Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

The hereditary puritanism of the American, though he generally agrees tolerably well with his Teutonic or Celtic neighbour, has brought him into collision lately with his German fellow-citizens. A law was passed by the State of New York prohibiting the sale of beer, wines, and liquors of all kinds on the Sunday. This, the German who loves his lager beer, and does not like to go to church, feels to be a great hardship, and he is determined to do all in his power to get rid of the obnoxious law. The Germans have, it is understood, resolved to withhold all political support from those who refuse to strive to obtain its repeal.

De Tocqueville remarked that while the native Americans formed the aristocracy of the United States, the foreigners were the prolétaires. It is so; the labouring portion of the community is almost exclusively composed of German and Irish. They are the servants and journeymen. It is seldom that an American of mature age is ever seen in any capacity below that of a master workman.

It must not be supposed, however, that foreigners do not thrive in the United States. On the contrary, they are among the most successful and wealthy of its citizens. John Jacob Aster, who, at the time of his death, was by far the richest person on the American continent, was born in Germany, and did not leave his native Hesse-Cassel until he was a full-grown man. Taking London on his way, where he had a brother, a not very prosperous manufacturer of musical instruments, he obtained from him, as a present, an old piano. On arriving at New York this worn out and asthmatic instrument was his sole dependence, but it became the foundation of his huge fortune. He died leaving some ten millions of dollars; his eldest son is supposed to possess nearly treble that amount, and pays tax upon an income of about a million.*

Stewart, too, the great dry-goods merchant, or haberdasher, who shows a ledger with one year's profit of four millions of dollars, and who pays an annual income-tax amounting to four hundred thousand dollars, arrived in New York a poor Irish emigrant less than forty years ago. He is now sixty years old.

Each Irish emigrant cannot expect to become a millionaire, or rather billionaire like Stewart, but he may be sure of getting everywhere in the United States a hearty meal of something more substantial than potatoes, and what seemed so greatly to surprise Dickens, a whole coat to his back.

* Another foreigner, Gerard, was long at the head of the rich men of the United States.

Provincial Dramatic Critics Criticised.

If the London critics err on the score of too great leniency, or a bias to favouritism, it is acknowledged on all sides that they are men of taste, ability, and education. Would that such a saving clause could be added to our judgment of their provincial brethren. On country journals, theatrical reporting is considered an insignificant labour of the office. Sometimes the "taster" is a journeyman pressman or compositor, with just sufficient education to read his copy and—no more; a man whose notions of dramatic excellence seldom soar beyond bluefire and broadsword combats, who admires a play in proportion to the improbability of its incidents, and an actor in proportion to the strength of his lungs, the size of his legs, and his talent for burlesquing humanity.

Another class of critics is composed of very young men, who having cultivated their intellect on penny journals assume a mystic and ideal style, and by selecting a few of the longest words in the English language, puzzle themselves and their readers. They are always sentimental upon the actresses, whom they praise without judgment, and are proportionately severe upon the actors, whom they censure without justice.

Leaving these unfledged younglings, we come to another species, and perhaps the best, of the genus-the middle-aged reporter. But the lack of experience in the former is fully counterbalanced by the bigotry of the latter. He is a man of strong opinions, which it is his wont to express oracularly. He has been an habitué of the theatre from boyhood; and having seen Edmund Kean and Macready on half-a-dozen occasions, he believes himself capable of wielding the pen of a Hazlitt. These great names are continually in his mouth; he never writes a notice without comparing some unfortunate victim with those cherished models. But critics of this stamp are usually amenable to the softening influence of Bacchus, and a few glasses of brandy-and-water have been known to neutralize the asperity of their pens, nay, even to transfer that sword of civilization into the hands of more interested parties. For it is well known that stars visiting the provinces usually write their own critiques, or dictate them to the reporter. These are the critics of the smaller towns. Occasionally, however, "The tasters" of the

they are to be found even in the larger ones. large towns and cities, such as Manchester, Liverpool, etc., although

men of better education and position, are frequently quite as narrowminded, and quite as devoid of true judgment. They are usually of the cynical order, and mask "a plentiful lack of wit" with an assumption of an exquisitely refined and difficult taste, not to be satisfied with anything short of perfection. They praise great London stars fulsomely, and smaller ones coldly; but censure is their forte, as the unfortunate stock actors, whether good, bad, or indifferent, know to their cost. From, perhaps, a latent self distrust they imagine that to be lenient is to want judgment, that to abuse indiscriminately is the sign of superior wisdom, and that the essence of all good criticism is gall

As a specimen of the impartiality and dependibility of country criticism, I subjoin an anecdote, for the truth of which I can vouch :

Several years ago, the leading actor of the theatre in a certain large manufacturing town of the North, was, during the first months of the season, the pet of a weekly newspaper. It lauded him to the skies-everything he did was perfection. Suddenly, from no apparent cause, the organ changed its tune. Censure was now the subject. And why? The actor's talent had not taken flight; he was careful and painstaking as ever. At length accident lifted the veil of the mystery. The revelation was a very simple one, and yet astounding from its very simplicity. He had changed his laundress! The lady who had at first fulfilled to him that necessary office was the reporter's sister.

