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ON FRENCH COMEDY AND VAUDEVILLES.
Lusimus, Octavi, gracili modulante Thalia
Virg. Culex à Chr. G. Heyne “ restitutus.” MOLIERE, it is said, used to read the unfinished scenes of his comedies to an old woman who waited in the house where he resided, and he learnt from her countenance, and the sympathy which she expressed for the situations of the different personages of the drama, whether the painting was true to nature. He always found, he said, that those passages which she approved, delighted the audienee, and met with a favourable reception from the world; and those which she disliked, experienced, on the contrary, universal disapprobation."" Hy will not be doubted but the old lady formed a just opinion of the manners of the age; but Gallic nature is, in some sort or other, different from human nature. It is masked, the soil does not appear congenial to the full expaasion of genuine unrestrained humour. That French 'Tragedy walks on stilts, has been long known, and is a received opinion in this country; but the gravity of the sock, it might be thought, would be compensated by the lightness of the buskin. The buskin indeed is light, but it is not of that texture which befits universal comedy. How far the characters of Destouches or Marivaüx would compete with those of Menander, it is impossible, in the loss of his inimitable productions, now to conjecture; but at present they appear to bear a greater resemblance to those of Aristophanes.
In those pétites pieces which depict the leading follies of the day, the French stage, it must be confessed, has an evident superiority. The "airy nothings” to which they give the name of Vaudevilles (so called from the ballads with which they are interspersed), are both light, fanciful, and elegant. A piece of this sort, which I saw at Marseilles, gave a just representation of the characters of the peasantry of the ancien regime.-A scene of courtship is introduced in a country village, and is carried on in dumb show, dancing, &c. An old man appears among the young ones, courting some fair but coy damsels, and making them various presents. On being rejected, he goes to hang himself in despair ; the rope breaks, and he falls on the stage. He is taken up, and endeavours are used to restore suspended animation. They succeed, and he receives a pardon on his knees from the hands of the reluctant fair.
So bright a life these thoughtless realms display,
Thus idly busy rolls their world away. Another piece, enacted at the same theatre, and which might serve as a counterpart, was Shakspeare's Othello, translated by Ducis. But here Desdemona is reconciled to her husband, and the play concludes with the felicity of all parties; for murder, and least of all, suffocation, does not suit the French stage. The actress who personated Desdemona was short and corpulent, and had a voice so tremulous, that it afforded a striking contrast to the deep tones of the Moor—a part which was well performed by its actor. It might be expected that Harlequin would form a prominent character on the French stage, and so indeed he appears every night in the sanctioned precincts of the Palais Royal, on the twostory stage at the Cafè de la Pair, or on the subterraneous boards of the Cafè des Varietés. But it might not be anticipated that he would appear
in any of the serious and social relations of life. Such, however, is the fact. In the Theatre de Florian he is shewn as the good husband (Le Bon Menage); the good father (Le Bon Pere). He possesses an affectionate wife (La Bonne Mere), and is blessed with a dutiful son (Le Bon Fils). In each of these characters he appears to great advantage. The dialogue is natural and lively, the performance is well conducted, and the moral is good. But the ludicrous effect which is produced by the husband, the father, the respectable citizen, appearing in an harlequin's jacket, is surely sufficient to excite the risibility of a stoic. Les Danaides, which is a great favourite with the Parisian public, however, far exceeds this in absurdity. The story from which this drama is taken is well known; but on the French stage the Grecian husband, whose life is spared, is dressed as a petit maitre, in a large wig (costume of the age of Louis XIV.), and the wives in plain habiliments. The respective merits of the unfortunate victims of their spouse's resentment, are tried by the devil in propriâ personá, who weighs them with a pitch-fork. The good fly up, with a spring, into heaven, and the bad descend with alacrity into the infernal regions.
The Revolution has now effected some change in these matters. The works of Shakspeare, paraphrased and metamorphosed by Ducis, have been regularly translated by Le Tourneur and F. Guizot; and it may now therefore be expected that the Bard of Avon will receive that due meed of praise which was denied him in the false criticisms, and erroneous versions, of Voltaire. The Vaudevilles, also, are much improved. “ La Sommambule," “ Elle et lui,” “ Je fais mes farces," are evidences of this. I shall present the reader with a sketch of an entertaining little piece of this sort, in three acts, entitled “ Fanchon la Vielleuse,” which first made its appearance during the Revolution, as the title-page informs us.* It is still a great favourite with the Parisian public.
