Abbildungen der Seite

Dryden's tragedy of that name, in which his “lion-like majesty” was the delight of the town. He also “ created,” as the phrase runs,“ Harcourt,” in Wycherley's “ Country Wife” (1675), “ Freeman,” in Wycherley’s “ Plain Dealer” (1677), and “ Count Baldwin ” in Southern's “ Isabella” (1694). In Shakespeare's kings he made an admirable figure. Cibber remarks of his assumption of Henry IV. that it was truly regal: “when he whispered to Hotspur, “Send us your prisoners, or you'll hear of it,' he conveyed a more terrible menace in it than the loudest intemperance of voice could swell to.”

Kynaston figured on the stage full forty years-from 1659 to 1699. He did not retire too soon, for his memory had latterly begun to fail, and he acted with diminished vigour. At the time of his death (1712), he was probably about 67 years old. He bequeathed to his son a considerable fortune.

The greatest name in the history of the stage, prior to Garrick's, is that of Betterton, whose artistic genius, by common consent, was of the ripest and most comprehensive kind. In his early maturity, Pepys, no incompetent critic, pronounced him “the best actor in the world.” In his later years, Steele, in The Tattler, declared that “such an actor ought to be rewarded with the same respect as Roscius among the Romans. I have hardly a notion,” he adds, “ that any performance of antiquity could surpass the action of Mr. Betterton in any of the occasions in which he has appeared upon the stage.” Pope speaks of. him with an enthusiasm in which he did not often indulge. And Colley Cibber regarded him with an admiration which was tinged with reverence. “I never,” he says, “ heard a line in tragedy come from Betterton, wherein my judg


ment, my ear, and my imagination were not fully satisfied, which, since his time, I cannot equally say of any one actor whatsoever. . . A further excellence in Betterton," he adds, “was that he could vary his spirit to the characters he acted. Those wild, impatient starts, that fierce and flashing fire which he throws into Hotspur, never came from the unruffled temper of his Brutus ; when the Betterton Brutus was provoked, in his dispute with Cassius, his spirit flew only to his eye; his steady look alone supplied that terror, which he disdained an intemperance in his voice should rise to. Thus with a settled dignity of contempt, like an unbending rock, he repelled upon himself the foam of Cassius.” How true an artist he was appears in another passage. “He had so just a sense of what was true or false applause, that I have heard him say, he never thought any kind of it equal to an attentive silence; but there were many ways of deceiving an audience into a loud one; but to keep them hushed and quiet was an applause which only truth and merit could arrive at : of which act there never was equal master to himself. From these various excellencies he had so full a possession of the esteem and regard of his auditors, that upon his entrance into every scene he seemed to seize upon the eyes and ears of the giddy and inadvertent.”

This great actor and good man was the son of Charles I.'s chief cook, and was born at Tothill Street, in Westminster, which then enjoyed a more respectable reputation than has since belonged to it, about 1635. At an early age he was apprenticed to a bookseller, but a passion for the stage took possession of him, and when the theatres reopened after the fall of the Puritan party, he easily



obtained an engagement.* His success was immediate; for we know from Pepys that his performance of “Hamlet” at the Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre, in December, 1661, drew thither all the rank and fashion of London. The “ Ophelia” on that occasion was Mistress Saunderson, whom he soon afterwards married (1663). As for “Hamlet," the performance was so graceful and yet dignified-the interpretation of the author was marked by such consummate intelligence—the elocution was so perfect-that the audience were stirred into an unbounded enthusiasm, and Mr. Pepys only expressed the general opinion when he exclaimed, “It's the best acted part ever done by man!” Throughout his long theatrical career, which extended just one year over half a century, his “Hamlet” remained one of his finest impersonations. Davenant, who had seen it performed by Taylor, the successor to Burbage, and the inheritor of his “ points,” taught him the stage traditions, and he himself elaborated the part with unceasing care and study. “When I played the Ghost to him," said Booth, “instead of awing him, he terrified me!” Cibber has recorded some details of his acting in the Ghost scene. “He opened with a pause of mute amazement; then rising slowly, to a solemn, trembling voice, he made the Ghost equally terrible to the spectator as to himself; and in the descriptive part of the natural emotions which the ghostly vision gave him, the boldness of his expostulation was still governed by decency-manly, but not braving; his voice was rising into that seeming outrage, or wild defiance of what he naturally revered.”

Betterton was held in such esteem by the King, that he # His employer, Rhodes, had been keeper of the wardrobe to the Black. friar's company of actors, and through him he made the acquaintance of Davenant.

sent him to Paris to study the stage scenery used in the Parisian theatres, and introduce into the London playhouses such reforms as he might deem desirable. When the courtiers performed the pastoral of “Calista ; or, The Chaste Nymph," before the King and Queen, Betterton was engaged to instruct the gentlemen in their parts, while the tuition of the Princesses Mary and Anne was entrusted to his wife.

From first to last Betterton was in earnest in his profession. “He is a very sober, serious man,” says Pepys, “and studious, and humble, following of his studies, and is rich already with what he gets and saves." He did his best with each new part he assumed, whether it was “Bonduca ” in Massinger's “ Bondman,” “ Sir John Brute,” in Vanbrugh's “ Provoked Wife,” or “ Valentine,” in Congreve's “Love for Love.” A man of rare ability and judgment, his society was sought by the best wits and scholars of the time. Dryden listened to his witticisms with respect; Cowley, Otway, Rowe, and brilliant Mrs. Centlivre were among his friends; and Tillotson greatly enjoyed his conversation. Everybody knows the anecdote which illustrates the closeness of their intimacy. The great preacher professed himself unable to understand why his friend, the actor, exercised so much more influence over his hearers, over their emotions and sympathies, than he did. “You, in the pulpit,” said Betterton, “only tell a story; I, on the stage, show facts.” Pope was among his disciples in the actor's old age, and submitted to his criticism his juvenile epic, “ Alcander, Prince of Rhodes ” — of which Betterton thought sufficiently well to advise its conversion into a dramatic form.

In connection with this great actor—the glory of the stage of the Restoration-two or three good stories are told. With his savings he bought some land near Reading ; and one of his tenants coming up to London to pay his rent, during the run of Bartholomew Fair, Betterton took bim to see some of its surprising sights. They went into a puppet-show-the owner declining to take the usual admission fees, on the ground that Mr. Betterton was a brother actor! The rustic was so delighted with Punch that he vowed he would drink with him; nor would he be content until his conductor had taken him behind the scenes and showed him that the puppet actors were only “rags and sticks.” At night he accompanied Betterton to Drury Lane Theatre, where Dryden's play of “ Amphitryon ” was performed, the principal * parts by Betterton and Mrs. Barry. Asked, when the curtain dropped, what he thought of them, the good clodpole, who had mistaken them for puppets, replied, “Oh, 'twas wonderful well done for sticks and rags !”

When Colley Cibber first appeared on the London stage, he was unlucky enough, in some small part he played, to put the great master out. Instant inquiry was made as to the offender's name and salary. “ Colley Cibber, was it?—and he receives nothing? Then put him down ten shillings a week, and forfeit him five.” Well pleased was young Cibber to pay the forfeit, and secure a regular weekly engagement.

When Betterton produced at his own theatre Rowe's “Fair Penitent," with Mrs. Barry as Calista, the part of Lothario was played by the irascible Powell. In

* The ansophisticated Berkshire farmer must have been much edified by this lively play, the "gratuitous indelicacy" of which has very properly been censored by Sir Walter Scott.

« ZurückWeiter »