REMINISCENCES OF M. G. LEWIS (1797)

MICHAEL KELLY (1762?–1826)


On the 14th December [1797], the celebrated romance, called The Castle Spectre, was produced at Drury Lane, written by M. G. Lewis, Esq. It had a prodigious run; John Kemble performed in it, as did Mrs. Jordan, and Mrs. Powell, who made a splendid spectre. The first night of its representation, the sinking of the Ghost in a flame of fire, and the beauty of the whole scene, had a most sublime effect. I composed the music for the piece; but for the situation in which the Ghost first appears in the oratory to her daughter, and in which the acting both of Mrs. Powell and Mrs. Jordan, without speaking, rivetted the audience, I selected the chacoone of Jomelli, as an accompaniment to the action. This chacoone had been danced at Stutgard, by Vestris, and was thought an odd choice of mine for so solemn a scene; but the effect which it produced, warranted the experiment.
          Mr. M. Lewis, the author of this drama, though eccentric, had a great deal of genius. I knew him well, and have passed many pleasant hours in his society. I composed his Operas of Adelmorn the Outlaw; The Wood Dæmon; Venoni; Adelgitha; all for Drury Lane; and a romantic drama, which he never brought forward, called Zoroaster. The last I composed was, One o’Clock, produced at the Lyceum. Of all his dramas the Castle Spectre was his favourite, perhaps from its having been the most attractive and popular; and yet it has been said, it was the indirect cause of his death.
          After his father’s decease he went to Jamaica, to visit his large estate. When there, for the amusement of his slaves, he caused his favourite drama, The Castle Spectre, to be performed; they were delighted, but of all parts which struck them, that which delighted them most was the character of Hassan, the black. He [i.e. Lewis] used indiscreetly to mix with these people in the hours of recreation, and seemed, from his mistaken urbanity and ill-judged condescension, to be their very idol. Presuming on indulgence, which they were not prepared to feel or appreciate, they petitioned him to emancipate them. He told them, that during his lifetime it could not be done; but gave them a solemn promise, that at his death, they should have their freedom. Alas! it was a fatal promise for him, for on the passage homeward he died; it has been said, by poison, administered by three of his favourite black brethren, whom he was bringing to England to make free British subjects of, and who, thinking that by killing their master they should gain their promised liberty; in return for all his liberal treatment, put an end to his existence at the first favourable opportunity.
          This anecdote I received from a gentleman, who was at Jamaica when Mr. Lewis sailed for England, and I relate it as I heard it, without pledging myself to its entire authenticity.

[SOURCE: Michael Kelly, Reminiscences of Michael Kelly, 2 vols (London: Henry Colburn, 1826), vol. 2, pp. 140–3]


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