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BANNISTER THE COMEDIAN.
The lives of actors are entitled to had ever known him, died without a all the natural value that can belong to pang. Old wisdom will say that there variety and vivacity of adventure, to was a reason for all this. His grandpleasantry adopted as a profession, mother, immediately on his birth, had and to an habitual intercourse with all snatched a silver spoon from the side. that is strange, showy, and original board, and put it to the infant's mouth. in society. They sometimes have The old proverb has seldom been more another and a higher use. If they, in strictly verified. their darker instances, exhibit fine Fate seems to have marked him for faculties abused and brilliant oppor- the theatre. His father Charles was tunities sacrificed to personal vices, an actor, and, like himself, an especial they also, and not seldom, exhibit favourite. Charles was the son of an manliness and self-control, steady per- officer in the victualling department at severance under severe difficulties, and Deptford. A company of strollers the comforts, and even the honours of tempted his young ambition to try the old age, achieved through impedi- stage. His fine figure, handsome face, ments which might have broken down and buoyant spirits, were strong quathe integrity, or wearied the fortitude lifications. He offered himself to of many a prouder name.
Drury Lane-was rejected by the maWithin these few years, “ Lives" nager--again made the circuit of the of the principal performers of the last country--and attracting the notice of half century have appeared. It is not Trote, by that eccentric yet remarkto be doubted that they have made a able wit, was brought back to Lonvery pleasing addition to our biogra- don. The life of the stage is memophical stores. They have recalled the rable for the mistakes made by clever shapes and voices of a race of men, men relative to their own powers, and whose memory is proverbially fleet- the circumstances which finally point ing ; they have largely added to the out where their talents lie. Charles gay and harmless anecdotes of private had conceived himself to be born for life ; and they have unquestionably tragedy; and, during some time, he supplied many a picture of the past, played tragic heroes of all ranks, from which could have been preserved in no the Richards and Romeos, down to other keeping, and which will be receive those humbler victims of love and ed with interest and use by the future. ambition, who die without having the
John BANNISTER was born at Dept. honour of breaking hearts or subford, May 12, 1760. He was singu- verting dynasties. Accident discolarly fortunate in his whole career. vered to the tragedian that he could Thrown on the stage in boyhood, he sing, and that he had a remarkably continued the especial favourite of sonorous yet sweet voice. Singing that very fickle mistress, the English was then the delight of the day in public, for five-and-thirty years--grew private life ; mimicry has always been in reputation from year to year-saw the enjoyment of the people in public. no rival in his own delightful style Charles had a fine voice, a fine taste, suffered no reverse of personal suc- and a copious recollection of traits cess, and no personal casualty-retains and tones. His song became an imied his fine perceptions, and acquired tation, sometimes serious, oftener barskill until the time, and long after the lesque, of the principal singers of the time, when the stage required them period. In both he was excellent. no more—retired in the midst of pub. Garrick once took Giordini, the fa. lic regret-in his retirement lived in mous violinist, to hear his imitations competence, quiet, and respectability of Tenducci and Champneyo. The and at the age of seventy-six, in full violinist declared the imitation perpossession of his faculties, his good. fect; sarcastically remarking, however, humour, and the respect of all who that "it had one fault, the voice of
Memoirs of John Bunnister, Comedian. volumes. 1839.
By John Adolphus, Esq.
In two the mimic was better than that of slight irritation, the offence was markeither of the originals."
