The Gallery of Portraits: with Memoirs. Vol 5 (of 7) online

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man of tried integrity, and a friend to toleration. But while the
princes of Guise availed themselves of his high character to court
popularity, they had no thought of acting by his advice; and Olivier,
compelled to be the unwilling instrument of a policy which he detested,
and afraid or unable to resign, was hastened by vexation to his grave.
L’Hôpital was selected to be his successor in June, 1560. The Guises and
the Queen Mother are said to have been actuated by different views in
agreeing upon this appointment. The former thought that from an old
adherent and petitioner of Cardinal Lorraine they had no opposition to
fear: the latter is said to have been influenced by the hope that
L’Hôpital’s patriotism would lead him to be a check on the over-powerful
house of Lorraine.

The circumstances under which he became Chancellor were such as might
fairly breed suspicion of his honesty. None but a bold man could have
hoped to do good after the example of Olivier; none but a dexterous man
could have succeeded. And such dexterity is seldom joined with that
sincerity and purity of purpose, which is one of the most valuable
qualities of a statesman, or any man. There are sometimes seasons in
which an honest man may take office, with the certainty not only that he
will not be permitted to do much that he would wish, but also that he
will be obliged to do a good deal that he disapproves. But such
compromises are of bad example and evil influence, and can only be
excused by the necessity of the times, and by the good results which
ensue. By this test, L’Hôpital’s conduct is vindicated. He conferred a
signal benefit on France at his first entrance upon office, by
dexterously contriving to prevent the establishment of the Inquisition,
which had been resolved on. He obtained the convocation of an Assembly
of Notables at Fontainebleau, in which, through his influence,
conciliatory measures were adopted towards the Protestants, and it was
resolved to summon a meeting of the States-General. But the Guises, by
working on the young king’s fears, turned that measure to their own
advantage. Condé no sooner appeared than he was arrested, tried, and
condemned to death. The King of Navarre was threatened with a similar
fate; and but for the opportune death of Francis II., the kingdom
probably would have been plunged at once into the utmost fury of a
religious war. But the succession of Charles IX., a minor, in December
1560, threw the regency into the hands of Catherine; and she, encouraged
by L’Hôpital, asserted her independence of the Guises, and, to
conciliate the support of a powerful party, released Condé, and allied
herself with the King of Navarre.

At first, the Chancellor’s liberal measures seemed to prosper. As if in
compliance with the demands of the States, he published the celebrated
Ordonnance of Orleans, which embodied most of his views for the
reformation of the state, and introduced a variety of bold and important
changes into the church, the courts of justice, and the financial
system. One portion of it is expressly directed against the oppressive
rights claimed and exercised by the nobility. But the spirit of the age
was not ripe for such extensive reforms: they were too far in advance to
produce a lasting influence. And in attempting to overcome an interested
and prejudiced opposition, the Chancellor was led to an act unworthy of
his real zeal for the welfare of his country. His legal improvements had
not conciliated the good will of the lawyers; and, foreseeing that the
Parliament of Paris might probably refuse to register his edicts, he
took it on himself to dispatch them to the provinces, without ever
having submitted them to that body. To justify such a step, it is not
enough to say that his views were enlarged and noble, theirs bigoted and
illiberal; for it is seldom or never that any object can be of
importance enough to justify a constitutional statesman in breaking down
a constitutional security. Nor had he even the bad excuse of success.
The Parliament were justly incensed, and probably became still more
hostile to the measures adopted in defiance of its authority; and the
high Catholic party prevailed in obtaining a new Assembly of Notables,
at which all was undone which the Chancellor had been labouring to do,
and the persecuting edicts against the Protestants were re-established
in full force.

