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PAGE 4

Whether Actors Ought To Sit In The Boxes?
by [?]

One may go into the boxes, indeed, and criticise acting and actors with Sterne’s stop-watch, but not otherwise–‘”And between the nominative case and the verb (which, as your lordship knows, should agree together in number, person, etc.) there was a full pause of a second and two-thirds.”–“But was the eye silent–did the look say nothing?” “I looked only at the stop-watch, my lord.”–“Excellent critic!”‘–If any other actor, indeed, goes to see Mr. Kean act, with a view to avoid imitation, this may be the place, or rather it is the way to run into it, for you see only his extravagances and defects, which are the most easily carried away. Mr. Mathews may translate him into an AT HOME even from the slips!–Distinguished actors, then, ought, I conceive, to set the example of going into the pit, were it only for their own sakes. I remember a trifling circumstance, which I worked up at the time into a confirmation of this theory of mine, engrafted on old prejudice and tradition.[2] I had got into the middle of the pit, at considerable risk of broken bones, to see Mr. Kean in one of his early parts, when I perceived two young men seated a little behind me, with a certain space left round them. They were dressed in the height of the fashion, in light drab-coloured greatcoats, and with their shirt-sleeves drawn down over their hands, at a time when this was not so common as it has since become. I took them for younger sons of some old family at least. One of them, that was very good-looking, I thought might be Lord Byron, and his companion might be Mr. Hobhouse. They seemed to have wandered from another sphere of this our planet to witness a masterly performance to the utmost advantage. This stamped the thing. They were, undoubtedly, young men of rank and fashion; but their taste was greater than their regard for appearances. The pit was, after all, the true resort of thoroughbred critics and amateurs. When there was anything worth seeing, this was the place; and I began to feel a sort of reflected importance in the consciousness that I also was a critic. Nobody sat near them–it would have seemed like an intrusion. Not a syllable was uttered.–They were two clerks in the Victualling Office!

What I would insist on, then, is this–that for Mr. Kean, or Mr. Young, or Mr. Macready, or any of those that are ‘cried out upon in the top of the compass’ to obtrude themselves voluntarily or ostentatiously upon our notice, when they are out of character, is a solecism in theatricals. For them to thrust themselves forward before the scenes, is to drag us behind them against our will, than which nothing can be more fatal to a true passion for the stage, and which is a privilege that should be kept sacred for impertinent curiosity. Oh! while I live, let me not be admitted (under special favour) to an actor’s dressing-room. Let me not see how Cato painted, or how Caesar combed! Let me not meet the prompt-boys in the passage, nor see the half-lighted candles stuck against the bare walls, nor hear the creaking of machines, or the fiddlers laughing; nor see a Columbine practising a pirouette in sober sadness, nor Mr. Grimaldi’s face drop from mirth to sudden melancholy as he passes the side-scene, as if a shadow crossed it, nor witness the long-chinned generation of the pantomime sit twirling their thumbs, nor overlook the fellow who holds the candle for the moon in the scene between Lorenzo and Jessica! Spare me this insight into secrets I am not bound to know. The stage is not a mistress that we are sworn to undress. Why should we look behind the glass of fashion? Why should we prick the bubble that reflects the world, and turn it to a little soap and water? Trust a little to first appearances–leave something to fancy. I observe that the great puppets of the real stage, who themselves play a grand part, like to get into the boxes over the stage; where they see nothing from the proper point of view, but peep and pry into what is going on like a magpie looking into a marrow-bone. This is just like them. So they look down upon human life, of which they are ignorant. They see the exits and entrances of the players, something that they suspect is meant to be kept from them (for they think they are always liable to be imposed upon): the petty pageant of an hour ends with each scene long before the catastrophe, and the tragedy of life is turned to farce under their eyes. These people laugh loud at a pantomime, and are delighted with clowns and pantaloons. They pay no attention to anything else. The stage-boxes exist in contempt of the stage and common sense. The private boxes, on the contrary, should be reserved as the receptacle for the officers of state and great diplomatic characters, who wish to avoid, rather than court popular notice!

NOTES

[1] Mr. Munden and Mr. Claremont went one Sunday to Windsor to see the king. They passed with other spectators once or twice: at last, his late majesty distinguished Munden in the crowd and called him to him. After treating him with much cordial familiarity, the king said, ‘And, pray, who is that with you?’ Munden, with many congees, and contortions of face, replied, ‘An please your majesty, it’s Mr. Claremont of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.’ ‘Oh! yes,’ said the king, ‘I know him well–a bad actor, a bad actor, a bad actor!’ Why kings should repeat what they say three times is odd: their saying it once is quite enough. I have always liked Mr. Claremont’s face since I heard this anecdote, and perhaps the telling it may have the same effect on other people.

[2] The trunk-maker, I grant, in the Spectator’s time, sat in the two-shilling gallery. But that was in the Spectator’s time, and not in the days of Mr. Smirke and Mr. Wyatt.