« ПредишнаНапред »
profession. This is an astonishing se- strongly objected to an alliance with a quence, embracing as it does a period of poor player. So Henry Siddons was quite two hundred years, and has proba- told the manager's daughter was not for bly no parallel.
him. But on his benefit night he reWard was a strolling manager when venged himself by reciting a poem of his Roger Kemble, who united hair-dressing own composition, in which he detailed with acting, eloped with his daughter. to the audience the story of his hapless The young couple started in manage- love, and thereby greatly won their symment upon their own account and strolled pathies and a box on the ear from his from town to town and village to village inamorata's mother, who was listening at after the manner and under the difficul- the side-scene in a very great passion. ties and disadvantages of the time; at This brought about a disturbance. some places received with gracious Siddons left the company, and Sarah favor, at others treated like lepers and went away in a huff, and hired herself as threatened with the stocks and whipping lady's maid to Mrs. Greathead, of Guy's at the cart's tail, according as the great Cliff, Warwickshire. There she did not people were liberal-minded or puritani- remain long, for Roger and his wife, cal. Their first child, born June 13th, finding her determined, and probably 1755, at Brecon, was christened Sarah; moved by the solicitations of their patheir second, a boy, christened John Phi- trons, gave a reluctant consent to ihe lip, was born at Prescott in Lancashire in marriage, and on the 6th of November, 1757. The old farm-house in which the 1773, Sarah Kemble became Mrs. Sidlatter event took place is, it is said, dons, and from that time so appeared in still standing. There came a Stephen in the playbills. Soon afterwards she and the following year, and other sons and her husband joined the company of daughters with whom we have nothing to Crump and Chamberlain, well-known do followed in due succession. All strolling managers in their day, at Chelthese were put upon the stage as soon as tenham; and there for the first time we they were old enough to speak a few hear of her being accredited with supelines, and as the years advanced Mr. rior powers as an actress. As BelvideRoger Kemble's company, like that of ra, in Otway's 'Venice Preserved,' she Mr. Vincent Crummles, was almost en- achieved a great success, and became a tirely included under one patronymic. protégée of all the fashionable play-goers, At thirteen we find Sarah playing Ariel especially of the Honorable Miss Boyle, in the great room of the King's Head at who assisted her scanty wardrobe by the Worcester, which boasted other loan of dresses, and helped her with her theatre, and four years later sustaining own hands to make new ones. Her all the principal parts at Wolverhamp- fame reached London, and Garrick sent ton. She had now grown to be a very his stage manager, King, down to the beautiful girl, and made great havoc Gloucestershire watering-place to take among the hearts of susceptible squires, stock of her abilities. He reported very and even included an earl among the list favorably, and soon afterwards Parson of her adorers. But in her father's Bates, of the Morning Post,' pugilist, company there was a handsome young duellist, and critic, a well-known man of fellow from Birmingham named Henry the day, took the same journey for a Siddons, whom she preferred to all similar purpose, and brought back a warm her rich admirers. As Mr. and Mrs. eulogy upon her acting as Rosalind. Kemble had married against parental Thereupon Roscius engaged her for consent it followed as a matter of course Drury Lane at £5 a week. Her first that they would not allow their daughter appearance was on the 29th of Decemto choose for herself ; besides, they had ber 1775, and here is a copy of a portion their pride and their ambition, and of the playbill for that evening :
(Not acted these two years.)
By His Majesty's Company, at the Theatre Royal, in Drury Lane, this day will be performed,
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE.
MR. KING, Antonio .
Bassanio. MR. BENSLEY.
Nerissa MRS. DAVIS.
Mr. REDDISH. MR. VERNON. MR. PARSONS. MR. FAWCETT. MR. MESSINK.
