WHEN a man has received boundleſs obligations from the public, when the labours of his life have been at their devotion, and they have favoured him in return with the ample recompence of profit and reputation, he ought to view his own intentions with the niceſt circumſpection, and to be convinced he can ſafely determine to keep truth in conſtant view, before he officiouſly calls on the world to judge of his private concerns.
[Page 2] Upon this ground I am willing to ſtand. I have preſented the public at different periods with nearly ſixty pieces * of which I am author and compoſer; beſide the muſic of eight or ten others, and out of all thoſe only three have been unſucceſsful. Thus, the flattering applauſe with which my efforts have been indulgently favoured, would ſtamp me unworthy of future notice, if in the preſent relation I dared to obtrude any thing falſe or futile. The candid public has ever had a pride in taking up the cauſe of an injured individual; no man can more truly anſwer that deſcription than myſelf. I am inhumanly and cauſeleſsly perſecuted; hunted from my liberty, and ſuſpended from holding a legal right, for no other fault than having relied upon the ſuppoſed honour of a ſet of men who were ſtrangers to that word. I am now irritated, by calumny and oppreſſion, to that appeal which it is peculiarly my province to make. The laws will realize the truth of my claim, but it is the public I proudly aſk to decide upon the integrity of my intentions.
[Page 3] The neceſſity of adverting to every circumſtance which may poſitively or preſumtively tend to ſubſtantiate the facts in the following narrative, makes it impoſſible to avoid giving a brief hiſtory of the Circus and its origin. This, however, as it has long been a ſubject of public converſation, may not prove unentertaining, no place having been more internally convulſed, or ſtruggled through more diſtraction; nor is it wonderful. It was begot at Newmarket, born in St. George's Fields, and nurſed in Bridewell, till falling into bad company at the Opera Houſe, it deſpiſed the advice of its tutor, aped all the faſhionable abſurdities, and at laſt emancipated from the puling childiſhneſs of reaſon and plunged into the full maturity of folly at the Cockpit Royal.
In the month of February, 1782, having previouſly imparted my intention to Mr. Hughes, I applied to Mr. Davis, of Bury-ſtreet, St. James's, to build a place which I intended to call the Royal Circus; offering him a fourth of the profits which ſhould accrue from the amuſements there intended [Page 4] to be exhibited. He took but four and twenty hours to determine, for in that time he had communicated the buſineſs to Mr. James Grant, late of Coleman-ſtreet, Mr. George Grant, of America-ſquare, and Mr. Harborne, then of Amen-corner, but ſince of John-ſtreet, Adelphi; who having the higheſt opinion of the plan I had given them, agreed, in conjunction with Mr. Davis, to ſubſcribe ſufficient money to erect the building, and that I ſhould be its ſuperintendant and uncontroulable manager; that they would receive the fourth I had offered as a compenſation for laying out their money; that Mr. Hughes ſhould have one-third for his performance and breaking horſes; and that I ſhould have the remaining five-twelfths, the one-twelfth more than Mr. Hughes's proportion being adjudged me for my trouble as manager.
[Page 5] The leaſes of the Magdalen Coffee-houſe and the two houſes adjoining were immediately purchaſed with a view to erect the building in their ſtead; but finding the place inconvenient, an application was made to Temple Weſt, Eſq. (ſince dead) of Charlotte-ſtreet, Rathbone-place, who owned the reverſion of an oppoſite piece of ground, and who, upon the condition of being received as a proprietor, conſented to purchaſe the life right of the then poſſeſſor, and let the ground to the four gentlemen above mentioned, himſelf alſo being a party.
The dimenſions of the building being determined on, and the heartieſt concurrence given to every meaſure, I ſuggeſted all parties to ſet earneſtly to work. Mr. Hughes ſought out for performers, I did the ſame. Upwards of twenty children were bound apprentices to Mr. Grimaldi, who I employed as ballet maſter, and who, by a memorandum of an agreement with me for the term of five years (in which we mutually covenanted to enter into a ſpecial article) promiſed that the apprentices, then about to be bound to him, ſhould not be employed at any other place [Page 6] than the Royal Circus, and not there unleſs for my emolument, and by my order and direction.
It was now thought a proper time to finally arrange our own articles, for which purpoſe a meeting was had of the proprietors, Mr. Hughes and myſelf, where the ſcheme being upon conſiderably a larger ſcale than the original intention, and the expence in conſequence likely to be much higher, a freſh agreement was propoſed to be entered into, by virtue of which the proprietors were to receive a third of the profit, Mr. Hughes the ſame, (ſtanding all his own expences) and I the remaining third, and to be allowed an annuity of £.150 for managing, and to ſtand at no expence whatever.
An article was ordered to be drawn up by Mr. Harborne, in which the parties were to agree, over and above the afore-metioned [Page 7] covenants, that a committee, conſiſting of Mr. Harman, ſecretary and treaſurer, on the part of the proprietors, Mr. Hughes and myſelf, ſhould adjuſt and decide upon the current buſineſs, Mr. Harman having the caſting vote if any diſpute ſhould ariſe between Mr. Hughes and me.
A licence, through the medium of Colonel Weſt, was now applied for to the Duke of Mancheſter, which after an interval of ſome months was refuſed, it appearing very doubtful whether a ſufficient power was veſted in the Lord Chamberlain to permit a public entertainment beyond the precincts of the court, and his grace being young in office, was very tenacious of treading upon unprecedented ground.
It was now July, and no article drawn up, for which a variety of reaſons were given. Mr. Harborne was repreſented as a man of ſuch extenſive buſineſs, that a failure in point of time on his part, ought to be conſidered as an admiſſible excuſe; Mr. Davis repeatedly aſſured me, that on this account he was obliged to put up with the neglect of [Page 8] private buſineſs of much greater magnitude; that nothing could exceed the fairneſs of their intentions, and I might be perfectly at eaſe. Theſe very excuſes alſo were held out to Col. Weſt, whoſe leaſe and private agreement as proprietor were not executed. As I carried my good opinion of Mr. Davis to a pitch of enthuſiaſm, and for the ſhort time I knew him, I had the higheſt ſentiments of Col. Weſt's honour and integrity, this ſatisfied me. Indeed every lover of truth muſt revere his memory; for if a man of ſound and uncorruptible principles ever exiſted, that man was Colonel Weſt. He was beſides wonderfully calculated to take a part in a public concern; he had judgment to diſcover genius, and ſpirit to encourage it; but it ſeems as if a fatality marked the wayward ſteps of this unfortunate place; and becauſe there happened to be one man belonging to it who had taſte and liberality enough to reſcue it from the barbariſm of arithmetic, the craft of chicane, or the deſigning nicety of a gambling calculation, he muſt be ſnatched away, and the building be deprived of its ſtrongeſt prop and faireſt ornament.
[Page 9] Mr. Hughes, however, was leſs at eaſe than me; he apprehended, and very ſtrongly, ſome improper deſign on the part of the proprietors, nor did he ſcruple to aver that the buſineſs of the leaſe was held out as a falſe light to deceive us both; indeed, ſo freely did he broach theſe ſentiments, and in ſuch invidious terms, that being of an opinion totally oppoſite to his, I refuſed to ſpeak to him, except about mere buſineſs, for ſeveral months.
The mode of making deciſions in the committee was now totally altered, Mr. Harman not having for ſome time had a voice, but ſome one or other of the proprietors in his ſtead; for as the building advanced, it became a ſubject of amuſement to them, and they were as proud of owning themſelves parties concerned, as they were before ſhy of being known to have any thing to do with it; none of this I ever checked, but made it my ſtudy to pleaſe and ſatisfy them, little thinking I was teaching them the art of governing only to dethrone me.
[Page 10] In this, however, they have been a little premature; the theatical ſcepter, like a witch's ſpell, or a ſorcerer's taliſman, contains many figurative charms, which, if ill preſerved, or improperly uſed, only brings down confuſion on their heads, who have the temerity to tamper with them.
A licence having been refuſed by the Lord Chamberlain, the proprietors adviſed with Mr. Mingay how they could beſt apply to the Magiſtrates of the county for their permiſſion. They were informed by that gentleman, that the only time at which the bench could grant leave, was at the Michaelmas ſeſſions; he further cautioned them not to open the Circus, till ſuch conſent was obtained. This advice, however, I ventured to oppoſe the moment I heard it. Mr. Mingay, as a counſel, was right. To fly in the face of the law, did not certainly appear the likelieſt means of obtaining its protection; but if he had had any eventual judgment concerning the probable fate of a new public place, his ſentiments muſt have been the reverſe; ſo much did I [Page 11] feel the force of this, that I made no ſcruple to declare we ought immediately to open without a licence.
