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the stage, with additions from Thomson ! Shakspeare, with additions from Thomson ! With subtractions, they ought surely to have said ; for, much as we may all love the latter poet, what could his drama add to that of Shakspeare ? and, of all Shakspeare's plays, the pure original “Coriolanus,” in my humble opinion, needs the smallest alteration for the stage. I know not whether Brinsley Sheridan or John Kemble was the compounder of this mixed piece, as Mrs. Siddons first performed in it, but, as the latter was now the acting manager of Drury Lane, I rather suspect him to have got it up; and I believe that it was the same that was afterward published from his prompt-book.

So delightful is the impression which I retain of the Kemble's and the Siddons's performances in this tragedy, altered as it was from the noble and true text, and such recollections of their confronted aspects, as Coriolanus and Volumnia, come across my mind, that I reluctantly criticise the taste of the great actor, in his alterations of Shakspeare. As performers, the brother and sister were perfect samples of the heroic form and of heroic action; and, while they trod the stage, the delighted spectator was willing to forget that the piece contained those misnamed additions from Thomson. Kemble made Coriolanus one of his noblest parts. But, when I calmly compare Kemble's prompt-book tragedy with the text of Shakspeare, I cannot but wonder at his innovations as a stagecompositor.

Thus mueh, however, may be said in palliation of Kemble's production ; that for the most part he adheres to Shakspeare, and that the liberties which he took with the original were far inferior to those which had been formerly taken with it. It is a fact, surprising as it may seem, that the real Shaksperian “ Coriolanus” has rarely, if ever, been acted on the British stage since the Restoration. I pretend to no authority as an inquirer into our theatrical history, but, under eventual correction, I venture to state my belief, that it was never acted genuinely from the year 1660 till the year 1820.

During this long interval, nevertheless, “Coriolanus” was not forgotten. ,The enlightened public, in 1682, permitted Nahum Tate, the executioner of King David, to correct the plays of Shakspeare ; and he laid his hangman hands on “Coriolanus. He made Valeria a prattling and rattling lady. Aufidius threatens to violate Virgilia before her husband's face. Nigridius boasts that he has racked young Marcius, the son of Coriolanus, and that he had thrown him, with all his limbs broken, into the arms of Volumnia ; and she, his grandmother, soon enters, mad, with the pretty mangled boy in her arms. This mode of rewriting Shakspeare was, for the time being, called correcting him. - We talk of the barbarism of the Russians, because they occasionally take out the image of their patron saint, and correct him soundly, by flogging him for a long continuance of unseasonable weather ; but, really, such treatment of Shakspeare was more sacrilegious.

A farther outrage still awaited the same tragedy, when Dennis moulded a portion of it, with wretched matter of his own, into a new piece, which he called “ The Invader of his Country.” It must be owned, however, that Dennis's drama was never tolerated.

Thomson's “ Coriolanus,” which appeared in 1748, had at least the merit of being a new and independent tragedy. The elder Sheridan, in 1764, brought out, at Covent Garden, a piece, in which he jumbled together the “Coriolanus" of Shakspeare with that of Thomson. Then, in 1789, came the Kemble edition, in which so much of Thomson's absurdity is still preserved, that the stately Volumnia threatens to stab herself.

Mrs. Siddons, in spite of a few departures in her part from that in Shakspeare, was a magnificent Volumnia. I transcribe with pleasure the following recollection of her in that part, from a letter of my valued friend, the actor Young.-" I remember her," he says, coming down the stage in the triumphal entry of her son, Coriolanus, when her dumb-show drew plaudits that shook the building. She came alone, marching and beating time to the music; rolling (if that be not too strong a term to describe her motion), from side to side, swelling with the triumph of her son. Such was the intoxication of joy which flashed from her eye, and lit up her whole face, that the effect was irresistible. She seemed to me to reap all the glory of that procession to herself. I could not take my eye from her. Coriolanus, banner, and pageant, all went for nothing to me after she had walked to her place."

[1789.] On the 18th of the same month she had a new character, in the Princess of Jephson's " Law of Lombardy;" a very moderate tragedy, the story of which is taken from Ari

But she was not here destined to show the miracle of drawing sublime acting from indifferent poetry, and the part never became one of her principals.

A still humbler piece taxed her powers soon afterward (March 20th), in the Hon. Mr. John St. John's “ Mary Queen

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of Scots." Unfortunate Mary! the historians distract us about her memory, and the bad poets will not let her alone.

