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of the late John Philip Kemble.
acknowledged, were written when his understanding had arrived at maturity, and it will be obvious that they ought to be measured by a different standard of value. He was born in 1757, and his first experiment of the kind was made in the year 1778, and his last in 1806. Mr. Boaden, in his " Memoirs," the design of which, throughout, seems full as much to establish his own importance and his intimacy with Kemble as to detail the events of his life, tells us that, in 1789, Kemble read to him "the first act of a tragedy on Atheism," as if this were an original production: Mr. Boaden was probably not aware that Cyril Tourneur had produced a play as early as 1611, called expressly "The Atheist's Tragedy," written in many parts with great power and possessing strong interest. It was upon a revival and adaptation of this piece that Kemble was engaged in 1789. As it has never been reprinted, I will make a very short extract from the first act to show that it deserved the distinction Kemble was endeavouring to confer upon it. Old Montferrers is dissuading his son, young Charlemont, from going to the wars.
I prithee, let this current of my tears
As thou hast substance to maintain and bear.
Charl. My noble father,
The weakest sigh you breathe hath power to turn
There's not a Frenchman of good blood and youth,
Is turn'd a soldier- -only Charlemont
Must be reputed that same heartless thing
If Kemble read this to Mr. Boaden, as he could read it, no wonder he thought "the expression (as he words it) nervous and exact." [Vide " Memoirs of J. P. Kemble," I. 451.] I do not mean to say, that the whole of " The Atheist's Tragedy" is equally good, or that it is as fine as "The Revenger's Tragedy," by the same author (reprinted in all the editions of "Dodsley's Old Plays ") but that it is quite good enough to excite the biographer's admiration, especially as Kemble did not let him into the secret that it was not his own.
On the authority of the Examiner's MSS. I am able to assign to Kemble two dramatic performances-an interlude in one act, and a comedy in five actswhich are not otherwise known to be his: the first was a very early effort just after Sheridan's "School for Scandal " had been acted; and the last a comparatively late production, brought upon the stage in 1806, in the name of J. T. Allingham, but, in fact, the authorship of J. P. Kemble. "The School for Scandal Scandalized," was sent up by Tate Wilkinson for licence on the 3rd of March 1779, and it is entirely in Kemble's hand-writing: the second piece, a comedy in five acts, was written out by the Copyist of Covent Garden Theatre in 1806, but it is elaborately corrected and altered throughout by J. P. Kemble, and
Larpent in his account-books (now before me) enters it as "The Legacy, or a Thousand Pounds Reward," and as the work of Mr. Kemble.
It is unnecessary for me to set out by giving a general character of Kemble as a dramatist and a poet (for he undoubtedly aimed at that distinction) when I am about to supply the means by which the reader will be able to judge for himself. Whatever might be his talents and skill as an actor, it will be found that his powers as an author were in no respect original or striking: on the contrary, it would seem singular that a man who has attained such extraordinary fame as a player, should possess so little that can be called vigorous and imaginative, if our every-day's experience did not prove that there is little in common between a distinguished poet and a distinguished performer. We may defy any man, in the whole range of our drama, from its infancy to the present day, to show us an instance of a great actor who was also a great author, or of a great author who was also a great actor. Colley Cibber was not more than respectable in either department: Macklin perhaps comes the nearest to an exception, but he was great only in one part, and great only in one play. Even giving Garrick credit for the character of Lord Ogleby, he was still as much below Macklin as a dramatist, as he was above him as a performer,
I shall examine Kemble's dramatic productions in the order in which they appear to have come from his pen, and first his tragedy of "Belisarius, or Injured Innocence." Mr. Boaden gives the date of the 29th of December 1778, as that when it was first produced; and he acknowledges that he "had never seen a line of it." At this time Kemble was not quite two-and-twenty, and he had then been about two years an actor. I can show, however that " Belisarius" was in existence, ready to be performed, and actually sent to London for licence, five months earlier. The MS. copy among Larpent's plays has, at the end of it, a letter from Joseph Younger, then manager of the Liverpool theatre, requesting the licence, and dated July the 27th, 1778. The epilogue, which is also found with the MS. was printed among "Fugitive Pieces, written by J. P. Kemble," in 1780, with some slight variations. Mr. Boaden admits that, "later in life, Kemble bought and procured all the copies of these poems that came within his reach," and that he had given as much as 17. 11s. 6d. for an impression of them. I have seen him at a book-sale driven to pay five guineas for a copy, and that now before me cost more than four. Kemble was fond of a scrap of scholarship: he places "coacta prodire" on the title-page of his poems: and in front of his "Belisarius," he inserted a well-known quotation from the Satires of Horace"Heu, Fortuna! quis est crudelior in nos," &c. The tragedy was, no doubt, played at Liverpool before it was represented at York, on the 29th of December, 1778, for the benefit of the author. The characters are thus enumerated :
SCENE, Constantinople-TIME, Twenty-four Hours.
