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James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

October 10

Reopening of the Drury Lane Theatre

By Lord Byron (1788–1824)

  • When the Drury Lane Theatre was reopened on Oct. 10, 1812, after its destruction by fire, the managers offered a prize for a suitable prologue to be spoken on that occasion. The one written by Lord Byron was the one selected, but there appeared soon after a book called “Rejected Addresses,” which contained about twenty poems, burlesqueing the style of well-known authors and purporting to have been written by them in competition for the prize. “The Baby’s Debut” is an imitation of Wordsworth.

  • IN one dread night our city saw, and sigh’d,

    Bow’d to the dust, the Drama’s tower of pride;

    In one short hour beheld the blazing fane,

    Apollo sink, and Shakespeare cease to reign.

    Ye who beheld (oh! sight admired and mourn’d,

    Whose radiance mock’d the ruin it adorn’d!)

    Through clouds of fire the massive fragments riven,

    Like Israel’s pillar, chase the night from heaven:

    Saw the long column of revolving flames

    Shake its red shadow o’er the startled Thames,

    While thousands, thronged around the burning dome,

    Shrank back appall’d, and trembled for their home,

    As glared the volumed blaze, and ghastly shone

    The skies, with lightnings awful as their own,

    Till blackening ashes and the lonely wall

    Usurp’d the Muse’s realm, and mark’d her fall;

    Say—shall this new, nor less aspiring pile,

    Rear’d where once rose the mightiest in our isle,

    Know the same favor which the former knew,

    A shrine for Shakspeare—worthy him and you?

    Yes—it shall be—the magic of that name

    Defies the scythe of Time, the torch of Flame;

    On the same spot still consecrates the scene,

    And bids the Drama be where she hath been:

    This fabric’s birth attests the potent spell—

    Indulge our honest pride, and say, How well!

    As soars this fane to emulate the last,

    Oh! might we draw our omens from the past,

    Some hour propitious to our prayers may boast

    Names such as hallow still the dome we lost.

    On Drury first your Siddons’ thrilling art

    O’erwhelm’d the gentlest, storm’d the sternest heart.

    On Drury, Garrick’s latest laurels grew;

    Here your last tears retiring Roscius drew:

    Sigh’d his last thanks, and wept his last adieu;

    But still for living wit the wreaths may bloom,

    That only waste their odors o’er the tomb.

    Such Drury claim’d and claims—nor you refuse

    One tribute to revive his slumbering muse;

    With garlands deck your own Menander’s head!

    Nor hoard your honors idly for the dead!

    Dear are the days which made our annals bright,

    Ere Garrick fled, or Brinsley ceased to write.

    Heirs to their labors, like all high-born heirs,

    Vain of our ancestry as they of theirs;

    While thus Remembrance borrows Banquo’s glass

    To claim the sceptred shadows as they pass,

    And we the mirror hold, where imaged shine

    Immortal names, emblazon’d on our line,

    Pause—ere their feebler offspring you condemn,

    Reflect how hard the task to rival them!

    Friends of the stage! to whom both Players and Plays

    Must sue alike for pardon or for praise,

    Whose judging voice and eye alone direct

    The boundless power to cherish or reject;

    If e’er frivolity has led to fame,

    And made us blush that you forebore to blame;

    If e’er the sinking stage could condescend

    To soothe the sickly taste it dare not mend,

    All past reproach may present scenes refute.

    And censure, wisely loud, be justly mute!

    Oh! since your fiat stamps the Drama’s laws,

    Forbear to mock us with misplaced applause;

    So pride shall doubly nerve the actor’s powers,

    And reason’s voice be echoed back by ours!

    This greeting o’er, the ancient rule obey’d,

    The Drama’s homage by her herald paid,

    Receive our welcome too, whose every tone

    Springs from our hearts, and fain would win your own.

    The curtain rises—may our stage unfold

    Scenes not unworthy Drury’s days of old!

    Britons our judges, Nature for our guide,

    Still may we please—long, long may you preside.