Page images
PDF
EPUB

And lend to later life a softer tone,
A moonlight tint,-a lustre of her own.

Judges and Friends! to whom the magic strain
Of Nature's feeling never spoke in vain,
Perhaps your hearts, when years have glided by,
And past emotions wake a fleeting sigh,
May think on her, whose lips have pour'd so long
The charmed sorrows of your Shakspeare's song :
On her, who parting to return no more,
Is now the mourner she but seem'd before,

Herself subdued, resigns the melting spell,
And breathes, with swelling heart, her long, her last Farewell !

Her utterance was interrupted by strong agitation towards the conclusion of the address, and, when it was ended, Mr. Kemble led her off the stage, amid the deepest manifestations of publie feeling

During this season, Mrs. Siddons removed from Westbourne, and lived for some months in lodgings in Pall Mall. I remember, when I called to pay my respects to her, I was struck at seeing a long line of carriages that filled the street, and I concluded that there was a levee at St. James's. I soon found, however, that the carriages belonged to the visitants of the Tragic Queen.

CHAPTER XX.

Mrs. Siddons reads to the Royal Family at Windsor-Has her Likeness

taken by the painter Harlowe-Her Readings at the Argyle RoomsVisits, by invitation, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge-Her Tour to Paris-She visits the Louvre-Death of her son Henry-Acts at Edinburgh for the benefit of his surviving family-Reappears on the Stage, by command of the Princess Charlotte-Her last Performance, for the benefit of Mr. Charles Kemble-Joins her brother John, at Lausanne-Mrs. Garrick's Bequest to her—Mrs. Siddons's gratifica. tion at Fanny Kemble's performance-Her last Illness, Death, and Funeral—General Eulogium on her Character.

Mrs. SIDDONS had not been many months retired from the stage, when she received an invitation from the Royal Family to visit Windsor, an incident respecting which she sends the following account to her friend Mrs. Fitz Hugh.

Westbourne, January 26, 1813. " I have been these three days meditating about writing you an account of my Windsor visit, which you have, no doubt, seen mentioned in the newspapers; but, whether occasioned by the fatigue of that visit, or from an habitual tendency, my head has been more heavy and painful since my return home than it has been for many months ; but, though very far from well at present, I cannot resist the pleasure of telling you myself what I know you will be gratified to hear.-- Take it thus verbarim.

“ On the 18th (I think it was) I was in the middle of dressing to go and dine with Mrs. Damer, when an especial messenger arrived in the dusk, with a letter from my old friend the Dowager Lady Stewart, to tell me that the queen had ordered her to write and say, 'that her majesty wished very much to hear me read, and desired to have an answer returned immediately to Carlton House, where the party from Windsor dined that day,' which was Wednesday. I, of course, wrote that I should be happy to have the honour of obeying the queen's commands, and therefore left my own house on Friday, according to appointment, and went to Frogmore, where I was informed that every thing would be prepared for my arrival. I got there about three, and was conducted into a very elegant drawing-room, where I sat till it was time to go to the Castle, and consult with Lady Stewart respecting the reading. I spent about an hour very agreeably in her apartment with herself and Princess Elizabeth, who appears the best-natured person in the world. We concluded for some part of Henry VIII,' some part of the • Merchant of Venice,' and to finish with some scenes from • Hamlet. After this I dined with Madame Bechendoft, her majesty's confidential gentlewoman. When Lady Harcourt returned, after dining with the queen, I again went to her apartment, where Princess Elizabeth renewed her visit, and staid and chatted very charmingly, of course, because her conversation was chiefly about the pleasure they had all formerly received from my exertions, and the delight of hearing me again. We then parted for the night, the ladies to the queen's card-party, and I to Frogmore, where the steward and housekeeper came to me, to say that her majesty and the princess had been there in the morning, and had left a message to desire that I would consider myself as in my own house, with repeated injunctions to make my residence there as agreeable as possible. The next day the whole royal party from Windsor, with Princess Charlotte and the Dukes of Cambridge and Clarence, dined at Frogmore. Many of the gentry and nobility were invited to the reading ; and at about half-past eight I entered the room where they were all assembled. The queen, the princesses, and the Duchess of York, all came to me, and conversed most graciously, till the queen took her place. Then the company seated themselves, and I began. It all went off to my heart's content, for the room was the finest place for the voice in the world. I retired, sometimes, at her majesty's request, to rest; and, when it was over, I had the extreme satisfaction to find that they had been all extremely delighted. Lady Stewart wrote me yesterday, that I am still the inexhaustible fund of conversation and eulogium. When the queen retired, after the reading, Lady Stewart brought to me a magnificent gold chain, with a cross of many-coloured jewels, from her majesty, and hung it about my neck before all the company. This was a great surprise, and you may imagine how so great an honour affected me. You may conceive, too, the pleasure it gave me to be able to divert a few of those mournfully monotonous hours which these amiable sufferers, from the singularly afflicting nature of their misfortune, are doomed to undergo. I found that the queen had been desirous that I should not return the next day, but stay and read again to her at the Castle next night, which I was happy to do. This reading consisted of passages from Paradise Lost,' .Gray's Elegy,' and · Marmion.' When I went into the room, I found her majesty, with all the princesses, and the Princess Charlotte, seated, and a table and chair prepared for me, which she (most graciously saying she was sure I must still feel fatigued from the last night's exertion) ordered me to seat myself in, when I thanked her for the magnificent favour* I had received, and hoped the reading of the preceding night had not fatigued her majesty, for she really had a terrible cough and cold. She hoped that the keepsake would remind me of Frogmore, and said that it was impossible to be fatigued when she was so extremely delighted.' I then took my leave, intending to return home the next day, which was Monday, but having long meditated a short visit to Lord and Lady Harcourt, who live at St. Leonard's Hill, about four miles from Frogmore, I called there, and Lady Harcourt persuaded me to remain with her, and was so good as to make me send for Cecilia and Miss Wilkinson. While I was there

