WILKIE COLLINS’S PLAY
‘THE FROZEN DEEP’
‘THE FROZEN DEEP’
The second drama written by Wilkie Collins for the Tavistock House Theatre was first acted there in January 1857, and subsequently at the Gallery of Illustration in the presence of Queen Victoria and the Royal Family. As in the case of The Lighthouse, the play had the advantage of a Prologue in rhyme by Charles Dickens, who again electrified his audiences by marvellous acting, the character of Richard Wardour (a young naval officer) being selected by him for representation.
The Prologue was recited at Tavistock House by John Forster, and at the public performances of the play by Dickens himself.
It is not generally known that a by no means inconsiderable portion of the drama was composed by Dickens, as testified by the original manuscripts of the play and of the prompt-book, which contain numerous additions and corrections in his handwriting. These manuscripts, by the way, realised £300 at Sotheby’s in 1890.
The main idea of A Tale of Two Cities was conceived by Dickens when performing in The Frozen Deep. ‘A strong desire was upon me then,’ he writes in the preface to the story, ‘to embody it in my own person; and I traced out in my fancy the state of mind of which it would necessitate the presentation to an observant spectator, with particular care and interest. As the idea became familiar to me, it gradually shaped itself into its present form. Throughout its execution, it has had complete possession of me: I have so far verified what is done and suffered in these pages, as that I have certainly done and suffered it all myself.’
PROLOGUE TO ‘THE FROZEN DEEP’
(Curtain rises; mists and darkness; soft music throughout.)
One savage footprint on the lonely shore Where one man listen’d to the surge’s roar, Not all the winds that stir the mighty sea Can ever ruffle in the memory. If such its interest and thrall, O then Pause on the footprints of heroic men, Making a garden of the desert wide Where Parry conquer’d death and Franklin died. To that white region where the Lost lie low, Wrapt in their mantles of eternal snow,— Unvisited by change, nothing to mock Those statues sculptured in the icy rock, We pray your company; that hearts as true (Though nothings of the air) may live for you; Nor only yet that on our little glass A faint reflection of those wilds may pass, But that the secrets of the vast Profound Within us, an exploring hand may sound, Testing the region of the ice-bound soul, Seeking the passage at its northern pole, Softening the horrors of its wintry sleep, Melting the surface of that ‘Frozen Deep.’ Vanish, ye mists! But ere this gloom departs, And to the union of three sister arts We give a winter evening, good to know That in the charms of such another show, That in the fiction of a friendly play, The Arctic sailors, too, put gloom away, Forgot their long night, saw no starry dome, Hail’d the warm sun, and were again at Home. Vanish, ye mists! Not yet do we repair To the still country of the piercing air; But seek, before we cross the troubled seas, An English hearth and Devon’s waving trees.