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itself with difficulty to the stage, I should answer, that Milton's “ Comus” is an exquisite poem, but Mrs. Siddons herself could never give it stage popularity.
I cannot dismiss the subject without noticing that Joanna Baillie has left a perfect picture of Mrs. Siddons, in her description of Jane de Montfort. In Act 2, Scene 1, the Page says to the Countess Friberg,
“ Madam, there is a lady in your hall
Who begs to be admitted to your presence.”
I shrunk at first in awe; but when she smiled,
For time has laid his hand so gently on her,
« The foolish stripling!
I thought at first her stature was gigantic ;
She is not deck'd in any gallant trim,
“ Thine eyes deceive thee, boy. It is an apparition thou hast seen.”
The next new tragedy that was brought out at Drury Lane was from the pen of Godwin. * Mrs. Siddons performed in it; and, from the author of Caleb Williams, a potent drama might well be expected : it went, however, only through three nights. Godwin, in two respects, may compare notes with his brother novelist, Fielding. They both tried the drama without success; and they could both afford to pay for the disappointment out of their ample fame for original genius.
Among men of this class, I doubt if we can well rank the lately deceased William Sotheby ; though his learning, accomplishments, and industry entitle his name to a most respectful remembrance. His translation of “ Oberon” is among the best poetical versions in our language ; and I know that Wieland sent his thanks to him for the performance. But the worthy Sotheby had few ingredients of talent for dramatic poetry ; and his “ Julian and Agnes,” which came out this season, was eminently unsuccessful. In the course of its performance, Mrs. Siddons, as the heroine, had to make her exit from the scene with an infant in her arms. Having to retire precipitately, she inadvertently struck the baby's head violently against a doorpost. Happily the little thing was made of wood, so that her doll's accident only produced a general laugh, in which the actress herself joined heartily.f
* Namely, “Antonio, or the Soldier's Return,” first performed December 13, 1800. Don Antonio, J. Kemble; Don Gusman, Barrymore ; Don Henry, C. Kemble; Don Pedro, King of Arragon, Wroughton ; Helena, Mrs. Siddons.
+ "Julian and Agnes” was acted April 25. Alfonso (really Julian), Kemble; Provost, Wroughton; Confessor, Barrymore; Infirmier, Holland ; Prior, Packer; Francis, Attendant on Agnes, Powell; Agnes, Countess of Torlona, Mrs. Siddons ; Ellen, Miss Biggs.
Having finished the season of 1801 by a performance for her brother Charles's benefit (May 13), she resumed the accustomed fatigue of her visits to the provincial theatres.. From nineteen years of such splendid exertions in London, it might have been expected that a fortune would have accrued to her, at least sufficient wealth to have precluded the necessity for those summer campaigns. But, from her correspondence, I find that circumstances absolutely debarred her from relaxing her labours; though she frequently complains, in her letters, not only of lassitude, but of suffering. The erysipelas, which was ultimately fatal in her old age, began thus early to attack her with a burning heat in her lips that was often very tormenting.
On the 14th of July she writes to her friend Mrs. Fitz Hugh, from Preston.
“ In about a fortnight I expect to commence my journey to Bath. Mr. Siddons is there ; for he finds no reliet from his rheumatism elsewhere. His accounts of himself are less favourable than those of any one who writes to me about him; but I hope and trust that I shall find him better than he himself thinks ; for I know, by sad experience, with what difficulty a mind, weakened by long and uninterrupted suffering, admits hope, much less assurance. I shall be here till next Saturday, and after that time at Lancaster, till Tuesday, the 28th ; thence I shall go immediately to Bath, where I shall have about a month's quiet, and then begin to play at Bristol for a few nights. “Such resting finds the sole of unblest feet !" When we shall come to London is uncertain, for nothing is settled by Mr. Sheridan, and I think it not impossible that
may be spent in Dublin; for I must go on making, to secure the few comforts that I have been able to attain for myself and my family. It is providential for us all that I can do so much. But I hope it is not. wrong to say that I am tired, and should be glad to be at rest indeed. I hope yet to see the day when I can be quiet. My mouth is not yet well, though somewhat less exquisitely painful. I have become a frightful object with it for some time, and, I believe, this complaint has robbed me of those poor remains of beauty once admired, at least which in your partial eyes I once possessed.
