LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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My Friends and Acquaintance
R & T Sheridan VI

Vol I Contents
Charles Lamb I
Charles Lamb II
Charles Lamb III
Charles Lamb IV
Charles Lamb V
Charles Lamb VI
Charles Lamb VII
Charles Lamb VIII
Charles Lamb IX
Charles Lamb X
Thomas Campbell I
Thomas Campbell II
Thomas Campbell III
Thomas Campbell IV
Thomas Campbell V
Thomas Campbell VI
Thomas Campbell VII
Lady Blessington I
Lady Blessington II
Lady Blessington III
Lady Blessington IV
Lady Blessington V
R. Plumer Ward I
R. Plumer Ward II
R. Plumer Ward III
R. Plumer Ward IV
R. Plumer Ward V
R. Plumer Ward VI
Appendix vol I
Vol II Contents
R. Plumer Ward VII
R. Plumer Ward VIII
R. Plumer Ward IX
R. Plumer Ward X
R. Plumer Ward XI
R. Plumer Ward XII
R. Plumer Ward XIII
R. Plumer Ward XIV
R. Plumer Ward XV
R. Plumer Ward XVI
R. Plumer Ward XVII
R. Plumer Ward XVIII
R. Plumer Ward XIX
R. Plumer Ward XX
R. Plumer Ward XXI
R. Plumer Ward XXII
R. Plumer Ward XXIII
Horace & James Smith I
Horace & James Smith II
William Hazlitt I
William Hazlitt II
William Hazlitt III
William Hazlitt IV
William Hazlitt V
William Hazlitt VI
William Hazlitt VII
William Hazlitt VIII
Appendix vol II
Vol III Contents
William Hazlitt IX
William Hazlitt X
William Hazlitt XI
William Hazlitt XII
William Hazlitt XIII
William Hazlitt XIV
William Hazlitt XV
William Hazlitt XVI
William Hazlitt XVII
William Hazlitt XVIII
William Hazlitt XIX
William Hazlitt XX
William Hazlitt XXI
William Hazlitt XXII
William Hazlitt XXIII
William Hazlitt XXIV
William Hazlitt XXV
William Hazlitt XXVI
Laman Blanchard I
Laman Blanchard II
Laman Blanchard III
Laman Blanchard IV
Laman Blanchard V
Laman Blanchard VI
Laman Blanchard VII
Laman Blanchard VIII
R & T Sheridan I
R & T Sheridan II
R & T Sheridan III
R & T Sheridan IV
R & T Sheridan V
‣ R & T Sheridan VI
R & T Sheridan VII
R & T Sheridan VIII
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I now proceed to notice that one of these three dramas which I conceive to be the next in the chronological order of its composition. It is a full opera in three acts, without title, but in all other respects complete in all its parts—even, it may be said, to the music of its numerous songs and concerted pieces, which are expressly written to melodies by the most popular Italian composers of the day and of that preceding it—Cimarosa, Portogallo, Paessiello, Guglielmi, &c. It belongs to the class of drama of which the “Midsummer Night’s Dream” may be described as the head and origin; with this qualification, however, that it is in all senses of the term an opera; and although in affluence of poetic beauty, and in depth and breadth of comic humour, the “Midsummer Night’s Dream” excels this opera, as it does
all other productions of its class, in a degree that does not admit of comparison, yet, as an acting piece, and in the skilful construction of fable and development of character, the opera I am now to notice is not second even to its exquisite and unequalled prototype—for such
Shakspeare’s romantic Dream unquestionably is to this opera—the supernatural machinery of the two being identical.

The scenes of this opera are laid at the Court of King Arthur, at Carlisle, and in the adjoining forest; and its principal male personages are two Knights of the Round Table, who have preceded Arthur on his return from the wars with the Saxons, where his arms have been triumphant.

Perhaps I cannot more briefly convey to the reader an intelligible notion of the nature and objects of this piece, and the characters delineated in it, than by copying the catalogue raisonnée of its dramatis personæ, as given in the first page of the MS.

Dramatis Personæ.
Edwin—in love with Editha—gentle, brave, and good; but hump-backed, and melancholy from doubt of success. Rivalled by Sir Topaz.
Sir Topaz—very handsome, but intolerably vain and lying.
Sir Reginald—an old knight—pompous, mysterious, and full of importance.
Seward—an old, bustling, blundering steward.
Guy—Servant to Edwin—much attached to him, and in love with Bertha; but warm, passionate, and jealous.
Gregory—Servant to Sir Topaz—lying, bragging, and cowardly.
Damian—a Minstrel.
Editha—Niece to King Arthur, who is in the wars with the Saxons.
Blanche—her friend, related to and in the interest of Sir Topaz.
Bertha—Maid to Editha—coquettish, but really in love with Guy, though flirting with Gregory.
Attendants, Minstrels, Pages, &c. &c.
Oberon—jealous of Mab. Will-o’-the-wisp.
Mab. Pease-blossom.
Mable—their Daughter. May Flower.
Robin Goodfellow. Train of Fairies.

