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body, for an early dinner, where Samuel Johnson took the chair at the head of a long table, and was the life and soul of the corps: the poet took post silently by his side, with the Burkes, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Fitzherbert, Caleb Whitefoord, and a phalanx of North British, predetermined applauders, under the banner of Major Mills, all good men and true. Our illustrious president was in inimitable glee; and poor Goldsmith that day took all his raillery as patiently and complacently as my friend Boswell would have done any day or every day of his life. In the mean time, we did not forget our duty; and though we had a better comedy going, in which Johnson was chief actor, we betook ourselves in good time to our separate and allotted posts, and waited the awful drawing up of the curtain. As our stations were preconcerted, so were our signals for plaudits arranged and determined upon in a manner that gave every one his cue where to look for them, and how to follow them up.
“ We had among us a very worthy and efficient member, long since lost to his friends and the world at large, Adam Drummond, of amiable memory, who was gifted by nature with the most sonorous, and at the same time, the most contagious laugh that ever echoed from the human lungs. The neighing of the horse of the son of Hystaspes was a whisper to it; the whole thunder of the theatre could not drown it. This kind and ingenious friend fairly forewarned us that he knew no more when to give his fire than the cannon did that was planted on a battery. He desired, therefore, to have a flapper at his elbow, and I had the honor to be deputed to that office. I planted him in an upper box, pretty nearly over the stage, in full view of the pit and galleries, and perfectly well situated to give the echo all its play through the hollows and recesses of the theatre. The
A LAUGHING FUGLEMAN.
success of our maneuvre was complete. All eyes were upon Johnson, who sat in a front row of a side box; and when he laughed, everybody thought themselves warranted to roar. In the mean time, my friend followed signals with a rattle so irresistibly comic that, when he had repeated it several times, the attention of the spectators was so engrossed by his person and performances, that the progress of the play seemed likely to become a secondary object, and I found it prudent to insinuate to him that he might halt his music without any prejudice to the author; but alas ! it was now too late to rein him he had laughed upon my signal where he found no joke, and now, unluckily, he fancied that he found a joke in almost every thing that was said; so that nothing in nature could be more mal-apropos than some of his bursts every now and then were. These were dangerous moments, for the pit began to take umbrage; but we carried our point through, and triumphed not only over Colman's judgment, but our own.”
Much of this statement has been condemned as exaggerated or discolored. Cumberland's memoirs have generally been characterized as partaking of romance, and in the present instance he had particular motives for tampering with the truth. He was a dramatic writer himself, jealous of the success of a rival, and anxious to have it attributed to the private management of friends. According to various accounts, public and private, such management was unnecessary, for the piece was received throughout with the greatest acclamations."
Goldsmith, in the present instance, had not dared, as on a former occasion, to be present at the first performance. He had been so overcome by his apprehensions that, at the preparatory dinner, he could hardly utter a word, and was so choked that he
could not swallow a mouthful. When his friends trooped to the theatre, he stole away to St. James's Park: there he was found by a friend, between seven and eight o'clock, wandering up and down the Mall like a troubled spirit. With difficulty he was persuaded to go to the theatre, where his presence might be important should any alteration be necessary. He arrived at the opening of the fifth act, and made his way behind the scenes. Just as he entered there was a slight hiss at the improbability of Tony Lumpkin's trick on his mother, in persuading her she was forty miles off, on Crackskull Common, though she had been trundled about on her own grounds. 66 What's that? what's that!” cried Goldsmith to the manager, in great agitation. "Pshaw! Doctor," replied Colman, sarcastically," don't be frightened at a squib, when we've been sitting these two hours on a barrel of gunpowder !” Though of a most forgiving nature, Goldsmith did not easily forget this ungracious and ill-timed sally.
If Colman was indeed actuated by the paltry motives ascribed to him in his treatment of this play, he was most amply punished by its success, and by the taunts, epigrams, and censures levelled at him through the press, in which his false prophecies were jeered at; his critical judgment called in question; and he was openly taxed with literary jealousy. So galling and unremitting was the fire, that he at length wrote to Goldsmith, entreating him “ to take him off the rack of the newspapers;" in the mean time, to escape the laugh that was raised about him in the theatrical world of London, he took refuge in Bath during the triumphant career of the comedy.
The following is one of the many squibs which assailed the ears of the manager:
The solitary hiss, which had startled Goldsmith, was ascribed by some of the newspaper scribblers to Cumberland himself, who was “manifestly miserable" at the delight of the audience, or to Ossian Macpherson, who was hostile to the whole Johnson clique, or to Goldsmith's dramatic rival, Kelly. The following is one of the epigrams which appeared :
“ At Dr. Goldsmith's merry play,
All the spectators laugh, they say ;
Ride, si sapis.”
Another, addressed to Goldsmith, alludes to Kelly's early apprenticeship to stay-making:
“ If Kelly finds fault with the shape of your muse,
And thinks that too loosely it plays,
To make it a new Pair of Stays !”.
Cradock had returned to the country before the production of the play; the following letter, written just after the performance, gives an additional picture of the thorns which beset an author in the path of theatrical literature:
“MY DEAR SIR,
“ The play has met with a success much beyond your expectations or mine. I thank you sincerely for your epilogue, which, however, could not be used, but with your permission shall be printed. The story in short is this. Murphy sent me rather the outline of an epilogue than an epilogue, which was to be sung by Miss Catley, and which she approved ; Mrs. Bulkley hearing this, insisted on throwing up her part” (Miss Hardcastle) "unless, according to the custom of the theatre, she were permitted to speak the epilogue. In this embarrassment I thought of making a quarrelling epilogue between Catley and her, debating who should speak the epilogue; but then Mrs. Catley refused after I had taken the trouble of drawing it out. I was then at a loss indeed ; an epilogue was to be made, and for none but Mrs. Bulkley. I made one, and Colman thought it too bad to be spoken; I was obliged, therefore, to try a fourth time, and I inade a very mawkish thing, as you'll shortly see. Such is the history of my stage adventures, and which I have at last done