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tained for her the permanent appellation of the famous Madan Barry. Her fame was not diminished by her appearing as the original Isabella, in Southerne's "Fatal Marriage;" and she enjoyed perhaps a higher character than any actress anterior to Mrs. Siddons.
I am sorry to add, however, that it was professional, not private character. She was the mistress of Lord Rochester ; and we are told that she owed her improvement in acting chiefly to his instructions. The latter circumstance I am inclined to consider apocryphal, for two reasons : in the first place, because the minute account of her tuition by Rochester which Davies gives, in his Dramatic Miscellanies, was derived solely from a book of bad authority published by Curl; and, in the next place, because, putting disgust out of the question, I have some difficulty in imagining the actress of Monimia or Belvidera drawing lessons of refined enchantment from a gentleman so habitually drunk, and so grossly profligate, as Lord Rochester. I admit that some letters of the peer to Mrs. Barry, published by Tonson in 1716, if they be genuine, are, considering the nature of the connexion, not discreditable to him; and farther, that his name has become a by-word of infamy to a greater degree than it really merits. Innumerable verses of a vile nature have been fathered upon Lord Rochester which he never wrote. I believe him indeed to have been more intelligent and accomplished than the odium attached to his vices generally allows us to suppose. But, after all, he was a gross being, in spite of his best poems and the history of his penitence; and he illustrates the truth, that if men's vices do not degrade them more than crimes, they at least throw a heavier cloud over their genius. I cannot figure to myself Mrs. Barry imbibing graces from his suggestions.
I have quoted Cibber's testimony, that in 1696 he found Mrs. Barry in possession of all the chief parts of tragedy.. Cibber adds, “ With what skill she gave life to them you will judge from the words of Dryden, in his presace to Cleomenes,' where he says, 'Mrs. Barry, always excellent, has in this tragedy excelled herself, and gained a reputation beyond any woman I have ever sten on a theatre.' I very well remember," continues Cibber, “ her acting that part; and, however unnecessary it may seem to give my judgment after Dryden's, I cannot help saying, I do not only close with his opinion, but will venture to add, that. though Dryden has been dead these thirty-eight years, the. same compliment to this hour may be due to her excellence..
And though she was then* not a little past her youth, she was not till that time fully arrived at the maturity of her power
and judgment : from whence I would observe, that the short life of beauty is not long enough to form a complete actress. In men, the delicacy of person is not so absolutely necessary, nor the decline of it so soon taken notice of.
“ Mrs. Barry, in characters of greatness, had a presence of elevated dignity : her mien and motion, superb and gracefully majestic; her voice, full, clear, and strong, so that no violence of passion could be too much for her; and, when distress or tenderness possessed her, she subsided into the most affecting melody and softness. In the art of exciting pity she had a power beyond all the actresses I have yet seen, or what your imagination can conceive. Of the former of these two great excellences she gave delightful proofs in almost all the heroic plays of Dryden and Lee'; and of the latter in the softer passions of Otway's Monimics and Belvidera. In scenes of anger, defiance, or resentment, while she was impetuous and terrible, she poured out the sentiment with an enchanting harmony; and it was this particular excellence for which Dryden made her the above-recited compliment, upon her acting Cassandra, in his •Cleomenes. But here I am apt to think his partiality for that character may have tempted his judgment to let it pass for her masterpiece, when he could not but know that there were several other characters in which her action might have given her a fairer pretence to the praise he has bestowed on her for Cassandra ; for in no part of that is there the least ground for compassion as in Monimia, nor equal cause for admiration as in the nobler love of Cleopatra, or the tempestuous jealousy of Roxana. It was in these lights I thought Mrs. Barry shone with a much brighter excellence than in Cassandra.”.
Yet Anthony Aston,t in his Supplement to Cibber's Works,
* By the word then, Cibber means the later time at which he himself saw her, and not the time alluded to by Dryden, when Mrs. Barry was still very young.
