Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

'1°. The Opera is especially consecrated to singing and dancingthere only can be represented pieces which are altogether in music and ballets of the noble and graceful kind,—that is to say, such as have been taken from the subjects of mythology and history, and whose principal personages are gods, kings or heroes.

3°. It may also give, but this concurrently with the other theatres, ballets representing scenes of moral or even of common life.'

Décret du 8 Juin, 1806. In the same high minded principles of legislation, the great Napoleon also provided that at the Vaudeville, they might play "little pieces interspersed with little songs, and at the Variétés, little pieces, sometimes but not always interspersed with little songs,' but in both cases, the little songs were to be sung to common tunes; (des airs connus;) and they were forbidden under severe penalties to sing any tune which had already been sung on the greater stages; which, by the bye, goes on a very probable presumption that the airs sung on those great'stages were but peu connus.

We need not at once weary and surprize our readers with the infinity of details which are provided by imperial and royal authority for managing the theatrical realm; suffice it to say, that a single decree relative to the 'Théâtre Français contains ninety-seven articles, and rivals in length and intricacy some of our modern acts of parliament. A short view of the mode in which the Théâtre Français is managed, may, however, be interesting to them.

The supreme controul is under the minister* of the royal household, for the execution of whose orders, and as a channel of communication with the players, there is a commissioner appointed by the government.

The actors form a kind of joint-stock company, and a committee of six are appointed to manage, with the commissioner before mentioned, the interests of the society; but the articles of the decree are so minute in their details, that there is little, except mere personal interests, left to the discretion of this committee, and even on these points the authority of the government commissioner is supreme. The receipts of the house are divided into twenty-four equal parts-one part is set aside for unexpected demands--one-half part is given to the pension or superannuation fund—another half part is assigned to the decorations, scenery, repairs, &c.—The other twenty-two parts are distributed amongst the actors, none receiving more than one part, nor less than one-eighth of a part.

The actors, on entering this society, contract an engagement to

Of this we are not quite certain. In Buonaparte's time it was under the direction of a minister called Surintendant des Spectacles. Since the king's return we thought these functions had been restored au premier gentilhomme de la chambre ; but we see by a decree of the king, November, 1815, that some at least of the theatres are under the minister of the household. GG 3

play

play for twenty years, after which they are entitled to a retiring pension of 4000 francs per ann. about 1701. These pensions are payable, half out of an annual allowance of 100,000 francs (about 42001.) made by government to the theatre, and the other half out of funds raised out of the receipts and contributions of the actors.

The number of associates seems indefinite-there are at present on the list, sixteen men and nine women; but there are besides a class of actors, who receive salaries from the society; of these there are now ten men and five women. It is not stated how these stipendiaries are paid, or in what way their salaries are fixed, as compared with the members of the company. They have no right to retiring pensions, but the government reserves to itself a power of granting them pensions, which in no case can exceed half their former pay. So that the whole strength of this national company is twenty-six men and fourteen women a number which would be utterly inadequate not merely to the size of our English theatres, and the magnificence of our spectacles, but in truth to the very nature of our drama. The play at Covent Garden the day we write is Romeo and Juliet—in that there are seventeen male and three female performers, absolutely indispensable; but the bill of the entertainments for the evening contains the names of twenty-three other men, and thirty-two other women, (besides soldiers, &c.) so that there will appear on the stage of Covent Garden this evening, twice as many actors and actresses as form the whole strength of the French national theatre.

This is a source of expense to the English theatres which is not sufficiently considered, when comparisons are made between their prices and those of the French theatres. We know of no French tragedy which has more than eleven characters -several of Shakspeare's have as many as forty, and few, if any, of his plays, have less than fifteen or twenty, exclusive of lords, ladies, soldiers, mob, and all that crowd of attendants with which he delights to fill his scene. If we were to look deeper into this part of the subject, we should find that this difference arises perhaps not more from the taste, than from the powers of the authors who have given dramatic laws to the two countries. Shakspeare could not have confined his superabundant fertility within such narrow bounds as the equable and elegant Racine—he looked into nature, and not into Aristotle or Bossu, for his rules; and finding that all human actions are brought about by a great variety of agents, each having a distinct character, his plays exhibit great pictures of real life, which the mechanical plots and half-dozen formal characters of the French drama are incapable of producing. We find also in these dry details of French theatrical regula

tions, another circumstance, which shows, very forcibly, the difference between the dramatic writers of the two countries.

All the characters of the French drama are arranged in certain divisions, to wbich technical names are affixed. The men in comedy are Jeunes Premiers-Pères Nobles-Financiers-ComiquesUtilités, &c.—while the ladies are either Jeunes Premières

-Mères-IngénuitésDuegnes or Soubrettes—and all this is so well understood, that each actor and actress is obliged to make a selection of a particular róle, from which these decrees forbid them afterwards to depart ;--they double and triple one another in their respective classes, but they are not permitted to extravagate into another walk. The Père Noble cannot become Comique, whatever be his vocation this way; and the Ingénuité must not look to be the Jeune Première, whatever ambition she may feel for playing the heroine-and the 47th and 48th articles of the 1st chapter of the 3d section of the 4th title of the Moscow decree, (we quote exactly,) regulate the official modes by which an actor who belongs to one class of characters may be allowed to try his hand at another.

