Littell's Living Age/Volume 152/Issue 1970/English Players in Germany, 1600

Originally published in Nineteenth Century.

English Players in Germany, 1600

Entering the Athenæum one afternoon in the spring of 1840 I found my old friends Mr. Amyot, the treasurer, and Sir Henry Ellis, the secretary of the Society of Antiquaries, in quiet confab before the hall fire. On seeing me Mr. Amyot said: "Oh, here is Thoms, perhaps he can give us a hint or suggest something," and I was immediately informed of the subject they were considering. Sir Henry had received notice that the prince consort had notified his intention of attending a meeting of the society for the purpose of being admitted a fellow, and although Sir Henry had some very curious antiquities to exhibit, he had not a paper of sufficient interest to read before his Royal Highness. Could I suggest a fitting subject for such a paper? No, my antiquarian knowledge was below par, and I had no suggestion to offer. But in the course of conversation stress was laid upon the desirability of finding a literary or historical topic which should have both a German and English interest in it. Upon this hint I spake; and knowing that both my learned friends were great Shakespearian scholars, I asked whether they did not think that the visit of an English company of players to Germany about the year 1600 might furnish materials for such a paper as they wanted. To my great surprise neither of them knew anything about this. Neither, perhaps, should I have done so, but from the fact that at about the time of Miss Ellen Tree's professional visit to Germany I had found some allusions to the performances of a company of English actors in that country in Horn's "Poesie und Beredsamkeit der Deutschen," and had, anticipating Captain Cuttle's sensible advice, "made a note of it." To my great surprise, neither Amyot nor Sir Henry knew anything about this matter; but after questioning as to what I recollected about it, they would not let me go till they had extorted from me a promise that I would look over my notes, and if I found in them materials for a short paper that I would write one, and put Sir Henry out of his difficulty. Those who knew the worthy head of the British Museum, and that his business habits were as great as the variety and extent of his general knowledge, will recognize him in two very characteristic remarks which this conversation called forth. In the course of it I had mentioned the play of "Titus Andronicus." "Bother that," he said, "how am I to pronounce it, Andronīcus or Andronicus?" and as I was leaving he enjoined me, "Keep your paper very short, not to take more than seven minutes in the reading." On my return home and looking over my notes I found in them what I believed to be materials for a paper which I believed would do me no discredit. So I set to and worked them up in the form of a letter to our excellent treasurer, who, as well as Sir Henry, was pleased with it. On the appointed evening (May 21, 1840) I went to Somerset House, anxious to witness how Sir Henry would serve up the dainty dish which had been prepared to set before the prince. But I was doomed to disappointment. Prince Albert, one of whose characteristics was punctuality, had been accidentally detained at Buckingham Palace, and instead of arriving at the Society of Antiquaries at 5 o'clock, as had been arranged, did not enter the meeting until 8.30, at which time it had been arranged he should proceed to the Royal Society to pass through the same ceremony of being admitted a fellow. The consequence was, that after his formal admission as a fellow by Lord Aberdeen, and making a rapid inspection of the antiquities prepared for exhibition, and having had presented to him the officers, council, and some few of the more eminent fellows, his Royal Highness proceeded up-stairs to the Royal Society, and my poor paper, which had caused so much anxiety to the authorities and to myself, was left unread.