Page images
[blocks in formation]

though only a common sailor, the stage tar is the most important personage on board, and the captain frequently retires to the side of the vessel-sitting probably on a tar barrel—in order to leave the quarter-deck to the service of the tar, while he indulges in a naval hornpipe. The dramatic seaman usually wears patent-leather pumps and silk stockings when in active service, and, if we are to believe what he says, he is in the habit of sitting most unnecessarily on the main top-gallant studding sail boom, in a storm at midnight, for the sole purpose of thinking of Polly. When he fights, he seldom condescends to engage more than three at a time; and, if the action has been general before, all retire at once the moment he evinces a desire for a combat. If he is a married man, he invariably leaves Polly without the means of paying her rent, and when he returns he always finds her rejecting the dishonorable proposals of a man in possession, who is making advances, either on his own account or as the agent of a libertine landlord. In these cases the theatrical seaman pays out the execution with a very large purse, heavily laden at both ends, which he indignantly flings at the “shark,' as he figuratively describes the broker's man, who goes away without counting the money or giving any receipt for it. The stage tar sometimes carries papers in his bosom, which, as he cannot read, he does not know the purport of, and, though he has treasured them up, he has never thought it worth while for any one to look at them, but he generally pulls them out in the very nick of time, in the presence of some old nobleman, who glances at them and exclaims, “My long-lost son! at the same time expanding his arms for the tar to rush into. Sometimes he carries a miniature which, though the scene of the drama is some fifty years ago, is a daguerreotype, and finds in some titled dame a mother to match it, or pulls up the sleeve of his jacket and shows a stain of port wine



upon his arm, which establishes his right to some very extensive estates, and convicts a conscience-stricken steward of a long train of villainies. At the close of his exploits, it is customary to bring in the Union-Jack or Stars and Stripes, (nobody knows why they are introduced, or where they came from), and to wave it over his head to the tune of the Star-spangled Banner.'”






Dramatic Critics, How They Grow.-An English Critic on Criticism.

Snarlers and Gentlemen.—Tristam Shandy's Views.—Western Critics.Macready's Boy Critic.

The preceding chapter touches on critics in passing, but so important a class of people certainly are entitled to a chapter all to themselves.

Hinc illa lachrymae !

(The critics know what it means, O reader to whom Latin is all Dutch. Bless you, they know everything.)

If I am inclined to be a little facetious at the expense of dramatic critics as a class, I trust they will overlook it when I mention the reason.

The reason is, that two-thirds of them are no more fit to be dramatic critics than they are to take pupils in the art of politeness.

Not that they wouldn't take 'em as soon as not, you understand; their self-sufficiency is equal to anything.

Two-thirds of the men who, in our large cities, presume to sit in judgment on theatrical art and artists, are uneducated, vulgar, dishonorable and dissipated.

The other third is composed of gentlemen of education, ability, and integrity; and of all the wide brotherhood of literary workers none have my admiration and sympathy more heartily.

I am in some degree a dramatic critic myself, and I am as proud of some of my brethren in the field as I am ashamed of others.

Perhaps if we should divide the members of other professions and callings in a similar manner, the unworthy

[blocks in formation]

would outrank the worthy in about the same proportions.

That I am not alone in my opinion regarding dramatic critics—and that these persons are much the same in England that they are in America—is shown by the opinion which Mr. John Hollingshead printed a short time ago in a London magazine.

Mr. Hollingshead is a London dramatic critic, and he says:

“ Dramatic criticism is one of those arts that have no recognized position and no recognized principles, but plenty of too easily recognized professors. They swarm into every theatre, and are as well known as the actors or the box-keepers. They pretend that the

They pretend that the power of preserving the anonymous would materially add to their independence of judgment, but neither they nor their employers take the slightest trouble to secure this privacy. A few beggarly pounds or shillings are allowed to stand between the critic and that which he says would aid him in doing his duty to the public. The 'free-list,' suspended at times, as far as regards bonnet-builders, dock officials, linendrapers' assistants, publicans, and that very large parish of individuals who come under the general description of professionals,' is never suspended, as far as the public press is concerned. Anything that bears the shape and impress of a newspaper order, any ragged reporter or printing-office laborer who represents, or is supposed to represent, a newspaper, however obscure, is admitted to all theatres and places of public amusement at all times and all seasons. A dead newspaper is treated with more respect and fear than a live public. There is no written contract in dealings of this sort, but there is an implied understanding. The manager, by these courtesies, hopes to conciliate the paper, and in some cases does conciliate it, while the critic feels the influence of transactions entirely beyond his control. He is kind and gentle to the manager, whatever he may feel it his duty



to be to the actors and authors. The manager is always spirited and enterprising when he accepts a thoroughly bad piece and decorates it with splendid scenery, and he can only be spirited and enterprising when he has the judgment to select a good piece on which to lavish his capital. The worst of always pitching the key-note of praise too high, is that it makes it difficult to increase the tone when required.”

When I was on the stage I once wrote an opinion of certain critics, as seen from the actress's standpoint, and what I wrote then I reprint here—with a single quotation mark at the beginning and the end, to distinguish it from what I write now.

“ The evening wears on. I am on the stage at a moment when I have nothing to do but sit still; and I take the opportunity to look around for the professional critics—those who write for the press—but I don't see them.

The most of them went away in the middle of the first act, and their notices of the whole of the new play are already in type.

They get tired of this sort of thing, you know; but while cutting us up they might oftener remember that they are not so startlingly perfect themselves.

That well-known journal for the fireside, the New York Snarler intimates that I am pretty old, but its impartial critic who is entirely above suspicion, like Brevet-Brigadier General J. Cæsar s wife, generously adds that he has seen much older actresses."

Let me here set this matter of age at rest by stating that I was born in 1811, and am consequently fifty-eight

years old.

I am fifteen years older than the oldest inhabitant, but my front teeth are good.

Old age should be respected.

« PreviousContinue »