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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. II


North Bridge.] THE PLAYHOUSE GHOST. 347 youthful frolic ; and it was a rich treat to hear him tell of a Highland solicitor?s apprentice, who, on hearing some one express a hope there would be no blows, exclaimed, ? Plows, by Got ! ? and fell on. At a distance of thirty years, on an opportunity occurring of speaking a good word in favour of an application of this person for a situation in the Exchequer, Scott felt bound to use his influence, from a friendly feeling about the Rayhouse Row.? In 1797 there appeared in the Edinburgh Theatre Henry Erskine Johnston, known in his time as ? The Scottish Roscius,? from the circumstance of his having been born in the High Street, where his father was a barber ; the latter happened to be shaving Henry Erskine, when intelligence was brought that his wife had just presented him with a son, whom he named from the learned barrister then under his hands. Old Johnston afterwards kept an oyster tavern in Shakespeare Square, where he died in 1826. Quitting a writer?s oflice in which he was a clerk, his son came forth as an actor, his favourite parts being those of Hamlet and Norval, and he was nightly the attraction of Scottish playgoers, whom he was wont to astonish by playing the Danish Prince and Harlequin alternately. A young lady who saw him acting in a piece called The Storming of Srhgafatam fell deeply in love with him, ? and after a short, albeit impassioned courtship, she became Mrs. Johnston, although at that period only about fifteen.? From Edinburgh he went to Dublin and elsewhere. We shall have to recur to him as manager of the rival theatre in the city. Prior to that his story was a painful one. His young wife became, as an actress, the rage in London, and, unhappily for him, yielded to the temptations thrown in her way-she shone for a few short years in the theatrical atmosphere of the English metropolis, and then sank into insignificance, while poor Johnston became a houseless and heart-broken wanderer. The old Theatre Royal had an unpleasant tenant in the shape of a ghost, which made its appearance, or rather made itself heard first during the management of Mr. Jackson. His family occupied a small house over the box-office and immediately adjoining the theatre, and it was alleged that long after the latter had closed and the last candle been snuffed out, strange noises pervaded the entire building, as if the mimic scenes of the plays were being acted over again by phantoms none could see. As the story spread and grew, it caused some consternation. What the real cause of this was has never been explained, but it occurred for nights at a time. Between 1794 and 1809 the old theatre was in B very struggling condition. The debts that encumbered it prevented the management from bringing to it really good actors, and the want of these prevented the debts from being paid OK For the sum of ;EB,ozo Mr. Jackson, the old manager, became the ostensible purchaser of the house in 1800, and for several years after that date it was conducted by Mr. Rock, who, though an able and excellent actor, could never succeed in making it an attractive or paying concern, ?? One of the few points of his reign worthy of notice was the appearance here of the Yourg Ros&s, a boy who, for a brief space, passed as a great actor. The Edinburgh public viewed with intense interest this lad playing young Norval on the stage, and the venerable author of the play blubbering in the boxes, and declaring that until now his conception of the character had never been realised.? Many old favourites came in succession, whose names are forgotten now. Among these was Mrs. Charters, a sustainer, with success, of old lady parts. Her husband, who died in 1798, had been a comic actor on the same boards, in conjunction with Mr. Henderson, in 1784. He had by nature an enormous nose, and was deemed the perfection of a Bardolph, in which character Kay depicts him, with a three-cocked hat and knee breeches; and Henderson, as FalstaK, in long slop-trousers, and armed with a claymore! Mrs. Charters died in 1807, and her obituary is thus recorded in the Edinburgh papers of the day :- ?Died here on Monday last, with the wellmerited reputation of an honest and inoffensive woman, Mrs. Charters, who has been in this theatre for more than thirty years. She succeeded the much-admired Mrs. Webb, and for many years after that actress left the city was an excellent substitute in Lady Dacre, Juliet?s Nurse, Deborah Woodcock, Dorcas, Mrs. Bunale, &c., &c.? In her own line she was worthily succeeded by Mrs. Nicol, who retired from the Theatre Royal in 1834, after a brilliant career of twenty-seven years, and died in 1835. In her old lady parts she was . ably succeeded by her daughter, Miss Nicol, whose name is still remembered with honour and regard by all the old playgoers of Edinburgh. Another Edinburgh favourite for upwards of thirty years was Mr. Woods, the leading actor, whom the public strenuously opposed every attempt on the part of the management to change. He retired from the boards in April, 1802, intending to open an elocution class in the city, but died in the December of that year. For his benefit in I 784, he appeared as ?(Young Riot ? in a local
Volume 2 Page 347
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