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The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 3/Address, spoken at the Opening of Drury-Lane Theatre, Saturday, October 10, 1812

ADDRESS, SPOKEN AT THE OPENING OF DRURY-LANE THEATRE, SATURDAY, OCTOBER 10, 1812.[1]

In one dread night our city saw, and sighed,
Bowed to the dust, the Drama's tower of pride;
In one short hour beheld the blazing fane,
Apollo sink, and Shakespeare cease to reign.


Ye who beheld, (oh! sight admired and mourned,
Whose radiance mocked the ruin it adorned!)
Through clouds of fire the massy fragments riven,
Like Israel's pillar, chase the night from heaven;
Saw the long column of revolving flames
Shake its red shadow o'er the startled Thames,[2]10
While thousands, thronged around the burning dome,
Shrank back appalled, and trembled for their home,
As glared the volumed blaze, and ghastly shone[3]
The skies, with lightnings awful as their own,
Till blackening ashes and the lonely wall[4]
Usurped the Muse's realm, and marked her fall;
Say—shall this new, nor less aspiring pile,
Reared where once rose the mightiest in our isle,
Know the same favour which the former knew,
A shrine for Shakespeare—worthy him and you?20


Yes—it shall be—the magic of that name
Defies the scythe of time, the torch of flame;[5]
On the same spot still consecrates the scene,
And bids the Drama be where she hath been:
This fabric's birth attests the potent spell—
Indulge our honest pride, and say, How well!


As soars this fane to emulate the last,
Oh! might we draw our omens from the past,
Some hour propitious to our prayers may boast
Names such as hallow still the dome we lost.30
On Drury first your Siddons' thrilling art
O'erwhelmed the gentlest, stormed the sternest heart.
On Drury, Garrick's latest laurels grew;
Here your last tears retiring Roscius drew,
Sighed his last thanks, and wept his last adieu:
But still for living wit the wreaths may bloom,
That only waste their odours o'er the tomb.
Such Drury claimed and claims—nor you refuse
One tribute to revive his slumbering muse;
With garlands deck your own Menander's head,40
Nor hoard your honours idly for the dead![6]
Dear are the days which made our annals bright,
Ere Garrick fled, or Brinsley[7] ceased to write.[8]
Heirs to their labours, like all high-born heirs,
Vain of our ancestry as they of theirs;
While thus Remembrance borrows Banquo's glass
To claim the sceptred shadows as they pass,
And we the mirror hold, where imaged shine
Immortal names, emblazoned on our line,
Pause—ere their feebler offspring you condemn,50
Reflect how hard the task to rival them!


Friends of the stage! to whom both Players and Plays
Must sue alike for pardon or for praise,
Whose judging voice and eye alone direct
The boundless power to cherish or reject;
If e'er Frivolity has led to fame,
And made us blush that you forbore to blame—
If e'er the sinking stage could condescend
To soothe the sickly taste it dare not mend—
All past reproach may present scenes refute,60
And censure, wisely loud, be justly mute![9]
Oh! since your fiat stamps the Drama's laws,
Forbear to mock us with misplaced applause;
So Pride shall doubly nerve the actor's powers,
And Reason's voice be echoed back by ours!


This greeting o'er—the ancient rule obeyed,[10]
The Drama's homage by her herald paid—
Receive our welcome too—whose every tone
Springs from our hearts, and fain would win your own.
The curtain rises—may our stage unfold70
Scenes not unworthy Drury's days of old!
Britons our judges, Nature for our guide,
Still may we please—long, long may you preside.

[First published, Morning Chronicle, Oct. 12, 1812.]


  1. ["Mr. Elliston then came forward and delivered the following Prize address. We cannot boast of the eloquence of the delivery. It was neither gracefully nor correctly recited. The merits of the production itself we submit to the criticism of our readers. We cannot suppose that it was selected as the most poetical composition of all the scores that were submitted to the committee. But perhaps by its tenor, by its allusions to Garrick, to Siddons, and to Sheridan, it was thought most applicable to the occasion, notwithstanding its being in part unmusical, and in general tame."—Morning Chronicle, October 12, 1812.]
  2. ["By the by, the best view of the said fire [February 24, 1809] (which I myself saw from a house-top in Covent-garden) was at Westminster Bridge, from the reflection on the Thames,"—Letter to Lord Holland, September 25, 1812, Letters, 1898, ii. 148.]
  3. As flashing far the new Volcano shone
    And swept the skies with

    meteors
    lightnings

    not their own.
    or, As flashed the volumed blaze, and

    sadly
    ghastly

    shone.
    The skies with lightnings awful as their own.—

    [Letter to Lord Holland, Sept. 25, 1812.]

    or, As glared each rising flash, and ghastly shone
    The skies with lightnings awful as their own.—

    [Letter to Lord Holland, Sept. 27, 1812.]

  4. Till slowly ebbed the

    lava of the
    spent volcanic

    wave.
    or, Till ebb'd the lava of

    the burning
    that molten

    wave,
    And blackening ashes mark'd the Muse's grave.—

    [Letter to Lord Holland, Sept. 28, 1812.]

  5. That scorns the scythe of Time, the torch of Flame.—[Letter to Lord Holland, Sept. 28, 1812.]
  6. Far be from him that hour which asks in vain
    Tears such as flow for Garrick in his strain;
    or, Far be that hour that vainly asks in turn
    Sad verse for him as

    crowned his
    wept o'er

    Garrick's urn.—

    [Letter to Lord Holland, Sept. 30, 1812.]

  7. [Originally, "Ere Garrick died, etc. "By the by, one of my corrections in the fair copy sent yesterday has dived into the bathos some sixty fathom—

    "'When Garrick died, and Brinsley ceased to write.'

    Ceasing to live is a much more serious concern, and ought not to be first; therefore I will let the old couplet stand, with its half rhymes 'sought' and 'wrote' [vide supra, variant ii.]. Second thoughts in every thing are best, but, in rhyme, third and fourth don't come amiss.... I always scrawl in this way, and smooth as much as I can, but never sufficiently."—Letter to Lord Holland, September 26, 1812, Letters, 1898, ii. 150.]

  8. Such are the names that here your plaudits sought,
    When Garrick acted, and when Brinsley wrote.—[MS.]

  9. [The following lines were omitted by the Committee:—
    "Nay, lower still, the Drama yet deplores
    That late she deigned to crawl upon all-fours.
    When Richard roars in Bosworth for a horse,
    If you command, the steed must come in course.
    If you decree, the Stage must condescend
    To soothe the sickly taste we dare not mend.
    Blame not our judgment should we acquiesce,
    And gratify you more by showing less.
    Oh, since your Fiat stamps the Drama's laws,
    Forbear to mock us with misplaced applause;
    That public praise be ne'er again disgraced,
    From

    brutes to man recall
    babes and brutes redeem

    a nation's taste;
    Then pride shall doubly nerve the actor's powers,
    When Reason's voice is echoed back with ours."

    The last couplet but one was altered in a later copy, thus—

    "The past reproach let present scenes refute,
    Nor shift from man to babe, from babe to brute."

    "Is Whitbread," wrote Lord Byron, "determined to castrate all my cavalry lines? ... I do implore, for my own gratification, one lash on those accursed quadrupeds—'a long shot, Sir Lucius, if you love me.'"—Letter to Lord Holland, September 28, 1812, Letters, 1898, ii. 156. For "animal performers," vide ibid., note 1.]

  10. [Lines 66-69 were added on September 24, in a letter to Lord Holland.]