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lence, such as the heart-wringing effect of her call to Jaffier, “Oh, thou unkind one !”—the magic delicacy with which she bade him remember the hour of twelve ;-and the electrifying manner in which she sprang to his arms, on his threat to kill her. I should take Mr. Boaden's testimony to the same effect, even if it stood quite solitary ; but I like it none the worse for circumstantially agreeing with the above critiques : and his description of her Belvidera is able, minute, and copious. She attached herself, by this part, with a new and bright link to public favour.
Mr. Boaden inveighs, and not unjustly, against the omission of some lines of the tragedy, both beautiful and unexceptionable, in the prompt-book from which Mrs. Siddons acted. These were tasteless omissions I own ; but, in a general view, no play was ever more indebted to the stage for purification than “ Venice Preserved.” As it originally came out, it was stamped with all the profligaey of the age, and offered the melancholy spectacle of genius prostituted to court corruption. It is generally supposed that, in the character of the buffoonsenator Antonio, the poet meant to ridicule Lord Shaftesbury; and from the primitive indecent prologue, it may also be inferred that he made another hit at his lordship, in portraying the conspirator Renault.
This chain-shot satire seems to have been discharged against Shaftesbury by the order of Charles II., a prince who, with the love of monopolies that was inherent in his family, seems to have thought that he had a right to exclude all others from competition with him in profligacy. To preserve consistency, the poet dedicated his tragedy to the Duchess of Portsmouth, congratulating her on being the king's mistress, and on having lately borne him an illegitimate child.
In his utmost destitution, Otway appears less humiliated than in this dedication. I am sorry that his recent editors have not, in mercy to his memory, forborne to reprint all the disgusting dialogue which has been long since expunged from stage-representation. The courtesan, Aquillia, I believe, has ceased to disgrace the dramatis persone since the beginning of thelast c éntury. George II., so at least says the “ Dramatic Censor," commanded all those scenes of “ Venice Preserved,” which had been already rejected by public modesty,
* It is said, in this prologue, that if Poland had heard of Renault, she would have made him her king. Shaftesbury's enemies alleged that he was ambitious of the crown of Poland.
to be restored when the play was to be acted before him ; but the audience, with one consent, hooted them off. If this be true, it is probable that our German liege acted more from ignorance of the English language than from profligacy.
The alterations of Venice Preserved” have redeemed it as a public spectacle and as a work of taste. Pierre is a miserable conspirator, as Otway first painted him, impelled to treason by his love of a courtesan, and his jealousy of Antonio. But his character, as it now comes forward, is a mixture of patriotism and of excusable misanthropy. Even in the more modern prompt-books, an improving curtailment has been introduced. Until the middle of the last century, the ghosts of Jaffier and Pierre used to come in upon the stage, haunting Belvidera in her last agonies, which, God knows ! require no aggravation from spectral agency:
Never were beauties and faults more easily separated than those of this tragedy. The former, in its purification for the stage, came off like dirt from a fine statue, taking away nothing from its symmetrical surface, and leaving us only to wonder how the author himself should have soiled it with such disfigurements.
For her second benefit this season she chose the part of Zara, in the “ Mourning Bride.” In this character I never had the good fortune to see her; and, if it were not for the information I have received from others, I should at this moment remain half incredulous that even her powers of acting could have made Zara a captivating heroine. I by no means wish to rank among the censurers of this tragedy who call it a pantomime. Its concinnity of structure as a drama, and its many impassioned and picturesque passages, I admit and admire. But, in reading the “Mourning Bride,” I cannot like Zara, and I feel a predominant interest for her tamer rival, Almeria. Having never seen our great actress as the captive queen, I was the more anxious to consult the most trustworthy lovers of the drama who could re
* It is pretty generally known that Otway founded his tragedy on St. Real's History of the Venetian Conspiracy in 1618. Nearly the whole of the dramatis persona are real persons. Belvider a, however, is fictitious. The real Renault was no villain, and the real Pierre was privately strangled on board his own ship, by order of the Venetian senate. The prose and true Jaffier was not melted in his faith to the conspiracy by a woman's tears, but was struck with compunction during a city jubilee, when he contrasted its gayety with the horrors and massacres that would eventually result from the plot. Otway's Jaffier is more pathetic and dramatic, but St. Real's History is wonderfully impressive. Voltaire compares its author to Sallust, and not unworthily.
member her in the part; and among these the first with whom I happened to converse on the subject was Mr. Godwin. I shall never forget the pleasure I received from the vivid remarks of this patriarch of our living literature. The freshness of his recollections, and his hearty interest in the history of the stage, are worthy of his gifted genius. He spoke to me of Garrick very servidly; but he said that, in spite of Garrick's superior versatility, Mrs. Siddons showed at times conceptions of her characters which he thought more sublime than any thing even in Garrick's acting. I confessed to my philosophical friend, that I wondered how any powers of acting could throw magnificence around a character so vicious, so selfish, and so hateful, as Zara; and I asked him how the part of Almeria, who ought indeed to be the heroine of the tragedy, had affected him ? His answer was, “ I recollect nothing about the acting of Almeria, for the disdain and indignation of the Siddons, in Zara, engrossed all attention, and swept away the possibility of interest in any thing else. Her magnificence in the part was inexpressible.' It was worth the trouble of a day's journey to see her but walk down the stage. Her Zara was not inferior even to her Lady Macbeth.