The working out of the plot, which is full of dramatic interest, is effected chiefly by the agency of the Fairies, Oberon, Mab, and their troop—who, of course, befriend the
good and noble Edwin, and confound the machinations of his vainglorious and unworthy rival. The latter portion of the piece assumes a highly poetical character, and is written (the dialogue portion of it) in blank verse, that will bear comparison with any of less remote date than the Elizabethan era; while the whole business assigned to the inferior Fairies is conducted in rhymed verse, of great musical capabilities.

All the characters in this drama are discriminated with truth and delicacy; indeed, with infinitely more of these qualities than is usually thought necessary to works of this nature; so that there would really be little or no exaggeration in predicating of its dialogue throughout what there was gross exaggeration in predicating of writings so subtle and profound as those of Shakspeare—namely, that the speeches might in every case be assigned to their owners respectively, in the absence of the usual prefix of their names. The habitual melancholy and misgiving of the noble and delicate-minded Sir Edwin—first under the impression that the
lady of his love does not and cannot reciprocate the passion of one so little favoured by nature, and afterwards from the still more painful reluctance to owing her favour (even if he should obtain it—which he doubts) to the merely personal change wrought in him by the Fairies—is as touching as it is true to nature and to art. In like manner, the love of the Lady Editha, more than half unknown to herself, for the timid and retiring manners and ungainly form of Edwin, is given with unfailing truth and tact.

The other characters, though all of a secondary order, are every one of them discriminated with corresponding truth and individuality; and in the comic characters of the piece there occur numerous touches that at once indicate the hand of Sheridan. For instance—who but he—who of that day, I mean—could have put what follows into the mouth of an impudent and self-sufficient serving-man, whose malicious temper makes him more than half pleased at the transformation of his late handsome master into a lump of personal deformity. After the magical change has taken place, the two are
concerting together new and unworthy plans to counteract its effects on the lady—when the breaking day announces the necessity of their separation.

“I’ve heard folks stirring in the castle this half-hour,” cries the Esquire; “and see—the sun beginning to rise behind the summit of your honour’s back!

Again, the same person, after vapouring to himself about his valour in the field and his conquests over the fair, suddenly stops short with—“But stay, I think I’m taking myself for my master.”

Again, the old, muddle-headed steward, who knew of no merit in nature but that of “being in time,” on witnessing the dénouement of the exchanged Knights and exchanged letters, candidly admits that he can neither make head nor tail of it all. “Here’s one letter,” he says, “and that’s not it; and another, and that is it; and a man who is not the man he seems, and another who seems him, but is himself;—in short, I’m only glad we were ready in time.

That portion of the opera which is written
for and to previously prepared music is, as may be imagined, of little literary or poetic value; but the blank verse of the Fairy portion of the piece is greatly superior to what might have been expected, even from the high reputation which
Sheridan enjoyed in his own day as a writer of elegant and graceful verses. Here is an average specimen of it; also of the Fairy songs which accompany the movements of Oberon and Mab whenever they appear. It is the opening of the Fairy portion of the opera; the scene, a moonlit forest, in the neighbourhood of King Arthur’s palace. Sir Edwin is wandering pensively, attended by his Esquire, when he fancies he hears music in the air. Then

Enter Oberon, Mab, and a train of Fairies.

Welcome, sweet Mab! yon moon, whose silver beam
Glides on the lake, proclaims the hour of revel.
Ten thousand glow-worms light us to our games,
And, ling’ring from the day, the dewy grass
Retains its fragrance. Hither fays and elves,
And sprites that throughout daylight hang aloof,
To gambol mortal man, our feast prepare,
And give us music.

After Oberon’s speech, each Fairy sings, and is joined by others in chorus, and all dance round.
Come every elf and every fay
And every wandering sprite,
* the day,
Yet merry comes the night.
Whilst we press the dewy grass,
Whilst we quaff the acorn glass,
Fairy circlets whilst we dance,
Let no mortal step advance.
First Fairy.
If through the morn some lucky prank
Our elfin tribe attains,
Our king is sure at night to thank
And pay him for his pains.
Whilst we press, &c.
Second Fairy.
If cross the housewife and unkind,
We sour her butter, too;
But still the pretty maid shall find
A tester in her shoe.
Whilst we press, &c.
Second Fairy.
The lazy lout, of form uncouth,
With head-ache sore we trim;
But mirth shall crown the jolly youth,
And sparkle on his brim.
Whilst we press, &c.

