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and cherish. Was it to be expected then, that the Actors who were merely existing automatons of public whim, could live with Epictetus in their mouths, while a hundred thousand * spectators were regalingin the practical philosophy of Epicurus? These doctrines did not accord, and the Players must have starved unless they had pampered the popular appetite with nauseous viands to gratify their depraved taste.
Yet the enlightened and virtuous of that celebrated country, knew how to distinguish the dross from the ore, and, to divide the worthy from the worthless, and talent from destructive buffoonery; consequently many of the Roman Players, were the companions of those characters, whose pages have stood the test of ages, for every species of wisdom that can adorn the human mind. It is almost unnecessary to mention Cicero's attachment to Ros. cius t and Æsopus, and his great admiration of their talents, as well as his high opinion of the moral and political use of a well regulated Stage, a tedious dilation on which subject would be only going over beaten ground.
* Gibbon, in his Decline of the Roman Empire, states that the ançient Circus held four hundred thousand spectators. The Theatre from the account of this learned gentleman, must have held nearly the above number of persons, as the performers amounted to six thousand including singers and dancers; he also observes in his reflections on the norality of the Roman Theatres, that “ These representations in modern capitals may deserve to be considered as a pure and ele. gant school of taste and perhaps of virtue.”
of But from the immorality which accompanied the stage exhibitions of that period, Cicero seems to lament the fate of his 'friend Roscius, when he tells us, “ that he was so superior to all as a Player, that he alone seemed worthy of appearing upon the Stage, but of so exalted a character as a man, that of all men he deserved least to be doomed to so scandalous a profession.”
Et enim cum artifex ejusmodi, sit; ut solus dignus videatur esse, qui in Scena Spectatur: tum vir ejusmodi est, ut solus dignus videatur qui eo non accedat.-Orat. pro Rosc, edit. Glasg. p. 43.
In modern Europe it appears from Ricciboni, and other authors, on the progressive state of Theatrical Exhibitions in Italy, Germany, France, and EngJand, that they were nearly in the same state of penary and meanness in each country, and the professors of the Thespian Art a low set of wandering mummers, whose exhibitions and powers of describing the passions, evinced a total ignorance of the former glory of the Greek and Roman Theatres, and of every thing that bore the semblance of nature. Hence it is easily accounted for, how the name of Player carried with it disrespect, and as their Scenic pictures had no power to agitate the passions and produce reflection, but shewed a deformity of every thing that was human, for the contempt of the wise, and the sneer of the vulgar, consequently the Actors remained for years breathing a scorned existence amid the lowest rabble of a country fair. Is it then any wonder, that the character of a Player was held in great contempt from the deplorable state of an art, which exhibited no charms to engage the understanding? Therefore the public did not interest themselves to ameliorate the condition of its professors, but left the Thespian troop with their chaotic and heterogeneous shew, to struggle with the poisonous breath of mistaken zealots, in the barbarous times of religious ignorance. In this state of wretchedness the drama remained in this country, till Edward the Third 1327, suppressed its existence. Shortly after this period sacred mysteries were introduced to
public notice, which were borrowed from the scriplures. This species of Drama became a cominon exhibition in most parts of Europe, and was held in high reputation during the reign of Richard II. Henry IV. and down to the reign of Henry VIII. 1509; when pieces of a political tendency were framed to support the current opinion of the day. This we understand the above monarch thought proper to interdict; the performers of those pieces resorted to the mansions of the great, and the Drama was so contrived, that five or six persons could assume a variety of characters; and from the encouragement the nobility and gentry gave to this species of diversion, it lived in concealed opposition to the royal mandate, to the happy days. of Elizabeth, which drew from Shakespear's enchanted pen several satirical allusions: it was to his all-powerful genius, that we are indebted for the beauty of Dramatic composition. His contemporary Johnson also gave gigantic aid in raising the Stage at once to dignity and perfection heremit one may indulge the powers of fancy, and give a poetical journey to the Muses, who had been exiled Athens and Rome, and like persecuted pilgrims, had vainly struggled for centuries amid the cabals of ignorance, war, and superstition, for a temple of protection, which only Shakespear's genius could
During the reign of the above Princess, learning and the polite arts flourished with the Stage, and her esteein for the Drama shed a lustre on its professors before unknown in the English history. This
unparalleled attention from the throne to the actors, induced them to form themselves into a regular Company bearing the appellation of Her Majesty's servants; and, with many privileges they continued to flourish till the reign of Charles I, whose gloomy and austere temper but ill accorded with the genius.of Dramatic exhibitions, and who bestowed his patronage on masks and other musical representations, prepared at court agreeable to his desire, and decorated with Scenic effect by the celebrated Inigo Jones. And from the great increase of the fanatical power at that period, and the growing convulsion of the state, the Stage rapidly lost its effulgence till the Commonwealth consigned it to little better than perfect oblivion. But after fanaticism lost its force, and genius threw off the fetters of superstitious slavery, the few Players who had been invisible during the convulsions of the country began to congregate, and by the assistance of a few writers the town once more heard of a Theatre *. But still prejudice had its porcupine power, and threw the poisonous quills of slander against the Theatre and professors.-In Cibber's time, though the stage had many learned men + who filled high situations in the state, as well as able writers, to give it all the grace and dignity would admit of, yet calumny lost not her viperous touch, and the Players were daily stigmatized in the most severe manner. withstanding their daily abuse, those that were eminent in the art, were received with all respect in
* Charles the Second's time. of Lord Hallifax, Henry Killigrew, Addison, Sir Richard Steele, &c.
companies of the first distinction, and highly cas ressed by persons of the first quality.
It was this strange treatment of Players both in England and France, that occasioned a French 'writer to make the following observation on the condụct of the two nations : " Players,” says he," were
, in high esteem amongst the Greeks, by the Romans they were looked upon as despicable; we think of them like the Romans, and behave to them like the Greeks."
It has been an object of much consideration and remark, that the French, a polite people, should have carried their prejudice even to such a state of folly, indeed almost inadness, as to refuse Christian burial to several of their most distinguished performers. Moliere *, the celebrated Dramatist and Actor, could not obtain a place of interment with out the interposition of the great, which drew from bis wife that emphatical exclamation,“ What must
. a man who deserves altars, be refused a tomb !"
There are many other instances of the ridiculous prejudice against the stage, which are extant in the writings of various authors on that subject, all of which have evidently arisen from its original weakness; consequently the public imbibed the notions, and used the abusive language of their progenitors, without taking into their mature consideration the existing state of the science and its political and ornamental utility. Some time prior to the revolution in France t, the Stage of that country was considered the most chaste and
* Died 1073
+ About the Year 1700