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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 567 pages of information about The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb Volume 2.

ON SOME OF THE OLD ACTORS

(London Magazine, Feb., 1822)

Of all the actors who flourished in my time—­a melancholy phrase if taken aright, reader—­Bensley had most of the swell of soul, was greatest in the delivery of heroic conceptions, the emotions consequent upon the presentment of a great idea to the fancy.  He had the true poetical enthusiasm—­the rarest faculty among players.  None that I remember possessed even a portion of that fine madness which he threw out in Hotspur’s famous rant about glory, or the transports of the Venetian incendiary at the vision of the fired city.[1] His voice had the dissonance, and at times the inspiriting effect of the trumpet.  His gait was uncouth and stiff, but no way embarrassed by affectation; and the thorough-bred gentleman was uppermost in every movement.  He seized the moment of passion with the greatest truth; like a faithful clock never striking before the time; never anticipating or leading you to anticipate.  He was totally destitute of trick and artifice.  He seemed come upon the stage to do the poet’s message simply, and he did it with as genuine fidelity as the nuncios in Homer deliver the errands of the gods.  He let the passion or the sentiment do its own work without prop or bolstering.  He would have scorned to mountebank it; and betrayed none of that cleverness which is the bane of serious acting.  For this reason, his Iago was the only endurable one which I remember to have seen.  No spectator from his action could divine more of his artifice than Othello was supposed to do.  His confessions in soliloquy alone put you in possession of the mystery.  There were no bye-intimations to make the audience fancy their own discernment so much greater than that of the Moor—­who commonly stands like a great helpless mark set up for mine Ancient, and a quantity of barren spectators, to shoot their bolts at.  The Iago of Bensley did not go to work so grossly.  There was a triumphant tone about the character, natural to a general consciousness of power; but none of that petty vanity which chuckles and cannot contain itself upon any little successful stroke of its knavery—­which is common with your small villains, and green probationers in mischief.  It did not clap or crow before its time.  It was not a man setting his wits at a child, and winking all the while at other children who are mightily pleased at being let into the secret; but a consummate villain entrapping a noble nature into toils, against which no discernment was available, where the manner was as fathomless as the purpose seemed dark, and without motive.  The part of Malvolio, in the Twelfth Night, was performed by Bensley, with a richness and a dignity of which (to judge from some recent castings of that character) the very tradition must be worn out from the stage.  No manager in those days would have dreamed of giving it to Mr. Baddeley, or Mr. Parsons:  when Bensley was occasionally

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