1810 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Aaron Hill

Anonymous, "Aaron Hill, Esq. at a Rehearsal" European Magazine 58 (September 1810) 176-77.



The poetical history of this country does not display a character more amiable than that of the late Aaron Hill: gentle, mild, obliging, patriotic, and liberal, even his foibles leaned to the sides of virtue and benignity, and were, in fact, an excess of the most estimable qualities that can adorn the human mind. It has been said, that as he was warm in his friendships, he was also vindictive in his resentments: but of this no instance has been produced, except that of the disagreement between him and Pope; respecting which, the latter threw the first stone, and Hill, in return, showered a flight of satyric arrows (keen, though unbarbed), which pierced the mind, though they did not rankle in the heart of "Tuneful Alexis by the Thames fair side;" and eventually silenced "The ladies play-thing, and the Muses pride."

That Hill had some characteristic peculiarities is unquestionable; but they were also the peculiarities of the age in which he lived. He was, in his manner, what might be termed a courtier of the old school; slow, solemn, verbose, and complimentary. We have seen him imitated by a most excellent comic actress; from whose action we observed, that he had the habit of pulling his wig forward, stalking across the stage with most profound gravity, and taking his pinch of snuff, which he always did as a prelude to an observation, with a rather extravagant flourish. He was esteemed a most consummate judge of dramatic arrangement, stage effect, and all the scenic plot and preparation necessary to bring forward a piece with elegance and propriety: but at the rehearsal of Merope, for instance, he was, by his directions, arrangements, and alterations, considered, by the performers, as extremely troublesome.

In the preparation for the representation of this piece, the actress who played the second character had been so documented by him, that she pouted; of course, the progress of the dialogue was for a few minutes suspended. In consequence of this hiatus, Mr. Hill, stalking over to Garrick, taking a pinch of snuff with an extra flourish, and giving a passionate pull to his wig, said, "Mr. Garrick, can that girl speak?"

"Speak!" returned Garrick, with a look of arch astonishment, which he well knew how to assume — "Speak!" he repeated; "try her! though, 'entre nous,' you had better let her alone."

"Why?" said Hill.

"Because," continued Garrick, "I see by her eyes, that if you urge her much further, you'll soon be convinced that she can 'speak' to some purpose."