Page images
[blocks in formation]

During the performance of “Pauvrette” at the Park Theatre in Brooklyn, on one occasion, a circumstance occurred which might have resulted disastrously had it not been for the coolness and courage displayed by those on the stage. The scene of “the hut on the mountain" was on the stage. The snow is represented by masses of raw cotton, which are thrown from the flats. Maurice and Pauvrette were in the hut, and the terrible avalanche began to crumble. By some means or other the light snow (cotton) took fire, and in a moment the roof of the hut and the floor of the stage were covered with the flaming material. The actors, supernumeraries, and others connected with the theatre, rushed upon the stage, and the curtain was rung down. In about five minutes it was hoisted again, and the hut was discovered with the avalanche, the only thing that reminded one of the fire being the disagreeable smell of the burnt cotton. The first words of the text uttered by Maurice and Pauvrette were very suggestive.

Maurice.- We have escaped a great danger.
Pauvrette. | Yes, but thank God it is all over.




Amusements Sixty Years Ago.—Old Times and New.—The Foul Plays

of Drydens' Time.- Vitality of the Drama.- Former Better Accommodations for Players.—The Marked Changes which Theatres have Undergone of Late Years. — Better Scenery and Costumes.—Better Music. — The Reserved Seat System.- Early Introduction of Private Boxes.-Opposition to Aristocratic Distinctions.-A Curious Resemblance.—The Greek Drama and the Muse of Lecturing.–An Old Playbill.-Seats on the Stage in Early Days. — The Indecent Old Theatres. -The Vile Third Tier.

What Worked a Cure of this Horrible Evil. -Power of Public Opinion.-Proof that the Theatre can be Elevated and Purified.

It is curious in these days wben theatres open at seven o'clock, balls begin at ten or eleven, and late hours are the rule instead of the exception, to read that sixty years ago theatres opened their doors at five o'clock, and the performance commenced precisely at six o'clock p. m., and the audience were thus enabled to return home not far from nine o'clock, seldom later than ten o'clock. Evening parties commenced at seven o'clock, and among the ladies of fashion the midnight hour found the guests departed.

The differences between old times and new are shown in nothing more strikingly than in theatres.

For my part I do not wonder, when I read the annals of the stage, that in the “good old days” we hear so much about, morality and religion were always at war with theatres and players.

If I had been alive in the days of Milton and Dryden, with my present ideas of right and wrong, I feel very forcibly that I should have been a Puritan, and should have had a wholesome horror of the player folk.

[graphic][ocr errors][subsumed][merged small][merged small]



For I read that in the “good old days” the theatre was cursed with plays more vile and indecent than auything known to the present day, and I am quite ready to agree that “it is not wonderful that the honest Puritan, who wished to educate his children in the love of God and the practice of virtue, was unwilling to carry them to such an entertainment as this. If he were a tradesman, he would hardly care to have his progeny taught that the patient and plodding pursuit of a competence argued a low and mechanical nature, and that it would be far finer and more manly to live by the gains of tavern-dice, and upon the sufferance of extortionate money-lenders. If he were a member of a dissenting congregation, how would be have relished the ridicule of swaggering swash-bucklers, who with profuse profanity, swore that he was a hypo crite, and that the wife of his bosom was always in the market when the fops of the court were seeking such light commodity ? How the people of the play-house regarded the Puritan may be gathered from Sir John Vanbrugh’s preface to The Relapse. As for the saints, your thorough-paced ones,' said he, 'with screwed faces and wry mouths, I despair of them: they are friends to nobody; they love nothing but their altars and themselves; they have too much zeal to have any charity; they make debauchees in piety, as sinners do in wine, and are as quarrelsome in their religion as other people are in their drink; so I hope nobody will mind what they say.' And this is in the preface to a play, which, to borrow a line from Fielding, is but a ragoût of smut and ribaldry. The sober citizen who knew that upon the stage he was libeled, slandered, ridiculed, and maligned — that the Scriptures which he held in awful reverence were quoted with unscrupulous license, to make him a laughing-stockthat the plays of his time were full of gratuitous oaths and indecorous jests to which we could not listen without

« PreviousContinue »