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And islands, bald and high,
"Then, ere the cold winds chase
I see the starry phantom of a crown,
A moment hover, as the veil drops down.
"Build on! That day shall see
My streams forever free.
The frost shall split each wall:
Your domes shall crack and fall:
On palace, temple, spire,
In thousand sparkles o'er the city .fell:
Between his isles: he keeps his secret well.
In the whole of London there, is not a When the pavement of the Strand is nndirtier, narrower, and more disreputable der repair, Wych Street becomes, perthoroughfare than Wych Street. It runs force, the principal channel of communifrom that lowest partofDrury Lane where cation between the east and the west end; Kell Gwyn once had her lodgings, and and Theodore Hook used to say that he stood at her door in very primitive cos- never passed through Wych Street in a t,-,e to see the milkmaids go a-Maying, hackney-coach without being blocked up and parallel to Holywell Street and the by a hearse and a coal-wagon in the van, Strand, into the church-yard of St. Clem- and a mud-cart and the Lord Mayor's carents Danes. No good, it was long sup- riage in the rear. Wych Street is among posed, could ever come out of Wych the highways we English are ashamed to Street. The place had borne an evil show to foreigners. We have threatened name for centuries. Up a horrible little to pull it down bodily, any time these two court branching northward from it good hundred years, and a portion of the southold George Cruikshank once showed me ern side, on which the old Lyons Inn the house where Jack Sheppard, the rob- abutted, has indeed been razed, preparaber and prison - breaker, served his ap- tory to the erection of a grand metropolprenticeship to Mr. Wood, the carpenter; itan hotel on the American system; but and on a beam in the loft of this house the fund? appear not to be fortheoming; Jack is said to have carved bis name, the set ine languishes; and, on the other
side of the street, another legal hostelry, New Inn, still flourishes in weedy dampness, immovable in the strength of vested interests. Many more years must, I am afraid, elapse before we get rid of Wych Street. It is full of quaint old Tudor houses, with tall gables, carved porches, and lattice - casements; but the picturesque appearance of these tenements compensates but ill for their being mainly dens of vice and depravity, inhabited by the vilest offscourings of the enormous city. Next to Napoli senza sole, Wych Street, Drury Lane, is, morally and physically, about the shadiest street I know.
In Wych Street stands, nevertheless, an oasis in the midst of a desert, a pretty and commodious little theatre, called the Olympic. The entertainments here provided have earned, for brilliance and elegance, so well-deserved a repute, that the Olympic Theatre has become one of the most favorite resorts of the British aristocracy. The Brahminical classes appear oblivious of the yellow streak of caste, when they come hither. On four or five nights in every week during the season, Drury Lane is rendered well-nigh impassable by splendid equipages which have conveyed dukes and marquises and members of Parliament to the Olympic. Frequently, but prior to the lamented death of Prince Albert, you might observe, if you passed through Wych Street in the forenoon, a little platform, covered with faded red cloth, and shaded by a dingy, striped awning, extending from one of the entrance-doors of the Olympic to the edge of the sidewalk. The initiated became at once aware that Her Most Gracious Majesty intended to visit the Olympic Theatre that very evening. The Queen of England goes to theatres no more; but the Prince of Wales and his pretty young wife, the stout, good - tempered Duke of Cambridge, and his sister, the bonny Princess Mary, are still constant visitors to Wych Street.. So gorgeous is often the assemblage in this murkiest of streets, that you are reminded of the days when the French noblesse, in all the pride of hoops
and hair-powder, deigned to flock to the lowly wine-shop of liamponneau.
