Canto XXIV

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Originally published November 1810 in The Poetical Magazine, pp. 231-244.

[Continued from Vol. IV. p. 196.]
With an Engraving. Plate XI. Vol. IV.1
2The Doctor,3 as he travell’d back
In all the comforts of a hack,4
Could not but ponder in his mind
On what he had just left behind.
“I’ve seen a play,” he mutt’ring said;––
“‘Twas Shakespeare’s––but in masquerade.
I’ve seen a farce, I scarce know what;
‘Twas only fit to be forgot.
I’ve seen a critic, and have heard
The string of nonsense he preffer’d.
Heav’n bless me! where has Learning fled?
Where has she hid her sacred head?
O how degraded is she grown,
To spawn such boobies on the town.
The sterling gold is seen no more;
In vain we seek the genuine ore:
Some mixture doth its worth debase;
Some wire-drawn nonsense takes its place.
How few consume the midnight oil!
How few in Learning’s labour toil!
Content, as they incurious stay
Thro’ life’s unprofitable day,
With straws that on the surface flow,
Nor look for pearls that live below;
Dare not5 the hidden depths explore,
But gather sea-weed on the shore!

There was a period when the stage
Was thought to dignify the age;
When learned men were seen to sit
Upon the benches of the Pit;
When, to his art and Nature true,
Garrick6 his various pictures drew;
While ev’ry passion, ev’ry thought,
He to perfection greatly7 wrought,
By Nature’s self supremely taught;
He did her very semblance bear,
And look’d as she herself were there:––
Whether Old Lear’s form he wore,
With age and sorrow cover’d o’er;
Or Romeo’s am’rous flame possess’d,
That torture of the human breast;
Or gay Lothario’s glowing pride,
In conquest o’er his rival’s bride;
Or when, with fell ambition warm,
In Macbeth’s or in Glo’ster’s form,––
He gave each passion to the eye
In all its fine variety:
The words he did not loudly quote;
But acted e’en as Shakespeare wrote.

Nor was he less (for he could range
In ev’ry wayward8 busy change
Known in the field of scenic art,––9
The true chameleon10 of the heart)
When he assumed the merry glee
Of laughter-loving Comedy.

In Ranger’s tricks, or when he strove
In Benedict11 to hide his love;
When he in Drugger’s12 doublet shone,
Or Brute’s rude ribaldry put on;
When he the jealous Kitely play’d;
When the same passion he essay’d
In Felix;––with what truth and force
He urg’d that passion’s diff’rent course;
Work’d up its features all anew,––
But still he was to Nature true!
Nay, e’en in Farce he could awake
The fun that made the Gall’ries shake.
The heart he cheated of its wo,13
And made the poignant tear to flow;
Lit up a joy in ev’ry eye,
Or drown’d the soul in agony.
He ever was to Nature true;––
By no false arts did he subdue ·
Th’ attentive mind, the list’ning ear;––
In all the Drama’s vast career,
He ne’er outstepp’d th’ unerring rule
Which he had learn’d in Nature’s school.
In ev’ry part he did excel;
He aim’d at all, and all was well.
In those good times none went to see
The mere effect of scenery,––
The constant laugh, the forc’d grimace,­––
The vile distortions of the face.
In those good times none went to see
Pierrots and Clowns in Comedy;
Men sought perfection to discern,
And learned critics went to learn.

Shakspeare, immortal Bard sublime!
Unmatch’d within the realms of Time!
He did not, with Promethean aim,
Attempt to steal ethereal flame;
Rather to him the thoughts of Heaven
Were by celestial bounty given.
He read profound, in ev’ry page
Of Nature’s volume, ev’ry age
And act of man! Each passion’s course
He traces with resistless force;
And, with a more than mortal art.
Gives unknown feelings to the heart;
And doth my willing Fancy bear,
Just as his magic wills,––and where.
His page still lives, and sure will last
Till time and all its years are past
The poet, to the end of time,
Breathes in his works, and lives in rhyme;
But, when the actor sinks to rest,
And the turf lies upon his breast,
A poor traditionary fame
Is all that’s left to grace his name.
The Drama’s children strut and play,
In borrow’s parts, their lives away;––
And then they share th’ oblivious lot;
Smith will, like Cibber, be forgot!
Cibber with fascinating art
Could wake the pulses of the heart;
But her’s is an expiring name,
And darling Smith’s will be the same*.
Of Garrick’s self e’en nought remains;
His art and him one grave contains!
In others’ minds to make him live
Is all remembrance now can give.
All we can say,––alas! how vain!––
We ne’er shall see his like again.”

