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that time went forth by Divine command to “convert all nations?" No vice, no impiety, escaped them; not only sins provoked their censure, they even reproved the indecencies of dress, and indelicacies of behaviour. hear not of one poet or actor who received any reprimand from them. On the contrary, we meet with several passages in the writings of St. Paul, in which he refers to the dramatic poets, citing their expressions in confirmation of his own opinions. But to come nearer our uwn times—the truly pious and learned Archbishop Tillotson, speaking of plays, gives this testimony in their favour, that "they might be so framed, and governed by such rules, as not only to be innocently diverting, but instructive and useful, to put some follies and vices out of countenance, which cannot perhaps be so decently reproved, nor so effectually exposed and corrected any other way.”
Theatrical entertainments can be traced in England as far back as the Conquest. But till the reign of Elizabeth, they were very con. temptible; at that period, as it were all at once, the creative genius of Shakspeare, Fletcher and Ben Jonson, gave a sudden perfection to the British drama. In the first year of King James I.'s reign, a license was granted under the privy seal to Shakspeare and others, authorising them to act plays in any part of the kingdom, during his Majesty's pleasure. At this time, the theatre was at its zenith of glory and reputation: dramatic authors were brought for
ward, and their genius warmed and cherished by the rays of royal patronage. An universal avidity for theatrical representations was spread over England during the reign of James
, and at the commencement of the eventful ca. reer of Charles I.; when the hydra of fanaticism, with all its odious brood of heresies, openly opposed these diversions, as “ wicked and diabolical.” The loathsome vermin of the Puritanical school, crawled over the land, and defiled every thing that was great and noble, under the pretext of operating reformations! Amongst their laudable deeds, was the total suppression of all plays and play-houses. After a violent and sanguinary contest, both monarchy and the stage were buried in one common ruin: the King perished by the axe of the executioner; and the theatres were abandoned, and either destroyed or converted into churches, for the holy tinkers and weavers to spout inthe very opposite of this happened in the French Revolution! But the hellish fury of intolerance could not totally destroy the public taste for the drama: amidst the gloom and hor. ror of bigotry, Sir William Davenant eluded the implacable rancour of the Puritans, by exhibiting entertainments of declamation and music, after the manner of the ancients. Soon afterwards, the retainers of the theatre advanced from their hiding places, and gradually, though cautiously, resumed their former employment.
The Restoration restored the stage to its former rclat, and the public mind, suddenly bursting from the pressure of fanatical despotisin, was soon prepared for any degree of theatrical licentiousness. In 1662, a play house was erected in Drury-Lane, and opened with the celebrated comedy of The Humorous Lieuteriant. In 1671, this house took fire, and was entirely demolished; but it sprung up with renewed lustre from its ashes. In the interim, Davenant built a theatre in Dorset-Garden, which was distinguished by its splendid scenery and decorations, and by the superiority of its dramatic exhibitions.
At the close of the 17th century, we find the Drury-Lane theatre under the management of the famous Rich, a man of great abilities, but of very repulsive and tyrannical character. His headlong and fiery temper alienated the affections of the principal performers from him, and, on a license being obtained from King William, a new house was erected in Lincoln'sInn-Fields; but after one cr two years success, the audiences drew off from the disgraceful exhibitions of tumblers and buffoons, and the vile mangling of wretched performers, which characterized the new theatre.
About this time, Sir John Vanbrugh procured subscriptions for erecting a magnificent play house in the Haymarket. The joint abilities of this writer and Congreve were, however, insufficient to bring the theatre into reputation-the house being badly contrived for see
ing and hearing, and totally unfit for every purpose of convenience. The extraordinary and superfluous space between the stage and the audience, occasioned such an undulation from the voice of every actor, that (says Colley Cibber) " what they said sounded like the gabbling of so many people in the lofty aisles of a cathedral! The tone of a trumpet, or the swelling of an eunuch's holding-note, 'tis true, might be sweetened by it; but the articulate sounds of a speaking voice, were drowned by the hollow reverberations of one word under another.” In 1708 this theatre was appropriated to Italian operas.
In Drury-Lane, Rich continued his tyrannical and oppressive behaviour to the performers; till Collier, observing the desperate situation of theatrical affairs, procured a lease of the house from the landlords of it, and broke into the premises with a hired rabble, who turned the former owner out of doors. Collier, Wilks, Dogget and Cibber, brought DruryLane into such reputation, that it procured them affluence, and “ otium cum dignitate." In 1714, Sir Richard Steele was appointed manager of this theatre, to its great advantage and emolument-but having incurred the displeasure of that stupid ninny, the Duke of Newcastle, he was forced to resign an office which was equally glorious to himself and to the drama. În 1720, a small playhouse was built by a carpenter in Haymarket, which was opened by the comedy of Love for Love. It
was in this theatre, that the famous Fielding displayed his comic powers, by the exhibition of several satirical pieces, at the expense of some of the political wiseacres of the day. In 1766, Foote purchased this house, and immediately pulled it down. It was rebuilt and opened in the year following, with a singular dramatic entertainment, called the Diversions of a Morning, which was something like the amusing pieces now performed by Mathews at the English Opera House. Foote's whimsical entertainment consisted in the mimicry of the manner and tone of voice of several ridiculous characters of the day, and of the various styles of acting of the principal English players. He afterwards announced the title of a piece as Mr. Foote's giving Tea to his Friends, and represented it through a run of 40 mornings, to crowded and splendid audiences.
In the year 1741, the genius of Garrick began to glitter on the theatrical horizon, and soon rose to the height of meridian splendour. The very first night of this actor's appearance in Richard III., he fixed his reputation as the first performer of that or any other age. From the period of his management of Drury Lane, may be dated the flourishing condition of the theatre. It is not my intention to trace this great man's career through all its splendid fluctuations; I will merely record it to his honour, that he produced essential service to the cause of virtue ard good manners, by banishing from the stage those open and scandalous