(From Cibber’s “Apology”)
Among our many necessary reformations, what not a little preserved to us the regard of our auditors was the decency of our clear stage, from whence we had now for many years shut out those idle gentlemen who seemed more delighted to be pretty objects themselves than capable of any pleasure from the play; who took their daily stands where they might best elbow the actor, and come in for their share of the auditor’s attention. In many a laboured scene of the wannest humour and of the most affecting passion I have seen the best actors disconcerted, while these buzzing muscatos have been fluttering round their eyes and ears. How was it possible an actor, so embarrassed, should keep his impatience from entering into that different temper which his personated character might require him to be master of?
Future actors may perhaps wish I would set this grievance in a stronger light; and, to say the truth, where auditors are ill-bred, it cannot well be expected that actors should be polite. Let me therefore show how far an artist in any science is apt to be hurt by any sort of inattention to his performance.
While the famous Corelli,[A] at Rome, was playing some musical composition of his own to a select company in the private apartment of his patron-Cardinal, he observed, in the heighth of his harmony, his Eminence was engaging in a detached conversation, upon which he suddenly stopt short and gently laid down his instrument. The Cardinal, surprised at the unexpected cessation, asked him if a string was broke? To which Corelli, in an honest conscience of what was due to his musick, reply’d, “No, Sir, I was only afraid I enterrupted business.” His Eminence, who knew that a genius could never shew itself to advantage where it had not its regards, took this reproof in good part, and broke off his conversation to hear the whole concerto played over again.
[Footnote A: Arcangelo Corelli, the “father of modern instrumental music.”]
Another story will let us see what effect a mistaken offence of this kind had upon the French theatre, which was told me by a gentleman of the long robe, then at Paris, and who was himself the innocent author of it. At the tragedy of “Zaire,” while the celebrated Mademoiselle Gossin[A] was delivering a soliloquy, this gentleman was seized with a sudden fit of coughing, which gave the actress some surprise and interruption; and his fit increasing, she was forced to stand silent so long that it drew the eyes of the uneasy audience upon him, when a French gentleman, leaning forward to him, asked him, If this actress had given him any particular offence, that he took so publick an occasion to resent it? The English gentleman, in the utmost surprise, assured him, So far from it, that he was a particular admirer of her performance; that his malady was his real misfortune, and if he apprehended any return of it, he would rather quit his seat than disoblige either the actress or the audience.