Page images

he may strive to copy and to realize in himself

. It is by a process analogous to this, (as Sir Joshua Reynolds has very ingeniously shown) that the masters in painting rise to eminence ; and such, too, is the process which Quintilian recommends to the young orator, who aspires to the graces of elocution and of action: “Imitate,” says he, “the best speakers you can find ; but imitate only the perfections they possess in common.

It is remarked by the same admirable critic, that although a disposition to imitate be, in young men, one of the most favorable symptoms of future success, yet little is to be expected from those who, in order to raise a laugh, delight in mimicking the peculiarities of individuals.t An exclusive attention, indeed, to the best models which human life supplies, indicates some defect in those powers of imagination and taste, which might have supplied the student with an ideal pattern still more faultsess; and, therefore, how great soever his powers of execution may be, they can never produce any thing but a copy (and probably a very inferior copy) of the original he has in view. I

*“ Habet omnis eloquentia aliquid commune. Id imitemur quod commune est.” -Quint. Inst. lib. 10. cap. iii.

f“Non dabit mihi spem bonæ indolis, qui hoc imitandi studio petit, ut rideatur." -Quint. Inst. lib. i. cap. iii.

# To prevent any of my readers from extending too far Quintilian's remark, I heg leave to remind them, that he is here speaking of the education of an Orator, to whom, I agree with him in thinking, that the practice of mimicking particular public speakers is most dangerous and pernicious. I have never, at least, known any person much addicted to it, who retained a manner of his own, natural, decided, and characteristical. As to that higher and rarer species of mimickry, the object of which is to exhibit a living portrait of some distinguished individual, the case is different. It often indicates powers of accurate and delicate observation, to the expression of which language is altogether inadequate, and which justly entitles the possessor to the praise of genius ; and when accompanied (as it is not always) with good nature, with taste, and with a wish to amusc, it claims no inconsiderable rank among those harmless contributions which are brought by the young and the gay to the stock of social pleasure. That some men of the greatest and most splendid abilities have been fond of indulging this talent is certain. The late illustrious M. D'Alembert (as I have been assured by some of his most intimate friends) delighted to enliven those parties where he was perfectly at ease, by exhibiting his extraordinary powers as a mimic. That which he possessed for imitating voices is said to have been more particularly wonderful. Madame du Deffand, with her characteristic want of heart, mentions this trifling accomplishment of that great and amiable philosopher as the only circumstance which made her regret the loss of his society after her quarrel with Mademoiselle de l'Espinasse. “ J'aime à la folie à voir bien contrefaire ; c'est un talent qu'a D'Alembert, et qui fait que je le regrette.”Letters of the Marquise du Deffand to the Honorable Horace Walpole, Vol. I. p. 153.

The same talent is said to have been possessed by Machiavel, and also by Sir William Petty.–See Diction. Historique, Art. Machiavel, and Evelyn's Memoirs.

These observations may throw some light on the distinction between the powers of the Mimic and of the Actor. The former attaches himself to individual imitation ; the latter, equally faithful to the study of nature, strives, in the course of a more extensive observation, to seize on the genuine expressions of passion and of character, stripped of the singularities with which they are always blended when exhibited to our senses.* It has been often remarked, that these powers are seldom united in the same person ; and I believe the remark is just, when stated with proper limitations. It is certainly true, that a talent for mimickry may exist in the greatest perfection, where there is no talent for acting, because the former talent implies, merely the power of execution, which is not necessarily connected either with taste or with imagination. On the other hand, where these indispensable qualities in a great actor are to be found,

From the Memoirs of the Count de Grammont, it appears that this accomplishment was in great request at the Court of our Charles the Second ; and was one of those which made the Duke of Buckingham so general a favorite.

« Son talent particulier étoit d'attraper le ridicule et les discours des gens, et de les contrefaire en leur présence, sans qu'ils s'en apperçussent. Bref, il savoit faire toutes sortes de personages avec tant de grace et d'agrément, qu'il étoit difficile de se passer de lui, quand il vouloit bien prendre la peine de plaire."

* In a very affected and inflated Essay on the Art of Acting, by Aaron Hill, I find the following passage which I am induced to quote, from the particular attention which the author appears to have given to the business of the stage ; from the habits of intimacy in which he lived with Garrick, Mrs. Pritchard, and other eminent performers; and from the acute and discriminating criticisms which some of his letters contain, on several of the principal actors of his time. Notwithstanding the absurdity of some of the author's expressions, I think I can perceive in the following remarks several glimpses of important truths.

“ The first dramatic principle is the following :

“ To act a passion well, the actor never must attempt its imitation till his fancy has conceived so strong an image or idea of it, as to move the same impressive springs within his mind which form the passion, when 'tis undesigned and natural.

“ This is an absolutely necessary, and the only general rule ; and it is a rule wholly built on nature.

“1. The imagination must conceive a strong idea of the passion.

“ 2. The idea cannot be strongly conceived, without impressing its own form ироп the muscles of the face.

“ 3. Nor can the look be muscularly stamped, without communicating instantly the same impression to the muscles of the body,” &c. &c. &c.

