Charles E Pearce.

Madame Vestris and her times online

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dependant on contingencies. I have now done every-
thing that it is possible for a man of honour and a
gentleman to do and I must confess myself curious to
see your Note to-morrow."

Protestations of love and constancy and reminders
of what he has done for her follow and the letter
winds up with : " Forgive me these expressions I
entreat you ; Dissipate by your Note to-morrow my
wayward ideas and they shall never be revived.
Name your own terms, I assent to anything except
that you give another the preference in your

Two letters from Madame Vestris are extant, either
of which might be construed into a reply, but they
are not conclusive and probably the actual answer
is missing. One says : " There are so many things
required of me were I to accept your offer and your
previous note is still fresh in my recollection. Were
I to make one move and you recede I am ruined. In
your hands and at your mercy I must therefore place
myself and so for a few minutes on Thursday evening
I will see you in a private box at Covent Garden. If
you will send your servant at six o'clock on Thursday
you shall know the rest. Sunday morning. I beg
to have my note returned."

The other runs : "I shall ever feel grateful for
your kind attention to me and to-day I have directed


my solicitor to wait on yours. I have great difficulty
in fixing on two friends as my trustees as I find it
would be impossible to avoid at least communicating
in part to them what my own feelings would rather
decline. Still I will begin. I have conveyed to
him to whom I alluded yesterday in my letter my
intentions and my determination. Upon this I
will make no comment. Your goodness lightens
every difficulty. Tuesday Evening. Please return
this." Whether the condition as to " faithfulness "
was retained or expunged cannot be said, nor is there
any clue to the identity of " him " whom Madame
threw over in favour of Gore.

These points are, however, of little importance, as
before the document was signed a serious hitch
occurred. It is pretty certain Vestris did not care
a rap for Gore. If the man who had been allowing
her 500 a year was uncongenial to her, Montagu
Gore could not have been less so. He was an ass,
as Disraeli called him, and a bore into the bargain,
if his conversation was anything like his long-winded
letters. Vestris was under no illusions. Writing to
Harris, she says : " I have seen Chippendale "
presumably her solicitor " and I can assure you that
from what he says I think Mr. G. has it not in his
power to make the settlement, however he intends
calling on him to-morrow evening and will let me
know the result."

Judging by her subsequent letters this result was
not satisfactory. Virtually she gave Gore the cold
shoulder. " If you should see Mr. G. to-night at
the opera," she writes Harris, " pray be so kind as
to beg of him not to come on the stage to-night.
Tell him anything you like. I am half mad with
anxiety concerning this new part, indeed my good
friend I am very unhappy."

Gore apparently would not be shaken off. " I
found the enclosed," she tells Harris, " on my return
home this moment. He has already sent for an answer,


pray write one immediately and tell him that I cannot
see C [Chippendale] to-night."

A few days later she writes : " I have not heard
from Mr. G., but I have received a very curious letter
from a Mr. Vernon of Lincoln's Inn which I intend
to show Mr. Chippendale."

Harris writes in return : " I wish you would let me
have a sight of that very curious letter you speak of
in your note before you take it to Chippendale
that is if the new year has not destroyed that confidence
you were once wont to repose in me, for come what
may you shall ever find me your most faithful and
sincere friend, C. H." This would appear to be
interesting, but there is nothing to throw any light
upon Mr. Vernon and his " very curious letter."

It was some time before Vestris was free from the
Gore entanglement. " More letters when will they
cease, indeed I am quite tired of the Maypole pray
write the dear creature an answer." In the same note
she alludes to another friend, possibly an admirer :
" I saw Horace yesterday. Poor fellow he is very
unhappy. What am I to do ? but I will not be a fool
and for the first time in my life think of the future.
Oh dear." A very characteristic touch this. Finally,
in desperation, she scribbles : " I have just received
the enclosed. Will you answer it for me, request
him to Return my letter and I will do the same. I
will not be bothered any more by him." With this
disappears Montagu Gore and no one was more likely
to be pleased at his exit than the much-badgered
Charles Harris.

Harris's relations with Vestris were apparently those
of close friendship and nothing more. It may be
pretty safe to assume that he was an easy-going, good-
natured man with a sincere affection for the wayward,
fascinating Vestris. Her hasty notes to Harris are
very different from her stilted epistles to Montagu
Gore. " Pray how did you get on last night ? "
commences one, the writing of which bears no re-


semblance to her agitated scrawls. " Oh dear. I will
call on you after the Rehearsal if I can. Will you
come and dine with me at six but I shall turn you out
very early for / must study"

Another runs : " I was out all the day and remained
out untill late in the evening when I found your letter.
A fish dinner with cup well iced and excellent fruit
is the sort of repast for this season of the year. Broad-
wood gives a dinner to Plaguemedamnable at Green-
wich on Sunday." Plaguemedamnable is of course
Vestris herself, and a very good name for her too, her
friends must have thought.

