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his costume in Shylock as too shabby.-Foote said of him, that • he would not do ;' and Garrick's contempt of him amounted to personal enmity.--All this,” says Mr. Galt,“ serves to confirm the idea that he was not so extraordinary a man as his friends represented.” With a little explanation, however, all this leads to no such conclusion. Colman's objection to his dress in Shylock was never confirmed by public opinion. On the contrary, according to tradition, Henderson was the happiest of all the actors of that part. Boaden observes, with great felicity of expression, that " the power of Henderson, as an actor, was analytic. He was not contented with the mere light of common meaning. He showed it you through a prism, and reflected all the delicate and mingling hues that enter into the composition of any ray of human character. Besides, he had a voice so flexible, that his tones conveyed all that his meaning would insinuate.” This is the testimony of an ear and eye-witness, and it surely outweighs the assertion of Mr. Galt, who never saw him, that " Henüerson was a mere mimic." That he had great powers of mimicry is certain ; but what great comic actor was ever without them? Garrick himself delighted in imitating the gobbling of a turkey-cock.
Foote said of Henderson, that she would not do." Yes; but it was before he had seen him on the stage. When he had seen him, he spoke of him as an actor of genius.
Garrick's contempt of Henderson, according to Galt, approached to personal enmity. But, in the first place, contempt and enmity cannot very well exist together; and, in the next place, Garrick could have no contempt for Henderson, or else he would never have invited him from Bath to London. Garrick's enmity, it arose from Henderson's refusing his invitation to Drury Lane, and complying with the little manager's request to take him off before his face. Garrick had chuckled at Henderson's mimicry of all the other eminent players, and at last entreated to be taken off himself; but he sulked at the imitation, and never forgavevit.
Professor Dugald Stewart, who knew Henderson, told me that his power of memory was the most astonishing he had ever met with. In the philosopher's presence he took up a newspaper, and, after reading it once, repeated such a portion of it as, to Mr. Stewart, seemed utterly marvellous. When he expressed his surprise, Henderson modestly replied, “ If you had been obliged, like me, to depend, during many years, for your daily bread, on getting words by heart, you would not be so much astonished at babit having produced this facility."
“ In the summer of 1782,” Mrs. Siddons thus continues her Memoranda, “ I received an invitation to revisit Drury Lane. After my former dismissal from thence, it may be imagined that this was to me a triumphant moment. My good reception in London I cannot but partly attribute to the enthusiastic accounts of me which the amiable Duchess of Devonshire had brought thither, and spread before my arrival. I had the honour of her acquaintance during her visit at Bath, and her unqualified approbation of my performances."
Mrs. Siddons says she was truly touched at the thought of parting from her kind friends at Bath. She took leave of them in the following lines of her own composition. MRS. SIDDONS'S ADDRESS ON QUITTING THE BATH
[Here three children were discovered : they were
HENRY, SALLY,' and Makia SIDDONS. ]
These are the moles that bear me from your side,
Mrs. Siddons returned to Drury Lane theatre in 1782, and may be said to have mounted with but a few steps to unrivalled possession of the tragic throne. The oldest praisers of the bygone time scarcely pretended to have beheld or heard of her superior in acting, though they had seen the best actresses of the century, and had heard their fathers describe those of the
When I entered on the Life of Mrs. Siddons, I felt curious to ascertain the traditional characters of those women who may be called her predecessors as the queens of our tragic stage; and, when any subject engages our own interest, we naturally imagine that it will not be wholly unattractive to the curiosity of others. I even felt as if there would be something like abruptness in commencing the history of her professional supremacy without some prefatory remarks on the previous state of female acting in England. This was, perhaps, taking an exaggerated view of the subject. But, at all events, as my retrospect of our greatest tragic actresses, anterior to Mrs. Siddons, will be brief, I hope the reader will not repudiate it as a wholly uninteresting digression.
It is true, that all the information to be gleaned respecting those elder actresses is very scanty; and it is the misfortune of histrionic genius that the most vivid portraits of it convey but vague conceptions of its excellence. And yet, amid all this vagueness, the mind can make out some general and trustworthy conclusions. I find, for instance, no queen of our stage so unequivocally extolled for majesty and beauty of person as Mrs. Siddons ; nor any one whose sway over her audiences can be imagined to have been stronger. My inference is, if I may parody Milton's phrase, that she was the fairest of her predecessors and that if Time could rebuild his ruins, and react the lost scenes of existence, he would present no female to match her on the tragic stage.
