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The principal story of Love in a Village is interesting. The heads of two families had agreed to unite the son of one with the daughter of the other, though the young persons' had never seen each other, and therefore could not form any idea whether the proposed connection might be agreeable, and the union prove happy. Thus far the parents were to blame, that they did not first consult their children's inclinations, or make the proposal conditional. The children, however, without waiting to see each other, and to judge whether their parents? choice might not be conducive to their happiness, run away from their homes; and the son, in the disguise of a gardener, and the daughter, as lady's maid, get into the same family, unknown to each other, -- an unlikely, though not an impossible incident. Here they mutually fall in love, yet each thinks the passion for a menial disgraceful. Thus, had they waited the result of their parents' choice with patience, they would not have found it repugnant to their feelings. This moral is not, however, sufficiently pointed out; nor is the conduct of the other couple in the piece, Eustace and Lucinda, who meditate an elopement, and are discovered, sufficiently censured. The characters of the Justice and his sister are well drawn; and, though I am no sportsman, upon principle, yet there is a frankness and hilarity in the character of Hawthorn which pleases me,- I wish that he had derived his health and spirits from agricultural pursuits, rather than from the sports of the field. Hodge is amusing in some respects, but in others his conduct is very brutal. His behaviour to Madge is much too gross for the stage. There is a considerable share of humour in the piece, and the dialogue is in general pleasing, as are many of the songs and the music.
The Maid of the Mill is to me a very pleasing drama, on account of the pure and delicate passion which subsists between Lord Aimworth and Patty the Miller's daughter. It is founded on Richardson's Novel of Pamela. The Author of the remarks prefixed to Bell's edition of 1791, says, that The Maid of the Mill, “ LIKE PAMELA is one “ of those delusions which frequently destroy the proper
" subordination of society. The village beauty, whose " simplicity and innocence are her native charms, smitten " with the reveries of rank and splendor, becomes af“ fected and retired, disdaining her situation and every
one about her. So much for the tendency of such pieces.
“ Dramatic exhibition has ever its force in proportion 66 to the unacquaintance of the spectator with life-its “ vraisemblance is more certain and striking to the artless " Rustic, than the cultivated inhabitants of a capital.“ I know no surer steps to corrupt the primitive simplicity “ of a village remote from the capital, than to introduce a " Theatrical company-Romance among unfurnished $6 beads makes dreadful havoc indeed.”
There is certainly some fear lest the play should have this effect upon village maids; and, on that account, I should consider it as a play rather for the higher classes than the lower. It must be remembered, however, that Patty, though born in a lowly sphere of life, is a woman of virtue, of great delicacy of mind, and who has had a good education, which is a most important point in one who is to be the partner for life of a man of rank. The moral might be more strongly defined; but it would be well for the great if they never made a worse choice. The play is not without its alloy of grossness. The same objections must be made to Mervin and Theodosia in this play, as to Eustace and Lucinda in Love in a Village; and Giles and Fanny are as objectionable as Hodge and Madge.
What the dramatic critic and author has said, respecting the introduction of a Theatrical Company into a Village, is curious, and deserves most serious consideration. 'He attributes powerful effects to such a measure. Might not this be turned to a good purpose ? See my Discourses on the Stage, p. 187, &c.
I remember, when I was at Inverary in Scotland, in the summer of 1796, when the late Duke of Argyle was enlarging and improving the town and his estates in general, there was a Company of Players in the place, who had been either invited by the Duke, or encouraged by him to perform there, with a view to civilize the inhabitants.
He acted, perhaps, on the idea of his countryman, Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, who says, 66 that most of the “ ancient legislators thought they could not well reform
the manners of any city without the help of a lyric, " and sometimes of a dramatic poet.” (see his Political Works, 12mo. Lond. 1737, p. 372. and the Spectator, No. 502. quoted also in my Discourses on the Stage, p. 109.) I have not been able to learn what has been the effect. I saw a part of one play they performed, which was Richard the Third, another play was The Merchant of Venice, with the Farce of a Trip to Scotland. Whether the Duke or his family suggested the plays I do not know, I recollect that, at the time, though I thought then much less scrupulously about the stage than I do now, I did not think the plays judiciously selected. The company was very indifferent in point of abilities.