Two letters throw an instructive light on a strange
fashion of the day snuff-taking. Queen Charlotte,
we know, was a prodigious snuff-taker, and George
IV's snuff-cellar at his death realised ^400. Every
male " fashionable " had his collection of snuff-boxes
and favourite mixtures, and elderly dowagers did not
disdain the refreshment. It is startling to find the
dainty, elegant Vestris indulging in the objectionable
practice. But it was so. Of one kind of snuff she
writes to Harris : "It has no freshness ; I do not like
it but I like what I now send to you ; so much so indeed
as to have ordered twenty four pounds of it, tho it
requires age : Pray give me your opinion of it. I
like it as a. foundation for other snuffs having a sound
agreeable flavour." Madame was evidently a con-
noisseur, but twenty-four pounds ! It almost makes
one sneeze to think of it.

The other letter shows that she had a vast acquaint-
ance with the different varieties of snuffs in vogue.
The first part of the letter is missing. In what remains
she says : " It is excellent in these proportions. I
should perhaps like it as well with rather less of the
Montagu. They are the same snuffs I have frequently
sent you samples of and which I mentioned having
purchased largely of : it is the warm weather that
has improved them. Yes ! I have promised to dine
at Greenwich to-morrow." The reference to " Mon-


tagu " suggests that the gentleman had also his fancy
in snuffs. One can quite sympathise with Vestris.
It must have been an extreme annoyance every time
she took a pinch to be reminded of a vexatious love-

One half of the following may be taken as a bit
of harmless banter, the other half shows pretty clearly
that Harris was expected to do what he was told to
further Madame's intrigues : " I hope," she writes,
" your Harem was all harmony, that your Sultana's
[sic} agreed and that you passed the night between
them. Pray direct three or four covers as before for
me (you remember 18 Harley Street in your common
hand not your feigned one) and send them to me."

Here is a note in which she pours out her troubles.
It was written at Oxford and the post-mark is July 10,
1833, just when she was at the height of her embarrass-
ments, what with the Olympic expenses and those
relating to the enamoured young nobleman. In July
she was in fear of arrest, as her letter indicates. Harris
was then living or lodging at Chesham Place, Belgrave
Square. The letter indicates infinite distress of
mind. She writes :

" I am now on my road to Hertford to meet Duthie
and the libelled. You are a most extraordinary and
unsatisfactory commissioner, no letter again this Mng,
but a sort of message per Duthie to desire me to come
to the Square. Why that is of no use, it is too late
to-day as I must be so early at Hertford to-morrow
Mng I am in a dreadful fright in going there unless
you have sent by him the needful I suppose the
best thing I can do, if you have not, will be to return
to the Square on Thursday night or Friday Mng
This suspense is destroying me, I wish to God I
had known there was to be this delay, I should have
known the worst and should have extricated myself
but here I am a prisoner (unable to assist myself)
relying upon you and Gibb's resources (of which I
have no opinion) I may be utterly ruined and things


accumulating You led me to understand that Gibbs
could command any sum therefore a few thousands
ought not to have delayed it so long and even a
letter to inform me of the worst would be better than
this suspense but if it is not done this week I shall give
it up either I or Duthie or both shall be up on Thurs-
day night I will send to you immediately. . . . [word
indecipherable] I hope to God you have sent me the
needful by him. In haste my Dear H. Yours always
E. Vestris."

Harris, as mentioned in the preceding chapter,
managed to send her 3,000 on July lyth, but probably
the most pressing of her debts absorbed the greater
part of this and her position was still precarious. Then
came the desperate flight to Devonshire with her
companion, and her return to London in the autumn
to plunge into the vicissitudes of theatrical manage-

Madame was now thirty-six, and this unhappy
amatory entanglement reveals an infatuation which
one would hardly expect from the Vestris who ten
years before had shown herself to be so calculating
and level-headed. A curious sidelight on the state
of affairs is thrown by a letter to Harris dated May
1 8th, 1833, from 65 Gilbert Street, two months
previous to the crisis at Oxford. Both the handwriting
and the general incoherence of the epistle indicate
a woman friend greatly troubled. She writes :

