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The Young Roscius Acts Norval to Great Houses — The
Nightly Average — The Receipts of His Twenty-eight Nights at Drury - Talk of Erecting Statues - Opie and Northcote Paint Whole-lengths - Duke of Clarence Accepts the Dedication of Northcote's Picture - Medical Men Usually Wild about the Stage — The Professional Policy – One Physician Supremely Ridiculous — Betty Taken to the “Adelphi" - A Westminster Dormitory - Introduced to the Archbishop of York — Probable Advice from Markham - Old Actors Affect to Admire the Boy, Because They Hated Kemble — Mrs. Litchfield Strikes a Blow for Her Own Benefit - How It Benefited Others Kemble Appears in “Othello" - The Town Begins to Awake –“ Richard the Third” Acted by the Little Duke of York — The Boy for the First Time Hissed — Siddons, after Long Absence, Returns - Kemble Now Presumes to Act “ Macbeth” – Miss Mudie - The Fund Applies to betty to Act a Night for His Poor Brethren - Aid Refused - A Peep at Coventry in Passion Week Hough, the Prompter, versus Betty - Pensioned Off at Last to Keep Him Quiet – Mrs. Jordan Acts for Macklin's Widow at Covent Garden - The Riot at the Opera House as to Sunday — The Mischief Done by the Clerical Interference.
HE triumph of tragedy now was like
that of “Romeo and Juliet” in the days
of Garrick. The young Roscius was the support of both the patent theatres. Tancred, and Romeo, and Hamlet were the additions to his list of parts. But of all his performances Young Norval was the decided favourite. Out of twentyeight nights at Drury Lane Theatre, between December and April, he performed Young Norval eleven times, and the receipts to “Douglas amounted to £7,133 135. 6d., or a nightly average of £648 ios. 4d. Why was not poor Home present to rush again from the wing, and say, “This is my work?” The total of the twentyeight nights at Drury was £17,210 IIs., an average of £614 135. 3d. only, which shows the transcendency of the Grampian hero. The committee paid the Duke of Bedford at once £3,155 155. 2d. due to him for rent. I have not the receipts of Covent Garden House for the same number of nights, and it might not hold quite so much as the Drury Apollo; but the result must be something near in total, and thus, probably, in fifty-six nights, a youth of thirteen drew £34,000 into a theatre to see him act the principal characters in tragedy, and snatch, at all events, one house from impending ruin.
The talk now ran of erecting statues to the phenomenon. Opie painted him as Young Norval, Northcote as having drawn inspiration from the tomb of Shakespeare. The latter was engraved and dedicated by Mr. Betty to H. R. H. the Duke of Clarence, as the royal patron of the boy. I have often smiled at the eagerness with which our men of medical science espouse the interests of players. Of all men, they have the least disposable time for theatres. Perhaps they find their common practice move more cheerily if they have anything to communicate as to the popular idol, and, therefore, in fact, make others pay for their friendly attendance upon the stage. One worthy and very skilful man busied himself extremely in the boy's welfare. As he was himself a scholar, he did not attempt to deny the deficiencies in his education ; but he had a panacea here, which was very amusing. “Let them,” said he, “buy the boy a first folio of Shakespeare, and get a clergyman to teach him Greek.” He seemed to forget that prodigy is enhanced by the seeming inadequacy of means to produce the effect. Some of the founders, alike of religions and kingdoms, have been ignorant men. When a youth from Eton or Harrow speaks Latin elegantly, where is the wonder, when he studied under Sumner or Parr?
never asked himself. It contains one piece of valuable information : that the mighty genius, whose works it presents in their original spelling, had “small Latin, and less Greek;" and it will be difficult to show that more learning is required for the delivery of a play than its composition. So that the first half of the prescription dismissed the second ; and the second, if he had ever seen the book mentioned, would certainly have dismissed the first. The playhouse copy is quite sufficient for the actor, who addresses only a mixed auditory. Correct study of Shakespeare's text belongs to those who are either deep in the mysteries of philosophical grammar, or are preparing editions of the poet's works. The last shelter for pedantry should be the stage. An actor need not trouble himself with digging up Saxon roots to justify what is obscure. His object is to be understood without difficulty, and to speak his mother tongue sensibly and articulately, leaning in his pronunciation to the refined, rather than the vul. gar mode. I suppose as a preliminary to his Greek studies, Master Betty, on the 12th of December, was taken to the “ Adelphi ;" I do not mean in the Strand, but to the dormitory of Westminster, to see the comedy by Terence, so called, acted in Latin by the Westminster boys. They sported him as a lion, in the seat of honour, and he was introduced that evening to the venerable Archbishop of York, Markham, who might caution him, perhaps, from catching bad habits of either author or actors.
The success of Betty was quite unparalleled. At first he had fifty pounds per night; but this ceased with his third performance, and he had afterward one hundred pounds every single night. So that, with his provincial engagements and benefits, with large presents, his first year must have made his fortune. And it was happy for him that it did so, for the wane, as Cowper expresses himself, was near at hand. The town could not be kept at fever heat long. To expose the mystery to daylight was to show natural causes producing natural effects. Hough, the prompter of the Belfast theatre, had given the boy lessons in his art. He brought with the graces of youth an ardent love of acting - enthusiastic himself, he kindled enthusiasm around him. Old actors were astonished at his acquirements, and all who had been displaced by Kemble affected to patronise the youth, who, by the weapons of childhood, had beaten down the giant whom they