Charles Mathews and Monsieur Alexandre


I have had occasion to marvel upon the unreasonable propositions and expectations of professional people in certain cases, and their total blindness at such times to everything but self-interest. I remember at this period a very striking instance of the sort occurred in the personal application of a Monsieur Alexandre, a gentleman who, during my husband's success in his first "At Home," was exhibiting specimens of ventriloquy at the Adelphi Theatre in his own language. This gentleman was one night ushered, unannounced, into my husband's dressing-room, at the close of the performance, and after introducing himself by name, proceeded to say that he had been one of the audience that night, and was much struck with the second act of Mr. Mathews's entertainment, (that where the characters took a dramatic shape,) which he thought he could perform himself with great effect. He then had the singular modesty and good taste to request a copy of it for his own purpose at the Adelphi! In reply to this, Mr. Mathews with truth assured him, that he had not studied it from a manuscript, but arranged the whole in his own mind, and had never written it down. The applicant was somewhat staggered at this, but soon after remodelled his request, and proposed that Mr. mathews should write out the piece for him, translating it, as he proceeded, into French, which would be more desirable for his immediate study! Mr. Mathews (with some difficulty) convinced Monsieur Alexandre that he could not oblige him, on the plea that his time was too much engaged to admit of his employing his pen: and Monsieur finding his "slight acquaintance" preparing to undress without further remark, reluctantly took the hint, and bowed himself out, evidently much chagrined, and doubtless very much disgusted with the English bete.

Monsieur Alexandre was a man of very effective talent; and the following comparative account of his performances with Mr. Mathews's, derived from one of the most competent authorities of the day, is worth perusal. 

Mathews and Alexandre. 
Every age hath its wonders, and this latter age in that respect is certainly not behind-hand. It is, however, some time since we assumed the happy doctrine of nil admirari, &c. or perhaps our admiration might have been tempted to transgress its limits at the admirable powers of Mr. Mathews. We readily conceive, that if anything might justify the transgression, it would be the wonderful combination of talent which centres in that accomplished man. 

We are fresh from the enjoyment of a visit to "Mathews at Home," and a soirée passed with the no less (in his way) surprising M. Alexandre. We had had much ado to "bridle in our struggling wonderment." 

Of course it is supererogatory to advise one's friends to go and see Mathews; but even the most ardent admirers of his personations and personifications will, we doubt not, derive considerable amusement from the talents of the extraordinary foreigner. The curious, the incredulous, and those who speculate on the possible results of mental and physical powers, concentrated in one pursuit, should certainly avail themselves of this exhibition. It is true, he addresses himself almost exclusively to the senses; they will therefore expect but a small portion of that intellectual delight which Mathews so triumphantly diffuses around him; they will, indeed, learn no more than the Indian jugglers may already have taught them. The great charm, that of sympathy, by which Mathews leads captive the willing minds of his audience, cordially abandoned to the stream of enjoyment, is in Alexandre necessarily and manifestly wanting; the one receives as much pleasure (we hope so) as he affords; in the other, we cannot wholly divest ourselves of the feeling that we hear a man say his lesson. A great advantage the former possesses over his competitor in that "conversational web," by which he ingratiates himself with his company, gives relief to his entertainment, and comparative repose to himself. Alexandre, from the structure of the drama he enacts, which is by no means deficient in point and humour, and in every way adapted to his peculiar powers, is obliged to keep his faculties upon the stretch from first to last. 

Anne Grant, Memoirs of Charles Mathews, Comedian, 2nd edn., 4 Vols (London: Richard Bentley, 1839), Vol. 2, pp. 465-7 (no source given for quotation).

Compiled by Steven Connor as part of The Dumbstruck Archive, a continuing, online supplement to Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).