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ing himself duped would have been dreadful, had it not been an engagement for twelve nights at 100 guineas čach, followed up by å reception from the public which amply atoned for former suffering and present disappointment. ' Whien I first entered the room, Kean told me he had the gout in his
foot; but when the painter and the others retired, he acknowledged that he was confined to his bed by a very bad šore leg, for which he was daily attended by.surgeon Carpue, who prescribed the strictest regimen, and abstinence from all strong liquors, which Kean was endeavouring to obey as well as he could. By nursing himself in this manner for two days together, he was enabled to play three times a week; but still, in the exertion of acting, suffering considerable fatigue and pain.
My visit that day was interrupted by the arrival of two other persons, gloomily dressed and closely veiled, who were introduced by the black boy with suitable mystery, but whose sex was leşs doubtful than their 'character. Kean took care to inform me (in à stage whisper, which they must have heard in the adjoining sitting-room) that they were sisters--lovely creatures--the daughters of a clergyman of high respectability ; that they had both fallen desperately in love with him, and came up to London together with the most unlimited offers for his acceptance. I had no wish to pursue the subject further, but left him with the sentimental pair. I paid him several visits afterwards, alone, and to meet Mr. Price, and talk over the preliminary arrangements for our common affair.
Kean félt deeply the importance of this projected appearance in " Ben Nazir." He knew that a crisis had arrived in his professional fate; the whole tide of public feeling was with him. He had regained his place at the head of the acted drama. To confirm him there, beyond competition or cavil, there was only wanting one vigorous display of power in a new part, and that part was now ready written to his hand, Nothing, in short, could exceed the ardour with which he undertbok the study of * Ben Nazir." He carried it away with him on the provincial tour on which he set out after playing his dozen nights in London to enthusiastic audiences; and his being prepared to appear in the play, in the second week of the next May, was one of the stipulations in his renewed engagement for twenty rights, to begin at that period.
It may be supposed that I followed with some anxiety the accounts of Kean's progress on his provincial expedition. I had every reason to believe that he was working hard to perfect himself in his new part; that he lived abstemiously; and was gradually recovering his health and spirits.
The newspapers contained a copy of the address spoken by him on his benefit night, in Dublin, in the character and costume of an Indian chief; but the private accounts transmitted to me by some friends, who inquired about him, neutralized the apprehension excited by that absurd display, and convinced me he had no actual relapse of his Canadian complaint.
In due time Kean arrived in London, enthusiastic, and, as he said, perfect in his part; and his leg, which a thousand sinister reports and prophecies should long since have deprived him of, so far recovered as to enable him to “ strut his hour," either on the stage or in the streets, with perfect ease. I repaired to London. My first visit, on my arrival, was to Mr. Wallack, the stage-manager. Everything I heard from him was most encouraging. I next saw Mr. Price, who confirmed all I had heard from his second in command. Mr. Wallack was indefatigable in every way.
Kean's confidence in the part and in himself was sufficient to deceive a less sanguine temperament than mine. He repeatedly said that he hoped to reap as much fame from it as from Maturin's “Bertram," and that he reckoned on playing it a hundred nights. His portrait in the part was to be immediately engraved. A new wherry, which Kean was then getting built for his annual prize race on the Thames, was to be called the “ Ben Nazir.” The dress in which he was to appear was to be the most splendid possible; and a notion may be formed on that head, from the fact that Kean was to pay 50 guineas for it, over and above the allowance from the Theatre. I might cite many other proofs of his enthusiasm.
In the mean time the rehearsals were going on admirably. Every one was already perfect in their parts, with one exception, but this one was, unfortunately, out of control, and consequently beyond discovery. Kean attended but two rehearsals, and both of these with the written part in his hand. On one occasion he read his part with great energy and effect. It was every thing I could wish ; no one had a shadow of doubt as to the impression it would produce on an audience. Congratulations were poured on me on all sides, with premature profusion.
