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She preferred the far more lucrative speculation of continuing in the Irish capital, and renewed her engagement with the manager, Jones. Meanwhile her popularity, both personal and professional, was unabated. The presence of royalty could not have been welcomed with more demonstrations of zeal than she received from all ranks of the community; and she speaks, in all her letters, with gratitude of the "warm-hearted Irish.” But, though fêted by the rich, flattered by the talented, and cheered wherever she made her appearance, she had still to endure those harassments which are scarcely separable from the player's vocation. Mr. Jones was not only an overbearing gentleman, but so practically litigious, that it was unsafe to gainsay his managerial will in the slightest particular; for he concluded every dispute by sending for his solicitor; and, by long training, he had become an adept in litigation. It required all her patience to fulfil her engagement with him peaceably, and without forfeiting either her profits or dignity.
With all her popularity, too, she was not without some detractors, even on the warm-hearted side of the Channel. It was rumoured, indeed asserted, in a Dublin newspaper, that she had refused to play for the benefit of the Lying-in Hospital. She refuted this falsehood as distinctly as she had disproved other calumnious allegations of her uncharitableness; but it is painful to find her obliged to exculpate herself, at a time when her heart was still sore with filial sorrow; for, on the 9th of December, she received the intelligence of her father's death. It was shortly after that she had to write to Jones the following letter about the above gross misrepresentation.
"The candour and generosity with which you were so good as to acknowledge the truth asserted in my letter to you, respecting the Lying-in Hospital, encourage me to hope that you would forward any means of my public justification. I find that the publication of this letter is universally expected, and, as you yourself so kindly yesterday suggested this as the most effectual measure of effecting that purpose, I beg you will do me the favour of returning that letter to me, as I have only an imperfect copy of it (which I would not willingly present to the public), if you have not destroyed it. It is hard to bear at one and the same time the pressure of domestic sorrow, the anxiety of business, and the necessity of healing a wounded.
reputation; but such is the rude enforcement of the time, and I must sustain it as I am enabled by that Power who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.
On the 2d of February she had the satisfaction of receiving a letter from Sally, describing herself as well and gay. A few days afterward, her grief at the prospect of a long separation from her son George was soothed by his coming to visit her before his departure for India. He stopped with her a fortnight. When it came to the last, his affection, and fear of over-agitating his mother would not allow him to take a formal farewell of her. George had recommendations from royalty itself to the Governor-general of India, almost amounting to a command to provide for him handsomely; and the boy's prospects were so hopeful and ambitious, that she resigned herself as cheerfully as she could to an event that was to make him happy. "It was gratifying," Miss Wilkinson says, "to see them fondly trying to make all the happiness they could out of the last days of their domestication, though their mutual smiles were often more affecting than any tears."
Hitherto none of her correspondents had alarmed her about Sally; and Mr. Siddons himself seems to have participated in the general and fallacious security respecting her. Mrs. Sid dons, therefore, made an engagement, that, on leaving Dublin, she should perform at Cork, and she repaired thither in March. On the 10th of that month Mr. Siddons communicated, in a letter to Miss Wilkinson, that Sally was very poorly, but charged her not to disturb Mrs. Siddons with the intelligence. Miss Wilkinson, however, thought it her duty to show the letter to Mrs. Siddons, who would have instantly set off for England if the winds had permitted her. But the equinoctial gales had set in, and no vessel durst venture out of the harbour. Two days later a letter came to Mrs. Siddons herself, from her husband, requesting her to set her mind at ease with regard to Sally, and to proceed to Cork. She obeyed his injunction, and acted at the theatre there on the 21st of March, but in a state of miserable anxiety, as may be seen by the following letter to Mrs. Fitz Hugh.
"MY DEAR FRIEND,
"Cork, March 21, 1803.
“How shall I sufficiently thank you for all your kindness to
me? You know my heart, and I spare my words; for, God knows, my mind is in so distracted a state that I can hardly write or speak rationally. Oh! why did not Mr. Siddons tell me when she was first taken so ill! I should then have got clear of this engagement, and what a world of wretchedness and anxiety would have been spared to me! And yet, good God! how should I have crossed the sea? For a fortnight past it has been so dangerous, that nothing but wherries have ventured to the Holy Head; but yet, I think I should have put myself into one of them if I could have known that my poor dear girl was so ill. Oh! tell me all about her. I am almost broken-hearted, though the last accounts tell me she has been mending for several days. Has she wished for me? but I know, I feel that she has. The dear creature used to think it weakness in me when I told her of the possibility of what might be endured from illness, when that tremendous element divides one from one's family. Would to God I were at her bedside! It would be for me then to suffer with resignation what I cannot now support with any fortitude. If any thing could relieve the misery I feel, it would be that my dear and inestimable Sir Lucas Pepys had her under his care. Pray tell him this, and ask him to write me a word of comfort. Will you believe that I must play to-night, and can you imagine any wretchedness like it in this terrible state of mind? For a moment I comfort myself by reflecting on the strength of the dear creature's constitution, which has so often rallied, to the astonishment of us all, under similar serious attacks. Then again, when I think of the frail tenure of human existence, my heart fails, and sinks into dejection. God bless you! The suspense that distance keeps me in you may imagine, but it cannot be described.
