfair not to say something now while we are engaged in describing the great pleasure which, in common with all the good people of this city, we have experienced from the performance of that capital production of his brain, The Man of the World; and though some may cavil at our alluding to any of the circumstances of the author's life, as more properly belonging to biography than criticism, yet as it is our business, in this number, to discuss his merits as a dramatic poet and an actor, and in two several plays to compare him, in the latter department, with the illustrious subject of our present criticism, Mr. Cooke, we think it incumbent on us to advert to those parts of his life and character which are in any way connected with those two productions, or can serve to throw a light upon the motives that actuated him in the composition of Sir Pertinax.
Mr. Kirkman, a very near relation of his, who has written his life, and who, to our knowledge, had access to the most authentic sources of intelligence respecting the birth of the veteran, relates that Charles Macklin was born in the year 1690, and was with his
mother, at whose breast he was then a suckling, carried off in a turkish from the field of battle of the Boyne, on the day when the fortune of William gained the final ascendent over James the se. cond, in whose service the father of Macklin, who was a captain of horse, was that day killed, leaving his family a prey to revolution ary rapine and confiscation. In consequence of this melancholy event, Charles was left at a very early age to shift for himself. The play now before us, and Macklin's fame as an actor, preclude the necessity of particularly insisting upon the strength of the boy's genius; since such a play could be the production only of a mind by nature comprehensive, sagacious, penetrating and shrewdly oba servant of what passed in the world before him. From natural conformation he derived vast powers of imitation; while the spurns, the impositions and the evil treatment which unprovided and unprotected youth is fated to experience from the unworthy, (and unfortunately the unworthy compose a large part of the world) were sure to generate in a heart complexionally proud, stubborn, irrascible and restive, a sufficient share of spleen to quicken imagination, to give edge to his satirical talents, and at an early age to call forth his mimicry and ridicule into exercise. Accordingly we find that the first object upon which he vented his splenetic humour and dis. played his talents was a schoolmaster at Islandbridge near Dublin, to whom he was a short time sent by his mother to learn reading and writing, and who, partly in consideration of his helpless condition, and partly because the child was bred a Roman Catholic, treated him with cruel, and as the old man often said, unexampled severity. This pedant, who, like Gil Blas's uncle, was one of the most expert floggers in the world, maintained a kind of warfare with the boy, in which the one probably inflicted as much mental as the other did bodily pain, the latter returning scarification with ridicule and mimicry, and the former rejoining again with scarification till they separated in the usual way the boy eloping and running away to England.
It so happened that this pedagogue knew as well as any of his fraternity how to shape the treatment of his pupils to his own interest, and always had as large a stock of fawning fondness and adulation at hand for the children of the opulent, as of birch and abuse for those of the indigent and distressed, insomuch that, as the veteran used to say, an acquaintance of only a week's standing with him would enable the dullest blockhead to ascertain by his treate
'ment of each of his scholars, the exact amount, even to a pound sterke ing a year, of the father's income. Not a tittle of this was lost upon young Macklin, who to a quick perception of the ridiculous in mankind, joined a bold, turbulent, intrepid spirit, and a violent abhorrence of whatever was mean or base; and Nicholson, for so the master was called, had the mortification to see and hear himself caricatured in the mimicry, and satirized with the wit of the boy whom he had exasperated with his insult and contempt. Nicholson and his wife were both natives of Scotland, and Macklin acquired the Scottish tone and dialect so completely, and mimicked both man and woman so exactly that they had frequently to go up and down stairs, at each other's supposed call, when it was only Charles, who over and over again deceived them; and sometimes they had the misery to hear the school room in a roar of laughter, at the unlucky boy's mimicry of the old fellow, stroking down and sleeking the hair of some of the scholars and domning the blude of others, according to the goodness of their clothes, or the rank or means of their parents. In this Macsycophant of humble life, the thickest sight may perceive the germ of that high court Macsycophant, who has for many years convulsed with laughter the audiences of London, Dublin and Edinburgh, and on this season backed by the. astonishing acting of their favourite Cooke, so excessively delighted the people of America. In every country, and every department of life Macsycophants may be found, but the original object of Macklin's antipathy being a native of Scotland, he naturally chose to make his dramatic character a North Briton, and being in heart a passionate whig, he as naturally took aim at that court cabal headed by lord Bute, which every whig abhorred and every honest man must for ever execrate.