* So left in original MS.

First Fairy.
We plunge below, we flutter high,
Till ’minished to a speck,
And round their welkin quick we fly,
Obedient to thy beck.
Silence!—break we off!
I hear th’ encroaching step of man. I’ll strait
Arraign him, and, if aught of fraud appear,
My dainty elves shall dextrously torment him.
Sweet Mab, retire.
Nay—prithee let me stay.
I fain would see the sports, and view th’ intruder.
O woman, woman! Curious, vain, and changing!
I know thee well. I’ve oft observed thee, Mab,
In merry Carlisle, at King Arthur’s jousts,
Guiding the spear of many a comely knight.
Yes, fickle Oberon, I’ve marked thee too,
When wont to hie thee to King Arthur’s court—
To hover in the presence of his Queen—
Curling in wanton ringlets and devices
Fresh-woven garlands for her ivory brow,” &c.

In point of what are technically called “incident” and “situation,” those indispensable requirements of the modern acting drama, this opera is at least as strongly marked as it is in character and general con-
struction; and if merit and value are to be measured (as I suppose they are) by the amount of passionate interest that they include or suggest, there is one situation in this piece—that one by which the dénouement is more immediately brought on—that is not surpassed by anything else of its kind in the whole circle of our acting drama. In order that this fine situation may be understood by the reader, I must explain that the machinations of the base knight, Sir Topaz, and his Esquire, have succeeded in substituting his own name for that of Sir Edwin, in a letter dispatched by King Arthur, and commanding the immediate union of his niece, the Lady Editha, with Sir Edwin, who, as the King declares, in addition to other manifold services performed during the wars, saved his (the King’s) life, at the imminent peril of his own. Arthur’s letter, however, provides that, in the event of his niece feeling any repugnance to this union, she is at liberty to submit the question of her hand to the decision of a single combat between the rivals. On this letter with the falsified name being read, Editha
eagerly demands the alternative of the combat, being confident that the prowess and valour of Edwin (whom she secretly loves), added to his other noble qualities, will insure a decision in his favour. In the meantime, the Fairy King, Oberon, having, during one of his night revels in the forest, become acquainted with the respective characters of the Knights, has changed their persons,—so far at least as the removal of Sir Edwin’s deformities to the shoulders of Sir Topaz; but this transformation is entirely unknown to anybody but themselves and their two Esquires, and Sir Edwin nobly refuses to take advantage of it with his mistress.

Under these circumstances it is that the combat takes place, after the fashion of the time, and in the presence of the whole Court and people, the Lady Editha occupying the sovereign seat, in the absence of her royal kinsman.

The combat proceeds until it is evidently on the point of being terminated by the discomfiture and death of the deformed Knight—still, of course, supposed to be Edwin. At
this point, however, the long-suppressed love of Editha assumes the mastery over all other considerations. As sovereign lady, she commands the combat instantly to cease; descends into the arena; declares her inability to fulfil the conditions of the combat by marrying the (supposed) conqueror; and openly avows her affection for the (as she supposes) discomfited Sir Edwin, and her determination to wed him only. The vizors of the two Knights are then lifted, and the disclosure takes place.

The moral elements and results of this noble situation; the love of woman, virtuously fixed, and, therefore, victorious over all other considerations; the triumphant happiness of the lover, assured of his love’s requital, in spite of (seeming) discomfiture, disgrace, and personal deformity; the exposure, defeat, and punishment of baseness; and, finally, the surprise and joy of the assembled multitude, of whom the Lady Editha is the pride and idol;—all these accumulate round this dénouement an amount of passionate interest that lifts it into high poetry, without removing it from that
popular appreciation, to which all stage performances are bound to appeal.

The half-fabulous times in which the scenes of this beautiful drama are laid; the romantic character of its incidents; the popular machinery by which the plot is worked out; the remarkable skill and dramatic tact displayed in its construction; and the singular scope that is afforded for the introduction of scenic and artistic effects; place this opera above anything else of its kind that I am acquainted with, as regards its capabilities for stage representation.

Finally,—the cast of the characters, as affixed to the list of dramatis personæ, in Sheridan’s own handwriting (including all the most popular performers of the day), and the elaborate stage directions, all in Sheridan’s hand, which occur at intervals, prove, beyond question, that the drama was on the point of being put upon the stage shortly before that period when Sheridan’s connexion with Drury Lane finally ceased—namely, the burning down of the theatre in 1809.