The début was a failure. The part he was joined by all his company, except was not suited to her, and she was so Mrs. Abington, who called them all overpowered by nervousness that a na “fools” in their judgment. turally weak voice sank almost to a whis- “ It was a stunning and cruel blow,” per; her movements were awkward, her she says, overwhelming all my ambidress old, faded-and in bad taste, as it tions, and involving peril even to the always was even in her great days; there subsistence of my helpless babes. It was nothing but her delicate, fragile was very near destroying me. My figure and beautiful face to recommend blighted prospects, indeed, produced a her. After this she appeared as Venus state of mind that preyed upon my in the Shakespeare Jubilee, as Mrs. health, and for a year and a half I was Strickland in 'The Suspicious Husband,' supposed to be hastening to a decline." and in several other pieces,-in all she Her next engagement was at Manchester, was coldly received both by the press and thence she went to York to Tate and public. Finally she appeared as Wilkinson. There “all lifted up their Lady Anne to Garrick's Richard ; here, eyes in astonishment that such a voice again, nervousness paralysed all her and such a judgment should have been powers, she forgot certain stage direc- neglected by a London audience." In tions he had given at rehearsal, and was 1778 John Palmer, on the recommendareproved for her forgetfulness by a tion of Henderson, engaged her for glance from those terrible eyes that near- Bath, then the first English theatre out ly made her faint with terror. One of of London, at £3 a week. In her first the newspapers the next morning pro- parts, Lady Townley and Mrs. Candour nounced the performance “lamentable.” -the latter appears a strange character Five nights afterwards Garrick took leave for a young lady—she was only coldly of the stage, and the season closed. He received, and seemed to be on the threshpromised to recommend her to Sheridan old of new disappointments and mortififor the next. Sheridan used afterwards cations. to declare that he took an opposite But I must now go back to detail the course, and depreciated her, but the fortunes of another member of the Kemgreat manager's word was not always to ble family. John Philip acted as a child be relied upon. Mrs. Siddons ever after like all the rest of his brothers and sis. nursed a grudge against Garrick; he had ters, but by and by his father resolved to used her as a catspaw against the over- make a priest of him. Roger was a weening arrogance of Mesdames Abing- Catholic and brought up the boys to that ton, Crawford, and Young ;-he was jea- faith, the girls following the Protestant lous of her, she said. There may have religion of their mother. So at ten years been some truth in the first part of the old the boy was sent away to Sedgely Park accusation, but the second is ridiculous: College, Wolverhampton. There he reit is probable that he really believed her mained four years, and in 1771 proceedtalents to be only mediocre, and in this ed to Douai, where he was famous as a declaimer and for a prodigious memory. who exhibited tricks of legerdemain. In He once undertook to get two books of 1778 his sister procured him an engageHomer by heart, and actually repeated ment at Liverpool; thence, in the same fifteen hundred lines. But the theatri- year, probably by the same recommendacal blood within him rebelled against tion, he joined Tate Wilkinson at York. the cassock and burned for the sock There all the great leading parts were in and buskin. So he left the college in possession of a veteran actor named 1775, landed at Bristol, and proceeded Cummings, who played the gay Charles to Brecknock, where his parents were Surface at sixty. The audience prothen performing. Bitterly disappointed nounced Kemble “ Very good in his way, in his ambition, Roger refused to receive but nothing to Coomins ;” and the press his disobedient son; a subscription of a advised him, if he desired to attain few shillings was raised among the com- eminence in his profession, to study that pany, to which the irate father was with gentleman's style. It would have been difficulty induced to add a guinea, and considered a sacrilege for any other acwith this pittance John Philip had the tor to have played the parts in which the world before him. He started on foot favorite was identified.
Once upon a for Wolverhampton, where his sister's bespeak night a servant of the patron's late managers, Crump and Chamberlain, refused to go to the theatre Because had opened the theatre. On the road “that Kemble was playing one of Mr. he fell in with another wandering disciple Coomins' parts." An actor had much of Thespis wending his way to the same to endure from the ignorance and insotown. On Christmas Day they found lence of the audience in those days. themselves at an inn without a penny in There was a certain influential “lady" their pockets. They composed two let- at York who took a delight in insulting ters, one in Latin to a parson, the other the actors upon the stage. One night, in English to a lawyer-charitable per- when Kemble was performing some trasons, we may presume, and known as gic part, she disconcerted him so much such—in which they stated their desti- by loud laughter and ridicule, that he tute circumstances and solicited assist- was compelled to address her and say he ance. The appeal was responded to, could not go on until she desisted. and with the funds thus obtained the Some officers who were in the box with journey was completed. But upon their her cried out she had been insulted, and arrival at Wolverhampton one was re- demanded an apology. Kemble refused ceived, the other rejected, and the reject to make any.
to make any. There was a great uped one, alas, was John Philip. After a roar, but the tragedian remained firm. few days, however, the theatrical poten- The next day these gentlemen called tates were induced to reconsider their upon the manager, and informed him determination, and on the 8th of Jan- that, unless the actor was dismissed, uary, 1776, Kemble appeared as Theo- they and their friends would withdraw dosius.
