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ceremony. The fact of so powerful a nobleman having been so wholly abandoned by his followers would imply that the authority of the feudal lords had not been established in Wales to the same extent as in the rest of the kingdom, and probably never existed at all much beyond the limits of the boroughs and fortified towns. Soon after, when the Earl of Richmond landed at Milford Haven, he being a Tudor and of Welsh ex. traction, the natives of the principality flocked to his standard, and contributed to the victory of Bosworth.
Brecon has also furnished a character for the drama of Shak. speare, namely, that of Sir Hugh Evans, that "remnant of Welsh flannel,” in “ The Merry Wives of Windsor.” curate of the priory of Brecon in the days of Queen Elizabeth. He died in 1581, and by a will, which is still among the records of Brecon, left a library which must have been at that time thought considerable, and which bespeaks him to have been a man of reading. In the same will, he bequeaths his swash-buckler to one of his friends, and appoints Richard Price, Esq., to be overseer of his testament. The last-named gentleman was the son of Sir John Price, of the Priory,* a great patron of Sir Hugh Evans. By the younger Price, Evans was presented, in 1572, to the living of Merthyr Cynog, and was doubtless introduced also to Shakspeare. At least so says my learned Cambrian friend ;t who adds, that this Richard Price was a favourite at the court of Elizabeth ; and, on the authority of the family records, is stated to have held a correspondence with Shakspeare. It is so delightful to identify any thing appertaining to the poet of poets with the birth-place of our heroine, that I am fain to indulge a pleasing belief in the probability of what my correspondent says farther. He states “ that, from the intimacy which subsisted betwixt Shakspeare and the Prices of the Priory, an idea prevails that he frequently visited them at their residence in Brecon, and that he not only availed himself of the whimsicalities of old Sir Hugh, but that he was indebted to this part of the kingdom for much of the machinery of Midsummer Night's Dream. This idea is confirmed by the similarity which the frolics of Puck and his companions bear to the goblins and fairies of this portion of the principality ; there being in Bre
* Sir John Price is well known among the Welsh as an antiquary. He took an active part in the union of Wales with England, and is supposed to have dictated the petition of his countrymen to Henry the Eighth. i † The Rev. T. Price, of Crickhowell.
conshire a valley which bears his name, Cwm Pwica. Here this merry sprite is said still to practise his gambols with all the energies of the sixteenth century; and certainly if beautiful scenery have any influence in localizing these beings, they could find few better places than the deep romantic glen of the Clydach.”
In the Memoranda which she has left me, Mrs. Siddons says nothing of her juvenile days; but I remember her telling an anecdote of her infancy, which strongly illustrated her confidence in the efficacy of prayer, or rather of the Prayer-book. One day, her mother had promised to take her out the follow. ing, to a pleasure party in the neighbourhood, and she'was to wear a new pink dress, which became her exceedingly. But whether the party was to hold, and the pink apparel to be worn, was to depend on the weather of to-morrow morning. On going to bed, she took with her her Prayer-book, opened, as she supposed, at the prayer for fine weather, and she fell asleep with the book folded in her little arms. At daybreak she found that she had been holding the prayer for rain to her breast, and that the rain, as if Heaven had taken her at her word, was pelting at the windows. But she went to bed again, with the book opened at the right place, and she found the mistake quite remedied; for the morning was as pink and beautiful as the dress she was to wear.
I have heard her say that Milton's poetry was the object of her admiration earlier than Shakspeare's, and that when but ten years old she used to pore over“ Paradise Lost” for hours together. Some portion of this Miltonic devotion may have sprung from piety more than taste; for, without disparagement to the bard of Eden be it said, we are awed into idolatry of him by the sacredness of his subject, before we can appreciate his beauties.
Mrs. Siddons continued devoted to Milton all her life ; and she was one of the most judicious critics you could hear discourse of him. No doubt, when she thought, in her later days, of making “ Paradise Lost" more popular by her readings, she miscalculated even her own powers of recitation. The best reading can do little or nothing for great poetry that is not dramatic; and the muse of Milton is too proud to borrow a debt from elocution.
