« PreviousContinue »
Macklin, one of that right royal and right worthy dynasty of actors, which, through Kemble, Siddons, Cooke, and the Keans, has come down to the present day, had had from early life his surfeit of applause, and imagined when he had reached his sixty
third year, while still as stout as ever in fame and constitution, that it was time for him to retire from the stage : he accordingly made, what turned out to be, a temporary secession. In lieu of his profession, he set about executing a scheme of achieving his fortune by the establishment of a tavern and coffee-house in the Piazza, Covent Garden: to this he afterwards added a school of oratory, upon a plan hitherto unknown in England, founded upon the Greek, Roman, French, and Italian societies,
under the title of “the British Inquisition." The first part of this plan was opened on the eleventh of March, 1754, by a public ordinary, which was to take place daily at four o'clock, the price being three shillings each person, with allowance of port, claret, or whatever spirituous liquor the party should choose.
The arrangement of the ordinary was this. Dinner was announced by public advertisement to be ready at four o'clock, and just as that hour struck, a large bell affixed to the top of the house gave notice of the approaching repast. This bell continued ringing for about five minutes; the dinner was then ordered to be dished, and in ten minutes afterwards it appeared upon the table; after that, the outer room door was shut, and no other guest admitted either for love or money. Macklin himself always brought in the first dish, habited in an appropriate suit of clothes, with a napkin slung across his left arm; and he then remained to superintend his waiters, whom previous drilling had accomplished in the art of attending silently and noiselessly, according to a system of signs. This arrangement, it is said, imposed a useful constraint upon the guests, and while the concern lasted, there occurred fewer quarrels than were then unhappily but too usual in such places.
Of the other part of Macklin's scheme, which he called “ the British Inquisition,” the main features were public discussion, directed by Macklin, on history, literature, art, and science; and lectures of his own on elocution and dramatic action.
The following passages from his first advertisement give further explanation of the plan.
“At Macklin's great room in Hart Street, Covent Garden, this day, being the 21st November, 1754, will be commenced THE BRITISH INQUISITION.
“ The doors will be opened at five, and the lecture will begin precisely at seven o'clock, every Monday and Friday evening. Ladies will be admitted. Price one shilling each person. The first lecture will be on Hamlet.
“ N.B. The question to be debated after this day's lecture
BURKE CANDIDATE FOR A PROFESSORSHIP.
will be, 'Whether the people of Great Britain have profited by their intercourse with, or their imitation of, the French nation ?'
“ N.B. This evening the public subscription card-room will be opened. Subscriptions taken in by Mr. Macklin."
Both at the ordinary and at the more intellectual entertainment, the company generally consisted of authors, players, templars, and lounging-men about town.
In this “British Inquisition” Burke was a debater, whether a leading one or not is unknown, but certainly so much so to his own satisfaction and advantage, that he recommended Macklin to Alexander Wedderburn, then a seceder from the Scotch bar and a student at the Temple, for Macklin to teach him elocution, and cure him, if possible, of his Northern accent. This pupil, who became Lord Chancellor, and a peer as Baron Loughborough, and eventually Earl of Rosslyn, always acknowledged Macklin's powers as an instructor. The dinner and debating scheme of Macklin ended in bankruptcy—a fortunate result for the public, since its projector returned to the drama and the stage, to delight, when past eighty, his own and future ages with his creation of Sir Pertinax MacSycophant, and to charm, until near his ninetieth year, his audiences with his impersonations of that character and Shylock. Singular enough, Macklin lived through all Burke's subsequent statesman-career, and died two days after him, on the 11th July, 1797.
This chapter should not conclude without mention of two circumstances relative to Burke at this period, though the particulars rest on evidence somewhat obscure. In 1752 or 1753, Burke, during a ramble he took in Scotland to benefit his health, offered himself a candidate for the chair of logic in the University of Glasgow, as the successor of his countryman Dr. Hutchison, who had already shed a lustre over that professorship which Adam Smith and Ferguson were afterwards to make more brilliant still. Whether Burke retired from the scholastic contest or was defeated
at the election does not clearly appear; but scarcely had he escaped this rock in the way of his political greatness, when, it is generally understood from a letter to his father, that he ran risk of another. It would seem that in 1754 he meditated going to the British American colonies; but it is not known in what capacity ; it is doubtful whether as an adventurer or to take a place under government—whether for permanent or temporary sojourn. His father put his veto on the intention, and the son at once submitted with ready and earnest expressions of filial obedience and affection. Burke was to have to do with these British colonies in America, but in a different
way. The flashes of his intellect and the thunder of his language-chances of light and warning which England threw away--were soon to mingle with the storm that cleared the atmosphere of American independence. He was to be with America, not in person, but in prophecy, he who could foretell the future magnitude of those colonies, and who exclaimed, the very first time he saw the British ministry, in the weakness of its policy and the plenitude of its parliamentary majorities, open the way
for those calamitous measures which led to final separation from the mother country: “ It is a poor compensation that you have triumphed in a debate, whilst we have lost an empire !"
“ His force of genius burned in early youth
With thirst of knowledge and with love of truth;
MARRIAGE ; DOMESTIC LIFE-FURTHER LITERARY LABOURS— ESTABLISH
MENT OF THE “ ANNUAL REGISTER”—OPENING POLITICAL CAREER.
THE labour of perfecting and producing in one year two such works as the “ Vindication of Natural Society” and the “Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful” was too much, if not for the mind, at least for the body of the author. Intense application