their patronage, and compel their tradesHe did not make a favorable impres- men to do likewise. The manager resion, and was evidently what, in expres- plied spiritedly that he had always found sive stage parlance, is called “a stick.” Mr. Kemble a gentleman, that he considBut he was studious and painstaking, ered he was in the right, and should not and made a progress in his art which, if think of discharging him. Such a deternot rapid, was 'sure. Lewis, the come- mination produced great excitement and dian, used to afterwards relate that astonishment in the city, but after a time while "starring" some little time after the audience came over to the side of this in a country town, he was greatly the actor, and the storm blew over. This struck by a young man who was playing same female insulted Michael Kelly, the Lovewell in 'The Clandestine Marriage,' singer, in a similar manner, “ Lawks, see, who, although attired in a very ridicu- the fellow's actually got a watch !" she lous dress, was so correct and gentleman- cried with a laugh, and loud enough to ly in his acting and bearing, that such be heard by the whole house.
Yes, shortcomings were lost sight of. He madam,” replied Kelly, holding it up to found him to be a Mr. John Kemble, her box, "and as good a one, I flatter and that he was associated with a person myself, as any in England.”.
From York John Philip proceeded to but was put off until the 10th of October. Dublin. Here, again, he appears to She was in town a fortnight beforehand have made little impression, for the au- preparing and rehearsing in a torture of dience still remembered Barry, and were , apprehension, for a second failure would loath to accept any one in his place. He have meant an eternal one, and probably worked indefatigably, played a round of the diminution of her provincial posisome thirty-eight characters belonging to tion. The play selected was Southevery range of the drama, and, although erne's tragedy, 'Isabella, or the Fatal never esteemed in comedy parts, gradu- Marriage. At the rehearsals the old ally won his way as a tragedian, until his nervousness again deprived her of voice, performance as the Count, in Jephson's until excitement and encouragement
Count of Narbonne,' raised him to be gave her strength. Two days before the an established favorite in the Irish capi. dreaded night she was seized with tal.
hoarseness which filled her with terror, Let us now return to his sister, whom but happily it passed away by the next we left at Bath struggling against her morning. inability to play comedy. Upon her
“On the eventful day, she writes, “my appearance in the sympathetic parts of father arrived to comfort me and be a witness tragedy her success was at once assured. of my trial. He accompanied me to my Four years did she remain in the West- dressing-room at the theatre. There he left ern city, and during that time made me, and I, in one of what I call my desperate many friends in the best society. Hen- terrific circumstances, there completed my
tranquillities which usually impress me under derson acted with her, and recommended dress, to the astonishment of my attendants, her to Sheridan in the most enthusiastic without uttering one word, though often sighterms, and the Duchess of Devonshire ing most profoundly.” spread the fame of her talents everywhere Her husband had not the courage to enshe went. By-and-by there came an offer ter the theatre, but wandered about the for one more trial at Drury Lane. But street or hovered about the playhouse in her former failure had left upon her mind an agony of suspense. The house was so gloomy and bitter an impression that crammed, and she was received with a she had constantly declared she should hearty round of applause. never desire to act again in London.
“ The awful consciousness," she says, Telling Palmer, the manager, of her offer, " that one is the sole object of attention to she expressed her readiness to decline it, that immense space, lined as it were with and remain with him if he would give human intellect from top to bottom and all her some little advance upon her small described, and by me can never be forgotten.”
around, may be imagined but can never be salary of 31. a week. Strange to say, although she was so immense a favorite, All doubts, however, were soon at rest. he declined to do so. This refusal pro- Her beautiful face and form, the exquibably arose from personal feeling; Sarah site tones of her voice, her deep tenderSiddons was never liked behind the ness, seized upon every heart, and as the scenes; she was cold, exacting, and dis- tragic story advanced, her overwhelming agreeable. Her farewell benefit took agony thrilled every soul as it had never place on May 12th, 1782. All the pit been thrilled before. Men wept, women was laid out in stalls, and a few front fell into hysterics, transports of applause rows of the gallery were reserved for the shook the house, the excitement, the enfrequenters of that part of the house, and thusiasm was almost terrible in its intenfor which inconvenience she entreat- sity, and the curtain fell amidst such aced their indulgence with many humble clamations as perhaps not even Garrick apologies. The performance consisted of had ever roused. In striking contrast to • The Distressed Mother' (Racine's An- this tumultuous triumph is the home dromaque), a poetical Address, and the picture that follows:
Devil to Pay,' in which she played Nell. "I reached my own quiet fireside on retirThe theatre was crammed, the receipts ing from the scene of reiterated shouts and were 1461., and the excitement was tre- plaudits. I was half dead, and my joy and mendous.