I am unable to state the exact date of Mrs. Siddons's first appearance on the stage, but it must have been very early; for the company was offended at her appearance of childhood, and was for some time shaken with uproar. The timid debutante was about to retire, when her mother, with characteristic decision, led her to the front of the stage, and made her repeat the fable of the “ Boys and the Frogs," which not only appeased the audience, but produced thunders of applause. At thirteen, she was the heroine in several English operas, and sung very tolerably. In the “ History of Worcester," there is found the copy of a play-bill, dated February 12, 1767, in which Mr. Roger Kemble announces his company of come: dians as playing at the King's Head, in that city ; with a concert of music. The play was “ Charles the First,” by an actor named Havard, indifferently written, and, from its subject, ill calculated for the universal sympathy of a British audience.* The characters were thus cast: James, Duke of Richmond, by Mr. Siddons, who was now an actor in Kemble's company ; Jarnes, Duke of York, by Master John Kemble, who was then about twelve years old. The Young Princess, by Miss Kemble, then approaching to fourteen ; Lady Fairfax, by Mrs. Kemble. Singing between the acts, by Mr. Fowler and Miss Kemble. In the April following, Master John Kemble is announced as Philidel, in “ King Arthur,” and Miss Kemble as Ariel, in "The Tempest."
Her education could not be expected, from her father's circumstances, to be very accomplished; but it included instruction both in vocal and instruinental music. Her father also remarked that she had fine natural powers of elocution, and he wished them to be cultivated by regular tuition. For this purpose, when she was about fifteen, he engaged a stranger to be her reading preceptor, who would have undertaken the office if Mrs. Kemble had not interposed her veto. This individual was William Combe, recently known as the author of " Doctor Syntax's Adventures.” This eccentric being, after mis-spending a handsome fortune, had come to Wolverhampton as a common soldier, and, after obtaining his discharge, and pecuniary relief froin some friendly people in the place, had set up
* Havard undertook the tragedy of “Charles I." at the desire of the manager of the company of Lincoln's Inn Fields, to which he then lelonged, in 1737. The manager had probably read of the salutary effects produced on the genius of Euripides by seclusion in his cave, ard he was determined to give Havard the same advantage in a garret during the composition of his task. He invited him to his house, took him up to one of its airiest apartments, and there locked him up for so many hours every day, well knowing his desultory habits; nor released him, after he had once turned the clavis tragica, till the unfortunate bard had repeated through the keyhole a certain number of new speeches in the progressive tragedy.
as a teacher of elocution. Roger Kemble had promised him a pupil in his eldest daughter, and went home to boast of the accomplished tutor he had engaged. But Mrs. Kemble more wisely determined that such an adventurer should not give lessons to her child. *
* Mr. Combe's history is not less remarkable for the recklessness of his early days than for the industry of his maturer age, and the late period of life at which he attracted popularity by his talents. He was the nephew of a Mr. Alexander, an alderman of the city of London ; and, as he was sent first to Eton College, and afterward to Oxford, it may be inferred that his parents were in good circumstances. His uncle left him sixteen thousand pounds. On the acquisition of this fortune he entered himself of the Temple, and in due time was called to the bar. On one occasion he even distinguished himself before the Lord-chancellor Nottingham. But liis ambition was to shine as a man of fashion, and he paid little attention to the law. While at the Temple, his courtly dress, his handsome liveries, and, it may be added, his tall stature and fine appearance, procured him the appellation of Duke Combe. Some of the most exclusive ladies of fashion had instituted a society, which was called the Coterie, to which gentlemen were admitted as visiters. Among this favoured number was the Duke Combe. One evening, Lady Archer, who was a beautiful woman, but too fond of gaudy colours, and who had her face always lavishly rouged, was sitting in the Coterie, when Lord Lyttleton, the graceless son of an estimable peer, entered the room evidently intoxicated, and stood before Lady Archer for several minutes, with his eyes fixed on her. The lady manifested great indignation, and asked why he thus annoyed her. “I have been thinking," said Lord Lyttleton, “what I can compare you to, in your gaudy colouring, and you give me no idea but that of a drunken peacock.” The lady returned a sharp answer, on which he threw the contents of