Every one who has turned over the leaves of a
dramatic biography is acquainted with the usual statements relative to
the life of Mrs. Siddons—how she first appeared at Drury Lane Theatre,
in the year 1775, as the representative of Portia, and towards the end
of the season degenerated into a walking Venus in the pageant of the
Jubilee —how she returned to the Bath Theatre the year following—how, a
few years afterwards, she reappeared in London with extraordinary
success, and, after a brilliant career, finally retired from the stage
in July, 1812. Her biographers, however, have never indulged the world
with anything like a detailed account of her first appearance on the
Edinburgh stage, which occurred on the 22d May, 1784. During her
engagement, "the rage for seeing her was so great, that one day there
were 2557 applications for 630 places;" and many even came from
Newcastle to witness her performances. Her engagement was owing to a few
spirited individuals, who took all risk on themselves, the manager of
the Edinburgh Theatre being afraid of hazardous speculations. The
Edinburgh Weekly Magazine, in its report of her appearance, mentions
that "the manager had taken the precaution, after the first night, to
have an officer's guard of soldiers at the principal door. But several
scuffles having ensued, through the eagerness of the people to get
places, and the soldiers having been rash in the use of their bayonets,
it was thought advisable to withdraw the guard on the third night, lest
any accident had happened from the pressure of the crowd, who began to
assemble round the doors at eleven in the forenoon."
The plays she acted in were as follow:—May 22, Venice Preserved; 24,
Gamester; 20, Venice Preserved; 27, Gamester; 29, Mourning Bride; June
1, Douglas; 3, Isabella; 5, Jane Shore; 7, Douglas; 9, Grecian Daughter
(for her benefit); 10, Mourning Bride; 11, Grecian Daughter (for benefit
of the Charity Workhouse).
On the 12th she set out for Dublin, where she was
engaged to perform twenty nights for .£1000.
speaking of her appearance in Douglas, the Coitrant observes, "We have
seen Mrs. Crawford in the part of Lady Randolph, and she played it
perhaps with more solemuity and as much dignity as Mrs. Siddons, but
surely not with so much interesting sensibility. It would far exceed our
limits to point out or describe the many beauties that charmed us in the
representation of this piece. Mrs. Siddons never once disappoints the
spectator; but from the moment of her appearance she interests and
carries along his admiration of every tone, look, and gesture. While the
discovery of her son gradually proceeds, she suspends the audience in
the most pleasing interesting anxiety.
beautiful narration of Old Norval, when he says—
came the river down, and loud and oft
The angry spirit of the water
she kept the audience by her looks and
attitude in the most silent anxious attention, and they read in her
countenance every movement of her soul. But when she breaks out—
'Inhuman that thou art! How could'st thou kill what waves and tempests
they must be of a flinty nature indeed who
burst not into tears. "When she discovers herself to her sou—
'My son! my son!
I am thy mother, and the wife of Douglas,'
we believe there was not a dry eye in the whole house."
Mrs. Siddons played eleven nights exclusive of the charity one. She
shared £50 a-night for ten nights, and at her benefit drew £350, besides
a sum of £260, with which a party of gentlemen presented her. From the
subscribers she received an elegant piece of plate, on which was
engraved—"As a mark of esteem for superior genius and unrivalled
talents, this vase is respectfully inscribed with the name of
Siddons.—Edinburgh, 9th June, 1784."
epistle which follows, showing the ferment into which her presence threw
the town, is clever, and worthy of preservation:—
EPISTLE FROM MISS MARIA BELINDA BOGLE AT EDINBURGH,
TO HER FRIEND,
MISS LAVINIA LEETCH, AT GLASGOW.
I hear with deep
sorrow, my beautiful Leetch,
In vain to come here you your father
I say in all places, and say it most truly,
His heart is
as hard as the heart of Priuli;
'Tis composed of black flint, or of
But smother your rage—'twould be folly to fan it.
Each evening the playhouse exhibits a mob,
And the right of
admission 's turn'd into a job.
By five the whole pit used to fill
And those who had money enough to be bribers;
But the public took fire, and began a loud jar,
And I thought we'd
have had a biddonian war.
The Committees met, and the
lawyers' hot mettle
Began very soon both to cool and to settle :
Of public resentment to blunt the keen edge,
In a coop they commented
that sixty they'd wedge;
And the coop's now so cramm'd it will scarce
hold a mouse,
And the rest of the Pit's turn'd a true public-house.
With porter and pathos, with whisky and whining,
They quickly all
look as if long they'd been dining;
Their shrub and their sighs court
our noses and ears,
And their twopenny blends in libation with tears:
The god of good liquor with fervour they woo,
And before the fifth
act they are "a' greetingfou."
Though my muse to write satire's
reluctant and loth,
This custom, I think, savours strong of the Goth.
As for Siddons herself, her features so tragic
Have caught the whole
town with the force of their magic :
Her action is varied, her voice
Her eye very fine, but somewhat too pensive.
terrible trials of Beverley's wife
She rose not above the dull level
She was greatly too simple to strike very deep,
thought more than once to have fallen asleep.
Her sorrows in Shore
were so soft and so still,
That my heart lay as snug as a thief in a
I have never as yet been much overcome
With distress that's
so gentle, and grief that's so dumb ;
And, to tell the plain truth, I
have not seen any
They get, like the tumble of Yates in Mandane ;
For acting should certainly rise above Nature ;
But, indeed, now and
then she's a wonderful creature.
When Zara's revenge burst in storms
from the tongue,
With rage and reproach all the ample roof rung.
Isabella, too, rose all superior to sadness,
And our hearts were well
harrow'd with horror and madness.
From all sides of the house, hark
the cry how it swells!
While the boxes are torn with most
The Misses all faint, it becomes them so
And their cheeks are so red, that they never look ghastly :
Even ladies advance to their grand climacterics
Are often led out in
a fit of hysterics ;
The screams are wide-wafted, east, west, south,
Loud Echo prolongs them on both sides the Forth.
You ask ine what beauties most touchingly strike?—
They are beauteous
all, and all beauteous alike,
With lovely complexions that time ne'er
So thick they're laid o'er with a delicate varnish ;
Their bosoms and neck have a gloss and a burnish,
And their cheeks
with fresh roses from Raehurn they furnish.
I quickly return, and am
just on the wing,
And some things I'm sure that you'll like I will
The sweet Siddons' cap, the latest dear ogle;
till we meet. Your true friend,
Edinburgh, June 7, 1784.
During the summer season of
the following year Mrs. Siddons again honoured Modern Athens with her
presence, and created as great a sensation as she had done the year
preceding. The receipts during her engagement were:—1785, July 12,
Grecian Daughter, £95; July 14, Macbeth, ,£125; July 16, Fair Penitent,
£126; July 18, Isabella, £154; July 20, Douglas, £130; July 23,
Carmelite, £128; July 25, Venice Preserved, £130; Jnlv 26, Carmelite,
£84 ; July 27, Which is the Man? £84; July 28, Isabella, £139; July 29,
Suspicious Husband, £15; July 30, Jane Shore, £115; August 1, Earl of
Warwick, £123 ; August 2, Mourning Bride, £107; August 3, Provoked
Husband, £125; August 6, Gamester, £200; August 8, Douglas, £137; August
9, Earl of Warwick, £60 16s.
On the 12th August, Mrs.
Siddons made her first appearance in Glasgow in the character of