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TO SECOND EDITION.
A GREAT majority of the new plays are condemned in the first performance, and many of those which the public consents to tolerate are but little esteemed; it has therefore been thought, that, among the rejected pieces, some might be found not inferior in merit to those preferred by the managers; and that a selection of them would enable the lovers of the drama to appreciate the taste and judgment with which the management of the theatres is conducted, in relation to the refusal and reception of plays, and how far the assertion is correct, that the pantomimic state of the stage is owing to a decline in the dramatic genius of the nation.
With a view to supply the desideratum, this work was established; but after the appearance of the first number, the proprietors found several of their friends unwilling to confess that their pieces had been refused: others, who regarded the publication as a convenient vehicle for venting their spleen against the managers, and a still greater number of authors who, never having offered any of their productions to the theatres, would not submit to publish them as rejected. To meet, therefore, the wishes of all parties, the title was altered; and the principle extended to comprehend every description of manuscript plays. Indeed, the original idea of the projector was, to make a publication subservient to the vindication of the modern N. Br. Th. VOL. I.
dramatic literature of England, from a charge of inferiority compared with that of France and Germany :-a charge which is almost universally made on the continent, and which some persons even among ourselves have admitted, without considering the circumstances which gave rise to it. He expected, in the prosecution of the design, that the public would be so convinced of the bad effects of the theatrical monopoly, as to think, at last, of interfering to procure some diminution of a grievance which tended at once to debase their own pleasures, and affect the charac ter of the country, And the work was undertaken in the hope of introducing some degree of reformation into a great department of the national means of instruction.
Good taste is so nearly allied to good sense, that it is impossible to corrupt the one without having previously impaired the other. If the public taste be so corrupted, as the apologists for the present state of the English drama assert, it is a painful, an alarming consideration, and more dangerous to the future welfare of the country than all those excrescences in the government, to which theoretical quacks so loudly call attention, and endeavour to exalt themselves by offering to cure. But, as in all other matters the nation never thought more judiciously than it does at present, and as through a long course of political events of the most extraordinary nature, it has acted with an admirable constancy of affection for those institutions and principles which the experience of all ages had demonstrated to be the best, we will not believe that the good sense of England is so far impaired, as the public taste appears to be corrupted, judging from the exhibitions of the stage. For we know that the public has no choice in the exhibitions,→→→ that it is not allowed to prefer, but only to condemn ; and
we do not think that what it submits to receive from the managers is generally admired. On the contrary, in all circles, the theatrical spectacles are despised: and we believe that the theatres are indebted for their chief support, more to the multitude of strangers constantly in town, and who have no other way of spending the evening, than to the established inhabitants. Mankind in quest of amusement are easily pleased, and crowds are always generous. If the audience applaud the show of the man agers, it is because they are disposed for amusement, and do not measure their satisfaction by the merits of the performance. A regular frequenter of the theatre, however, can easily discriminate the applause excited by excellence, and the approbation bestowed on the endeavours of mediocrity.
The inclination for dramatic representation is, in the present age, more general, than it ever was before in this country. There is not a town of any consequence in the kingdom, without a regular theatre; few even of the villa ges are unvisited by the itinerant actors; and the whole of them derive their fund of entertainment from the two met ropolitan houses. It must be evident, that so general a predilection cannot exist without some genius for the dramatic art being actively excited. Although every other thing is supposed to have acquired a private, a local, or a provincial reputation for excellence, before it receives the profitable approbation of the embodied intelligence of the kingdom in London, it so happens at present, that the fruit of this dramatic genius is brought before the metropolitan public in its crudest state, and that the audience in London, are obliged to hear and see performances, which are not worthy of being exhibited in the meanest country theatres. The
very reverse of this might be expected. It might be thought, before any play was brought out in London, that it had received the full applause of the provinces, and was honored with an exhibition in the capital, as the final criterion of its merit, and to confirm or annul the celebrity, which it had previously obtained. The origin of the present custom is well-known. The theatre was first established in town, and the country having acquired its taste for the drama from London, has continued under every alteration of circumstances, habitually to draw from the same source. The consequence is, that in the country the literary department of the stage is much better than in town, for only the best pieces are acted in the provinces, while all the bad are never heard of beyond the capital. Why is this the case? why is there a different rule for the plays and the players? Few actors have the assurance to make their first appearance on the London boards, and still fewer of those who do so, ever afterwards attain much distinction in their profession. Almost all the best performers, perhaps it may be justly said, that all the performers of the first class of every department, have had their fame in London before them, and have been summoned to the metropolitan theatres, by the voice and curiosity of the public. Might not some such rule as that which governs the performers, be established for the improvement of compositions for the stage? The very last stock Tragedy, properly deserving the name, was originally performed in a provincial theatre. We allude to the Douglas by Home. Perhaps, had it been first exhibited in town, its celebrity would have been less; it might even have failed, for the author would have been convicted, on the first night, of his plagiarism from the Merope of Maf
fei, but the Douglas was brought out in a quarter where Italian literature has never been much cultivated.
It may be said that this example rather furnishes a proof of the utility of the custom of introducing the new pieces first in London. We think not. For, notwithstanding that the whole train of maternal anxiety in the tragedy of Douglas, is a most remarkable imitation of the same feeling in Merope, still the piece has great intrinsic merit, and beauties which fully entitle it to all the fame that it has obtained. Merit and beauties, however, which would not have been, probably, sufficient to have borne it up against the rash flippancy of newspaper criticism, especially as the mere charge of the plagiarism of parts, would have been extended to the whole. We are decidedly of opinion, that the high rank which Douglas holds among the stock pieces of the theatre, is owing in a great degree to the celebrity which it had acquired, before it was represented in London. It will also be recollected that when it was originally offered to Garrick, he rejected it as not likely to succeed in representation; because it possessed no boisterous incidents. Indeed the interest depends so much upon the merits of the dialogue, that the stage is more naked throughout the performance of Douglas, than in that of any other tragedy in the language.
The proprietors of the New British Theatre conceive, that authors, at last convinced of the smallness of the chance of getting any composition represented in London, will have recourse to the provincial theatres; and that in time the great audience of London, will become the arbiters of the poet's merit, as well as of that of the performers, without being obliged to endure the bald disjointed chat, which has so long been allowed to occupy the place of dramatic dialogue.