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taste, that the population at that time, a little over twenty thousand, supported two theatres for two seasons. But the fever had began to abate; and I went to old Federal street, to see what none of the Oldbug generation had ever seen before.
The play was the Rival Queens, or Alexander the Great. But, O who can describe the gay expansion of feeling, which rushes on the mind, when a rustic eye first salutes the splendors of the inside of a playhouse? The music, the orchestra, the candles, the stage, the boxes crowded with ladies; all presented a bright assemblage of illusions, such as I had never seen or imagined before. The curtain, I recollect, had risen before I entered; and Hephestron and Lysimachus were tilting at each other's breasts with their drawn swords. It made my heart palpitate; I almost thought them in earnest; but I was soon cured of that illusion, for I found that, if a play was an imitation of nature, it was such nature as I had never seen. It all seemed to me like a delightful mass of extravagance; and their sentiments were no more like any thing in New England, than their scenery was like the maple grove before Oldbug house in Bundleborough. How differently did Alexander talk to Statira, from what Robert Crane did to my aunt Hannah, when I lay concealed behind the settle! Even if she had swallowed a dictionary, (as her lover accused her,) I doubt whether she would have under
stood the following language, though it had been spoken by Sir Charles Grandison himself.
Or his equally moderate speech to his other paramour, Roxana.
Take, take the conquered world, dispose of crowns
But leave me, madam, with repentant tears,
And undissembled sorrows, to atone
The wrongs, I have offered to this injured excellence.
Then when this piece of excellence dies, stabbed by her jealous rival, the speech of Alexander is a true sample of stage sorrow; but it would hardly pass at a New England funeral.
Is there not cause to put the world in mourning?
No wonder that poets are generally pagans; for what horrid blasphemy must it be to treat the true God with the liberty and presumption, with which they deal with their tolerant deities! Most of the prayers, which I have heard on the stage, (and there is a great deal of praying there,) were offered to Jupiter, or his spotless associates; and truly, if such liberties must be taken with Heaven, it is well there are divinities worthy of the worshippers and the worship.
It has been hotly contested what religion Shakspeare was of; and some of his note-mongers have maintained the theory that he was a Catholic; and many scraps have been selected from his plays to support that imagination. It is not unlikely that coming from the west of England, in the age of Elizabeth, the legends of the old religion might be lingering around his mind. But the truth is, all play writers and novel writers are of one religion, and teach one system of morality. They are as much alike as the several leaves on a chestnut-tree. In the first place, they believe in fifty or five hundred gods, as the occasion requires; they will allude to a story in Ovid, or a miracle in the gospel, with equal confidence and credit; they have faith enough in the immortality of the soul, to dress out a decent ghost; it is the duty of a hero, or a lover, to pray, when he wants to make a fine speech, and his devotion runs well in blank verse; and lastly, there is a heaven where all disappointed sweethearts are sure to meet, who end their
own lives by dagger or poison, and die kissing each other. These, I hold, to be prime articles in the creed of all tragic poets, since the hour when passion first strutted in busk ins; and it is the only system to which they yield their unfeigned assent.
I confess, I was scandalized at the departures from nature, which I saw this evening, notwithstanding the novelty of the music and scenery of a first night spent in a theatre. When the tempestuous Roxana came in, with a drawn dagger in her hand, and cried
Shut the brazen gates,
I was astonished that mortals should live in such palaces; and could not but contrast their condition, with the inmates of my grandfather's house. No brazen gates there; no massy bars; but a red, wooden door, with two ripe cucumbers over it, going to seed ; and fastened by a peg over the latch, and half the nights not fastened at all. Before Alexander came in, I expected to see a little man, with one shoulder too high, and with a couple of epaulets on his shoulders. But when Barrett appeared, a great, fat, British actor, puffing and blowing; and finally leaping from his throne, and dying more like a dying bull than a dying man, I was pretty sure whatever else the theatre might be, it was not the mirror held up to nature. In short, I saw but two things, which were natural;—
the elephants, which accompanied Alexander's triumphant entrance into Babylon, looked pretty well at a distance, especially as I sat half way back in the pit; and when Clytus appeared drinking at the banquet, he appeared to me, drunk to perfection.
As I went home, I could not but ask myself, if my grandfather and aunt Hannah should find out where I had been, (which I prayed Heaven they might not,) what moral lesson I should say I had learned, as an excuse for trespassing on such unsanctified ground. What moral lesson!! why, in the first place, if you buy forty yards of gray gauze, and stuff two stout men into it, one for the fore legs and one for the hind, it will make a pretty good elephant, to be seen by candlelight. And secondly, though a theatre may be an excellent place for a court lady, a bishop, or a fiddler, it is no place for a Puritan, whose aunt has made him thanksgiving turn-overs, and whose grandfather is a deacon.