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and Kemble: the actors might have been thought born for the parts. The
same may be said of ‘Coriolanus,’ in which they appeared together for
the first time in February, 1789. But the season of 1785 is also
memorable for Mrs. Siddons’s first appearance in Desdemona, a character
as widely different from the Scottish Queen as can well be imagined. Yet
it is recorded to have been one of the actress’s most exquisite
performances; and this is one of the strongest proofs of her
extraordinary talent. Unsuitable as her person, voice, and general
demeanour may seem to those who knew her only in her later days, we have
the undeniable testimony of competent judges to the grace, loveliness,
and sweetness with which she personated the gentle Venetian. Her very
stature, Mr. Boaden says, seemed to be lowered. Ophelia she performed
once, and once only, for her benefit, May 15, 1786, to her brother’s
Hamlet; and, though a poor singer, she rendered the part deeply
affecting. Juliet she also performed, we believe once only, for her
benefit in 1789. Cordelia and Imogen are to be added to the list of
characters of the gentler cast. The former was not one of her most
popular, probably not one of her most effective, performances, for Lear
is said to have been almost the only play in which, when both were on
the stage, the brother made a stronger impression than the sister. The
pure, gentle dignity of Imogen must have found in her a most effective

In the autumn of 1783, about a year before Dr. Johnson’s death, Mrs.
Siddons, at his own request, paid him a visit, which was several times
repeated. He expressed a strong desire to see her in Queen Katherine,
his favourite character among Shakspeare’s females. He was not so
gratified; for the play was not brought forward until November 28, 1788,
after an absence from the stage of near half a century. This, like Lady
Macbeth, we must regard as one of Mrs. Siddons’s peculiar characters.
“It was an era,” Mr. Campbell says, “not only in Mrs. Siddons’s history,
but in the fortune of the play as an acting piece; for certainly, in the
history of all female performance on the British stage, there is no
specific tradition of any excellence at all approaching to hers as Queen
Katherine.” The two principal scenes belonging to the part are
strikingly contrasted. The high mind and majestic deportment of the
actress, and the sarcasm which she pours out on the Cardinal, render the
Trial Scene one of the most effective on the stage; and it has
fortunately been preserved from oblivion by the pencil of Harlowe. But
the last scene, in the sick chamber, was among the strongest proofs of
Mrs. Siddons’s close adherence to nature, and one of her greatest
triumphs over the difficulties of her art, enhanced as they were by the
extravagant dimensions of the modern theatres. It may be mentioned to
show her confidence in her own judgment as to the truth of nature that,
though the audience in the gallery sometimes asked her to speak louder,
she never obeyed the call; but left the architect responsible for any
failure of effect, rather than herself overstep the bounds of propriety
in the most solemn event of human life.

Mrs. Siddons quitted Drury Lane for the season 1789–90, in consequence
of the difficulty of obtaining her salary while the treasury was in the
hands of Sheridan. She was induced by promises to return in the
following season; but a weak state of health prevented her playing more
than seven nights, and she appeared in no new character; nor, during the
summer of 1791, did she act on any provincial stage. She returned to
Drury Lane in 1794, after the rebuilding of the theatre, and remained
there until 1802; when the impossibility of rescuing the reward of her
labours from that “drowning gulf,” as she justly calls Sheridan in one
of her letters, drove her away finally. The most remarkable of her new
characters, during this period of eight years, were Millwood, in ‘George
Barnwell,’ and Agnes, in ‘Fatal Curiosity,’ both plays of Lillo; Mrs.
Haller; Elvira in ‘Pizarro,’ which, in spite of the demerits of the
play, she rendered one of her most popular characters; and Hermione, in
the ‘Winter’s Tale,’ her last new part, which she acted for the first
time, March 25, 1802. The statue scene was one of her most extraordinary
performances, both for its illusion while she remained motionless, and
for the effect produced by her descent from the pedestal, and
recognition of her daughter Perdita.