Fanchon, an amiable and interesting girl, the representative of a female who it appears was well known at Paris some years ago, by the title of “ La Ninon du Boulevard," and who is characterized in the dramatis personce as a compound of simplicity, good taste, cheerfulness, and sensibility, is a performer on the hurdy-gurdy, from the mountains of Savoy, and who has come to Paris to exhibit her talents on the Boulevards. She sings in the following manner of herself:
“ Aux montagnes de la Savoie
Je naquis de pauvres parens,
Càr nous etiops beaucoup d'enfans,
Que mes chansons, quinze ans, ma vielle et l'esperance." Thus adorned, and bringing nothing with her into France, as she says, but “ her songs, her age (fifteen years), her instrument, and hope," she appears at Paris, and attracts the attention and admiration of the great. Acquiring money by her talents, and the interest excited by her artless beauty, she employs it in acts of generosity; and, concealing her name, engages one Vincent to be the distributor of her bounty. For this purpose she makes him assume the livery of a Madame de Gervilliers, who is described as severe in her deportment, but of a kind disposition. Under
* Fanchon la Vielleuse, Comedie en trois Actes, melée de Vaudevilles ; Par M. M. J. N. Bouilly et Joseph Pain ; representée, pour la première fois à Paris, sur le Theatre du Vaudeville, le 28. Nivòse, an. 13.
this disguise, Vincent relieves the widow.of an officer, and one Bertrand, an unfortunate grocer... In the mean time, Colonel Francarville, the nephew of Madame de Gervilliers, a man of quality, and of a romantic and susceptible disposition, sees and admires Fanchon; and, in order to try her affections, introduces himself to her in the character of a young painter. She admires his talents and his sensibility, consents to retire with him into the country, and, renouncing the gay world, to pass the rest of their lives together in rural privacy and domestic peace. She gives him a paper, by which she has conveyed to him a pleasant hamlet, situated in Savoy; and she says, “ Vous serez au milieu d'un peuple, pauvre, mais laborieux ; vous en serez l'ami, le dieu tutelaire ; car je vous en previens, vous aurez beaucoup d'or à repandre. Vous trouverez pour vos pinceaux des sites charmans, des villageoises fraîches et piquantes.' Dans mon pays, il y en a de fort jolies. Je me suis apperçue que vous n'aimiez ni le tumulte, ni le grand monde ; votre terre offre la solitude la plus amiable : vous pourrez y promener les plus douces reveries. Enfin si par delicatesse vous aviez refusè de venir chez Fanchon, c'est maintenant chez vous qu'elle vous demande un asyle et la permission d'y passer la reste de sa vie.” In the midst of these scenes of love and affection, Madame de Gervilliers enters, to reproach Fanchon for having assumed her name in the exercise of her acts of charity. She discovers her nephew, and his new attachment, and this again excites her censures.' Fanchon gives her the paper, and Madame de Gervilliers at length retires, convinced that the girl has an amiable heart, but is still averse to their union. The colonel, however, procures an interview with Fanchon, and after some tender and interesting discourse, he determines to retire with her into the country, according to the agreement. This piece is agreeably diversified with other characters. Among them is Ducoutis, an upholsterer, who is in love with Adèle, the daughter of Bertrand, the grocer mentioned before. She, however, slights him, and cherishes an affection for her cousin, Augustin. Then St. Luce, a captain of light horse, enters on the stage, and relates that he had just rescued a young girl (who proves to be Adèle) from the hands of one M. Forcebrunne, who was conveying her away in a carriage. A duel in consequence ensues between him and this Forcebrunne, au bois de Vincennes ; and Colonel Francarville (then known as Edouard) attends as his second. St. Luce wounds his antagonist, and retires without injury from the field. Bertrand enters with Ducoutis, and, enraged, accuses Fanchon with having seduced his daughter; but is surprised to find in her the benefactress of his family; upon which he salutes her with acclamations and blessings. Finally, all parties are reconciled. Augustin is married to Adèle, and Francarville retires with Fanchon to her beloved mountains, accompanied by her brother, Andrè, who had lately arrived in Paris to see her, and whose Patois pronunciation is as amusing as the Irish brogue. The language of this petite Vaudeville discovers both animation and judgment, and the style is much superior to the general class of these minor pieces. In the discourse which ensues between Colonel Francarville and Fanchon, when she makes the discovery of his rank, she uses some expressions on the subject of unequal marriages, which would have reflected no discredit on the matrimonial axioms of the sage in Rasselas.-" Que ne puis-je, aux dépens de ma vie assurer le bonheur de la vótre, il me serait plus facile de la sacrifier que de consenter à une union impossible. Oui, Colonel, impossible. Voyez Fanchon au milieu de votre famille, exposée aux demi mots inju
rieur, a mille regards humilians, souffrant des reproches qu'on vous fait, craignent qu'ils ne vous conduisent par dégrés à l'indifférence, et peut-être n'eveillent chez vous un repentir. Voyez moi en public, n'osant me donner le titre de votre epouse, sans voir le sourire aimer de tous ces grands qui vous entourent, sans entendre ces felicitations equivoques et mordantes, dont l'art leur est si familier. Oh! que je souffrirais! Non, non : si je suis assez suge pour ne point m'elever jusqu'a eux, je suis trop fière pour supporter leurs dedains.”
