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CHAPTER X.

Continuation of the Season at Drury Lane--Mrs. Siddons plays Desde

mona, Mason's Elfrida, and Rosalind, in “As You Like It”—Mrs. Siddons in Scotland-Season 1785-6—She appears in the “ Jubilee"in Jephson's “ Braganza”:

-as Mrs. Lovemore, in Murphy's Comedy of “The Way to Keep Him"-as Hermione, in “The Distressed Mother"--as Ophelia.

In some of the greatest dramatic characters, Mrs. Siddons needed only to look like her usual majestic self, in order to make you imagine that the poet had written the part for her. Her peculiar element was the sublime and energetic ; an to have seen her Lady Macbeth might well inspire an incredulity as to the possibility of the same individual passing, with felicity, from the terrors of Duncan's murderess to look the gentleness of Desdemona. It is true that the bride of Othello is, with all her gentleness, a great being; and is as resolute in adherence to the noble Moor, as she had before been meekly duteous to her father. Moreover, if it be alleged that love alone makes her bold, be it remembered that her love itself is a high and pure passion, founded on the moral worth of her lord. But still there is a subdued spirit, a lowly, violet-like sweetness in Desdemona, that makes me wonder, at this day, how the august Siddons could have personated her as she did, even to perfect illusion. I can record the fact that she did so, from satisfactory evidence.

Under that head I am far from ranking my own humble testimony ; but, leaving that to be valued at the reader's will, I beg leave to say that whether she might be greater or not, in other parts, I never wondered at her in any character so much as in Desdemona. Miss O'Neil was beautiful in the part, but nothing like Mrs. Siddons. The first time I saw the great actress represent Desdemona was at Edinburgh, when I was a very young man (I think it was in 1798). I had gone into the theatre without a play-bill ; I knew not that she was in the place. I had never seen her before since I was a child of eight years old ; and, though I ought to have recognised her from that circumstance, and from her picture, yet I was for some time not aware that I was looking at the Tragic Queen. crimes, lies one of the master-traits of skill by which Shakspeare contrives to make us blend an awful feeling, somewhat akin to pity, with our satisfaction at her death.

Still I am persuaded that Shakspeare never meant her for any thing better than a character of superb depravity, and a being, with all her decorum and force of mind, naturally cold and remorseless. When Mrs. Jameson asks us, what might not religion have made of such a character ? she puts a question that will equally apply to every other enormous criminal ; for, the worst heart that ever beat in a human breast would be at once rectified, if you could impress it with a genuine religious faith. But if Shakspeare intended us to believe Lady Macbeth's nature a soil peculiarly adapted for the growth of religion, he has chosen a way very unlike his own wisdom in portraying her, for he exhibits her as a practical infidel in a simple age: and he makes her words sum up all the essence of that unnatural irreligion, which cannot spring up to the head without having its root in a callous heart. She holds that

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There is something hideous in the ry strength of her mind, that can dive down, like a wounded monster, to such depths of consolation.

She is a splendid picture of evil, nevertheless,—a sort of sister of Milton's Lucifer; and, like him, we surely imagine her externally majestic and beautiful. Mrs. Siddons's idea of her having been a delicate and blonde beauty, seems to me to be a pure caprice. The public would have ill exchanged such a representative of Lady Macbeth, for the dark locks and the eagle eyes of Mrs. Siddons.

In some other characters which Mrs. Siddons performed, the memory of the old, or the imagination of the young, might possibly conceive her to have had a substitute ; but not in Lady Macbeth. The moment she seized the part, she identified her image with it in the minds of the living generation.

CHAPTER X.

Continuation of the Season at Drury Lane-Mrs. Siddons plays Desde

mona, Mason's Elfrida, and Rosalind, in “As You Like It”—Mrs. Siddons in Scotland-Season 1785-6—She appears in the “ Jubilee"in Jephson's “ Braganza”—as Mrs. Lovemore, in Murphy's Comedy of " The Way to Keep Him”-as Hermione, in “The Distressed Mother"-as Ophelia.

In some of the greatest dramatic characters, Mrs. Siddons needed only to look like her usual majestic self, in order to make you imagine that the poet had written the part for her. Her peculiar element was the sublime and energetic; and to have seen her Lady Macbeth might well inspire an incredulity as to the possibility of the same individual passing, with felicity, from the terrors of Duncan's murderess to look the gentleness of Desdemona. It is true that the bride of Othello is, with all her gentleness, a great being; and is as resolute in adherence to the noble Moor, as she had before been meekly duteous to her father. Moreover, if it be alleged that love alone makes her bold, be it remembered that her love itself is a high and pure passion, founded on the moral worth of her lord. But still there is a subdued spirit, a lowly, violet-like sweetness in Desdemona, that makes me wonder, at this day, how the august Siddons could have personated her as she did, even to perfect illusion. I can record the fact that she did so, from satisfactory evidence.