In one of her early performances of this character she met with an
accident which might well have ended fatally. The muslin draperies in
which she was enveloped caught fire from a lamp; fortunately, one of the
scene-men saw and extinguished it before it spread. Her gratitude for
his interposition is eloquently expressed in her correspondence; and her
warmth of feeling was subsequently evinced in the pains which she took
to procure for the man’s son, who had deserted from the army, remission
from what she justly calls “the horrid torture and disgrace of the
lash,” and in the lively pleasure which she expresses in the prospect of

Upon her final departure from Drury Lane, Mrs. Siddons formed an
engagement at Covent Garden, where she appeared for the first time,
September 27, 1803. She continued there until June 29, 1812, on which
day she bid farewell to the stage. During this time she performed in no
new characters, nor is any circumstance which requires notice recorded
of this part of her professional life. In her last season we find that,
of her earlier characters, she performed Isabella, in ‘The Fatal
Marriage,’ twice; Isabella, in ‘Measure for Measure,’ seven times;
Euphrasia, twice; Belvidera, six times; and Mrs. Beverley, four times.
It may perhaps be taken as an indication of that by which she wished
chiefly to be remembered, that she played Lady Macbeth ten times, and
chose it for her farewell. Queen Katherine she played six times;
Constance and Volumnia, four times each; Elvira, five times; Mrs.
Haller, twice; Hermione, four times. On her last appearance the house
was crowded to excess, and the excitement of the occasion was testified
by a general demand that the play should be stopped after Lady Macbeth’s
appearance in the sleeping scene. Mrs. Siddons returned to the boards on
various occasions, chiefly for her brother Charles’s benefit: her last
performance was in the part of Lady Randolph, June 9, 1819.

In giving, in addition to what we have already said, a short general
notice of the professional merits of Mrs. Siddons, we shall confine our
remarks chiefly to those characters which better suited her maturer
years, in which alone a large majority of our readers can have seen her.
She was throughout the tragic department the unrivalled actress of her
time; though in such parts as Belvidera, Desdemona, Cordelia, &c., the
power of exciting the sympathy of an audience might have been shared
with her by Mrs. Cibber and other of her predecessors, or by her
successors, Miss O’Neil or Miss Kemble. But in one respect she stands
alone in her profession: she was the most intellectual of actresses. She
was a person of deep thought, and an habitual student of nature with a
view to the perfection of her art; and that as much, or more, in
advanced life, than when she had her reputation to make or to enjoy in
the first years of her celebrity. Mrs. Siddons sat day after day in her
study, looking at Shakspeare and whatever bore upon him, not as if he
were the mere poet of the stage, furnishing an outline to be filled up
by her peculiar powers, but as if he were the high priest and expositor
of human nature, whose lessons it was the serious business of her life
to learn, and having learned, to teach.

We shall not add to what we have already said of her Queen Katherine, or
Lady Macbeth, except one circumstance, illustrative of the above
position. Mrs. Siddons, who repeatedly read ‘Macbeth’ before the most
competent judges, made a deeper and more lasting impression, not only in
her own part, but in the other characters, than did the representation
on the stage by her brother and herself, with all the advantages of
dress and the illusion of scenery. The audience, at her readings,
consisting of men and women of taste and literature, professed never to
have understood Shakspeare so thoroughly before.

