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in strictness, be ranked among the great tragic predecessors of Mrs. Siddons. Perhaps, if Anne Oldfield had not delighted in her comic supremacy, she had beauty, feeling, and intellect enough to have been a finished tragedian. But, though Chetwood attests her popularity in many characters of tragedy, still she seems to have been forced into its service against her inclination, by her looks, voice, and elocution. When offered a tragic part, she used to say, “Oh, give it to Mrs. Porter; she can make a far better tragedy face than I can.”
Mrs. Porter was the genuine tragic successor of the famous Barry,* whose female attendant she had been. She was noticed, when a child, by the great Betterton, who saw her in a lord-mayor's pageant in the reign of James II. In those times it was customary for the fruit-women of the theatres to stand fronting the pit, with their backs to the stage ; and this actress was so little when she came under Betterton's tuition, that he used to threaten, if she would not speak and act as he would have her, that he would put her into a fruit-woman's basket, and cover her with a vine-leaf. Bred under Betterton, she lived to see Garrick, and was so charmed by his acting that she lamented her age and want of power to tread the stage with him.
Mrs. Porter was tall, fair, well-shaped, and easy and dignified in action. But she was not handsome, and her voice had a small degree of tremor. Moreover, she imitated, or rather faultily exceeded, Mrs. Barry in the habit of prolonging and toning her pronunciation, sometimes to a degree verging upon a chant.
But whether it was that the public ear was at that period accustomed to a demi-chant, or that she threw off the defect in the heat of passion, it is certain that her general judgment and genius, in the highest bursts of tragedy, inspired enthusiasm in all around her; and that she was thought to be alike mistress of the terrible and the tender. Dr. Johnson said, that in the vehemence of tragic acting he had never seen her equal ; and the great actor Booth spoke in raptures of her Belvidera. By her powers and popularity, she kept several new-born and weakly tragedies from dying a natural death; an act of charity, however, that is, like many others, of doubtful benefit to the public.
Her history inspires regret. With a character not only un
* It will hardly be necessary to caution any reader against confusing the elder and famous Madam Barry with the wife of Špranger Barry, afterward Mrs. Crawford.
questioned, but marked by the noblest traits of generosity, she had to ply her profession for many years on the stage when she was absolutely a cripple. The cause of her lameness deserves honourable mention.
On a summer evening, when she was taking the air in a one-horse chaise, having with her, according to custom, a brace of pistols to defend her against robbery, a highwayman came up and demanded her money : she levelled one of her pistols at him; the assailant immediately changed his tone to supplication, told her his name and the abode of his starving family, and appealed to her compassion so strongly that she gave him ten guineas out of her purse. He left her, and she lashed her horse to go on, but the animal started out of his track, upset the chaise, and caused her by her fall to dislocate her hip-joint. · Notwithstanding all the pain and loss which the man had thus occasioned to her, she inquired into his circumstances, and finding that he had told her the she raised sixty pounds among her acquaintance and sent it to the relief of his family. She was so much injured by this accident, that in acting Elizabeth, in the Albion Queens,” she had to support herself on a crutched cane ; but she turned even that circumstance to advantage ; for after signing Mary's death-warrant, she expressed her agitation by striking the stage with her cane so violently as to draw bursts of applause.
When she could act no longer, in consequence of her lameness, she had to subsist upon charity. Dr. Johnson paid her . a visit some years before her death. She was then so wrinkled, that he said a picture of old age, in the abstract, might have been taken from her countenance.
Among her principal characters were the Duchess of Malfy; the Queen, in “ Hamlet;" Aspasia, in the “ Maid's 'I'ragedy;" Portia, in “ Julius Cæsar;" Monimia, Belvidera ; Isabella, in the “Fatal Marriage;" Zara, in the “ Mourning Bride;" Volumnia, Desdemona, and Queen Katharine.
She scarcely appeared on the stage after 1738.
Mrs. Cibber, having been formerly a singer, came out as an actress in 1736. Her maiden name was Arne; she was the sister of the famous musician of that name. Dr. Burney, in his “ History of Music,” says that she captivated every hearer by the sweetness and expression of her voice in singing. Unfortunately for herself, she married Theophilus, the worthless son of Colley Cibber. She made her first appearance at Drury Lane with great éclat, in Hill's tragedy of “ Zara," but was soon afterward obliged to retire for a while, in consequence
of a public trial, that exposed a lapse in her conjugal duty, if duty she could be said to have owed to such a wretch as Theophilus Cibber. It was clearly proved that he had connived at, or rather plotted, her seduction. He laid his damages at 50001.: the jury awarded him ten pounds. Davies praises the symmetry of her form, the expressiveness of her features, and her preservation of the appearance of youth till long after she had attained to middle life. He says that the harmony of her voice was as powerful as the animation of her look ; that in grief and tenderness her eyes looked as if they swam in tears, and in rage and despair seemed to dart Aashes of fire; and that, in spite of the unimportance of her figure, she maintained a dignity in her action and a grace in her step. She was so like Garrick that she might have passed for his sister. This is observable, I think, even in the wretched portrait of her in Mathews's collection, though that portrait makes her any thing but a beauty. But her countenance must have been full fraught with expression. Tate Wilkinson, one of the most extraordinary mimics that ever lived, could imitate all the best actors and actresses of his time ; but the electrifying manner of Mrs. Cibber was beyond his reach, and he owns that he could only retain her in his mind's
eye. He says that her features, figure, and singing made her the best Ophelia that ever appeared either before or since. Craddock tells us that she was identified with Ophelia. Davies speaks with rapture of her Cordelia ; and John Taylor told me that she strongly resembled Mrs. Siddons in the indescribable power of her eyes. Finally, when Garrick heard of her death, he exclaimed, " Then Tragedy is dead on one side !” meaning female actors. On the other hand, there are two testimonies not wholly to be rejected, which, I think, may justify some suspicion that her elocution had a chant which would not have suited our modern ears, though in those of her contemporaries it seemed to harmonize, heaven knows how, with Garrick's acting !