This blow to his system of toleration the Chancellor contrived to
obviate. He had no assembly, no body of recognised authority on which to
lean for support. The Parliament of Paris was against him; the Assembly
of Notables, composed of lawyers and nobility, was against him; the
States-General were tedious to convoke, and were paralysed by their
division into three orders. In this difficulty he bethought himself of
calling an assembly of deputies from the provincial Parliaments of the
kingdom; and fortified by their recommendation, he promulgated and
obtained registration of the celebrated edict of January, 1562, which,
under certain restrictions, permitted the open profession of the
Protestant faith. Upon this the furious bigotry of the Duke of Guise
broke into open violence, and kindled the first of those religious wars
which long desolated France. Strengthened by the adhesion of the
Constable Montmorenci, and by possession of the persons of the King, and
Queen Regent, the brothers of Lorraine usurped the conduct of affairs,
and excluded L’Hôpital from the council. It is remarkable, considering
his resolute opposition to their policy, that they did not deprive him
of his office; and this may be taken as an evidence either of the
consummate prudence with which, without betraying his own principles, he
avoided giving personal offence to his opponents; or that his character
stood so high as to render his opponents unwilling to incur the odium of
displacing him.

The assassination of the Duke of Guise, in February, 1563, restored to
Catherine her own free-will, and L’Hôpital to power; and he immediately
availed himself of it to lay the basis of peace by fresh edicts in
favour of toleration, which as usual were opposed by the Parliament. In
the following year, Charles IX. having reached the age of fourteen, the
Chancellor revived an old law which fixed the majority of Kings of
France at that age, and declared the King’s majority before the
Parliament of Rouen. Soon after, he was engaged in a quarrel with his
old patron, Cardinal Lorraine, relative to the privileges of the
Gallican Church. The question was, whether or not the decrees of the
Council of Trent should be admitted as authority in France. The
Chancellor opposed this, and he carried his point.

To amuse Charles, and to avoid some of the evils which usually beset a
court, the Chancellor conducted his young sovereign on a tour to the
southern provinces of France. This was attended with unforeseen and evil
consequences. At Bayonne Charles was met by his sister, the Queen of
Spain, attended by the Duke of Alva and other Spanish noblemen. Alva
acquired the confidence of Catherine, whom he persuaded that in the
hands of L’Hôpital she really had no more freedom of action than under
the control of the Guises; and as in her opposition to them she had been
actuated by no love of toleration, she had little to unlearn under the
tuition of that bigoted and able partizan of the papacy. L’Hôpital soon
perceived that his power was shaken. He laboured to make up for the lost
confidence of Catherine, by attaching himself more and more to Charles
IX.; and for a time he succeeded in retaining influence over that
prince, who, during the years 1565 and 1566, was kept in a state of
vacillation between those who pleaded for peace and toleration, and
those who would have exterminated Protestantism at all hazards and by
all means. The religious war was renewed in 1567. Peace was concluded in
1568; but L’Hôpital was not employed to manage it. His only hold upon
power was now in the reverence of the King; and this was shaken by the
artful representations of Catherine. It shows, however, in a strong
light, the ascendancy which L’Hôpital had acquired over Charles’s mind,
that the joint influence of Catherine and the House of Guise could not
induce him absolutely to dismiss his faithful minister. In 1568 he sent
to request the Chancellor to give up the seals for a time, with a
promise of returning them. L’Hôpital says in his Testament, that “he
judged it better to yield to the necessity of the state, and to its new
governors, than to contend with them.” He retired to his estate at
Vignay, near Etampes, where he returned with avidity to his literary
pursuits, and to the amusements and occupations of the country, to which
his letters represent him as devotedly attached.

The Chancellor had not amassed wealth in his various high employments;
but his pensions were continued by the King; and Catherine herself did
not forget his former services. Even in the dreadful massacre of St.
Bartholomew’s they interfered to protect him; though his family were
Protestants, and he himself, though a Catholic by profession and in
observances, was so suspected by the bigot party, who did not understand
how sincerity and tolerance could go together, that it passed into a
sort of proverb, ‘Lord deliver us from the Chancellor’s mass.’ A troop
of horse was sent from court to preserve his mansion from insult. His
domestics were alarmed, and proposed to shut the gates. “No,” said the
Chancellor; “but if the small gate is not enough, open the great one.”
His daughter, then in Paris, was in imminent danger, and escaped only
through the intervention of the Duchess of Guise.