Under that head I am far from ranking my own humble testimony ; but, leaving that to be valued at the reader's will, I beg leave to say that whether she might be greater or not, in other parts, I never wondered at her in any character so much as in Desdemona. Miss O'Neil was beautiful in the part, but nothing like Mrs. Siddons. The first time I saw the great actress represent Desdemona was at Edinburgh, when I was a very young man (I think it was in 1798). I had gone into the theatre without a play-bill; I knew not that she was in the place. I had never seen her before since I was a child of eight years old; and, though I ought to have recognised her from that circumstance, and from her picture, yet I was for some time not aware that I was looking at the Tragic Queen. But her exquisite gracefulness, and the emotions and plaudits of the house, ere long convinced me that she must be some very great actress, only the notion I had preconceived of her pride and majesty made me think that “this soft, sweet creature could not be the Siddons.” When I asked the person. next me the name of the actress, I felt, or fancied, a tone of rebuke in his answer; as if he had said, Could you suppose that any other actress could affect the house in this manner?

I remember that what struck me with peculiar astonishment was the familiar, I had almost said playful, persuasiveness, with which she won over the Moor to Cassio's interest. In that scene, it is my belief that no other actress ever softened and sweetened tragedy so originally.

I thank my brother biographer, Mr. Boaden, for saying, with equal truth and felicity of expression, that, in her acting of Desdemona, the very stature of the mighty actress seemed to be lowered. I am also happy to find my friend Mr. Bartley, the actor, enthusiastically fond of recollecting the Siddons's Desdemona. Nor do I value lightly the contemporary testimony of the daily press on this occasion. They unanimously agree as to the fact, that Mrs. Siddons increased her popularity, great as it was, by this performance ; and one of them concludes his account of it by saying, that win this wonderful transition from Lady Macbeth to the bride of Othello, Mrs. Siddons had shown her genius to be a star of the first magnitude, that could reach and adorn the most distant and opposite points in the horizon of tragic excellence."

A circumstance, personally unfortunate to her, occurred in her first representation of the part. They gave her, with criminal negligence, a damp bed to lie upon, in the death-scene, and she contracted from thence a rheumatic fever. Twice in the course of her life she encountered the most serious of stage perils. Desdemona's sheets had nearly killed her with cold ; and afterward, when she played Hermione, in the “ Winter's Tale,” from her drapery catching fire, she was in imminent danger of being burnt alive.

[April 14th, 1785.] She appeared in no other new part till Mason's tragedy of " Elfrida,” which had been admired at Buckingham House, was brought out by command of their majesties.* Its author is mentioned with personal regard by

* Cast of parts : Athelwold, Smith ; Edgar, Brereton; Orgar, J. Aickin; Edwin, Packer ; Elfrida, Mrs. Siddons ; Albina, Mrs. Brere

ton,

Mrs. Siddons, in her MS. Recollections. Speaking of her friend Lady Harcourt's country seat, she says, “When I was on my usual visit to this beautiful place, I have often walked arm-in-arm with the author of Caractacus,' and the amiable Whitehead. The former of these gentlemen, before I made his acquaintance, had conceived an inveterate dislike to me : he was a great humourist; but, with all his oddities, a benevolent man. He was petted and coaxed by Lord Harcourt, and by all the visiters indeed, like a spoiled child. He hated me, because he could not bear that I should be even compared with his departed friend and favourite, Mrs. Pritchard ; and was so annoyed at the sound of my name, that, in order playfully to humour his prejudice, they sunk it, and always, in his hearing, called me the Lady. I arrived there at tea-time, and found him looking very sulky indeed, wrapped up in his Spanish cloak, which he called being out of humour. We happened somehow to be near each other at supper. I found his ice beginning to thaw, and the next morning, to the great amusement of the whole party, we were detected practising a duet in the breakfast room. From that time forth I had the honour of being in his good graces, for the too short period of his pious and valuable existence. When I arrived at his own habitation, on a visit for a few days, they told us he was absent, but would soon return. In the mean time, Mr. Siddons and I strolled to see him ; and, when we entered, we saw the venerable man, the almost adored parish priest, in the organloft, teaching the children some music for the next Sunday. We left him undisturbed in his pious occupation, and returned to his house, where he soon received us with heartfelt cordiality. He spoke broad Yorkshire, and good-naturedly allowed us to accuse him of affectation in so doing ; though, I believe, he was only affecting what was so natural to him

that he could not avoid it.”

With regard to Mrs. Siddons's Elfrida, I am inclined to believe the journalist's blunt report of her performance, namely, that " she had acted every thing in the part which she had to act, and looked the part as perfectly as possible ; but that her powers and graces were exerted in vain in so dull a drama.” She was called to perform it only twice.

There are two sorts of simplicity in the natural history of

* Morning Chronicle for April 18, 1785.4" • Elfrida' was not new to the stage when brought out at this period. It had been three times before tried at Covent Garden.” And, still more strange to say, was tried at that house once more, in 1792.

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