To ſupport this opinion, I gave the following reaſons: the intereſt that had been exerted to procure the licence from the Lord Chamberlain, together with the many preparations going forward, had not only exited univerſal curioſity, but raiſed ſome envy; the ſeeds of an oppoſition to the application at michaelmas were already ſown; theſe the world's ignorance of the ſcheme would be ſure to nouriſh, till they got to ſuch a head as to choke up all our hopes; proof of this came to us from ſome quarter or other every day; ſome reported that the place was built for tumbling and rope-dancing, and the introduction of drinking. Upon this ground I was ſure the magiſtracy would make a point of ſetting their faces againſt it, leſt it ſhould encourage idleneſs; others, who had heard Sir John Lade and Mr. Davis took a part in it, availed themſelves of the general opinion of thoſe gentlemen, by propagating that [Page 12] it was to be a receptacle for gambling.* The theatres naturally oppoſed it, thinking a place prepared at ſuch an expence might in the end rival them very formidably; all theſe difficulties I contended would be obviated by opening as ſoon as poſſible. I argued, that let whoever would eſpouſe our cauſe, the town was at laſt our beſt protection and firmeſt dependance. There if we found friends, we might laugh at private malignity, nay, that the very reports which were ſo induſtriouſly ſpread, would recoil upon thoſe who had the temerity to level them at us. What had we to do with fear? we were ourſelves conſcious that nothing was intended but harmleſs amuſements repreſented by children, which could not encourage diſſipation; and which, ſo far from militating againſt the intereſt of the threatres, would be found to be a nurſery for them, as the ſchools of Oudinot and Nicholet are for thoſe in Paris.
[Page 13] I was anſwered, if we had ſo many enemies, they would certainly take advantage of our opening without a licence, and inform againſt the place. I found no difficulty in pronouncing it would be the very beſt thing that could happen to us, we ſhould then ſee our danger, and know how to guard againſt it. That having confirmed ourſelves in the public good opinion, it would become a public cauſe. That the eligibility of the ſcheme, and the regularity with which it was intended to be conducted, would confound the tongue of ſcandal. The conſideration that ſo many children and their families were maintained by it, and other favourable appearances, would ſend the application to the ſeſſions upon ſuch fair ground, as could not fail to inſure it ſucceſs.
For the firſt time, I began to diſcover a ſort of poſitiveneſs in moſt of the proprietors, to which I had hitherto been unaccuſtomed. I did not like to thwart it, and yet I feared their perſiſting in error would terminate [Page 14] in that very wilfulneſs which has been the deſtruction of almoſt every reaſonable meaſure hitherto propoſed. Contenting myſelf, however, with repreſenting the folly of their ſo ſtrenouſly contending for a point, of which they had not experience enough to ſee the probable conſequences, and warning them that they would ſee my words verified, I gave up the matter, not without adviſing them to neglect no opportunity of gathering the ſenſe of the magiſtrates, previous to the ſeſſions.
The firſt ſtep they took towards this, was to give a public dinner, to which many of the gentlemen in the commiſſion of the peace were invited; none however attended; and this confirmed me ſtronger than ever, that my apprehenſions were but too well founded.
I now conceived it abſolutely neceſſary, that a memorial ſhould be drawn up, and preſented to the magiſtrates, by ſome one or other of the proprietors. The idea met their concurrence, and it was to be done immediately; but Mr. Davis and Mr. Harborne being continually in the country, neither of the Mr. Grant's attended for a long while, [Page 15] and Col. Weſt, moſt unfortunately for the concern, being taken ill, this neceſſary preliminary was neglected, and the licence when applied for loſt by eighteen againſt fifteen affirmative voices, the greateſt part of which majority declared themſelves influenced againſt the application, by a letter which was read in court, written by order of the Secretary of State, to the Lord Lieutenant of the county of Surry, adviſing the bench to licence no new places of public entertainment; and this letter was actually procured, by a repreſentation that the Circus was intended for E O tables, and every ſpecies of debauchery.
Thus, according to my prediction, the licence was loſt by falſe and ſcandalous reports againſt the place, and clearly ſhews, corroborated by what really happened when the Circus was actually opened without any permiſſion whatever, that had my advice been taken, we muſt have been ſucceſsful.
Col. Weſt continuing extreemly ill, the advantage of his advice was loſt, and the other proprietors a good deal ſoured by their diſappointment, were ſome time before they came to any reſolution; at length my original [Page 16] idea was adopted, and the place opened without a licence.
The world well recollects what encouragement the amuſements received, ſome of the firſt characters in the kingdom reſorted to the Circus, and it was conſidered as one of the moſt pleaſant and faſhionable places about town. The continual cry of the proprietors was, that I had done wonders, and that let what would be the fate of the concern, there was no degree of liberality that ſhould not be ſhewn me for ſuch uncommon and ſucceſsful exertions.
In all this time no article was prepared; and though I was unceaſingly teazed by Mr. Hughes, who went very great lengths indeed, and took moſt unwarrantable liberties with the proprietors names, to ſupport his aſſertions, though he even aſſured me, that they had conſulted together to diſmiſs me, though he called in Mr. Grimaldi to witneſs it, who declared, he had heard the proprietors ſay, they would never ſign an agreement with either me, or Mr. Hughes; this, and ten times more had not power to ſhake my opinion. I certainly was anxious that the matter [Page 17] ſhould be finiſhed. I expoſtulated with Mr. Davis, and with Col. Weſt, on the ſubject; the firſt of whom ſeemed, and the other was as uneaſy as myſelf. Mr. Davis declared, that were the intentions of the other proprietors ſuch as Mr. Hughes and Mr. Grimaldi repreſented, yet his connections with them were of ſuch a kind, and his power over them ſo great, that he ‘"could and would," (theſe were his words,) "command for me their majority upon all occaſions; but the fact was the very reverſe, the proprietors having the beſt intentions towards me."’ That the preparation of the article was only delayed by the negligence of Mr. Harborne, he laughed at my fears, and wondered how I could entertain them: muſt not he be void of honour, and merit the reproach of every honeſt man, if he could be capable of deluding me upon a ſubject ſo ſerious, ſo material to me?
I could not bear ſo many appeals to my feelings. I bluſhed that I had for a moment entertained an ill opinion of a man, than whom Lucifer or Iago would not have better acted the part of a friend. I conſidered Mr. Hughes and Mr. Grimaldi as [Page 18] two incendiaries, who, for ſelfiſh ends, were endeavouring to ſet me at variance with the proprietors, and I became more careleſs about the article than ever.
An information was laid againſt the Circus, and we were open only nine nights. My prophecy began now to be verified; all who had been our enemies became our warmeſt advocates; very diſtinguiſhed perſons conſulted with us about opening again, and intelligence was given us from very powerful authority, that another application to the Lord Chamberlain would be ſucceſsful.
The general expences, however, being all incurred, and the performers engaged, we thought it adviſeable to open, if poſſible, upon ſome plan within the law, which we could extend, if we had the good fortune to ſucceed with the Lord Chamberlain, or continue (if the application failed) till the following October.
For this purpoſe, I deviſed a mode of amuſement unlike any thing we had done before; which, ſanctioned by counſels opinion, was brought out with ſucceſs; but at the end [Page 19] of the fifth night, a new information being laid, Mr. Hughes was taken up and ſent to Bridewell.
In proportion as we were perſecuted, ſo we gained friends. At the ſeſſions, Mr. Hughes was honourably releaſed, and the entertainment pronounced not to have been illegal. The application to the Lord Chamberlain went on rapidly, who being ſolicited in a very powerful manner, declared he would give a licence, if the Attorney-General would pronounce him competent to do it.
This buſineſs kept us on in anxious expectation till the latter end of February, when Mr. Hughes abſolutely inſiſted on an article, without which, he declared, he would withdraw himſelf from the ſcheme.
I now began to find that this matter has been procraſtinated only to beat us down in point of terms; for upon requiring ſo ſerious an explanation, it aukwardly came out that they had a good deal conſidered of it, and that in a different way than formerly. They now began to talk of the vaſt ſums of money that had been laid out, of the loſs the [Page 20] place had ſuſtained in throwing away ſo much time, that if no licence ſhould be obtained, or the concern involved in any future embarraſſment, they muſt bear all the burden. In ſhort, the new propoſal was, that Mr. Hughes and I ſhould receive each a fourth of the profits, after paying all common expences, allowing them intereſt for their money, and a hundred a year ground-rent.
How did Mr. Davis come off here? I am aſhamed to ſay with flying colours. He made it appear as plain to me, that I ſhould clear two thouſand a year for my life, as ever Breſlaw did one of his auditors, that he had conjured a ſhilling into his pocket, when the fact was, he had picked it of two, which were paid coming in at the door.
