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surprized that the principle should be carried still farther with respect to our volatile and enthusiastic neighbours. In addition to their natural susceptibility, there are many other causes which contribute to the effect theatrical pieces have on a French audience; -the chief of these is, that, for a long series of years, the French public had no other subject or place on which or in which they could express an opinion. It was so before the Revolution it was so to a greater degree during the reigns of terror both of Maximilian and of Napoleon. Those who are acquainted with French literature are aware that the proudest title of M. Laya, who has been lately elected to the French Academy, and whose election has so much offended all the ultra-liberals, was, that in the wildest fury of the Revolution, he had the courage to bring out a piece called L'Ami des Loix, which the audience had the good feeling to applaud ;-he escaped the guillotine only by flight and concealment; and he still receives the punishment of his offence—or, as he, we presume, considers it, the reward of his virtues--in the defeated rivalry of M. Benjamin Constant, and the malignity of the united factions of Robespierre and Buonaparte.
In the latter years of the jacobin emperor, the theatres were as much under his own controul as the senate and legislative body. Nothing indeed seems more surprizing than that the spirit of literary discussicn—which the imposing splendour of Louis XIV. could not restrain, which the lettres de cachet of Louis XV. could not intimidate, wbich the indulgence and liberality of Louis XVI. permitted to grow to extravagance, which Robespierre could not quite destroy, and which the Directory could not quite enslave the tremendous terror of Buonaparte's government should for a time extinguish. Always slavish in politics, and timidly subservient to the reigning powers, it was then, for the first time, that the audience of a French theatre were terrified into complete literary as well as political subjection. This extraordinary rigour could not last long; it fell together with the great empire, and the theatres of France are once more the scenes, not merely of critical disputes, but of much of that kind of spirit, which, in England, vents itself in Palace-yard meetings, elections, and tavern dinners.
Among such a people it is not surprizing that the regulations of the stage should be a matter of police; but with all our experience on this subject, we confess we were not prepared to find the theatre of France reduced to a system of such official organization and dependence upon the government, as we find in the work which we are about to examine.
The book itself consists of about twenty or thirty pages of introductory matter, loose, affected, and sometimes unintelligible --criticising defects in so silly a style that they can meet no atten
tion, and suggesting improvements so very extravagant that they deserve none. The rest of the volume, above two hundred pages, is occupied with a kind of Statistical Account of the Stage of France, and we believe we may venture to say that-neither of the
navy, the church, nor the court; neither of the arts, sciences, agriculture, nor manufactures; neither of the internal nor external policy of the kingdom of France, does there exist so full, so exact, and so organized, an account as this of the play-houses-a curious proof of the genius of the people.
The number of theatres in Paris prior to the revolution was seven; and on these were exhibited during the early days of that disastrous period—every inflammatory species of representation : the actors, like the authors, were touched by the revolutionary mania ; and costumes à la Grecque, and coëffures à la Romuine, and wigs and daggers à la Brutus, effectually turned their heads, and --natio comoda est—the whole people, stage-players and all, set about performing a grand republican farce, which, in a few months, degenerated into the most dreadful tragedy that ever stained the annals of the world.
Of course, one of the first bridles which they were impatient to throw off was that which restrained the stage. By a decree of the 19th January, 1791, any person who pleased might open a theatre, subject to no other conditions than that of giving notice of his intention to the local authorities, and observing the few directions which the municipal officers were empowered to give. This, as might be expected, soon produced if not overflowing houses, at least an overflowing of houses ; and thirty theatres were frequently opened in Paris on the same evening. We need not point out to our readers the tremendous effects which so many cheap places of resort for the idle, the profligate, and the violent must have had, at a time when all old principles were unsettled, and all old institutions tottering-when all professions were neglected, and almost all trades at a stand. This state of estreme intoxication and madness continued longer than could have been expected; for, in 1794, we find, by a decree of the Convention, that there were still twenty theatres of sufficient consequence to be entitled to receive from the public treasure, the price of four gratuitous representations; and nothing can more clearly shew the absurd importance and inflated style in which it was the fashion to treat theatrical affairs, than a decree of the National Assembly of the 18th October in that year, which enacts
· Art. 1. The theatrical year shall henceforward be reckoned with the
• Art. 2. The Committees of Public Instruction and Finance shall unite together, and propose a scheme for the number, salaries, disci. pline, &c. of the actors, &c.' VOL. XVII. NO. XXXIV.
To the first of these grave articles is subjoined a still graver note, to apprize the world that though thus extensive in its terms, the articles, in fact, only applied to the Opera, for that in the rest of France the theatrical year was to begin as heretofore! At the moment when this admirable regulation was making, his serene highness the prince arch-chancellor of the empire, Duke of Parma, Peter Cambacérès, one of the constellation of great men whom the restoration has obscured, was president of the National Convention. We mention it to the honour of fallen greatness.
In November, 1796, a decree was passed, (and has ever since continued in force,) which enacts that a décime on every franc of the price of entrance at all places of public amusement should be collected for the use of the poor—that is, one penny out of every ten.
