Professions Esteemed Infamous by Albany Poyntz

In the reign of Louis XVIII., an oration was made in the French Chamber of Deputies, complaining of the vileness of certain parties employed by the police. The Duc Decazes, then at the head of the administration, replied: “Point out to me honest men who would undertake the same functions, and I promise to employ them.”

The infamy attached to spies and common informers is a wholesome prejudice. In England, the nature of our constitution and political institutions secures us from the intrusion of such vermin; who were extensively employed in France by the police of the elder Bourbons and of Napoleon. In Austria, and, above all, in Russia, no society is secure against them; and half the Russian travellers dispersed through Europe, even those bearing illustrious names, are neither more nor less than spies. The fashionable watering places of the continent are infested by these individuals, most of whom have solicited from the Emperor the honourable appointment of travelling spy.

A vocation which must always convey infamy, and which is more essential to the well-being of society, is that of public executioner; and notwithstanding the disgust with which it is contemplated, whenever there occurs a vacancy in the office, in any country, a host of solicitors present themselves.

In Russia, which many pretend to consider a barbarous country, there is no salaried executioner. So infamous is the office considered, that in the event of a capital execution, a criminal convicted of a less heinous crime undertakes it, and thereby gains his pardon. Formerly, in state executions, the executioner used to be masked, to secure him from the odium attending his calling.

In some countries, the stage, or rather the profession of an actor is an object of violent prejudice. In France actors were denied for several centuries the rites of Christian burial, and even in the present century have been made objects of excommunication. England was the first to show a more liberal example, by the interment of Garrick in Westminster Abbey, and the intermarriage of the nobility with actresses;—a violent and pernicious extreme. During the Consulate in France, even on occasion of state dinners, Mademoiselle Coutat was admitted as the associate of Madame Bonaparte, as Talma of the First Consul. But on the restoration of the Bourbons, public opinion resumed in this particular nearly all its former inveteracy.

In England, the leading members of the profession, such as the Kembles, Young, Macready, Charles Kean, whose conduct in private life is as exemplary as their talents on the stage are distinguished, are received in society with the same respect conceded to any other order of literary persons. In France, this honourable position would be untenable; so deeply rooted are the prejudices of the vulgar. A clever French writer, who was in his youth an actor, relates the following anecdote:—

“Being once engaged in a company of players in a town in the south of France, he devoted the leisure of his theatrical duties to literary pursuits. A shoe-maker, whom he employed, an ardent admirer of the dramatic art, occasionally attempted to engage him in conversation; and the actor indulged the man’s passion for theatricals by presenting him with tickets of free admission. At the end of some month’s acquaintance, the shoemaker entered the actor’s lodgings one morning in the greatest glee, and informed him that it was his daughter’s wedding-day, and that he was come to invite him to the ceremony. The actor, hesitating to accept the invitation, made a variety of polite excuses to his humble friend, who seized him cordially by the hand. “I see how it is,” said he. “You think my friends will not like to sit at table with an actor! But never mind. I am not proud, and for my sake they will overlook it!”

The gentlemen of the household of Louis XIV. refused to make the King’s bed with Molière, who had purchased a small place in the royal household, because he had been an actor. This was a just punishment to one who should have abstained from a position so infinitely below his rank in the great scale of human nature. Of the individuals thus fastidious, the names are unknown to posterity. That of Molière is immortal.

John Kemble was the occasional guest of the Prince Regent, and Mrs. Siddons enjoyed the highest distinctions from the highest personages in the realm. Still, even in England, among the lower classes, a prejudice prevails against comedians; but arising chiefly from the irregularities with which many belonging to the inferior class of the profession are unfortunately chargeable.