I did, however, muſter up ſo much clear-ſightedneſs, as to be a little uneaſy, not for fear the article ſhould not be ſigned, but leſt they ſhould pare away its value till it was not worth ſigning; and joining iſſue with Mr. Hughes, never ceaſed importuning Mr. Davis, till, with the approbation of the proprietors, he ſigned a memorandum of an agreement, [Page 21] in behalf of himſelf and the reſt, in the terms before mentioned, with the addition of tying up Mr. Hughes and myſelf from engaging at any other place of amuſement, and a promiſe of entering into a ſpecial agreement, as ſoon as it ſhould be found convenient to lay a proper deed before counſel. This memorandum was alſo ſigned by Mr. Hughes and myſelf, and witneſſed by Mr. Harman.
Whether the Attorney-General's opinion was never obtained, whether he was prevented from giving it, whether the intereſt uſed to get at the Lord Chamberlain was overturned by oppoſite influence, or whatever was the cauſe, I will not venture to pronounce my opinion; certain it is, we got no licence. The matter has been ſo variouſly repreſented to me, that in relating what I have been told, I might very likely take a liberty with high and diſtinguiſhed characters, who, for ought I can with certainty advance, never heard of the Royal Circus but in common with the reſt of the world. Great names are very often uſed to ſerve little purpoſes; here they were uſed to no purpoſe at all.
[Page 22] This refuſal determined us once more to open the Circus, merely to feel the pulſe of the town, and to try whether all the pompous reports of our ſucceſs among the great would not ſo far awe our enemies as to make them deſiſt from any further perſecution.
We did ſo, and it anſwered our end beyond expectation. The Circus was opened on the 15th of March, and it continued ſo without interruption till the middle of the following September; during all which time the ſenſe of the memorandum was literally conformed to by the payment of a fourth of the profits to Mr. Hughes and myſelf every Saturday.
Soon after the Circus opened, Mr. Sewell, my Attorney and Solicitor, drew up a ſpecial deed, which was read by the proprietors, and (except the preamble and the mode of tying me to the Circus) approved of.
In Mr. Sewell's article, conformable to the memorandum, I was the acknowledged manager of the ſtage department for my life; my current conduct was to be decided upon by a [Page 23] weekly committee, which, ſo far from having a power to diſmiſs me from the Circus, was obliged to ſupport and uphold me in it.
I ſhould here mention, that juſt before this period, Mr. James Grant had ſold his ſhare to Sir John Lade, and Mr. Harborne had erected himſelf into the joint characters of treaſurer, ſolicitor, and proprietor.
This circumſtance did not create a little jealouſy among the other proprietors, nor was it by any means a pleaſant thing to either Mr. Hughes or myſelf, a proprietor being a very improper treaſurer to a concern. This was repreſented at Sir John Lade's houſe, the Sunday before the place opened; Mr. Davis, Sir John Lade, Mr. Grant, Mr. Hughes, and myſelf preſent; and Mr Davis taking up the matter extremely warm, propoſed the place for Mr. Savage, a gentleman we all knew, and of whoſe integrity we had the higheſt opinion. This met the wiſhes of every one preſent, and I expected to ſee him in his office the following Saturday; inſtead of whom, however, Mr. Harborne ſingly nominated [Page 24] Mr. Groſmith, his brother-in-law; who has ever ſince acted as a treaſurer for him, and lately with the additional title of Secretary.
I only mention this circumſtance, to ſhew how completely the proprietors were ruled by the brilliant Mr. Harborne; nor can it be wondered at. I have already inſtanced his alacrity in the diſpatch of buſineſs, and when I come, in its place, to give a ſpecimen of the elegance of his taſte, the winning ſprightlineſs of his manner, and the captivating charms of his oratorical eloquence, the moſt lively hopes may be entertained, that before the Circus ſhall finiſh its career, the world will ſee him making out latitats upon three horſes, taking inſtructions for a brief in a pantomime, or imitating the ſerjeants when they make their bows at Weſtminſter Hall in a Minuet de la Cour.
This ſame Mr. Harborne, with infinite labour and pains (I think I ſee him wiping his forehead) from the draft made out by Mr. Sewell, formed another, in which were introduced [Page 25] many particulars totally foreign to the original intention. Neither Mr. Hughes nor myſelf was to have the liberty, without the conſent of a committee, to publiſh any book; that ſixty pounds a week were to be depoſited in his hands as a fund to pay all contingent expences. He nominated himſelf alſo perpetual treaſurer. The Committee was to have ſuch an abſolute power, that were they inclined to make vexatious and frivolous reſoutions, the concern muſt have been ſo harraſſed and perplexed, that no buſineſs of either Mr. Hughes's deparment or mine could poſſibly have gone on.
I not only ſaw all this, but that the prohibition of publications ſtruck particularly hard at me. It was repreſented to me, however, that no advantage ſhould be taken of me; that the article was ſo worded, leſt any nonſenſe of Mr. Hughes (I uſe the words of Mr. Davis and Mr. Harborne) ſhould be publiſhed to the diſgrace of the concern; that he was a man ſo troubleſome and unprincipled, and his conduct had been ſo reprehenſible, they were determined to have every poſſible curb on him, and particularly that the words and [Page 26] muſic of all my pieces were not implied in the clauſe.
At this time another agreement was entered into by the Proprietors themſelves, to enforce the obſervance of their own private engagements. This deed is very material to my claim. It was executed by Colonel Weſt, Mr. Davis, Mr. Harborne, Mr. George Grant, and Sir John Lade, and provided, among many other things, for the ſecurity of the proceedings of a committee, by a clauſe to the following effect: That ſhould any of the Proprietors be inclined to ſell a ſhare, it ſhould be offered at a ſtipulated price to the reſt, and that upon their refuſal of the bargain, the buyer ſhould be obliged to purchaſe, ſubject to all covenants and agreement whatſoever; and particularly that the preſent, as well as all future Proprietors, ſhould be bound to keep, in the ſtricteſt ſenſe, all engagements entered into with Mr. Hughes and myſelf. The memorandum recited above, which Mr. Davis entered into with the concurrence of the reſt of the Proprietors, was ſigned previous to the execution of the agreement ſome months. Will the ſagacious Mr. [Page 27] Harborne after this ſay he knew any thing of law when he ſigned my diſcharge from the Circus?
From the month of October, 1781, to this hour, (for it ſhould be underſtood that I had long ſuch a ſcheme in idea, though till February I could not find a perſon to take it in hand in any eligible way) I have received no emolument from any other place than the Circus. It will not therefore appear aſtoniſhing, that in ſuch a length of time I ſhould find it neceſſary, for my private purpoſes, to receive money on account from the Proprietors. I did ſo, previous to the 15th of March, to the amount of 261l. which ſum, together with every other expended or advanced for any purpoſe whatever, was agreed in the draft of the ſpecial article to go into a maſs, eſtimated at 12,000l. for which the concern was to pay ten per cent. intereſt.
I was in debt about 600l. at the commencement of the ſcheme, ſome of which demands it would be very tedious and unpleaſant to explain; they were the dregs of former lawſuits, penalties of engagements for a valuable and unfortunate relation, and ſome the conſequences [Page 28] of follies committed twenty years ago; theſe debts, by the 15th of March, grew to 800l. ſimply by the addition of law expences. The Circus now began to yield me very handſomely, and I had paid, by the month of July, near 400l.
About this time the remainder of my creditors began to perſecute me in a moſt rigorous and extraordinary manner; this appeared very ſingular, as they had received from me ſo much money, and more eſpecially as the loading me with law expences would only diminiſh my ability to ſatisfy them.
Upon ſearching into this buſineſs, I eaſily found they were ſet on; the Proprietors were of the ſame opinion, and made no ſcruple to pronounce Mr. Hughes the incendiary inſtrument; ſo much did Mr. Davis appear irritated at it, that he gave a promiſe to the officer, who was always upon theſe occaſions employed to arreſt me, that he would anſwer for every thing in future againſt me, that my perſon might be ſafe, and I might purſue my buſineſs in tranquility.
The Circus about this time began to be one of the compleateſt ſcenes of confuſion that folly, ignorance, and intereſted art could plunge it into. The parents of the apprentices were eternally preſenting me with petitions againſt Mr. Grimaldi; criminal accuſations were preferred, addreſſed to religious lords; the magiſtrates interfered, and a compleat inveſtigation into the morals and conduct of the place was ordered; ſome conſcientious gentlemen in the commiſſion, who had reſolved right or wrong to vote againſt it the following October, were for its annihilation; and one in particular declared, he was ſo ſhocked at the idea of bringing up a number of children to the ſtage, that he ſhould be afraid to meet them in the other world leſt they ſhould reproach him. The gentleman, I believe, did not conſider that there would be no ſuch danger, if that meeting happened to be in Heaven.