Just as this critic speech was o’er,
The coach stopp’d at his Lordship’s door:
But my good Lord was gone to bed;
So Syntax to his chamber sped,––
Where, with his pipe, and o’er his bottle,
He chew’d the cud of Aristotle.
*14The theatrical managers do not treat the public as they ought, when they suffer that admirable actress and excellent young woman, Miss Smith, to be seeking patronage and protection (where indeed she mostly amply finds it) in Ireland. We have now no actress, in her principal line of performance, on the London stage, who is worth looking at.

Till, stretch’d upon his bed of down,
Sleep did his head with poppies crown;
And well he slept, until a voice
Desired to know it ‘twas his choice
Still to sleep on? And then it stated
His Lordship and the breakfast waited.

“Well,” said my Lord, when he appear’d,
“I hope the play your spirits cheer’d.
Falstaff, the morning critics tell,
Was surely never play’d so well.”
“These critics,” Syntax smiling said,
“Are wretched bunglers at their trade:––­
I’d one beside15 me in the Pit,
Not more a critic than a wit.
Between the acts we both exprest
Or what was worst, or what was best;
And whil’d those intervals away
In changing thoughts upon the play;
And, tho’ both form’d to disagree,
Nought pass’d but perfect courtesy.
Perhaps it may your fancy suit
To hear our classical dispute:
I think, my Lord, ’twill prove a treat,
If you’ll allow me to repeat
All that this criticising sage
Knew of the humours of the stage:
For, as to what should form a play,
How actors should their parts convey,
What are the Drama’s genuine laws,
The source from whence true Genius draw
Such scenes as when, to Nature shown,
She loud exclaims––They are my own,––
He knew no more, it will appear,
Than the tea-urn that’s boiling here;
Like that he did no more than bubble,
And without any toil or trouble.
They felt the trouble who sat near him,
And, sure enough, ‘twas toil to hear him.
After some gen’ral trifling chat
On the new playhouse, and all that,
The scenes that pass’d before our eyes
Produc’d our questions and replies:
In short, I’ll state our quids pro quos
Just in the order as they arose.”

“Oh, what a Falstaff!––Oh, how fine!
Oh, ‘tis great acting,––’tis divine!”

“The acting’s great,––that I can tell ye;
For all his acting’s in his belly.”

“But, with due def’rence to your joke,
A truer word I never spoke
Than when I say,––you’ve never been
The witness of a finer scene.
Th’ admir’d actor whom you see
Plays the fat Knight most charmingly:––
‘Tis in this part he doth excel;
Quin never play’d it half so well.”

“You ne’er saw Quin the stage adorn;
He acted ere your sire was born.
The critics, Sir, who liv’d before you,
Would have disclos’d a diff’rent story.
This play I’ve better acted seen
In country towns where I have been.
I do not hesitate to say,
I’d rather read this very play
By my own parlour fire-side,
With my own judgment for my guide,
Than by the actors of this stage,
Who make me gape at Shakespeare’s page.
When I read Falstaff to myself,
I laugh like any merry elf;
While my mind feels a cheering glow
That Shakespeare only can bestow.
The swagg’ring words in his defence,
Which scarce are wit, and yet are sense;
The ribald jest, the quick conceit,
The boast of many a braggard feat;
The half-grave questions and replies,
In his high-wrought soliloquies;
The obscene thought, the pleasant prate,
Which give no time to love or hate,
In such succession do they flow,
From no to yea,––from yea to no,––
Have not been to my mind convey’d
By this pretender to his trade.
The smile sarcastic, and the leer
That tells the laughing mock’ry nearr––
The warning look, that, ‘ere ’tis spoke,
Aptly forebodes the coming joke––16
The air so solemn, yet so sly,
Shap’d to conceal the ready lie––
The eyes, with some shrewd meaning bright,
I surely have not seen to-night.
Again, I must beg leave to tell ye,
‘Tis nought of Falstaff but his belly.”

All this is fine,––and may be true;
But with such truths I’ve nought to do.
I’m sure, Sir, I shall say aright
When I declare the great delight
Th’ enraptur’d audience feel to-night.
It is, indeed, with no small sorrow,
I cannot your opinions borrow
To fill the column of to-morrow.
My light critique will be preferr’d;
The public always take my word.
Nay, the loud plaudits heard around
Must all your far-fetch’d thoughts confound:
I truly wonder when I see
You do not laugh as well as me.”

“My muscles other ways are drawn:
I cannot laugh, Sir,––while I yawn.”

“But you will own the scenes are fine.”