ed by "Jack, I'll cut you off with a It was once the habit of all actors, shilling." "I wish, father," said Jack, with, perhaps, the single exception of "you would give it to me now." His the greatest among them-Garrick, father, delighted at the kindred εpirit, to be in debt. They habitually lived gave him much more than he had like butterflies, or any other glittering asked. creation which was made for a sum- The ruling passion sometimes devemer, and never thought of any thing lopes itself slowly, but sometimes beyond the day of sunshine. This has bursts through all circumstances. passed away with other fashions of the Young Bannister had been intended for last century, and some of our contem- a painter, and sent to study at the Royal poraries have even exhibited the miser Academy, but there he made himself as faithfully of the stage as on. But remarkable by practical jokes. As we have never heard of a wit, ancient Nollekens afterwards observed, he or modern, whether in the days of used to frighten old John Moser terour fathers or our own, who had not ribly with his tragedy tricks. Moser “ his distresses like a lord.” Whether was the keeper of the Academy. The it is that wit is the antipodes to pru. more regular artists were said to be dence that the expenditure of the fan- glad when he left them. His facecy runs away with all of the brain that tiousness put them out of their way, belongs to calculation--that the organ but he was probably a favourite ; and, of pleasantry withers the organ of when he had fully abandoned the propounds, shillings, and pence; or that fession, old Moser himself took a whole nature, in giving this most brilliant of box to patronize his first appearance all qualities, balances her bounty by on the stage. The theatre, of course, subtracting common sense, the fact was to Bannister not what it is to so is certain, that no wit ever escaped many others, a new world. He had being embarrassed in his circumstan. constantly followed his father to the ces. Charles Bannister gave his share green-room, where his handsome face of evidence to the maxim. He was a and lively manners had already obcapital wit, and he was always in diffi- tained for him the soubriquet of Cuculties. A pleasantry of his told both. pid. Even managerial majesty had At the time when all the world were for him but few alarms. From his talking of the death of Sir Theodosius boyish days he had been a carrier of Boughton, in 1781, who was poisoned messages from his father to Garrick, by laurel water_"Poh," said Charles, and had been accustomed to see that “don't tell me of your laurel leaves; singular person in all his variety of I fear none but a bay-leaf!" (bailiff.) moods. Garrick seems to have been
His wit was so redundant, that he the actor in a more entire sense than could afford to throw it away even any man within the memory of the upon his son. John, when a mere lad, stage. He was acting in every thought had exhibited a singular fondness for and gesture, in every hour and occadrawing, and used to sketch heads sion of life. When the boy bronght cleverly, for each of which Charles the letter, the manager would somegave him a shilling. On some occasions times put on a frowning countenance, the young artist wanted the shilling and affect anger; at others affect deafwithout having the head to produce. ness; at others lose his articulation and He would make some alteration in an hesitate, or suddenly throw every feaold performance, and present it for the ture into grotesque convulsion ; and customary reward. Charles, rather then, when he found his young spec. dunned in one of those instances, and tator on the point of laughing in his surprised, perhaps, to find that he had face, he would finish the farce by a created the dun in his own family, burst of unrestrained merriment. Banexclaimed, “ Why, hang it, Jack, you nister was but eighteen when he com. are just like an ordinary ; come when menced his theatrical life. Nature you will, it is always a shilling A had been liberal in her gifts : he was HEAD."
of good height, well formed, with a But Jack was a seedling of the same remarkably brilliant though small eye, stock, and knew how to throw back and a voice, which, though not musithe pleasantry fresh pointed. Once, cally effective, was at once clear, and when he had caused his father some sweet, and speaking. Dancing was
then, as now, the universal accom "" Well, don't mind my shavingplishment, and fencing essential to the speak the speech-the speech to the gentleman. Bannister possessed both, ghost-I can hear you,-never mind and frequently exhibited them with my shaving.' grace and dexterity.
« After a few hums and haws, and To have seen Garrick, to have a disposing of my hair so that it might known him-and, above all, to have stand on end, enjoyed his personal notice-was a dis- o
* Like quills upon the fretful porcupine,' tinction which seems to have made an extraordinary impression on all his I supposed my father's ghost before contemporaries. Bannister, in some me, armed cap-a-pie, and off I started: of the recitations which he delivered "Angels and ministers of grace defend in his tours, described his first interview with this genius, so astounding to novices. Bannister's imitation of he wiped the razormanner was always remarkable, and "Be thou a spirit of health or goblin he was said to give Garrick to the damned,' life. His story was in this style :“I was a student of painting in the
he strapped the razorRoyal Academy, when I was intro. Bring with thee airs from heaven or duced to Mr Garrick, under whose su. blasts from hell, perior genius the British stage bloom.
he shaved oned and flourished beyond all former example. In my first interview with
Thou com.st in such a questionable him I expressed my desire of quitting
shape, the study I then pursued for the stage. That I will speak to thee!' After frequent visits to him, he was pleased to say that he perceived a-a he took himself by the nose-a something in me which conveyed a-a promise, a-an indication of thea
I'll call thee Hamlet,
King, father, royal Dane. O answer me ! trical talent : and here I am led into animitation-I beg pardon-I mean an
Let me not burst in ignorance.' humble attempt at imitation of his He lathered on. I concluded, but manner in private. He had a sort of still continued my attitude, expecting a-a-a kind of a-a hesitation in his
prodigious praise; when, to my eterspeech, a habit of indecision which nal mortification, he turned quick upon never marked his public exertions. me, brandishing the razor, and thrust
- One morning I was shown into ing his half-shaved face close to mine, his dressing-room, where he was be- he made such horrible mouths at me, fore the glass, preparing to shave; a that I thought he was seized with inwhite nightcap covered his forehead, sanity, and I was more frightened at his chin and cheeks were enveloped him than at my father's ghost. He in soap-suds, a razor-cloth was placed exclaimed in a tone of ridicule, upon his left shoulder, and he turned
• Angels and ministers of grace defend and smoothed his shining blade upon the strop with as much dexterity as if he had been a barber at the Horse Yaw, waw, waw, wawi'- The abashGuards, and shaved for a penny; and ed Prince Hamlet became sheepI longed for a beard, that I might imi. ish, and looked more like a clown tate his incomparable method of hand. than the grave-digger. He finished ling the razor.
