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The Hunchback-The Merchant of London,
IN most abuses Reform comes too late. Public opinion proceeds in a tacit and swelling course, till it forces itself into the notice of those against whom it is directed-they then make hasty efforts to acquit themselves of one portion of the charges laid to their doorthe time has arrived when that portion is not enough. This has been lately the case with the great Theatres. Their prosecutions of the Minor Houses attracted the gaze of the public to the arrogant assumptions on which such prosecutions were grounded.
The dignity of the Drama was invoked to crush the small theatres, and it became the universal question in what way the dignity of the Drama had been advanced by the large ones. This examination led to other inquiries-and the result is, that the universal tide of opinion has set strong against the monopoly of the two Winter Houses. Alarmed and anxious they seek to vindicate the mismanagement of years, by forcing forth some two or three good plays-the result proves how completely they maligned that Public, whom they declared Rameo Sajee and the long-drawn pomp of Dioramas could alone attract. The good Plays have been completely successfulstill greater indeed would have been their success had the Houses at which they have been exhibited been of that size to allow the audience a comprehension of all their beauties.
But it is not the object of having good Plays at two Theatres which, even if permanently realized, would now satisfy the Publicthey want to have good plays at five or six theatres. And though a monopoly of trash first begat the desire of emancipation, a monopoly of excellence would not now be sufficient to counterbalance the ad
vantages of an open market.
With an indifferent and improbable plot, this, in many respects, is a most creditable, and in some respects, a great performance. That a father hould conceal himself from his daughter for the space of twenty years is a circumstance that may doubtless happen, but one which requires strong reasons to make appear dramatically probable. What are those reasons in the case of Master Walter? He has the misfortune of a hunch back, and he fears his daughter may recoil from the deformity. This, again, is possible-but only in certain characters-melancholy, morbid, disappointed, susceptible misanthropists; and in order to sympathise with the conduct, we ought to be thoroughly acquainted with the causes that formed the character. Thus in Walter Scott's conception of the Black Dwarf, we see in his hideous deformity-in his great misfortunes-in the benevolence repaid with treachery-in the love rewarded with deceit-causes that account for the rude retreat and the stricken brain. But Master Walter seems a good-natured, easy man enough; a little irritable, it is true, and sore on the matter of his infirmities, but not the moody, June.-VOL. XXXIV. NO. CXXXVIII. 2 M
grave, consistently-desponding character which makes such concealment probable; we do not become acquainted with any acts of ingratitude which his infirmities have brought upon him; all the reasons for the concealment, instead of being made gradually apparent throughout the progress of the play, are forced hurriedly into the last lines, in the following unsatisfactory manner :—
"You shall know anon
Now would not the fact of Master Walter's having, in spite of his back, won a wife's affections, be quite sufficient to assure him of the probability of winning a daughter's? Beauty of person is more regarded by our mistresses than our children, who, if they tolerate the wrinkles of our unlovely age, may well overlook the deformities of our natural shape. This, the inadequacy of the cause, to the main effect of the plot, is the great and crying sin of a play, full of many remarkable, and far more than redeeming, beauties. The masterwork of the whole is the character of the heroine Julia. We do not hesitate to call it the most skilful and consummate portrait of the varium et mutabile femina that the modern drama has produced. Julia loves Clifford in the Country-even then more dazzled by his adventitious circumstances than won by himself. She goes to London for the first time-new pleasures, new scenes, distract her. She can think only of them-she considers her lover but as one who can secure her these novel and alluring sources of delight. He overhears her expressions of regard for his fortune and rank, and comparative indifference to himself, and approaches. The following scene is exquisitely written :
"Julia. A list'ner, Sir!
Clifford. By chance, and not intent.
Your speech was forced upon mine ear, that ne'er
We were to wed; and are, so you're content
My coffers, lands, are all at thy command;
Who would not wear me for myself alone.
I perill'd all my own-and now, all's lost!
Helen. What ails you, sweet?
Julia. I cannot breathe!-quick, loose my girdle!-oh!"
(faints.) There is a high and chivalric sentiment in the whole of this dialogue on the part of Clifford, that alone makes his character no ordinary conception. In Julia, the prevalent feeling is Pride. Pride made her delight in her lover's station-Pride dazzled her love for the moment-Pride makes her recoil-offended, stung, maddened at Clifford's rejection. Pride makes her accept a loftier alliance, for the triumph of showing her disdain; and now comes the nobler and more delicate beauty of the character. Clifford is supposed suddenly to lose his station and wealth-to be humbled into insignificance: the Pride is no longer appealed to-the Love returns at once. His generous qualities force themselves on her mind-the motive for desiring a greater rank is gone-and Clifford, wronged from his advantages, is avenged by his misfortunes. This is thoroughly feminine; and the picture is no less beautifully wrought than it is justly conceived. Here we pause for one moment, to observe to Miss Kemble, as a hint in her future plays, that the great secret and source of Dramatic interest is mainly the developement, not of one passion, but of conflicting passions-the movement of a play should be the alternation of mental struggles. In "Francis the First," the author would therefore have obtained a far deeper success, if in the Queen Mother the passions were less marked and separated-if the love and vengeance perpetually renewed their conflict, and were perpetually lost again in each other. In Françoise the pathos would have been more touching, if her shame at her ruin was mingled with bursts of love and tenderness for her undoer. In Bourbon we should have recognised a loftier mind, if we had seen the sense of loyalty struggling with the sense of wrongnow conquering, now conquered by it. It is these lights and shades that the Higher Drama especially affects; it is these which present so awful a picture of the human heart in the irresolute daring of Macbeth, and harrow up feeling after feeling in the love, the jealousy, the wrath, the penitence of the Moor of Venice.