“Adieu, your ever affectionate,
For several succeeding days her agony was wound up to the highest pitch by the non-arrival of letters from home. Mrs. Fitz Hugh had written to her duly, and so had Mr. Siddons, but, owing to the stormy state of the weather, the Cork packet arrived irregularly. At last, in the course of a week, she received tidings that were not favourable, though at the same time not desperate; but she could endure her apprehensions no longer, and determined immediately to return to England. She told Mr. Pero, the manager of the Cork theatre, that she was utterly unable to finish her engagement, and he assented
to her renouncing it, though it was a great loss to him, in the most humane and honourable manner. She and Miss Wilkinson accordingly set off for Dublin, being informed that it was a safer route to England than direct from Cork. In Dublin they were again detained by contrary winds, and, as if every circumstance had conspired to make her miserable, Mrs. Siddons found no intelligence respecting her daughter awaiting her arrival there. Her announcement of her intention to leave Cork not having reaching Mrs. Fitz Hugh in due time, her friend had still addressed her letters to the South. Mrs. Siddons therefore writes to that friend in a tone of impatience too excusable under such excruciating circumstances.
"Dublin, April 2, 1803.
"I am perfectly astonished, my dear friend, that I have not heard from you, after begging it so earnestly. Good God! what can be the reason that intelligence must be extorted, as it were, in circumstances like mine. One would think common benevolence, setting affection quite aside, might have induced some of you to alleviate, as much as possible, such distress as you know I must feel. The last letter from Mr. Siddons stated that she was better. Another letter, from Mr. Montgomery, at Oxford, says that George gave him the same account. Why, why am I to hear this only from a person at that distance from her, and so ill informed as the writer must be of the state of her health? Why should not you or Mr. Siddons have told me this? I cannot account for your silence at all, for you know how to feel. I hope to sail to-night, and to reach London the third day: God knows when that will be. Oh God! what a home to return to, after all I have been doing! and what a prospect to the end of my days!
As soon as the weather would permit, she crossed to Holyhead, and proceeded to Shrewsbury as fast as she could find conveyances. There she met with a letter from Mr. Siddons, acknowledging Sally's danger, and affectionately sharing her parental feelings: but also praying her to remember the preciousness of her own life, and not to endanger it by over-rapid travelling. Only an hour or two after this letter had been written, her daughter's sufferings had come suddenly to a close; and, while she was reading it, a person recently arrived from
London sent to call Miss Wilkinson out of the room, and to tell her that Miss Siddons was dead. Her faithful friend would have fain broken the news upon Mrs. Siddons gradually, but her countenance betrayed her; and the bereaved mother, having now no occasion for rapid travelling, sank into speechless despondency, and lay for a day at Shrewsbury (Miss Wilkinson says, in her Diary), cold and torpid as a stone, and with scarcely a sign of life.
She proceeded at last on her journey to London. At Oxford she found a condoling letter awaiting her from her brother John; and a few miles from town she was met by her brother Charles, who accompanied her next day on her first visit to their widowed mother. The agitation of her mind produced a severe indisposition, for which the air and waters of Cheltenham were recommended. From that place she dates the following letter to Mrs. Fitz Hugh.
"Birch Farm, Cheltenham, June, 1803. "The serenity of the place, the sweet air and scenery of my cottage, and the medicinal effect of the waters, have done some good to my shattered constitution.
* * *
"I am unable, at times, to reconcile myself to my fate. The darling being for whom I mourn is assuredly released from a life of suffering, and numbered among the blessed spirits made perfect. But to be separated for ever, in spite of reason and in spite of religion, is at times too much for me. Give my love to dear Charles Moore,* if you chance to see him. Have you read his beautiful account of my sweet Sally. It is done with a truth and modesty which has given me the sincerest of all pleasures that I am now allowed to feel, and assures me still more than ever that he who could feel and taste such excellence, was worthy of the particular regard she had for him.
"Yours very truly,
*To Charles Moore, the brother of General Sir John Moore, I was indebted for my introduction to the acquaintance of Mrs. Siddons and her daughter. I shall never forget the first meeting I had with him after Miss Siddons's death; it was accidentally in the street: he shook hands with me, but could not speak. He gave me his arm, however, and we walked together to his chambers, where he showed me a bust of Sally Siddons. It scarcely did her justice, to my remembrance. She was not strictly beautiful, but her countenance was like her mother's, with brilliant eyes, and a remarkable mixture of frankness and sweetness in her physiognomy.