The Padlock on its first representation became highly popular, owing to the beautiful music composed for it by Mr. Dibdin. This piece has the same fault with the others of containing much indelicacy. It, however, exposes the folly of an old man wishing to marry a very young girl, and the inefficacy of bolts and bars and padlocks for circumscribing the affections; and that “the padlock,” the restraining power, must be placed upon " the mind." The character of Mungo always amuses, and has no doubt had some share in interesting the affections of the public in behalf of the negroes. (See Vol.. II. p. 495. Note.) The negroe is not painted here in the most favourable point of view. Drunkenness, however, is a sin which an audience are too apt to look upon with lenity at least, if not with pleasure.
Besides the regular Dramas which Bickerstaff wrote, he was the author of the Oratorio of Judith, set to music by Dr. Arne, and originally performed at Drury Lane in 1761. It was performed at the Church at Stratford upon Avon Sept. 6, 1769, at the Jubilee in honour of Shakspeare. Some of the Airs are worthy of being selected to be preserved as single independent songs.
The Comic Opera of LIONEL AND CLARISSA, or A SCHOOL FOR FATHERS, was considered by the Author as the best of his productions, (see the Author's Advertisement;) and, all circumstances considered, it appeared to me to be the most eligible to select as a specimen of that species of entertainment. The plot is interesting, and some of the characters well drawn. Sir John Flowerdale, Clarissa and Lionel,are, upon the whole, well-written : they required some alteration, however, to make them less exceptionable in point of duplicity. The comic characters are amusing. Colonel Oldboy, who would encourage a young man to run away with the daughter of another, as a piece of gallantry and a good joke, while he would condemn him for doing the same by himself, (shewing a breach of the principle of “ doing as he would be done by”) falls into his own snare, and is justly punished for his fault. He is a Lesson to Fathers in this respect; while Sir John Flowerdale is in that of preferring worth to fortune in making a final choice for his daughter. Parents too, should consider, that the natural, and almost necessary, consequence of placing young persons, of different sexes, and nearly of the same age, in the relative situations of Tutor and Pupil will be love. They must not therefore blame them for an effect of which they themselves are the cause. If the Tutor be selected from his moral excellence, as well as for his talents, as every Tutor should be, the consequence then need not be dreaded. The coxcomb Jessamy is a good picture of the travelled fop of the last age, now, almost, if not quite, obsolete. In Colonel Oldboy there was a great deal of grossness, which it was absolutely necessary to expunge; yet some traces of the licentiousness of his character are left, in order to expose and condemp it; it is hoped, however, without leaving any thing which can at all shock the most scrupulous delicacy. This opera was performed here by the Norwich Company in October 1810. I had not an opportunity of attending the representation ; but I heard great and just censures of the grossness of some of the passages.
The Airs in this Opera are by no means what I could wish them to be. Few of them will stand independent of
the dialogue with which they are connected; and many of them have the fault, mentioned before, p. 5, of arising out of the incident of the moment. Mr. Dibdin, himself a writer of musical pieces, and the composer of the chief part of the music to this opera, censures the songs in the following words: 66 The perpetually going off with a “song and teaching the audience, in imitation of the
opera, when to expect a bravura song, a comic song, "a cavatina, a duett, a quartetto, and a finale, began “ to grow intolerably tiresome”. (Hist. of the Stage, Vol. v. p. 261.) Some of these, however, are marked, in the edition of 1786, as being omitted in the representation; to others I have myself put the inverted commas. In that copy, also, I have found the duplicate songs here given, that the reader or the performer may take that which he prefers Most of the songs have been considerably altered; and, if they are not altogether what I would wish them to be, it is hoped, that at least they are rendered harmless.
The copy used in printing, has been one Printed for W. Lowndes, in 1786; I have also Bell's edition of 1781, which is the earliest copy I have, after some inquiry, been able to procure.* Besides these I have had the use of Bell's edition of 1791, and Mrs. Inchbald's and Mr. Cumberland's editions.
Clare Hall, Jan. 14, 1812.
* Almost as soon as the above was written, I was favoured, by Mr. Hiodes, the manager of The Theatre Royal Norwich, with the original edition of 1768. From this I have obtained the duplicate song of Harman's in Act 1. and made one or two oiher corrections, I have Dot been able to collate the copies minutely.