[Page 30] Three very reſpectable gentlemen were appointed inquiſitors upon this occaſion, whoſe great humanity, high honour, and unimpeachable integrity, are univerſally acknowledged. They found nothing that could induce them to take part againſt the place, and not only the accuſation fell to the ground, but the attempt to injure the ſcheme turned out materially to its advantage.
We were however the beſt judges of our internal commotions. Mr. Grimaldi's knowledge of the foibles of the Proprietors, his accommodating temper, and above all the ſecret manner in which he wormed himſelf into their favour to my prejudice, gloſſed over with them a number of moſt unpardonable faults; and it was in vain for me to order him upon any duty, when by a tale told to Mr. Harborne he could get himſelf excuſed.
As to the reſt, Mr. Hughes was evidently trying to get the place into his own hands, by harraſſing the Proprietors with accounts, in which they made no ſcruple to ſay they [Page 31] were impoſed on, ordering dreſſes they diſapproved of, and uſing their names with moſt licentious and unwarrantable freedom. All this, together with his canvaſſing the county in his name for the licence, and much other indirect conduct, ſo alarmed the Proprietors, that they were now the moſt anxious for the articles; ſeveral meetings were had on it, and at laſt Mr. Hughes, upon being paid all his demands, agreed that the licence ſhould be made out in his name and mine; and that proper alterations being made in the mode and manner of the article by Mr. Davis and Mr. Pardon, the ſpirit of it, which had always been complied with, ſhould remain, and then it ſhould be executed.
The day came when we muſt apply for the licence; and Mr. Hughes, after all that had paſſed, inſiſted upon having it made out in his name, or not at all. Nothing could [Page 32] equal the aſtoniſhment of the Proprietors at this demand; they fairly declared it ſhould have my name to it, as a check upon Mr. Hughes, or they would give up every concern with the place; that they had the higheſt opinion of my abilities; that my conduct had been fair, honeſt, and in every reſpect unexceptionable; whereas they believed Mr. Hughes to be guilty, in many inſtances, of proceedings directly the reverſe.
For my own part, I ſaw very plainly that the leaſt appearance of diſpute amongſt ourſelves would infallibly overturn our whole ſcheme; beſides, it was the cleareſt thing in the world that Mr. Hughes wrangled for no more than an additional feather to his equeſtrian helmet, which I was very well contented he ſhould wear. I argued, that while they were in contention for a mere name, the ſhadow of the buſineſs, they would loſe the licence, which was the ſubſtance; and that the place, and not the perſon, was the object of permiſſion. In this opinion Mr. Mingay joined me; the licence was aſked for in the name of Mr. Hughes, and granted.
[Page 33] During the meeting at Kingſton, our future operations were a ſubject of conſultation. As the place could now open by authority, as the entertainments would be entirely changed, by the introduction of burlettas and pantomimes, the orcheſtra thrown open, together with ſeveral other deſirable advantages, of which we might now avail ourſelves, I adviſed a recommencement of the amuſements. I nevertheleſs warned them how impoſſible it would be to keep open the whole winter; but in order to make it up to the performers, to take expence off the ſhoulders of the concern, and to provide novelty for the enſuing ſummer ſeaſon, I further adviſed an excurſion to Liverpool, Norwich, or ſome other capital place; there to wear out the old pieces, to be in the continual practice of new ones, and ſo come back at Eaſter with a fund of freſh dramatic materials, which would be ſo much variety ready prepared with little trouble, and no expence.
Nothing could be more eagerly catched at than this advice; it was ſo feaſible; ſuch a ſelf-evident advantage; ſo like generalſhip: [Page 34] Why, then, was not it adopted? The Proprietors of the Circus would not be conſiſtent, if they were once in the right. They have a moſt tender affection for their own opinion; and as to obſtinacy, no drove of pigs, in their journey from Berkſhire to Smithfield, ever had ſuch an averſion to a direct road.
Had my advice been taken, the Public would not now be nauſeated at the Royal Circus (that place which once vied with the Opera-houſe; which, under the title of the Fairy World, enchanted its audience with all the magic of its name;) with the leavings of a barrel organ, the dregs of a porter club, or the refuſe of Sadler's Wells.
Three or four days before we applied for the licence, the Circus and the world had the misfortune to loſe Col. Weſt, after having endured for near a twelvemonth all the torture and languor of a ſlow conſuming wound, with a reſignation and fortitude which, like all other of his actions, evinced his great mind. He dying, bequeathed wretchedneſs to his family, ſorrow to all his connections, and regret to the memory of every man who [Page 35] who had the happineſs and advantage of his acquaintance.
The Circus opened, and conſidering the expences of the receſs, the ſtock required to bring out the new things, and other incidental and unavoidable out-goings, did tolerably well. After a few weeks, however, it was decidedly clear that it would not do in the winter; this induced me to think in earneſt of the country ſcheme. I preſſed Mr. Hughes about it, who promiſed to write to Norwich, and propoſed it afreſh to the Proprietors, from whom I was aſtoniſhed to receive a cool anſwer.
I had now paid near 600l. to my creditors; and yet, ſo great a part of this ſum was for law expences, that I was ſtill in debt 450l. It is incredible, upon the failure of the ſucceſs of the Circus, how I was perſecuted, and all for trifles; which, by the management of bailiffs, evidently at the inſtance of Mr. Hughes, were magnified into things of conſequence. If I was to ſign a warrant of attorney, it was in his houſe; if I was arreſted, it was in his houſe. In ſhort, the moſt ſcandalous [Page 36] and illegal meaſures were taken purpoſely to expoſe me; and every illicit and vulgar manoeuvre put in practice to injure my peace of mind, and render me incapable of doing my buſineſs.
So much did this appear the opinion of the Proprietors, that, to relieve my inconveniences at that time, they depoſited their draft of a hundred pounds in the hands of Mr. Sewell, and impowered him to inform my creditors, that they would be anſwerable for the payment of the reſt of my debts in a twelve-month.
Copy of Mr. DAVIS's FIRST LETTER.
I AM very ſorry that I cannot meet you this evening in town, being obliged, on particular buſineſs, to go this afternoon to [Page 37] Maidenhead. I hope my abſence will be attended with no inconvenience; you know our ſentiments, and therefore you may propoſe to the creditors the mode which we ſettled. I believe I ſhall be in London to-morrow, and poſſibly I may have the pleaſure of meeting you at the Circus.
I am your humble ſervant, WM. DAVIS.Taplow, Wedneſday morning,
Stephen John Sewell, Eſq Golden-ſquare, London.
This letter being read, and Mr. Sewell explaining the ſentiments of Mr. Davis to be a determination to enter into the above agreement, the creditors were very well ſatisfied, and another meeting was propoſed, when Mr. Davis was to be preſent, and finiſh the buſineſs.
I AM ſorry to acquaint you, that Mr. Weſt, Mr. Grant, and Mr. Harborne, abſolutely [Page 38] decline to undertake to ſettle Mr. Dibdin's affairs, or to engage for the payment of any part of his debts. I am therefore, to my great mortification, in a minority of the Proprietors of the Circus, and have not the power of ſhewing my regard to Mr. Dibdin, by getting his buſineſs ſettled. I ſhall be glad of ſeeing you; and am your humble ſervant,
Stephen John Sewell, Eſq
Notwithſtanding this ſhuffling, another gentleman of the law, as well as Mr. Sewell, adviſed the creditors to reſt contented, aſſuring them that the promiſe made by the Proprietors was binding in the ſtricteſt manner, even though not formally entered into, they having empowered Mr. Sewell to make it in their name. The creditors were ſatisfied with this, and went away, after being witneſs for one another that they would think no more of me, but ſeek their remedy againſt the Proprietors, at the end of the twelvemonth.
Mr. Davis has lately had the kindneſs to ſay, that as ſoon as Mr. Sewell, (who is contending for my right) ſhall have done me a ſervice, [Page 39] I ſhall write a pamphlet againſt him by way of thanks. I would aſk Mr. Davis, if he himſelf ever did me a ſervice, how comes it I am now in the King's Bench? and if Mr. Sewell is ſerving me, does not Mr. Davis confeſs his own conſciouſneſs of my re-eſtabliſhment? The malignity of this caution to Mr. Sewell is too apparent. Mr. Davis knows how much it is his intereſt to prejudice my ſolicitor againſt me; fortunately, however, Mr. Sewell has too good an opinion of me to be wrought on by any ſuch inſinuations; and if he had not, his inveterate integrity in the diſcharge of his conduct to his clients, will ever induce him to take care of his honour and his character, than to ſuffer any craft or cunning to turn him aſide from an honeſt diſcharge of his duty.