Her Isabella, in ‘Measure for Measure,’ claims a short notice. This play
in Garrick’s reign was acted occasionally to empty benches in the dull
part of the season; but neither the manager himself, nor his leading
performers, condescended to appear in so grave and sermonizing a piece.
Even when played by Kemble and his sister, it did not draw crowded
houses; but it ensured a critical and enlightened audience. The theatre
seldom contained so many men of the first reputation for taste and
literature as when that play was performed. John Kemble’s mind was
framed in the same mould with his sister’s; he gave to a sententious and
philosophic part dignity and interest, where an ordinary actor would
preach his audience to sleep. The scene between the Duke in the disguise
of a Confessor, and Isabella, excited neither tears nor rapturous
applause, but intense interest, and breathless attention. The Duke’s
exposition of his project is long, her intervening speeches short, and
not emphatic; so that such a scene bids fair to be called _prosing_. But
the intense and intelligent expression in her eyes, and more perhaps in
her mouth, the great seat of expression, filled up whatever was wanting:
the gradually increasing, but as yet far from complete comprehension of
the device, and of its consistency with her own purity, marked without
words what was passing in her mind: but when she exclaims “The image of
it gives me content already, and I trust it will grow to a most
prosperous perfection,” the burst of perfect understanding, the lighting
up of every feature, and the tones of sudden joy, produced a
corresponding effect in the spectators, which scenes of intense pathos
could scarcely surpass in effect. Mrs. Siddons’s power over the mind was
as great as over the passions.

Another extraordinary performance was her Millwood, in ‘George
Barnwell.’ She took that part, which had never been played by a
first-rate actress, in hopes that she might be of service to her brother
Charles, then a young actor, who was to be brought forward as Barnwell.
In the early scenes the severity of her blandishments bordered on the
ludicrous; she was more like Barnwell’s mother than his mistress: but in
her scene of dissimulation with Thorowgood, and in her subsequent arrest
and diabolically triumphant avowal of the motive of her conduct through
life, the desire to revenge her wrongs on the opposite sex, she
pourtrayed wickedness with grand and appalling force. Her thundering
exclamation, “I know you, and I hate you all; I expect no mercy, and I
ask for none,” was made with a withering effect. The scene in ‘Fatal
Curiosity,’ in which Agnes suggests to her husband the murder of their
unknown son, was another of her wonderful exhibitions: in Mr. Campbell’s
words, “it made the flesh of the spectator creep.”

Mrs. Siddons is said to have thought well of her own talents for comedy;
and her reading of Shakspeare’s characters of low humour was admirable.
She played at different times Katherine, in ‘The Taming of the Shrew,’
and Rosalind; as well as Mrs. Oakley, and a few other characters of the
modern drama. There seems to have been nothing against her success in
genteel comedy but a deficiency of animal spirits. Her delivery of the
level conversation in tragedy was easy, graceful, and refined. Her
representation of the early scenes in ‘The Gamester,’ where she had
merely to personate an elegant and highbred woman, bearing up against
present anxiety and impending misfortune, was as attractive and as
finished as her deep tragedy in the sequel was pathetic and harrowing.
And in the first scenes of Mrs. Haller, the charm of her manners and
delivery imparted interest even to the dull detail of a housekeeper’s
weekly routine.

We subjoin a list of the parts which Mrs. Siddons performed in London.
The reader will be surprised to find how many of them are in plays all
but forgotten, and utterly unworthy of her talents. In those marked (*)
she made her first appearance for her own benefit: in those marked (†),
for John Kemble’s.

Characters. Plays.


Isabella Fatal Marriage

Euphrasia Grecian Daughter

Jane Shore Jane Shore

Calista Fair Penitent

*Belvidera Venice Preserved

*Zara Mourning Bride


Isabella Measure for Measure

Mrs. Beverley Gamester

Constance King John

*Lady Randolph Douglas

Countess of Salisbury Countess of Salisbury (_Hartson._)

*Sigismunda Tancred and Sigismunda


Margaret of Anjou Earl of Warwick (_Franklin._)

Zara Zara (_from Voltaire._)

Matilda Carmelite (_Cumberland._)

Camiola Maid of Honour

*Lady Macbeth Macbeth

Desdemona Othello

Elfrida Elfrida (_Mason._)

Rosalind As you like it


The Duchess Duke of Braganza (_Jephson._)

Mrs. Lovemore Way to keep Him

*Hermione Distressed Mother

*Ophelia, and the Lady in

Malvina The Captives (_Delap._)

Elwina Percy (_Miss H. More._)


Cleone Cleone (_Dodsley._)

Imogen Cymbeline

Hortensia Count of Narbonne (_Jephson._)

†Lady Restless All in the Wrong

Julia Italian Lovers (_Jephson._)

Alicia Jane Shore


Cordelia Lear

Cleonice Fall of Sparta (_Mrs. Cowley._)

†Katherine Taming the Shrew

Dionara Regent (_Greatheed._)

*Cleopatra All for Love


Queen Katherine Henry VIII.

