Page images

If that be true, I shall see my boy again;
For since the birth of Cain, the first male child,
There was not such a gracious creature born.
But now will canker sorrow cut my bud,
And chase the native beauty from his cheek;
And he will look as hollow as a ghost,
As dim and meager as an ague's fit,
And so he'll die ; and rising so again,
When I shall meet him in the court of heaven
I shall not know him ; therefore, never, never
Shall I behold my pretty Arthur more.'

“You hold too heinous a respect of grief.'.

• He talks to me that never had a son.'

King Philip.
You are as fond of grief as of your child.'

Grief fills the room up of my absent child;
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form ;
Then have I reason to be fond of grief.-

well !-had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.
I will not keep this form upon my head (tears off her headdress.
When there is such disorder in my wit.
Oh Lord ! my boy! my Arthur! my fair son,
My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!
My widow's comfort, and my sorrow's care !

“Her gorgeous affliction, if such an expression is allowable, is of so sublime and so intense a character, that the persona. tion of its grandeur, with the utterance of its rapid and astonishing eloquence, almost overwhelms the mind that meditates its realization, and utterly exhausts the frame which endeavours to express its agitations."

In spite of all these difficulties in the part of Constance, Mrs. Siddons must have been conscious that she had strengthened her reputation by performing it, and it is difficult henceforward to imagine her fearful of attempting any other great character in the drama. I therefore very much doubt the justice of Mr. Boaden's remark, when, after noticing that she selected the part of Lady Randolph for her first benefit this season, December 22, 1783,* he adds, that “perhaps the most serious moment of her professional life was that in which she resolved to contest even that character with her rival, Mrs. Crawford.I cannot conceive what there was to render the trial so terrific. The passion of one of Constance's speeches would leaven the whole part of Lady Randolph. Mrs. Crawford's Lady Randolph had undoubtedly been once a great performance; but I have already noticed, that from the first night of her reappearance at Covent Garden, after an absence of five years, the general opinion regarded her as a broken-down actress.

The tragedy of “ Douglas” was got up for Mrs. Crawford's reappearanee, on the 13th November, 1783, and Mrs. Siddons did not perform Lady Randolph at Drury Lane till more than a month afterward, so that she had plenty of time to rally her courage. Indeed, when we contemplate Mrs. Siddons in the blaze of her beauty, competing with this toil and age-worn rival, it is almost cruel to exult in her victory. Mrs. Siddons omitted Mrs. Crawford's scream in the far-famed question, “ Was he alive?but she gave the character its appropriate beauty, and made the tragedy itself more permanently popular.

The only other new characters which she acted during her second season were the Countess of Salisbury, in a tragedy of that name, and Sigismunda, in Thomson's “Tancred and Sigismunda.” In neither of those pieces could she be said to be worthily employed. The “ Countess of Salisbury” had first appeared some thirty years before, on the Dublin stage, where the popularity of Barry and Mrs. Dancer, afterward Mrs. Barry, supported it. Small as its merit was, its real author, Hall Hartson, was accused of having had it from his college tutor, Dr. Leland, the translator of Demosthenes : the charge against Hartson, of purloining this tragedy, was as unfounded as the claim of the piece to popularity. The Morning Chronicle for March 8, 1784, says, “The performance of the Countess of Salisbury, by Mrs. Siddons, turned out but an unhappy experiment, the play being so infamously underwritten, that even her great acting could not keep it from ridicule; and when Smith came on the stage to give it out for a second representation, he was saluted with a horse-laugh.”

While acting in “Tancred” for her second benefit, April 24th,t she was at least adorning the drama of an acknowledged poet, and that which is generally thought the most successful

* Cast of parts : Douglas, Brereton; Norval, Bensley ; Glenalvon, Palmer ; Lord Randolph, Farren.

+ Tancred, Kemble; Siffredi, Bensley ; Osmond, Farren.

of Thomson's plays. We are told* that Garrick was very great in Tancred, and that Mrs. Cibber was harmony itself in Sigismunda. Mrs. Siddons, in the opinion of those who remembered her great predecessor in the part, fell nothing short of her in the eloquence of her eye and gesture, and she made the death of Sigismunda tenderly perfect. Yet in spite of this assurance, and of all my reverence for the poet of the Seasons, and the Castle of Indolence, I cannot imagine the powers of our actress invoked to the sphere where they ought to have moved in this verbose tragedy. The spell of Thomson's enchantment seems to be broken the moment he enters on the drama; he had cultivated his genius into a rich, soft soil, too luxuriant for dramatic poetry, The main issue of the plot of “Tancred” depends on the father of Sigismunda, Siffredi, whose inconsistency is enough to spoil a better tragedy. At first, the old chancellor of Sicily is all self-denial and conscientiousness, the bean ideal of political morality. So far so good; but he turns out an inhuman father, a false guardian, and a legal swindler. He has taken Prince Tancred into his house, and after causing his attachment to liis daughter by domestication, he chooses rather to break both their hearts than his own political views for the good of Sicily. In a heated moment Tancred gives Sigismunda a carte blanche with his signature. The old lawyer, with a treachery unworthy of the lowest attorney, gets this paper from his daughter, and fills it up with a promise on the part of Tancred that he will marry Constantili, the daughter of his father's murderer. In poetry, the feigned description of improbable animals is as susceptible of detection as in natural history, and such a medley of morality and mischief as Siffredi probably never existed in nature.

