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The Story of the Scots Stage
Chapter IV - Edinburgh's Early Drama


WHEN King James the Sixth made his first public entry into the city in October, 1579, to assist at the opening of Parliament, he was made the subject of a very flattering reception. At the West Port the Magistrates received him under a' purple canopy; then the allegory of Solomon's wise judgment was enacted before him; after which he was presented with the sword and sceptre. Upon reaching the next gate at the foot of the West Bow, the keys of the City were presented to him by a cherub. At the Tolbooth three ladies, personating Peace, Plenty, and Justice, addressed him in the Greek, Latin, and Scottish tongues. Religion next appeared, and addressed the Scottish Solomon in Hebrew. On her invitation, he entered St. Giles' Church, to find a special sermon directed towards him. By a peculiar appropriateness, upon leaving the church, he found Bacchus on a high platform at the Cross, dispensing draughts of wine to all and sundry. In the face of such encouragement given to pageantry displays by city Magistrates, the ineffectiveness of any law passed against Robin Hood plays and other pastimes must have been accentuated, for a further protest is recorded in the General Assembly, Session July 2nd, 1591. "It is cravit" that "the Acts of Parliament made for suppressing of the enormities following may be put to execution" against "Profaners of the Sabbath day by Robein Hoodes Playis."

As a set-off against this, there is at least one important testimony to the influence of the plays. M'Crie attributed the rapid spread of the Reformation principles to the preparation which the minds of the people had received from such plays as Sir David Lyndsay's Satire. But they had served their purpose, so it was deemed, and now that the sacred power of the Church seemed to be in danger from the people's natural instinct for pleasure, strong measures were adopted for the repression of these counter attractions. As history relates, however, such attempts were rendered abortive by the stubborn opposition of their adherents. That the King heeded their instructions not a whit, is proved by his having taken a company of English players under his patronage in 1592.

Amongst the first of equestrian wonders in Edinburgh is one mentioned in Patrick Henderson's History of Scotland.

"There came an Englishman to Edinburgh (April, 1561?) with a Chestain coloured naig, which he called Marocco. He made him to do many rare and uncouth tricks, such as never horse was observed to do the like before in this land. This man would borrow from twenty or thirty of the spectators a piece of gold or silver, put all in a purse, and shuffle them together: thereafter he would give every gent his own piece of money again. He would cause him to tell by so many pats with his foot how many shillings the piece of money was worth. He would cause him to lie down as dead. He would say to him, 'I will sell you to a carter,' then he would seem to die. Then he would say, 'Marocco, a gent hath borrowed you, and you must ride with a lady of court:' Then he would most daintily hackney, amble and ride a pace and trot, and play the jade at his command when his master pleased. . . . By a sign given him, he would beck for the King of Scots and for Queen Elizabeth, and when he spoke of the King of Spain would both bite and strike at you and many, other wonderful things. But the report went afterwards that he devoured his master, because he was thought to be a spirit, nought else."

Shakespeare alludes to this horse in Love's Labour Lost.

"How easy it is to put years to the word three, and study three years in two words, the dancing horse will tell you!

Banks, after taking his horse all over the Continent, was burnt along with his wonderful animal at Rome, on the plea that they were magicians both.

An extract from the Diary of Robert Birch (1532- 1605) gives an account of a rope walking performance.

"July 10, 1598. Ane man, some callit him a juggler, playit sic supple tricks upon ane tow whilk was fastenit betwixt the top of St. Giles' Kirk Steeple and ane stair beneath the Cross called Josia's Closehead, the like was never seen in this country, as he rade doun the tow and playit sac mony pavies on it."

This performer received £20 from the King for the steeple trick. Two months later, £6 13s. 4d. was paid to David Weir, sporter, supposed to be the one and same person. King James seems to have been very fond of this style of performance, for in Melville's Diary there is an account of £333 6s. 8d. Scots money (the Scots pound, value is. 8d.) having been paid to Peter Bramhill, the French pavier. And, again, in 1600, Melville writes: "Being in Falkland, I saw a funambulist, a Frenchman, play strange and incredible frolicks upon a stented tackle in the Palace close before the king, queen and the haill court."

