« AnteriorContinuar »
he was not slow to take; for, independent of necessity, he began to be inspired with the martial fervour. His ambition, indeed, was of a modest kind, for he aspired to one degree only above the rank of a common soldier, and this favour was readily promised on his first application, though, at the same time, the Governor fairly represented to him the little prospect there was of being able to support a family on the pay of a subaltern. To this Kean replied, “ that he was aware of the weight of such an objection, but his wife had often been obliged to eat of the cameleon's dish, and the inconveniencies likely to occur in the new character, could not possibly amount to a total denial of comforts—for what family could starve upon four and ninepence a day? As to his children, one of them was certainly an infant, but the other was two years old, and had already made a considerable advance in the business of the stage, and could support his brother, till that brother was able to act for himselt." The mention of this child and his singular abilities gave a new turn to the whole affair; the Governor expressed a wish to see the youthful genius, and found upon trial, that the natural prejudice of a father had not exaggerated; he became in consequence, a still warmer admirer of Kean, to whose instruction the child's skill was to be attributed ; and in the fervour of the moment, requested him to recite some fa. vourite scene; in compliance with this request, Kean chose that part of Othello wherein Iago speaks of the handkerchief His delineation of the two characters was so brilliant as to make the Governor withdraw his promise of military patronage, for a reason no less honourable to the critical acuteness of the patron, than just to the genius of the client; he held it a sin against nature to draw such talent from its proper sphere, and accordingly, while he withdrew his first promise, he very readily offered to assist him in his profession.
The patronage of the Governor relieved Kean in a great measure from the persecution of his enemies. He was no longer the Cain of society ; still it could not make him popular, nor could he procure enough by his benefit to discharge his friendly debt and pay a passage to England. In this emergency he gave out bills, announcing the appearance of his infant son in a new pantomime; an announcement which spoke more for his own knowledge of the world, than for the taste or good sense of the Guernsey public; a child must at best be a bad imitator of manhood, and the original must always be preferable to the copy.
Admirable as this scheme certainly was, Kean did not think proper to rely on it alone for success. The acquittal of the Princess of Wales was the topic of the day, and tak. ing advantage of this, he privately circulated a report that Lady Douglas, a material agent in the trial, was not only in the island of Guernsey, but was to be present at his benefit. His theatre, a room in a public-house, was consequently crowded to excess, not to witness the exertions of genius, but to gratify, a foolish curiosity. Kean, in fact, was the only object in the room who was utterly neglected; every eye was engaged in anxious waiting of those around, in the hopes of discovering the renowned Lady Douglas. When expectation was at the highest, the seats, which had been badly erected by Kean, suddenly gave way, and thirtyseven of the spectators came rather roughly to the ground. No serious accident, however, occurred, and the activity of Kean soon prepared another room for the general accommodation.
The Governor of the Island was so pleased with the evening's exhibition, that he again interfered, and would have educated the child, but Kean, who had now got money enough for his present purpose, declined the offer, though he felt grateful for the kindness implied in it, and he determined to return to Weymouth, when his design was for a short time checked by the return of an old friend from India, who came only to die, and, as it was said, of a broken heart. He had gone as a soldier abroad, where he fell in love, and being a young enthusiast, his spirits were broken by disappointment. Kean saw him laid in an early grave, and has left us an account of him that is worthy of being preserved, if it were only as a literary curiosity, though in other respects it has some claim to the reader's notice. I give it literally as I received it, omitting only a long and not very interesting account of the expectations of the deceased, the lady's love, and the cruelty of her parents.
“Nothing appears impossible to him who follows a beloved object ;-apprehension is consumed in ardour-the ocean loses its horrors, the wilderness its frowns, the mountain its immeasurable magnitude.--Heaven has no lightning for him, earth no pain—the lion becomes nerveless in his presence-the lioness falls down before him-he has faith to walk upon the waters-he is inspired with the sensation of Omnipotence—the links of this created system lose their hold upon his thoughts, and he laughs, in the ridicule of an eager spirit, at the fiction of impossibility. Poor B—looked towards the Indies with hope-he saw in the picture which that distant country presented to his imagination, the possibility of a remedy for the perturbations of his mind, either in oblivion or in wealth. To pay his debts, which were trilling, and to leave his country, were his favourite wishes. How must his dejected moments have been spent, when those he called serene were composed of such specula. tions ? To leave his country he was resolved it was necessary to his pride; as to happiness, he did not feel it so much concerned, for he had taught himself to consider it an alien. How to procure a conveyance, was a question on which he did not decide so quickly, or contemplate with such satisfaction, it was reserved for accident, and accident performed its part. As he was roaming about the streets one day, his eye was attracted by a large printed paper, which was pasted against a wall. It contained an exhortation to the spirited youth of Britain to enter the profession of arms : it painted, in gaudy terms, what might be reaped in the field, and offered a victorious crown to those who were poor enough to be ambitious.
