Charles E Pearce.

Madame Vestris and her times online

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being placed in the full gaze of a crowd of people,
is panting and fluttering with alarm."

During the summer Vestris was again in Dublin,
where she won all hearts. It would seem that by
this time the names of her chief admirers were common
property. Lord Petersham, the general lover who,
when he became the Earl of Harrington, made Maria
Foote his countess, Tom Duncombe and " Handsome "
Jack Phillipson were believed to be rivals for her
favours, and journalistic poets sought the muses for
appropriate verses on so taking a subject. " Hand-
some " Jack at this period had apparently distanced
the others, according to the following effort :

While every tongue

Both old and young
In Fashion's giddy pack

Sings Petersham,

I'll chaunt a flam
In praise of Handsome Jack.

Wise nature chalks

In different walks
Who rides on Fashion's back ;

Let Buncombe's pride

My beau deride,
He's naught to Handsome Jack.

Though Tom's the pride

Of all the ride,
Of Crocky's, too, the crack,

Yet be it known

He's quite a drone
Compared to Handsome Jack.

In addition to Lord Petersham, other members of
the aristocracy were, according to popular report,
her devoted admirers. The Age came out with a
squib which purported to give a list of articles of
which Vestris had been robbed, among them an album

(From the collection of the late A. M. Broadley.)


containing imaginary flowery tributes from various
noble lords. Here are a few :

Lord Lyndhurst
(On seeing Vestris kill a flea)

Proud flea, thou well deserv'st thy fate
For daring to luxuriate

On melting orbs of snow ;
No more thou'll skip from sheet to sheet,
Tasting in secret every sweet

A god might joy to know.
Yet bliss thy fate Eliza's nail
With one report cracked life's entail

And sent thee down below !

Lord Lowtber
(Vestris in her dressing-room)

Fine creatures, I've viewed many a one,
With lovely shapes and angel faces ;
But here I see them all outdone,
Fair Vestris's form unites the gracei.

Lord Castlereagh
(To Vestris an extempore from the stage box)

If in that breast so soft and white
Compassion for a beau can dwell,
My pain relieve this very night ;
The cruel cause you know full well.

(To Vestris imitated from the Kisses of Secundus)

Is there a heart Eliza's strain
Might not with love inspire,
Or breathes one of the Thespian train
So quick to cool love's fire ?

There were other effusions couched in a different
strain and hinting at Madame' s besetting sin, her
reckless extravagance. Lord Fife, whose greatest
pleasure was to spend money over ladies of the ballet,
heads the list.


Forget not, Eliza dear,
Though false thou art and insincere ;
Thy costly charms I'll ne'er forget,
Reminded by a load of debt.

To Horatio Clagitt, one of a coterie of bucks among
whom Colonel Berkeley, Captain Best, " Pea-green "
Hayne, Ball Hughes, figured conspicuously, is ascribed
this cynical effort :

What is friendship ? What is love f
Nought to her but empty air ;
Such trifles Vestris is above
Gold, sordid gold, her only care.

Luttrell, one of the wits of the day, is supposed to
give a sample of his brilliancy in the following :

(To Vestris on her display of legs in Don Giovanni')

When father Orpheus wanted sport, he
By touching his piano forte

Drew out his brutes by millions,
One modern Siren the fair Eliza
Proves then his godship to be wiser

Making beaux dance to cotillions.
Vestris beats Amphion by twelve inches,
No " wryneck'd, squeaking fife " she pinches,

Discoursing 'mong the pegs.
To animate the males at once
And lovers make of sage and dunce

She need but show her legs.

The concluding quatrain is the most personal and
biting, especially as it purports to come from the pen
of Tom Duncombe, whose ready purse had extricated
the siren from many a financial embarrassment. It
is inscribed " Tom Duncombe's adieu to Vestris,
then residing in Lisson Grove, enclosing an I.O.U."

Adieu Lissonia's fatal grove,

Eliza dear, adieu !
With Handsome Jack you now may rove,

For ought that I. O. U.


The fierce light that is said to beat on princes is
dim compared with that in which pretty actresses
of a hundred years ago had to bask !