An English company of players visited the city in October, 1599, and was granted a special license to act by the King. The Kirk-Session passed a decree denouncing all players and their patrons, the former as unruly and immodest, the latter as irreligious and indiscreet. The opposition consequent upon this led to a conference between the Session and the angry King, at which the former were obliged to withdraw their denunciation (November 10, 1599), which had been advertised from all their pulpits; and they authorised all men "to repair to the said comedies and plays without any pain, reproach, censure or slander to be incurred by them."

It was about a year after this that another English company, tinder the direction of Laurence Fletcher, made its way into Scotland. Their performances were given, amongst other places, at the Tennis Court, Holyrood. With this company, according to FIeay, Shakespeare himself was associated.

From a theatrical point of view, the next eighty years that followed were altogether barren of interest. In the face of the ecclesiastical and legislative opposition that existed, no company of players would risk the financial uncertainty of a visit to Scottish domains. The people, too, fell into a state of indifference in regard to the drama. The fear of incurring the displeasure of the Kirk, and the inconvenience connected with any - breach of civil discipline, deterred them from seeking out those pleasures for which they had previously striven so zealously. That this would have its deteriorating effects upon the stamina of his people was the strong conviction of James the Sixth, and led to his issuing a proclamation, in June of 1618, with special reference to sports on Sundays. His belief was that, being prevented from indulging in these, they would think Papistry a better religion, since it allowed of sports. Another inconvenience was "that this prohibition barrette the common and meaner people from using such exercise as may make their bodies more able for war, when we or our successors shall have occasion to use them, and, in place thereof, sets up filthy tipplings and drunkeness, and breeds a number of idle and discontented speeches in their alehouses, for when shall the common people have leave to exercise if not upon the Sundays and holidays, seeing they must apply their labour to win their living on other days."The King, therefore, willed that "no lawful recreation be barred to the people," such as dancing, either men or women; archery for men, leaping, vaulting; nor from having of May games, Whitsun-ales and Morris dances, and the setting up of May-poles; seeing, however, that no one was allowed so to indulge who had not previously attended service in church.

The year 1619 is memorable for the visit of Ben Jonson. His grandfather was one of the Johnstons of Annandale. In the month of September, Taylor, the water-poet, found him in the house of John Stuart at Leith. Previously, Jonson had been the guest of William Drummond, the poet, at his residence in Hawthornden, on the river Esk, a distance of some seven miles from the city. Out of gratitude and respect, Ben inscribed a madrigal to his friend in the following strain:---

"On a lover's dust made sand for an hour-glass.

"To the Honouring Respect Born To the Friendship Contracted With The Right Virtuous and Learned Mr. William Drummond, and The Perpetuating The Same by all the Offices of Love Hereafter. I, Ben Jonson Whom He Hath Honoured with the Leave to be called His, Have, With Mine Own Hand, To Satisfy his Request, Written this Imperfect Song."

Of Drummond's work as a poet, one critic has written that his poems present a striking resemblance to Milton's minor works. His chef d'oeuvre may be regarded as the History of the Five Jameses, the Scottish Kings.

But although dramatic work had met with such little encouragement in the city, the people had not wholly lost their taste for pageantry. The visit of Charles I. to the capital, in 1633, gave them the opportunity of providing a spectacle characterised by all the old grandeur of classical and patriotic display.