In the opening of the piece, Belisarius returns from his three years' victories over the Parthians, attended by Marcus, an orphan, who had been sheltered and educated by him, and who bad secretly married Lucretia, the daughter of Belisarius. Her beauty is thus described by one of the friends of Belisarius:
"And she has charms that well might warm the breasts
Of frozen anchorites, and melt a heart
Dead to a thought of aught that beauty gives
But in her beauty is enshrin'd a soul
If we recollect that when this was written Kemble was a young man, let us recollect, too, that this was precisely a topic on which a young man would write best if the above lines are sufficiently common-place, it is not youth only that was in fault. The Alexandrine at the close is the only instance of the kind in the tragedy; so that we may presume it was not introduced, as our elder dramatists employed them, for sake of giving variety to the metre. The rival of Marcus is Flaminius, the favourite of the Emperor; and by the usual method, a soliloquy, he lets us know that his object is to ruin Belisarius. He has an interview with Lucretia, in which she rejects him--not without tears: Flaminius exclaims— "Wound me not, sweet Lucretia, with thy tears!"
And Kemble seems to have been foud of this figure of wounding with tears: in an after-part of the performance, Marcus says to the heroine
"Tell me but stop thy tears-they cut my heart!"
Nor is this all; for Marcus having become jealous of Lucretia, he retires to a wood, and endeavours to dig a grave with tears
"Here on the earth, thou tortur'd wretch, remain,
Some of the best lines are given to Lucretia, in Act II. after violence has been offered to her by Flaminius, and she has been rescued by Marcellus and Ligarius. Marcellus advises her "to seek the friendly couch," and she replies—
"No, sage Marcellus, never shall these eyes
Be closed in slumber till my Marcus comes.
That hangs the firmament with twinkling light,
Here we have "under the opening eyelids of the morn," in Milton's "Lycidas;" and in Act III. we meet with another imitation of a passage in the same poem
"The day declines-see where the sloping wheel
I may take this opportunity of pointing out, towards the close of the tragedy, another, and a still stronger instance, of the same kind. Blind Belisarius is speaking, after having failed in his ambitious project, to which he had been incited by his Persian wife, Offeirah
"Though I were hidden deep as the centre down,
This is only an inflated exaggeration of
"Virtue could see to do what Virtue would," &c.
in "Comus;" but it may be fairly urged that Milton himself had the thought from Spenser-" Fairy Queen," c. i. st. 12,
"Virtue gives herself light through darkness for to wade.”
The conduct of the story is little less than absurd. Marcus concludes that Lucretia is false, because she had given a ring to Ligarius as a reward for bringing the news of the return of her husband; and Belisarius believes the imputation against his virtuous daughter on the mere assertion of Marcus. In Act IV. there is a sort of parody upon the scene in Act V. of " Othello," where the Moor kills Desdemona. Belisarius enters while Lucretia is asleep, and makes a speech to himself, which ends thus:
Now, now! Oh, nature! weakness off! She dies!
Luc. My father! spare me! spare your child!
Ah, would thou wert not so, then thou might'st live.
Thou art-thou art
Luc. What have I done that cannot be forgiven?
He is interrupted, just as he has raised his arm to strike.
It will be thought that I have dwelt quite long enough on this turgid performance; but I must quote four lines of the Epilogue, to show what self-delusion authors practise upon themselves.-Kemble gravely asserts, that in this tragedy he had striven "to follow nature," or "to copy nature," as the Epilogue stands in his printed poems: I quote from the MS. before me
"These my objections to the bard I made,
Before his Injured Innocence' was play'd :
Would you believe it? says the senseless creature,
It would be too much to suppose that Kemble, at the age of about two-andtwenty, should write a good tragedy, and that he produced even a bad one was a proof of a laudable ambition above the profession to which he had devoted himself. We are without information, but it seems probable, that when "Belisarius" was acted at York, Kemble took the part of Marcus himself, and that the character of the hero was sustained by Cummins, an older and very popular performer in the same company.