" Never was anything so unfortunate as your going
away at the moment you did last night at eleven
o'clock I was desired to go into the Parlour to speak
to a Gentleman when who should I find but our friend
Tommy [T. Duncombe ?] of course I was sure all
was not right and he told me there was a Blow up
in Chesham Place, there had been a terrible quarrel
all night about Ld. E. T. who came into our Box at
the Haymarket and a promise exacted on the recon-
ciliation yesterday never to go to Tommy's again as
he is supposed to encourage the Meagre (?) Lord in


spite of which promise she goes there to dinner and
as she arrives at the door arrives the Chateau also
who civilly pulls of [sic~\ his hat and bids her good bye
telling her he has found her out and all is at an end.
She goes to his House tries all in her power to lure
him back without the least effect and when at supper
I am sent for again by her and T. D. to tell me all is
over and no chance of reconciliation from there being
no mediator and you are the only one that could
undertake the task but you are not here and I fear
cannot come. I told them the fact that your circum-
stances I was sure made it impossible. Whether they
mean to put that or not I do not know but I expect
a Letter for you from D. every moment which I
promised to forward and shall if it comes I presume
it will explain all to you though as usual I should not
understood [stc~\ half I do but from my previous conver-
sations with you It is a dreadfull blow at this moment
and I fear will be the cause of serious consequences
in various ways they think I know nothing of what
is carrying on in Arlington Street and I do not try
to undeceive them but I fear if all comes to light it
may hurt D. with Miss M. L. and not show him in a
very high light to the world. It is now past three
and she was to let me know if anything had happened
and I have heard nothing so shall go there at four
o'clock and you shall hear from me on monday. If
she goes to Bath I think I shall go with her will you
come there. I sincerely hope you will arrive here as
without your advice I know not what she will do. I
see nothing but ruin before her this is no little quarrel
to be made up he treated her with perfect good temper

and contempt this she says herself. If D 's letter

does not come in time I shall send this but of course
you will take no notice of it to the party send me a
line by return of post and Believe me ever most
sincerely yours A. H."

This is as much as the letters reveal. The main fact
is that the whole business was one of complications,

enbarrassments, tempests, and rages, and it may be
left at that.

Madame's laconic epistles are more interesting
than her lengthy ones. This is what she wrote to
a friend of many years' standing Lord William
Lennox : " Madame Vestris's compliments to Lord
Will Lennox and it having been a maxim with
Madame Vestris from her earliest days always to give
to the poor whatever fortune should bestow when
courted with a pack of cards Madame Vestris having
innumerable objects of charity waiting her pittance
during this inclement season of the year and Lord
William Lennox having had to lose to Madame Vestris
four pounds about six weeks ago Madame Vestris
begs Lord William will enable her to proceed in her
charitable purpose." This was only " Pretty Fanny's
way " : she meant nothing, for she winds up by asking
his lordship to visit her and " lose some more money."
The last letter that need be quoted is somewhat
puzzling, as it is not certain whether it was written
by Madame Vestris or to her. The writing resembles
hers, but it is signed " A. H.," the signature of the
correspondent at 65 Gilbert Street. From certain
erasures it would appear that the note also refers to
a card debt. Whoever wrote it was in deadly earnest.
It runs : " Madam when I received your last note I
concluded I should never hear or see anything more
of you. I therefore determined not to notice it. But
now that I am compelled to acknowledge the receipt
of the six pounds eleven I will take this opportunity
of telling you that a more rude impertinent letter I
never recollect to have received. Excuse me but you
really appear to be ill bred wanting in principle
and unfit for society."

The following list (apparently referring to letters)
drawn up by Madame stimulates a curiosity which
cannot be gratified :

" No. i Mellish's death, etc.
2 To my wife, etc.


3 Preparing to come.

4 Arrest, etc., etc.

5 A little swindling.

6 Mellish's death begging me to come


7 Most material.

8 Duthie's rect. for Eddington's bond not


9 Almost too bad to shew marked 8.

10 Not material.

1 1 More entreaties to come. Blow up with

his Governor (? illegible).

12 The money sent for the Horses to A.


13 Rect. for Money.

14 Not material abt. the Satirist.

15 My answer to E. T. when the war was

about to commence.

" Wednesday January 29th 1835. Copy of Edding-
ton's rect. sent to Duncombe.

" Memorandum. Mr. Harris has this day paid me
five thousand six hundred pounds July 3rd 1833. E.
Vestris, 2 Chesham Place Belgrave Square."

How this amount and date are to be reconciled with
the 3,000 stated by Mr. T. D. Duncombe (see Chapter
XVI) to have been sent by Harris on July ijth and
with Vestris' s despairing appeals for money on July
loth we cannot pretend to explain.