It was at this time that she sat for her portrait, as Isabella, to the distinguished artist, Hamilton. Her immense popularity was now shown, in the general enthusiasm to see her picture, even when it was scarcely finished. Carriages thronged the artist's door; and, if every fine lady who stept out of them did not actually weep before the painting, they had all of them, at least, their white handkerchiefs ready for that demonstration of their sensibility.
One day, after her sitting, Mr. Hamilton and his wife were bidding good morning to the great actress, and accompanying her down stairs, when they pointed out to her her own resemblance to an antique sculpture of Ariadne that stood on the stair
Mrs. Siddons was taken by surprise, and her honesty was here a traitor to her vanity. She clasped her hands in delight, and said, “ Yes, it is very-" but, immediately recollecting herself, before she got out the word like, substituted the word beautiful. “ It is so very beautiful that you must be flattering me.” She then sat down on the staircase to contemplate the sculpture, frequently exclaiming, “It is so very beautiful that you must be flattering me.” She departed, however, evidently well pleased to believe in the likeness : but it would require one to be as handsome as herself to have a right to blame her self-complacency,
On the 5th of June she acted Isabella for the twenty-fourth time ; and, having performed, in all, about eighty nights, and on six of them for the benefit of others, she closed a season of as brilliant success as her own wishes could have shaped, even if they had been castle-building. Her fellow-performers complained that, after her tragic parts, the best comic acting of after-pieces could not raise the spirits of the audience; and this continued to be the case till the enchantress, Mrs. Jordan, appeared on the same boards.
It has been said of Mrs. Siddons, by the last historian of the stage,* that, even in this first season, she made all other actresses be forgotten. Perhaps it would be more correct to say, though it ought to be said with a due sympathy for the previous idols of the public, that she left to her still nominal rivals, Mrs. Yates and Mrs. Crawford, a remnant of reputation more painful than utter oblivion.
Her Second Season at Drury Lane-Plays Isabella, in “ Measure for
Measure"-Performs in the “Gamester" with her brother, John Kemble -Performs Constance, in “ King John”-Her own Criticisms on the Character-Plays Lady Randolph—The Countess of Salisbury, and Sigismunda in Thomson's Tragedy--Conclusion of the Season, 1783–4.
AFTER four months, during which she acted at Liverpool, Dublin, and Cork, Mrs. Siddons returned to Drury Lane in the October of 1783, and commenced her second season, by royal command, with Isabella, in the “ Fatal Marriage." Their majesties, accompanied by the Prince of Wales, the Princess Royal, and the Princess Augusta, honoured the performance with their attendance.*
Hitherto, since her return to the London stage, Mrs. Siddons
* Mr. Genest.
+ The London Chronicle for October 9, 1783, gives so graphic an account of the canopies erected on this occasion for the royal spectators, together with the dresses they wore, that I could find in my heart to transcribe it as a picture of by-gone fashions, if I were not afraid of surly criticism demanding, What have valances, velvet draperies, golden tassels, and silks and satins, to do with Mrs. Siddons's history?
had attempted none of the characters of Shakspeare ; and, at this period, nothwithstanding all her popularity, I find that she had still some detractors, who pretended to doubt whether she had courage to make the attempt, or would succeed if she should make it. To this skepticism, whether it was sincere or affected, she put a practical termination, on the 3d of November, by playing Isabella, in Measure for Measure,” in a manner that commanded undivided applause.*
This success was an epoch in her life; not for its merely silencing a few detractors, but for the triumph of uniting her name with Shakspeare's, in the most solemn and religious of his characters.
There is so entire an exemption in Shakspeare's genius from any thing assimilating to cant or puritanism, that we listen with unsuspicious reverence to his morality when he pitches it at the highest key; and no creation of his mind gives us a finer proof of its sublime moral tone than the saintly character of his Isubella. By the eloquence of this fair agent he illustrates the momentous truth, that the worth of life is inferior to the worth of honour; a truth seemingly romantic, but the denial of which, if it were negatived as unreal, would involve the debasement and wreck of our species. Substitute for this principle the doctrine of Hobbes, that the preservation of its own life is the paramount duty of every human being, and see, by Hobbes's own theory of government, what a slave and mere animal you would make of man. In upholding the opposite doctrine, Shakspeare writes with his natural fearlessness: he makes no sophistical juggling, and tells no lies, like the stoics, about death being only an imaginary evil
. On the contrary, he confronts the novice of St. Clair with a brother pleading to her for his life; and he depicts the horrors of the agonized petitioner with a fidelity that makes us shudder. And yet he inspires his heroine with sufficient eloquence to convince us of the sacred principle.
I deny not that the page of Shakspeare is competent, even in reading it, to inspire us with an exulting sympathy with Isabella, and to make us exclaim, “No! let not the purity of so hallowed a being be sacrificed for the life of a dastard." But it was wonderful to feel what freshness and force this sentiment acquired from our actress's impersonation of the
" * Cast of the other parts in “Measure for Measure :” Duke, Smith ; Lucio, Lee Lewis ; Angelo, Palmer, Claudio, Brereton; Clown, Parsons; Escalus, J. Aickin: Mariana, Mrs. Ward.