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snappish answer? What is to become of us after this sentimental abrogation of the seventh commandment? The time is approaching when not a child in England will have its head patted by its legitimate father.”
So said the moralizers in general ; but Mr. Boaden went farther, for he pronounced the conjugal virtue of England to be already irremediably gone." I consider," says my sage brother biographer, “ • The Stranger' as a noble ruin, marking the desolation of our domestic manners.”
Under these awful apprehensions, the Londoners most consistently proved the seductiveness of the play by rushing in multitudes to see it; and they so crammed the house, that their ribs were, not metaphorically speaking, but corporeally endangered.
After such alarms have been rung about the immorality of “ The Stranger,” I am almost afraid to offer the most qualified opinion. But though I think of it, as of " The Fair Penitent," that it is not the most advisable subject for the stage, I cannot see that it inculcates a demoralizing doctrine. Haller takes back his wise, with a virtual confession that his conduct is not in accordance with, but in exception to, the general law of treatment that is due to conjugal infidelity. Besides, we know not in what exact situation he restores her to his future protection. 6. The Stranger” has been naturalized among us sor the third part of a century; and I suspect that, upon the whole, he has left our conjugal morals just about as pure as he found them.
This play was given out as a translation by a Mr. Thomson, but the greater part of it, as it was acted, was most probably written by Sheridan. Indeed he said, in the hearing of my friend Samuel Rogers, that he wrote every word of it.* One part of it, however, he openly avowed, namely, the song, is I have a silent sorrow here ; which, if not unparalleled in its own merit, is at least so in its parody.
Mrs. Siddons's performance of the part of Mrs. Haller was the most delicate and judicious that can be imagined. She showed what the poet clearly intended us to feel, namely, that the reconcilement was not a conclusion anticipated as a matter of reason or principle by either party, but a burst of nature, overwhelming all abstracted feelings of pride and considerations of stern propriety. She therefore sustained the part with tearless but touching self-command till the end of the
last scene, denoting that she had neither hope nor wish, beyond a promise from her husband, that he would not hate her. All other actresses of the part let fall their tears too soon; and, in the shower of their grief, dimmed to us that only redeeming light in which we can view Mrs. Haller. Though a penitent woman, she is conscious that she has no claim to more than her husband's dry-eyed forgiveness, and is therefore aware that she has no right, in their trying interview, to affect him with voluntary demonstrations of her sensibility. Mrs. Siddons accordingly conducted herself with a reserve and calmness that threw pride into humility ; and thus, by contrast, made the effect of her agitation in the last scene undescribable.
* This is noticed in Moore's Life of Sheridan.
In her personal history, this year was not one of the happiest. Early in the course of it she writes to a friend :
- Jan. 7, 1798. “I can get no money from the theatre. My precious two thousand pounds are swallowed in that drowning gulf, from whom no plea of right or justice can save its victims.”
drowning” gulf, Mrs. Siddons means Mr. Sheridan.
A misfortune, of a very different and much more trying nature, was awaiting her in the approaching fate of her beautiful daughter Maria. At the close of the season she writes thus to her old friend Tate Wilkinson :
“ London, May 29, 1798. “ MY DEAR MR. WILKINSON, “My plans for this summer are so arranged, that I have no chance of the pleasure of seeing you.
The illness of my second daughter has deranged all schemes of pleasure as well as profit. I thank God she is better ; but the nature of her constitution is such, that it will be long ere we can reasonably banish the fear of an approaching consumption. It is dreadful to see an innocent, lovely young creature daily sinking under the languor of illness, which may terminate in death at last, in spite of the most vigilant tenderness. A parent's misery, under this distress, you can more easily imagine than I can describe ; but, if you are the man I take you for, you will not refuse me a favour. It would indeed be a great comfort to us all, if you would allow our dear Patty to come to us, on our return to town in the autumn, to stay with us a few months. I am sure it would do my poor Maria so much good ; for the physician tells me she will require the same confinement and the same care the next winter. And let it not offend the pride of my good friend, when I beg it to be understood that I wish to defray the expense of her journey. Do, dear soul ; grant my request. Give my kind compliments to your family, my love to my own dear Patty, and accept yourself the best and most cordial wishes of
66 S. SIDDONS."
Miss Wilkinson accepted the invitation, and became, from that time, a permanent inmate in the Siddons family. As her father, though not rich, was in comfortable circumstances, quite above dependence, her motives for remaining with the Siddonses were as purely affectionate as those of the friends who detained her. She became, in effect, an adopted child of the house; and it is hard to say whether the mother or her daughters had the greater fondness for her. I have read with pleasure the letters which Maria and Sally Siddons wrote to Patty, beseeching her to get her father's consent to this domestication, and they breathe a romantic and unjealous friendship for their mother's favourite, which lasted during all the too short lives of those amiable sisters. Miss Wilkinson is still alive. She lived with the great actress till her last days. Besides the bland temper and disposition which attached Mrs. Siddons to her, she possessed a practical knowledge of the world, which made her a valuable inmate in the family.
During the summer of 1798, Mrs. Siddons writes several letters to her friends, describing the fluctuation of her feelings, between fear and hope respecting Maria. In one of them she says:
“London, June, 1798. 6 We are all going to Clifton, not because it is thought good for Maria, but because she fancies that place; and I know so well, from sad experience, how powerfully the imagination operates on a feeble frame, that I hope, from the indulgence of her little whim, to reap some benefit from the journey.'
The lovely object of her anxiety died within four months of this date, and was buried at Bristol, with the following epitaph:
IN THE VAULT OF THIS CHURCH LIES INTERRED
Within a fortnight of this sad event, she wrote thus to her friend Mrs. Fitz Hugh ;
“ Although my mind is not yet sufficiently tranquillized to talk much, yet the conviction of your undeviating affection impels me to quiet your anxiety so far as to tell you that I am tolerably well. This sad event I have long been prepared for, and bow with humble resignation to the decree of that merciful God who has taken to himself the dear angel I must ever tenderly lament. I dare not trust myself further. Oh that you were here, that I might talk to you of her death-bed-in dignity of mind, and pious resignation, far surpassing the imaginations of Rousseau and Richardson, in their Eloise and Clarissa Harlowe; for hers was, I believe, from the immediate inspiration of the Divinity.
6 S. .S"
In a letter to another friend, written shortly afterward, Mrs. Siddons speaks with a certain degree of alarm and anxiety about her financial prospects. Mr. Sheridan had not yet settled with her; and Mr. Siddons was engaged in speculations which threatened equally formidable pecuniary losses. I believe she alludes to his connexion with Sadler's Wells. It was fortunate for the public, if not for herself, that she still felt herself so far from the possession of affluence as to be obliged to renew her efforts at Drury Lane in the following winter.
The first new part which she performed, in 1799, was Miranda, in Mr. Boaden's “ Aurelio and Miranda.” This play, the story of which was borrowed from Lewis's Monk, was well performed, and would have been well received, if the author had been more fortunate in his hearers ; but the audience would not learn their parts. It was meant that they should be alternately sad and mirthful, the piece being tragi-comic. They however laughed at the most tragic passages, and looked grave at the most comic.
In the choice of her next character she must have been biased, and, if my reverence for her permitted, I should even say blinded, by personal friendship. The Rev. Dr. Whalley wrote a tragedy called “ The Castle of Montval,” and Mrs. Siddons not only undertook to play the part of its heroine for her benefit, but used her influence in getting thepiece brought on the stage.* The doctor affirmed, and I have no doubt
* Cast of the parts in “ The Castle of Montval :" Lapont, Barrymore ; Old Count of Montval, Kemble; Young Count of Montval, Holland;