The Autobiography of Leigh Hunt: With Reminiscences of Friends and Contemporaries - Vol. 1

By Leigh Hunt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI.
PLAYGOING AND VOLUNTEERS.

Threatened invasion by the French.--The St. James's Volunteers.-- Singular debut of their colonel.--Satire of Foote.--A taste of campaigning.--Recollections of the stage at the beginning of the present century.--Farley, De Camp, Miss De Camp, Emery, Kelly and Mrs. Crouch, Catalini, Mrs. Billington, Madame Grassini, Braham, Pasta and Lablache, female singers in general; Ambrogetti, Vestris the dancer, Perisot; singing and dancing in former times and present; Jack Banister, Fawcett, Munden, Elliston, Mathews, Dowton, Cooke, the Kembles and Mrs. Siddons, and Mrs. Jordan.--Playgoing in youth.--Critical playgoing.--Playgoing in general not what it was.--Social position of actors in those times.--John Kemble and a noble lord at a book-sale.--Earl Spencer.

A KNOCK at the doors of all England woke us up from our dreams. It was Bonaparte, threatening to come among us, and bidding us put down "that glass."

The "Elders," in common with the rest of the world, were moved to say him nay, and to drink, and drill themselves, to his confusion.

I must own that I never had the slightest belief in this coming of Bonaparte. It did, I allow, sometimes appear to me not absolutely impossible; and very strange it was to think that some fine morning I might actually find myself face to face with a parcel of Frenchmen in Kent or Sussex, instead of playing at soldiers in Piccadilly. But I did not believe in his coming; first, because I thought he had far wiser things to attend to; secondly, because he made such an ostentatious show of it; and thirdly, because I felt, that whatever might be our party politics, it was not in the nature of things English to allow it. Nobody, I thought, could believe it possible, who did but see and hear the fine, unaffected, manly young fellows, that composed our own regiment of volunteers, the St. James's, and whose counterparts had arisen in swarms all over the country. It was too great a jest.

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