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remarks of Mr. Boaden and other writers, including even my good-natured friend John Taylor, I believe, an unfavourable profile of her theatric endowments might be drawn without absolute injustice, though still it would be only on a one-sided view. It appears that her countenance, with the beauty of the antique statue, had also something of its monotony, and that she was defective in parts of tenderness. But it is confessed, even by her censurers, that her fine person, haughty features, and powerful voice carried her well through rage and disdain, and that her declamation was musical. Taylor himself told me that she was the most commanding personage he had ever looked upon before he saw Mrs. Siddons. She was a superb Medea ; and Wilkinson compares her Margaret of Anjou with Mrs. Siddons's Zara. Davies says that she was an actress whose just elocution, warm passion, and majestic deportment excited the admiration even of foreigners, and fixed the affection and applause of her own countrymen.
It may also temper our estimate of her defects, to find that the contemporary criticism, which was looked up to as quite authoritative, found fault with her sometimes on very questionable grounds. For instance, the Dramatic Censor, in 1770, asserts that she had not a trace of comedy about her. Now the oldest and most judicious eye-witness of those times who is at present alive, and one whose judgment I would prefer to that of a thousand Dramatic Censors, assures me that, in high comedy, she had an extraordinary degree of grace and refine
Mr. Godwin, to whom I shall have farther occasion to mention my obligations for the kind interest which he has taken in this work, favoured me lately with the following note, respecting his recollection of Mrs. Yates :
“ 13 Old Palace Yard, Jan. 12, 1834. « MY DEAR SIR, “ What I seem best to remember her in is Violante, in the Wonder;' and, though it is sixty years since I saw Garrick and her in that play, I remember a great deal of it as if it had occurred yesterday. It is an admirable acting play, and the two principal performers seemed to leave nothing to be desired. What I recollect best of Mrs. Yates is the scene in which Garrick, having offended her by a jealousy, not altogether without an apparent cause, the lady, conscious of her entire innocence, at length expresses a serious resentment. Felix had till then indulged his angry feelings ; but finding, at last, that he had gone too far, applies himself with all a lover's arts to sooth her. She turns her back to him, and draws away her chair ; he follows her, and draws his chair nearer ; she draws away farther : at length, by his winning entreaties and cajoling, she is gradually induced to melt, and finally makes it up with him. Her condescension in every stage, from its commencement to its conclusion, was admirable. Her dignity was great and lofty, and the effect highly enhanced by her beauty; and when by degrees she laid aside her frown, when her lips began to relax towards a smile, while one cloud vanished after another, the spectator thought he had never seen any thing so lovely and irresistible : and the effect was greatly owing to her queen-like majesty. The condescension in a graceful and wayward beauty would have been comparatively nothing,—with Mrs. Yates's figure and demeanour, it laid the whole audience, as well as her lover, at her feet.
“ It is a curious point to distinguish between the loftiness of this actress and that of Mrs, Siddons.' In Mrs. Siddons it apo peared the untaught loftiness of an elevated soul, working outwards ; but in Mrs. Yates it was the loftiness of a person who had associated only with the majestic and the great—who was therefore complete in herself and in all her motions, and had an infallibility which could never for a moment be called in doubt. Mrs. Siddons was great only as the occasion sustained her ; but Mrs. Yates was great because, by the habit of her soul, it was impossible for her to be otherwise.
“ You desired me also to put down, though of a very trifling nature, a circumstance which I mentioned as occurring in Mrs. Yates's performance of Lady Constance, but which is rather characteristic of the fashion of the times than deserving to be imputed to any defect in the performer. When Lady Constance, a few lines before her final exit, says, wildly, I will not keep this form upon my head, when there is such disorder in my wit,'-Mrs. Yates, to suit the action to the word, took off a thin cap which surmounted the headdress, and merely placed it on the side of the
circumference of her hoop.
Mrs. Crawford acted from 1759 to 1797. Her maiden name was Street: she was the daughter of an apothecary in Bath. When about seventeen she was asked in marriage by a young scion of nobility, but he jilted her, and the misfortune deeply affected her. In order to recover her health and spirits
she was invited by a kind family of friends to visit Yorkshire, and at York she attended the theatre, and beguiled her sorrow so successfully as to become attached to an actor of the name of Dancer, who married her. With him she went on the stage, to the dire offence of her relations, and accepted an engagement in the Dublin theatre, where she acquired an increasing reputation. Her husband died when she was still young, and ere long she gave her hand to Spranger Barry, commonly called the Irish Roscius. He was manager of the stage on which they both acted, so that he secured for her all the capital parts, both comic and tragic, and she filled them brilliantly. Her success coinciding with her husband's, Garrick invited them both, on very high terms, to Drury Lane.
