« ZurückWeiter »
whose name for many years stood conspicuous in strolling annals for the extreme badness of his performance, his consequent poverty, the extravagant opinion he entertained and never omitted an opportunity to express of himself, and above all, his disproportioned and ridiculous self-importance. This poor gentleman, who had long gone by the name of Old Jack, was now very far declined into the vale of years, had at all times been of an odd appearance, far from handsome, never over-clean, and, by way of setting off the natural beauty of his externals, chewed tobacco so immoderately that his mouth was always stained brown and his lips besprent with fragments of that filthy herb, while the juice of it oozed from either corner of his mouth down the furrows of his deep channelled chops, like foul bilge water from the scupperholes of a ship, and thence trickling through his beard, bedewed his cravat and bosom. Such was the personage who, on the very night that Warren and Woolley arrived performed the character of Oroonoko to the good people of Glastonbury, while Mr. Smith, who though manager, was so inferior to old Jack as to play second to him, performed the part of Aboan, and a shrivelled weatherbeaten old maid, of the name of Francis, figured away as the lovely Imoinda. Poor old Jack had one piece of property, and only one in the world, beside his clothes: this was a curtain of about four yards square, at once his pride, his comfort and his boast. To an acquaintance with this pompous travelling circumstance every new comer was without delay introduced, and every day received a commemorative hint respecting its value and importance, accompanied with an assurance, which it was treason against Jack's majesty to doubt, that it had risen and fallen upon better acting than any other curtain in the king's dominions, those of Drury-lane and Covent-garden themselves not excepted.
The night succeeding their arrival the School for Scandal was got up. Woolley played Sir Peter Teazle, and Warren, Joseph Surface, in which, as the wardrobe of Smith was too lean* to afford a dress suitable to the character, our hero was fain to content himself with a black suit, borrowed from the sexton of the parish church: but he minded it not; the house was good, and poor Smith and his company had a fair prospect of at least a temporary relief. From
* « Yea, for the obtaining of suits, whereof the hangman hath no lean wardrobe."
motives merely of benevolence, Woolley and Warren remained at Glastonbury till two or three days before the opening of the theatre at Honiton, during which time they performed several plays, and did great service to Smith without accepting a farthing for their labour-their board, and nothing more, being supplied by Smith.
On their return to Honiton, Biggs performed there and at St. Mary Ostery, with tolerable success, which continued for some time. Thence they went to Tiverton, which Biggs, to his inexpressible rage and mortification, found already preoccupied by one Williams a country manager, and his company. Blinded by envy, and by passion, and rendered insensible to every other consideration, Biggs resolved upon making a spirited opposition, and to that end took possession of the parsonage barn, fitted it up and began the warfare with all his powers, which were now augmented by a reinforcement from London, of two strayed actors, Maxfield and Atkins. This step of Biggs had more of malice than wisdom in it; for though he kept the field he gained no victory, but rather lost time and money. At the best, the town was not worth a contest. Williams more prudent saw the folly of contesting the point and marched off, though he had some tolerable actors, among whom were Powell, and Mrs. Hogg, the latter being the heroine of the company.
And now the time approached when our hero was to separate from Biggs forever, and follow new fortunes. They were at that sweet watering place Sidmouth in Devonshire, when Biggs being again deserted by all his company, but Warren, Woolley and his own children, set off to Sherborne in Dorsetshire to pick up as many as he could of the company of Baker, a country manager, the same who has since been so well known at Boston. Warren corresponded with Maxfield who was now engaged at Plymouth, and who made an engagement for him and Woolley, with Mr. Jef. ferson the manager of that theatre. As soon as this intelligence reached them, the two young fellows, on a fine, clear morning in summer set out on foot and carrying their effects upon their shoulders walked, without once stopping to the city of Exeter (26 miles). They had between them not many pence; for though Mr. Jefferson had sent money to them to bear their expenses, it missed them, owing to the suddenness of their departure. After having regaled themselves at Exeter therefore with the best their finances would allow them, to wit, a cut or two of bread and a pot VOL. III.
of beer, they pushed on as fast as possible in order to reach Plymouth before their little was expended, and at an early hour reached Chudleigh a town nine miles from Exeter. Stopping here to rest themselves they accidentally fell in with their old friend Tag Davis the manager, who gave them a good dinner, which was well timed and by them greeted, “not with vain thanks but with acceptance bounteous.”—Exercise conspiring with youth and constitutional vigour and with no small degree of that kind of internal yearning to which the sense of an empty pocket is hugely apt to dispose an empty stomach, harped their appetites aright, and rendered them so condescendingly complying with the solicitations of their hospitable friend, to do justice to his mutton, that they laid lustily about them, plying their knives and forks and bestirring their jaws with such energy and good will that they made a dinner which, to borrow a thought from Gil Blas, might excite
envy in the canon of a cathedral. To this day it is remembered with many satisfactory and friendly recollections by our hero. “ Tag was a kind honest soul,” says he with warm emotions of friendship," he gave us a good dinner, and I never ate so heartily in all my life.”
