Page images
PDF
EPUB

low a general official rule, which they have found it convenient to adopt. It is very true, that the expression might be less seemingly arrogant, and that it would be more palatable were they to say that they thought the piece would not serve the interests of their concern; thus avoiding the ungracious appearance of censorial presumption; but the essence of rejection would still continue the

same.

Whatever is established as a general rule, ought never to be felt as particularly applied. It is not to the terms in which the refusal is couched, that offence should be taken; indeed we do not see any cause for personal offence at all. But that there is something in the mode of judging plays without submitting them to the green-room, and which ought to be altered, we think is indisputable. At the same time, we also think that were authors to offer their

productions, in the first instance, to the provincial managers, they would have a better chance of being treated, more according to what they fancy themselves entitled to, and run less risk of disappointment in the event of obtaining a representation. Surely there is no dramatic author who would not think the applause of a Bath, a Dublin, or an Edinburgh audience, a great step towards distinction. In our opinion, the audience in those cities are greatly supe rior to the inhabitants of London, in dramatic taste; for the stand ard of excellence is higher in the provinces than in the capital, owing to this simple and obvious cause The provinces see only the best of the new plays, and are wholly untainted with the effects of witnessing the ordinary and the condemned.

The inhabitants of London, in judging of mankind, have, doubtless, some superiority over those of the country, but this very knowledge, which enables them to discriminate the motives o action with more acuteness, impairs' the delicacy of the mental tact; and the mortification which most of them secretly feel on comparing their sense of the moral sublime and beautiful with that of their country friends, should teach them in matters of taste, particularly in whạt relates to the living representation of human actions, to be less confident in their judgment. If dramatic authors were sensible of this, before seeking to gain the profitable applause of the metropolis, they would endeavour to merit the honorable esteem of the provinces. How many of them would thus avoid the contempt to which they expose themselves, by seeing their essays exciting disgust at the first appeal! How many of those who, probably in consequence of the failure of their premature conceptions, bave abandoned the cultivation of their talents, would perhaps by a gradual progression from the provinces to London, have attained fame and fortune from those very persons

who could not endure their crude effusions! The public has no sympathy for the mortifications of authors. On the contrary, there is no other unhappy being supposed to be a fair object of ridicule, but a disappointed poet.

If authors could once be convinced that, notwithstanding all their own fine sayings about laurels and immortality, they are in fact but tradesmen; or if the epithet be less disagreeable, but a class of artists dependent on the wants and inclinations of the public for all their consequence, they would soon acquire some of that consideration which they claim, and which may perhaps be due to them. Could they be inspired with a portion of that spirit of incorporation, that fraternal spirit, by which the book sellers and players have become their masters, and could they be taught to act simultaneously, they would not fail of obtain,

ing that influence in the community, from which their jealousy of one another is the cause of excluding them. At present, authors, as a body, have no political consideration. There is no reason in the nature of things, why they should remain so.

How does it happen that painters and sculptors are so much more important in society than literary men, and in England form a tribunal, whose awards guide the government and the legislature in matters of art ? Is it not owing to their incorporation? Is the nature of authors so much more mercurial than that of painters and sculptors, that they cannot be incorporated ? Would the institution of a literary academy do nothing towards the reformation of the stage? If such an academy were authorised to select the dramas offered for representation, would the arrangement not be more suitable to the dignity and importance of the trust, than that the power of licensing plays, should rest in an individual, a whole year of whose talents and merits is not thought worth half the value of one night's performance at Covent Garden theatre ?

Had the claims, of “ The New British Theatre" to public patronage, been founded on the exertions of those, who are interested in its success as a publication, that patronage would have been solicited with more diffidence. But this is not the case. The proprietors are only affording an opportunity for talent to manifest itself, and for mortified genius to appeal to the public against a sentence from which there is no other appeal. Their share in the merits of the work is absolutely nothing. They have only constructed a building, and opened it to the poets and to the world. In doing this they are actuated by a great public motive, and they are confident that the public will support them. By their success a reformation must inevitably ensue in the exhibitions of the stage, and the most dignified of all the amusements of polished society will necessarily be improved. Diffidence in such a cause would be affectation. They expect the dramatic authors to furnish them with materials, and the lovers of the drama are too sensible of the benefits that must accrue to themselves, not to grant a degree of encouragement that will rather induce the proprietors to extend, than to renounce their undertaking. Nor do they fear that the liberality of the public will on this occasion be contracted, and the ultimate utility of the work estimated by the compositions in the early numbers. It must be obvious to every candid mind, that at first the materials are necessarily limited to the communications of private friends, and that unlike every other publication, this work may be expected less deserving of patronage, at the beginning than after it has been some time established. It is undertaken with the hope of effectuating some reformation of the English stage. Its merits will depend on the voluntary communications of dramatic authors, and to deserve them it must receive the indulgence, and share the wonted generosity of the public.

March, 1814.

THE WITNESS;

A Tragedy,

IN THREE ACTS.

(2)

5

« PreviousContinue »