Volumnia Coriolanus

*The Princess and Mrs. Riot Law of Lombardy (_Jephson._)
Lethe (_Farce. Garrick._)

Mary Mary Queen of Scots (_St. John._)

*Juliet Romeo and Juliet


Queen Elizabeth Richard III.

Mrs. Oakley Jealous Wife


Ariadne Ariadne (_Murphy._)


Countess Orsini Emilia Galotti (_from Lessing._)


Horatia Roman Father (_Whitehead._)

Elvira Edwyn and Elgiva (_Miss Burney._)

Palmira Mahomet (_from Voltaire._)

Emmeline Edgar and Emmeline (_Afterpiece._)


Roxana Alexander the Great (_Lee._)

Almeyda Queen of Granada (_Miss Lee._)

Julia Such Things were (_Prince Hoare._)


Eleanora Edwin and Eleonora (_Thomson._)

Vitellia Conspiracy (_Jephson._)

Millwood George Barnwell

Athenais Force of Love (_Lee._)

Aspasia Tamerlane (_Rowe._)

Dido Queen of Carthage (_Reed._)

Agnes Fatal Curiosity


Julia Rivals

Mrs. Haller Stranger


Miranda Aurelio and Miranda (_Boaden._)

Countess Castle of Montval (_Dr. Whalley._)

Elvira Pizarro


Adelaide Adelaide (_Pye._)

Lady Jane De Montfort


Helena Antonio (_Godwin._)

Agnes Julian and Agnes (_Sotheby._)


Hermione Winter’s Tale

Of Mrs. Siddons’s private life it is not necessary for us to speak at
length. She had a full share of domestic troubles; and suffered the most
poignant sorrow which could have befallen her affectionate temper, in
the successive deaths of two lovely daughters in the prime of youth, and
of her eldest son at a more advanced age. Nor was she exempted by her
brilliant success and large gains from great anxiety upon pecuniary
matters, and from the necessity of diligent labour at times when rest
would have been most grateful to a distressed spirit, and a body
weakened by frequent indisposition. And she made it her boast that she
had never wilfully disappointed either a manager or the public; and that
in point of punctuality, she had always been _an honest actress_. But
Mr. Siddons lost money in some unfortunate speculations; and this,
combined with the extreme difficulty of extracting from Sheridan her
salary, or even the proceeds of her benefits, kept Mrs. Siddons poor for
many years. It is however gratifying to know that the evening of her
life was spent in affluence.

In social intercourse Mrs. Siddons commanded the respect of all, the
admiration and love of those who knew her intimately. To a
constitutional want of animal spirits, and to a fear of that
presumptuous intrusion to which actresses are often exposed, we may
attribute a gravity, not to say severity of manner, from which distant
observers sometimes inferred a corresponding severity of character. That
this was not the case, that she was benevolent, cheerful, and
affectionately interested in the welfare of all who enjoyed her
friendship, is shown by the testimony of many, and by the evidence of
her own actions.

To be courted by the rich and noble is not the best proof or reward even
of professional merit; and no one ever was less disposed than Mrs.
Siddons to act the part of what is called _a lion_. But it should be
mentioned that her acquaintance was eagerly cultivated among the highest
of the land; and that she was personally esteemed by George III. and his
queen, and often summoned to attend on their private circle. She
possessed a still higher honour, and one which she is said to have
esteemed more highly, in the admiration and friendship of Johnson,
Reynolds, Burke, Fox, and other intellectual ornaments of the age.

