The Palmy Days of Nance Oldfield eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 223 pages of information about The Palmy Days of Nance Oldfield.
How graphic is this picture, with its vision of sly, crafty Christopher, as he denies the players their well-earned wages and then hurries them off to a neighbouring tavern, there to get them hilarious on cheap wine and grudgingly to pay the reckoning.  “All their articles of agreement,” continues Colley, “had a clause in them that he was sure to creep out at, viz., their respective sallaries were to be paid in such manner and proportion as others of the same company were paid; which in effect made them all, when he pleas’d, but limited sharers of loss, and himself sole proprietor of profits; and this loss or profit they only had such verbal accounts of as he thought proper to give them.  ’Tis true, he would sometimes advance them money (but not more than he knew at most could be due to them) upon their bonds; upon which, whenever they were mutinous, he would threaten to sue them.  This was the net we danc’d in for several years.  But no wonder we were dupes,” whimsically adds Colley, “while our master was a lawyer.”

[Footnote A:  Christopher Rich was the father of John Rich, a manager who excelled in pantomime, and who appreciated the “legitimate” as little as did his father.]

And a very commonplace, foxy and inartistic lawyer he was, too, with his fondness for money bags and his willingness to oblige the town with anything it wanted.  To his narrow mind there was no great difference between a lot of rope-dancers and a company of players, or, if there should be, the advantage was quite in favour of the former.  We see the same commercial spirit to-day, when the average manager rents his house for one week to an Irving or a Mansfield, and perhaps turns it over, the following Monday night, to the tender mercies of performing dogs and cats.  ’Tis all grist that comes to his mill, and what cares he whether that grist represent “Macbeth” or canine drama?

Cibber was not above looking at the practical side of things, but he had no patience, nevertheless, with the Philistianism of Rich, who had that fatal fondness for “paying extraordinary prices to singers, dancers, and other exotick performers, which were as constantly deducted out of the sinking sallaries of his actors."[A]

[Footnote A:  Operatic singers and dancers, mostly recruited from the Continent, were fast becoming fashionable, and, as their appearance on the scene interfered with the profits of the actors, it may be imagined that the latter held the strangers in much contempt.]

For it seems that Master Rich had not bought his share of the Drury Lane patent to elevate the stage, but rather to get a fortune therefrom.  “And to say truth, his sense of everything to be shown there was much upon a level with the taste of the multitude, whose opinion and whose money weigh’d with him full as much as that of the best judges. [Colley was evidently thinking of himself as one of these judges.] His point was to please the majority who could more easilly comprehend anything they saw than the daintiest things that could be said to them.”

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The Palmy Days of Nance Oldfield from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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