thankfulness were of too solemn and over
powering a nature to admit of words or even Even now Sheridan was only luke
My father, my husband, and myself warm over the engagement, and her dé sat down to a frugal meat supper in a silence,
uninterrupted except by exclamations of preme favorite Barry, had been enormgladness from Mr. Siddons. My father enjoyed his refreshments, but occasionally ously popular; and the Dublinites rallied stopped short,
and laying down his knife and around their old love, preferring her to fork, lifting up his venerable face, and throw. the younger actress. Mrs. Siddons' ening back his silver hair, gave way to tears of gagement was not a success, she hated happiness. We soon parted for the night, the place and the people, and her opinand I, worn out with continually broken rest and laborious exertion, after an hour's retro
ions oozing out were quite sufficient to spection (who can conceive the intenseness of render her unpopular. "The press wrote that reverie ?), fell into a sweet and profound her down and ridiculed the emotion her sleep which lasted to the middle of the next performances excited. One of these day."
skits is worth transcribing : As may be supposed, the old queens
“On Saturday Mrs. Siddons, about whom of tragedy did not submit to dethrone
all the world has been talking, exposed her ment without a struggle. Mrs. Crawford, beautiful adamantine, soft, and comely per. the haughtiest and most indignant of all, son, for the first time, in the Theatre Royal, entered the lists against her young rival
Smock Alley. The house was crowded with
hundreds more than it could hold, with thouat Covent Garden, and numbers of old
sands of admiring spectators that went away playgoers flocked thither to renew old
without a sight. . . . She was nature itself impressions and confirm doubtful judg- she was the most exquisite work of art. ; ments. But it was soon discovered that Several fainted, even before the curtain drew each represented a different school of up. : The fiddlers in the orchestra blub
bered like hungry children crying for their acting; by Mrs. Crawford the level por- bread and butter; and when the bell rang for tions of the part were hurried over or music between the acts, the tears ran from the given in neutral tones, and she reserved bassoon player's eyes in such showers that herself for sudden bursts of energy, they choked the finger-stops, and, making a whereas Mrs. Siddons elaborated the ut
spout of the instrument, poured in such a tor
rent upon the first fiddler's book that, not most effect, whether of elocution or feel- seeing the overture was in two sharps, the ing, out of every line. For her benefit, leader of the band actually played it in two the elder actress announced her rival's flats; but the sobs and sighs of the groaning greatest part, ‘Isabella,' but the boxes audience, and the noise of the corks drawn
from the smelling-bottles, prevented the mis, were not taken, and she fell ill with mor
take being discovered. . .. The briny pond tification. The press, too, became hos- in the pit was three feet deep, and the people tile to the débutante, jealous of her too that were obliged to stand upon the benches great success. But nothing could shake
were in that position up to their ankles in
tears. An Act of Parliament to prevent her -it, or damp the public ardor. The very playing will certainly pass, for she has infectlobbies were crammed with people of ed ihe volunteers, and they sit reading. The the first fashion. Seats in the boxes Fatal Marriage,' crying and roaring all the were not to be had, and ladies hazarded time. May the curses of an insulted nation their lives by struggling to gain admit- pursue the gentlemen of the college, the gen
tlemen of the bar, and the peers and peeresses tance to the pit. The street in which that hissed her on the second night. True it she lodged was daily crowded with the is that Mr. Garrick never could make anycarriages of the aristocracy; the parties thing of her, and pronounced her below me. to which she was invited were packed to diocrity: true it is the London audience did
not like her. But what of that?" suffocation, and people stood on the chairs and even on the tables to catch a The Scotch capital more than recomglimpse of her. Her salary was to be 51. pensed her for the slights of the Irish. a week, but before the end of the season Yet on her first night in Edinburgh, the it was raised to 201., and her first benefit house, although crammed, was freezing; realised Sool.
scene after scene the audience sat like It was Mrs. Siddons who first com- mutes, and after one of her greatest menced that pernicious star system, efforts, a single voice exclaimed from the which has done as much as anything to pit in a tone of judicial calmness, " That's sap the very foundations of the theatri- nae sae bad !" But on her second visit cal profession, and as soon as the Lon- the Scotch went as mad as the Londondon season was over she scoured the ers.
ers. In one day 2,557 people applied provinces for fame--and money. At for the 650 seats at the disposal of the Dublin she was, again opposed by Mrs. management; the doors were besieged Crawford, who, as the wife of the su- at noon, and footmen took their stand at