« ZurückWeiter »
season of 1803. Accordingly at the end of that period, after a long and most laborious attention to the duties of his profession, he made a final bow to his friends at Bath, and prepared for a summer campaign.
The season of 1804 is rendered remarkable in the biography of this gentleman, from his benefit being at the Opera-house, where it attracted such crowds, that the house was literally taken by storm. At the entrance into the boxes, as well as at the pit, the torrent was so impetuous, that the door-keepers, money-takers, and assistants, were overwhelmed, and a scene of great confusion ensued, which none but those who witnessed it can conceive. Fortunately, no accident occurred, and the kindness of a British audience extricated a favourite from one of the most painful and arduous situations it was possible to encounter. The play was Pizarro, and the receipts 6001. but if all the places occupied during the confusion had been paid for, they would have amounted to 10001. being the largest sum of money ever received by an actor at his benefit.
In 1804 he accepted a situation at Drury-lane, where he was engaged as a principal performer, and to assume both sock and buskin; and where he has personified Hamlet, Benedick, Macbeth, Ranger, Othello, Doricourt, Romeo, and Penruddock. If the person of Mr. Garrick is to be considered as the standard of an actor's stature, Mr. Elliston may, if any thing, be taller than the unrivalled hero of the British stage, while the other parts of his person appear anatomically correct, and duly proportioned. To the countenance and eyes of this gentleman, nature has certainly been favourable, as they contain those marks of expression which want only study to render him fully efficient in all the various duties of his profession. In respect to the expression and gracefulness of his attitudes, no objection can fairly be made. We have often attended to the deportment of his person, and never found cause to consider any part of his action as either redundant or inelegant.
Othello is a performance in which he is not regularly great; although he sometimes bursts upon the audience in such a manner as to excite admiration. The fire of his youth leads him in this character, as in Hamlet, into too much occasional hurry, which time and reflection will no doubt soften down.
The requisites for the performance of Macbeth are of such a peculiar kind, that the man who possesses them in an eminent de
gree, is in some measure but ill calculated for parts of an opposite description; yet this ardent candidate for fame never assumes the character without exhibiting many features of originality in his delineation of it. His performance, however, is by no means so methodized as that of Kemble, or rendered so complete, when considered as a whole. Elliston dazzles us with repeated flashes of original genius and conception, leaving intervals to discover the imperfections of his youthful efforts. But his performance clearly shows that he may be in that character, what at present he is not. In respect to comedy, Mr. Elliston sustains a wide
with a happy effect; but his genteel characters have always been most esteemed. That mellowness, however, which time alone can bestow, is still wanting; and when he has been allowed more leisure for the study of his respective parts, he will perhaps become as celebrated for the greatness and perfection of his scenic efforts, as he is now for his usefulness and versatility.
In the late Mr. Tobin's play of the Curfew, Mr. Elliston has evinced considerable improvement in the scenic art; and with the exception of his performance in the Honey-moon, he never exhibited a more finished piece of acting on the London stage. His delivery is void of all rant, and the passions of the part he expresses in those under tones of voice which unite energy with a fine discrimination of feeling. He delineates all the transitions of the soul with great descriptive excellence; preserves all the proportions of his portrait under a regular system of thought, and displays them in a rich and masterly tone of colouring. His Fitzharding is the chef d'euvre of this gentleman.
If Mr. Elliston had any physical imperfection which was an obvious impediment to his professional exertions and prosperity, and which no endeavours on his part could remove, our publicity of it might appear ill natured, and op as an injury to his public life; but when we are about to mention his inattention to propriety of dress, our remarks must be only taken as they are really meant, namely, that of rendering his person accordant in every respect with the character he assumes, as well for his own reputation as the pleasing effect a well-dressed performer affords to his audience.
In the support of early English characters, in which the costume is, in a great degree, regulated by fancy, Mr. Elliston is more happy in the arrangement of his dress; but when he appears as a
modern gentleman, he displays no taste in either the clothes he wears, or in putting them on. White small clothes with a blue coat and white waistcoat, constitute the dress of his private gentle. man, either in winter or summer, which gives him more the appearance of a holiday-fop, or a smart hair-dresser, than an elegant gentleman. Mr. Elliston we think is less excusable for this negligence of attire than many of his brethren, because he mixes in the gay circles of fashionable life, where he must see men of elegant dress and deportment in a drawing-room. With a little more attention to the dressing of his hair, and to the costume of a private gentleman, he would appear to considerably more advantage before the public than he has ever yet done. Nature has given him a good figure, and while he continues to offer himself to public notice, it is a duty he owes to the consequence of his public character and to his audience, to give the most decisive effect to whatever character he takes upon himself to assume.