My business, however, is less with the Olympic Theatre, as it at present exists, than with its immediate predecessor. About fifteen years ago, there stood in Wych Street a queer, low - browed little building with a rough wooden portico before it, — not unlike such a portico as I have recently seen in front of a dilapidated inn at Culpepper, Virginia, — and with little blinking windows, very much resembling the port-holes of a man-of-war. According to tradition, the place had, indeed, a kind of naval origin. Old King George IIL, who, when he was not mad, or meddling with polities, was really a good - natured kind of man, once made Philip Astley, the riding-master, and proprietor of the circus in South Lambeth, a present of a dismantled seventy-four gunship captured from the French. With these timbers, some lath and plaster, a lew bricks, and a little money, Astley ran up a theatre dedicated to the performance of interludes and burlettas,— that is, of pieces in which the dialogue was not spoken, but sung, in order to avoid interference with the patent-rights of Drury Lane and Covent Garden. In our days, this edifice was known as the Olympic. When I knew this theatre first, it had fallen into a state of seemingly hopeless decadence. Nobody succeeded there. To lease the Olympic Theatre was to court bankruptcy and invite collapse. The charming Vestris had been its tenant for a while. There Liston and Wrench had delighted the town with their most excellent fooling. There many of Planche's most sparkling burlesques had been produced. There a perfect boudoir of agreen-room had been fitted up by Bartolozzi's beautiful and witty daughter; and there Hook and Jerrold, Haynes BayU'y and A* Beckett had uttered their wittiest sayings. But the destiny of the Olympic was indomitable. There was nae luck about the house; and Eliza Vestris went bankrupt at last. Managementaftermanagement tried its fortunes in the doomed little house, but without success. Desperate adventurers seized upon it as a last resource, or chose it as a place wherein to consummate their ruiu. The Olympic was contiguous to the Insolvent Debtors' Court, in Portugal Street, and from the paint-pots of the Olympic scene-room to the whitewash of the commercial tribunal there was but one step.
It must have been in 1848 that the famous comedian, William Farren, having realized a handsome fortune as an actor, essayed to lose a considerable portion of his wealth by becoming a manager. He succeeded in the last - named enterprise quite as completely as he had done in the other: I mean, that he lost a large sum of money in the Olympic Theatre. He played all kinds of pieces: among others, he gave the public two very humorous burlesques, founded on Shakspeare's plays of "Macbeth" and "The Merchant of Venice." The authors were two clever young Oxford men : Frank Talfourd, the son of the poet-Judge,— father and son are, alas! both dead,—and William Hale, the son of the well-known Archdeacon and Master of the Charter-House. Shakspearian burlesques were no novelty to the town. We had had enough and to spare of them. W. J. Hammond, the original Sam Weller in the dramatized version of " Pickwick," had made people laugh in "Macbeth Travestie" and "Othello according to Act of Parliament." The Olympic burlesques were slightly funnier, and not nearly so coarse as their forerunners; but they were still of no striking salience. Poorly mounted, feebly played, — save in one particular, — they drew but thin houses. Gradually, however, you began to hear at clubs and in critical coteries — at the Albion and the Uarrick and the Cafe" de l'Europe, at Evans's and at Kilpack's, at the Reunion in Maiden Lane and at Rules's oyster - room, where poor Albert Smith used to reign supreme — rumors about a new actor. The new man was playing Macbeth and Shy lock in Talfourd and Hate's parodies. He was a little stunted fellow, not very well-favored, not very young. Nobody—among the bod
ies who were anybody — had ever heard of him before. Whence he came, or what he was, none knew ; but everybody came at last to care. For this little stunted creature, with his hoarse voice and nervous gestures and grotesque delivery, his snarls, his leers, his hunchings of the shoulders, his contortions of the limbs, his gleaming of the eyes, and his grindings of the teeth, was a genius. He became town-talk. He speedily grew famous. He has been an English, I might almost say a European, I might almost say a worldwide celebrity ever since; and his name was Frederick Robson.
Eventually it was known, when the town grew inquisitive, and the crities were compelled to ferret out his antecedents, that the new actor had already attained middle age, — that he had been vegetating for years in that obscurest and most miserable of all dramatic positions, the low comedian of a country-theatre, — that he had come timidly to London and accepted at a low salary the post of buffoon at a half-theatre half-saloon in the City Road, called indifferently the "Grecian" and the "Eagle," where he had danced and tumbled, and sung comic songs, and delivered the dismal waggeries set down for him, without any marked success, and almost without notice. He was a quiet, unassuming little man, this Robson, seemingly without vanity and without ambition. He had a wife and family to maintain, and drew his twentyfive or thirty shillings weekly with perfect patience and resignation.
