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If it shall appear by this work, that the pieces rejected by the managers are in general as good as those which are successfully performed, the public will be enabled to judge how far the present system of management ought to be allowed to continue; for, admitting, that the expediency of continuing the monopoly may be justified, which, how◄ ever, we do not think possible, it must still be granted, that some alteration is requisite, in order to accomplish that reformation in the British drama, which the public have a right to claim. We are little disposed to admire any thing French, especially in what relates to the consideration of public rights and popular interest, but still we must acknowledge that the mode of accepting and refusing plays at Paris, is greatly superior to what it is in London; and we think that if the monopoly of the stage must be continued among us, the public ought to obtain an alteration in the system, as far as relates to the authors. In Paris, the managers have no voice, as managers, in the approval or rejection of pieces offered for representation. The author presents his drama, with a list of the actors for whom the characters are in his opinion best adapted, and when the piece is read in the green room, the actors, severally, give their opinion as to whether it ought, or ought not, to be accepted. But in London, it is not known, by whose taste or judgment the plays are approved or rejected.
The public will derive another advantage from the establishment of this publication, if it meets with that encouragement, which an undertaking so greatly national deserves. It will enable the world to see how far the the modern dramatic genius of England is barren, as well as inferior. For the million of London being restricted to two theatres, it so happens, that for weeks, nay months
together, the same pieces are repeated; by which the very essence of amusement, variety, is almost banished from the stage. It is alleged, that this is owing to the popularity of the plays or of certain performers, in particular characters; but we do not think so. It is more owing to the want of competition. Few plays have of late years been performed, to which any lover of the drama has returned on account of the merits of the piece. But, until the crowd is successively satisfied, the lovers of the drama must abstain from their recreation, or run the risk of being satiated with a monotony of dullness.
Should there be no limitation to the number of nights which the same play may be annually repeated, since the public have but two places of dramatic entertainment, to which they can resort? We may frequent what tavern we please, reside where we choose, read what we will; but in our amusements we must be slaves to the patentees of Drury Lane and Covent Garden, as if the pecuniary accidents by which those gentlemen became the arbiters of the dramatic art, conferred on them any inclination to study what was most agreeable to the public, while they. are actuated solely by motives of personal emolument. We, have, it is true, no better assurance for obtaining excellence in any thing, than by leaving it dependent on motives of private advantage, and the managers of the theatres, as much as any other traders, no doubt feel the influence of this principle. But what we maintain is, that they are not incited by the spirit of emulation; and that the inhabitants of London have no greater chance of being well served by having only two theatres, than the strangers would be, if the law had decreed that there should be only two hotels for their accommodation. If we expect excellence in the performances of the thea
tre, we must subject the interests of the patentees to the effects of competition.
It is very extraordinary that, although the frequenters of the playhouse are probably as numerous as those of the established church, and that, although, of one kind and another, there are probably as many theatres in the kingdom as there are members of parliament, no law has yet been passed, or even proposed, for regulating this impor tant branch of domestic polity. To what cause, in so enlightened a country as England, are we to attribute the neglect of so great, so general an institution--an institution, perhaps, as essential to manners in a refined state of society, as the church itself is to morals? The stage has, in England, become almost as great an organ of public instruction as the pulpit. Is it proper that there should be no law to regulate what is taught from it, except the notions of one obscure solitary individual, the reader of plays in the Lord Chamberlain's department? It would be better if some of those who are so loud and vociferous for alterations in the state of the government, would look a little more to their private trusts; and evince that they really possess some capacity for directing national affairs, by the judgment and liberality with which they promote the interests of the drama-a department of domestic economy which has more permanent influence on the character of the nation, than the measures of any administration, and which, in a moral point of view, is infinitely more dignified and important than the objects of half of all the questions annually discussed in the House of Commons.
When a third theatre was projected some time ago, a dirty and fraudulent trick was practised for the purpose of deluding the country into a belief that the undertaking was not wanted. A paper was published, containing a list of
be true. That there which the inhabitants
the London theatres, by which it was made to appear that there were no less than thirteen, capable of containing about thirty thousand spectators. We ask every man of candor in the metropolis if this are thirteen public places, to occasionally go in quest of amusement, we do not deny. We know, indeed, that there are not only thirteen, but that there are thousands; for we will not allow that the stuff and trumpery which is nightly despised by the successive visitors to almost every one of the places named in that list, deserve more to be regarded as legitimate dramatic entertainments, than the jollity and junkettings of the ale-houses. On the contrary, we do most seriously and conscientiously believe, that there is more humor, and as much elegance of dialogue, to be met with at the latter, as there is either to be heard, or hoped for under the present system, in the performances of the former. Let permission be given to the proprietors of all the thirteen places of resort, honored with the name of theatre, to exhibit whatever they please, and we shall cease to regard the public opponents of the third regular theatre as influenced by selfish motives. That several of the minor houses have attempted to introduce the regular drama, is a notorious fact; and the inference from it is conclusive. For their attempts were founded on observations deduced from experience. They felt that the senseless shows which they had been in the practice of exhibiting, were not relished by the public, and saw that the regular drama was, after all, the only sure source of emolument in theatrical speculations. Are not such surreptitious endeavours to encroach on the monopoly of the other theatres, a decisive proof, that the public taste is not to blame for the substitution of monstrous goblins, and
roaring madness, in the place of the natural spectacle, and colloquial poetry of the drama? When we are told by the mechanists and artists of the great playhouses, that the public taste is so depraved, that only shows and pantomimes can hope for success, let them also tell us, why those houses which were established only for such exhibitions, have endeavoured to abandon them, and why those speculators who believe in the corruption of the public taste, have been prosecuted for attempting to retrieve the consequences of their expense on shows and pantomimes, by the revival of the regular drama? The persecution of the proprietors of the Pantheon, has produced a sensation on the public mind more conducive to the emancipation of the stage, than all the complaints of disappointed authors. It has contradicted, beyond all power of equivocation, the improbable assertion, that while the public had grown more enlightened in every thing else, it had become more barbarous and foolish in its amusements. It has decided that the bellowing and slights of carpentry and coloring, which form the grand characteristics of the modern English stage, are really despised by the British public. It has established this truth, that the theatrical monopolists conceive themselves to have an interest in withholding rational dramatic entertainments from the public!
But while we thus distinctly state our opinion of the present mode of managing the literary department of the theatre, in justice to the managers we should add, that we do not agree with those authors who complain of contemptuous treatment in the rejection of their plays. We cannot conceive the managers to be actuated by any sulting disposition, and when they send back a piece, with a laconic note stating, that they are of opinion it would not succeed in representation, they, undoubtedly, only fol