Turning aside for a moment to the curious in history, Spalding's Memorials of the Troubles in England and Scotland supplies us with a quaint narration regarding that physical freak, popularly known as the Siamese twins: —

"April, 1642. About this time travelled in Scotland an Italian aged 24, having from his birth, growing from the breast upwards, face to face as it were ane creature having a head and syde (long) hair like the colour of man's hair, the head still drooping backwards and downward. He had eyes, but closed, not opened. He had ears, 2 hands, 3 fingers on ilk hand, ane body, ane leg, ane foot with six taes, the other leg within the flesh inclining to the left side. It has a kind of life and feeling, but void of all other senses: fed by the man's own nourishment. This great work of God was admired of by many in Aberdeen and through the country, as he travelled: yet such was the goodness of God that lie would go and walk where he listed, carrying this birth without any pain, yea, unespied when his clothes was on."

The case was not without parallel. The Parish Register for Herne (Kent), 1565, bears this entry: —

"John Jarvys had two wocmcn children baptised at home joyned together in the belly, and havynge each the one of their armes lycinge at one of their own shoulders, and in all other parts well-proportioned children, buryed August 29."

The lawyer Nicoll (May, 1658) writes of a trained horse, brought from England, which amused the people of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and towns in the realm, "wha being trained up in dancing and other concerts of that kind, did afford much sport and contentment to the people; but not without gain, for none was admitted to see the dancing without two pence the piece and some more."

In 1659 he chronicles the appearance of a dromedary. "It was very big, of great height and cloven footed like a cow and on the back ane seat, as it were a saddle to sit on. . . . Being kept close in the Canongate, none had a sight of it without threepence a person. There was brought with it ane little baboon, faced like unto an ape."

A further contribution to the list of itinerants is given in the Chronicle o/ File, which relates that in 1662 a famous German quack doctor, John Pontheus, set up a stage in High Street, where he sold his drugs at 8d. a packet. For assistants he had one that played the fool, and another that danced on the tight-rope. The antics and rope-dancing, according to Nicoll, were continued for many days "with an agility and nimbleness admirable to the beholders, one of the dancers having danced seven score times without intermission lifting himself and vaulting six quarters high above his own head, and lighting directly upon the tow (rope) as punctually as if he had been dancing on the plainstones."

In a period so barren, even in its records of itinerant performers, it can readily be imagined, that the dearth of theatrical events must have been proportionately greater. It is true that at long and stated intervals a company might appear at the Tennis Court in Holyrood (which, by the way, had been used for this game by James IV.), but so few were these performances, that Scotland might have claimed an entire immunity from what was clerically known as "The Players Scourge." The preface to Sir Thomas Sydceff's play, Marciano, or The Discovery (published in Edinburgh, 1668), likens the drama in Scotland to "a swaggerer in a country church." This play was acted before His Majesty's Commissioners, and the nobility, at the Abbey of Holyroodhouse on the occasion of the Festival of St. John.

The first patentees of an Edinburgh playhouse were two brothers, Edward Fountain of Lochhill and Captain James Fountain, who obtained a formal proclamation as "Masters of the Revels", throughout the kingdom. This gave them the exclusive right to license and authorise all balls, masks, or plays. They took occasion to assert this authority in a petition to the Privy Council, dated July 24, 1673, when the Fountains appealed against sundry dancing masters who took upon them to make "public balls, dances, masks and other entertainments in their schools, upon mercenary designs without any license or authority from the petitioners." The Privy Council issued an order to all dancing masters, calling upon them to desist from this practice, and in particular prohibited "Andrew Devoe to keep any ball to-morrow, or at any time....."

It is the Fountains' Theatre which is referred co in the Acts of Council, 1679, where it is. mentioned that a playhouse existed about the same time as a thousand prisoners from Bothwell Bridge were confined in Greyfriars Churchyard. A further petition was presented to the Privy Council in September, ib8o, by the Fountains, asking for redress against such as "keep public games, plays and lotteries," without that license which they, as Masters of the Revels, were alone entitled to grant. Andrew Devoe protested in the following year against such an arbitrary command that he should give no more balls in his dancing schools) in which he taught the children of the nobility, and the prayer of his petition was granted. As the years passed, the Fountains seemed to become more jealous than ever of their monopoly, claiming monies from bowling greens, kyle-allies (as lotteries), dices, cards, both public and private, and these matters having been brought before the Privy Council, due caution was given to the interested parties.

