Born: Dr. Robert Whytt, eminent medical writer, 1714, Edinburgh.
Died: Pope John XIII, 972; Jean Baptiste Colbert, celebrated minister of finance to Louis XIV, 1683; Bishop Edmund Gibson, 1748, Bath; Sir John Fielding, notable police magistrate, 1780, Brompton, London; George Alexander Stevens, song and burlesque writer, 1784; Louis Peter Anquetil, historical writer, 1808; Dr. Vicesimus Knox, miscellaneous writer, 1821, Tunbridge; John Bird Sumner, archbishop of Canterbury, author of Records of Creation, and other works, 1862.
Feast Day: St. Pambo of Nitria, abbot, 385. St. Macculindus, bishop of Lusk, 497. St. Eleutherius, abbot, about 585. St. Bega or Bees, virgin, 7th century.
THE STRATFORD JUBILEE, OR SHAKSPEARE COMMEMORATION FESTIVAL IN 1769
On Wednesday, the 6th of September 1769, and two following days, Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire, witnessed a succession of festivities such as seldom befall in an English country town. The object of these remarkable doings was the commemoration of the great Shakspeare, whose remains, upwards of a hundred and fifty years before, had been deposited in the chancel of the parish church of this his native place. To the scarcely less famous exponent of the national dramatist, the celebrated actor, David Garrick, belongs the credit, such as it is, of having devised this festive ceremonial, which, from the novelty as well as popularity of the scheme, created an immense sensation throughout the kingdom. The idea had been suggested to him by a request conveyed from the corporation of Stratford, that he would honour them by becoming a burgess, and accepting of the freedom of the town.
Having intimated his willingness to do so, the freedom of the borough was, in May of this year, presented to him in an elegant box, made out of the famous mulberry-tree which Shakspeare himself had planted, but which, a short time previously, had been cut down by its proprietor, a splenetic clergyman, who, in addition to this act of Vandalism, had also pulled down the house in which Shakspeare lived. Vanity and enthusiasm alike stimulating Garrick, he now set himself arduously to work in the carrying out of the idea which he had conceived, and in its accomplishment he was aided by the zealous co-operation both of the authorities of the town of Stratford, and the most influential personages in point of rank and distinction in the realm. The most extensive preparations were made for the proper celebration of the festival; crowds of persons from all parts of England pressed forward to be present on the occasion, and the eventful morning at length dawned. The newspapers and magazines of the day have detailed at considerable length the events which took place, and from these we have compiled the following narrative.
On the morning of Wednesday, at five o'clock, the proceedings were inaugurated by a serenade performed through the streets by a band of musicians and singers from Drury Lane Theatre. Several guns were then fired, and the magistrates assembled about eight o'clock in one of the principal streets. A public breakfast was prepared in the new town-hall at nine, presided over by Mr. Garrick as steward, who, previous to the reception of the general company, was formally waited on by the mayor and corporation of Stratford, and presented with a medallion of Shakspeare, carved on a piece of the famous mulberry-tree, and richly set in gold.
At breakfast, favours in honour of the great dramatist were universally worn by ladies as well as gentlemen, and the assemblage numbered the most distinguished of the aristocracy amid its guests. This entertainment having been concluded, the company proceeded to the church, where the oratorio of Judith was performed under the superintendence of Dr. Arne.
A procession, with music, led by Mr. Garrick, was then formed from the church to the amphitheatre, a wooden building erected for the occasion on the bank of the Avon, constructed after the manner of the Rotunda at Ranelagh, in the form of an octagon, with a roof supported by eight pillars, and elegantly painted and gilded. Here dinner was served up at three o'clock, and a suitable interval having elapsed, a musical performance took place, at which several songs, chiefly written by Garrick, were received with the greatest applause by the audience. One of these, which was greatly commended for its liveliness and spirit, is here inserted:
THE WARWICKSHIRE LAD
Ye Warwickshire lads, and ye lasses,
See what at our jubilee passes;
Come, revel away, rejoice, and be glad,
For the lad of all lads, was a Warwickshire lad,
All be glad,
For the lad of all lads, was a Warwickshire lad.
Be proud of the charms of your county,
Where nature has lavished her bounty,
Where much she has given, and some to be spar'd,
For the bard of all bards, was a Warwickshire bard,
For the bard of all bards, was a Warwickshire bard.
Each shire has its different pleasures,
Each shire has its different treasures,
But to rare Warwickshire, all must submit,
For the wit of all wits, was a Warwickshire wit,
How he writ!
For the wit of all wits, was a Warwickshire wit.
Old Ben, Thomas Otway, John Dryden,
And half a score more we take pride in,
Of famous Will Congreve we boast too the skill,
But the Will of all Wills, was a Warwickshire Will,
For the Will of all Wills, was a Warwickshire Will.
