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alone obtain a favourable hearing. The Sibylline oracles were not more ambiguous than the responses from time to time communicated to those who were without a clue to guide them through the labyrinth ; and a chancery suit might terminate during the interval that elapsed between the first and last word.
To attempt to explain the causes of this revolution in the theatrical world is not within the compass of the present work ; perhaps that boasted season of prosperity, which incited to the enlargement of theatres, and led to a proportional increase of expenditure, may have been among the primary causes of the change. It is well remarked by Schlegel, “that from the viti. ated taste in respect to the splendour of decoration and magnificence of the dresses, the arrangement of the theatre has become a complicated and expensive business; whence it frequently happens that the main requisites, good pieces and good players, are considered as secondary matters. In the drama, as in the fine arts, it is not always the era of splendour and luxury* that marks the diffusion or the cultivation of real taste. There sometimes exists a childish craving for novelty, a fastidious affectation of elegance, of a spirit widely different from that single-minded love of excellence, which calls forth—which almost creates - the talent it adores. Without the sacred fire of enthusiasm, the splendid altar is raised in vain-without a cordial participation of national sentiment, there can be no pure and acceptable oblation. Forsaken by its protecting divinity, the magnificent temple is no longer the sanctuary, but the monument, of genius. On investigation, it would perhaps appear, that as the rage for decoration increases, the love of the dramatic art declines. When the poet is of less importance than the machi. nist or the scene painter, and when a favourite singer supplants the most accom
plished actor, it is in vain to boast of that public liberality which is not exerted for the protection of national talent. *
Amongst the evils originating in the taste for luxury and spectacle, it was not one of the least, that the increased scale of expence must inevitably have rendered the acceptance of a new play a subject of more nice and anxious calculation, and consequently presented additional impedi
* The following observation of Schlegel, in describing the extravagance of the Roman theatre, happily illustrates' this subject. “ When magnificence could be earried no farther, they endeavoured to surprise by the novelty of mechanical inventions. In this way, a Roman, at the burial solemnity of his father, caused two theatres to be constructed in honour of him, resting with their backs on each other, and made to move in such a manner, on a single hinge, that at the end of the play they were wheeled round, with all the spectators within them, and formed together into one circus, in which combats of gladiators were exhibited. In the pleasure of the eyes, that of the ears was altogether lost: rope dancers and white elephants were preferred to every dramatic entertainment."
ments to dramatic authors. In ques. tions of moment, distrust is naturally conceived against inexperience; and inferior men, already known, will in general be preferred to untried writers, however ingenious. A kind of monopoly is thus erected, which leads by turns to the exclusion of talents, or to the deterioration of the dramatic art *, and the powers of invention being exhausted, some temporizing expedient must be adopted, to prolong the term of popular favour.
At the period when Tobin commenced his career, an opinion appears to have been entertained, that nothing like legitimate tragedy or comedy, that is, nothing assimi. lating to our stock-plays, would be endured
* Les yeux prompts à se lasser d'objets muets pour le cour et pour l'esprit, solliciteroient de nouveaux plaisirs aussitot usés qu'obtenus ; bientôt la monotonie d'une sterile varieté persuaderoit, que le genie est epuisé, et tout un siécle aurait passé sans presque léguer en ce genre au siécle suivant, un monument honorable de son existence. Discours sur les Arts, par Mons. Quatremers.
by a modern audience. A knowledge of the stage, and of what is technically called stage trick, was represented as more essential to success than the knowledge of men and manners, or the possession of taste, imagination, and judgment. Whereever system thus usurps the place of sense and nature, it imposes limitations on the author and the actor ; in the latter, abridging the exercise of power, whilst with the former it stifles the energies of invention.*
* To judge by the periodical criticisms of the day, this mechanical system was universally condemned. No journalist, however, exceeds in severity the following strictures of a successful writer. “ An acute critic lately said, in one of those assemblies where conversation, though sometimes light, is seldom without meaning,
A comedy, to please in the present day, must be made, not written.' It requires no great expanse of comprehension to perceive the meaning of this dogma, the truth of which I am equally ready to acknowledge and to deplore : but should it want illustration, it may be found every week in a popular piece, where a great actor, holding a sword in his left hand, and making aukward gestures with it, charms the audience infinitely more than he could do by all the wit and observation which the ingenious author might have given him, and brings