At the Tennis Court, on 15th November. 1681, the then Lady Anne presented Nat Lee's comedy, Mithridates, King of Pontus, when Lady Anne and her maids of Honour were the only performers. Play-acting was a fashionable pastime with the ladies of the Court. It will be remembered it was in the year 1633 that S. R. Prynne's famous Histriomastix was published, in which he reverted to the appearance of Queen Henrietta and her ladies in Montague's Pastoral, the offensive quotation being from Dion Cassius.. "It is infamous for emperors or persons of quality to dance upon a stage, or acte a play." For this breach of etiquette, Prynne had both his cars mutilated, was fined £5,000, and expelled from Lincoln's Inn.

William Tytler, in his Archaelogica Scotica, thinks that some of the Duke of York's company gave a number of performances in Edinburgh. He recollects somewhat dimly, seeing a playbill announcing a performance of Dryden's Indian Emperor at the Queen's Chocolate House in High Street.

In the month of July, 1681, an Irish company of players, hearing of the presence of the Duke and Duchess of York in the Scottish capital, took the voyage across, landing at Irvine. They numbered thirty persons in all, and brought with them all their costumes, which were richly embroidered with gold and silver lace. The customs demanded the tax upon these dutiable goods; but with characteristic pertinacity the company petitioned against and were successful in obtaining exemption.

Quite a unique instance of the law, as between master and servant, is furnished by a debate which took place before the Lords of the Privy Council on the 13th of January, 1687, anent the sale of a dancing girl. One Reid, a mountebank, prosecuted Scott of Harden and his wife " for stealing away from him a little girl called 'The Tumbling Lassie ' "that danced upon a stage," and produced "a contract, by which he had bought her from her mother for 30 pounds (about .£2 10s. 0d.). "But we have no slaves in Scotland," reported Lord I'ountainhall, "and mothers cannot sell their bairns; and physicians attested that the employment of tumbling would kill her, her joints were even now growing stiff, and she declined to return, though she was an apprentice and could not run away from her master." Some of the Privy Council quoted Moses' Law that, "if a servant shelter himself with thee against his master's cruelty, thou shalt not deliver him up." The Lords, therefore, assoilzied Harden, who had been moved only by humanity and compassion.

Following the same course as other national dramas, the period of the Revolution leaves no trace of any attempt at this art. The first record thereafter is that of a performance, at the Tennis Court, of The Spanish Friar, which was played before the members of the Union Parliament in 1705.

That constant care which the public authorities exercised over the morals of their fellow citizens, is strikingly exemplified in the report of a meeting of the Town Council in June, 1709, when the civic dignitaries expressed their regret that "the Lord's Day is still profaned by people standing in the streets, and vaguing to fields and gardens and to the Castle Hill, also by standing idle gazing out at windows, and children, apprentices, and other servants playing in the streets." No untoward conduct, such as the flagrant misdemeanor of attempting to whistle or even hum, was expected to disturb the dead calm that pervaded the streets. Indoors, the solemnity of the occasion was supposed to be observed in a rigorous religious meditation, the strength of whose abiding mood no worldly thought might disturb. Even in their company manners, out ancestors' youthful exuberance was held in check. In the Bell's Wynd Assembly, after 1710, the gentlemen had to settle with a partner for the year, and this was done by ballot. At the dances, until the lady in charge had commenced, the two sexes had to remain seated at the opposite ends of the room.

It was some four years after this that Shakespeare's Macbeth was played before the Scots nobility at the Tennis Court, after an archery meeting. During the play, the song, "The King shall enjoy his own again," was called for by some of the more ardent spirits. An opposing body failing to acquiesce in this sentiment, a general melee ensued, resulting in the break-up of the meeting. Dibdin is inclined to doubt the truth of this tale. In the early part of 1715, some public theatricals took place at the Tennis Court, but enjoyed a short-lived season. It is worthy of note that it was during the residence of the Duke of York that the Holyrood playhouse was re-fitted, and here it was that, for the first time in Scotland, women appeared on the stage, the future King having brought with him a company selected from the best London houses.