A notice of provincial criticism would be very incomplete, if it did not include some mention of a certain weekly paper, the heterogeneous organ of the drama, the music-hall, the circus, the booth, the turf, and the licensed victualler. The provincial notices it contains are of a voluntary nature. They are supplied from various sources-by clerks, actors, printers, nondescripts-in fact, by any one who can compose a sentence, grammatical or ungrammatical, who has an affection for the drama on the cheap, by a free entrée to the theatre, and will become a regular subscriber.

Eleven times out of twelve these "notices" are written by men destitute of judgment, education, and the barest knowledge of the principles of dramatic art. I make this assertion fearless of contradiction; the whole profession can vouch for its truth. The columns devoted to such notices are every week the subject of ridicule, contempt, and indignation to actors in every town honoured by such attention. They should be read by the rule of contrary. I see actors week by week extravagantly praised, whom I know, from personal knowledge, to be utter incapables, and others of undoubted ability

ignored, or dismissed with a passing comment. No actor (unless very green), and few managers, give the lightest credence to such effusions.

Year after year, we read the same unmeaning twaddle:-"Mr. So-and-So sustained the part with his usual ability; Miss So-and-So was graceful and charming as ever; Mr. lacks spirit; Mr. What's-his-name is a promising young actor," etc. By the by, that word, "promising," is a very favourite one, as it means nothing; a man may be a very bad actor, and yet one day become an excellent one. Apropos of this word. A well-known London artiste, after having sustained for several years a leading position in the Metropolis, and made the tour of the United States, was described by a provincial critic as a promising actor, who, with time and experience, would take a foremost position in his profession.

Performances are frequently criticised by men who have never seen them. Not long ago, a certain comic lecturer was advertised to appear in the town of Son a certain night. A large audience assembled, the time of beginning arrived, but the gentleman did not. Half an hour passed away; the audience grew impatient. A telegram arrived; the train which was conveying the lecturer had broken down forty miles from S——, and he could not arrive in time to gratify the public. The money was returned, and the people dispersed. On the following Saturday, the organ informed its readers that the lecturer delighted a numerous audience with his wit and comicalities. A few weeks back, a north country critic, noticing a performance, wrote that Mr. So-and-So played the leading part with his accustomed care. I was in the theatre on the night in question; the part mentioned was sustained by another gentleman, and Mr. So-and-So played an entirely opposite one. The parts had been reversed by an error of the printer; the judicious and veracious critic had contented himself with reading the play-bill, and amusing his imagination with a fancy critique.

Last winter, there appeared a notice on the "School for Scandal," as performed at the principal theatre of a town celebrated for woollen manufactories. Lady Teazle was played by a well-known London actress; as a matter of course, to her was accorded the lion's share of the praise. The second object of eulogy was the gentleman who sustained the part of Joseph Surface; his dress was praised, his acting was praised-he was the perfection of Josephs? What was the truth? This paragon was dressed in crimson and gold when he should have been attired in black, out of pique to the Charles Surface, to which

character he fancied himself entitled. To say nothing of the impersonation, he was so grossly imperfect in the text that, in the screen scene, the lady could not proceed with the dialogue, and openly reprimanded him before the public. Yet his painstaking acting was particularly the theme of praise. The other characters of the play, several of which were well played, were censured or ignored. This may appear to the unprofessional an exaggeration, but it is a literal truth.

A good specimen of the provincial reporter was lately to be found in a certain Welsh town. He was a penny barber. At the time I first became cognizant of his existence, the leading lady of the theatre was the object of his especial displeasure; her acting was descanted upon with all the virulence of his limited English? Why? Because he had grown sentimental upon the actress who had preceded her, and who probably, in consideration of certain fulsome notices, had not discouraged his attentions. The bereaved swain vented his gall in an endeavour to damage the reputation of a blameless woman, who possesses far greater talent than his Chloe.

In towns that do not boast the inestimable boon of a regular correspondent, the reports are supplied by actors, who praise themselves highly, their friends moderately, and lash their rivals unmercifully.

The editor is not altogether responsible for these abuses; it is impossible for him to guarantee the accuracy of the critiques forwarded under the present arrangement of his staff. But the abuse is none the

less monstrous for all that.

The general public has a superstitious reverence for whatever appears in print; it thinks the judgment of a newspaper must be superior to its own. The trash of provincial criticism has its believers, and why not? The ordinary reader cannot know the secret springs that move the machine. The press is a mighty power both for right and wrong, and many an artiste of good talent has suffered bitterly by these petty gnats of printer's ink.

B.

« ZurückWeiter »