“Whate’er the acting, they’re divine,
And fit for any pantomine.
Of this it is that I complain;
These are the tricks which I disdain:
The painter’s art the play commends;
On gaudy show success depends.
The clothes are made in just design,––
They’re all well character’d, and fine.
The actors, now, I think, Heav’n bless ‘em,
Must learn their art from those who dress ‘em.
But give me actors, give me plays,
On which I should with rapture gaze,
Tho’ coats and scenes were highly wrought––
If players acted as they ought––
You would not then be pleas’d to see
This heavy mass of frippery.
Hear Horace, Sir, who wrote of plays
In ancient Rome’s Augustan days:––
Tanto cum strepitu ludi spectantur, et artes
Divitaeque peregrinae: quibus oblitus actor
Cum stetit in Scena concurrit dextera laevae.
Dixit adhuc aliquid? nil sane. Quid placet ergo?
Lana Tarentino violas imitata veneno?

Your pardon, Sir; but, all around me,
There are such noises, they confound me:
And, tho’ I full attention paid,
I do not17 know a word you said.18
But now19 the farce, Sir, is begun,
And you must listen to the fun.
It sure has robb’d you of your bile;
For now, methinks, you deign to smile.”

“The thing is droll, and aptly bent
To raise a vulgar merriment:
But Merry-Andrews, seen as such,
Have often made me laugh as much.
An actor does but play the fool
When he forsakes old Shakespeare’s rule,
And lets his own foul nonsense out,
To please th’ ill-judging rabble rout.
But when he swears, to furnish laughter,
The beadle’s whip should follow after.
There’s Terence, Sir, and then there’s Plautus;
They’ve both a better lesson taught us.”

Terence, I know, he wrote in Latin,
Just as a weaver makes his satin.
He well deserv’d the comic bays;
For Westminster school he wrote plays:
And Plautus was a fellow famous,
Who wrote a play call’d Ignoramus;
Where lawyers, by profession bold,
In Latin and bad English scold.”

At length, my Lord, the parley ended.
I’m sure you think it can’t be mended.
You well may laugh out loud, but I
Feel myself more dispos’d to cry,
When thus I see what asses sit
In judgment upon works of wit.

I own, my Lord, I love a play:––
When some performer’s turn’d away,
By Green-room tyrants, from the boards
Of London stage, our town affords
To tempt or her or him to stay
For a few nights, upon their way;
When Doll and I are seen to sit,
Conspicuous, in our country Pit.”

Thus as he spoke, with frquent bows,
And fifty whens, and wheres, and hows.
Vellum appear’d, with solemn look,
To talk about the Doctor’s book.
He said, “‘Twas true, a learned friend
The manuscript did much commend.
He thinks it is a work of merit,
Written with learning, taste, and spirit.
The sketches too, if he don’t err,
Possess an appropriate character.
‘Tis in the taste of our age,
And has your Lordship’s patronage.
I therefore wish the work to buy,
And deal with liberality.
‘Tis true that paper’s very dear,
And workmen’s wages most severe.
The volume’s heavy, and demands
Th’ engraver’s with the printer’s hands.
Besides, there is a risk to run:
Before the press its work has done
New taxes may, perhaps, be laid
On some prime article of trade:
And then the price will be so high:
The persons are but few who buy
Books of such an expensive20 kind:
But still the work is to my mind.
I’ll try my luck, and will be bound
To give, my Lord, three hundred pound.”

After some little tricks of trade
The bargain was completely made,––
The work transferr’d––the money paid.

“Tho’,” said my Lord, “I think your gains
By no means equal to your pains
(For Vellum will a bargain drive
As well as any man alive),
The work will give my friend a name,
And stamp his literary fame:
‘Twill Paternoster-row command,
And keep old Vellum cap in hand:
And, when a name is up, ‘tis said
The owner may lie snug in bed.
Write on,––the learned track pursue,––
And booksellers shall cringe to you.”

Much pass’d upon his Lordship’s part,
Which show’s the goodness of his heart;
While Syntax made his full replies,
Not with his tongue,––but with his eyes.21

22Crown’d with success, that very day
Tow’rds home he took his eager way;
And on the morrow he again
Was borne by Grizzle o’er the plain.
But Grizzle, having liv’d in clover,
Symptoms of spirit did discover,
That more than once had nearly thrown
Her deep-reflecting master down;
Nor, till they’d travell’d half the day,
Did he perceive he’d lost his way;
Nor to that moment did he find,
That Grizzle, by some chance unkind,
Had left her ears and tail behind.
“Ne’er mind, good beast,” the Doctor23 said;
“What tho’ no ears bedeck your head;
What tho’ the honours of your rump
Are dwindled to a naked stump;
In spite of ev’ry foul disaster,
You still have got a grateful master.”
Another day they journeyed on;––
The next, and, lo! the work was done.

Some days before (I had forgot
To say), a letter had been wrote,
To tell how soon he should appear,
And re-embrace his dearest dear:
But not one solitary word
Of his good fortune he preferr’d.

