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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. III. 1800
William Godwin to John Philip Kemble, [November? 1800]

Contents Vol. I
Ch. I. 1756-1785
Ch. II. 1785-1788
Ch. III. 1788-1792
Ch. IV. 1793
Ch. V. 1783-1794
Ch. VI. 1794-1796
Ch. VII. 1759-1791
Ch. VII. 1791-1796
Ch. IX. 1797
Ch. X. 1797
Ch. XI. 1798
Ch. XII. 1799
Ch. XIII. 1800
Contents Vol. II
Ch. I. 1800
Ch. II. 1800
Ch. III. 1800
Ch. IV. 1801-1803
Ch. V. 1802-1803
Ch. VI. 1804-1806
Ch. VII. 1806-1811
Ch. VIII. 1811-1814
Ch. IX. 1812-1819
Ch. X. 1819-1824
Ch. XI. 1824-1832
Ch. XII. 1832-1836
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“. . . .—And now, sir, for the essential point, the character of Antonio. Your objection turns upon this assertion that his conduct admits of no justification, and that the audience will not feel with him. Surely this objection requires to be reconsidered. Instantly on your mentioning it, it occurred to me that there was a host of the most popular tragedies to which that objection would completely lie. The one I immediately recollected was the Grecian Daughter, and you willingly admitted that the ferocious and inhuman character of the tyrant, who produces all the distress, did not prevent the piece from being on the whole a very interesting exhibition. But, who, I beseech you, sir, sympathises with Richard? Who feels for him when he is stabbing King Henry, murdering the young Princes, and poisoning his wife? Who sympathises with Macbeth? I hope no one when he assassinates his benefactor and his guest; I am sure no one, when he murders the infant family of Macduff, ‘all the pretty chickens and their dam, at one fell swoop.’ Who feels with the delectable Iago? Who feels for the vile and slave-hearted hypocrisy of Zanga? Yet these are among the most inestimable treasures of the British Theatre.

“And now, sir, to conclude this appeal to your candour, and your justice. The decision you have to make in the present instance is not a decision of an every-day magnitude. Upon an occasion like this, to speak of myself ceases to be justly liable to the imputation of egotism. I am neither a young man nor a young author. I am now in the full maturity of my age, and vigour of my mind. Persons of various descriptions have repeatedly solicited me to turn my mind to dramatical composition. It was,
indeed, the first amusement of my thoughts in my school-boy cell.

“But I did not easily yield to their representations. Among various considerations that deterred me, none of the least was the fewness of our London Theatres, and what I esteem to be the consequence, the paucity of good actors, a circumstance that places every dramatic writer, particularly every writer of tragedy, at the foot, and dependent on the fallible judgment of a few persons, probably of a single individual. When I wrote works of a different value from this, I encountered criticism, censure, political and party hostility in their bitterest style. But it was in the power of none of these to stifle me in the bud. In the two novels I have published, it was my fortune at different times, and from different persons, to hear the most unqualified censure, long before it was possible for me to hear the voice of the public. But my temper was not altered, nor my courage subdued. I went on, and you are acquainted with the result. It is not in all the power of individual criticism, censure, or even party hostility (which has nothing to do in the present case) to stop an author in his progress to the public. If he will be content to incur the risque, the literary condemnation, or political prosecution, the press is always accessible to him.

“But so is not the stage. You have in your single breast to decide upon the fate of what Milton calls ‘the most consummate act of an author’s fidelity and ripeness.’

“You, sir, stand upon the present occasion in the situation of a licencer of the press, and will you not allow me to say that, in a man exercising so awful a responsibility, it is necessary to the most perfect integrity, to add great candour, great forbearance, and a consummate spirit of toleration?

“Tragic writers are not the growth of every summer. It depends upon you, sir, more than upon any man in this country, to decide whether, if talents for that species of writing arise among us, they shall be permitted to be exercised. If Racine had not been allowed to exhibit his ‘Thebaide,’ he would probably never have produced his ‘Iphigenia’ and his ‘Phœdra.’ This is not a
species of manufacture in which the artist can take down different commodities from his shelf, till he has suited the partialities of his customer. For myself, if I have any propensity to this species of composition, I cannot look at the prospect now opened before me without shuddering.

“You anticipate, sir, the application of all this eager, but I hope not ungentlemanlike, expostulation. The truth must be spoken, though with modesty, yet firmness. The play can have no justice done it, unless the character of Antonio be in your hands. By how much the bolder is the pencil with which I have pourtrayed him, by how much the nearer I have suffered his character to border upon what has scarcely a precedent, by so much the more does he require the support of an eminent performer. Conceive what the tragedy of the ‘Revenge’ would be, with Mr Barrymore in the character of Zanga!

“You have often made sacrifices to the arrangements and conduct of the Theatre. You have often made sacrifices to the claims, perhaps the just claims of authors, living and dead. You will do this again and again. Good God! if you were to personate no characters, but such as were precisely and eminently the favourites of your choice, what havoc would you make in the list of acting plays hung up at your theatre! It is not much that I ask from you. It is little to you, it is everything to me. If I am right in my conception of ‘Antonio,’ it will add to your reputation. If you are right, the appearing for a single night in a character that does no honour to your abilities will certainly, at the same time, inflict no lasting injury on your professional fame.

“Excuse the earnestness and freedom of this address. My solicitude to secure your performance of my character, is the highest compliment I can pay to your dramatic excellence. The sanguine temper with which I have enforced my appeal, is the strongest proof I can give of the high opinion I entertain of your manliness and candour.”