The Chancellor did not long survive this signal proof that his labours
had been in vain. “I have lived too long,” he said, “since I have seen
what has occurred in my last days,—a youth changed from a mild king into
a merciless tyrant.” He died, March 13, 1573; and was buried in his
parish church of Champmoteux. His monument is among those which have
been collected at Paris, in the Musée des Petits-Augustins.

Brantôme has described the person of L’Hôpital. He wore a long white
beard; his face was pale, his demeanor grave, and he resembled the
pictures of St. Jerome, by which name he was known at court. He and the
Constable Montmorenci were famous as _rabroueurs_, or reprimanders, and
were joint terrors to the idle courtiers; and this harshness, if we may
trust his own representations, was not natural, but assumed as a
necessary qualification for his office. His private habits were very
simple and frugal, and he regarded the increase of luxury as the bane of
France. Brantôme says that once, when he paid the Chancellor a visit
with Maréchal Strozzi, their host gave them for dinner a single dish of
_bouillie_, and that his whole stock of plate consisted of one silver
saltcellar. He adds an amusing account of the way in which the
Chancellor rated two newly appointed functionaries, who came to present
themselves, and who could not pass satisfactorily through a legal
examination, which he bestowed upon them.

The leading objects of L’Hôpital’s political life were to obtain the
reformation of abuses, to establish the independence of the Gallican
church against the usurpations of Rome, and to procure toleration for
the Protestants. He is, we believe, the first minister who laid down the
principle of toleration, and proclaimed the impossibility and absurdity
of making force the rule of reason; and he has thus gained an
indefeasible title to the reverence, not only of his countrymen, but of
mankind. “What laws,” he said, in his inaugurative speech to the
Parliament of Paris, “have not been promulgated on this point of
religion? What judgments and punishments, of which even the magistrates
of the Parliament have been victims? To what purpose have served such
continued armaments and combats in Germany, in England, and in Scotland?
The ancient religion has been shaken by these combats, and the new
confirmed. The mistake lies in treating the maladies of the mind as if
they were those of the body. Experience teaches us that it is the force
of reason, the gentle persuasion of words alone, which can win hearts,
and cure diseased spirits.”

This great man has another claim to notice, as one of the most
distinguished jurists and reformers of France. He has been classed with
Charlemagne and St. Louis, as one of the three principal legislators of
that country; and his eminent successor D’Aguesseau bore testimony to
the merits of his edicts, as the foundation of the most useful laws
which were afterwards enacted. His constitutional views were directed
towards raising the royal authority, at the expense of the nobility and
the Parliament. We have expressed our belief that in the latter instance
his conduct was wrong. His views of reform are embodied in the
Ordonnance of Orleans (January, 1561), and that of Moulins (February,
1566), which De Thou describes as being the complement of the former. Of
the contents of the Ordonnance of Orleans we have already given such
notice as our space allows; that of Moulins pertains rather to legal and
judicial reforms; it limits and defines the powers of judicial officers,
and determines the law on various points, relative to entails, arrests
for debt, sales, &c. In short, these two edicts provide for the removal
of most of those evils which, unredressed, produced the first

It is much to be regretted that L’Hôpital’s essay towards a work on
French law is lost. There is a volume extant of his Poetical Epistles,
of which the best edition is that of Amsterdam, 1732. To these, and to
his Testament, which is printed in the Bibliothèque Choisie of Colomiès,
and in Brantôme (article of the Constable Montmorenci), we may refer for
authentic details of his life; of which numerous particulars will be
found in the history of De Thou, the Memoirs of Brantôme, the Letters of
Pasquier, the Eloges of Thevet, and other contemporary writers. His
speeches before the States of Orleans have been published; and a
Collection of Memoirs, consisting of various State Papers, printed at
Cologne, 1672, has been ascribed to him. The Eloge of L’Hôpital was
proposed as a prize by the French Academy in 1777. Slight accounts of
him will be found in the various biographical dictionaries; but no
publication, so far as we know, has appeared either in French or
English, which can dispense with the necessity of consulting the
original authorities, on the part of those who wish to obtain more than
a superficial acquaintance with the history of this illustrious


[The Conciergerie at Paris, from whence the Huguenot prisoners were
liberated by L’Hôpital himself,—from a Print in the British Museum.]