It is somewhat curious to find this very tax proposed to Mr. Secretary Walsingham, in 1586, by some zealous person, as a trifling compensation for the immorality of stage plays. If this mischief must be tolerated, let every stage in London pay a weekly pension to the poor ; that ex hoc malo proveniat aliquod bonum: but it is rather to be wished that players might be used, as Apollo did bis laughing-semel in anno.' Extremes meet; and a profligate French government acted on the principle of an over-righteous English puritan.
The following extract of the table of the produce of this duty for the last six years, in which so many extraordinary events have occurred, will serve, as a kind of moral thermometer, to shew to how little vicissitude of feeling the public mind of France is subject—and with what regularity the course of amusement has gone on during the Austrian campaign, the retreat of Mosco, the invasion of France, the overthrow of the empire, the capture of the capital, and the establishment and re-establishment of the king.
1813 1814 1815 1816 fr. 421381 396940 408017 446551 449038 452635
16572 16745 9280 13383 13614 10887 4859 6401 5450 5443 5675 6018 2707 4170 1994 4763 8021 5922
2619 2589 2341 2713 4362 4945 3953 2387 3551 2613 2511 2221 2798 2741 2635 3636 8608 2710 3877 6397 6470 6516 6420
Total fr. 455,395 437,503 438,855 485,137 491,826 497,363 From this account, it appears that the year which immediately followed the heaviest calamity that ever befel a nation, the Russian retreat, witnessed but little diminution in the quantity of public amusement and gaiety in France, the immense influx of strangers in the years 1814 and 1815, made up, we presume, for the absence
of the French; but the superiority of the last year over all the for- .
Le Théâtre Mareux,
Le Théâtre des Muses,
Les Jeunes Elèves,
Les Jeunes Artistes,
Les Jeunes Comédiens,
Le Cirque Olympique,
Théâtre Sans Prétentions,
La Gaieté, to which were afterwards added, the theatre of the Porte St. Martin and Franconi's Cirque Olympique, and latterly, by the king, the Italian theatre called Favart; so that there are, at present, eleven theatres in Paris, which, with the exception of the Opéra, Odéon* and Favart, are open every night, and more particularly, that is, with greater affluence of company, on Sundays: besides which, there are, we learn from this work, sixty-three shows, spectacles, panoramas or exhibitions. These are of all kinds and at all prices. M. Bauthin, of the Palais-Royal, does not attempt to deceive you by pompous pretensions—he simply offers, in two words, to gratify two tastes at once, and advertises caffé et sauvage. M. Roussel, of the Rue des Boucheries, equally laconic but less precise, invites you generally to see Phenomena; and while several others offer to show a crocodile, or the Simplon, or a vaisseau ambulant, M. Prevost, on the Boulevard du Temple, saves you an infinity of trouble by opening, at one view, the panorama of the whole universe. This, to our surprize, is the only panorama mentioned by our author, as now
* We believe that latterly the Odéon plays every night.
existing in Paris: We kuow of several which have been there, and we may venture to say (without the fear of being taxed with national partiality) that nothing of the kind which we ever saw abroad equalled in execution some of those of our own artists. The public cannot have forgotten the bold and vigorous pencil of Sir Robert Porter; and they have lately had several specimens of the wonderful art of Mr. Barker, which produces almost perfect illusion, and approaches to nature in a way to remind us of Vernet and Vandervelde. Those who recollect the panoramas of Elba and the bay of Naples will, we think, agree with us that, besides the mere mechanical resemblance of the outline, these works displayed qualities which shewed the author to be a man of taste and genius. Mais revenons à nos moutons.
All these theatres and various places of amusement are not merely under the general superintendance of the police, but are specially regulated by a code of laws, promulgated successively by the Convention, the Consuls, the Emperor and the King, in which all the details of the scenic kingdom, from the choice of the pieces to be played, down to that of the box-keepers, is minutely provided for.
Abhorrent as this system of petty legislation is to all our feelings as Britons, it must be confessed that it seems to suit the people with whom it has to deal, and that the regulations themselves are sometimes useful. In points, for instance, which concern the safety of the audience, we not only think the interposition of public authority proper-dignus vindice nodus—but that the example of the French government, modified as circumstances demanded, might be followed with advantage by ourselves. The regulations for the prevention of fire are very strict.—The stores of dresses, scenery, machinery, and all those combustibles which constitute at once the property and the danger of a play-house, must, by a decree of the 21st March, 1799, be kept in a building completely separated from the theatre. The managers are bound not only to have a sufficient provision of water, fire-pumps, &c. but they are further obliged to have a sufficient guard of public firemen always on duty at their respective houses ; and the care of seeing that no danger of fire exists is not entrusted to the managers and their servants alone, but forms a part of the daily duty of the police; and the failure, even for one single day, in any of these precautions, forfeits the license.All the great theatres of London have been burned down in succession since any accident of that kind has happened at Paris.
We cannot speak with equal approbation of the laws which so accurately define and prescribe what kind of pieces each theatre shall play ;—for instance, what can be more absurd than to see the sovereign authority descending to such puerilities as the following ?