In the English theatre all this foolery would be impossible. We represent not Jeunes Premières, nor Ingénuités, but men and women, with all their various and changeable feelings, humours, and passions--our dramatists know that the gravest man sometimes smiles, and that the gayest is sometimes grave—they know that many of the events of life depend upon sudden shifts of temper, that no two men will be affected in the same way by the same circumstances; nay, that the same person is frequently two or three different men with regard to his humour or his passions; and that the human character is equable and unmixed on no spot of the globe except the stage of the Théâtre Français; there man becomes a puppet, and character is not the growth of nature but of certain learned conventions and regulations : a villain must not be jocose with them, nor a hero witty; and Hamlet and lago are unfit for their stage, exactly because they are copied from the theatre of the world : there is much, we admit, on the French stage to be set off against this defect, and there are one or two exceptions; but we shall probably have occasion to consider this topic hereafter, and at present this train of discussion would lead us beyond our purpose. We end it by saying that this rigorous destination of parts is at once a cause, a consequence, and a proof of the feebleness of the French drama.

But it is in the provinces that the system of theatrical organization appears in all its formality. There are, it seems, in the departments, sixteen permanent companies, viz. at Lille, Calais, Rouen, Versailles, Brest, Nantes, Bordeaux (two), Toulouse, Perpignan,

G G4

Montpellier,

Montpellier, Marseilles, Lyons (two), and Strasbourg (two), which, with the eleven at Paris, make twenty-seven stationary companies; there are, besides, throughout France three hundred and sixty-two other theatres which are (desservis) served by twenty-five ambulatory troops; the whole face of the kingdom being divided, for theatrical purposes, into twenty-five arrondissemens, through each of which at least one company makes a regular progress at stated times in every year; but to fifteen of the arrondissemens, which are more extensive than the others and contain important towns, requiring a larger allowance of amusement, there are second companies which also go their rounds, but in a way carefully arranged not to clash with the circuits of the premières troupes.

The names of all the persons who belong to those companies, and their respective róles, from Talma down to the fiddler in the orchestra, are registered in the volume before us with as much, if not more, precision and detail than those of our Army List: from this it appears that there are in the ten theatres of Paris, (excluding the whole Opera, and excluding also the choruses and dancers,) 160 male and 120 female performers; and that in the provinces (also exclusive of choruses and dancers) there are 518 men and 400

women.

The great Opera, or, as it is pedantically called, the Academy of Music, requires a separate observation or two. It is, and has been ever since its foundation in 1646, a government concern; the receipts have never been equal to the expense of this splendid spectacle, and the government was always obliged to provide for the deficit ; towards this there is laid a kind of tax on all the secondary theatres and all the shows and exhibitions of Paris, of one-fifth of the gross receipts of balls, concerts, panoramas, &c. one-tenth at Tivoli, and one-half at all theatres, and other similar establishments. This is evidently a tax raised by the government for its own use, because it diminishes the sum to be paid to the Opera out of the civil list; and the author of the work before us, with more good sense and acuteness than we should have expected from him, asks whether this ought to stand on a mere decree of Buonaparte, and whether it does not legally require a law to sanction its collection

The company at this theatre consists of ten principal male and eight female singers, with fifty chorus singers; eleven principal male and fifteen female dancers, with fifty-eight figurants of both sexes. The orchestra is composed of twenty-five violins, ten violoncellos, and forty other different instruments, making with their chefs du chant, and maîtres des ballets, mechanist, &c. about 250 persons.

This whole system of theatrical organization is so curious a proof of the taste of the people, and of the ubiquity and omnipotence of

government

government interference in France, that we have thought the subject not quite so unimportant as it at first sight appears—but we have also been induced to lay it before our readers by another consideration--we hope soon to have an opportunity of taking a view of the literary part of the French theatre; and it occurred to us that this preliminary sketch of the personal and mechanical part of its organization might tend to render our future task more easy to ourselves, and more agreeable to our readers.

Art. VII.—The Evidence and Authority of the Christian Revela

tion. By T. Chalmers, D.D. one of the Ministers of Glasgow.

Svo. 1817. THIS is the work of a reflecting and philosophical mind, on

a subject of the utmost importance to the interests of revealed religion in that part of the island where the author resides. That there already exist several most conclusive and satisfactory treatises on the same subject, and of recent date, was no reason for precluding a writer, of inferior talents to Dr. Chalmers, from travelling over the same ground. New works, even when consisting of old arguments, are sure to attract a temporary attention at least; and where the style and course of reading are so different as they are well known to be on the north and south of the Tweed, it is to be feared that the works of Paley, Powell, Hurd, and Jenyns, perhaps even of Addison, on the evidences of Christianity, are little studied in Scotland. It is a well known fact that in one, at least, of the Scottish Universities, and in that, perhaps, which presumes to consider itself as most enlightened, a spirit of unbelief in revealed religion is become unhappily common. Such a disposition, even were Christianity an imposture, is a disgrace to a philosophical age: for it is not even pretended that this conclusion is the result of modest and patient inquiry—of the same process of the understanding, which the same individuals are able and willing to apply to physical and political subjects. It follows therefore, either that Christianity is a superstition so absurd and pernicious as to deserve to be rejected by enlightened minds without investigation, or that the conduct of these persons, even should the whole system turn out at length to be a falsehood, is at once unphilosophical and presumptuous. It consists in what a great master of the subject denominated' contempt previous to investigation.'

Why then do not these patient and exact inquirers on every other subject take Christianity as an existing phenomenon, the orgm and progress of which deserve, at least, to be accounted for? Why confound it by one sweeping sentence with the ditferent and successive modes of superstition, which, from whatever causes, have, from

the

« PreviousContinue »