Mr. Sewell has ſuffered from Mr. Hughes almoſt as many indignities as I have, and wholly on my account. 'Tis a ſhame that Mr. Davis is not content with his treatment of me, without conniving at any dirty work of a man, whoſe name he has, in my hearing, a hundred times execrated.
[Page 40] Three of theſe creditors had actions againſt me, upon which I had been a long time held to bail; one of whom dropped all proceedings, but the other two went on at the commencement of the Term; being therefore incapable of paying the money: on the 21ſt of January, I was obliged to ſurrender myſelf to priſon, to exonerate my bail.
It will appear very curious in this place, that when the Proprietors refuſed to fulfil their promiſe of paying my debts, they adviſed me to throw myſelf into the King's-Bench, offering to be ſecurity for the rules, and to give me apartments in the Circus; will it be credited then, after I had ſurrendered myſelf, they not only refuſed to be my ſecurity, but firſt voted me out of the Circus, and then uſed a ſecret influence to prevent my getting the rules at all. It is however very true; and though I hug myſelf at the good conſequences that muſt reſult to me from their ſhallow, miſerable policy, I cannot help feeling the malice and rancour of ſuch a ſcandalous buſineſs, with that indignation in which I am ſure every honeſt man muſt join me.
[Page 41] But, as Macheath ſays, ‘"It is a plain proof the world's all alike, and that even our gang can no more truſt one another, than other people."’ Sorry I am that I have to reproach myſelf with belonging to that gang.
To clear my ground I muſt go back to about ſix weeks after the Circus opened, at which time a reſolution was formed to ſhut it up, to open at Chriſtmas, and then continue the entertainments if they ſhould ſucceed. This I ſtrongly oppoſed, recommending the country ſcheme; the Proprietors, however, confident of ſucceſs, over-ruled me.
This cauſed ſuch univerſal diſſatisfaction, that every Saturday was expected to be the laſt of the ſeaſon. Sir John Lade came to the Committee-room, and conſtantly blamed me for ſuffering the muſic to go ill, exhibiting ſuch a curious and ſcientific ſyſtem of criticiſm, [Page 42] as I ſincerely believe, were it reduced to rule, would procure a ſweepſtakes to be run for in all the regularity of a pas de quatre—As well as edified by it, I ſhould have been extremely amuſed, if it had not been embelliſhed with ſome hints of properer managers, and the names of Grimaldi, Slingſby, Novoſcielſki, and others, occaſionally dropped, ‘"who were capable of bringing the whole world to the Circus."’
Since however the place was ſo indifferently conducted, either it ſhould not continue open, or the expences ſhould be conſiderably lowered; he aſked me firſt of all what part of the band I could ſpare? I ſaid I could very ill ſpare any, but if it muſt be curtailed, I ſhould begin with the trumpets. No, with a look of moſt ineffable contempt at my ignorance, he inſiſted on the trumpets being kept, even though they ſhould play by themſelves, for that they had a monſtrous effect in recitative. As I knew I might as well have explained myſelf to one of his grey horſes, and as I had more whims than his to pleaſe, I contented myſelf with tacitly ſtriking [Page 43] out the trumpets, and the names of a few uſeleſs performers, who had been only engaged in compliment to Mr. Hughes. Every preparation for novelty which happened to be in hand was next ordered to be ſtopped; painters, carpenters, and others, were to be diſcharged by wholeſale; and as we had low receipts, ſo we were to have low expences. It was in vain to repreſent that I could not produce new things without materials; I might uſe the old ones; that is to ſay, Tom Thumb might appear as an Alderman, Dolla-lolla as a witch, and the queen of the giants ſqueeze herſelf into the fly-jacket of a fairy. They however, at this moment, have recourſe to more miſerable expedients; for inſtead of thoſe dreſſes which induced the world to call the Circus the temple of taſte, the performers are ſtuck out in all the draggle-tail finery of a maſquerade at St. Giles's. Perhaps the Cyprian queen of that equeſtrian Adonis, Sir John, condeſcends to inſpire the wardrobe-keeper with the ſublimity of her taſte.
Expoſtulating with Mr. Davis upon the abſurdity of all this, he told me not to regard any thing Sir John Lade ſaid, for that he was a man who would ſet every body of people together by the ears he had any thing to do with.
On the other hand, my good ally, Mr. Hughes, was continually in conſultation with his boſom friend and ſecretary, Mr. Stratford, (the bailiff who always arreſted me) how to make a finiſh at once of me and my affairs: He made a violent entry into my houſe, and poſſeſſed himſelf forcibly in his rage, not only of all my property, but of the landlord's, without authority of any kind whatever, unleſs his having, againſt my conſent, undertook to pay money for me (evidently with a view of getting me into his power) can be ſo called.
The Circus was now in a ſtate of the moſt complete diſtraction; the very ſervants ſaw I was not properly ſupported by the proprietors, [Page 45] and therefore loſt all reſpect for me. In ſhort, all ſubordination was at an end; nor could the eloquence of the accompliſhed Mr. Harborne reſtore it, as will appear by the reception of the following oration, which well deſerves a title by itſelf.
A univerſal tittering immediately prevailed; the confuſion recommenced, and in five minutes the great Mr. Harborne was heard lamenting that his authority had not been able to awe one of the rebels, whom he detected, like Guy Faux, bearing a light to ſet off the fire-works before their time.
[Page 46] Within a day or two of this memorable event, I came to the King's Bench; Mr. Davis gave his name as one of my ſecurities for the rules, and ſuffered Mr. Sewell to make the uſual enquiries; but being aſked when he would ſign the bond, anſwered not at all, becauſe the reſt of the proprietors had refuſed to join him.
I began to ſee the world now in a new light. I feared what Mr. Hughes and many others had told me of Mr. Davis (that he had not really been my friend, but appeared ſo by the conſent of the other proprietors, the better to carry their meaſures) was but too true, the more eſpecially as he had recently ſold half his ſhare to Mr. Grimaldi. To inveſtigate this at once, I ſent him the following letter and reſolutions:
MATTERS reſpecting the Circus having gone to a very alarming length, it becomes neceſſary that I ſhould requeſt the literal performance of thoſe promiſes you have ſo often [Page 47] made me, and which as a friend, a man, and a gentleman, you are bound to abide by.
Through the whole progreſs of this buſineſs, it has been your uniform declaration to me, that I had a right to the fourth of the profits, and to conſider myſelf as the manager of the ſtage department at the Circus, fully and entirely ſubject only to the controul of a committee; and whenever I have expreſſed my fears of any unwillingneſs on the part of the proprietors to fulfil this agreement, you have diſſipated them by aſſuring me, that you could and would command a majority in my favour.
You have (empowered by a committee) ſigned a paper to the above effect; and, from the ſpirit of that paper, an article has been actually drawn, but not executed; and tho' I know, from the beſt authorities, that it is ſtrongly binding on the parties, yet from a natural wiſh to prevent litigation, I have frequently urged a formal perfecting of the neceſſary writings. Whenever I have done ſo, [Page 48] you have conſtantly aſſured me you would never fell your ſhare, or any part of it, till you had ſeen every thing ſettled to my entire ſatisfaction.
You have very often, not only profeſſed yourſelf perfectly ſatisfied with my attention to the Circus, but have ever expreſſed an aſtoniſhment at my being able to furniſh it with ſo much variety; and when I was unjuſtly and cruelly harraſſed by my creditors, evidently through collateral and incendiary means, you gave it as your opinion, that no man was ever with ſo little reaſon ſo inhumanly perſecuted.
When we went to Kingſton, you had the higheſt ſenſe, according to your own declaraation, of my talents and integrity; ſo much ſo, indeed, that you aſſured me you would rather loſe the licence than not have my name to it.
The world tells me, at this moment, that you are changed; that you look lightly upon all the promiſes you have formerly made, [Page 49] and hold up your having parted with half your ſhare as a proof of it. My anſwer is, that 'tis impoſſible. That a breach of ſuch engagements would ſpeak you void of that honour on which I have ſo long relied, and which I give you an opportunity of vindicating, by entreating you to move the two reſolutions in the committee, which my brother (to whom I have given a power of attorney) will have the pleaſure of delivering to you.
I am, Sir, Your moſt obedient ſervant, C. DIBDIN.King's Bench, Feb. 2, 1784.
W. Davis, Eſq Bury-ſtreet, St. James's.
MR. DIBDIN having conceived it neceſſary, in conſequence of the change of ſome of the proprietors, to requeſt a reſolution of the committee, explaining his ſituation at the Circus: Reſolved, That he is conſidered, for the term of his natural life, as manager of the ſtage and all its entertainments; and allowed, for his trouble in conducting that department, [Page 50] a [...] fourth of all the profits ariſing from the receipts at the doors, after the expences are paid; ten per cent. intereſt allowed upon £.12,000, and £.100 a year for ground-rent.Reſolution 2d.
