Colley was shrewd enough in dealing with players, and, as any one who has ever had aught to do with them knows, the majority of Thespians must be treated with the greatest tact. They are sensitive and high-strung, yet often as unreasonable as children, and the man who can rule over them with ease should be snapped up by an appreciative government to conduct its most diplomatic of missions. With the theatrical stars of his own day Cibber seems to have been firm but prudent. “I do not remember,” he tells us, “that ever I made a promise to any that I did not keep, and, therefore, was cautious how I made them.” A fine sentiment, dear sir, eminently fit for a copy book, but we can well believe that your promises never erred on the side of extravagance.
It is a fascinating subject, this study of old-time stage life—fascinating, at least for the writer, who is tempted to run on garrulously, describing the doings of Betterton in the new theatre, and then wandering off to speak of the establishment of Italian opera in England. But the limits of the chapter are reached; let us bid good-bye to “Old Thomas,” whose
“Setting sun still shoots a glimmering
Like ancient Rome, majestic in decay,”
and hasten to worship the rising sun, in the person of Mistress Oldfield.
A BELLE OF METTLE
“For let me tell you, gentlemen, courage is the whole mystery of making love, and of more use than conduct is in war; for the bravest fellow in Europe may beat his brains out against the stubborn walls of a town—but
“Women born to be controll’d,
Stoop to the forward and the bold.”
These lines, taken hap-hazard from Colley Cibber’s “Careless Husband,” contain the very spirit and essence of that old English comedy wherein the hero was nothing more than a handsome rake and the heroine—well, not a straitlaced Puritan or a prude. They breathe of the time when honesty and virtue went for naught upon the stage, and the greatest honours were awarded to the theatrical Prince Charming who proved more unscrupulous than his fellows. Yet, strange as it may seem, the “Careless Husband” is a vast improvement, in point of decency, on many of the plays that preceded it, and marks a turning point in the moral atmosphere of those that came after. “He who now reads it for the first time,” says Doran, “may be surprised to hear that in this comedy a really serious and eminently successful attempt to reform the licentiousness of the drama was made by one who had been himself a great offender. Nevertheless the fact remains. In Lord Morelove we have the first lover in English comedy, since licentiousness possessed it, who is at once a gentleman and an honest man. In Lady Easy we have what was hitherto unknown or laughed at—a virtuous married woman.” To go further, it may be added that the story points an unexceptionable moral, proving that the best thing for a husband to do in this world is to be true to the legitimate companion of his joys and sorrows.