* In the same year she did me the honour of presenting me with a gift, which I would not exchange for even a gold chain from royalty. It was a silken quilt for my bed, which she sewed with her own hands.

I received another command from her majesty ; and the next Sunday evening I read • Othello' to the royal party at the Castle: and here my story ends. I have much to say if I had eyes and head; my heart, however, is still strong, and am, with undiminished affection,

• Yours,

- S. S."

Very soon afterward she paid a visit to her friends the Blackshaws, at their seat in Windsor Forest, where she met with Harlowe the painter, who took an admirable likeness of her, in the sleeping-scene of Lady Macbeth.

Though she had now professionally bidden adieu to the stage, she was bound by no consideration to take an absolute leave of her popularity; and, during the next season, she gave public readings of poetry at the Argyle Rooms, in London.

The style in which these readings were got up was simple and tasteful :-In front of what was the orchestra in the old Argyle Rooms, a reading-desk with lights was placed, on which lay her book, a quarto volume, printed with large letter. When her memory could not be entirely trusted, she assisted her sight by spectacles, which, in the intervals, she handled and waved 80 gracefully that you could not have wished her to be without them. A large red screen formed what painters would call a background to the person of the charming reader.

She was dressed in white, and her dark hair, à la Grecque, crossed her temples in full masses. There was something remarkably elegant in the self-possession of her entrance, and in the manner in which she addressed the assembly. Her readings were alternately from Milton and Shakspeare. I have already made free to confess my conviction that the works of the former poet are too spiritual and undramatic to be susceptible of any improvement from human elocution. But, about her readings of Shakspeare, I can only say that, to my understanding, no acting I ever witnessed, nor dramatic criticism I ever read, illustrated the poet so closely and so perfectly. In the following letter respecting Mrs. Siddons, which I had the honour of receiving from Miss Edgeworth, I am happy to find this pre-eminent writer expressing the same idea.

66 DEAR SIR, " I heard Mrs. Siddons read, at her town-house, a portion of • Henry VIII.' I was more struck and delighted than I ever was with any reading in my life. This is feebly expressing

what I felt: I felt that I had never before fully understood or sufficiently admired Shakspeare, or known the full powers of the human voice and the English language. Queen Katharine was a character peculiarly suited to her time of life and to reading. There was nothing that required gesture or vehemence incompatible with the sitting attitude. The composure and dignity, and the sort of suppressed feeling, and touches, not bursts of tenderness, of matronly, not youthful tenderness, were all favourable to the general effect. I quite forgot to applaud-I thought she was what she appeared. The illusion was perfect till it was interrupted by a hint from her daughter or niece, I forget which, that Mrs. Siddons would be encouraged by having some demonstration given of our feelings. I then expressed my admiration ; but the charm was broken,

"To Barry we gave loud applause,
To Garrick only tears.'

6 Yours, &c.

“ M. E."

Soon after these readings, she received an intimation from the most eminent characters of Oxford and Cambridge, that their respective Universities would feel themselves honoured by her visiting them. This invitation, like that from royalty, necessarily involved the understanding that its honour was to be its own reward. She nevertheless accepted it, and went to both places, where she was received with enthusiastic hospitality. Her readings were given at what were called private parties; but which included very numerous audiences, and all the distinguished individuals of the colleges. She might be said to have received the highest honours at both Universities. Miss Siddons thus writes to Miss Wilkinson, respecting her mother’s reception at Cambridge.

Melton Mowbray, July 22, 1814. - MY DEAR Party, “On the delightful days which we have spent at Cambridge I shall always look back with pride and pleasure. I over and over wished for you, who would have enjoyed as much as I did the attention and admiration shown to our Darling. Oxford in term-time did not equal Cambridge in vacation, and was almost empty. Mr. and Mrs. Frere were most hospitable,

« PreviousContinue »