A weary period, however, elapsed between his appearance at the Olympic and his realization of financial success. The crities and the connoisseurs talked about him a long time before the public could be persuaded to go and see him, or the manager to raise his salary. That doomed house with the wooden portico was in the way. At last the wretched remnant of the French seventy-four caught fire and was burned to the ground. Its ill-luck was consistent to the last. A poor actor, named Bender, had engaged the Olympic for a benefit . He was to pay twenty pounds for the use of the house. He had just sold nineteen pounds' worth of tickets, and trusted to the casual receipts at the door for his profits. At a few minutes before six. o'clock, having to play in the first piece, he proceeded to the theatre, and entered his dressing-room. By half-past six the whole house was in a blaze. Bender, half undressed, had only time to save himself; and his coat, with the nineteen pounds in the pocket, fell a prey to the flames. After this, will you tell me that there is not such a thing as ill-luck?
The Olympic arose "like a phoenix from its ashes." To use language less poetical, a wealthy tradesman — a cheesemonger, I think — found the capital to build up a new theatre. The second edifice was elegant, and almost splendid; but in the commencement it seemed fated to undergo as evil fortune as its precursor. I cannot exactly remember whether it was in the old or the new Olympic—but I think it was in the new one — that the notorious Walter Watts ran a brief and sumptuous career as manager. He produced many pieces, some of them his own, in a most luxurious manner. He was a man about town, a vivtur, a dandy; and it turned out one morning that Walter Watts had been, all along, a clerk in the Globe Insurance Office, at a salary of a hundred and fifty pounds a year; and that he had swindled his employers out of enormous sums of money. He was tried, nominally for stealing "a piece of paper, value one penny," being a check which he had abstracted; but it was understood that his defalcations were little short of ninety thousand pounds sterling. Watts was convicted, and sentenced to ten years' transportation. The poor wretch was not of the heroically villanous mould in which the dashing criminals who came after him, Robson and Redpath, were cast. He was troubled with a conscience. He had drunk himself into delirium tremens; and starting from his pallet one night in a remorseful frenzy, he hanged himself in the jail.
It was during the management of Al
fred Wigan at the New Olympic that Frederick Robson began to be heard of . again. An old, and not a very clever farce, by one of the Brothers Mayhew, entitled " The Wandering Minstrel," had been revived. In this farce, Robson was engaged to play the part of Jem Baggs, an itinerant vocalist and flageolet-player, who, in tattered attire, roams about from town to town, making the air hideous with his performances. The part was a paltry one, and Robson, who had been engaged mainly at the instance of the manager's wife, a very shrewd and appreciative lady, who persisted in declaring that the ex - low - comedian of the Grecian had "something in him," eked it out by singing an absurd ditty called "Vilikins and his Dinah." The words and the air of "Vilikins" were, if not literally as old as the hills, considerably older than the age of Queen Elizabeth. The story told in the ballad, of a father's cruelty, a daughter's anguish, a. sweetheart's despair, and the ultimate suicide of both the lovers, is, albeit couched in uncouth and grotesque language, as pathetic at the tragedy of " Romeo and Juliet." .Robson gave every stanza a nonsensical refrain of "Right tooral lol looral, right tooral lol lay." At times, when his audience was convulsed with merriment, he would come to a halt, and gravely observe, "This is not a comic song "; but London was soon unanimous that such exquisite comicality had not been heard for many & long year. "Vilikins and his Dinah" created a furore. My countrymen are always going mad about something; and Englishmen and Englishwomen all agreed to go crazy about "Vilikins." "Right tooral lol looral " was on every lip. Robson's portrait as Jem Baqgs was in every shop-window. A newspaper began an editorial with the first line in "Vilikins," — "It's of a liquor-merchant who in London did
A Judge of Assize absolutely fined the High Sheriff of a county one hundred pounds for the mingled contempt shown in neglecting to provide him with an escort of javelin-men and introducing the irrepressible "Right tooral lol looral" into a speech delivered at the opening of circuit . Nor was the song all that was wonderful in Jem Baggs. His "makeup" was superb. The comic genius of Robson asserted itself iu an inimitable lagging gait, an unequalled snivel, a coat and pantaloons every patch on and every rent in which were artistic, and a hat inconceivably battered, crunched, and bulged out of normal, and into preternatural shape.