After quitting the stage, Mrs. Siddons gave public readings of poetry at
the Argyle Rooms, and also, by special invitation from the Universities,
at Cambridge and Oxford. At home her readings of Shakspeare were the
delight of large and frequent parties, till within a year or two of her
death. The latter years of her life were spent, the winter months at her
house in London, the summer months at some watering-place, and in visits
to her numerous friends. Time laid his touch gently on her noble face
and person; and to the end of life she looked some years younger than
her age, and preserved her mental powers unimpaired. She died June 8,
1831, in her seventy-sixth year.

We need hardly refer to the Lives of Messrs. Boaden and Campbell. The
interest of the latter is much increased by the critical and other
writings of Mrs. Siddons, with which it is interspersed.

[Illustration: [Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse, from Sir J. Reynolds.]]


_Engraved by E. Scriven._


_From a Crayon Picture by the late J. Russell, Esq^{re}. R.A. in the
possession of Sir John Herschell._

Under the Superintendance of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful

_London, Published by Charles Knight, Ludgate Street._



William Herschel was born at Hanover, November 15, 1738. His father was
a musician, and brought up his four sons to his own art, which in
Germany gave him better means of educating his children, than would have
fallen to the lot of a person holding the same station in England. The
subject of our memoir is said to have had a master who instructed him in
French, ethics, and metaphysics: but at the age of fourteen he was
placed in the band of the Hanoverian regiment of guards, and in 1758 or
1759 he accompanied a detachment of the regiment to England. Another
account states that he grew tired of his occupation, and came to England
alone. Here, after struggling with poverty for some time, he was chosen
by Lord Darlington to organize a band for the Durham militia; after
which he passed several years in the West Riding of Yorkshire, employed
in teaching music and studying languages. About 1765 he was elected
organist at Halifax, and employed himself in the study of harmony and
mathematics. Such at least is the statement of the ‘Obituary;’ but in
that respectable work we find no references to the sources from which
these minute particulars of Herschel’s early life are obtained. About
this time he is said to have visited Italy; and, without professing to
give credit to it, we may here insert a curious story which appears to
have been copied into English works from the ‘Dictionnaire des Auteurs
Vivans,’ &c., Paris, 1816. Being at Genoa, and not having wherewith to
pay his passage home to England, he procured from a M. L’Anglé the use
of some public rooms for a concert, at which he played a quartett,
alone, upon a harp, and two horns, one fastened to each shoulder. Those
who are in the least acquainted with wind instruments will hardly
believe that a horn fastened to the shoulder would be of much more use
than one growing out of the head, as a musical instrument; to say
nothing of the difficulty of blowing two horns at once, or of playing a
_quartett_ upon _three_ instruments. Remarkable characters are generally
made the subject of wonderful stories, of which each is fashioned in
accordance with the general habits of the inventor: the groom’s idea of
a wit was “a gentleman who could ride three horses at once;” surely two
horns and a harp are not too much to be played at once by a planetary

About 1766, he is said to have been one of the Pump-room band at Bath,
and was shortly afterwards organist of the Octagon Chapel there. He
taught and read as before; and here he turned his attention to
astronomy. He borrowed a small reflecting telescope of a friend; and at
length, finding that the purchase of such an instrument was
(“fortunately,” as it has been well expressed,) above his means, he
endeavoured to construct one for himself. His first attempt was a
five-feet Newtonian reflector. It was some time before he perfected
himself in the method of forming mirrors: in one instance he is said to
have spoiled 200 before he succeeded.

In 1781, he announced to the world the discovery of his new planet, of
which we shall presently speak. He was immediately appointed private
astronomer to the King, by George III., a post which, we believe, was
created for him, and died with him, with a salary of £400, and removed,
first to Datchet, afterwards to Slough, where he continued till his
death, August 23, 1822. During this period he ran that career of patient
and sagacious investigation, terminating in brilliant discovery, which
has made his name so well known to the world. Little has been published
concerning his private life; but the whole results of his mind are to be
found in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ between the years 1782 and

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