So, returning to the Play before us, it is the struggle that now ensues in Julia's breast-the want of decision our sympathy with that infirmity which make her character so eminently touching in itself, and so brilliantly effective on the stage. The struggle between her pledge to the accepted lover-her returning passion to the rejected one-her high-minded sense of honour-her subdued yet passionate
self-reproach, carry us away in each alternation, and réplace, with a most felicitous skill, our feeling of displeasure for her first weakness by a mingled admiration and tenderness for the pure, and high, and soft, yet still proud feelings, that lurk beneath it. Clifford makes his appearance again on the stage, as the supposed secretary of the nobleman whom Julia is pledged to marry. But here we must stop, to blame the Author for a great defect in the dignity with which Clifford's character was originally conceived. The situation of servant to Julia's affianced husband is so utterly degraded, so incompatible with the feelings that any honourable and ardent lover could entertain, that we recoil from it at once-it is a crime against the dramatic decorums, which forbid a hero ever to be lowered in our eyes. True that the situation is feigned-but we do not forgive him for feigning it; and to Julia at least, and to the audience for the time being, it appears real. The situation is gratuitously revolting, and by no means essential to the conduct of the play; but the scene which ensues is exceedingly fine, and we greatly regret that it is too long for our present limits.
Julia now thoroughly completes her conquest over us and stipulating that he should only release her with honour from her present engagement, pledges her troth to the impoverished and humbled Clifford. A scene, one of the finest in the play, takes place between Julia and Master Walter. The wedding hour approaches-the bridegroom appears-Clifford comes not-he comes. Master Walter steps in and explains; the Hunchback proves to be Julia's father, and an Earl-the plighted marriage, and the secretaryship of Clifford, are merely a plan to admonish and reform the heroine
"And all goes merry as a marriage bell."
Such is a rapid outline of this very delightful play, on the success of which we build many golden hopes of the revival of better days for the Drama, and in which, as the heroine, Miss Kemble has outshone all her former triumphs:-The most perfect appreciation of the Author's conception- the most refined, and natural, and subtle embellishment of all the numberless graces which the Poet scattered over the creation which she made her own - prove how fine her powers on the stage really are when fairly exerted, and command from us a warmer admiration than any English actress (we never had the good fortune to see Mrs. Siddons), save Miss O'Neil in the one character of Belvidera, ever called forth. We hold the chief reason of Miss Kemble's success in Julia to be this-that it is a part which does not allow her to declaim. She escapes at once from the schools -from the falsetto voice-the artificial tone-the buskined air. She becomes natural, and she becomes great. The "Do it!" which Mr. Knowles, in his preface, has so justly extolled, is effective, exactly because it is delivered in the common and unaffected voice of Feeling off the stage. And the more the young actress forgets she is a Kemble, the more, we are convinced, will the World be sensible of her genius.
We cannot pass from this subject without observing, that so far from agreeing with most of the theatrical critics as to the acting of Mr. Knowles, we thought he made quite as much of the character as any actor now on the stage possibly could do. We saw little that was
ungraceful in his action, the abruptness of which seemed, on the contrary, suited to the character; and though we could willingly dispense with a certain huskiness, and more than a certain provincialism, in voice, we have no hesitation in pronouncing his performance of "The Hunchback" to be one of great merit and high promise.
"THE MERCHANT OF LONDON."
Between this play and "The Hunchback" there is a certain similarity in the design, and in a seeming affection for the fresh, muscular animated style of the old Dramatists. We shall at once secure (to the Merchant of London) the admiration of our readers by the following passage ::
Scroope. (Ridiculing the assertion, that FLAW, a certain rhyming
The sun, the rippling stream-the mighty wealth
The plot is simply this:-Scroope, the Merchant
"The son of one who tenanted
A humble dwelling on Lord Beaufort's land," having been noted for his studious temper, was by the said Lord Beaufort made tutor to his two children-a son and daughter. The lines that describe the disposition of the latter are very beautiful:"She
Loved Poesy's ideal world-the lore
The young student loves, and "weds in secret" this high-born maiden. The old Lord Beaufort died-the son succeeds-discovers the secret. Mary at that time ruled in England-" Beaufort was Catholic," and denounces the presumptuous husband as a heretic and traitor the wife escapes to a convent, and there dies-an orphan niece-Mariana, the heroine-is left to the care of the widower
"In Mariana's eyes he loved to trace
"He toil'd and prosper'd-toil'd again and throve,
Meanwhile Lord Beaufort becomes embarrassed-ruined. Scroope secures a mortgage on his estates-and the first Act ends in these words of the Merchant