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mob now assembled together, who soon smoked the jest, and agreed with him that the sign was the exact picture of the gentleman. At last a good-natured man, taking compassion on the poor figure, whom he saw the jest of the multitude, whispered in his ear: Sir, I see your eyes are bad, and that your friend is a rascal and imposes on you: the sign hung out is the sign of an ass; nor will your picture be here, unless you draw it yourself.""1
By this time, Pasquin" and "The Register" had become objects of attention in high places. They had been brought to the notice of the cabinet. Ministerial lackeys condemned their scurrility, and prophesied dangers innumerable from the appearance of a constant succession of dramatic libels. The prime-minister himself felt that it would be inexpedient to allow the stage to become the vehicle of anti-ministerial abuse. Still, there were some difficulties in the way of direct interference. The Lord Chamberlain, it is true, had the power of forbidding the representation of any pieces offensive to public morals or obnoxious to public policy; and this power had been often exercised. Nay, further, it is evident that at one period it was considered necessary to obtain a license, previously to the representation of a play. But this jurisdiction of the
(1) There can be little doubt that "Pasquin" and "The Register" furnished Sheridan with many hints for "The Critic." The idea of the wise Lord Burleigh's shaking his head seems to be taken from the silence of the patriots in "The Register," which is thus accounted for by Medley:-"Sir, what they think now cannot well be spoke, but you may conjecture a great deal from their shaking their heads; they will speak by-and-bye-as soon as they are a little heated with wine."-(Act iii., sc. 1.)
(2) It is well known that, stimulated by the great success of "The Beggar's Opera," a second part, or sequel, called "Polly," was written by Gay, and rehearsed at Covent Garden. On the eve of its representation, there came an order from the Lord Chamberlain to prohibit its performance; not, as it would appear, on account of any strokes of satire it contained-for the piece is dull and spiritless enough-but by reason of the offence which some reflections on the Court in "The Beggar's Opera" had given in high places. The cause of Gay was upon this occasion taken up so warmly by the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry that they were forbidden the Court. The Duchess wrote a very spirited letter on the occasion (Scott's "Swift," vol. vii. p. 325). Nearly fifty years
Chamberlain had never been declared or defined by positive law if it existed, it was only by custom and precedent, and great laxity had prevailed with regard to its exercise. Plays were performed, and theatres opened without any license, and the advocates of a free stage stoutly maintained that by law no license was required. Under these circumstances, the ministry resolved to meet the difficulty, and prevent any future attacks of a similar description by a legislative enactment. A convenient pretext was all that was required; and just at the right moment the wished-for opportunity presented itself. By a curious and somewhat suspicious coincidence an event occurred which seemed fully to demonstrate the necessity of legislative interference.1 This incident, however, and the circumstances connected with the introduction of the bill to regulate dramatic performances, will be treated. of in another chapter.
afterwards, Colman performed this piece, with some alterations and amendments, at the Haymarket (1777); and Gay's stanch patroness--then known as the Old Duchess of Queensberry-attended. Under the Stuart régime it is also notorious that Nat Lee's "Lucius Junius Brutus" was prohibited after the third night's acting, by Lord Chamberlain Arlington, as an anti-monarchical play. Many other instances of a like interference, but of less importance, are upon record.
(1) Mr. Dibdin says, that "it was in the opening of the theatres in the Haymarket and Goodman's Fields, in defiance of all law, that was considered by the minister as the offence, rather than any strictures on his personal conduct.' ("History of the Stage," vol. iv. p. 412). But all contemporary writers agree that Fielding's satire was particularly obnoxious to Sir R. Walpole, and one object of the Licensing Act was certainly to muzzle so bold a dramatic satirist. The multiplication of unlicensed theatres in London had previously occupied the attention of the legislature. (See note 2, pp. 54, 55.)
THE LICENSING ACT, AND DISPERSION OF THE GREAT MOGUL'S COMPANY.-FIELDING'S ADMISSION AS A STUDENT OF THE MIDDLE TEMPLE.