Mr. Dibdin having requeſted, in conformity to the tenor of the ſubſiſting agreement, leave to write and compoſe an opera for one of the theatres, Reſolved, in conſideration of his preſent inconveniencies, that ſuch leave be given.
Theſe were intended to be delivered at the Cockpit while the proprietors were ſitting there in a committee; but apprehending, I ſuppoſe, ſomething of that ſort from me, the waiters had orders to ſay that there were not any proprietors there.
The letters, however, and reſolutions, were delivered to Mr. Davis, at his houſe, by Mr. Wilde, whom he told I had been the day before voted out of the Circus; that it was [Page 51] a diſagreeable buſineſs; that he had no hand in it; owned to ſigning the memorandum, having given me his honour he would ſee me ſituated in the Circus to my wiſh; and, in ſhort, every tittle I had charged him with in the letter. He ſaid he ſuppoſed the matter would coſt me a law ſuit, and heartily wiſhed he could be of any ſervice to me.
WHATEVER the proprietors of the Circus may have thought proper to reſolve relative to me, I cannot admit ſuch a meaſure in the ſmalleſt degree an extenuation of your having forfeited your promiſes. You have had the manlineſs to avow your having made thoſe promiſes; have ſtill the juſtice to ſee them fulfilled. They go to the very exiſtence of my character; my public reputation and my private intereſt. I have reſted on them [Page 52] with full confidence; for them I have ſlighted the advice of my friends, reſiſted every offer however eligible, and neglected (indeed my only neglect in this buſineſs, whatever falſe accuſations may have been preferred againſt me) to inſiſt upon the execution of a ſpecial article, which would have precluded all poſſibility of the very candid and gentlemanlike vote which has ſo recently graced the immaculate committee-book of the Royal Circus. You will probably anſwer, that an action at law will reinſtate me: I dare ſay it is your opinion; nay, upon peruſing a paragragh of my former letter, you dropped a hint purporting ſo much. If this is the caſe, where was your friendſhip, where was your attention to my intereſt, when you had ſo fair a plea with your brother proprietors, and did not uſe it? Did they not authoriſe you to put your name to a memorandum ſtamping me manager of the Circus for my life? Here they have deſerted you as well as me, and branded your name with the diſcredit of having been affixed to an agreement, which, ſpight of their former reſolution, they here diſavow. Was not [Page 53] this the moment to command a majority?—Was not your natural anſwer,—Gentlemen, you have formerly authorized me to give this man the power he contends for; he has in conſequence a legal claim to it; and you ſhall not ſo far forfeit all pretenſions to juſtice, as to violate a ſolemn agreement, which, in your name, has my ſignature to it;—but, ſay they, you ſhall not have your way; ſo far from it, if even by law he reinſtates himſelf, we will ſhut up the place for ever, rather than ſuffer him to receive any emolument from it.—Why, ſays you, this is the moſt vindictive reſentment that ever was heard of, and levelled at me as much as the poor devil, the object of your perſecution: For, ſays you, if you ſhut up the Circus for ever, to ſpight him, I loſe the probable advantage in having laid out my money, and therefore ſhall alſo be compelled to go to law with you: Come, come, ſays you, do not be out of your ſenſes, you cannot vote him out; all the remedy, if he is guilty of neglect, is to bring an action at common law; but can you do this?—No; he has produced you ſince your licence three burlettas, one entire pantomime, [Page 54] the muſic and words of another, three dances—altered, and fitted ſeveral other matters to the ſtage, and would be ready to bring out Tom Thumb, two French pieces, two dances, two new pantomimes, and a burletta for ſailors, at the ſhorteſt notice, but that you have obliged him to diſcharge all his painters, will not ſuffer him to have new dreſſes, and, in ſhort, incapacitated him from doing that which you falſely charge to his neglect.
It cannot fail to appear the moſt curious piece of ridiculous obſtinacy that ever was agitated in a court of juſtice. Have I not letters from the proprietors reſpectively, recommending me fit perſons to be engaged? Have I not exiſting articles under penalties? nay, is not even one of the proprietors, at this moment, engaged to me, and that by a written memorandum: In ſhort, it is a meaſure big with that abſurdity which has ſo long marked the conduct of this unfortunate place; and were not my feelings rouſed at its cruelty, and my indignation at its injuſtice, I could laugh at its imbecility, and pity its framers for the poor miſerable flimſy pretext, behind which they were obliged [Page 55] to ſkulk. What! be the fabricator of a ſcheme, give up two years and three months to it, be promiſed firſt very near half the profits, then a third and £.150 a year, then content myſelf with a fourth, when the proprietors, if I cleared £.1000 a year, would receive near thirty per cent. for their money, and a conſiderable advantage from poſſeſſing an accumulating ſtock, and ſuffer myſelf, after producing four or five and twenty pieces, to be voted out of a concern, which, from the evidence of all the world, was eſtabliſhed by thoſe very pieces? but my pleas againſt it are innumerable, and therefore I revert to my original poſition. You have ſuffered a majority to go againſt me; in that you have forfeited a promiſe which you were bound to both by friendſhip and honour. It is in vain to urge that you have but one voice, that you could not rule the opinions of others; I put all theſe objections at the time, and your reiterated anſwer was,—you could command a majority. I have ſtill hope to acknowledge you for that friend whole partiality to me gave me ſo much pleaſure; and that you will, for the ſake of your own honour, as [Page 56] well as your good wiſhes for me, ſee that reſolution reſcinded, which, I will be bold to ſay, carries in the face of it not only injuſtice but ingratitude. This I expect from you; and nothing ſhort of this can I be ſatisfied with.
I am, Sir, Your moſt obedient ſervant, C. DIBDIN.King's Bench, Feb. 20, 1784.
W. Davis, Bury-ſtreet, St. James's.
Mr. Charles Dibdin,
Among ſeveral other reſolutions, it was reſolved, That in conſequence of Mr. Dibdin's having frequently, and for ſome weeks paſt in particular, neglected his duty as the deputy acting manager of the Royal Circus; and being now a priſoner in the King's Bench, whereby the buſineſs of the houſe in his department is wholly neglected, it is therefore abſolutely neceſſary, that the entertainments cloſe on Saturday next.
Reſolved, That, in conſequence of the above reſolution, notice be given to Mr. Dibdin, in the names of the proprietors, that they ſhall [Page 58] diſpenſe with any further attendance of Mr. Dibdin at the Royal Circus, as the acting manager thereof, or any other engagement they have with Mr. Dibdin reſpecting the Royal Circus.
And in purſuance of their orders and thoſe reſolutions, I hereby give you notice, that you are diſmiſſed from the management of the Royal Circus; and that your attendance there in future will be diſpenſed with.
I am, Sir, Your humble ſervant, C. GROSSMITH, Secretary and Treaſurer.Royal Circus, Feb. 10, 1784.
I was taught to expect this; therefore it brought me with it no ſurpriſe, not even the finding it ſuch a maſter-piece of elegant compoſition. [Page 59] The other proprietors, it was plain, had given me up. I could not, however, bring myſelf entirely to think the ſame of Mr. Davis: impatient for his anſwer to my laſt letter, I wrote to him once more.
MR. WILDE has called on you ſeveral times for an anſwer to my letter, without the pleaſure of finding you at home: You will pleaſe to ſend one by the bearer of this, or elſe leave it out for a meſſenger who ſhall call at your houſe on Monday morning; otherwiſe I muſt ſuppoſe, what will give me great pain, that you do not mean to keep your word of honour. At preſent I will not believe it poſſible, nor ſhall all I hear induce me to credit that you can look lightly upon ſuch ſerious and ſolemn promiſes as thoſe you made me, till you ſanction the rumour by a refuſal under your hand, or a continuation longer than Monday next of this contemptuous ſilence. I am, Sir,
Your moſt obedient ſervant, C. DIBDIN.King's Bench, Feb. 20, 1784.
I never heard that Mr. Wilde had called at my houſe ſince he did me the favour to deliver your meſſage. I ſhould not have delayed for a moment the ſending an anſwer, if I could have written with a probability of mitigating in any degree the mortifications which you muſt receive in your diſagreeable ſituation, which I am truly ſorry for, but have not the power to redreſs.
The buſineſs of the Circus has been attended with a ſeries of perplexing ſituations previous to the laying the foundation of the building to this hour; hardly a week has paſſed without ſome new miſchief ariſing to perplex and involve the parties concerned in that unfortunate undertaking. At this time I find myſelf conſiderably above two thouſand pounds out of pocket, with a very poor proſpect of recovering any part of it. The other proprietors are in the ſame ſtate. The [Page 61] ſum of money expended is a matter of ſerious conſideration; and to have continued the undertaking a year or two longer in the looſe and extravagant manner in which it has hitherto been conducted, would have accumulated a debt that muſt have overwhelmed and brought ſome of the parties concerned to a priſon.