Kean now claimed the privilege of absenting himself from the subsequent rehearsals, alleging his unwillingness to lose time from the close study he wished to give to the minutest details of his part. It was thought better to let Kean have everything his own way, in a matter into which he had so evidently put his heart and soul, and which was of infinitely more importance to him than to any one else. I was quite satisfied, for I saw him almost daily, and witnessed the unceasing industry with which he laboured at the part. He used regularly to order his carriage after breakfast, and set off for Kensington Gardens, where he studied a couple of hours. Frequently he sailed in his boat on the river, and there spouted away to the free benefit of the watermen and the Naiades. I often called on him at night, knowing that my presence would keep away others; and about ten or eleven o'clock he invariably went to bed, "and went to bed sober.”
At his suggestion I made several slight alterations in the play, and one material one; the object of the latter being to gratify Kean's desire of speaking the last word, and ending the play by his death. He wanted the whole impression made on the audience to be his work. This was in the spirit of some former conduct of his, years before, which made him . so many enemies, and did him such mischief with the public. , I also conceded many minor points to the judicious suggestions of Mr. Wallack, whọ deserved every consideration on my part. I had been led to expect great annoyance from the performers, from the report of authors, who were probably more tenacious of their rights than I was": but I really męt nothing of the kind ; I was willing to take advice from the experience of the actors, and what they did offer was with modesty and good sense, particularly Mr. Cooper, who was assiduous to the whole business of the scene.
The night of representation was at last fixed. Up to the preceding
week Kean persisted in assurances that he was quite prepared ; still, however, declining to appear even at the last rehearsal, under the pretext that it would only confuse and annoy him, and perhaps destroy the effect which he wished to reserve for the public performance of the part. All this, rather obscurely put forward, began to give us some uneasiness; at length it was absolutely necessary either to announce“ Ben Nazir” from the stage, or to substitute some other play, and put it off for a few nights longer. It was nine o'clock that evening before I finally put the question to Kean. He consented to the postponement, at the same time persisting in his readiness to perform on the night first fixed, and an announcement was made of the postponement of “Ben Nazir.”
The night at length arrived. Every thing was ready: I saw Kean in the morning; he expressed himself with the utmost confidence; strutted about his drawing-room in his lodgings, Duke-street, Adelphi, decked out in his magnificent dress; and declaimed with great vigour some of his favourite passages——the book in his hand. Notwithstanding all this I had serious doubts of the night's result. I was certain he would be imperfect ; but I reckoned fully on his giving the principal passages with ample effect; and I calculated on subsequent representations repairing any defects which might appear on the first.
In this mood I took leave of Kean, resolved not to interfere with him further; and I prepared to go to the theatre, in a state of some anxiety certainly, but one more pleasurable than the contrary. Mr. Wallack had secured me a private box behind the dress circle, to which I repaired about half an hour before the play began. The house was crowded in all parts; and I may here observe that not one friend of my own was there by my solicitation. The manager had not offered me, nor did I ask, a single free admission.
I certainly felt considerable satisfaction as I sat, quite unseen, and contemplated the crowded house. The chief of my literary longings had ever been for dramatic success; and although I had always looked on my present play as a very indifferent drama, a mere experiment in fact, and rested its whole chance on the performance of the chief part, I was greatly strengthened in my hopes of it by the various concurrent reasons before detailed. A fair share of applause was given to some of the early passages; and the audience seemed well prepared for Kean's appearance, with which the third scene was to open.