WHILST the bitter witticisms of "Pasquin" and "The Register" were fresh in the recollection of the public, and whilst the Tadpoles and Tapers of the day were shaking their heads at the audacity and immorality of the stage, and gravely condemning the indecency of making a primeminister dance a jig upon the stage, another dramatic libel of a most portentous character fell into the hands of a theatrical manager-Mr. Giffard, then director of the theatre in Lincoln's-Inn Fields,-which that prudent person resolved to turn to a better account than public representation. The piece in question bore the title of "The Golden Rump," and was full, if we are to believe all that we are told about it, of the most alarming and treasonable matter. For this account of it, let it be remembered, however, we are solely indebted to the report of the persons in authority to whom Giffard submitted it. It was never either acted or printed, nor was the name of the author, or the person from whom the manager received it, disclosed.1 That the latter might be no loser by his patriotism, the
(1) In the notes to his "Memoirs of the Reign of George II.," Horace Walpole asserts that "The Golden Rump" was written by Fielding, and also that he had in his possession an imperfect copy of the piece, as he found it amongst his father's papers after his death. But this is too loose a statement to be accepted. The existence of any such piece was openly questioned at the time.
One or two papers of the same title appear in the opposition prints of the time, viz. "The Vision of the Golden Rump," in "The Englishman's Journal," March 19, 1737; and "On the Original and Rites of the Golden Rump," in "Common Sense," Sept. 17, 1737.
Treasury paid him very liberally for the manuscript, which was at once laid before the cabinet; and it was speedily resolved that so audacious a libel, coupled with Fielding's recent satires, rendered it imperative on the government to place some direct and positive restrictions on the stage.
So far all was well; but there were not wanting incredulous persons who regarded the whole affair as a ministerial scheme, and Giffard as a dupe or a convenient tool. It was observed that the manager had reaped a much larger profit from the suppression of the piece than he could have hoped to have gained from its representation. Then again, no account was given of the source from which it was obtained; and it was shrewdly surmised that it was just possible a clever ministerial spy might have sent the play to Giffard, with a hint as to the course he ought to take: and that the manager had either fallen unsuspectingly into the snare, or, with a keen eye to his own interest, had seized the opportunity of currying favour with persons in power, and earning a little Treasury gold. Certain it is that "The Golden Rump" was presented to the cabinet at the very nick of time-just before the close of the parliamentary session, and whilst Fielding's caustic satire was in the height of its popularity.
Having once resolved to place a curb on the stage, the ministry acted with unusual promptitude. On Friday, the 20th May, a motion was made in the House of Commons to bring in a bill "to explain and amend so much of an act made in the twelfth year of the reign of Queen Anne, entitled, An Act for reducing the laws relating to Rogues, Vagabonds, sturdy Beggars and Vagrants, into one Act of Parliament; and for the more effectual punishing such Rogues, Vagabonds, sturdy Beggars and Vagrants, and sending them whither they ought to be sent, as relates to Common Players of Interludes." The principal feature in the measure (which is certainly not disclosed in the above mass of verbiage), was that which provided that every
dramatic piece, previous to its representation, should receive the license of the Lord Chamberlain. The House ordered the bill to be at once prepared and brought in, and it was accordingly read for the first time on Tuesday, the 24th. Though great opposition was offered to it at every stage, "it passed through both Houses with such dispatch that it was ready for the royal assent on Wednesday, the 8th of June following ;" and on the 21st it received that assent from his Majesty, on his putting an end to the parliamentary session.
Both in the Lords and Commons the debates on this measure were characterised by unusual animation. The most remarkable speech in opposition to it was delivered in the Upper House by Philip Earl of Chesterfield,—a nobleman who, whatever were his faults and shortcomings as a man, may be properly described as a jealous and enlightened friend of freedom, and one of the first and most intrepid of parliamentary orators. This speech of Lord Chesterfield's against the Licensing Bill is one of the few specimens of the parliamentary eloquence of the period that has come down to us in a perfect form; and though perhaps rather too elaborate and pedantic to suit the taste of the present age, it is so striking an oratorical effort that a few extracts from it may not improperly be presented to the reader. Having deprecated the remarkable haste
(1) Debates of the House of Lords, vol. v.
(2) In the fourth book of "The Dunciad" this speech, and the occasion of it, are thus noticed :
"There sunk Thalia, nerveless, cold, and dead,
Had not her sister Satire held her head;
Nor could'st thou, Chesterfield! a tear refuse,
Thou weptst, and with thee wept each gentle muse."
Cibber states that Lord Chesterfield opposed the bill of 1737 "in an excellent speech, with a lively spirit and uncommon eloquence." And Lord Hervey, in his curious memoirs of the period, gives the following account of the debate in both Houses upon it. "In the House of Commons little opposition was made to this bill by anybody of note but Mr. Pulteney, nor in the House of Lords but by Lord Chesterfield, who made one of the most lively and ingenious speeches