The light esteem in which the theatrical profession has commonly been
held renders it probable that the introduction of an actress among the
few female names included in our Gallery may seem to some persons
uncalled for and injudicious. That there are few players entitled to
such admission we allow: but for one who studied acting as a branch of
art, discarding every unworthy species of stage trickery; and who, by
profound study, and a rare union of mental and bodily excellence, has
inseparably connected her name and memory with the masterpieces of the
British drama, we do claim a place (to which her eminent brother is
almost equally entitled) among the master-minds of the fine arts.

Sarah Kemble came of a theatrical stock. Her father was manager of a
provincial company of actors; her mother was the daughter of a
provincial manager. Both parents maintained a high character for moral
rectitude; and the latter is said to have been distinguished by a
strength of mind, and stateliness of demeanour, which may have had some
influence upon the character and manners of her celebrated children.
Sarah, their eldest daughter, was born at Brecon, July 5, 1755. From an
early period of childhood she was trained to the stage. She was scarcely
more than seventeen when her affections were engaged by an actor of her
father’s company, named Siddons, to whom, after some opposition on the
part of her parents, she was married, November 26, 1773. Her early
married life was beset with difficulties. Mr. Siddons possessed little
merit as an actor; and during nine years, which elapsed before Mrs.
Siddons established a metropolitan reputation, she had to endure hard
work and low pay. The first encouragement which she received in her
career was from the notice of the Hon. Miss Boyle, afterwards Lady
O’Neil, a lady possessed of high mental qualities, as well as birth and
beauty, who was so much struck


_Engraved by W. Holl._


_After the Picture by Sir Joshua Reynolds._

Under the Superintendance of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful

_London, Published by Charles Knight, Ludgate Street._

by the young actress’s performance of Belvidera at Cheltenham in 1774,
that she sought her out in her obscurity, and there commenced a warm and
lasting friendship. Through this connection Mrs. Siddons seems to have
been introduced to Garrick, by whom she was engaged at Drury Lane
theatre. Her first appearance was in the character of Portia, December
29, 1775. She was received with indifference; and during the remainder
of the season she did not establish herself in the favour of the London
audiences, nor did she appear in any first-rate part. Garrick professed
high admiration for her, and on quitting the stage, which he did towards
the close of that season, promised to procure for her an advantageous
engagement with his successors in the management. In this promise he
failed, for during the summer of 1776 she received an abrupt dismissal
from Drury Lane. Her failure to produce a sensation in the first
instance does not seem to have weighed much on her mind. She knew her
powers, but was conscious that they were immature; and she was deeply
sensible through life how necessary, even to the greatest powers, are
cultivation and study. But this dismissal affected her in a very
different manner. In her own words, quoted from the autograph
‘Recollections’ intrusted to her friend and biographer, Mr. Campbell,
“it was a stunning and cruel blow, overwhelming all my ambitious hopes,
and involving peril, even to the very subsistence of my helpless babes.”

Her fears were soothed, and her mortification relieved by her success at
several of the provincial theatres. She received her dismissal from
Drury Lane while at Birmingham, where she was engaged during the summer
to perform the highest characters; and where she laid the foundation of
her fame, by acquiring the good opinion of the actor Henderson, who
pronounced, within a year of her expulsion from Drury Lane, that she was
an actress who never had an equal, nor would ever have a superior.
Through his recommendation, in the following year she obtained a
permanent engagement at Bath, where she was received with distinguished
favour, and where she remained until her increasing reputation procured
for her an invitation to return to Drury Lane. She chose the part of
Isabella, in the ‘Fatal Marriage,’ for her debut, October 10, 1782. The
anxiety with which she approached this second trial is described in an
interesting manner in her own memoranda. On this occasion her hopes were
fully gratified. She played Isabella eight times between October 10, and
October 30, when she appeared in her second character, Euphrasia, in the
‘Grecian Daughter.’ Her other parts, during this first season, were Jane
Shore, Calista, Belvidera, and Zara in the ‘Mourning Bride.’

