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ANON., review of The Way of the World in The Public Advertiser, 1784
T H E C R I T I C A L H E R I TA G E
of the manner of fashionable circles with the highest degree of merit in
her profession, restores the character all its original value. To enter
into the particulars of her performance would not be doing her justice.—
Fine acting, like fine writing, should be felt by general impressions; and
what these were throughout the Play, the warm applause of a very
brilliant audience fully testified.
Witwou’d and Petulant, though drawn as foils, have more wit than
half a dozen of our modern comedies can boast of. The first was very
well hit off by Mr. Lewis; but we do not think the change was made for
the better in substituting Bonnor in the room of Booth.
When Farren begins to familiarize his dialogue a little more, and
speak less declamatory, he will do better in Fainall; but Mrs. Bates has
only to hold her own to be more than respectable in Mrs. Marwood.
Though ’tis impossible not to recollect Yates in Sir Wilful to the
disadvantage of his successor, yet we must do this justice to Wilson,
that he is much more chastised in the part than when we saw him
last. The same improvement lately appeared in his Justice Shallow;
which, as it was much wanted, must be of use to himself as well as the
The rest of the characters were as well sustained as perhaps the
strength of the Company would admit of:—but where is the whole of
a Dramatis Personae that can do strict justice to the language of
Congreve? An author who is in some respect getting obsolete, from
our being so long used to other kind of writers.
78. Charles Este (?), reviews of Love for
Love and The Mourning Bride in The World
From (a) The World: Fashionable Advertiser, No. 40, Thursday
15 February 1787; (b) ibid., No. 121, Monday 21 May 1787.
These two reviews were probably written by Charles Este (1752–
1829), an Anglican clergyman whose enthusiasm for the theatre
led him to write dramatic reviews first for The Public Advertiser,
and from 1787 to 1790 in his own paper The World. The
unstinted praise of Kemble and Mrs Siddons is characteristic;
so too, is the hostility towards The Mourning Bride.
Tho’ it cannot easily be acknowledged with Addison, that Love for
Love is the best play in the world,1 and as such to be followed with equal
eagerness, by those who have seen it, and those who have not, yet so
many are its charms, in vivacity of dialogue, and strength of character,
that the representation is amusing, tho’ far from very safe.
With something more than abatement in the article of the moral
praise, for the ‘callida junctura’, and probability are no where visible.
We sat this comedy with much contentment!
In the acting there is abundant merit. The Valentine of Kemble, is
perfect in all its parts. The ease, the elegance, the strong sense, and
feeling of the character came up, as Congreve would let them. Parsons
in Foresight, is second to nothing, but Parsons in Corbacchio: he is the
only player in this cast, who boasts as sure acceptance, and the same
excessive applause, from the bottom, from the Stage Box to the Shilling
Gallery!—Dodd, in spite of hoarseness, as every true buff and blue
must be, was heard with pleasure. And Ben, never pleasant, and now
wrong, as out of all probable date, yet forced into something better
than sufferance, by the skill of King.
Miss Farren’s comedy yields to none—her dress, one mass of unrelieved white sattin, did not aid her triumph. Miss Pope and Mrs.
Jordan are not to be dismissed, but as the best representatives of Miss
Prue and Mrs. Frail.
The fall of Baddeley, was a means to rise into laughter and applause—
which, indeed, he deserved throughout.
To enquire what beauty is—must be the question of a man who
cannot see. He who can ask what dignity is, cannot have seen Zara
T H E C R I T I C A L H E R I TA G E
by Mrs. Siddons!—The dignity of empire, and personal charms;—
that is intrepid, and would be commanding.
And yet it is, in spite of all that astonishing acting can do for it,
signifying nothing. Sound without cause, and fury without effect. If
Zara’s passions outstrip the wind, they neither interest the mind, nor
impress the heart.
The play is very worthless. That it is a pantomime, is not its greatest
fault.2 Inasmuch as it offends manners no less than taste; and hurts
with ribaldry more than nonsense.
And yet, such is the force of talents—that against this obstacle and
others, with Farenheit at Summer heat, and all the acting about her,
below freezing—such is the force of talents—there was a full house
and much applause.—Lady Harcourt in one stage box—the St. John’s
in the other—Lord Harcourt, with Byng, in the orchestra—the Penns,
Soames, Adairs—Sir Charles and Lady Dorothy, &c. &c.
The operation of the poison was very well. It would be better perhaps,
if a shudder followed, upon the drinking of it.—The most finished
scene, was that of scorn, and suppressed rage, with Osmyn, in act 3.
As one hating to be obliged, &c.
[I, vi, 31]
—Then ’twas a whisper spread by some, &c.
