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I Join the Theatre…

July 29, 2009

Acland 1817

Having heard that there was then a theatrical company at Chew Magna, and being Shakespearean and silver star bitten, I walked the seven or eight miles, enjoyed a night’s amusement at the play, and the next morning introduced myself to the manager, a very respectable man of the name Phillimore. My business was soon started. I wanted to be an actor, and would be very happy to join his company if they had room for the addition. After some lengthy conversation, he told me that he could offer me no salary as theirs was a sharing scheme. On my avowing my ignorance upon that subject, he explained that every night, after deducting rent, lights and all other expenses from the receipts, the balance was divided into as many shares as might be, the amount generally being far from sufficient for the comfortable support of the recipient. For himself, he explained, he received, besides his share as an actor, a second share as manager, and a third share for the use of his scenery and wardrobe; then his wife and daughter had each a share as actresses, and his little boy (of about twelve) a share as the juvenile tragedian; so that the family managed to live, but how the other five (one lady and four gentlemen) contrived, he was unable to inform me. This was not a very flourishing account, and I must admit that Mr. Phillimore did not attempt to obtain my addition to his company by false pretences or exaggerated anticipations; and with my eyes wide open, I elected to throw in my’ lot with them. Of course I assumed another name; and at Chew Magna, South Brent, Axbridge, Glastonbury and Shepton Mallet were witnesses to my histrionic pretensions; which amounted, barely, to something more than nothing; and my career was bought to a summary and unexpected close at the latter. town, in the following way.

At the close of one of our performances at Shepton Mallet, and when we were all very busy cleaning our faces and transmogrifying ourselves into decent looking civilians, one of the corps expressed his surprise that a gentleman was still siting in the auditorium and did not manifest the slightest intention of vacating his seat. After an interval, the manager enquired of him his object of remaining, and was informed that he wanted to see me. A peep through a convenient slit in the curtain, revealed to me an old and worthy friend of the family, Captain Bessell, of the Hon. Artillery Company and Secretary to the General Steam Navigation Company, whose cordial greeting I reciprocated. Rather that we had all (except the Phillimore family) been on short commons for some weeks, and I sniffed the probability of a substantial supper. Adjourning to his hostelry, I learned that he came ambassadorially from my father to win the truant to his home, and tither, sundry trifling obligations discharged by my “Chancellor of the Exchequer,” the next mail coach conveyed us to London.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 29, 2009 2:44 pm

    Old heads cannot be put on young shoulders; and if they could the product would be unnatural – in fact a monstrosity.

    This may be very true; and yet I suspect myself of having written as some sort of apology or excuse for the boyish folly of which I was guilty in exchanging a good home and most affectionate friends, for a vagabond life, and most uncertain means among strangers. And if these lines should by chance to fall beneath the eye of such another inconsiderate lad, I desire to add to the record that the scheme in which for some months I became a partner was a beggarly affair so far as remuneration was concerned. For our division of profits varied from the exceptional amount of seven shillings to the ordinary share of from half-a-crown to nothing, as the vanishing point. With the occasional debit of a considerable portion of the night’s outlay, and with the horrible fact that only on four nights in the week (on an average) had the “poor players” any chance of getting anything.

    It followed naturally, though most inconveniently, that the very few pounds which constituted my capital at Chew Magna, with my watch and other adornments, disappeared, until I became as broken backed as the oldest veteran in the service.

    Be it always understood that we were none of us miserable; and only that I longed for the comforts of home, under the temptation of my friend’s mission; I could have been content to pursue my fascinating occupation as a strolling player, subsisting on a very limited allowance of bacon and bread, and a large allowance of love of admiration until, perhaps, until the end of my life!

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