It is with something like a startled feeling that I find Mrs. Siddons, for her second benefit this season, choosing the part of Shakspeare's Juliet. Fourteen years before, Garrick ought to have brought her out in this character, which would have then completely suited the youthful loveliness of her intelligent physiognomy. Juliet, with Mr. Boaden's permission, is not, as he calls her, in his Life of Mrs. Siddons, a silly girl," but a shrewd and precociously strong-minded woman. She is blinded indeed by her love, because the passions, though they reason admirably about the means of being gratified, are miserable logicians as to the consequences of their own gratification. Mrs. Siddons, in her youth, would assuredly have been the best of Juliets ; but how far she played it to perfection at this time, I can only conjecture. She was now thirty-four years of age ; and time and study had stamped her countenance, one would imagine, too strongly for Juliet. Yet, Mr. Boaden says, that in her humouring of the Nurse there was something of a more genuine playfulness than he had ever heard before. This reminds me of what I have already stated on my own strong recollection, that in the scene of “ Othello,” where she pleaded as Desdemona for Cassio, there was a fondness, most beautifully familiar, in Mrs. Siddons's acting, which succeeding actresses have generally attempted to imitate. Let it be marked, that, to grant her this power of softening tragedy by a condescension to what might almost be called playfulness, is not to claim for her any genius for broad comedy.

On the whole, I believe, that in performing Juliet, in her thirty-fourth year, she played the true woman, wishing to make herself as loveable as possible to the last. Twice in the season she performed the less ambitious task of reciting on the stage a gossamery ode of the Della Cruscan poet, Merry, on the king's recovery.

CHAPTER XIV.

Mrs. Siddons retires for a Season, but returns after the lapse of a Year

--Plays Queen Elizabeth, in “Richard the Third,” and Mrs. Oakley, in the “ Jealous Wife."

It was generally anticipated that John Kemble's appointment to be the stage-manager of Drury Lane would have strengthened Mrs. Siddons's connexion with that house ; but he had been only a season in office when she retired from it, and would accept of no engagement for the year 1789-90. Mr. Boaden thinks that this secession denoted some degree of misunderstanding with her brother ; but there is not the slightest ground for such a suspicion. I know, from the best authority, that she laid the blame of her retirement on nobody but Richard Brinsley Sheridan. That accomplished gentleman still contrived to be the purse-manager of Drury Lane; and to get money out of his hands was known to be a forlorn hope in the stratagetics of dunning. Our actress's health, though very fragile, still permitted her to perform at some of the provincial theatres ; but in these she had less excitement and exertion than on the London stage, on which, I have heard her say, she never entered without ner

It was rather too much to suffer the additional fear of non-payment.

In the November, 1789, I find that she was at Bath, and assisted, as the French phrase it, though only as a spectator, at the performance of a tragedy, which may well be called a curiosity in our literature, namely, that of “ Earl Godwin," by Anne Yearsley, a poor woman who literally sold milk from door to door. That the tragedy should be a great or a good one, was hardly to be expected from a mind utterly destitute of culture,---for our heaven-taught ploughman, Burns, was an accomplished scholar in comparison with Anne Yearsley. I have searched in vain in London for a copy of “ The Earl of Godwin," and therefore cannot speak of it from my own perusal; but, from circumstances and the testimony of others, I conclude that it is very indifferent. At the same time, the mere construction of a drama, that could bear to be acted, by

vousness.

so illiterate a writer, strikes me with the same sort of feeling as when I read of Ferguson, while he was a shepherd's boy, constructing a clock, although it was but an imperfect one. The poor milkwoman's genius is compared to Burns's by Anna Seward, with all the gilt brass of her consequential style ; but it will no bear no comparison. The Bristol poetess's fancy, to judge from her occasional poems, seems to have grown up in the gloom of misery, like vegetation in the damps of a cellar. In one of them, she alludes to a dreadful scene of her real history. She was a married woman; and, when about to be delivered of her sixth child, she and her babes, and her aged mother, were left without a morsel to eat, and on the brink of perishing. A humane visitant came at last to relieve them. They all revived except her old mother: she could have borne famine a little longer, but the shock of relief instantaneously killed her; she raised her head to bless their benefactor, and expired.

In the course of this year Mrs. Siddons also visited Birmingham. In that city she one day chanced to be making some purchases in a shop where the busts of distinguished personages were sold. The shopman, unconscious who his customer was, took down a bust of herself, and told her that it was the likeness of the greatest and most beautiful actress that was ever seen in the world. Mrs. Siddons purchased the piece of stucco, with a totally opposite opinion to the shopman's respecting the merit of the sculpture. She thought that though she had never tried modelling, she could make a better likeness of herself than this wretched production; and from that time modelling in clay became her favourite amusement. This circumstance led her to study statuary; and I have no doubt was beneficial to her taste in drapery and attitude. At the same time, I distinctly remember her telling me that her predilection for the classic costume was anterior to this period, and that one evening, in the second season of her acting at Drury Lane, when she had dismissed the fashionable curls and *lappers, Sir Joshua Reynolds came up to her after the play, and rapturously praised the round apple form which she had given to her head.

In the summer of 1790, Mrs. Siddons went, with her husband, to France, where they placed their daughters, Sarah and Maria, at a boarding-school at Calais. They then made a tour into the Netherlands, as far as Lisle, in which they were ac companied by Miss Wynne, who was afterward Lady Per cival.

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