First Introduction of Females on the English Stage--Names and Char.
acters of Mrs. Siddons's greatest Predecessors Mrs. Betterton-Mrs. Anne Marshall-Mrs. Boutell-Mrs. Barry-Mrs. Bracegirdle-Mrs. Oldfield_Mrs. Porter--Mrs. Cibber-Mrs. Pritchard-Mrs. Yates Mrs. Crawford.
UNTIL the time of Charles the Second, there were no women actors in our theatres. Female characters were performed by boys, or young men.
Even after the Restoration, this custom was not all at once discontinued ; and we hear of Kynaston, the last beautiful youth who figured in petticoats on the stage, having been carried about in his theatrical dress by ladies of fashion in their carriages. This was an unseemly spectacle, and we can forgive the Puritans for objecting to see “men in women's clothing." But against this impropriety, the Puritans ought to have appealed to common sense and decency, instead of quoting a text from the Book of Deuteronomy, which forbids the appearance of men in female attire : for, though it is true that the Jewish law has interdicted the assumption of women's dress by men, yet it should be remembered that the Levitical law is not binding upon
Christians. The restorers of our theatres, without troubling themselves about the Puritans, followed the custom of the Continent, in bringing women upon the stage, putting a stop to the impersonation of queens and heroines by he-creatures, who had sometimes to be shaved before they acted. Yet this admission of women among the players, though a great natural improvement, occurred in times and circumstances that made it appear at first rather an unfavourable change for the moral character of the stage.
Since the death of Shakspeare, and during the latter part of James's reign, the drama had grown more and more licentious. The speeches which stage-heroines had to hear and utter were so gross, that the Puritans pronounced it impossible for any woman who was not a courtesan to tread the boards; and Charles the Second, who had re-opened the theatres, and was effectively the manager of one of them, seemed as if he strove for a wager to make good the words of the Puritans. Considering the profligacy of the age, it is more wonderful that a few actresses, and these the best, were unexceptionable private characters, than that the stage gave its contingent to Charles's seraglio.*
Though, even in those times, the lives of Mrs. Betterton and other actresses belied the puritanic assertion that no modest woman could tread the boards, still modern civilization has robbed the Puritans of the strongest objection which they could allege against the theatre, namely, the grossness of its language ; so that the most delicate female need not now shrink from the profession on that account. At present, after
*Among Charles's mistresses, his “Loves of the Theatre" were the least expensive and unpopular. Nell Gwynne, it is true, had 15001. a year ; but the Duchess of Cleveland had 47001. : the Duchess of Portsmouth had still more. The latter were hated by the whole nation; while Nelly, who was called the “ Poor Man's Friend,” was literally a general favourite, and not undeservedly; for, bred as she had been, as an orange-girl, amid the haunts of dissipation, vice was more her destiny than her blame. She was really a good-hearted woman, and, in the days of her prosperity, showed herself grateful to her old friends ; among whom she had the honour of ranking Otway and Dryden. She was faithful to the king, never pestered him about politics, and was never the creature of ministers. Once, when Charles had ordered an extravagant service of plate, as a present to the Duchess of Portsmouth, from a jeweller in Cheapside, an immense crowd collected about the shop, cursing the duchess, and wishing that the plate were melted and poured down her throat. But they added, “ What a pity it should not be bestowed on Madam Ellen !"
Nell was often successful in throwing ridicule on her rival the Duch. ess of Portsmouth, originally Mlle. Querouaille. She pretended to be related to the best families of France; and, whenever one of their members died, she put herself into mourning. It happened that news of the Cham of Tartary's death had lately reached England. A prince of France was also recently dead, and the Duchess of Portsmouth was, of course, in sables. Nell came to court in the same attire, and, standing close by her grace, was asked by one of her friends why she was in mourning? *Oh!” said Nell, “ have you not heard of my loss, in the death of the Cham of Tartary ?”“And what the deuse,” replied her friend, “was the Cham of Tartary to you?”—“Oh,” answered Nell, “exactly the same relation that the Prince of was to Mlle. Querouaille.”
The mistaken tradition of Ellen Gwynne having founded Chelsea Hospital probably arose from her character for benevolence, as well as from her frequently visiting
Chelsea, where her mother lived many years, and where the old woman died, in consequence of falling one day into the Thames, when looking out of her window. What had made her top-heavy is not recorded.