Page images
PDF
EPUB

from being indebted to favour, she now commanded, and left all rivals panting behind and “toiling after her in vain;" the four tragedies, so praised by Fontenelle, occupying the theatre almost exclusively. Though his comedy of the Menteur had considerable success, the public still admired his tragedies more. They sipped of the former-but they drank deep of the latter: yet, tempted by the approbation which his Thalia received, he wrote a sequel to the Menteur, borrowed, as that also was, from the exhaustless stores of Lope de Vega. This was intitled Suite du Menteur, and met with what other writers would consider success, and had still more when, after being laid for many years on the shelf, it was revived. But the taste of France for comedy had not yet arrived at perfection; and the applause which Corneille's comic pieces received was so much inferior to hat which had been lavished on his tragedy, and to what he had been accustomed to, that he very wisely resolved to take leave of “the luring jade, Thalia,” notwithstanding her bewitching smiles, and to attach himself with unshaken fidelity to her sombre sister: to do greater honour to whom, in his next offering, he lay by for some time, and in the year 1646, produced his tragedy of RODOGUNE, which immediately received the stamp of public approbation.

Of all his plays, Rodogune is that which Corneille himself most approved. After avowing this, he says: “This preference is per“ haps in me the effect of that blind partiality which parents some6 times entertain for one child rather than another; perhaps it may “ be tainted with a little self-love, because this tragedy is more

properly my own than any thing that has preceded it, on account “ of the incidents being new, original, invented, and such as never “ before had been exhibited in a theatre; and if this reason should “ be just, it establishes a fact which confirms the propriety of my "partiality.”

Corneille’s pieces, subsequent to Rodogune, began to be received with less warmth; not that his general fame grew less, but because, for reasons which will appear, each particular piece seemed inferior to his former works. In 1646, he produced Theodore, a tragedy, which had very little success, considered as a work of Corneille's. In 1647, he brought out Heraclius: this was greatly admired by the judicious, but was not sufficiently understood by the multitude.Why this coldness to his pieces took place it is not a little curious to contemplate

From what has been related of Richelieu, one would think that, he being gone, Corneille would be little likely to have any thing to do with cardinals again, since, for one man, he had more than his share of them: but, as if it had been decreed by fate that he should be the sport of their eminences, he had hardly got from out of the fangs of Richelieu, when he was pounced upon by Mazarine, who, as well as Richelieu, was a cardinal and a prime minister.

It seems that when Corneille was on the point of bringing out his Cinna, he, in order to mortify Richelieu, proposed to dedicate it to Mazarine; but having reason, from indications he received on the subject, to be assured that his dedication would be churlishly received, and that no return would be made to him for that mark of respect, he changed his mind, and addressed it to Monsieur Montauron, a gentleman who had the ambition to be thought a patron and protector of poets and men of letters, and from whom he, in return, received a gift of one thousand pistoles. This splendid douceur was construed by both the cardinals into an insult, and by the world was considered as a very just and well merited satire on their eminences. This was not a circumstance well calculated to improve the interest of Corneille with either of them; so that on the death of Richelieu, and the accession to ministerial power of Mazarine, Corneille found that seat, from which one enemy had dropped, filled with another. On the other hand, Mazarine, who knew how much his predecessor was indebted for his celebrity to corrupt poets and to actors, resolved to try his luck, and by encouraging musicians, composers and singers, instead of players, to procure for himself a new sort of notoriety. From this we are to date the origin of the opera in France: and to this new taste may chiefly be ascribed the decline which took place in the long established attractiveness of Corneille's pieces.

Yet it would be wrong to dismiss these productions without inquiring into the reality of their claims. Theodore certainly deserved a much better reception than it met with. The public had now become tired of such pieces; and the tragedy of Heraclius, which followed it, was considered as a strange, eccentric production. The truth is, that the poet was, by the success of his Rodogune operating in confirmation of his own opinion, so vastly enamoured with its originality, that he determined to be still more original in Heraclius; and in his efforts to be so, he degenerated into obscu. VOL. III.

2 U

rity, which gave occasion to the witty abbe Pelegrin to call Heraclius the despair of all tragic authors, and to the arch Despreau to nickname it the lugogriphe, or enigma. Yet was Corneille much in conceit with this play. “This tragedy," says he, “ is more an ef“ fort of invention than Rodogune; and I may venture to say that “ it is a happy original, of which there will be many copies.” And then he makes open confession of its obscurity, explains the nature of the incidents, shows how they are connected and interwoven, and points out the difficulty and intricacy in which they are involved, and in the end says that they cannot be comprehended but by reflection after the conclusion of the piece,-and that, perhaps, they cannot be enjoyed with perfect taste till after the representation of them has been witnessed a second time.

