Page images
[ocr errors]


beauty, which in childhood was always remarkable, he appeared in some opera as Cupid.

An amusing story is told of his mishap at Drury Lane, when on one occasion performing one of the band of little devils with which John Kemble enlivened one of the scenes in Macbeth, he, either by design or accident, tripped up his brother goblins, who “fell like so many cards,” disconcerting the “Thane of Cawdor," who was so enraged that he thumped the future tragedian, and dismissed him from the theatre. Kean is reported to have excused himself by saying, « that he was not aware that he was engaged to play in tragedy!”

Mrs. Charles Kemble recollected hearing a clanking noise at the theatre one night, and on inquiring as to the cause, was answered, “It is only little Kean reciting Richard the Third in the green-room; he is acting after the manner of Garrick. Will you go and see him ?

Will you go and see him? He is really very clever." “And there he was,” says Barry Cornwall,“ really very clever, acting to a semicircle of gazers, and exhibiting the fierceness and probably some of the niceties of that character in which, fifteen years afterwards, he drew to the theatre thousands and thousands of spectators, and built up for himself a renown that will last, that must last as long as the actor's fame.”

From this time lay before him a long career of wandering, privation, and adversity. While at Windsor, in the strolling company of Richardson, he received two guineas for two hours' performance before King George III. He used to recite at various places of public entertainment, being then called the infant prodigy, Master Carey.

Mr. Douglas Jerrold informs us: “Mr. Kean joined the Sheerness company on Easter Monday 1804. He was then still in boy's costume. His salary was fifteen shillings a week. He then went under the name of Carey.

He continued to play the whole round of tragedy, comedy, opera, farce, inter


lude, and pantomime, until the close of the season. His comedy was very successful. In the song, ‘Unfortunate Miss Bailey,' he made a great impression upon the tasteful critics of Sheerness! It was about this time, as I have heard my father say, who had it from Kean himself, that Mr. Kean, being without money to pay the toll of a ferry, tied his wardrobe in his pocket handkerchief, and swam the river."

On a second visit to Sheerness, "the models for the tricks of the pantomime," we are informed by Mr. Jerrold, “were made by Kean, out of matches, pins, and paper."

While yet a stroller, he fell in love at Gloucester with Miss Chambers, an amateur performer, and after some time was married to her at Cheltenham. His consciousness of his own powers, and his self-assurance that he was worthy to arrive at the top of his profession, never deserted him ; now and then, in the midst of his drudgery, a part would be allotted to him which he would top, as the phrase is, in such a manner, as to call forth enthusiastic praises ; on one of these happy occasions, Stephen Kemble said to him, “You have played the character of Hotspur, sir, as well as Mr. John Kemble."

Notwithstanding this success—such is the fate of a man in the theatrical profession, who has not been tried in the ordeal of a London auditory; and so incapable is a provincial place of estimating fully, or liberally rewarding, true merit, that Kean, although praised by the Kembles, and by the few persons of taste who witnessed his performances, continued wandering here and there, with wife and child, upon salaries of a guinea and thirty shillings a week, pursuing an unprofitable, precarious, and, as it appeared at the time, hopeless career. So extreme was his need, that he wished to enlist as a common soldier, and actually presented himself for that purpose to an officer attached to a regiment at York, who very goodnaturedly dissuaded him from his design.

The account of his first introduction to a London manager is graphic in the extreme; it is a theatrical romance in miniature.

It is contained in the same work to which we are indebted for the short notice of the life of this great tragedian ; the Life by Barry Cornwall.

“When the curtain drew up,' Kean began, 'I saw a wretched house; a few people in the pit and gallery, and three persons in the boxes, showed the quantity of attraction that we possessed. In the stage-box, however, there was a gentleman who appeared to understand acting-he was very attentive

to the performance; seeing this, I was determined to play my best. The strange man did not applaud, but his looks told me that he was pleased. After the play I went to the dress-room (this was under the stage) to change my dress for the ‘Savage,' so that I could hear every word that was said overhead. I heard a gentleman, (who I supposed was the gentleman of the stage-box,) ask Lee the name of the performer who played the principal character. Oh,' answered Lee, ‘his name is Kean—a wonderful clever fellow ! a great little man.