a wine-glass in her face. All was confusion in a moment; but, though several noblemen and gentlemen were present, none of them took up the cause of the insuited female till Mr. Combe came forward, and, by his resolute behaviour, obliged the offender to withdraw. His spirited conduct on this occasion gained him much credit among the circles of fashion ; but his grace's diminishing finances ere long put an end to the fashionableness of his acquaintance. He paid all the penalties of a spendthrift, and was steeped in poverty to the very lips. At one time he was driven for a morsel of bread to enlist as a private in the British army; and at another time, in a sitnilar exigency, he went into the French service. From a more cogent motive than piety, he afterward entered into a French monastery, and lived there till the term of his novitiate expired. He returned to Britain, and took service wherever he could get it ; but in all these dips into low life, he was never in the least embarrassed when he met with his old acquaintance. A wealthy divine, who had known him in the best London society, recognised him when a waiter at Swansea, actually tripping about with a napkin under his arm, and, staring at him, exclaimed, “ You cannot be Combe ?”– " Yes, indeed, but I am," was the waiter's answer. He married the mistress of a noble lord, who promised him an annuity with her,
but cheated him; and in revenge he wrote a spirited satire, entitled “The Diaboliad." Among its subjects were an Irish peor and his eldest son, who When she was about seventeen, Mr. Siddons, who was still an actor in her father's company, paid his first attentions to her ; it was soon perceived that they were acceptable. Mr. Siddons had been bred to business in Birmingham; but, being handsome and active, and not without versatile talents for the stage,
had a quarrel that extinguished any little natural affection that might have ever subsisted between them. The father challenged the son to fight; the son refused to go out with him, not, as he expressly stated, because the challenger was his own father, but because he was not a gentleman.
After his first wife's death, Mr. Combe made a more creditable marriage with a sister of Mr. Cosway, the artist, and much of the distress which his imprudence entailed upon him was mitigated by the assiduities of this amiable woman. For many years he subsisted by writing for the booksellers, with a reputation that might be known to many individuals, but that certainly was not public. He wrote a work, which was generally ascribed to the good Lord Lyttleton, entitled “ Letters from a Nobleman to his Son,” and “Letters from an Italian Nun to an English Nobleman,” that professed to be translated from Rousseau. He published also several political tracts, that were trashy, time-serving, and scurrilous. Pecuniary difficulties brought him to a permanent residence in the King's Bench, where he continued about twenty years, and for the latter part of them a voluntary inmate. One of his friends offered to effect a compromise with his creditors, but he refused the favour. “If I compounded with my creditors,” said Mr. Combe, "I should be obliged to sacrifice the little substance which I possess, and on which I subsist in prison. These chambers, the best in the Bench, are mine at the rent of a few shillings a week, in right of my seniority as a prisoner. My habits are become so sedentary, that if I lived in the airiest square of London, I should not walk round it once in a month. I am contented in my cheap quarters.”
When he was near the age of seventy he had some literary dealings with Mr. Ackermann, the bookseller. The late caricaturist Rowlandson had offered to Mr. Ackermann a number of drawings, representing an old clergyman and schoolmaster, who felt, or fancied, himself in love with the fine arts, quixotically travelling during his holydays in quest of the picturesque. As the drawings needed the explanation of letterpress, Mr. Ackermann. declined to purchase them unless he should find some one who could give them a poetical illustration. He carried one or two of them to Mr. Combe, who undertook the subject. The bookseller, knowing his procrastinating temper, left him but one drawing at a time, which he illustrated in verse, without knowing the subject of the drawing that was next to come. The popularity of the “Adventures of Dr. Syntax” induced Mr. Ackermann afterward to employ him in two successive publications, “ The Dance of Life,” and “ The Dance of Death,” in England, which were also accompanied by Rowlandson's designs.
It was almost half a century before the appearance of these works that Mr. Combe so narrowly missed the honour of being Mrs. Siddons's reading-master. He had exchanged the gayeties of London for quarters at a tap-room in Wolverhampton, where he was billeted as a soldier in the service of his Britannic majesty. He had a bad foot at the time, and was