shaving, put on his wig, and, with a " Eh! well-what-young man- smile of good nature, took me by the so-eh ?-(this was to me)-So you are band, and said, “Come, young-eh! still for the stage? Well, now-what let's now see what we can do.' He character do you should you like to spoke the speech ; and how he spoke ch?'
it those who have heard him can never «•I should like to attempt Hamlet, forget.”
Bannister's imitations were always "Eh! what? Hamlet the Dane! excellent. His handsome counteZounds — that's a bold - have you nance, his graceful figure, and his studied the part?'
natural bonhommie gave admirable " I have, sir.'
effect to his skill in this species of
portraiture. He had all the vivacity their varieties, from hatred to love, without the sting. Garrick was a and of all the degrees of intellect from great imitator. His propensity was idiocy up to genius. so strong, that he was perpetually T he course of theatres, like the imitating some one or other, as if course of true love, seldom has run unconsciously. In private life, he smooth; and the expedients to restore gave the happiest resemblances of all the smoothness of the current have his friends; in public, he gave por- been as numberless as they have been traits of the living actors, touching generally unsuccessful. We have seen every peculiarity, yet without offence. balloons and bull-fights come to the Foote was dexterous, but unsparing; aid of Shakspeare; stag-hunts and he touched not foibles, but deformities; horse-races summoned to revive the and accordingly contrived to make jaded appetites of the lovers of comedy, himself dreaded by one half of his farce and melodrama ; and, at this acquaintance, and hated by the other. moment, two theatres crowded, to see On this mimic, Churchill, who hated the feats of two menageries ; while and yet resembled him, laid the lash, Melpomene and Thalia are no where in these vigorous lines :
to be seen on earth, except fixed out.
side the walls of Covent Garden “ Doth a man stutter, look asquint, or halt,
Theatre. For this we attach not the Mimics draw humour out of nature's fault, With personal defects their mirth adorn,
slightest blame to the managers. It
is the public taste. And hang misfortune out to public scorn.
The public taste Even I, whom nature cast in hideous
dictates to the public servants, and, mould,
instead of lauding them as heroes, we And having made, she trembled to behold, should think them simpletons, for saBeneath a load of mimicry may groan,
crificing themselves and their houses And find that nature's errors are my own." to the imaginary honour of the drama.
Let the people choose better, and auBannister's good-nature was once thors write better; and the managers exercised strongly on this subject. will be as willing as either. Let it be Nothing is more difficult than for an the public command that nothing but actor to give up any thing by which French farces shall be suffered on the he makes what is technically called stage. Let the nobility desert the • a hit;" or, if there be a superior dif. stage, and spend their patronage on ficulty, it is to prevail on himself to the unnatural absurdities and exhaustgive up a successful caricature. Bens. ing longueurs of the Italian Opera, ley, the actor, was a public favourite and the process must go on, till the in the higher parts of tragedy, but his drama is made up as much of frivolity pompous manner, lofty stride, and the as the Queen's Theatre is of paint and general and unnatural stateliness, pasteboard. which once were deemed essential to One of the novel contrivances of the kings and heroes of the stage, of. Bannister's early time, was the coali. fered attractive food to Bannister. Of tion (abhorred name) of the two great course, Bensley frequently figured on theatres. By this ridiculous and vexathe stage, when the true man was ab- tious arrangement, the actors were to sent. Vexed at this species of cele. be transferred from house to house, brity, he begged to have the “ cha. as the exigencies of the night, or, as racter withdrawn," on the ground of it seems, even of the house, might its actual injury to him in his profes- demand. Thus the actor was alternately sion, and Bannister gave it up without flung from the heights of tragedy into delay. After this, what becomes of the depths of burlesque ; and the same the continence of Scipio ?