This was the palmy state of her reputation, and for many years she had at least no superior on the stage ; but Barry died in 1777. She married a third husband, who was unkind to her, and domestic distress cast such a damp over her genius that frequently she could only be said to have walked through her parts. Mrs. Siddons's success prompted her for a time to emulation, and she came back from Dublin in 1783, to act at Covent Garden. But, by this period, age had made ravages on her beauty, and had brought her faculties to a state somewhat beyond their ripeness. On her appearance on the London stage, momentary gleams of former excellence were indeed displayed, but they only suggested a melancholy comparison between what she then was and what she had once been. John Taylor says, that though once most elegant in her deportment, she became at last rough and coarse, and that her person had the appearance rather of an old man than of one of her own sex.
Let us not, however, form a general estimate of Mrs. Crawford from her appearances during the manifest decline of her powers. For though, even in her best days, it appears that she was too vehement in action, and that she neglected to insinuate herself into admiration from her ambition to create surprise, yet still it is allowed that she could produce astonishment deep and thrilling. The effect of her question, as Lady Randolph, in “Douglas,” to the peasant, respecting the child, “ Was he alive ?” was perhaps never surpassed on the stage. Bannister told me that it made rows of spectators start from their seats. Mr. Boaden, I conceive, has been over-anxious to make it appear that Mrs. Crawford's mode of uttering this query, or, as he says, of screaming it, was unnatural, and that it succeeded merely as a tour de force, or stage trick The actress's violence, he alleges, was out of nature, because Lady Randolph could not entertain any hope that her son was still alive, even if the peasant had answered yes ; since she immediately afterward accuses him of having killed the infant. But this is arguing as if a mother in agony about a lost child could calculate as coolly as a chess-player about the moving a pawn. Lady Randolph palpably utters that question in a state of transport, as if the life or death of her hopes depended on the instant answer. The inconsistency of her still supposing him dead, though she had heard that he was found alive, is beautifully true to nature. It is fear, rushing in phrensy to precipitate conclusions. That Mrs. Siddons could dispense with extreme vehemence in this interrogation only shows the perfection of her acting in other points. Her Lady Randolph was altogether a more sustained and harmonious performance than Mrs. Crawford's. But I believe that she avoided her rival's vehemence of manner in this instance, not from thinking that it was unnatural, but from the fear of being taxed with imitation.
Mrs. Crawford died as late as 1801, and was buried near her second husband, Barry, in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey.
In this retrospect of Mrs. Siddons's predecessors, I have omitted the names of several actresses highly distinguished for their general powers, and partially successful even in tragedy ; such as Mrs. Woffington, Anne Bellamy, and others. But as my object, in this digression, was only to advert to names of the first-rate tragic grade, I fear my reader may tax me with a fault the opposite of omission, namely, my having mentioned one or two actresses who were more famous on the comic than the graver stage—I allude to Bracegirdle and Oldfield. Still, however, let me state, in apology, that general tradition represents the former as a beautiful tragic performer, and that the Oldfield could have been no second-rate who could throw enchantment around Thomson's dramatic poetry.
Mrs. Siddons plays Isabella, in the “Fatal Marriage," at Drury Lane
Suitableness of the Part for her first new Trial-Remarks on the Tragedy-Resumption of her Memoranda-She appears as Euphrasia, in the “Grecian Daughter"--as Jane Shore-in Calista—as Belvidera and as Zara, in the “Mourning Bride”-Her first Season.
1782.] “I was truly grieved,” says Mrs. Siddons in her Memoranda,“ to leave my kind friends at Bath, and was also afraid that the power of my voice was not equal to filling a London theatre. My friends, too, were also doubtful; but I soon had reason to think that the bad construction of the Bath theatre, and not the weakness of my voice, was the cause of our mutual fears. On the 10th of October, 1782, I made my first new appearance at Drury Lane, with my own dear beautisul boy, then but eight years old, in Southerne s tragedy of • Isabella.' This character was judiciously recommended to me by my kind friend Mr. Sheridan, the father of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, who had seen me in that play at Bath. The interest he took in my success was like that of a father."
It was a judicious choice undoubtedly. The part of Isabella had pathos enough to develop her genius, without complexity to make it an extreme ordeal for her powers on their new great trial; and, with her beautiful little son Henry in her hand, she looked the very personage.
Southerne, the author of this play, deserves our gratitude, in common with Otway and Rowe, for having sustained our graver drama in tolerable respectability towards the close of the seventeenth century, at a time when it was threatened with the pestilence of rhyming tragedies ; and he is a purer moralist than either Otway or Rowe. Inferior as all the three may
be to the more immediate successors of Shakspeare, still they
* The Morning Post for October 10, 1782, gives the following anecdote about young Henry Siddons :—“Mrs. Siddons, of Drury Lane theatre, has a lovely little boy, about eight years old. Yesterday, in the rehearsal of the Fatal Marriage,' the boy, observing his mother in the agonies of the dying scene, took the fiction for reality, and burst into a flood of tears, a circumstance which struck the feelings of the company in a singular manner.”