[IV, v, 14]
These were brief passages, but very exquisite:
When Zara spoke this line,
Thou hast a heart—tho’ ’tis a savage one—
[II, ix, 38]
A gentleman behind Francis, called out bravo! What could that mean?
Addison makes a passing reference to Love for Love as ‘one of the finest
Comedies that ever appeared upon the English Stage’ in The Spectator,
No. 189, Saturday 6 October 1711.
On 7 January 1789, The World actually headed a brief review of a
performance at Drury Lane, ‘CONGREVE’S PANTOMIME’.
79. ‘Censor Dramaticus’ in The Thespian
From The Thespian Magazine and Literary Repository (1792),
THE MOURNING BRIDE. CONGREVE.
A variety of opinion is so prevalent, amongst mankind, that it is not
at all wonderful to find the same object considered by different persons
in the opposite extremes of beauty and deformity; and if we attend to
the many circumstances that conduce to form this variety of opinion,
it will appear impossible that it should be otherwise: the prejudices of
education, despotism, and situation in the world, these amongst many
others, principally occasion it. It is universally acknowledged that
the primary object to be considered in the works of art, is nature; and
in this respect, we may be said to have a perfect standard; it requires
not a superiority of intellect to perceive the likeness of a fine piece of
mechanism to the object it is intended to represent; and this perception
carries along with it an idea of perfection in proportion to the degree
of resemblance: but by the prejudices above mentioned, even this
knowledge is often rendered useless; and by a strange inclination in
man to draw every thing within their own circumscribed circle of
opinion, they are rendered incapable of judging between a real likeness
and a false one. It must be evident that whilst these prejudices exist
it will be impossible to form a complete standard of taste, such an
one as might serve for a criterion of the works of art, yet we have
certain rules laid down by which we are in some measure enabled to
judge of their degrees of excellence; and by these rules we intend to
conduct our criticisms.
There is not perhaps any piece on the stage that has caused more
disputation than Congreve’s Mourning Bride. It has been its fate to
be extolled by its friends, and execrated by its enemies, beyond all
T H E C R I T I C A L H E R I TA G E
probability; and they have both proceeded upon a false principle:
the one party have converted its very errors into beauties, whilst
the other will not allow it to be any other than a combination of
absurdities. Regardless therefore of the praise of the many, and the
censure of the few, we shall proceed to examine it by the rules of the
Drama. The fable of this play is perfectly dramatic; it is the
representation of one, entire, action, conducing to a single object,
the happiness of Osmyn and Almeria; and out of which all the
incidents naturally arise. It is in its nature implex, for the situation
of the principal characters, is changed from misery to happiness,
and that in the most perfect manner, for the expectation is contrary,
and our surprise is concomitant with our wishes. With regard to the
unities, this is one of the most perfect pieces in our language, in the
fifth act only, the unity of place is broken by the prison scene. We
shall next consider the characters in which we think the author has
principally excelled: the character of Osmyn is eminently beautiful:
in him all the conspicuous virtues are represented in thair utmost
perfection; contrary to the generality of our writers, who make love
the controling passion of their heroes, he has made the amor patriæ
to predominate. How finely has he elucidated this in the speech of
Osmyn to Kali, beginning,
By heav’n thou ’ast rous’d me from my lethargy.—
It is allowed that a perfect character is not suited to the Drama, and
our author has very artfully avoided this: so we find the imprisonment
of Osmyn, and his principal distresses, are brought on him by his
own means; when after his shipwreck on the Moore’s territories, he
uses the love of Zara to prevail on her husband to undertake the war,
in which he is defeated, imprisoned and obliged to endure her
passionate importunity; yet though this sufficiently vindicates the
appointment of providence, it does not prevent our pity for his
sufferings, and satisfaction at their completion: since he was actuated
by the most virtuous principles, the love of his country and desire to
rescue his father. The rest of the characters are very happily drawn;
the tenderness of Almeria, and the passion of Zara, in their different
interviews with Osmyn, form an excellent contrast; and the effects of
obstinate hatred, and unlawful ambition, are powerfully exemplified
in the King and Gonsalez; the speech of the latter to his son, beginning,
‘O my son,’ is extremely beautiful and affecting. There is one
circumstance in this play which we regard as the utmost effort of
human ability; it is that of Osmyn’s finding the prayer of his father;
had Anselmo been introduced in each act, we could not have formed
a more adequate idea of his character than is presented to us in this
beautiful incident. We come now to the sentiments and the diction
which have been most reprehended, and not without some reason;
the sentiments are often unappropriate or trivial, and the diction is
sometimes too smooth for the language of passion; but these form
but a small part of the whole, and lose all comparison when opposed
to the number of beauties. The author particularly excelled in those
bold strokes of art, that delineate a character in its utmost force,
without seeming to intend it: we have already given two instances of
this, and another just now occurs to us equally striking: it is in one of
the interviews between Osmyn and Zara, when after upbraiding him
with his ingratitude, she ends with, ‘What then is Osmyn?’ in his
reply we behold the struggles of a great soul labouring under an
imputation which it is impossible to refute till reflecting on his
accumulated misfortunes he wonderfully exclaims.
