Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

written some time back, as well as a farce called the “Twins," which he gave to Bannister for his benefit. The comedy was put up a second time on the ist of May, for the benefit of Mrs. Powell, when it was dropped till the next season; and no wonder, for the wonder of wonders, “Pizarro," was now in preparation -- Kotzebue in his hero

ics, almost re-written by Sheridan himself, who so much valued the achievement as to put his name to it, and dedicate its publication to his second wife. It was first acted on the 24th of May. Sheridan had been labouring many months upon improvements, and the morning of the representation had not supplied the performers with the whole of the copy; they had prepared themselves, I believe, with the translation on which he operated, so that they could at least have ended as Kotzebue had done. However, I fancy his piecemeal supplies of the last act were in time. Now the truth was that he literally could not keep his box on the first night, from anxiety. He had no opinion of Mrs. Jordan in tragedy, though he admired her voice, and the nature that shone in her; but her name commanded his Cora, and he gave it. Mrs. Siddons did not appear to comprehend his intention — indeed, she was hardly ever herself in a new character. My friend, Mr. Stuart, of Upper Harley Street, obliged me with an account of Sheridan and his feelings about the third night's performance of the play. He had many of the features of Voltaire.

[ocr errors]

“About the third night of Pizarro,' I went up into Sheridan's private box, or, rather, the box he was privately in with Richardson. The box was on the prince's side, up one flight of stairs, making a sharp angle toward the centre of the stage, one window looking obliquely toward the audience, the other behind upon the stage. My business was politics, but Sheridan was so deeply interested with what was going on ( Pizarro '), that I could not speak to him for a length of time. He repeated every syllable after each performer, counting poetically the measure upon his fingers, and sounding with his voice like a music-master, with a degree of earnestness beyond my power to describe. He was in the utmost ill-humour, shocked, almost stamping with anger at everything Mrs. Jordan said. With everything Kemble uttered, he was invariably delighted, clapping his hands with pleasure, like a child. With some passages by Mrs. Siddons he was charmed ; at others


he was shocked, frequently stating to Richardson and me that .This was the way the passage should be spoken,' and then repeating it in his own way. Upon his sometimes referring to Mrs. Siddons, Richardson said to him, with his Newcastle burr : Well, well, Sheridan, you should not be so impatient! You know, Kemble told you that after some time she would fall into it.' This struck me strongly as proof that Kemble was the greatest master of his art in his day, which I think he was (indeed, there cannot be a question on the subject), and that Mrs. Siddons played entirely from nature, which developed itself as soon as she was easy in the words and in the business. I have ever since had a lively remembrance of this occurrence as proving the existence of important features, different in their kind, in the unrivalled powers of these two great performers. D. S.”

Without examining what it was about his Elvira that made Sheridan doubt whether Mrs. Siddons would fall into it, the best way will be to look into Kotzebue's scenes, and, drawing out her character for ourselves, ask whether Mrs. Siddons was like the abstraction we have made. Pizarro, ignorant and savage, was a swineherd, but his courage won the heart of Elvira. She is ambitious and romantic. “Would not play false, and yet would wrongly win.” She can smile at invasion, and triumph amid the bloody sacrifices of the field, so as she may be a viceroy's wife, and form the minds of a rude, that is, as she understands the world, an unchristian people. Her enterprise discovers to her the mistake she has committed. The virtues exist in man by a law of his nature; her

prey is superior to the wolf that would destroy him. She finds Pizarro incapable of generous pity - the veil which her romance threw before her eyes is withdrawn. She hates him for her own false perception, and would destroy the man without pity as eagerly as she followed the hero incapable of fear. Whoever will assist her hatred is welcome to her person, and, like most enthusiasts, she detests the mean barbarity of her enemy, and copies his meanness by descending to murder even sleep itself. She is a virago by habit, and the sharpest argument in her anger is the dagger. In the original play her usual dress is the male, and she is masculine in everything.

Now, whatever might be thought of Siddons by Sheridan, I confess to me she seemed to have levelled here perfectly at the mark; and he was


obliged to the slight sophistry of her manner, by which she contrived to retain some little of her sex's sympathy. One jot more of Thalestris, and she would have been driven from the stage. Mrs. Siddons did lean to the Amazon in her dress, for she first appeared in a helmet with feathers

a innovation in our costume. It was with proper discernment, which he was neutral enough to possess, though Sheridan was not, that Kemble said to me, “My sister has made a heroine of a soldier's trull." If she did, it was her own work, for neither Kotzebue nor Sheridan had done it for her. As to Mrs. Jordan's Cora, he had paid little attention to her style if he imagined she could ever speak in the measured cadence of Mr. Kemble. It is impossible to exceed her in the admiration of that great actor; but she certainly never wished his system to prevail upon the stage, lest what we heard there should, in manner at least, resemble nothing heard anywhere else. She thought it showing off the poet rather than the character. The lines are all good verse, but why scan them all the time you are speaking them ?

And this reminds me of that mighty creature Burke's opinion upon style in composition, which was drawn from him by the following circum

« AnteriorContinuar »