Our Shakspeare compared is to no man,
Nor Frenchman, nor Grecian, nor Roman,
Their swans are all geese, to the Avon's sweet swan,
And the man of all men, was a Warwickshire man,
And the man of all men, was a Warwickshire man.
As ven'son is very inviting,
To steal it our bard took delight in,
To make his friends merry, he never was lag,
For the wag of all wags, was a Warwickshire wag,
For the wag of all wags, was a Warwickshire wag.
There never was seen such a creature,
Of all she was worth he robbed Nature;
He took all her smiles, and he took all her grief,
And the thief of all thieves, was a Warwickshire thief,
He's the chief,
For the thief of all thieves, was a Warwickshire thief.
A grand ball commenced in the amphitheatre in the evening, and was kept up till three o'clock next morning. In front of the building, an ambitious transparency was exhibited, representing Time leading Shakspeare to immortality, with Tragedy on one side, and Comedy on the other. A general illumination took place in the town, along with a brilliant display of fireworks, under the management of Mr. Angelo. The next morning was ushered in like the former by firing of cannon, serenading, and ringing of bells. A public break-fast was again served in the town-hall, and at eleven o'clock the company repaired to the amphitheatre, to hear performed Garrick's Shakspeare Ode, which he had composed for the dedication of the town-hall, and placing there a statue of the great bard presented by Garrick to the corporation. We quote the grandiloquent language of Boswell, the biographer of Johnson, regarding this production.
The performance of the Dedication Ode was noble and affecting: it was like an exhibition in Athens or Rome. The whole audience were fixed in the most earnest attention; and I do believe, that if one had attempted to disturb the performance, he would have been in danger of his life. Garrick, in the front of the orchestra, filled with the first musicians of the nation, with Dr. Arne at their head, and inspired with an awful elevation of soul, while he looked from time to time at the venerable statue of Shakspeare, appeared more than himself. While he repeated the ode, and saw the various passions and feelings which it contains fully transfused into all around him, he seemed in ecstasy, and gave us the idea of a mortal transformed into a demigod, as we read in the pagan mythology.'
The statue of Shakspeare, above referred to, was raised in a conspicuous position above the assembled company, and Garrick, we are told, was stationed in the centre of the orchestra, dressed in a brown suit, richly embroidered with gold lace, with his steward's wand of the mulberry-wood in his hand, and the medallion, presented him by the corporation, suspended from his breast. Our space does not permit us to transcribe here the Dedication Ode, which is a piece of considerable length. Declaimed by Garrick, with the airs and choruses set to music by Arne, and performed under the personal direction of that gifted composer, it must have formed the most attractive part of the jubilee festivities.
On its completion, its author stood up and delivered a eulogium on Shakspeare, in which the enemies of the dramatist (if he had any) were called on to state anything which they knew to his prejudice. Upon this, King, the celebrated comedian, ascended to the orchestra, and in the character of a macaroni, the reigning type of fop of the day, commenced a denunciatory attack on Shakspeare, as an ill-bred uncultivated fellow, who made people laugh or cry as he thought proper-in short, quite unsuited for the refinement of the present age. It is said to have been a highly-amusing exhibition, though many of the audience, unable to understand a joke, and believing it a real onslaught upon Shakspeare, testified visibly their dissatisfaction. An epilogue addressed to the ladies, and delivered by Garrick, closed this part of the ceremonial, which did not terminate without a mishap-the composure of the meeting being unexpectedly disturbed by the giving way of a number of the benches on which the audience sat, with a terrible crash. A nobleman was at the same time hurt by the falling of a door, but fortunately no one received any serious detriment.
The remainder of Thursday was, like the previous day, spent in dining, listening to a concert, and witnessing illuminations and fireworks. At midnight commenced a grand masquerade, said to have been one of the finest entertainments of the kind ever witnessed in Britain. Three ladies, we are informed, who personated Macbeth's witches, and another, who appeared as Dame Quickly, excited universal admiration. An Oxford gentleman assumed, with great effect, the character of Lord Ogleby; but a person dressed as the Devil gave inexpressible offence!
One individual, whose costume attracted special attention, was James Boswell, already referred to, whom the accompanying engraving represents as he appeared at the Stratford jubilee masquerade, in the character of an armed chief of Corsica, an island of which he had published an account, and regarding which he had, as his countrymen in the north would say, 'a bee in his bonnet.'
The dress consisted of a short, dark-coloured coat of coarse cloth, scarlet waist-coat and breeches, and black spatterdashes, and a cap of black cloth, bearing on its front, embroidered in gold letters, VIVA LA LIBERIA, and on its side a blue feather and cockade. The device was in allusion to the struggles of the Corsicans for national independence under General Paoli, Boswell's friend. On the breast of the coat was sewed a Moor's head, the crest of Corsica, surrounded with branches of laurel. Mr. Boswell wore also a cartridge-pouch, into which was stuck a stiletto, and on his left side a pistol. A musket was slung across his shoulder, and his hair, which was unpowdered, hung plaited down his neck, ending in a knot of blue ribbons.
