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me. All the time I was on a visit of some length to the dowager Duchess of Leinster, unconscious of the gathering storm, while the public mind was imbibing poisonous prejudices against me. Alas! for those who subsist by the stability of public favour."
I subjoin an extract from the Memoirs of Lee Lewes, in which he bears a manly and distinct testimony to the unblameableness of Mrs. Siddons's conduct in this whole affair.
* There, at Dublin (he says), I am enabled, as I was in the kingdom, and know every particular, gathered partly from inquiries, and partly from observation, to throw some light upon as dark a transaction as was ever practised against innocence and merit. I mean that infamous combination carried on against Mrs. Siddons, which raised that opposition she soon afterward met in Drury Lane theatre, 1785, to the disgrace of that part of the audience who were deceived into it; who were but few, after all, in comparison with her friends who opposed them, and who, on the second night, silenced them entirely.
“ In the summer of 1783, Mrs. Siddons was engaged by Mr. Daly, the manager, to perform a certain number of nights in Dublin, I believe twelve. Her terms were half the receipts, the charges of the theatre being first deducted, which charges were called sixty pounds. At the latter end of June she began her career, which was as brilliant here as in London. At the conclusion, she very much wished to perform for the benefit of the Marshalsea Prison; but, being pressed for time by her engagements at Cork, and hoping to have that oppor tunity another season, she sent a sum of money to the conductors of the above prison, and had the thanks of the debtors, as well as an acknowledgment from the managers, in the public papers ; though, by her own wish, the thanks, though full, were not ostentatiously expressed. Thus ended her first season at Dublin.
“ In the summer of 1784 she engaged herself for twenty nights, at a certain sum each night. The theatre was again crowded, and all things went on prosperously till about the middle of the engagement, when she was unfortunately seized with a violent fever, which confined her to her bed for a fortnight. This accident began to arouse the venal tribe against our heroine ; and rumours were spread that her illness was put on for some improper purpose.
She recovered, however, and went on with her engagement. And now we come to the principal incident which introduced the injured lady into this
part of my memoirs. As she was rehearsing the part of Belvidera, one morning, Digges, as he was standing for the part of Pierre, suddenly sank down. It was no less than a paralytic stroke, which deprived him of the use of one side. He was taken from the theatre, and, I believe, never returned to where he had fretted and strutted so many hours. Mrs. Siddons's engagement was coming to a conclusion; and she was advertised for Cork a few days after. In the mean time, a person came to her, and told her that it would be a charitable action if she would perform in a benefit play for poor Digges. Her answer was, that she was sorry she had but one night to spare, and for that she thought she was engaged in honour to play for the Marshalsea prisoners, as she had intended, in the year before. This, to be sure, was a denial to Digges, though not an uncharitable resusal ; and yet, what an artful and fiend-like use was made of it!-as will appear.
The mes senger had not been long gone, when it struck her that it would be more humane to assist this old unfortunate ; and immediately she despatched a person to Drumcondra, where Digges then was, to say that Mrs. Siddons had reconsidered the matter, and would be glad to perform for him. He was thankful, and the night and play were fixed.
There was a good house. The next day, while preparing for her journey for Cork, she received a note from Digges, expressing his gratitude. It will be proper to inform my reader, that while she was at Dublin, there was a little sparring between her and the manager. At Cork, the misunderstanding was renewed, and I there made my own observations. These little bickerings brought down many paragraphs upon her from the party; and, directly after, a paper war ensued. She was accused of having charged Digges fifty pounds for playing at his benefit. A very artful letter, written by a Mr. F-y, upon that subject, appeared in a morning print; and, as it was inserted with a more mischievous intent than any of the rest, so it had a
It was now predicted that she was to be driven from the London stage whenever she should appear on it; and, among the rest, appeared a paragraph, calling on any of her profession to come forth, and say if she had ever done a kind action. This was rather an unlucky challenge ; for, a few weeks before, even in the city of York, it was a fact, that she had performed three times without any emolument to herself; once for my benefit; once for that of Mr. Aickin, of Covent Garden ; and once for the benefit of a poor-house. I should have thought myself base indeed to have remained
neutral at such a time; and I immediately published this circumstance in several of the morning prints. Should not Mr. Digges have done the same? But, though called upon, and urged by many of Mrs. Siddons's friends, he, for reasons best known to himself, kept an obstinate silence, and even suffered a rumour to prevail that she had taken money from him. But, at last, being closely pressed, he sent a letter, in which he owned that she had played for him gratis. He died soon after; and peace be to his manes ! Mrs. Siddons appeared on the London boards ; and though this confession of her having performed gratis was made public, there were persons determined not to believe it, and who absolutely insulted her; but, as I have said before, they were but few in comparison of her powerful and numerous friends, and the vipers were soon crushed.”