If I was diſpoſed to ſink every guinea I have in the Circus, it is not within my power to oblige the other proprietors to go the ſame length with me. Your conduct as manager of the undertaking was pronounced the cauſe of the failure of the Circus; and being ſcrutinized by four out of five of the proprietors, has been thought ſufficiently reprehenſible for them to vote your expulſion. You know that a majority determines all matters of buſineſs relative to the Circus; therefore my ſingle vote, had I given it, would have anſwered no purpoſe.
I need not ſay that I entertain the higheſt opinion of your abilities; the alacrity I have ſhewn in advancing my money to carry on the ſcheme in St. George's Fields, and the trouble [Page 62] I have taken to forward the buſineſs, ſpeak fully to that point. As a friend, and a very old acquaintance, I ſhould have had infinite ſatisfaction if the project had anſwered your expectation; and I am very ſorry that your conduct has loſt you the confidence of the proprietors, who, you muſt confeſs, readily embarked, and in a moſt liberal manner ſubſcribed, to an undertaking, which, properly managed, would not have failed to have made a moderate return to them, and placed you in an affluent ſituation. The failure of it has ſo far diſguſted me, that I am determined to avoid, as much as poſſible, every interference in the buſineſs, and to ſubject myſelf hereafter to as little trouble and loſs as the caſe will admit. I am, Sir, lamenting your misfortunes,
Your friend and humble ſervant, WM. DAVIS.Bury-ſtreet, Feb. 23, 1784.
Charles Dibdin, Eſq
So much evaſion opened my eyes; I felt myſelf duped, and what was worſe, I felt I deſerved it: comforting myſelf, however, with the reflection, that being was ſomething more [Page 63] honourable than having deceived, I wrote him the following letter:
I HAVE read your letter of the 23d with much attention, but ſpight of my eager inclination to find in it any thing like friendſhip, kindneſs, or liberality, I diſcover only polite invective, plauſible evaſion, inſulting civility, a haughty, cruel conſciouſneſs of the independence of your ſituation, and an overſtrained commiſeration for the lowneſs of mine. By this letter I am convinced of what I have been ſo often told, and would never believe, that your profeſſions of friendſhip were a bubble blown up to amuſe me, and which would leave me nothing ſubſtantial but the mortifying knowledge of my own egregious folly; you ſhall excuſe me, therefore, feeling it rather hard to ſubſcribe myſelf your dupe, if in pretty bold language I take the liberty to anſwer it. I well know that the buſineſs of the Circus has been attended with a ſeries of perplexing ſituations—that you have advanced above 2000l.—that my conduct [Page 64] as manager of the concern has been pronounced the cauſe of the failure of the Circus—that two out of five of the Proprietors have voted my expulſion—for I do not acknowledge the competency of Mr. Bullock or Mr. Weſt—that a majority are to determine all matters of buſineſs—that you have an opinion of my abilities—that you would have been glad had the project anſwered my expectation—that had it been properly managed it would have placed me in an affluent ſituation—and that you are ſorry for and lament my misfortunes: But I know, and ſo do you, that I am not the cauſe of the Circus's perplexities—that though you have advanced, you are not out of pocket 2000l.—that mine has been the only conſiſtent or proper conduct in the whole concern—that the expulſion of the acknowledged manager for life is not a matter of buſineſs, but a thing impoſſible to be done; therefore had your aſſent given it ſanction, the vote would have amounted to nothing—that however you may rate my portion of abilities, you think I have ſtill a larger one of credulity—that an affluent ſituation to me would have been rather more than a moderate return to [Page 65] the Proprietors; the firſt ten per cent. being theirs, a hundred a year ground rent, a full half of the profits (which in ſix months cleared them 1800l.) the buildings, the improvements, and the accumulating ſtock; and laſtly, you know that your ſorrow and lamentations over my misfortunes are no more than a conſcious reflection that you are the cauſe of them. It will ſcarcely be believed, that to uſurp my dramatic throne, and ſend me to this indignant exile, ſo flimſy, ſo poor, ſo bungling a pretext, as that of neglect, ſhould be pitched upon. My judges, like thoſe of Socrates, are determined to condemn me right or wrong; this villainous philoſopher, ſay the latter, knows us too well, he ſpeaks profanely of our idols; he is a good man, to be ſure, the whole world admires him; but ſince it will only expoſe our own ignorance, or perhaps ſomething worſe, to inveſtigate the truth, let him die unheard. Thus ſay the Proprietors; there is no harm in this man, we have the higheſt opinion of his abilities, he has devoted more than two years to the Circus, and we declared only laſt October, that, if the licence was not made out in his name, [Page 66] [...] the proprietors, we know beſt our own reaſons why we wiſh to part with him; be it then reſolved, that he is guilty of neglect—of neglect, echoes the Treaſurer—Oh! he's a ſad negligent dog, cries his very aſſiduous and worthy colleague;—neglect loſt you the confidence of the Proprietors, reiterates in pathetic ſtrains the compaſſionate and friendly letter of Mr. Davis. Thus Socrates ſwallowed the hemlock, and I am expelled the Circus. Mine, however, is no more than a theatrical death; and you may be aſſured, when the curtain has dropped upon your farce, I ſhall riſe again, and perform my part with more vigour than ever. To one ſpecies of neglect I am ready to plead guilty; that neglect of having taken good care of myſelf; of having inſiſted on mens bonds, whoſe words were not to be truſted, and of receiving from you as a man of buſineſs, that which, under the maſk of friendſhip, you promiſed, without intention of performing.
But that I have failed to promote and forward the buſineſs of the Circus, or attended it with an aſſiduity beyond all example, I defy [Page 67] any of you to prove. If, however, it ſhould appear, contrary to the kind expectation of thoſe characters ſo remarkable for liberality, that I am not totally ruined, but able to procure the means of carrying on an expenſive ſuit; this point a Court of Juſtice will illucidate; there the terrific menaces which uſed to ſcare little children behind the ſcenes,* make fidlers tremble in their orcheſtra, hair-dreſſers drop their curling-irons with aſtoniſhment, and fright the Circus from its propriety, like ugly vizors at the hour of unmaſking, will vaniſh with all their diſtortion, and diſcover harmleſs, inſipid countenances, looking for gratification, and finding diſappointment.
I ſhall, however, anticipate no argument intended for the mouth of my counſel, but content myſelf with ſhewing you, in a much ſtronger light than I have hitherto repreſented the matter, that you either have it in your power to do me juſtice, or you muſt be obliged to confeſs yourſelf guilty of a premeditated [Page 68] baſeneſs, neither conſiſtent with the character of a gentleman, or a man of honour.
When the draft of the ſpecial agreement was delayed, and I apprehended ſome unpleaſant conſequences, to quit me of my fears you made me this declaration:—Be perfectly eaſy; I do not ſay that the very words of that agreement which Mr. Sewell has drawn up ſhall ſtand in that to be executed, but it is ſettled among us, that the ſpirit of that article ſhall be faithfully adhered to, and all the emoluments and advantages there ſet down ſhall be inſured to you; and this declaration you prefaced with the following remarkable words:—‘"If you can prove that I ever told a ſerious lie, I give you leave to call me the greateſt villain that ever exiſted."’ With the ſame preface, alſo, you made me a declaration, when it was reported you were about to part with your ſhare; that you embarked in the buſineſs to ſerve me; that you would ſee me eſtabliſhed in it for life; and that ſooner than ſell your ſhare, or any part of it, the Circus ſhould bring you to the King's Bench. No ſuch ſpecial agreement has been ſigned; you have ſold a part of your ſhare; the application is [Page 69] obvious; you are—but gratitude forbid that I ſhould wound the boſom of my friend. What poſſible reaſon, then, can be given for this extraordinary conduct? I'll tell you; to give eligibility to your place; to learn the trade of conducting it; to poſſeſs yourſelves of a ſtock of dramatic materials, I was gulled by promiſed mountains, which only brought forth real mice; till having gained your point, you violently, againſt reaſon, honour, or law, diſpoſſeſs me of my ſituation, with a view of adding my fourth of the profits to your half; backed with a ſelf-aſſurance that I am too poor to right myſelf. But could you have carried your point, where were the talents to come from to have ſupplied the Public with variety? Are they to be found among all that glorious confuſion of parchment, cobwebs, and ſealing-wax, which envelope the muffatees of the elegant and erudite Mr. Harborne? In Mr. Grant's exemplication of tare and tret; Mr. Weſt's drawing-room; your improvement upon Hoyle, or Sir John Lade's ſtudy of cock-fighting? Or have you found it in that heap of jarring matter the dancers, fidlers, furies, and caſtratos of the Opera-houſe? and ſo think, as a theatre is an epitome [Page 70] of the world, that it can not arrive to order, 'till it has ſprung out of chaos. However, like the general conſequence in all ſuch caſes, you have been too cunning for yourſelves; the memorandum, Mr. Davis, to which you ſet your hand, will ſpeak for me in ſuch terms, as ſhall oblige you to do me legal juſtice. That due to my honour, I ſhall take care of myſelf. Be aſſured, therefore, I have no fears of righting myſelf, in ſpight of the curious and probable ſtories propagated by the Proprietors, their honeſt and gentleman-like vote, or your facetious ſentimental letter; which, like the fiddle of Nero, at the deſtruction of Rome, is the inſtrument of your mirth, at the ſight of my misfortunes.