We propose in this sketch of Mrs. Siddons’s theatrical life to notice
only the most remarkable of her characters, reserving to the end a
complete list of them, together with a few remarks on her style of
acting. In November, 1783, she played Isabella in ‘Measure for Measure,’
with entire success; and thus solved the real or pretended doubts of a
few persons, who questioned her courage or capacity to represent the
masterpieces of Shakspeare to a London audience. No one could do more
justice to the pure, uncompromising, clear-sighted virtue of Isabella,
so consonant to her own honest and high-souled simplicity: nor was she
at fault in attempting, during the same season, Constance, in ‘King
John,’ a character of more varied emotion, and far greater demand on the
resources of the player. Of this part she says, in an elaborate
criticism, worthy of being read with attention by all persons, and
especially by actors, “I cannot conceive in the whole range of dramatic
character a greater difficulty than that of representing this grand
creature.” Those who remember her performance of it in the meridian of
her powers, bear testimony, with Mr. Campbell, to the depth of her
maternal affection, her queen-like majesty, and her tremendous power of
invective and sarcasm: when first revived for her the play seems to have
been coldly received.

The celebrated portrait of Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse was painted
by Reynolds in 1783. The character was suggested by the painter: the
attitude is that in which the sitter first placed herself, by which
Reynolds was so struck that he at once adopted it.

An interesting anecdote relative to Mrs. Siddons’s first country
performance of Lady Macbeth, is told in the Memoranda from which we have
already quoted. “It was my custom to study my characters at night, when
the domestic cares and business of the day were over. On the night
preceding that in which I was to appear for the first time, I shut
myself up, as usual, when all the family were retired, and commenced my
study of _Lady Macbeth_. As the character is very short, I thought I
should soon accomplish it. Being then only twenty years of age, I
believed, as many do believe, that little more was necessary than to get
the words into my head; for the necessity of discrimination, and the
development of character, at that time of my life, had scarcely entered
into my imagination. But, to proceed, I went on with tolerable composure
in the silence of the night, (a night I can never forget,) till I came
to the assassination scene, when the horrors of the scene rose to a
degree that made it impossible for me to get farther. I snatched up my
candle, and hurried out of the room, in a paroxysm of terror. My dress
was of silk, and the rustling of it, as I ascended the stairs to go to
bed, seemed to my panic-struck fancy like the movement of a spectre
pursuing me. At last I reached my chamber, where I found my husband fast
asleep. I clapt my candlestick down upon the table, without the power of
putting the candle out; and I threw myself on my bed, without daring to
stay even to take off my clothes. At peep of day I rose to resume my
task; but so little did I know of my part when I appeared in it at
night, that my shame and confusion cured me of procrastinating my
business for the remainder of my life.”

“About six years afterwards I was called upon to act the same character
in London. By this time I had perceived the difficulty of assuming a
personage with whom no one feeling of common general nature was
congenial or assistant. One’s own heart could prompt one to express with
some degree of truth the sentiments of a mother, a daughter, a wife, a
lover, a sister, &c.; but to adopt this character must be an effort of
the judgment alone.”

In accordance with this, Mrs. Siddons has been known to say, that Lady
Macbeth gave her more trouble than any other of her characters, both in
settling her conception of the poet’s meaning, and determining the means
of giving effect to it. Her success however in the eyes of the public
was complete: in Mr. Campbell’s words, “the moment she seized the part
she identified her image with it in the minds of the living generation.”
She appeared in it for the first time in London, February 2, 1785. Smith
played Macbeth. As in the case of Constance, Mrs. Siddons has left, in
an elaborate essay on the character of Lady Macbeth, interesting
evidence of the deep study which she bestowed on her profession; a point
in which, as well as in general mental cultivation, the Kemble family
have been advantageously distinguished from others even of our
first-rate actors. It is scarcely possible to conceive ‘Macbeth’ so well
performed as when the principal characters were filled by Mrs. Siddons

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