He did at length appear. The intention of the author, and the keeping of the character, required him to rush rapidly on the stage, giving utterance to a burst of joyous soliloquy. What was my astonishment to see him, as the scene opened, standing on the centre of the stage, his arms crossed, and his whole attitude one of thoughtful solemnity! His dress was splendid; and thunders of applause greeted him from all parts of the house. To display the one and give time for the other, were the objects for which he stood fixed for several minutes, and sacrificed the sense of the situation. He spoke; but what a speech! The one I wrote consisted of eight or nine lines; his was of two or three sentences, but not six consecutive words of the text. His look, his manner, his tone, were to me quite appalling ; to any other observer they must have been incomprehensible. He stood fixed, drawled out his incoherent words, and gave the notion of a man who had been half-hanged and then dragged through a horse-pond. My heart, I confess it, sank deep in my breast. I was utterly shocked. And as the business of the play went on, and as he stood by, with moveless muscle and glazed eye, throughout the scene which should have been one of violent, perhaps too violent, exertion, à cold shower of perspiration poured from my forehead, and I endured a revulsion of feeling which I cannot describe, and which I would not for worlds one eye had witnessed.
I had all along felt that this scene would be the touchstone of the play. Kean went through it like a man in the last stage of exhaustion and decay. The act closed-a dead silence followed the fall of the curtain ; and I felt, though I could not hear, the voiceless verdict of “ damnation."
I soon recovered myself and sat out the butchery to the end; it is needless to describe it here. In a short preface to the printed play, which was published a few days afterwards, I stated a few of the facts attending the representation. The account, which appeared in the next number of the “New Monthly Magazine," was a very faithful one. I believe it was from the pen of a now eminent barrister, and the then chief writer of the admirable dramatic articles in the work.
When the curtain fell, Mr. Wallack, the stage manager, came forward and made an apology for Kean's imperfection in his part, and an appeal in behalf of the play. Neither excited much sympathy; the audience was quite disgusted. I now, for the first time during the night, went behind the scenes. On crossing the stage towards the green-room I met Kean, supported by his servant and another person, going in the direction of his dressing-room. When he saw me he hung down his head, and waved his hand, and uttered some expressions of deep sorrow, and even remorse. “I have ruined a fine play and myself; I cannot look you in the face " were the first words that I caught. I said something in return as cheering and consolatory as I could. I may say that all sense of my own disappointment was forgotten in the compassion I felt for him. Mrs. West, Miss Smithson, and Miss Kelly were among the group present at this meeting. Nothing could exceed their good nature towards me. The whole company seemed to consider the calamity as a domestic one. Every one was indignant with Kean; Wallack particularly so. He told me that previous to the commencement of the play he had sent three summonses to him to come down from his dressing-room; and at last on going to seek him himself, he found him weeping, and in total despair. Why then persist in attempting the character ? Why ensure the ruin of the play, and risk my reputation as a writer ? Why not withdraw, and acknowledge the loss of memory which he had at length become aware of? This was Wallack’s reasoning. He had, it seems, urged Kean to apologize in person to the audience; but that he declined, saying that if he attempted it he should have burst into tears. Wallack subsequently proposed to him, through a friend, to publish a letter in the papers on the subject. That he refused also, preferring to let the fault lie wholly on the author's shoulders. In fact poor Kean had lost all his former energy. He never could have been deficient in generous feelings : but, he was worn down; and he had not the courage to confess it. That is the whole truth.
It was then I resolved to publish my Preface to the play, in which, as every one who read it thought, I dealt too lightly with the culprit. I should certainly be sorry to lean more heavily on him now. In the mean time I bore my disappointment as well as I could ; returned my thanks
to the other actors for their exertions ; renounced dramatic writing for ever, and paid a short visit of leave-taking to Kean, who seemed, as he well might be, overwhelmed with sorrow, whether for my sake or his own I do not attempt to decide. The total loss of the power of study, (as it is technically called,) thus so fatally betrayed, prevented his attempting any new part since that day, which formed a crisis in his professional career. I have never seen him since; and I trust that I may be excused for having entered so far into detail on what is so very personal to myself, in this remarkable episode in the life of (with perhaps Talma's excep. tion) the greatest actor of my times.
I have abstained from mentioning several anecdotes of his early life and professional career, related to me at different times by Kean, from the belief that some authentic biography of him will be given to the world. Indeed he told me repeatedly, during my intercourse with him in 1827, that he had then made considerable progress in the preparation of his own memoirs.