It is not without interest to note that the practice
to-day carried to the point of absurdity of ad-
vertising the tradesmen who contribute to the glories
of some particular " star," from her gowns to her
cosmetics, was anticipated in 1828. A piece which
lent itself to gorgeous apparel and in which " our
little favourite never appeared more deludingly attrac-
tive," to quote one admiring critic, stimulated the
following puffing paragraph : " The dress worn by
Madame Vestris in the new farce called The Sultan
and Beautiful is made of materials of the most costly
description and does credit to the taste of J. J.Valloton,
of Old Cavendish Street, who also supplied Mr.
Braham with the hat and feathers now worn by him
in Love's Wrinkles, which for elegance cannot be

Either the public in 1829 were becoming more
critical or Vestris more careless about her selections.
Maybe continual success was beginning to spoil her.
The Post took her to task in connection with a musical
comedy, The ^100 Note, remarking sarcastically :
" Madame Vestris gave the audience two airs and
herself a great many. A few persons chose to encore
a stupid song and others opposed it. Madame
Vestris should have gone through the repetition with-
out stopping every time she heard a hiss." Her
temperament was ill fitted to endure rebuke, and
the admiration which had been paid to her for years
accentuated her sensitiveness. Naturally other actresses
in her own line of " business " were envious of her
success, and these had friends on the press who did
not hesitate to twit the goddess whenever they had
the chance.

The Age, however, was always ready in her defence.
Her playing of Carlos in the Duenna furnished occasion
for a gibe, and we find her advocate observing : " We


are sorry to see that some of our contemporaries use
this delightful favourite of the public exceedingly ill
first she has been censured for not coming on the
stage before her cue, and secondly for attempting
respectfully to explain to the audience that she did
not deserve their censure. On Friday, the prompter
having failed in his duty to call her in proper time,
the stage was for a moment in waiting. When she
appeared there were some few marks of disapprobation
from those who did not perceive the cause. However,
Vestris very significantly advanced to the prompter's
entrance, and looking in a way not to be mistaken by
any but the blind reporters of the Times and Chronicle,
bowed to the audience and said : * It really was not
my fault.' For this short but very proper address
she was yesterday censured. . . . These attacks upon
a charming woman who, whatever may be her faults,
is the most attentive to her public duties and always
captivating performance of them, are as unjust as
they are unmanly."

The Morning Chronicle indeed rarely lost an oppor-
tunity of snarling at Vestris and appeared to see little
merit in her beyond the possession of her symmetrical
legs. Apparently the critic who represented the
Chronicle prided himself on being a judge. Take this
notice of a musical piece called The Nymph of the
Grotto, or The Daughter's Vow (Covent Garden),
in which the principal female characters were played
by Miss Jarman and Madame Vestris. " We really
wish she [Miss Jarman] would take a few lessons in
pronouncing what the children call round O. . . .
In other respects there was little to complain of, but
that her legs are by no means well-shaped. Madame
Vestris seemed to like her part and was in good humour,
excepting when (as deputy stage manager, we conclude)
she audibly abused the stage-keepers for removing
two chairs that ought to have remained." In a
parting fling, the critic wound up with " she was
encored in only one song."


A performance of The Beggar's Opera at Covent
Garden in June 1829, in which Miss Harriet Coveney,
who as a woman blossomed as a genuine comedy actress
and remained a great favourite with the public to
the last day of her long career, gave the Chronicle
a chance of descanting on its favourite topic : " We
are always enemies," it wrote, " to the assumption of
male attire by woman on the stage, and we have always
resisted it on the score of decency and modesty, but
still it is constantly endured, and Madame Vestris
and Miss Love have been allowed night after night to
exhibit almost in puris naturalibus as Apollo and
Giovanni. It savours therefore a little of mock
modesty and pretended puritanism now to raise a
cry because Miss Coveney is required to put on a
pair of trousers and to act Macheath. We should
like to know how many times Madame Vestris has
performed the same part in the very tightest buckskins
she could obtain to fit her shape. To us the exposure
was always offensive. . . .We should be glad to see
this practice abolished, but while it is continued, let
us be consistent, ... do not let us applaud Madame
Vestris . . . and be ' struck on a heap with horror '
because Miss Coveney, a child under fourteen years
old, puts on a pair of trousers."

The legitimate objection was surely not the question
of legs, but the absurdity of a girl in her early 'teens
playing Captain Macheath. When such things were
suffered, one wonders of what a British audience in
the old days was made and how theatrical managers
could perpetrate such enormities.

