« PreviousContinue »
EARLY LIFE OF KNOWLES,
Born 1784 A.D....
..Died 1862 A.D.
The modern drama.
ALTHOUGH the English drama has fallen from its high estate, a few men still remind us in this nineteenth century that we aro the countrymen of Shakspere, of Jonson, and of Massinger. Among such may be named Sheridan Knowles, the author of Virginius; Henry Taylor, the author of Philip van Artevelde; and Thomas Noon Talfourd, the author of Ion. That dramatic writing may not be entirely without a representative name in this last era of our literary history, we take the first and most prolific of these dramatists as the subject of a brief sketch.
James Sheridan Knowles was born in the year 1784, in Anne Street, Cork. His father was an English master and teacher of elocution there. During the boyhood of the dramatist the family removed to London, where the spirit of poetry began to stir in his heart, when he was about twelve years old. Writing a play for his boy friends, he conducted the performance hinself. Then came from the new-fledged pen an opera, a ballad called The Welsh Harper, and a Spanish tragedy. But what more than all gave the genius of young Knowles its decided literary bent, was the notice with which the distinguished critic Hazlitt honoured him. Many a clever boy has written plays and poems at twelve or fourteen without turning ont a Sheridan Knowles. Hazlitt, however, brought the boy to his house, made him known to Coleridge and to Lamb, and did him the invaluable
kindness of criticising his juvenile productions, and cultivating his dramatic tastes.
It was in the Crow Street Theatre of Dublin that Knowles made his debut upon the stage. He did not take with the audience; in fact, his first appearance was an utter failure. Yet we find him persevering in his efforts to be an actor; and it was well for his fame that he did persevere, for his stage-experience must have greatly aided him in the preparation of his popular dramas. Conjoining, as did his far greater prototype Shakspere, the occupations of actor and dramatic author, he knew, from daily habit and observation, what was required to make a play tell upon
the house. None but a practical teacher can produce a thoroughly good and useful school-book; and, granting bim to possess the requisite brains, we may reaso
sonably expect the actor to produce a more cffective play than the working lawyer, or the author who never leaves his desk.
In a theatrical company at Waterford, to which Knowles was .for some time attached, he met Edmund Kean, who filled the principal part in his first acted play, called Leo the Gipsy. There, too, the publication of a small volume of poems, entitled Fugitive Pieces, brought the literary struggler a little money and some reputation.
But Belfast was the opening scene of his decided success in the walk he had chosen. While engaged there as a teacher of elocution and grammar, he produced a drama called Brian Boroihme, which was received in the local theatre with enthusiastic applause. And then came the first of his great plays, Caius Gracchus. 1815 Spurred on by success, for which he had long been battling and hoping, he continued his dramatic authorship. Virginius was the next production of his facile pen. Though offered to Kean-indeed it is said to have been written at his request it was not first acted at Drury Lane, but came out under less favourable auspices in Glasgow. There it had a most success
Macready soon got hold of it, studied it, played it, and made his own fortune and the fame of Knowles. According to the opinion of Hazlitt, the author's old friend and mental father
LATER LIFE OF KNOWLES.
no mean authority on a point of dramatic criticism – “Virginius” was Macready's greatest character. William Tell; The Beggar of Bethnal Green; The Hunchback; The Wife, a Tale of Mantua; Love ; and several other popular and successful plays, added, during the next twenty-three years, to the fame that Knowles had already won. In many of these he played the leading character himself. Crossing the Atlantic in 1836, he found in America the warmest welcome and the kindest appreciation of his professional talent.
When his health began to fail, application having been made to the Government by a number of dramatic authors, and also by some Glasgow merchants, a pension of £200 a year was granted to him in 1849.
Since the close of his professional life he has written a couple of novels, of which we shall say no more than that they are unworthy of his earlier fame; and has also displayed his controversial power in two works, The Rock of Rome, and The Idol. Demolished by its own Priest. So long as his health permitted, he acted in his later years as a lay preacher of the Baptist persuasion; and after some time of decaying strength he died at Tor
quay in 1862.
The dramatic style of Sheridan Knowles was modelled after the Elizabethan plays, especially those of Philip Massinger. And
ere, with all our admiration for the effectiveness and artistic construction of Virginius and Tell, we must confess that the model seems at times to peep out too plainly, and that we would rather have Knowles writing in his own proper and natural manner than be obliged to look upon him sometimes as a second-hand Massinger, revived on the stage of the nineteenth century, but speaking after the fashion of those days when the Globe and the Rose were in all their primitive glory. The poetry of Knowles is not of the intense school, but "sparkles through his plays, mildly and agreeably; seldom impeding with useless glitter the progress and development of incident and character, but mingling itself with them, and raising them pleasantly above the prosaic level of common life.”
SPECIMEN OF KNOWLES' VERST,
FROM "WILLIAM TELL."
Scaling yonder peak,
Ileavens! with what pride I used
EARLY LIFE OF TENNYSON.
Born 1810 A.D...........
Still living, 1869 A.D.
Not always has the Laurel been given to him most worthy of that royal honour; but when the reverend brow of Wordswortlı drooped in death, there was none fitter to succeed “the old man cloquent” than the English gentleman who now wears the wreath. . By consent of all, Alfred Tennyson stands at the head of English poets in the passing generation. In his own department of literature he is the representative man of the age—caressed by critics, admired by all, imitated by not a few. Rare are the poems published now-a-days untouched with the light of this master-mind,
and steady radiance has been diffusing itself in everwidening circles for more than thirty years.
A Lincolnshire clergyman, rector of Somersby, had three sons—Frederick, Charles, and Alfred. All have written poetry, the third and greatest of the three being the present Laureate. Tennyson's poetic career may be said to have begun in 1829, when, as an undergraduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, he won the Chancellor's medal for a poem in English blank-verse upon the somewhat unpromising theme of Timbuctoo. About the same time he joined his brother Charles in the publication of Poems by two Brothers. But in 1830 a bolder step was taken. A Cornhill publisher
announced a modest volume, bearing on its title-page the 1830
words Poems, chiefly Lyrical, by Alfred Tennyson, in which
such pieces as Mariana in the Moated Grange, Claribel, and The Ballad of Oriana, showed that a minstrel of brilliant