Strong as the prejudice of the clergy was against play-acting, yet it did not prevent three of the deputation of ministers, who represented the Church in their visit of congratulation to George the First in 1714, seeing the play Love for Love at Kendal. But perhaps their sole reason for attendance at this play may have been a disinterested attempt to form a judgment as to whether the works of the stage were suitable food for their erring flock. That the Presbytery of Edinburgh did not regard them in a favourable light is evinced from a statement made in Session, 23rd March, 1715, where, in adverting to the Canon-gate theatricals, it is remarked:

"Being informed that some comedians have lately come to the bounds of the Presbytery and do act within the precincts of the Abbey, to the great offence of many by trespassing upon morality and those rules of modesty and chastity which our holy religion obligeth all its professors to a strict observance of, therefore the Presbytery recommends to all their members to use all proper and prudent methods to discourage the same."

The "proper and prudent methods" had their due effect for, if we except the private performances of some young gentlemen who performed The Orphan and The Cheats of Scapin in 1719, and for which Allan Ramsay provided the prologue, we do not happen on any record of theatricals till the year 1725, when Anthony Aston's comedians came to the city, and returned on a second visit the following year. The prologue, which was written by Allan Ramsay for their second visit, is worthy of quotation:--

"'Tis I, dear Caledonian, blithesome Tony,
That oft last winter, pleased the brave and horny,
With medley, merry Fong, and comic scene:
Your kindness then has brought me here
Again After a circuit round the Queen of Isles,
To gain your friendship and approving smiles.
Experience bids me hope, tho' south the Tweed,
The dastards said, 'He never will succeed;
What. such a country look for any good in?
That does not relish plays, nor pork, nor padding.'
Thus great Columbus, by an idiot crew,
Was ridiculed at first for his just view
Yet his undaunted spirit ne'er gave ground
Till he a new and better world had found.
So I—laugh on—the simile is bold;
But, faith, 'tis just, for till the body's cold,
Columbus like, I'll push for fame and gold."

Aston's theatre is supposed to have been situated in a close on the north side of High Street, near Smith's land. The scheme was supported by subscription tickets taken up by lovers of the drama, and the theatre was well frequented by persons of substance and leisure. The Council passed an Act prohibiting Aston from acting within limits of their jurisdiction, and the Presbytery sent a deputation to the Magistrates, thanking them for "the just zeal they had shewn in the matter." The Presbytery in their turn drew up an Act and exhortation against the encouragement or frequenting of stage plays, and this was appointed to be read from all pulpits in the district (November, 1727). Wodrow speaks of the players having large attendances, especially at the tragedies, The Mourning Bride having had an exceptional run of three nights. An appeal was made to the Court of Session against the Magistrates' decree, with the result that the interdict was suspended. Anent this decision, the Rev. Mr. Wodrow, in a letter to the Commissioner of Customs, wrote: ---

"However it go, I think the magistrates of Edinburgh may have peace in the Honest appearance they have made against those seminaries of idleness, looseness, and sin."

Severe as the worthy authorities may have been upon stage plays, that zeal certainly did not extend to the suppression of other forms of amusement. Public combats with swords and rapiers continued to be very popular. As to the ethical principles by which such a demeanour towards the different entertainments were upheld, it would call forth a larger knowledge of casuistry than the mere modern possesses.

In 1726, Andrew Bryan, an Irishman, issued a challenge. For several days he paraded the streets, beating a drum, when he was at last rewarded by an old Killicrankie soldier, Donald Bane, who signalised his acceptance of the challenge by putting his foot through the drum. Bane, who had reached the age of sixty-two, had been a serjeant in the Wars of William and Anne, and bore a high reputation for broadsword practice. Behind Holyrood Palace a platform was erected, on June 23rd, when the contest took place in the presence of a select assembly of the nobility and the military. After a hotly-contested fight, lasting several hours, and during which various weapons were used, Bryan fell, suffering from seven wounds.