performer might be dancing in all the But the singular versatility of his antics of " My Grandmother" at Drury features entitled him to work other Lane, within the hour in which he wonders, scarcely intelligible by men had stalked before Hamlet, bringing of more stubborn visages. Once he with him “airs from heaven or blasts thus copied in the life all the heads of from hell,” and making the Crown a volume of Lavater. Simply placing Prince's hair stand on end. But this himself in a position which enabled childish plan soon wearied the actors, him to have a view of his own coun. next wearied the town; and, finally, tenance, he gave a succession of living before the end of the season, effectually likenesses of the passions through all wearied the managers,
In 1778, Bannister made his first berland was the Apollo who equally appearance in London, and in tragedy. dispensed physic and fame. His anNothing could be more favourable tipathy to the young author of The than his introduction, except his asso. Rivals, The Duenna, and the School ciation, for Garrick was his tutor in for Scandal, must have been incurable; the part of Zaphna, which he had and Sheridan, to show him the awkresigned to the debutant, and his wardness of indulging it, flung The Palmira was the well known, then Critic on him, like a swarm of hornets, superlatively lovely, and perhaps then to cling and sting till his authorship innocent, Mrs Robinson. Davies de. was tormented out of the theatre and scribes this performance, “ as con- out of the world. ceived justly, and with accuracy, and But what is the value of theatrical sometimes executed boldly and vigor. criticism, especially from theatrical ously." Poor Davies seldom ventured men, when Garrick, confessedly the on any thing so distinct as this, yet prince of actors and the most experia two of his epithets are expletive. It enced of all men in the public taste, is, however, evident, that he had not actually cut up Hamlet, and presented penetration to discover the future man it in this mutilated form to the stage ? in the boy, however bold, or find out Boaden, the biographer of the late the first comedian of the coming age, John Kemble, found the copy of this in the trembling representative of extraordinary work in his library, it Zaphna. But Zaphna had other dis. having been given as a present from tinctions: it was the last part which Mrs Garrick. He thus describes the Garrick ever played (he died January massacre :-“ Garrick cut out the 15, 1779), and it was the finale of old voyage to England, and the execution Sheridan's Dublin theatre; his ma- of Rosincrantz and Guildenstern, who nagement and his fortunes all being had made love to the employment, ruined by a riot, in which he had the and marshalled his way to knavery." absurdity to resist a whole audience, This, perhaps, might be forgiven. and to resist them, if possible, for the But the adroit manager « cut out the greater absurdity of refusing to recite funeral of Ophelia, with all the wisa few foolish lines out of a vapid dom of the prince and the jocularity
of the grave-diggers." For the purBut this season (1799) presented the pose of condensing the action, “ Hampublic with a dramatic chef d'ouvre, let is made to burst in upon the king
The Critic; a farce which has no and court, when Laertes reproaches title to the name, only because it de him with his father's and sister's serves a better. It has been long es. deaths. The exasperation of both is tablished so completely above rivalry, at its height ; when the king interin its keenness of perception and poses, and declares that his wrath at happiness of satire, as to be almost Hamlet's rebellious spirit, in not dewholly without even an imitator. parting for England, shall fall heavy. Whether Sheridan constructed his Then feel you mine, says Hamlet, and piece as an instrument of torture for stabs him." The rest is huddled up Cumberland, or, finding him fit it with the rapidity of a scene-shifter. when it was made, screwed him in And all this was told, not in Shakwhile the English language endures, speare's language, but in that of some is a question which Sheridan could adventurous genius in the manager's never be persuaded to solve. But closet. The attempt to mend Shakneither in France nor Spain is there speare's phraseology, however, was any thing so witty, so pungent, and laughed at; and the play, thus imso characteristic as the first act of The proved, naturally returned to the dark
Critic, Cumberland certainly deserved ness from which it came. Yet Garto be taught that he could feel. He rick was rather vain of his alteration was a perpetual thorn in the side of and in a letter to Sir William Young, every theatrical writer; a sneer and in 1773, he writes, that "his producing a scoff waited upon every man's suc. Hamlet with alterations was the most cess. It is true that the sheer was ac- imprudent thing he ever did ; but he companied by a bow, and the scoff by had sworn that he would not leave the a compliment, and both equally po. stage until he had rescued that noble lished and contemptuous. But excel. play from all the rubbish of the fifth lence was not to be forgiven, and Cum- act:" adding, “ the alteration was