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was terrible and perfect acting up to the truth of nature. Mr. Boaden tells us, that she presented at the outset of the play a dignified aspect, which could never have belonged to the mistress of Edward the Fourth ; and that the first look of her threw a doubt upon her situation and its sorrows. Whether this doubt ever crossed the minds of three persons among her spectators is
very uncertain ; but if it did, it was immediately lost in different feelings. For Mr. Boaden himself, in his next paragraph, commemorates what can be well recollected, namely, “the sobs and shrieks among the tender part of her audience, and those tears which manhood at first struggled to suppress, but at last grew proud of indulging." Fainting fits were long and frequent in the house.
And yet this fearful semblance of reality, if it did not strictly accord with Lord Bacon's definition, of poetry being that which accommodates the show of things to the wishes of the mind, was still in so far poetical that its terrors were sheathed in some welcome illusions. It was something to have so romantic a legendary favourite as Jane Shore restored, like a friend in a dream, though only to hear her speak, and to answer her with our tears. And so far was my imagination loath to identify Mrs. Siddons with the heroine she represented, that I remember as if it were yesterday, my illusion amounting, as far as waking thoughts could go, to the belief that I was looking on reality, and seeing History revived before me.
The story of Jane Shore has certainly one disadvantage as a tragic subject, namely, in the catastrophe being a death by hunger. And yet the poet has met this difficulty with some skill; for, before he compels us to shudder at her physical sufferings, he has wound us up to a high interest in her moral character, and prepared us to regard her as expiring-not solely from corporeal inanition, but from having her death at least accelerated by mental agitation. Rowe is judicious in giving her a modest and gradual progress in our sympathy. She is at first only a desolate penitent, who says of her own beauty,
“Sin and misery,
She is at the outset nothing but contrition ; and her repentancesheet shrouds from our view the fine lineaments of her heroic and womanly nature. But these come forth, when her fondness for Edward's memory breaks out in her anxiety for his
children, though in a manner so delicate, that her husband himself cannot be imagined to take umbrage at it. Under this feeling she defies the tyrant Gloucester. It was here that the part ascended to the level of Mrs. Siddons's powers,—that her voice took a richness beyond the wailing of penitence, and her cheek a nobler glow than the blush of shame. The fervour of her benediction on Hastings, though he had insulted her, when, in gratitude for his protecting Edward's children, she exclaims,
“Reward him for the noble deed, just heavens !”
makes Jane Shore now possess our hearts as a heroine. If ever words were pronounced with thrilling prolongation, it was when Mrs. Siddons uttered that line,
“ The poor, forsaken, royal little ones!"
Her death-scene in Jane Shore would have baffled the power of the pencil, for it was a succession of astonishing changes. Her eagle eye, obedient to her will, at times parted with its lustre, and, though open, looked sightless and bewildered ; but resumed its fire as wonderfully, when, “ with life's last spark that fluttered and expired,” she turned to her husband, and uttered the heart-piercing words,
While her impression as Jane Shore was still fresh in the public mind, and while so many great tragic parts remained untouched by her, it may well surprise us to find her next appearing in a prose tragedy, which had no name to recommend it, and which was never found to be worth publishing. This was the “Fatal Interview," by Thomas Hull.* It was not
* This piece, like several others by the same author, was never published; though he was a voluminous writer of plays, novels, tales, and
Thomas Hull was founder of the Theatrical Fund, an institution that does honour to his memory. He was for many years deputymanager of Covent Garden, and always valued himself on his address in making apologies to the public. During the riots of 1780, the mob pelted his house with stones, in consequence of his having sent out to them a barrel of small-beer instead of porter. The deputy-manager appeared on the first floor with his velvet cap, and, after making three low bows, gave scope to his apologetical eloquence in these words : “ Ladies and Gentlemen, Upon my honour I have sent to Gifford's brewhouse for some porter. In the mean time, I must humbly solicit your usual indulgence."
absolutely hissed off the stage ; but it was so coolly received, and so many reflections were cast on Mrs. Siddons's genius being thrown away on such a piece, that it was withdrawn, after dragging on to the third night. Mr. Genest says that Sheridan damned the play to save the actress: but the play appears to have damned itself.
On the 29th of November, she appeared for the first time as Calista, in the “Fair Penitent ;” and her success in the character was another large step in her popularity.* It has been common with dramatic critics to abuse Calista as a person most improperly named a penitent. This objection to her character is much older than the days of Gifford and Hazlitt ; but like many an old judgment, it is unjust: for, though reluctant to repent, she becomes in the end a deep and true penitent, and
“ I have more real anguish in my heart
Those who reproach Calista for not being all of a sudden repentant, forget how contemptible she would be if she were so represented. A female loathing her frailty the moment after detection, would virtually acknowledge it to have sprung from a momentary impulse, and not from that boundless affection and confidence, which, however misplaced, is at least some palliation of her fault to the charity of others, and still more naturally a pretext for slow self-condemnation in the delinquent herself. Calista is the victim of profound attachment. Jane Shore had had full leisure to repent of her errors ;---but Calista is exposed to shame, while she is yet under the spell and illusion of her passion for Lothario. Love, be it ever so illicit, is of all passions the least self-condemning while the mind is under its full dominion. It may reproach the infatuated heart in its growth and decay; it may have its morning and evening shadows for the conscience, but it has none at its vertical height.