Mrs. Siddons's own Account of her being affronted in the Theatre
Public Opinion is disabused, and she recovers her Popularity-Appears as Margaret of Anjou, in Franklin's “ Earl of Warwick”—Character of the Piece-Her next new Part is Zara, in the Tragedy translated by Aaron Hill, from Voltaire's “ Zaïre"--Napoleon's Opinion of Voltaire as a dramatic Poet-Mrs. Siddons plays the Lady of St. Vallori, in Cumberland's “Carmelite”—Comparison of that Tragedy with Home's “ Douglas”—John Kemble adapts Massinger's “Maid of Honour" for the modern Stage, and Mrs. Siddons acts Camiola—Remarks on the “Maid of Honour.”
Tue falsehoods that were now in circulation respecting our great actress, she seems herself to attribute to the enmity of the Dublin manager: but the plot that was evidently forming against her must have had several partakers, and the rumour of the day said, that it included some members of her own profession, whose envy sickened in the shade that her superior merit threw over them. It would be unfair, at this distance of time, to quote names on mere suspicion. The only person who was clearly convicted of calumny was the wife of Digges; but she was a poor, insignificant creature, who could not be supposed capable of envying Mrs. Siddons. Brereton the actor was but too justly condemned for having seen Mrs. Siddons publicly insulted on his account, before he published his testimony" that she had been in no respect the occasion of his having missed a benefit in Ireland ; but, on the contrary, that he owed her the highest obligations of friendship.” The calamitous alienation of Brereton's mind that took place not long subsequent, inclines me to judge of his actions at this period with some allowance. That there was, however, a regular conspiracy, got up to insult her, in London, was made but too plain by the sequel ; and it is only to be regretted that its unknown agents had not been branded with shame in the flagrancy of their guilt. It must be owned, that the artificers of calumny had a difficult object of attack in Mrs. Siddons. Against her character, as a wife and mother, scandal itself could not whisper a surmise; and it was equally hopeless to impugn her genius as an actress. But they spread abroad that she was avaricious, uncharitable, and slow to lend her professional aid to unfortunate fellow-players. Two specific charges alone of this kind could be alleged, and they were both met and refuted by the clearest demonstration. Digges testified that she had performed for him, as an act of charity, in Ireland. His miserable wife could only say for herself, that she had believed the misstatement to which she had given currency; and Brereton made the declaration which I have quoted.
" I had left London,” says Mrs. Siddons, in her Memoranda, " the object of universal approbation; but, on my return, only a few weeks afterward, I was received, on my first night's appearance, with universal opprobrium,-accused of hardness of heart, and total insensibility to every thing and everybody except my own interest. Unhappily, contrary winds had for some days precluded the possibility of receiving from Dublin such letters as would have refuted those atrocious calumnies, and saved me from the horrors of this dreadful night, when I was received with hissing and hooting, and stood the object of public scorn. Amid this afflicting clamour I made several attempts to be heard, when at length a gentleman stood forth in the middle of the front of the pit, impelled by benevolent and gentlemanly feeling, who, as I advanced to make my last attempt at being heard, accosted me in these words :· For heaven's sake, madam, do not degrade yourself by an apology, for there is nothing necessary to be said.' I shall always look back with gratitude to this gallant man's solitary advocacy of my cause : like · Abdiel, fuithful found, among the faithless, faithful only he.' His admonition was followed by reiterated clamour, when my dear brother appeared, and carried me away from this scene of insult. The instant I quitted it, I
fainted in his arms; and, on my recovery, I was thankful that my persecutors had not had the gratification of beholding this weakness. After I was tolerably restored to myself, I was induced, by the persuasions of my husband, my brother, and Mr. Sheridan, to present myself again before that audience by whom I had been so savagely treated, and before whom, but in consideration of my children, I would have never appeared again. The play was the Gamester,' which commences with a scene between Beverley and Charlotte. Great and pleasant was my astonishment to find myself, on the second rising of the curtain, received with a silence so profound that I was absolutely awe-struck, and never yet have I been able to account for this surprising contrast ; for I really think that the falling of a pin might have been then heard upon the stage.”
On Mrs. Siddons's second entrance this night, she addressed the audience in these words : “ Ladies and gentlemen,-The kind and flattering partiality which I have uniformly experienced in this place, would make the present interruption distressing to me indeed, were I, in the slightest degree, conscious of having deserved your censure. I feel no such conscious
The stories which have been circulated against me are calumnies : when they shall be proved to be true, my aspersors will be justified. But, till then, my respect for the public leads me to be confident, that I shall be protected from una merited insult.”
The accusations which had been brought against me," she continues, “ were pride, insolence, and savage insensibility to the distresses of my theatrical associates ; and, as I have observed already, even the winds and waves combined to overwhelm me with obloquy; for many days elapsed before I could possibly receive from Dublin those letters which, when they did arrive and were published, carried conviction to the public mind.
The most cruel of these aspersions accused me of having inhumanly refused, at first, to act for the benefit of poor Mr. Digges, and of having at last agreed to do so upon terms so exorbitant as had never before been heard of. A letter from himself, however, full of grateful acknowledgments, sufficed to clear me from the charge, by testifying that, so far from having deserved it, I had myself arranged the affair with the manager, and had acted Belvidera under the most annoying and difficult circumstances.
“Here ended my disgrace and persecution; and from that time forth the generous public, during the remainder of the season, received my entrée each succeeding night with shouts,