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Decline Of The Drama
by [?]

What a number of ingenious reasons have been latterly given for the decline of the Drama, and the decrease of interest now felt for the stage. Some aver that people are nowadays too cultivated, too highly educated, to take pleasure in a play; others opine that the novel has supplanted the drama; others again declare that it is the prevalence of a religious sentiment on the subject that has damaged theatrical representation. For my own part, I take a totally different view of the subject. My notion is this: the world will never pay a high price for an inferior article, if it can obtain a first-rate one for nothing; in other words, people are come to the conclusion that the best actors are not to be found on the boards of the Haymarket or the Adelphi, but in the world at large–at the Exchange, in the parks, on railroads or river-steamers, at the soirees of learned societies, in Parliament, at Civic dinners or Episcopal visitations.

Why has the masquerade ceased to interest and amuse? Simply because no travestie of costume, no change of condition, is so strikingly ludicrous as what we see on every side of us. The illiterate man with the revenue of a prince; the millionaire who cannot write his name, and whom yesterday we saw as a navvy; the Emperor who, a few years back, lodged over the bootmaker’s; the out-at-elbow followers of imperial fortune, now raised to the highest splendour, and dispensing hospitalities more than regal in magnificence;–these are the spectacles which make the masquerade a tiresome mockery; and it is exactly because we get the veritable article for nothing that we neither seek playhouse nor ballroom, but go out into the streets and highways for our drama, and take our Kembles and Macreadys as we find them at taverns, at railway-stations, on the grassy slopes of Malvern, or the breezy cliffs of Brighton. Once admit that the wild-flower plucked at random has more true delicacy of tint and elegance of form, and there is no going back to the tasteless mockery of artificial wax and wire. The broad boards of real life are the true stage; and he who cannot find matter of interest or amusement in the piece performed, may rely upon it that the cause is in himself, and not in the drama. Some will say, The world is just what it always was. People are no more fictitious now than at any other time. There was always, and there will be always, a certain amount of false pretension in life which you may, if you like, call acting. And to this I demur in toto, and assert that as every age has its peculiar stamp of military glory, or money-seeking, or religious fervour, or dissipation, or scientific discovery, or unprofitable trifling, so the mark of our own time will be found to be its thorough unreality. Every one is in travestie. Selfishness is got up to play philanthropy, apathy to perform zeal, intense self-seeking goes in for love of country; and, to crown all, one of the most ordinary and vulgar minds of all Europe now directs and disposes of the fate and fortunes of all Christendom.

Daily habit familiarises us with the acting of the barrister. His generous trustfulness, his love of all that is good, his scorn for Vice, his noble pity, and the withering sarcasm with which he scathes the ill-doer, we know, can be had, in common cases, for ten pounds ten shillings; and five times as much will enlist in our service the same qualities in a less diluted form; while, by quadrupling the latter sum, we arrive at a self-devotion before which brotherly love pales, and old friendships seem a cold and selfish indifferentism. We had contracted for this man’s acuteness, his subtlety, his quick perception, and his ready-wittedness; but he gives, besides these, his hearty trustfulness, his faith in our honour, his conviction in our integrity: he knows our motives; he has been inside our bosom, and comes out to declare that all is pure and spotless there; and he does this with a trembling lip and a swelling throat, the sweat on his brow and the tear in his eye, it being all the while a matter of mere accident that he had not been engaged on the opposite side, and all the love he bears us been “briefed” for the defendant.