† Anthony Aston wrote a theatrical pamphlet, entitled “A brief Supplement to Colley Cibber's Lives of the famous Actors and Actresses.” He lived early enough to have seen Mrs. Barry, having been a performer in the reign of King William. Chetwood says, he played in all the theatres in London, but never continued long in any. His way of living was peculiar to himself; he used to resort to the principal cities and towns in England with his Medley, as he called it, which consisted of some capital scenes of humour out of the most celebrated plays. Chetwood adds, that he was as well known in every town as the post-horse that carried the mail.
tells us that, “ with all her enchantment, this fine creature was not handsome; her mouth opening most on the right side, which she strove to draw the other way; and, at times, composing her face as if to have her picture drawn. She was middle-sized,” he adds, “had darkish hair, light eyes, and was indifferent plump. She had a manner of drawing out her words, which suited her, but not Mrs. Bradshaw and Mrs. Porter, her successors. In tragedy, she was solemn and august; in comedy, alert, easy, and genteel,-pleasant in her face and manner, and filling the stage with a variety of action. Yet she could not sing, nor dance ; no, not even in a country. dance."
Mrs. Barry appeared above a hundred times as the original heroine of some new comic or tragic drama, which is more, I believe, than can be said of any actress that ever trod the British stage. She died of hydrophobia, from the bite of her own lap-dog, at the age of fifty-five, and was buried in the churchyard of Acton, where her monument still remains.
When Mrs. Cibber was at the zenith of her popularity, Cibber tells us that Mrs. Anne Bracegirdle was just blooming towards maturity. He luxuriates in describing her fascination of her audiences, which was such that it was the fashion among the gay and young to have a taste or tendre for Mrs. Bracegirdle. From the important characters that were intrusted to her in tragedy, such as Almeira in the “ Mourning Bride,” Isabella in “ Measure for Measure," Cordelia, Portia, and Ophelia, it is presumed that she was a good tragic actress : but Cibber does not say so; and her chief charm appears to have lain in the lighter drama.
Her name, however, was connected with too deep a tragedy in real life. A Captain Hill, whose offers of marriage she had refused, made an attempt at her abduction; and, having been foiled, he, on the same evening, stabbed her friend and fellowactor Mountford, of whom he was jealous, in the neighbourhood of her dwelling. The ruffian Hill escaped the gallows by flight. Lord Mohun, who figures twice in the State Trials, was indicted as his accomplice in the murder, but was acquitted.
Mrs. Bracegirdle lived to a great age, and, it would seem, with fair reputation, in spite of the surmise that Mountford died the victim of an illicit attachment to her. Both Cibber and A. Aston speak of her in terms of the highest respect. But I am sorry to have seen in our own day, in Mr. Bellchambers's edition of Cibber's Apology, an attack upon her memory,
in my opinion as unfair as it is furious ; raking up the very scandal which the more respectable part of her contemporaries appear to have disbelieved. Perhaps I may be asked, of what consequence now is Mrs. Bracegirdle's character ? Very true: as a matter taken entirely by itself, it is of no consequence whether she was a wanton or a vestal ; but it is of importance that even deceased human character should not be taken away on forced suspicions or on feeble proofs ; for injustice towards the dead leads, by no very circuitous route, to injustice towards the living. Once convict the one on false or defective evidence, and you will soon leave the other at the mercy of malignity. The serpent vituperation will thus grow into an amphisbæna, to sting at both ends.*
* At the passage where Cibber says of Mrs. Bracegirdle that she was not unguarded in her private conduct, his annotator catches at the words, and
says, “She was decidedly not unguarded in her conduct, for, though the objeet of general suspicion, no proof of positive unchastity was ever brought against her; but her intrigue with Mountford is hardly to be disputed, and there is pretty ample evidence that Congreve was honoured with the gratification of his love.” Here is a fine juxtaposition of admission and assertion : no proof of positive unchastity, and yet pretty ample evidence of Congreve's success! But where did Mr. Bellchambers find that she was the object of general suspicion? Not in the testimony of her contemporaries Aston and Cibber, but in the lampooner Tom Brown, and in a collection of poems which, by Mr. Bellchambers's own showing, is the most infamous that was ever published.