In his right hand he carried a long vine staff, with a bird curiously carved at the upper end, as ' emblematical of the sweet bard of Avon.' He wore no mask, saying that it was not proper for a gallant Corsican. In this character he also delivered a poetical address, sufficiently grandiose and Cambysean, on the united subjects of Corsica and the Stratford jubilee. There can be no doubt, as Mr. Croker remarks, that poor Bozzy made a sad fool of himself, both on this and other occasions during the jubilee, and would have done well to have followed the advice of his blunt-spoken Mentor, 'to clear his head of Corsica.' During his stay at Stratford, he is said to have gone about with the words CORSICA BOSWELL printed in large letters outside his hat, that no one might remain in ignorance of the presence of so illustrious a personage.
On the masquerade revellers awaking from their slumbers on the following day (Friday), they found a deluge of rain, which had continued unintermittedly from the previous night, descending on the town of Stratford. All prospect, therefore, of carrying out the proposed Shakspeare pageant, in which the principal characters in his plays were to have been represented in a triumphal procession, al fresco, with chariots, banners, and all proper adjuncts, was rendered hopeless. There was, how-ever, a jubilee horse-race, which was well attended, though the animals were up to their knees in water. In the evening another grand ball took place in the town-hall, in which the graceful minuet-dancing of Mrs. Garrick, who in her youth had been a distinguished Terpsichorean performer on the London stage, won the highest encomiums. The assembly broke up at four o'clock on Saturday morning, and so ended the Stratford jubilee.
As might have been expected, this festive celebration did not escape satire and animadversion, both before and after the event; the jealousy felt against its author, Garrick, being sufficient to call forth many pungent attacks. In the Devil on Two Sticks, Foote introduced the following sarcastic description:
A jubilee, as it hath lately appeared, is a public invitation, circulated and urged by puffing, to go post without horses, to an obscure borough without representatives, governed by a mayor and aldermen who are no magistrates, to celebrate a great poet, whose own works have made him immortal, by an ode without poetry, music without melody, dinners without victuals, and lodgings without beds; a masquerade where half the people appeared barefaced, a horse-race up to the knees in water, fireworks extinguished as soon as they were lighted, and a gingerbread amphitheatre, which, like a house of cards, tumbled to pieces as soon as it was finished.
Other squibs appeared in the form of parodies and epigrams; and also a farce, entitled The Stratford Jubilee, intended to have been performed at Foote's theatre, in the Haymarket, but which, though printed and published, seems to have never been placed on the boards. Strictures of a different description were passed on the whole festival by certain of the inhabitants of Stratford, who imputed the violent rains which fell during the jubilee to the judgment of Heaven on such impious demonstrations. This circumstance may recall to some of our readers the worthy minister of Leith, recorded by Hugh Miller in his Schools and Schoolmasters, who ascribed the great fire in Edinburgh in 1824, to the Musical Festival which had a short time previously been celebrated there!
In the month of October following the Stratford jubilee, the Shakspeare pageant devised by Garrick, but the representation of which had been prevented by the unfavourable weather, was brought out by him with great magnificence and success at Drury Lane Theatre, and had a run of nearly a hundred nights.
On the 6th of September in the ensuing year, the anniversary of the ceremonial was celebrated at Stratford with great festivity; but the custom seems afterwards to have fallen into desuetude, and no further public commemoration of our great national poet was attempted in the place of his birth for upwards of fifty years. At last, in 1824, the Shakspeare Club was established, and an annual celebration in his honour appointed to be held on the 23rd of April, the (erroneously) assumed day of his birth, and which we know, upon good evidence, to have been that of his death. Under the auspices of this association, a splendid gala, after the manner of the jubilee of 1769, was conducted in Stratford, on 23rd April 1827 and two following days.
A similarly magnificent commemoration took place in 1830, when, among other festive ceremonies, an ode, written for the occasion by Mr. Alaric A. Watts, was recited, and a series of dramatic performances exhibited, in which the principal characters were sustained by the rising tragedian of the age, Mr. Charles Kean. At the celebration in 1836, an oration was delivered in the theatre by Mr. George Jones, the American tragedian, and in 1837 by Mr. Sheridan Knowles.
The Shakspeare jubilee was the first of those commemorative festivals which have since become so familiar to all of us. Sixteen years afterwards, in 1785, a grand musical celebration took place in Westminster Abbey in honour of Handel, and a similar tribute to the memory of the great composer has been recently paid in our own day. The centenary festivities, performed in nearly every part of the world, in honour of Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, in January 1859, must be fresh in the recollection of every one. And it is quite possible that, a few twelvemonths hence, the year 1871 may witness a similar jubilee in honour of the natal-day of the Great Magician of the North, Sir Walter Scott.