New triumphs awaited him. In the burlesque of "The Yellow Dwarf," he showed a mastery of the grotesque which approached the terrible. Years before, in Macbeth, he had personated a redheaded, fire-eating, whiskey-drinking Scotchman, — and in Shylock, a servile, fawning, obsequious, yet, when emergency arose, a passionate and vindictive Jew. In the Yellow Dwarf he was the jaundiced embodiment of a spirit of Oriental evil: crafty, malevolent, greedy, insatiate, — full of mockery, mimicry, lubricity, and spite,—an Afrit, aDjinn, a Ghoul, a spawn of Sheitan. How that monstrous orange-tawny head grinned and wagged I How those flaps of ears were projected forwards, like unto those of a dog! How balcfully thoao atrabilious eyes glistened I You laughed, and yet you shuddered. He spoke in mere doggerel and slang. He sang trumpery songs to negro melodies. He danced the Lancashire clog-hornpipe; he rattled out puns and conundrums; yet did he contrive to infuse into all this mummery and buffoonery, into this salmagundi of the incongruous and the outre, an unmistakably tragic element,—an element of depth and strength and passion, and almost of sublimity. The mountebank became inspired. The Jack Pudding suddenly drew the cothurnus over his clogs. You were awe-stricken by the intensity, the vehemence, he threw into the mean balderdash of the burlesquemonger. These qualities were even more apparent in his subsequent personation of Medea, in Robert Brough's parody of the Franco-Italian tragedy. The love, the
hate, the scorn, of the abandoned wife of Jason, the diabolic loathing in which she holds Creusa, the tigerish affection with which she regards the children whom she is afterwards to slay,—all these were portrayed by Robson, through the medium, be it always remembered, of doggerel and slang, with astonishing force' and vigor. The original Medea, the great Ristori herself, came to see Robson, and was delighted with and amazed at him. She scarcely understood two words of £nglish, but the actor's genius struck her home through the bull's-hide target of an unknown tongue. " Uomo straordinario!" she went away saying.
I have anticipated the order of his successes, but at this distance of time and places I can keep no chronological count of them. Robson has always alternated the serio-comic burlesque with pure farce, and after Jem Baggs his brightest hits have been in the deaf ostler in "Boots at the Swan" and the discharged criminal in "Retained for the Defence." In the burlesque of "Masauiello," he had an opportunity—which some thought would prove a magnificent one to him—of showing the grotesque side of insanity; but, for some reason or other, the part seemed distasteful to him. It may have been repugnant to his eminently sensitive spirit to exhibit the ludicrous aspect of the most dreadful of human infirmities. A peste,fame, bello, et dementia libera nos, Domine I Perhaps the piece itself was weak. At all events, "Masaniello" had but a brief run. A drunken man, a jealous man, a deaf man, a fool, a vagabond, a demon, a tyrant, Robson could marvellously depict: in the crazy Neapolitan fisherman he either failed or was unwilling to excel. I had been for a long period extremely solicitous to see Robson undertake the part of Sir Gilex Overreach in "A New Way to pay Old Debts." You know that Sir Giles, after the discovery of the obliterated deed, goes stark staring mad. I should have wished to see him assume Edmund Kean's own character in the real play itself; but Robson was nervous of venturing on a purely