The "interlude of one act," called "The School for Scandal Scandalized," which was written to follow Sheridan's celebrated comedy, when it was first performed by Tate Wilkinson's company, places Kemble's character as a dramatic author in a more agreeable point of view. It has never been before mentioned in connexion with his name, and Mr. Boaden was clearly not aware of its existence. As I have already mentioned, it was sent up to the Examiner of Plays, entirely in the very legible and gentleman-like hand-writing of the author. That his character was then fixed may be, if somewhat subtly, yet reasonably conjectured, from the permanency of the character of his hand-writing, which never varied during the last five-and-forty years of his life. "The School for Scandal Scandalized" is founded upon the celebrated "Critique de l'Ecole des Femmes" of Moliere, of which it is in several places a spirited and judicious imitation the whole bears the stamp of good sense and acuteness. The principal part of the dialogue takes place between the following characters, just after they are supposed to have returned from the theatre, where they have witnessed the performance of "The School for Scandal :”—
SIR SPARELY SPINDLE.
MISS DIANA DELICATE.
The most objectionable portion is the opening, where two well-educated young ladies read a letter which an old maid had accidentally dropped, written by an Irish Ensign, and making a clandestine appointment. This incident was, however, convenient, inasmuch as it let the audience at once into the character of Miss Diana Delicate, who, with the aid of Sir Spindle Sparely, a self-conceited petit-maître, was to vent her censorious criticisms on the comedy: the contrary
side of the argument is maintained chiefly by Colonel Manly and Miss Sprightly. The following extract will give a sufficient notion of the whole, especially to those who are acquainted with what may be fairly termed the original, by Moliere :
"Miss Delicate. Do you think a woman of virtue ought to be seen at this comedy? Col. Manly. My dear Ma'am, virtue does not consist in grimace. Affectation in matters of this sort is more pernicious than in any other. Nothing can be more ridiculous than that refined sense of purity that starts at shadows, indiscriminately calls everything indelicate, and gives a loose interpretation to the most innocent expressions. Believe me, they who are so scrupulously nice, so far from being esteemed people of real honour, by their mysterious severity and over-acted innocence only draw on themselves the eyes of a censorious world, that will narrowly examine every action of their lives, and be in transports to find the least crack in a vessel that was warranted sound and without flaw.
Miss Del. Very fine!
Sir Sparely. Quel sauvage!
Col. Man. I assure you I have very good reason for what I say. T'other night there were some ladies in the next box to me, who by the airs they gave themselves, frowning, pretending to blush, hiding their faces, and all without any apparent cause, gave rise to a thousand ill-natured sneers on their characters. They went so far at last that a merry gentleman at my elbow said, from Moliere, he was afraid their ears had monopolised the chastity of their whole bodies.
Miss Del. Some hartshorn! I shall expire.
Col. Man. Pray, Ma'am, don't think I mean to encourage libertinism and licentiousness-no, I think there's nothing in the world so amiable as innocence, nor does a lady ever appear so captivating as when in the bloom of a transient blush."
Throughout Kemble has made an attempt, not always unrewarded, to imitate the style of the comedy he was criticising. The catastrophe, (and such it is to Miss Diana Delicate,) is the delivery to her of the Irish Ensign's assignation: she quits the room in confusion and dismay; Sir Sparely Spindle follows her, and Colonel Manly and the two young ladies retire to supper, which is announced by the servant Toby.
Kemble also tried his hand thus early at farce-writing: but here his success was not greater than in tragedy. His humour is usually woefully heavy and sombre, with some violent efforts to be gay-not unlike his stage performances in Charles Surface and Ranger. His farce was called "The Female Officer," and Mr. Boaden tells us, that it was first performed at York on the 10th of April 1779, for Mrs. Hunter's benefit. The fact is, that it was written considerably earlier, and that it was sent by Younger from Liverpool for licence on January 1st, 1778. No doubt it was represented in that town. Eight years afterwards, Kemble seems to have been on very good terms with this production, as he then brought it out at Drury Lane, under the new title of "The Projects." Boaden tells us, that it was then "coldly received by the house, and as coldly withdrawn by the Author." Whatever he may mean by "coldly withdrawn," "coldly received" is quite intelligible, and the reader will not wonder that such was its fate. The main incident is the same as in "Three Hours After Marriage," by Pope, Gay, and Arbuthnot: two lovers procure secret entrance into the house where their mistress resides, the one being concealed in a mummy, the other in a crocodile. The original of these contrivances is contained in an Italian drama. I should have mentioned, that the copy sent to the Examiner was written out by Kemble himself, who, as far as industry went, was seldom sparing. The dramatis persona are these:
SIR ANTHONY ANCIENT.
DRUMMER AND PORTERS.
At the back of this list is Colley Cibber's prologue to his "Injured Innocence," which was made to serve the turn, with the addition of the four following lines, inserted by Kemble, which allude to the death of Foote in 1777, and