A similar notion seems to have been entertained by Mr. Mason, when he introduced the following couplet into his translation of Fresnoy :

“ By tedious toil no passions are exprest,

His hand, who feels them strongest, paints them best.” On these lines the translator observes, that “ by feeling the passions strongest, he does not mean that a passionate man will make the best painter of the passions, but he who has the clearest conception of them ; that is, who FEELS their effect on the countenance of other men, as in great actors on the stage, and in persons in real life strongly agitated by them.


there will probably be little disposition to cultivate those habits of minute and vigilant attention to singularities on which mimickry depends. But the powers of the actor evidently presuppose and comprehend the powers of the mimic, if he had thought the cultivation of them worthy of his attention ; for the same reason, that the genius of the historical painter might, if he had chosen, have succeeded in the humbler walk of painting portraits. If I am not much mistaken, this conclusion might be confirmed by an appeal to facts. Foote, it is well known, was but an indifferent actor ; and many other mimics of acknowledged excellence in their own line have succeeded still worse than he did on the stage. But I have never known a good actor, who did not also possess enough of the power of mimickry to show, that it was his own fault he had not acquired it in still greater perfection. Garrick, I have been told by some of his acquaintance, frequently amused his friends with traits of individual character, incomparably finer and more faithful than any that were ever executed by Foote.*

In what I have hitherto said concerning our propensity to imitation, more particularly in infancy, I have contented myself with a very general statement of the fact, without attempting to analyse with accuracy the manner in which the propensity operates. In one instance, I have expressed myself as if I conceived the determination to be literally involuntary. It is proper for me now,

, however, to observe, in order to prevent any misapprehension of my meaning, that the word involuntary is not here to be understood in its strict logical sense, but in that more vague and popular acceptation in which it is commonly employed. I have no doubt, that, in every case of imitation whatever, an act of the will precedes the muscular exertion ; in the same manner, as I believe, that an act of the will precedes the winking of the eyelids, when an object is made to pass rapidly before the

* With respect to Garrick's powers as a mimic, see his Life by Davies. His imitations of some of his own contemporaries on the stage, which he was accustomed to introduce in performing the part of Bayes, are said to have been as unrivalled in point. of excellence, as any of his other theatrical exhibitions.

face. In both cases, the effect may probably be prevented by a contrary volition steadily exerted ; but, in both cases, it takes place in so great a majority of instances, as to show clearly, that there is a certain determination or proneness to the volition, originating in the general principles of our nature. It is the proneness, merely, that I am anxious at present to establish as a fact, without pushing the metaphysical analysis any farther; and when I employ, on this occasion, the word involuntary, I use it in the same sense as when it is applied to those habitual acts, which, although they may be counteracted by the will, require for their counteraction, the exercise of cool reflection, accompanied with a persevering and unremitted purpose directed to a particular end.

This proneness to imitation, although (as was formerly observed) most conspicuous in childhood, continues, in all men, to manifest itself on particular occasions, through the whole of life; and, as far as I can judge, is the general law to which many of the phenomena, resolved by Mr. Smith into the principle of sympathy, ought chiefly to be referred. If, indeed, by sympathy, Mr. Smith had meant only to express a fact, I should have thought it a term not more exceptionable than the phrase sympathetic imitation, which I have adopted in this chapter. But it must be remembered, that, in Mr. Smith's writings, the word sympathy involves a theory or hypothesis peculiar to himself; for he tells us expressly, that where this principle is concerned, the effect is produced by an illusion of the imagination, leading us to suppose that we ourselves are placed in a situation similar to that of our neighbour. 66 When we see a stroke aimed, and just ready to fall upon the leg or arm of another person, we naturally shrink and draw back our own leg or our own arm; and when it does fall, we feel it in some measure, and are hurt by it, as well as the suffer

The mob, when they are gazing at a dancer on the slack-rope, naturally writhe, and twist, and balance their own bodies, as they see him do, and as they feel that they themselves must do, if in his situation. Persons of delicate fibres, and a weak constitution of body, com


plain, that, in looking on the scres and ulcers which are exposed by beggars in the streets, they are apt to feel an itching or uneasy sensation in the correspondent part of their own bodies. The horror which they conceive at the misery of those wretches, affects that particular part in themselves, more than any other ; because that horror arises from conceiving what they themselves would suffer, if they really were the wretches they are looking upon, and if that particular part in themselves was actually affected in the same miserable manner.”

These facts are, indeed, extremely curious, and I do not pretend to explain them completely. One thing, however, I apprehend, may be asserted safely, that in none of the cases here mentioned, is the sympathy, which is manifested by the spectator, founded on an illusion of the imagination, leading him to conceive himself in the same situation with the party really interested. In the instance of the rope-dancer, the most pertinent of all of them to Mr. Smith's purpose, the sympathy which accompanies the movements of the performers is extremely analogous to what is exhibited on various other occasions, where this theory cannot be supposed to apply. A person, for example, who plays at bowls, and who is deeply interested in the game, while he follows his bowl with the eye, naturally accompanies its deflections from the rectilinear course, with correspondent motions of his body; * although it can

*“ Mox, ubi funduntur latè agmina crebra minorem

Sparsa per orbiculuin, stipantque frequentia metam,
Atque negant faciles aditus; jam cautiùs exit,
Et leviter sese insinuat revolubile lignum.
At si fortè globum, qui misit, spectat inertem
Serpere, et impressum subitò languescere motum,
Ponè urget sphæræ vestigia, et anxius instat,
Objurgatque moras, currentique imminet orbi.
Atque ut segnis honos dextræ servetur, iniquam
Incusat terram, ac surgentem in marmore nodum,

Nec risus tacuêre, globus cùm volvitur actus
Infami jactu, aut nimium vestigia plumbum
Allicit, et sphæram à recto trahit insita virtus.
Tum qui projecit, strepitus effundit inanes,
Et, variam in speciem distorto corpore, falsos
Increpat errores, et dat convicia ligno.
Sphæra sed, irarum temnens ludibria, cæptum
Pergit iter, nullisque movetur surda querelis.”

Sphæristerium (The Bowling-Green), Auctore Jos. Addison.


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