Of her intrigue with Mountford there is no evidence at all. Hill, whom she had refused in marriage, used to talk jealously over his cups about Mountfort, and threaten to kill him. But are the ravings of a drunken murderer, and a man capable of attempting a rape and abduction, to pass for evidence? Mountford, however, was killed near her dwelling, before which Lord Mohun and Hill, on the night of the failure of their noble enterprise, when the crowd rescued Mrs. Bracegirdle, after she had been knocked down by the ruffians, were parading with drawn swords; and Mr. Bellchambers's inference is, that Mountford could by no possibility have come thither but for an improper purpose. Now Mrs. Bracegirdle's house was in Arundel-street, in the Strand, and Mountford, who was a married man, had to cross the top of that street on the way to his own home. He came down Arundel-street instead of crossing the top of it, and was struck, challenged, and slain by Hill. But is the circumstance of his having come out of his way such damnatory proof of his connexion with Mrs. Bracegirdle ? He was ignorant of the late attempt at her abduction; but, when he came to the top of Arundel-street, if there was either starlight or moonlight, or the glimmer of a lamp, he must have seen that there was something extraordinary going on before Mrs. Bracegirdle's door, where Hill and Mohun, refreshed with wine from the neighbouring vintner's, were pleading for entrance, and alarming the neighbourhood. And that the night was not dark is proved by the evidence on Lord Mohun's trial. Mountford must, therefore, not only have heard, but seen the disturbance in a short street; and with the most innocent
Mrs. Bracegirdle left the stage in consequence of the ascendant popularity of Mrs. Oldfield.
I imagine Anne Oldfield, though the descriptions of her give us no idea of such majesty as Mrs. Siddons, to have been otherwise the most beautiful woman that ever trod the British stage. Even indifferent prints of her give us a conception of those large speaking eyes, which she half shut with so much arehness in comedy, and of the graceful features and spirited mien that could put life in tragedy, even into Thomson's “ Sophonisba." "She was tallish in stature,” says Cibber, “ beautiful in action and aspect, and she always looked like one of those principal figures in the finest paintings, that first seize and longest delight the eye of the spectator. Her countenance was benevolent, like her heart,* yet it could express contemptuous dignity so well, that once, when a malignant beau rose in the pit to hiss her, she made him instantly hide his head and vanish, by a pausing look, and her utterance of the words · Poor creature.'” Her voice, according to Cibber, was sweet, strong, and melodious, and her elocution voluble, distinct, and judicious. But I must take an abrupt leave of this fair being, with a confession, that neither she nor Mrs. Bracegirdle can, motives he might have gone down that street, instead of crossing the top of it. Mr. Bellchambers, in this business, seems almost to have a kindly feeling for the ruffian Hill; and he praises Lord Mohún for his chival. rous devotion to his friend, the murderer and would-be ravisher. In his opinion, “ the player Mountford fell a victim, not unfairly, to one of those casual encounters which mark the general violence of the times." Abomi. nable !
* For many years, indeed as long as she lived, she gave an annuity of 501. a year to the poet Savage, that he might pursue his poetry and his studies undistressed. After her death, the benevolence of the whole British public was canvassed for the same sum, but without success. Latterly, while she was allowing Savage this pension, she was still plying her profession, under the painful illness that preceded her death, and when her cheeks were often bathed with tears from corporeal pain, while she was playing her most smiling parts.
Pope attacked her, dead and alive, four times, in his poetry. He hated her merely for being the friend of Cibber, who had ridiculed the obscene and stupid farce of “ Five Hours after Marriage,” which Pope was concerned in getting up. In chapter xii. of “ The Art of Sinking in Poetry,” he accuses her of prurient conversation, but his own indecency disarms his scandal, for he utters it in sentences unfit to be quoted, and which he was himself ashamed to reprint. The damnation of the “ Five Hours" gave Pope an implacable aversion to players. He says, “The players and I are luckily no friends;" but he might have omitted the word “luckily,” for his enmity to players, as to other people, kept him in the foul atmosphere of satire, when he should have been breathing the empyreal of poetry.