* Yours very truly,
She dropped her intention of going to Dublin, and returned early in the following winter to Drury Lane, where she performed above forty times. It was during this season that the list of her new characters terminated, worthily, with one of Shakspeare's. On the 25th of March, 1802, she, for the first time, performed Hermione, in the “ Winter's Tale.” The infrequency of her acting from the Shaksperian drama must be ascribed to the fact, that she was, generally speaking, not a free agent in the choice of her characters. The popular taste, whether right or wrong, was to be gratified; and the enlightened public, at this time, would troop in suffocating multitudes, for nights together, to see the “ Castle Spectre” of Lewis, while the plays of Shakspeare could hardly draw an audience.
She must have long foreseen the transcendent charm which her performance would bestow on the part of Hermione ; yet there was a policy in reserving it for the years of her professional appearance when her form was becoming too matronly for the personation of juvenile heroines. At the same time, she still had beauty enough left to make her so perfect in the statue-scene, that assuredly there was never such a representative of Hermione. Mrs. Yates had a sculpturesque beauty that suited the statue, I have been told, as long as it stood still ; but when she had to speak, the charm was broken, and the spectators wished her back to her pedestal. But Mrs. Sida dons looked the statue, even to literal illusion; and while the drapery hid her lower limbs, it showed a beauty of head, neck, shoulders, and arms, that Praxiteles might have studied. This statue-scene has hardly its parallel for enchantment even in Shakspeare's theatre. The star of his genius was
at its zenith when he composed it; but it was only a Siddons that could do justice to its romantic perfection. The heart of every one who saw her when she burst from the semblance of sculpture into motion, and embraced her daughter Perdita, must throb and glow at the recollection.
It so happened, however, that our great actress, while performing a part in which she will never have her equal, narrowly escaped from a death more than fancifully tragic. I have heard her say, that she could never think of the “ Winter's Tale” without a palpitation at her heart, from the recollection of the incident to which she alludes, in the following letter to her friend Mrs. Fitz Hugh,
“ London, April, 1802. Except for a day or two, the weather has been very favourable to me hitherto. I trust it may continue so, for the • Winter's Tale' promises to be very attractive ; and, while it continues so, I am bound in honour and conscience to put my shoulder to the wheel, for it has been attended with great expense to the managers, and, if I can keep warm, I trust, I shall continue tolerably well. As to my plans, they are, as usual, all uncertain ; and I am precisely in the situation of poor Lady Percy, to whom Hotspur comically says, I trust thou wilt not utter what thou dost not know.'
". This must continue to be the case, in a great measure, while I continue to be the servant of the public, for whom (and let it not be thought vain) I can never sufficiently exert myself. I really think they receive me every night with greater and greater testimonies of approbation. I know it will give you pleasure to hear this, my dear friend, and you will not suspec me of deceiving myself in this particular.
“ The other night had very nearly terminated all my exertions ; for, while I was standing for the statue in the • Winter's Tale,' my drapery flew over the lamps that were placed behind the pedestal ; it caught fire, and, had it not been for one of the scene men, who most humanely crept on his knees and extinguished it, without my knowing any thing of the matter, I might have been burnt to death, or, at all events, I should have been frightened out of my senses. Surrounded as I was with muslin, the flame would have run like wildfire. The bottom of the train was entirely burned. But for the man's promptitude, it would seem as if my fate would have been inevitable. I have well rewarded the good man, and I regard my deliverance as a most gracious interposition of Providence. There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. Here I am, safe and well. God be praised ! and may his goodness make me profit, as I ought, by ihe time that is vouchsafed me. My son Harry's success has been a very great comfort to
I do think, if I can divest myself of partiality, that it is a very respectable first attempt.*
• Yours ever truly,
“ S. S.”
In another letter to the same friend, Mrs. Fitz Hugh,t she
* Henry Siddons made his first appearance this season at Covent Garden.
+ Mrs. Fitz Hugh is the lady of W. Fitz Hugh, Esq., of Bannisters,