Cumberland, in his Memoirs, tells us that, “as Calista, Mrs. Cibber sang, or at least recitatived, Rowe's harmonious strain in a key high pitched yet sweet withal, something in the manner of the Improvisatore. It was so extremely wanting in contrast, that though it did not wound the ear, it wearied it.”
Miss Seward says, in one of her Letlers, “ I perfectly remember Mrs. Cibber and Mrs. Pritchard, young as I was, in all their capital characters. Mrs. Cibber had very pathetic powers ; her features, though not beautiful, were delicate and
very expressive : but she uniformly pitched her silver voice, 60 sweetly plaintive, in too high a key to produce that endless variety of intonation with which Mrs. Siddons declaims. Mrs. Siddons,” she adds, “had all the pathos of Mrs. Cibber, with a thousand times more variety in its exertions."
Mrs. Pritchard played from 1733 to 1768. She acted in her youth at Bartholomew Fair, where, we are told, she was caressed by the public, particularly for her mode of singing a fa
“ Sweet, if you love me, smiling turn.” It would be at present no great recommendation for a young débutante at any of our great theatres to have been caressed by the public at Bartholomew Fair. But that place was then more respect able than it now is. The opulent used to resort to it in their carriages. When transferred to the Haymarket, Drury Lane, and Covent Garden, she shone in all walks of character. Natural, i. e. unrefined, comedy seems to have been her forte. Her deliverance of sprightly dialogue, according to Davies, was never surpassed, nor perhaps equalled. In her smooth and voluble enunciation not a syllable of articulation was lost to the ear; and she was a perfect mistress, if we may believe the same writer, of familiar dramatic eloquence. Versatility of talent she must have possessed astonishingly, since we find her in the same seasons enjoying the first-rate popularity as Lady Macbeth, and as Mrs. Doll
, in Ben Jonson's “ Alchymist.” Miss Seward bears testimony to her declamation in tragedy having been more free and natural than Mrs. Cibber's. Churchill speaks highly of her Zara, in “The Mourning Bride;" and such was her excellence as the Queen in “ Hamlet,” that, after she left the stage, it was long before her substitute could be found in the character.
And yet something of her Bartholomew Fair origin may be traced in Mrs. Pritchard's professional characteristics. She never rose to the finest grade even of comedy, but was most famous in scolds and viragoes. In tragedy, though she had a large imposing figure, sha wanted grace in her manner, and was too loud and profuse in her expression of grief. Garrick told Tate Wilkinson that she was apt to blubber her sorrows. Her features, it is generally allowed, were rather expressive than pleasing; nay, to judge by her picture in Mathews's collection, they were coarse and ugly.
Mrs. Siddons says, in her Autograph Recollections, “When I begged Dr. Johnson to let me know his opinion of Mrs. Pritchard, whom I had never seen, he answered, * Madam, she was a vulgar idiot; she used to speak of her gownd, and she never read any part in a play in which she acted except her own.' Is it possible, thought I,” Mrs. Siddons continues, " that Mrs. Pritchard, the greatest of all the Lady Macbeths, should never have read the play ? and I concluded that the doctor must have been misinformed; but I was afterward assured by a gentleman, a friend of Mrs. Pritchard's, that he had supped with her one night after she had acted Lady Macbeth, and that she declared she had never perused the whole tragedy :- I cannot believe it."
Well might our great actress wonder at Mrs. Pritchard's sluttishness. Mrs. Siddons's own life was one of constant study and profound reflection on the characters which she played, and on their relations to surrounding parts. Mrs. Siddons had a right to be painted as the Tragic Muse, for her very manner in society was marked by an abstractedness and reserve that were the result of her studiousness. By the force of fancy and reflection she used to be so wrought up in preparing to play the Lady Constance, that when she set out from her own house to the theatre she was already Constance herself.
Mrs. Pritchard, I dare say, was a vulgar woman; but, when I read the accounts of her acting worthily with Garrick, I cannot consent to Dr. Johnson calling her a vulgar idiot, even though she did pin an unnecessary d to her gown.
Incrusted with indolence as she was, she was still a diamond. At the same time, being palpably devoid of devotion to her profession, she must have been unequal in her appearances. Accordingly, we find that her popularity in London fell; and, when she went over to Dublin, that she electrified the Irish with disappointment.
Next to Mrs. Pritchard in point of time, our two greatest actresses were Mrs. Yates and Mrs. Crawford. They were contemporaries and rivals ; the former bearing the palm for dignity and sculpturesque beauty, while the latter, though less pleasing in looks, had more passion and versatility.
Anna Maria Grahame, afterward Mrs. Yates, acted from 1754 to 1784. She made her debut on the Dublin stage,
but with so little success that the manager made her a present to dissolve the engagement. She had the courage, nevertheless, to make a second attempt at Drury Lane, as Marcia, in “ Cato,” when her appearance interested the public. By her marriage with Richard Yates, shortly afterward, she acquired a valuable stage friend as well as instructer, and she had the merit of assiduous industry.
From all that I can collect respecting this actress, out of the