Mrs. Siddons concluded her second season the 13th of May, 1784, with a sixth performance of Belvidera. Between the 8th of October and this last night, she acted fifty-three times, that is, allowing for the oratorios in Lent, nearly once in every three nights of the company's performance. Isubella and Mrs. Beverley were her most frequent characters.

Before the end of the season Mr. and Mrs. Siddons left their lodgings in the Strand, and took and furnished a comfortable 'house in Gower-street, and she now returned the visits of her friends in her own carriage.

I shall now recur to the sew recollections of her life which Mrs. Siddons has left me in her own writing. My last quota

* Murphy's Life of Garrick.

tion from them ended with her description of her reception in Isabella. As her Memoranda are resumed at that point, they necessarily refer to some circumstances belonging to the history of her first season. But as she almost immediately passes into recollections of her second season, and as I wished to break upon the continuity of her Memoranda as little as possible, 1 postponed what I now quote from them to the end of my account of her professional appearances in 1783-4.


Mrs. Siddons's Memoranda-Her Summer Excursion to Edinburgh and

Dublin-Important Quotation from Lee Lewes's Memoirs.

“I CANNOT now remember the regular succession of my various characters during this my first season, 1782-3. I think Belvidera came soon after Isabella, who almost precluded the appearance of all others for a very long time ; but I well remember

my fears and ready tears on each subsequent effort, lest I should fall from my high exaltation. The crowds collected about my carriage, at my outgoings and incomings, and the gratifying and sometimes comical remarks I heard on those occasions were extremely diverting. The royal family very frequently honoured me with their presence.*' The king was often moved to tears, and the queen at one time told me, in her gracious manner and broken English, that her only refuge was actually turning her back upon the stage, at the same time protesting that my acting was indeed too disagreeable.' In short, all went on most prosperously; and, to complete my triumph, I had the honour to receive the commands of their majesties to go and read to them, which I frequently did, both at Buckingham-house and at Windsor. Their majesties were the most gratifying of auditors, because the most unremittingly attentive. The king was a most judicious and tasteful critic both in acting and dramatic composition. He told me he had

* As early as the January of 1783, the royal family began to patron. ise Mrs. Siddons, and they continued to see her in all her characters : her Euphrasia ; her Belvidera ; her Jane Shore; her Calista; and her Isabella ; and even the offensive politics of the manager, Sheridan, vanished before the charms of the new sovereign of the stage.

· He never



endeavoured, vainly, to detect me in a false emphasis, and very humorously repeated many of Mr. Smith's, who was then a principal actor. He graciously recommended the propriety of my action, particularly my total repose in certain situations. This, he said, is a quality in which Garrick failed. could stand still--he was a great fidget.'

“ I do not exactly remember the time,” she continues, “ that I was favoured with an invitation from Dr. Johnson, but I think it was during the first year of my celebrity.* The doctor was then a wretched invalid, and had requested my friend Mr. Windham to persuade me to favour him by drinking tea with him, in Bolt Court.

The doctor spoke highly of Garrick's various powers of acting. When Mr. Windham and myself were discussing some point respecting Garrick, he said, · Madam, do not trouble yourself to convince Windham; he is the very bull-dog of argument, and will never loose his hold.' Dr. Johnson's favourite female character in Shakspeare was Katharine, in · Henry VIII.' He was most desirous of seeing me in that play: but said, 'I am too deaf and too blind to see or hear at a greater distance than the stage-box, and have little taste for making myself a public gaze; in so distinguished a situation.' I assured him that nothing would gratify me so much as to have him for an auditor, and that I could procure for him an easy-chair at the stage-door, where he would both see and hear, and be perfectly concealed. He appeared greatly pleased with this arrangement, but, unhappily for me, he did not live to fulfil our mutual wishes. Some weeks before he died I made him some morning visits. He was extremely, though formally, polite ; always apologized for being unable to attend me to my carriage; conducted me to the head of the stairs, kissed my hand, and bowing, said, “Dear madam, I am your most humble servant;' and these were always repeated without the smallest variation.

“ About this time occurred a memorable evening, which is accurately described in Cumberland's Observer. I was invited into this snare by Miss Monkton (since Lady Cork). This lady had given me her word of honour that I should meet only half a dozen of our mutual friends ; for I had often told her very seriously, that it suited neither my studies nor my inclinations to be engaged in parties, from which I begged most

* Mrs. Siddons is pretty nearly right in her recollection. Her introduction to Dr. Johnson took place about a year after her return to Drury Lane, namely, in October, 1783, at the commencement of her second


« PreviousContinue »