« Pour fellow! how altered was your state !-How vain were your father's prayers for prosperity, and your mother's invocation of a brilliant and distinguished fortune!-How vain were the prognostics of kindred, and the expectations of friends !-How vain were the suggestions of your own flattering fancy, when this paper, set up as a decoy to the very refuse of mankind, presents you with an alternative, in which your adversity must acquiesce !
“ There was a group of squalid beings at the same time examining the paper, through the medium of one of the party, who had just as much education as enabled bim to make it out. He read it with a loud voice, somewhat impaired in its distinctness by liquor, and they listened with drunken solemnity and sottish sense: · Well, boys!' cried he, on finishing ; 'what do you think of this! And are we not soldiers in heart already? Do we want any thing but the
coat to complete us? And shall we not have it at once? Foreign climates, fun and plunder, ląurels, and gold watches -Huzza !' The huzza was reverberated by the rest; and never was Demosthenes more successful in urging his Athenians to war, from motives of glory and heroism, than this London orator in exciting the same spirit, by motives more adapted to his own times, and the disposition of his own countrymen. Without any farther deliberation, they all set off for the place mentioned in the paper, and B-- followed, bent upon the same resolve. He kept at some distance from the motley crew, who continued a perpetual roar of laughter till they reached the rendezvous house. He could not check himself from sometimes thinking of the guides who now pointed out his path in life, so different from those under whose auspices he entered it, and under whose instruction he was imbued with sentiments adapted to its highest, happiest classes. But the comparison was too shocking-he looked at his conductors again, hesitating whether he should persist. It was right to do so; and he strove to imitate them in the only quality for which they had his envy—their thoughtlessness.
“ They went through many lanes before they arrived at their place of destination, which was a smoky room, in an old ruin of a house. It was filled with the sons of adventurous poverty and enterprising hunger. They were all sitting in a circle, carousing on the price of their enlistment, and two serjeants, who regulated the ceremonies, invited their new visitants to partake of the cheer. They accepted the invitation with readiness ;—they offered themselves as soldiers, to the no small delight of their hosts. Being received into the fraternity, they took their seats, and that disgusting mirth, from which sentiment and delicacy revolt, received an addition in its two essentials of number and of noise. B- would have retired at this moment he would fain have deferred the fall into a situation so degraded as that before him—he would fain have returned to the class from which fortune had now expelled him, perhaps for ever, and which, if it had not the reality of virtue, had at least the deception of refinement. • Admirable deception!' exclaimed he, ‘you throw a veil over the imperfections of the human heart, and it is with reluctance I exchange thee for
the sincerity of barbarism, the frankness of deformity, and the unreservedness of vice and folly.'
" The respect he once entertained for the inferior orders of society, was lost in the indignation with which he contemplated his reduction to their level; and it was with difficulty he pronounced the words, and went through the forms, that stamped him with a character he had always pitied, even in his respect. Being now a recruit, he sat down amongst his brawling comrades—he looked at them-he listened to them—he laughed at their silly jokes. “I am content,' said he. If he was he would not have said so.
“ Having discharged his debts, his mind was a little more at ease; and orders coming shortly for the embarkation of the regiment to which he belonged, he prepared with satisfaction to quit the scene of all his miseries; but, alas! it was the scene of all his pleasures too. There had he loved Elizabeth-there had he heard the first confession of her love for him—there joys that warmed his heart—there feelings that transported his soul—there hope and honour, that cheered and raised his nature, waited on his early youth. The satisfaction was not whole, for the recollection of such delight gave the place a claim upon his affections, which subsequent disasters could not efface.-The satisfaction was not whole, for Elizabeth was to be left behind-he was to leave her amid the dangers of a peaceful city-he was to leave her under the precarious refuge of parental adoration (there were dangers in peace, and uncertainty in parental tenderness, when the object to be committed to them was one of love, he was to leave her thus exposed, while he was going far away, under the guardianship of the tempest, and to the asylum of hostility and carnage. He might experience inconveniencies of wounds, and violence, and death; but she might be exposed to the calamities of whelming rain-she might suffer the visitation of piercing winds, and he could not be near to guard her from elemental shocks, which he must lament and speculate upon in the leisure of the cannon's execution. With such fears and solicitudes, which those who never felt the passion that dictated will scarcely comprehend, B-- thought upon the subject of his separation from Elizabeth. He prepared for a long leave of his native country, as if he was about to quit a foreign