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WHETHER ACTORS OUGHT TO SIT IN
I THINK not; and that for the following reasons, as well as I can give them :
Actors belong to the public: their persons are not their own property. They exhibit themselves on the stage: that is enough, without displaying themselves in the boxes of the theatre. I conceive that an actor, on account of the very circumstances of his profession, ought to keep himself as much incognito as possible. He plays a number of parts disguised, transformed into them as much as he can “ by his so potent art,” and he should not disturb this borrowed impression by unmasking before company, more than he can help. Let him go into the pit, if he pleases, to see—not into the first circle, to be seen. He is seen enough without that: he is the centre of an illusion that he is bound to support, both, as it appears to me, by a certain
self-respect which should repel idle curiosity, and by a certain deference to the public, in whom he has inspired certain prejudices which he is covenanted not to break. He represents the majesty of successive kings; he takes the responsibility of heroes and lovers on himself; the mantle of genius and nature falls on his shoulders; we “ pile millions” of associations on him, under which he should be “ buried quick,” and not perk out an inauspicious face upon us, with a plain-cut coat, to say—“ What fools you all were !—I am not Hamlet the Dane!”
It is very well and in strict propriety for Mr. Matthews, in his Ar Home, after he has been imitating his inimitable Scotchwoman, to slip out as quick as lightning, and appear in the side-box shaking hands with our old friend Jack Bannister. It adds to our surprise at the versatility of his changes of place and appearance, and he had been before us in his own person during a great part of the evening. There was no harm done no imaginary spell broken-no discontinuity of thought or sentiment. Mr. Matthews is himself (without offence be it spoken) both a cleverer and more respectable man than many of the characters he represents. Not so when
« O’er the stage the Ghost of Hamlet stalks,
A different feeling then prevails :-close, close the scene upon them, and never break that fine phantasmagoria of the brain. Or if it must be done at all, let us chuse some other time and place for it: let no one wantonly dash the Circean cup from our lips, or dissolve the spirit of enchantment in the very palace of enchantment. Go, Mr.— , and sit somewhere else! What a thing it is, for instance, for any part of an actor's dress to come off unexpectedly while he is playing! What a cut it is upon himself and the audience! What an effort he has to recover himself, and struggle through this exposure of the naked truth! It has been considered as one of the triumphs of Garrick's tragic power, that once, when he was playing Lear, his crown of straw came off, and nobody laughed or took the least notice, so much had he identified himself with the character. Was he, after this, to pay so little respect to the feelings he had inspired, as to tear off his tattered robes, and take the old, crazed king with him to play the fool in the boxes ?
“ No; let him pass. Vex not his parting spirit,
Some lady is said to have fallen in love with Garrick from being present when he played the part of Romeo, on which he observed, that he would undertake to cure her of her folly if she would only come and see him in Abel Drugger. So the modern tragedian and fine gentleman, by appearing to advantage, and conspicuously, in propria persona, may easily cure us of our predilection for all the principal characters he shines in, “Sir! do you think Alexander looked o'this fashion in his life-time, or was perfumed so ? Had Julius Cæsar such a nose? or wore his frill as you do? You have slain I don't know how many heroes with a bare bodkin,' the gold pin in your shirt, and spoiled all the fine love speeches you will ever make by picking your teeth with that inimitable air!"
An actor, after having performed his part well, instead of courting farther distinction, should affect obscurity, and “steal most guiltylike away,” conscious of admiration that he can support nowhere but in his proper sphere, and jealous of his own and others' good opinion of him, in proportion as he is a darling in the public eye. He cannot avoid attracting disproportionate attention : why should he wish to fix it on himself in a perfectly flat and insignificant part, viz. his own character? It was a bad custom to bring authors on the stage to