Since perspicuity is one of the most necessary ingredients in a dramatic production, at least in representation, it is no wonder that a piece which the author of it himself describes as so very incomprehensible, should have given a handle to the enemies of Corneille to object to it and throw it into derision. Yet the unpopularity of Heraclius was not altogether the fault of Corneille, but arose from the taste of the times, which began to waver and to go over to the opera, now set on foot by the

agency

of Mazarine. It was in the year 1647 that cardinal Mazarine established THE OPERA, the splendor, the scenery, machinery, decorations, mummery, dancing, music, and novelty of which rendered it at once so popular among that capricious versatile people that the valuable dramatic entertainments were totally neglected; and in the overbearing tide of abominable taste Corneille himself was borne away along with the rest. But after three years total rejection from the stage, he thought it prudent to conform to the fashion of the times, and in 1650 his Andromede came forth to the public, with all the stupid pomp and priggish foppery of the Italian opera.

(To be continued.)

339

BIOGRAPHY.*

MEMOIRS OF MRS. MATTOCKS.

When HALLAM fills the tragic scene,
Displaying tender Juliet's mien,
The tearful glances of her eyes
Attract a hundred Romeos' sighs;
Nay, if you'll take a critic's word,
I've often wish'd “ I were her bird."
But when the rosy-laughing hours
Fly swift before her comic powers,
With face and figure form’d to please,
With spirit, elegance, and ease,
I envy Juliet's bird no more,
For Bell's the goddess I adore.

Poetry of those Times.

To those who, deeming dramatic entertainments as important and beneficial to society, consider the establishment of a theatre in this country a fortunate event, nothing so nearly and dearly connected with the father of the American stage as the subject of this memoir can be uninteresting: more particularly as Mrs. Mattocks, in addition to the circumstance of her being the sister of the late Mr. Hallam, was in almost every article of her life, private as well as public, one of the most estimable as well as admirable of her profession.

This illustrious actress and excellent woman, whose maiden name was Isabella Hallam, was born in Goodman's-fields, in the year 1746. Her uncle, Willian Hallam, was manager of the theatre in that place, during one, or perhaps more, of the secessions of Mr. Giffard. Her father was also an actor at the same theatre at the time when Mr. Garrick was there. He is said to have been much admired in low comedy; but was, probably, impelled, by the misfortunes that attended the company after Garrick left it, to seek an asylum in America.

Dramatic performances were, at that time, a great novelty to the American people: therefore it is no wonder that, soon after his

* The continuation of Mr. WARREN’s life is unavoidably postponed to the next number.

1

arrival, he became manager of the theatres of Charleston, NewYork, and Philadelphia.* His success in these pursuits is said to have been such as to enable him to realize a fortune of 10,0001., the whole of which was lost in the American war.

Miss Hallam, at the departure of her father, was left under the protection of Mrs. Barrington, her aunt, an actress of very considerable merit at Covent-garden theatre, who procured for her one of the most finished educations at that time known; of which she seems in a very conspicuous manner to have availed herself.

The first appearance of Miss Hallam upon the stage was 'at so very early a period of her life as the age of four years and a half, in the character of the Parish Girl, in the “ What d'ye call it," a tragic comic poetical farce, written by Gay.t It happened that the dutchess of Bolton (the famous Polly Peachum) was present at the performance, and, charmed with the infant actress, sent her five guineas, accompanied with a polite card, expressing her approbation, and intimating a wish that the little Parish Girl of that evening might be as successful through life as she had been.

It has been justly said by Cibber, that there is something so fascinating to the juvenile mind in the characters of heroes and heroines, that it is little to be wondered why all the candidates for theatric fame are anxious to attract the town to the pomp and circumstance of sublime tragedy, and to seize on the tender passions of their audiences, in a part where they are most assailable, by exhibiting themselves in circumstances of exquisite distress, and, by a display of their tragic powers, giving them

* The first dramatic representation in the then colonies of America was performed in Philadelphia, by a small company from England, under the management of Mr. Douglas, father-in-law of Mr. Hallam, of the New York theatre, and of our favourite, Mrs. Mattocks. Some years before the revolutionary war, Douglas had erected a regular theatre in Philadelphia; but that event drove him to seek his fortune in the West Indian islands.- JANSEN's STRANGER IN AMERICA,

† In ridicule of the tragedies of those times, particularly of Venice Preserved.

The Parish Girl is said to have been the first part in which the celebrated Lavinia Fenton appeared at the little theatre in the Haymarket. When Miss Hallam undertook it, she is said to have been in figure so diminutive, considering the size of the stage, that a gentleman in the pit exclaimed, “ I can hear the little charmer very well, but it is impossible to

see her without a magnifying glass.”

« PreviousContinue »