The Chronicle gave a further sign of its obsession
a fortnight later when, noticing Planche's The Green-
eyed Monster, produced at the Haymarket, it said :
" We were glad to see Mrs. Humby again as Louisa. We
cannot help thinking the manager will ere long have
good reason to congratulate himself that he had
not to lay out 60 a week upon Madame Vestris.
She is really not wanted, and she will thus have an


opportunity of exhibiting herself (not her legs merely)
for the gratification of gaping gawkers in the pro-
vinces." If Madame was at all ruffled by these
pinpricks she had ample compensation in the deluge
of enthusiasm which poured upon her at every pro-
vincial town she played in during the summer of
1829. On this tour she was accompanied by her sister

On her return to London she found the Chronicle
carping at her in its old style on the question of legs.
When Giovanni in London was revived with Vestris,
it ironically expressed a hope that Vestris would
secure a permanent engagement and not be banished
and legs be forbidden, " because they are certainly
still very pretty ones, though somewhat shrunken in
the calf, a perfection which Miss Foote still retains
and which Mrs. G. Calcraft never possessed," and
maliciously quoting the words of the churlish philo-
sopher Apemantus :

I doubt whether their legs be worth the sum
That are given for 'em,

observed that this was the point the manager would
have to decide after he should have engaged Madame

Provoked by these aspersions on its favourite, the
Age protested that it " knew as much of the fair
proportions of the fair Vestris's legs as any man breath-
ing we have a cast of one of Madame' s legs in our
possession, and on comparison with the Medicean
Venus we pronounce that of the living Venus to be
faultless." Really in matters theatrical at this mo-
ment the only thing worth discussing appeared to be
actresses' legs !



London theatres at a low ebb. Covent Garden Theatre closed.
Failure of Charles Kemble's management. A subscription fund
started. The King's Theatre in difficulties. Laporte converts pit
rows into stalls. Mutiny in the orchestra. Vestris complains she
has no new parts to play. Kemble impersonates William Shakespeare
in Shakespeare* 'j Early Days. Various remedies proposed to restore
theatrical prosperity. A quarrel on the stage between Vestris and
her future brother-in-law. A ludicrous scene. Vestris threatens
legal proceedings. Alexander Lee, the musical composer, manager
of Drury Lane. His curious history. Elopement of Lady William
Lennox (Miss Paton) with Wood, the tenor singer. Molloy Westmacott
thrashed by Charles Kemble. Vestris engaged at the Tottenham
Street Theatre. The managers of the patent theatres, frightened by
Vestris's success, take action. Vestris leases the Olympic Theatre.
Its varied history.

THE English stage in 1829 was in rather a bad way.
Of the Shakespearean actors Miss O'Neill rarely
appeared. Edmund Kean was approaching his deca-
dent days and Macready had not at that time made
his reputation. The theatres were thinly attended
and managers had a difficulty in making both ends
meet. Drury Lane had not recovered from the effects
of Elliston's bankruptcy ; and Stephen Price, who
followed him, though fairly successful during his
first season, was subsequently little more fortunate.
The season of 1829-30 ended the venture. The rent,
says Planche, was certain to ruin any lessee in the
long run. Mr. Price had deserved well of the public,
and his experience stood him in good stead, despite
his lack of education and his occasional want of taste.
Planche tells how an eminent tragedian once suggested


to him the omission of Locke's music in Macbeth,
as the words were not Shakespeare's. Price listened
attentively, apparently considering the argument, and
then remarked, "Well, look here, sir, I don't think it
would do to omit the music, but if you think it would
be an improvement I've no objection to leave out the

Covent Garden was in worse case than Drury Lane.
Charles Kemble's management of Covent Garden
had been so disastrous that insolvency faced the lessees.
Rates and taxes were unpaid, two years' ground-rent
was owing, and in default of payment the Duke of
Bedford threatened to take possession of the building.
In June the theatre was closed. This state of things
was all the more puzzling because during the thirteen
years of Harris's control little short of a million ster-
ling, so it was said, had been taken at the doors. A
fund was started to restore its fortunes, and the pro-
fession were not backward in their help. Among
other contributors Vestris figures. She sent a sub-
scription of 40. A notable performance was that
of Nozze di Figaro in the autumn, when all the artistes
gave their services, and Malibran, hearing that Miss
Paton (now Lady William Lennox) was to be the
Countess, came expressly from Paris to show her
sympathy by playing Susanna.