While they were waiting for dinner Davis informed them that Jefferson's company was so very full, the probability was, they would get nothing to do at Plymouth, and therefore advised them to stay with him. He told them that he was then building a theatre at Westout, Exeter, under the patronage and encouragement of Mr. Friar a merchant of that place, who was resolved to oppose and injure Hughes the manager of the Exeter theatre, and who to that end supplied him (Davis) with money. He added that his company was then at Bovey Tracey on Tracey Common, not far from Exeter, where they would continue to perform till his new theatre was in readiness; and he concluded with offers of a kind too flattering to be hastily rejected. As they were persuaded from the circumstances related by Davis, that his information respecting the fulness of Jefferson's company was true, as the offers he made them were liberal and friendly, and as they knew him too well to doubt his sincerity, however they might question his prudence, they, on mature reflection, agreed to close with his proposals, and accordingly repairing to Exeter went thence to take a view of Bovey Tracey with intention to join the company, hoping they should get at least enough for their support till the theatre at
Westout opened. When the night of performance came, Warren, Woolley, Davis, and ITINERANT RILEY and his wife, who were of the company went across to Tracey on foot. The play was Jane Shore, Hastings by Reynolds. “Of all the theatrical adventures in which during my life I have been concerned," says Warren, “this was the very worst. When I looked at the place, I was really unable to stand it: in the audience nothing was to be seen, but smock frocks and red cloaks.” Under these impressions, he candidly observed to Reynolds that it was not worth his while to stay there, and desired him not to calculate on his performing the next night, for that he intended to go back to Exeter. The pride of Reynolds was hurt by this observation: he was nettled; grew lofty, and told Warren that they could do very well without him.
In Tracey there were two public houses; and it was in a hayloft belonging to one of these which stood at the lower end of the town, the company performed. Warren leaving the play-loft went down stairs and entering the taproom found a parcel of farmers sitting round the fire; they asked him to join them; he sat down and relishing their company very well stayed with them till the play was over, when the performers coming down he joined them, and they proceeded to make a dividend of the proceeds of their performance. It was not here as it used to be with Biggs: all was fair, not a farthing, but what justice intitled him to, was detained by Davis. The consequence was, that the shares were not contemptible for such a place; each received between five and six shillings. It was again proposed to Warren to join them, and by way.of inducement an offer was made, to give hima fair share of that night's profits, provided he would undertake to play with them on the next. He agreed; Romeo and Juliet was the play appointed; "and he undertook to play the two characters of Tibalt and Paris in the tragedy, as well as that of Lord Minnikin in the farce. He did so, and had played about eight nights altogether, when he was unexpectedly interrupted by the arrival of Biggs, who having received intelligence, where Warren and Woolley were playing, had come in pursuit of them.
The taverns of Tracey were all so full that Warren was obliged to sleep on a pallet laid upon the floor. One morning as he was reposing in this condition, his ears were assailed with a strange kind of thumping noise which awakened and somewhat startled him. On listening with all his attention he imagined that the sounds
very much resembled those produced by the club foot of Biggs as he was used to stump up stairs: as it approached nearer the resemblance appeared more strong; and he was put out of doubt upon the subject by the voice of his old greasy manager calling out in his usual loud tone, “is this here door, the room where they bees in?" Warren had scarcely a moment to reflect on this strange incident when the door flew open, and in stumped Biggs himself. “So so, here you are, are you?" said he, squatting himself down on a chair, “a pretty fellow, to think to fum Biggs-o you're a sly one, but I'm up to you I know a thing or twoYou can't put your finger in my eye, cunning as you are.” “What do you mean?" said Warren- What do you want with me?” “ A rum question that too! Why, what should I want, but to speak to you?”—“Well then” returned Warren, “ go down stairs and I will dress myself and follow you directly.” As Warren spoke in a peremptory tone, Biggs thought proper to comply and retired, desiring the other not to keep him long. Warren put on his clothes as quickly as he could, and joined Biggs who at first addressed him with affected kindness, and endeavoured to prevail upon him to return to his company, which Warren peremptorily refused. Biggs then changed his tone and threatened to resort to law, and call on the magistrates to compel him to go back and perform his contracts; to this Warren replied that neither was there any contract subsisting between them, nor should, nor could any magistrate in the realm force him to have any further connexion with him. He then reminded Biggs that his engagement was not a permanent one; that he (Biggs), had been deserted by his whole company; and that for three weeks during which they had been at Sidmouth with him, neither Woolley nor he had received a shilling; at the end of which time they had been left to shift for themselves in a strange place, unprovided and idle. “Ay, ay,” said Biggs, “ then don me but I'll be up to you," and left the house. Our hero could easily perceive that the brutal fellow intended mischief, but when, how, or in what form it was practicable for him to accomplish it, neither Warren nor Woolley could imagine.
They were not long left in doubt upon it. Biggs returned with an officer whom he desired to arrest them there fellows. What the grounds of arrest assumed by him were, they could not surmise; but knowing that he was profligate enough to swear to any thing, and to charge them with any crime however villanous, even rob