He wrote a play called The Venetian Outlaw, which was represented with great success for several nights after his benefit at Drury-lane in 1805.
LAW AND DRAMA.
An attentive perusal of the lives of all the dramatic writers and actors, unfolds a fact on which a very curious philosophical inquiry might be founded. Many of those who have figured on the stage as performers, and a large majority of those who have been eminently successful in writing for it, have been originally bred to the study of the law. A fact so predominating in such a number of instances, cannot be the result of mere accident, and therefore manifestly indicates that there must exist, some connexion however imperceptible to the world in general, between the law and the drama. Congreve, Rowe, Wycherly, Banks, Murphy, the Col. mans, Sheridan, Reynolds, Morton, without enumerating a long etc., were either students or practitioners of the law. Had those gentlemen perused the quaintness of Coke, with the same eagerness hey scanned the beauties of the poets, or could they have paid the
same attention to the enacting clauses of the statutes, as they have to the volumes of Shakspeare, Massinger, and Ben Jonson, I have no doubt they would have made as great a progress in one path of excellence as the other.
Dramatic authors may be said to resemble comets, guided by some laws and properties which regulate other bodies, though at the same time subject to move in such orbits of eccentricity, that you can hardly reduce their qualities or dependencies to any problematic accuracy. That there is a connexion between the law and the drama, I think, cannot be disallowed. I would take up a few minutes of your time in endeavouring to trace it; but before we set out on this trifling, though hitherto untrodden journey, let us perfectly understand each other; and we shall jog on the road quietly together. First, then, I must begin, perhaps boldly, by say. ing that genius is the same in all as far as respects quality; the only point mankind will differ in will be as to the quantity they individually possess. This quantity will vary in its effects, when impelled by prejudices of education, or habits of intercourse. If then genius is to be estimated not by quality, for that we allow to be the same, but by quantity, if that quantity can be modified by force of habit, or education, the point we wish to discuss may be easily ascertained.
I know I have a great authority, which to superficial observers may seem to overturn my premises, for Akenside says,
“ With wise intent,
Imprints a different bias.” Though this passage, at first sight, may be thought to militate against the groundwork of my hypothesis, yet, if properly examined, I believe it rather strengthens it, and proves what I said in the beginning of this essay, that dramatic authors, like eccentric planets, had properties, such as gravitation, attractions, &c. common to other constellations; but at the same time, were governed by peculiar laws, which, imprinting a different bias on their systems, made them verge farther from, or approach nearer to their respective centres of motion. Akenside does not deny the “ quality" of genius; for, supposing (which, in life, is found to be very true) that nine tenths of mankind possess abilities equal in extent, and bounded by mediocrity; yet there are some particular minds on which na
ture imprints this different bias; that is, enlarges this quantity or expansion of faculty, to comprehend, as he emphatically remarks,
“ The fabric of the spheres
“ The golden zones of heaven.” Or to weigh
“ Fate's unbroken chain and will's quick impulse." It may be objected, that, according to this hypothesis, a man might be a poet, a blacksmith, a mechanic, or a philosopher, if his education or intercourse led him to these pursuits; and if this were the case, a person could be only of the profession for which he was educated; and thus cavillers might introduce living instances and examples, to contradict such an assertion; but, in reply to this, I simply discriminate between talents and genius.
Genius is the general disposition of the mind for natural improvement; talents are the particular tendency of it. Genius, if I may be allowed the expression, is the fire or sun of the soul; talents are
which proceed in different directions from it. There may be genius without talents—there can be talents without genius. Three fourths of the world are men of genius, hardly one fourth men of talents. This may account for an observation which is made of mankind in general: that many people of what we term equal or moderate abilities, glide through life with no particular tendency of talent, with a general disposition to improvements of every kind. If this be granted, it is the talent, and not the genius, which constitutes the eccentric movement, and gives the different bias. The habits of intercourse or education would improve this tendency, though they could not destroy it. I conclude my figurative hypothesis by observing, that those minds which are occupied in a variety of pursuits, will scarcely ever approach to excellence, as a general distraction of rays will enervate the powers, and dim the brilliancy of genius, while those who adhere to one or two branches of inprovement, from a concentration of force, (for if the pursuits are nearly similar, the talents will approximate, or, if opposite to each other, shine with greater lustre), will receive, in both instances, strength and fire from the centre of irradiation.
If, then, I can prove that persons pursuing the study of the law, have occasion to review men and manners, I arrive at this point of my position, that their genius, improved by study, leads them to the knowledge of mankind; if this be allowed, it follows, then, that