Knight's presence at theatres was from the first hailed with pleasure by his comrades on the press, and so remained all through his life. A writer in Black and White on the 25th of November, 1899, well described him as "seeming to grow cheerier and jollier every day of his jolly life. Between the acts one hears his deep and hearty voice thundering out some almost Titanic laugh over amusing recollections of Phelps or Charles Mathews, Buckstone, Webster, Sothern, or any of the old gods who link us with Charles Kean or Macready."
Hamlet.Knight has fortunately, in a volume with the modest title of 'Theatrical Notes,' given to the world in a concise form a selection from his articles on the drama which appeared in The Athenæum from November 7th, 1874, to December 27th, 1879. This was published by Lawrence & Bullen in 1893. The volume opens with Irving as Hamlet at the Lyceum. Fechter is referred to as "the most distinguished of his immediate predecessors in the role he now assumes Mr. Fechter rose slowly, through successive stages, looking carefully to his foothold. Mr. Irving has gone lightly and easily over the ground, and has reached the summit with but little exertion."
In the Introduction Knight states how he had watched for thirty years the average of a generation "the development of the stage in England. Thirty years constitute a long time as regards human observation and artistic progress. The first thirty years of the acted drama carry us from 'Ferrex and Porrex; or, Gammer Gurton's Needle,' to Marlowe's 'Edward II.'; another 'generation' gives us the First Folio Shakspeare. As civilization proceeds alteration is less evident. None the less the last thirty years of the English stage have witnessed more than one change, amounting practically to a revolution. Public interest in things theatrical, at the outset slumbering and apparently extinct, has flowered out afresh. The dramatist, once the most underpaid of literary craftsmen, has now the ball at his feet, and new theatres in the parts of London suited to their growth rise like exhalations."
Visit of the
Française.But modest reference is made by Knight to the great services he rendered in bringing before the British public the high merits of the Comédie Française. Their first visit here was during the siege of Paris in 1870, when "a mere fraction of the public assembled to visit performances absolutely unequalled. It was not, indeed, until a movement for a complimentary banquet, the inception and execution of which belong to The Athenæum, had been set on foot that the playgoing world understood the opportunities of artistic enjoyment and education placed within its reach."
Knight states that materials are in hand for a second volume which will bring the matter up to date. Unfortunately, ill-health and over-pressure of work prevented this being accomplished.