To return to the poet Allan Ramsay: his love of the fine arts and literature was unbounded. In 1725, he had opened a circulating library, the first in the kingdom. Again the Magistrates, with their jealous care for the mental welfare of the citizens, interfered, and, fearing the results this kind of reading would have upon the minds of the youth of the city, endeavoured (in 1728) to repress it. The notorious Erskine, Lord Grange, who led such it scandalous life, was one of those self-constituted guardians of morality, and suggested to the Magistrates that Ramsay's books of customers should be inspected. Wodrow, in mentioning this lamentable occurrence, states that Ramsay got down books of plays from London, and lent them out at an easy rate. The regrettable result was that "boys, servant-girls and gentlemen (the juxtaposition of classes is delightful I) contributed thereto, whereby vice and obscenity were dreadfully propagated." It is difficult to reconcile the attitude of the Presbytery in session with the fact, also recorded by the same authority, that the Orthodox Club, composed chiefly of ministers, met occasionally about this time and, according to his testimony, "frequently their conversation was gay and jocose."

Meantime, Anthony Aston had come into trouble with his company, in regard to financial matters. Ross, of the Bean's Coffee House, had sold a quantity of tickets upon which he refused to accept a commission of one penny per seat, making a total of £10. Aston neglected to credit the company with this sum, and a quarrel ensued, which eventually led to part of the players migrating to Glasgow. There they received permission from Bailie Murdoch to perform in the Weigh House, where they enacted The Beggar's Opera (August, 1728).

About the year 1715, a theatre was fitted up at the foot of Carruber's Close by one Signora Violante, an Italian player, who commenced her entertainment with posturing exhibitions, to which, owing to their success, she added the production of plays. Again the Presbytery intervened and the Magistrates interdicted the performance, but the persistent Signora was successful in obtaining a permit from the Court of Session. During the next twenty-six years, Taylor's Hall in the Cowgate was frequently used by strolling companies. The holding capacity of this place was £40 to £45. Tony Aston had produced some plays in the Carruber's Close House, but the Society of High Constables set themselves to suppress his "abominable stage plays," and the clergy, joining issue with the Court of Session, the plays accordingly ceased. After that date, performances were of an intermittent character. A performance of the Beggar's Opera was given at Haddington on October 29, 1728, "at the desire of several of the nobility and gentry of East Lothian." Altogether, the time was not a prosperous one for the humble followers of Thespis, at least so one is left to infer from an ominous paragraph in the Edinburgh Courant for March, 1729, where it mentions that the "Scots Company of Comedians," with a fine sense of forgetfulness, had disappeared from the city, leaving their debts behind them.

An English company of comedians visited Edinburgh in 1731, and met with a gratifying success. The faithful Wodrow chronicles it thus: —"It is incredible what numbers of chairs with men are carried to those places. For some nights they made £50 every night, and that for 6 nights a week. . . . It's a dreadful corruption of our youth, and an eyelet to prodigality and vanity."

Two years afterwards, the Edinburgh company of players appeared at the Taylor's Hall, on June 6th, giving a performance of The Beggar's Opera for the benefit of the Edinburgh Infirmary. Their repertoire included Othello, Hamlet, Henry IV., Macbeth, and King Lear. In the month of December they performed The Tempest, "every part, and even what required machinery being performed in great order." (Caledonian Mercury.)

The Grassmarket was the scene of some remarkable feats in the year 1733, when two Italians, father and son, gave an exhibition of tight-rope walking. A rope being fixed between the half-moon battery of the Castle and a place on the south side of the market, two hundred feet below, the father slid down the rope in half a minute, the son following suit and blowing a trumpet for most part of the way.