The vicissitudes of the King's Theatre continued.
Laporte had no greater success than his predecessors
Velluti and Ebers, and the treasury at the end of
the season showed a deficit of ^13,000. Under
Laporte's regime the pit rows nearest the orchestra
were converted into stalls and the price raised from
half a guinea to a guinea, greatly to the dissatisfaction
of the patrons. He was unfortunate in his choice
of Bochsa, the harpist, as musical director. Bochsa,
a vain and self-opinionated man, issued arbitrary orders
to the band which caused rebellion, and the principal
members, headed by Lindley, the celebrated 'cellist,
sent in their resignations. Bochsa was held in no


particular respect outside the theatre if we may believe
the Age, which wrote : " We wish Laporte well because
we believe he deserves our best wishes, but let him
keep that fellow Bochsa in the background. We
neither want to see nor hear anything of his inter-

It is not surprising that at this time much discontent
prevailed in the profession. Vestris complained of
the paucity of new parts. Those given to her, she
said, were feeble and unattractive, and she was com-
pelled to rely upon impersonations with which the
public were thoroughly familiar and of which she
was heartily tired.

Towards the end of the year Covent Garden had,
with the aid of subscriptions, tided over its difficulties
to some extent, and the advent of Fanny Kemble and
her success helped considerably, but the lessees were
still anxious about the future. In default of Shake-
speare, which appeared to be beyond the powers of
the company, Charles Kemble produced a play founded
upon a well-known episode in the poet's career his
stealing a buck and his appearance in consequence
before Sir Thomas Lucy. This effort to give a
Shakespearean air to the season was entitled Shake-
speare's Early Days. Kemble played William Shake-
speare and the piece ran for several nights. It is
probable that this is the first time Shakespeare in
person was introduced on the stage.

The next year failed to bring any improvement.
The question was anxiously discussed by the profession
and the public. Various theories as to the cause
of the depression were put forward. One error, it
was suggested, was making the theatres when rebuilt
of too great a size. Another idea was that shareholders
and proprietors should content themselves with less
interest. Such a diminution, it was pointed out,
would be scarcely felt, though of sterling benefit to
managers. One person thought theatre rents should
be reduced, private boxes done away with as much as


possible, and in the dress circle " the places should
become the private property of those who pay for
these places and tickets " in other words, seats should
be booked. " This," the proposer went on to say,
" would bring the fashion of twenty years since back
again, when merchants' families who are engaged in
business until six or seven o'clock would then arrive
about eight o'clock and have their places secured for
the end of the first act." A drastic proposition was
that actors' salaries must come down, "particularly
those of the nightly stars," and, to sum up, " retrench-
ment must be the order of the day and no further
orders pass current." Apart from these reforms,
dramatists, it was contended, ought to be more gene-
rously remunerated. As things stood, it paid an
author much better to write novels than to write
plays, and the result was the production of very
inferior dramas.

As might be expected, nothing was done. Matters
drifted on and were allowed to right themselves as
best they could, and as the public mind was suddenly
diverted to a much more important circumstance
the death of George IV on June 26th theatres and
their troubles retired into the background for the
time being.

Nothing of special interest concerning Madame
Vestris occurred during the first six months of 1830.
It may, however, be mentioned that in April she
played Captain Macheath at Drury Lane, in spite
of the announcement some time before that she would
never again appear in that character. This revival, of
no particular moment by itself, gave rise a few evenings
later to an unrehearsed scene on the stage which for
some days was the talk of the town. Madame Vestris
and a Mr. Joshua Rose Anderson were performing
together in Guy Mannering when the audience were
startled by an exchange of violent words between Lucy
and Henry Bertram which certainly did not belong
to the play. Some squabble apparently had occurred


before the performance, and this squabbling was re-
sumed on the stage, ending in an appeal to the audi-
ence. Both made speeches and both were hissed and
applauded by their respective friends. The dispute
ended seemingly by the lady being the victor. Then
they went back to the play and made love to each
other, though their feelings were evidently the reverse
of their words and actions. At last Madame could
restrain herself no longer and told Mr. Anderson that
she would not stay there to be insulted by him, and
after allowing the hand which he essayed to take to
hang by her side she rushed from the stage.

