« AnteriorContinuar »
idea that it would be productive of mischief so near to the seat of commerce.
The plot of this piece is one which has been more than once made use of by English dramatists. A credulous father in the country believes that his son is studying law in the Temple, when that son is in fact only qualifying himself to act with effect the part of a profligate fine gentleman. At length the doting parent arrives in London, and visits his son's chambers; where, after a time, he sees sufficient to convince him that his hopeful boy is more of a rake than a lawyer. Then ensues some ingenious plotting; and the following scene, in which Pincet (the servant of the Temple Beau), by the assumption of a legal character and a pompous display of legal phraseology, manages to frighten the old country gentleman, who has searched his son's chambers and broken open his drawers (as he is induced to believe by mistake), is somewhat amusing, -though partaking more of the character of farce than comedy.
Pincet. I believe, Sir Harry, I have not the honour of being known to you. My name is Ratsbane-Counsellor Ratsbane, of the Inner Temple. I have had, sir, according to the orders of your son, a conference with Mr. Counsellor Starchum, who is for the plaintiff, and have come to a conclusion thereon.
Sir Harry Wilding. Oh, have you? I am your humble servant, dear sir; and if it lies in my power to oblige you in return
Pincet. Oh, dear sir, no obligation: we only do our duty. Our case will be this: first a warrant will be issued, on which we are taken up; then we shall be indicted; after which we are convicted (that no doubt we shall on such a strength of proof); immediate sentence is awarded against us, and then execution regularly follows. Sir Harry. Execution, sir! what execution?
Wilding (the Temple Beau). Oh, my unfortunate father! Hanging, sir!
Pincet. Ay, ay, hanging; hanging is the regular course of law, and no way to be averted. But as to our conveyance to the place of execution, that I believe we shall be favoured in. The sheriff is to
(1) History of the Stage, vol. iv.
render us there; but whether in a coach or a cart, I fancy a small sum may turn that scale.
Sir Harry. Coach or cart!.... why, son-why, sir, is there no way left?
Pincet. None. We shall be convicted of felony, and then hanging follows of course.
Wilding. It is true-so says Cook against Littleton.
Sir Harry. But, sir-dear sir, I am as innocent
Pincet. Sir, the law proceeds by evidence; my brother Starchum indeed offered that upon a bond of £5000 he would make up the affair: but I thought it much too extravagant a demand, and so I told him flatly-we would be hanged.1
Sir Harry. Then you told a damned lie!—for if twice that sum will save us we will not,
Pincet. How, sir! are you willing to give that money?
Sir Harry. No, sir, I am not willing; but I am much less willing to be hanged.
Wilding. But do you think, Mr. Counsellor, you could not prevail for four thousand?
Pincet. That truly we cannot reply to till a conference be first had.
Sir Harry. Ay, or four hundred.
Pincet. Four hundred! Why, it would cost more the other way, you were hanged anything decently. Look you, sir, Mr. Starchum is at the Crown and Rolls just by: if you please we will go thither, and I assure you to make the best bargain I can.
"The Temple Beau" had but a short run; for the theatre in which it was acted soon closed.2 In point of wit and cleverness it is by no means a contemptible production; but its scenes furnish evidence of that fatal facility which is generally so ruinous to the young author. "With a careless and hasty pencil" (to use the expression of one of his critics), Fielding satisfied himself with sketching
(1) The ridiculous style of legal oratory which Fielding ridicules has survived his time. It is still by no means an uncommon thing to hear a learned gentleman identifying himself with his client after the same fashion. We ourselves have heard a counsel thus address a jury for a prisoner: "Gentlemen, at the very moment the policeman says he saw us in the tap, I will prove that we were locked up in the station-house, in a state of intoxication."
(2) It is worthy of remark that the prologue to "The Temple Beau" was written by James Ralph, who contributed some forgotten pieces to the stage, and with whom Fielding was afterwards associated as a periodical essayist in "The Champion." (See chapters x. and xi.)
the bold outline of a plot or character, neglecting altogether the minuter touches and polished graces which contribute to form the perfect work of art. It was impossible, under such circumstances, that he should achieve high success in the drama; and thus, notwithstanding his undoubted genius, a long career of failures, or at best, of imperfect successes, lay before him.
THE AUTHOR'S FARCE."—" HURLOTHRUMBO."-ORATOR HEN
LEY.-AUTHORSHIP IN 1730.
FIELDING's third dramatic production was a medley, entitled "The Author's Farce, with a Puppet-Show called the Pleasures of the Town." This piece was first performed at the Haymarket Theatre, in March, 1730, and was some years afterwards reproduced at Drury Lane, "revised and greatly altered by the author." Fielding had now begun to feel that his strength lay in satire-in humorous delineations of the follies and delusions of the age, and in caustic denunciations of public abuses. "The Author's Farce" was aimed at a numerous and formidable host of fashionable follies :-at "Henley's gilt tub"-immortalised in the "Dunciad;"-at the vulgar rage for foreign opera, tumbling, and puppetshows, and the disgraceful popularity of nonsensical dramas, "full of sound and fury-signifying nothing." All these abominations are thus denounced by Witmore, the philosopher of the farce:
"'Sdeath! in an age of learning and true politeness, where a man might succeed by his merit, there would be some encouragement. But now, when party and prejudice carry all before them; when learning is decried, wit not understood; when the theatres are puppetshows, and the comedians ballad-singers; when fools lead the town, would a man think to thrive by his wit? If you must write, write nonsense, write Hurlothrumboes, set up an oratory, and preach nonsense, and you may meet with encouragement enough. Be profane, be scurrilous, be immodest; if you would receive applause, deserve to receive sentence at the Old Bailey; and if you would ride in a coach, deserve to ride in a cart."
The extraordinary drama of "Hurlothrumbo," above
alluded to, was then (mirabile dictu!) the talk and admiration of the town. A more curious or a more insane production has seldom issued from human pen. Its author was one Samuel Johnson, a dancing-master from Cheshire-a strange compound of the madman and charlatan-who himself performed one of the principal characters (Lord Flame), dressed in a suit of black velvet, with a white flowing perriwig; and speaking, it is said, sometimes in one key, and sometimes in another; sometimes dancing, sometimes fiddling, and sometimes walking on stilts! The piece, notwithstanding its absurdity, was played above thirty nights to large and fashionable audiences, of whom a very considerable proportion, it is reasonable to suppose, were attracted to the representation for the sole purpose of seeing the author make a fool of himself. The greater part of the dialogue was quite unintelligible-pure rant and fustian; but to those who were simple enough to say they could not understand it, Johnson had the ready answer that he had written it himself with a violin in his hand, and that no person could hope properly to comprehend it who did not make use of the same instrument to quicken his apprehension. An epilogue to this strange performance was written by John Byrom, the inventor of a system of short-hand, and author of sundry almost forgotten rhymes, whose private journal has been recently published under the auspices of the Chetham Society.2
(1) See Tom Jones, book iv. c. 1.
(2) The title of "Hurlothrumbo" may be quoted as a fair specimen of the extravagance of the work :
"Hurlothrumbo; or, the Super-Natural. As it is acted at the New Theatre in the Haymarket. Written by Mr. Samuel Johnson, from Cheshire :
"Ye sons of fire, read my 'HURLOTHRUMBO,'
Amongst the dramatis personæ appear the following personages of the masculine gender:-Soarethereal, Dologodelmo, Lomperhomock, &c.; and of the feminine Cademore, Sermentory, Seringo, Lusingo, Cuzzonida! Such was "Hurlothrumbo," the object of Fielding's satire; and it is a curious, as well as