An Extract from the first leaf of the Register at East Ham Church, Essex.
1741 June 15. John Bagot Dr. Thos Lovell a pr. of new shoes
4 4 Do.
4 4 July 12. A Tends at yr Child crising
6 Novr. 3. Burill Bell Grave Clerk Ship
0 4 0 for tosing up Grave
0 1 0
0 2 0
0 17 0 Sep. 30. du 1742. Oct. 31.
a pr of new Shos Nov. 1. A Tende a Child crising
A poump Lather
deto Mar. 6. a pr of Shoes soled hell pes Sep. 1744. for Tenes child crisid
£0 11 11
Eternity, 'what art thou? my poor mind
Ranges in vain thro' regions of deep thought,
To seek a fitting 'semblance of thee !-nought
What are the ages that old Time hath brought,
Compar'd with thee? the fame of battles fought,
And what is boasted Time itself to thee?
Leaving deep gloom thro' which no eye can see.
And dies upon tby rock, Eternity!
RESEARCHES IN THE SOUTH OF IRELAND, by T. Crofton Croker. 4to. Murray. Plates.
Or the different subjects associated with the ideas of country in English minds, few have a stronger claim on our attention than those connected with the Sister Island. The richness of her soil in the level parts, the interesting scenery of the hills, with the romantic Dargle, the varied beauty of her lakes and rivers, the number and capacious bosoms of her harbours, the multitude of her population, and their very peculiar character-all unite in giving her an interest in our feelings. The work before . us is the production of an Irishman. His intention is to present his readers with observations made on the country and inhabitants, during a course of tours through the Southern parts of the island. The frequent renewal of visits to a country is an excellent plan for gaining correct information on subjects of a local nature. The first journey has often little effect but to produce a vague and indistinct impression on the mind of the tourist. But if he possess a reflecting mind, it will suggest to him topics of inquiry which he never anticipated when he left his own country, but which he is prepared to examine on a renewed excursion. The information thus collected by Mr. Croker, is extremely well arranged. A topographical description is given of all the principal places in his route, with much of their local history: but knowing that the continued detail of such matters, if interesting to a particular class, is tedious to the generality of readers, he arranges the observations on manners, customs, literature, &c., in distinct chapters; and by judiciously interspersing these throughout the work, he relieves the attention from the fatigue of contemplating at too great length a solitary subject; and yet by this collected form a variety of useful and pleasant instruction is conveyed to the mind of the reader, very different from the desultory method, or total absence of method, which too often occurs in volumes of travels and researches.
From many passages which could not fail to gratify our readers, we select the following from the chapter on Travelling in Ireland :
“ The bigher classes in Ireland are ever willing to entertain the traveller, and assist in the advancement of his journey, when be has clearly proved it absolutely necessary to proceed; for it is not a matter of question how to get admittance to the first houses in the country-the dilemma is how to leave them. To a tourist, with sufficient time'at bis disposal, this may be agrecable enough; if otherwise circumstanced, he will find it requisite to avoid the delivery of letters of recommendation ; for however gratifying a warm and hospitable réception may be, the sacrifice of time to be made in return, is beyond all calculation. The over-abundant kindness of the host (for an immediate invitation always follows an introduction) seldom permits his guest the free use of his own senses, and to expostulate is vain. If, Dr. Syotax-like, he travels with a sketch-book, and states himself in search of the picturesque, he is hurried from one eminence to another, and assured it affords the best view in the country, as extent and beauty, when applied to the landscape, are generally confounded. A party is arranged to meet him at dinner, each of whom requests a visit. One assures bim that a most celebrated castle is on his grounds; while another urges the charms of a glen near his residence, io a tone it is impossible to refuse. After a journey of some miles, and the loss of an entire morning, this renowned castle may prove but the naked walls of an old tower, dismantled of even its ivy garb; and ihe charming glen' perhaps turns out to be neither more nor less than the best fox earth in the country. Thus the circle of acquaintances caused by a single introduction, every one leading to others, goes on increasing, like the circles produced by a stone when flung into the water.