Near the old Manor House of Pilrig, in Springfield Street, lay M'Culloch of Ardwell's house. Sam Foote was often his honoured guest. M'Culloch had once exploded an epigram at the comedian's expense, and, when Foote had discovered the author, they at once became fast friends. Ever afterwards, Foote sheti ed a partiality to the Scots in his comedies.

The month of February, 1734, saw a performance of The Conscious Lovers, which was given for the benefit of Mrs. Woodward, doors opening at 4 p.m. and performance at 6 p.m. In March, a production of The Wonder was advertised, "the part of the Scots Colonel by Mr. Weir, and that of his servant Gibby, in Highland dress, by Mr. Wescomb, and all the other parts to the best advantage." The name of Allan Ramsay appears in the office copy of the Caledonian Mercury as having paid for the advertisement. August saw this company set out for a tour round Dundee, Montrose, and Aberdeen. At Dundee they received a generous welcome, the Freemasons having marched in a body to the playhouse to witness The Jubilee and The Devil To Pay. Returning to Edinburgh in December, they produced a Pantomime. To meet the exigences of space, they intimated that "it was hoped no gent whatever will take it amiss if they are refused admittance behind the scenes." The Edinburgh Freemasons made a torchlight procession in full regalia to assist at a performance of Henry the Fourth. With the departure of this company came a barren year, which the irrepressible Ramsay endeavoured to brighten by re-opening (on November 8th, 1736) the theatre in Carruber's Close. In a prologue, he addressed the enemies of the theatre as those who

"From their gloomy thoughts, and want of sense,
Think what diverts the mind, gives Heaven offence."

But he was not allowed to indulge in this flaunting of civil power with impunity. An Act was passed against rogues and vagabonds, which hindered any persons acting plays for hire without license by Letters Patent from the King, or his Lord Chamberlain. This gave the Magistrates the necessary authority to deal with the matter, with the result that the theatre was closed. The Carruber's Close house was afterwards used by Debating Clubs and Churches as a meeting-place, and was one of the .places in which the famous Edward Irving frequently spoke. Ramsay's dramatic predilections were accompanied by a deal of monetary loss, although it never seemed to damp his enthusiasm. That he was not without honour outside his own City may be gathered from the Caledonian Mercury, February 9th, 1736:

"The 4th inst. several young gents of this place (Montrose) acted Mr. Allan Ramsay's celebrated Pastoral comedy for the diversion of the ladies and gentlemen about this Town with all the dresses suitable, re-enacting the farce of The Mock Doctor two succeeding nights. The money taken, after deducting necessary charges, being very considerable, was distributed amongst the poor."

The London actor, John Ryan, opened up a season in the newly-erected theatre at Canon-gate in 1746. This building was situate in a back area near St. John's Cross, which is now called Playhouse Close. It held £70, and included box seats at half-a-crown and pit 1s. 6d. During the subsequent seasons, it had a good following, with companies boasting the names of Lees, Digges, Mrs. Bellamy, and Mrs. Ward as principals. In 1749, it had the questionable honour of providing the scene of a memorable disturbance. Being the anniversary of the battle of Culloden, some English officers commanded the orchestra to strike up an obnoxious air known as "Culloden," but in its place they played "You're welcome, Charlie." The officers drew their swords and made an onslaught on both actors and musicians; but they had reckoned without the audience, who commenced a spirited attack on the disturbers, torn-up benches being used as weapons. Then the officers, changing their tactics, made for the gallery, only to find the doors securely barred. Outside, the Highland chairmen, having got wind of the riot, marched up the stairs, and attacked them in the rear with their chair-poles. Finally, the truculent officers were disarmed and ignominously expelled.

Another riot took place at a performance of Garrick's High Life Below Stairs. The footmen sent in a letter to the management threatening vengeance upon the players if it should be produced. On the second night they carried out their threat. The footmen being placed in the gallery, as was the custom, during the play "a prodigious noise was heard from that quarter." Their masters, assisted by the audience, endeavoured to quieten them by forcible means, and, a tough fight ensuing, the footmen were ejected, with subsequent loss of free entrance to the theatre.


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