A single anecdote will be sufftcient to display the temper, feelings and opinions of Macklin on the subject of politics. During the American war, being at Nando's coffeehouse, he got engaged in a warm discussion with one of those court zealots who then haunted all the public places in London and every other town and city in Great Britain. The crime of rebellion having been several times applied with particular acrimony to the colonists, Macklin undertook to prove that the Americans did not strictly fall within the meaning of the term, and to that end he entered into a learned definition of the word. This led to a deep argument in which his adversary happening to give the authority of a learned
professor in Glasgow who was his friend and tutor, Macklin started, and in an affected tone of surprise and regret, exclaimed “ Then you are a Scotchman sir!"-" I have that honour sir,” replied the other.-" Bless me, bless me,” returned the veteran,
66 what a blunder I have made!-I beg your pardon sir, I most humbly beg your pardon;~ I am sure if I had known you were a Scotchman, I should not have been so cruel, or so rude as to have defined rebellion in your presence.”
Though loyal upon principle, and devoted to the British constitution, Macklin was all his life a zealous friend to liberty, and venerating the sovereign of Great Britain, abhorred the corruption of his ministers. Not long before the veteran died, he attended to give his vote at the Westminster election. When he mounted the Hustings, the candidates on both sides received him with marked respect and veneration, and the crowd hailed him with shouts and plaudits. He then advanced forward and addressed the people thus. “ I was born in that propitious year when the sun of liberty first rose with its orange beams on Great Britain I have lived to see it run its summer's day of splendour, and I am not without my fears that, old as I am, I shall live to see it set. I pray to God that I may die before that time: But while I live I will do my best to retard it, and therefore give my vote for Mr. Fox.” In these few statements, the reader will discern the principles and spirit which actuated the author of the Man of the World, and which dictated the bold, ingenious, and animated satire, as well as the exalted political sentiments with which that comedy is so richly fraught. In sir Pertinax the author has accurately pourtrayed the principles and general character of the Bute faction, as in Egerton he has depicted those of its adversaries.
We own that it has made ys smile to hear certain curious, censorial observations which have been thrown out on the Man of the World in this country since the acting of Cooke first raised it to its present importance. The stream of cheap and officious humanity which first sprung from that precious fountain of godly goodness, the French revolution, still continues to trickle through every thing about us; the hypocritical cant of pity, fraternity, liberality and candour is ready at every idle gossip's hand, upon every occasion; each new incident that occurs serves to awaken some tender gratuitous care for the welfare of those who feel no such care for themselves; and persons who could eat their din
ners without the defalcation of a mouthful, if intelligence arrived that the island of Great Britain, North and South, was sunk and" in the deep bosom of the ocean buried,” have lately felt the pinfeathers of their candour rise erect at the injuries done to the Scottish nation by this wicked play; a high compliment no doubt to the people of Edinburgh and Glasgow, by whom sir Pertinax is as much relished, at least, as he ever was by those of London or Dublin, Philadelphia or New York. The fact is, that all but the grossly ignorant view it, not as a national invective but as an excellent political satire. In no part of the world are the principles on which it is founded more firmly and rationally upheld than in Scotland-in no part is there a more lively contempt and abhorrence entertained for that kind of character which Macklin has pourtrayed in sir Pertinax. We are supported in this assertion by the simple fact, apparent upon the theatrical chronicles of England, that Cooke visits Scotland periodically, as Macklin did before him, to gratify the people of that country with his performance of the Man of the World, and of sir Archy Mac Sarcasm.
That this comedy was, from its first appearance before the pub. lic, viewed in the light of a mere political satire appears from the circumstances attending the original performance of it on the stage. The author conscious of his own purposes, and fearful of the fangs of the law, of the power of the lord chamberlain, and even of the strength which the court faction might have in the audience, prudently declined bringing it forward on the London stage, till the elevation of Mr. Pitt to the office of prime minister brought about a ministerial reformation and bruised the head of the court snake. This event promised to be favourable to the reception of the Man of the World, and Macklin ventured to bring it out to public view at Covent Garden. As the corruption and the vices it was aimed at were expected to be no longer “the mode at court," it was concluded that the exposure of them could neither subject the author to any legal penalty, nor give offence to those in power; while the old faction, who could alone feel or take offence at it, would in all probability, for their own sakes, avoid expressing a resentment, which would only evince that they felt the soreness of guilt, expose the impotence of their resentment, and of course subject them to the derision and still greater dislike of the public.
The old man was perfectly correct in his calculations. Some opposition was made on the first night-a few of that vile tribe, com.