He's going to London—he has got an engagement from Mr. Whitbread! a great man sir !' 'Indeed !' replied the gentleman, 'I am glad to hear it, he is certainly very clever ; but he is very small.' 'His mind is large, no matter for his height,' returned Lee to this. By this time I was dressed for the 'Savage,' and I therefore mounted up to the stage. The gentleman bowed to me, and complimented me slightly upon my play, observing, ‘Your manager says that you are engaged for London ?' 'I am offered a trial,' said I, and if I succeed, I understand that I am to be engaged.' 'Well, said the gentleman,' will you breakfast with me in the morning ? I am at the

Hotel. I shall be glad to speak to you; my name is Arnold ! I am the manager of Drury Lane Theatre.' I staggered as if I had been shot, my acting in the 'Savage' was done for; however, I stumbled through the part, and here I am. After finishing his story, he could think and talk of nothing but the approaching interview with the London manager. Morning arrived, and Kean, after dressing himself as respectably as he could,” says our information, “repaired to the hotel to breakfast. He was received graciously; and after some conversation as to his experience on the stage, his cast of characters, &c., &c., (which occupied the intervals of the meal,) he was finally engaged by Mr. Arnold, on behalf of Drury-lane Theatre, for a term of three years, at a salary of eight, nine, and ten pounds per week, for each successive year ; and he was to have six 'trial parts. In two hours from the time of his leaving home, he returned to his wife with the above information; he seemed half out of his senses with delight—he had been well received and well entertained, and had now touched the summit of his ambition.”

His triumphant career from this time until his death, is too fresh in the memory of the play-going world, to need further mention in this place. It will be sufficient to say, that after his triumphant appearance on the boards of Drury Lane in Shylock, the ball lay at his foot, and he had only to use good fortune with moderation. This, it is to be regretted, he did not do;

his prosperous career was wild, erratic, and uncontrollable ; all that Garrick enjoyed, of admiration and respect, from the highest aristocracy of rank, wealth, and talent in the land, might have been Kean's; he spurned them all with hardly concealed contempt, and, in their turn, they retired from courting him with little less than disgust.

The contrast between Kean and Garrick in private life, is, indeed, surprising, but explicable; the former struggling with want, insult, and obscurity, and compelled into the lowest company in early life, was soured with the world as soon as he began it; in his cup of life bitterness floated at the top, and when he came to drink of the sweets that lay below, his relish was gone. Courtesy and proffered service came to him from the great when his fortune was made by the favour of the public, and when he did not want them; he had something, too, of that fierce, indomitable, and it is to be feared, offensive pride, characteristic of men of genius and acute sensibility. He could not believe that the great, who now crowded his dressing-room, and thronged his drawing-room, had any other motive than the gratification of their curiosity, although a little reflection should have taught him that his genius led them to court his acquaintance, as much as his great success; it is certain, however, that Kean disliked to an extreme what is popularly called good society. Kean died in May, 1833, aged only forty-eight years.

We have already delayed the impatient tourist too long, if, indeed, he has not anticipated us, and already gained the summit of the easy ascent of Richmond Hill.

“ Say, shall we ascend
Thy hill, delightful Sheen ? Here let us sweep
The boundless landscape : now the raptured eye,
Exulting, swift to huge Augusta send,
Now to the sister hills that skirt her plain ;
To lofty Harrow now, and now to where
Imperial Windsor lifts her princely brow.
In lively contrast to this glorious view,
Calmly magnificent, then will we turn
To where the silver Thames first rural grows.
There let the feasted eye unwearied stray;
Luxurious, there, rove through the pendent woods
That nodding hang o'er Harrington's retreat ;
And sloping thence to Ham's embowering glades;
Here let us trace the matchless vale of Thames,
Far winding up to where the Muses haunt,
To Twickenham bowers; to Royal Hampton's pile,

To Claremont's terraced heights and Esher's groves.
Enchanting vale ! beyond whate'er the Muse
Has of Achaia or Hesperia sung.
Oh, vale of bliss ! oh, softly swelling hills !
On which the Power of Cultivation lies,
And joys to see the wonders of his toil.
Heavens! what a goodly prospect spreads around,
Of hills, and dales, and woods, and lawns, and spires,
And glittering towns, and gilded streams, till al!
The stretching landscape into smoke decays !"

It is impossible to convey, by any combination of words, a more strictly accurate description of the view from Richmond Hill, than that we have just quoted from the pen of the poet of the Seasons; it is complete, filling the mind as the landscape now fills the eye.

[graphic][merged small]

If, however, the reader demands plain prose, we are happy in recollecting that one of the greatest masters of landscape painting with the pen, has favoured us with an outline: need we remind the reader that we allude to the Wizard of the North, in his exquisite tale “ The Heart of Mid Lothian.”

“ The carriage rolled rapidly onwards through fertile meadows, ornamented with splendid old oaks, and catching occasionally a glance of the majestic mirror of a broad and placid river. After passing through a pleasant village, the equipage stopped on a commanding eminence, where the beauty of English

« PreviousContinue »