A fatal wretch!—a huge stupendous ruin,
That tumbling on its prop, crush’d all beneath,
And bore contiguous palaces to earth.
[II, ix, 75–7]
This is surely something more than tuneful nonsense.«
We might enumerate many other exquisite passages, and likewise
some defective ones, but as we have already exceeded our bounds,
we shall close our remarks with an observation on the artful
commencement of this piece. The melody of the first six lines is
perhaps unequalled, and with the accompaniment of the music,
awake the soul to a perfect sympathy with the woes of the tender
We promised to say something of the performers in the Drama,
but we have so far extended this article, that we shall be very brief.
Mr. Kemble is undoubtedly the best Osmyn on the stage; the character
is suited to his forte; that firmness of sentiment and action that
characterises the unfortunate prince accords with the abilities of
the actor, it is in such parts as these that he displays his principal
excellence: we may say the same of Mrs. Siddons’ Zara, her
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wonderful powers of declamation and feature in this cast of
characters, is well known and felt.
See Mr. Walpole’s preface to the Mysterious Mother. [Horace Walpole had
dismissed The Mourning Bride with this phrase in the preface to his own
tragedy The Mysterious Mother (1768).]
PART III THE NINETEENTH
CENTURY AND AFTER
80. Anon., reviews of The Double-Dealer
and The Mourning Bride in The Monthly
From (a) The Monthly Mirror, 1802 (March), 13:202; (b) ibid.,
1807 (October), n.s., 2:288 (misnumbered 260) and 289.
Feb. 27-Double Dealer—This is one of those comedies which, with
the productions of Wycherly and many of the poets of King Charles’s
reign, ought never again to be revived. Its wit does not atone for its
indecency, and even its admirable plot, perfect as it is, may be
dispensed with, since it serves only to unfold scenes of grossness
too shocking for exhibition on a moral stage. It is unnecessary to
dwell on this subject, or to point out any of the offensive passages.
It is not merely the dialogue that is objectionable—the whole mass
is infectious, and defies any attempt at reform or qualification. Much
to the credit of the times, the audience was not numerous, so that a
repetition of this comedy is hardly to be apprehended. Should,
however, another representation be hazarded, we hope the public,
which with difficulty suppressed its indignation on this evening,
will testify the most decided reprobation of a play to which no
female can listen without emotions of shame, and which must excite
the utmost abhorrence in every virtuous mind. We shall not even
T H E C R I T I C A L H E R I TA G E
compliment the performers on this occasion, (for some of whom we
felt more than we can adequately express) because, to play the
scenes of the Double Dealer, with the effect intended by the author,
requires a degree of effrontery which we will not impute to any
actor, particularly to the females, by praising their performance.
Johnson has said that this single tragedy of Congreve contains ‘the
most poetical paragraph’ to be found in the whole mass of English
poetry, and he finds it in the speech of Almeria, beginning—‘No, all
is hush’d, and still as death.’—Admitting this, we may also boldly
claim admission to the fact, that the Mourning Bride displays as
much inflated language, or what Aristophanes calls prose on
horseback, as can be produced in any tragedy equally successful. The
Zara of Mrs. Siddons was excellent throughout, but in the scene with
Osmyn, in the prison, she was wonderfully fine. Mr. Kemble wore
his Moorish dress with all its advantage, and played with great ability;
but in tragedy Mrs. Siddons’s star has so much the ascendant, as to
eclipse every other within the sphere of its lustrous action. Her present
bulk certainly makes her seem unfit to perform a lover’s part, and for
a time, leaves us without surprise that her overtures should be rejected;
but we do not hear her long, before the defect is lost, and ‘Pritchard
is genteel’. Her very gaudy clothes seemed to us to trench on the
privilege of Queen Dolabella, in the farce which succeeded; and her
dying on a preparation of soft cushions, is only inferior in its whimsical
effect, and perhaps in softness, to the temporary death of King Arthur,
on the rump of his little queen. After her Imogen, we did not expect
so much cleverness as Miss Norton exhibited in Almeria. For tragedy,
however, she lacks dignity in her action, and expression in her
countenance. Manuel and Gonsalez, were acted by Mr. Murray and
Mr. Chapman. If these gentlemen would affect less ease, they would
appear more easy. The latter in simply stabbing such a good, easy
king as Mr. Murray, might be more seemly, and not return from the
deed with both hands dyed, as if he had been shelling walnuts.