“Yes, home is home, where’er it be,
Or shaded by the village-tree;
Or where the lofty domes arise,
To catch the passing stranger’s eyes.”
‘Twas thus he thought, when, at his gate,
He saw his Doll impatient wait;
Nor, as he pass’d the street along,
Was he unnoticed by the throng;
While24 not a head within a shop
But did thro’ door or window pop.

Pl 28 Returning from Tour

He kiss’d his dame, and gravely spoke,
For now he brooded o’er a joke;––
While she to know impatient burn’d
With how much money he return’d.
“Give me my pipe,” he said, “and ale,
And in due time you’ll hear the tale.”

He sat down his pipe to smoke,
Look’d sad, and not a word he spoke;
But Madam soon her speech began,
And thus in harshest25 tones it ran:––

“I think, by that confounded look,
You have not writ your boasted book:
Yes, all your money you have spent,
And come back poorer than you went:
Yes, you have wander’d far from home,
And here a beggar you are come.
Bills from all quarters are in waiting,
To give your Reverence a baiting.
I do not mean to scold or rail;
But I’ll not live with you in jail.
So long a time you’ve stay’d away,
That the Town-Curate you must pay;
For, while from home you play’d the fool,
He kindly came to teach the school;
And a few welcome pounds to earn
By flogging boys to make them learn:
But I must say, you silly elf,
You merit to be flogged yourself;
And I’ve a mind this whip shall crack
Upon your raw-bon’d lazy back.
Yes, puff away,––but ’tis no joke
For all my schemes to end in smoke.
What, tongue-tied booby! will you say
To Mistress Dress’em? Who will pay
Her bill for these nice clothes?––Why, zounds!
It borders upon twenty pounds.”

Thus, as she vehemently prated,
And the delighted Doctor rated,
From a small pocket in his coat
He unobserv’d drew forth a note,
And, throwing it upon the table,
He said, “My dear, you’ll now be able
To keep your mantuamaker quiet;
So cease, I beg, this idle riot:
And, if you’ll not make such a pother,
I’ll treat you with its very brother.
Be kind,––and I’ll not think it much
To show26 you half a dozen such.”

She started up in joy’s alarms,
And clasp’d her Doctor in her arms;
Then ran to bid the boys huzza,
And give them all a holiday.

“Such is the matrimonial life,”
Said Syntax;––”but I love my wife.
Just now with the horse-whip I was bother’d;
And then with hugging I am smother’d.
But, whereso’er I’m doom’d to roam,
I still shall say,––that home is home!27

[To be continued.]28

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1. Heading omitted in 1812a and 1812b.
2. Beginning of Chapter 24, 1812a; beginning of Canto 24, 1812b
3. The Doctor, PM, 1812a] Now Syntax, 1812b
4. In all the comforts of a hack PM1812a] Lolling and stretching in a hack 1812b
5. Dare not PM1812a] They ne’er 1812b
6. GARRICK 1812a, 1812b
7. greatly] fully 1812a, 1812b
8. wayward, 1812b
9. art,––] art–– 1812b
10. cameleon 1812a, 1812b
11. Benedick PM, 1812a] em. Benedict 1812b
12. Drugget’s PM, 1812a] em. Drugger’s 1812b
13. wo,] woe, 1812a, 1812b
14. This author’s note appears on the bottom of page 234 of PM and is removed in 1812a and 1812b.
15. I’d one beside PM</em] One sat beside 1812a, 1812b
16. Plate 27, “The Dream” is placed here in 1812a. Its placement here has been emended from 1812b, to appear within Canto XXV.
17. I do not] I scarcely 1812a. Needs to be cross-referenced with 1812b.
18. Eight lines have been added after this in 1812a. Needs to be cross-referenced with 1812b. “To say the truth I must acknowledge/’Tis long since I have left the College,–/Virgil and Horace are my friends,/I have them at my fingers ends,–/But Grecian Lore, I blush to own,–/Is wholly to my mind unknown.–/I therefore must your meaning seek,–/Oblige me, Sir, translate your Greek.”
19. But now PM] But see, 1812a. Needs to be cross-referenced with 1812b.
20. such an expensive kind: PM]so very costly kind: 1812a. Needs to be cross-referenced with 1812b.
21. Chapter XXIV, 1812a and Canto XXIV, 1812b, end here. New text that constitutes Canto XXV has been added after this section in 1812.
22. Chapter XXVI, 1812a and Canto XXVI, 1812b, begin here.
23. the Doctor PM] he kindly 1812a. Needs to be cross-referenced with 1812b.
24. While PM] For 1812a. Needs to be cross-referenced with 1812b.
25. harshest PM] discordant 1812a. Needs to be cross-referenced with 1812b.
26. show PM] shew 1812a. Needs to be cross-referenced with 1812b.
27. Chapter XXVI, 1812a and Canto XXVI, 1812b, continue here.
28. Removed in 1812a and 1812b.