The sequel took place when Madame Vestris attended
before the grand jury and preferred a bill of indictment
against Mr. Anderson and William Hopkinson, in
which she charged them with having gone to the
theatre for the express purpose of hissing her, thereby
endeavouring to intimidate her from exercising her
profession. The grand jury returned a true bill against

A day or two after Madame wrote to the papers a
letter of which the following is an extract : "I hope
that it is unnecessary for me to assert that I have not
been influenced by any private feelings in the measures
I have been advised to adopt against that gentleman
[Mr. Anderson], for if such were the case no grand
jury would have granted the indictment that has in
the present instance been preferred. The perform-
ance of Captain Macheath, out of which has arisen
all this irritation, was undertaken by me (with extreme
reluctance from the prejudice I have to the character)
to prevent any disappointment to the public in wit-
nessing Miss Stephens' s established representation of
Polly ; and in that or in any other instance the idea
of deterring Mr. Anderson's * advancement in his
profession ' was never in the remotest degree contem-

There was, however, much in the background which
Madame did not think it necessary to divulge. It


was really a family affair. Anderson was one of
Josephine Bartolozzi's admirers, and indeed married
her in 1 83 1 . It was said that he owed his introduction
to the stage to the influence of Vestris, but what
the exact cause of quarrel was no one knew. The bill
of indictment, to the public disappointment, went
no further. The difference was made up through
the services of a mutual friend, both sides admitted
that there had been " misrepresentations," and so
the matter ended and the Lady Sneerwells and Sir
Benjamin Backbites were deprived of a piquant dish
of gossip.

After her benefit at Drury Lane on June 4th, when
Meyer's opera Romeo e Giulietta about which one
may venture to assert no one knows anything to-day
was produced for Malibran, who sang a duet with the
beneficiairC) Vestris departed for a long provincial
tour. Hitherto she had played at the " summer "
theatre in the Haymarket, but managers were tighten-
ing their purse-strings and Madame's terms were
high. For the same reason Covent Garden was not
assailable indeed, it was stated in one paper that
" Madame Vestris, the fascinating little Venus, threat-
ens, we hear, to cross the Atlantic if Kemble or Lee
does not behave more liberally."

Alexander Lee had succeeded Price as lessee
(jointly with a Captain Polhill) of Drury Lane Theatre
at a rental of 9,000 a year, and was the composer of
"The Soldier's Tear," "Meet me in the Willow
Glen," and other sentimentalities then much in favour.
His history is rather a curious one. After many
vicissitudes he became very low in the world, and his
last engagement was the direction of an entertainment
of tableaux vivants given at the " Garrick's Head,"
Bow Street, with which Renton Nicholson (Baron
Nicholson of Judge and Jury fame) had something to
do. His passion for Mrs. Waylett, who became his
wife, amounted to madness. She was a drunkard,
had a very bad temper, and led him a terrible life.


Yet when she died he was inconsolable, and was found
a corpse doubled up on a chair beside the bed on
which his wife had a short time before expired.

Alexander Lee is entitled to a niche in the temple
of fame enshrining the fashionable follies of Vestris's
time. He was the first " tiger," then the outward
and visible sign of the man about town, as Dickens
did not fail to note. The picture of " Montague
Tigg, Esq.," in the days of his flash prosperity behind
his highstepper and attended by his " tiger," Bailey
junior, is one of the most vivid in that wonderful col-
lection of character-sketches contained in Martin
Chuzzlewit. The " tiger " was the invention of
Lord Barrymore, one of the family trio, two brothers
and one sister, respectively dubbed " Hellgate,"
" Cripplegate," and " Billingsgate." " Cripplegate"
claims the introduction of the " tiger " in the person
of Alexander Lee.

The Rev. John Richardson (Recollections), to whom
we are indebted for this information, tells us that
the " tiger " at first sat by the side of his master,
but afterwards he sat behind him. The "tiger's"
most important duty was to keep his eyes on the watch
for any pretty woman who might pass, and at a signal
from his master jump down, accost the lady respect-

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Online LibraryCharles E PearceMadame Vestris and her times → online text (page 12 of 24)