And, after all, while Calista is slow to reproach herself for a natural passion, she is not without some right to speak of“ a base world,” when she is doomed to infamy by the ingratitude of her seducer; and, when she is forced to marry the man whom she cannot love by her father, who, after raving about her sainted mother, and Calista's prattling infant days, takes
* The other parts were thus cast: Lothario, Palmer ; Horatio, Bensley; Sciolto, J. Aickin; Lavinia, Mrs. Bulkely.
upon himself the fatherly duty of her executioner. If there was any thing in the character of Calista to make it worthy of the Siddons, it was the heroine's slowly-penitent pride, which capitulates only in the last extremities.
I cannot, to be sure, confess an unqualified admiration of this tragedy ; for, though Calista acts consistently with the domination of passion over her mind, yet the exposure of a frail woman's dishonour seems a bad tragic subject to set out with. Her errors are not, like those of Jane Shore, half hid from us by the conception of their remote occurrence, but are blazoned in fresh discovery. The mind recoils from the reception of a proud and beautiful female upon the stage, being prepared by the description which her betrayer gives of the scene and circumstances of her seduction.
Rowe is, however, an insinuating dramatist ; and the protracted martyrdom of Calista is, in spite of the faults of the tragedy, very affecting. I never saw our great actress in this character ; but I can easily imagine the new scope that it gave to her powers. A sensible writer of that early period remarks of her performance, that “having to show in Calista that haughty affectation of being above control, which the deviation from virtue ever produces in a proud mind, in this struggle between pride and shame, she walked with greater precipitation, her gestures were more frequent and more violent, and her eyes were restless and suspicious.” Calista was therefore a new character for the display of her genius ; and it particularly gave a new modification to that passion of pride which she was unparalleled in expressing. Neither Isabella nor Jane Shore exhibits such complicated agony as Calista. The pride of Isabella has to combat only with her destiny, and the shame of Jane Shore is aggravated by no feeling of pride. Neither of them is so distracted as Rowe's heroine, between passions entirely opposite, or put on the rack, as she is, between virtue and vice. Calista's shame inflames her pride, while her pride makes her shame more excruciating. She perishes, like Laocoon, between double stings ; and, though not perhaps a fair penitent for the stage, she is a strong picture of unfortunate human nature.
Such acting as Mrs. Siddons's had never been brought to Rowe's poetry, at least during the last century. Neither Mrs. Cibber nor Mrs. Crawford is alleged, by their warmest eulogists, to have been so equal to the haughtiness of Calista's part. Mrs. Yates, in performing it, departed from her usual
grace, and sawed the air with her arms ; and Mrs. Woffington, though pleasing to the eye, used to bark out the Fair Penitent with most dissonant notes.
For her benefit, on the 14th of December, Mrs. Siddons chose the part of Belvidera, in “ Venice Preserved,"* a tragedy which so constantly commands the tears of audiences, that it would be a work of supererogation for me to extol its tender
There may be dramas where human character is pictured with subtler skill,—though Belvidera might rank among Shakspeare's creations; and “ Venice Preserved” may not contain, like “ Macbeth” and “ Lear," certain high conceptions, which exceed even the power of stage representation ;-but it is as full as a tragedy can be of all the pathos that is transfusable into action.
I am glad that I have far better testimonies than my own to offer in proof of the great actress's triumph in this character; for, to say the truth, when I saw her perform Belvidera, she was in the autumn of her beauty, large, august, and matronly; and my imagination had been accustomed to picture the object of Jaffier's fondness as a much younger woman. Accordingly, I recollect having thought (it was a new thought, indeed, for acting to inspire) that I could conceive another actress to play the part more perfectly. But, without retracting my general opinion that she continued to act this character when she was somewhat too old for it, I can easily conceive that in my boyish criticism I may have judged of her unspiritually, and too much by externals. Artending to the woman more than the actress, I dare say I was blind to innumerable beauties, that made her Belvidera, even late in life, one of her finest performances in the eyes of better judges than myself. When she was young, there were no two opinions about her perfection in the part.
I have already acknowledged that I consult the newspapers of those times for remarks on her acting with nothing like un. qualified confidence. At the same time, I should not consult them at all, unless their consentaneous or well expressed opinions were not occasionally entited to fair belief. Now the language of her daily contemporary critics, respecting her appearance in Belvidera, is so warm, so unanimous, and, above all, so circumstantial, that I cannot help receiving it as truth. They point out with rapture the particular traits of her excel
* Cast of parts ; Jaffier, Brereton ;, Pierre, Bensley ; Priuli, J. Aickin; Renault, Packer.