I am, Sir, Your humble ſervant, C. DIBDIN.King's Bench, Feb. 25, 1784.
The next news I heard was, that Mr. Grimaldi had the appointment of Manager in my ſtead; and that Mr. Davis took by the hand that very Mr. Grimaldi, who he himſelf [Page 71] told me had endeavoured to poiſon the minds of the Proprietors againſt me; who he knew to have been guilty of very improper conduct; who he pretended he had the worſt opinion of, and who he deteſted, on account of his underhand treatment of me. As to Mr. Grimaldi himſelf, he had made a parade of declaring, that he conceived himſelf under the higheſt obligations to me; that I had given him his bread at the Circus, and he would rather die, than do any thing that could militate againſt my intereſt; he, too, had a particular fancy to being called raſcal, whenever he deceived me; but he need not be uneaſy for me, he ſhall peculate in peace, and ſafely carry his crazy bones to that grave which yawns for them, where the higheſt compliment mankind can pay his aſhes, will be to throw on his memory the veil of oblivion.
I ſhall detain the reader no longer than while I examine whether it appears that I neglected my duty at the Circus; whether, had that been the caſe, the Proprietors were competent to diſmiſs me; and whether, by having voted me out, they have advantaged themſelves?
[Page 72] To the charge of neglect I anſwer, that I have given an induſtry ſo indefatigable, an attention ſo unremitted, that till laſt Chriſtmas the Proprietors expreſſed an aſtoniſhment at my perſeverance. I can ſafely ſay, I devoted ſix hours in every day, upon an average, for near two years and a half, to ſupplying the Circus with materials; for I have not neglected to do ſo even to this moment. I actually brought out there twenty-eight performances, twenty-one of which were entirely new. I wrote all advertiſements, drew up ſeveral memorials and petitions, and gave directions in every department, except relative to the horſes, for two years; nor out of the whole number of nights the Circus was opened, did I abſent myſelf more than about fifteen times, the major part of which omiſſions was owing to the broken promiſes of Mr. Davis, in the name of the Proprietors, to my creditors.
A further way to ſee if I have been negligent, is to examine my conduct and Mr. Hughes's together. Have not the Proprietors complained, from the firſt moment to the [Page 73] laſt, that nothing could induce Mr. Hughes to produce any ſingle novelty? Did I not project ſeveral things for him? Are there not materials for this uſe, prepared by my directions, as far back as July, 1782? And do not the Proprietors well know that one of my greateſt difficulties was continually to torture words into a variety of meanings, differently to announce old manoeuvres in new advertiſements. Is this the caſe in relation to me?—ſo far from it, that, beſides what I have already mentioned, ſo much had I the intereſt of the place at heart, that when they were determined to open at Chriſtmas, and I felt it could never do, I offered (without any emolument whatever, notwithſtanding I had long made a determination to the contrary, and thereby certainly given up many an advantageous ſituation) to write burlettas in a new ſtile, and perform in them myſelf. Nay, being well convinced of the impoſſibility of their providing proper novelty for the commencement of their ſeaſon, I have repeatedly given them notice of many new performances that are actually now by me, and any three of which might have been performed on laſt [Page 74] Eaſter Monday; but they did not even deign to anſwer theſe notices.
Can this conduct then be called neglect, or is this a proper return to it? Is the exiſtence of a man in good profeſſional eſtimation thus to be ſported with? Is he to throw away two years of his time in fabricating a ſcheme, ſupplying it with materials, watching the growth of its improvements, ſuperintending and even teaching the performers, and giving it every advantage, perfectneſs, and conſequence? Is he to leſſen the reputation of his muſic by ſuffering children to perform it, inſtead of capital ſingers at the theatres? Is he to ſhut himſelf out from every other concern, to decline all applications that have been and are now made to him? Is he to take back accepted pieces from the theatres, which were ſure to yield him conſiderable profit? and is it reaſonable that all this care and pains, loſs, and retirement from his former conſequence, [Page 75] ſhould be rewarded by an expulſion from the very concern that but for him never would have had exiſtence.
The Circus did not apply to me! I found no ſuch place ready built to my hands! I projected it, fabricated it; it was the child of my own fancy; it was the harbour wherein I meant to moor my bark, as a haven againſt all the tempeſts of fortune. Who could have believed that the inſidious pilot who ſteered me to it ſhould be the firſt, after unlading my cargo, to ſet me adrift to the buffeting waves of adverſity, and the mercileſs winds of oppreſſion!
As to the competency of the Proprietors to vote me out of the Circus, unleſs contracts between man and man may be broken at will, the good faith and ingenuous reliance of one man upon the common honeſty of another violated at pleaſure, and mens names ſuffered to be affixed to paper merely as a mockery of juſtice, that competency I think will not be eaſily proved.
The Proprietors will not deny that it was a very common thing for one of them to undertake [Page 76] for the reſt; they were collectively liable as in matter of partnerſhip; Mr. Harborne has often accepted drafts for the concern, ſo has Mr. Davis, exactly in the manner he wrote his name to the memorandum, which inſtrument, like the agreement of a leaſe, is efficient till the leaſe itſelf is drawn up; and as a proof that the memorandum was compulſory, a ſpecial deed was actually prepared, and but that it exacted more than the agreement which compelled it, would have been ſigned.
As to the remaining queſtion, unleſs confuſion is better than order, ſtale performances more attractive than novelty, and empty houſes more profitable than full ones, the Circus is not at this moment benefited by my abſence.
For the reſt, it is well the Proprietors can boaſt of the independency of their fortunes, ſince they have ſuch poverty of ſpirit. I cannot omit one caution, however: let it not be believed, becauſe thouſands are eaſily talked * [Page 77] of, ſuch immenſe ſums have been expended in the Circus as the world is taught to imagine; it coſt enough, and it is pity they had not paid dearer for the folly of neglecting woleſome advice.
Neither will it I hope be credited, that I have received upwards of 2000l. from the Circus, or that I am 3000l. in debt. Upon the faith and honour of a man, previous to laſt Auguſt, I had received no more than about 1100l. and ſince that time only 50l. or 60l. at moſt;* out of all which I paid near 700l. and maintained myſelf and my family ſince the month of October eightyone; and I ſhould not at this moment owe more than 100l. had I not been embarraſſed as I before deſcribed, whereas I am indebted near five.
Thus have I brought this narrative to a concluſion. I pledge myſelf for the truth of it, and call upon the Public (the neglect of my duty to whom is of conſequence to me [Page 78] indeed, compared to the opinion of the Proprietors of the Circus) to brand me with ingratitude to them, and point me out as an object undeſerving their future ſupport, if I am detected of having advanced a ſingle falſity.
Much ſubordinate matter, I confeſs, remains behind, which I thought unworthy of public inſpection; but if the Proprietors feel bold, I throw down my guantlet, and dare them to meet me upon that, or any other ground. Indeed I believe, at this hour, if it was not for ſhame, they would ſend for me to meet them at the Circus. They need not be unhappy; the law will do that for them, which they have not the reſolution to do for themſelves; and whenever it happens, they may be aſſured I ſhall be moſt unmercifully revenged of them; I will ſubmit to no whim or caprice, but go on in the exerciſe of my own judgment. If I wiſh to expoſe the temple of chicane, lay open its raſcally receſſes, and reſcue the innocent victims bound at its altars, I will not flinch from my deſign, even though Mr. Harborne happens to be an attorney. I'll not ſcruple to tell the world, that horſeracing [Page 79] is not a moral duty; Pharoah, a ſyſtem of Philoſophy, or Cock-fighting, a ſtudy of humanity; even though Sir John Lade and Mr. Davis are gentlemen of the Turf. In ſhort, if inſtead of five I had five hundred Proprietors to deal with, all of different perſuaſions, profeſſions, and affections, I will boldly perſevere in furniſhing ſuch materials as I ſhall conceive moſt conduſive to amuſe the town, and profit the concern; nor will I conſider any neglect a crime, or bow to any correction, but that of the generous and candid Public.FINIS.