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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Mrs. Siddons, at the Edinburgh Theatre


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.

In 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.

"During the beautiful narration of Old Norval, when he says—

'Red came the river down, and loud and oft
The angry spirit of the water shriek'd,' &c.,

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 spared?'

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."

The poetical 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 beseech ;
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 Aberdeen granite,
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 with subscribers,
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 is extensive,
Her eye very fine, but somewhat too pensive.
In the terrible trials of Beverley's wife
She rose not above the dull level of life.
She was greatly too simple to strike very deep,
And I 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 mill:
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 heart-piercing yells,—
The Misses all faint, it becomes them so vastly,
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, and north,
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 can tarnish,
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 bring—
The sweet Siddons' cap, the latest dear ogle;
Farewell till we meet. Your true friend,

Mary Bogle.
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 Belviclera.


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