The third Olympic season opens. Madame's management thorough
and efficient. Alfred Sunn's muddling manoeuvres. Scenery and
dresses at the Olympic never allowed to be shabby. Spiteful personal
attacks on Vestris in the Age and in Figaro in London. Vestris pow-
dered, but did not paint. Offensive aspersions. Her brother-in-law
Joseph Anderson behaves treacherously. Madame sues Anderson. A
complicated negotiation. Westmacott flings mud. The climax of
Madame's difficulties Vestris announces bankruptcy. She asks the
public to suspend its judgment. Her examination in the Bankruptcy
Court. Grasping money-lenders. A sordid story.

THOUGH Vestris's affairs were rapidly hastening towards
catastrophe, there was certainly no trace of worry or
anxiety in her demeanour when she faced the audience
on September 3Oth, 1833, the opening night of her
third season. The piece was an extravaganza entitled
High, Low, Jack, and the Game, on which Planche
had lavished all his fancy and knowledge of effect.
The dresses in imitation of the cards were, in the
opinion of the Morning Chronicle, splendid and the
scenery excellent. " The drop-scene of the Great
Mogul's Head which usually figures on the wrapper
of a pack of cards," the Chronicle remarked, " is really
ingenious. . . . The season has commenced auspi-
ciously, for the house was crowded to excess and num-
bers were obliged to content themselves with only
an occasional glimpse of the performance."

Madame set an example of thoroughness which other
managers would have done well to follow. Bunn at
this time was endeavouring to manage both Drury
Lane and Covent Garden, and spoilt his chances by
making use of one company to play at both houses.



Raymond, in his Life of Ellis ton, describes how he
effected this arrangement : " Broad Court and Market
Buildings (Drury Lane) from about half-past nine at
night to a quarter from ten exhibited a most extra-
ordinary scene. Actors half attired with enamelled
faces and loaded with the paraphernalia of their
art were passing and re-passing, . . . while the hurried
interchange of quaint words ' stage waits ' ' music
on ' * ring up,' etc., would have perplexed the stranger
with a thousand surmises. ... At the season of
Christmas when this state of alternation was at its
height the female figure-dancers pattered from one
house to another six times during the evening and
underwent the operation of dressing and undressing
no less than eight."

The result of this " management " was the dissatis-
faction of the public and poor houses. Bunn's idea
of management was only equalled by his want of
judgment. Planche, who was writing for Bunn,
bitterly complains of his fatuous policy, which was
especially vexing to him who " had worked in a
theatre managed by Madame Vestris. That lady,"
he goes on to say, " when on the stage was constantly
in her private box watching the performance, noticing
the slightest imperfection and seeking to increase
effects instead of allowing them to be gradually de-
stroyed by time and carelessness. Many of our
Christmas pieces were thoroughly re-dressed twice
during their run, and consequently as brilliant on the
last as on the first night of their performance. Bunn,
on the contrary, whose hobby was spectacle and who
occasionally expended considerable sums on * mount-
ing ' it, took not the slightest care of the poor thing
afterwards, but rode it to death, starved, ragged
and shoeless. . . . That such false economy or dis-
creditable negligence recoils upon a manager there
can be no doubt, and Mr. Bunn suffered more than
once from it accordingly while Madame Vestris
was a gainer both in purse and reputation by the


contrary policy and but for other circumstances
might have realised a splendid fortune."

Vestris's responsibilities may have kept her mind
from dwelling on her worries for that she had
worries is certain, and these were not lessened by
the stings of journalistic gad-flies. Westmacott, who
had been quiet for some weeks after the reopening of
the Olympic, suddenly woke up and recommenced
offensive personal paragraphs of a kind deadly to
any woman and especially a woman like Eliza Vestris.
What could be more irritating than this of November
loth ? " We regret to observe that our fair friend the
once pretty widow, was out of voice and out of spirits.
The house was not so well attended as usual, . . . that
wretched affair, the card piece, is withdrawn." By
a disagreeable coincidence a play called Hush Money
was produced. Westmacott made no comment. Per-
haps the title touched him home. In January 1834
he wrote : " The Widow wags on but slowly and is
obliged to have recourse to new pieces to keep up the
attraction. She has produced more this season up
to the present period than she did during the whole
of the last or former one. Her Deep Sea grows stale
and cannot continue to attract for any length of
time." At other times he was fairly complaisant ;
then a fit of bile or spite overcame him, and he alluded
to her as " The widow of forty " she was then thirty-
seven, but the fellow was not likely to be punctilious
on such a point.

The Age was not the only paper to sneer and carp.
Figaro in London, an obscure sheet with a solitary
claim to attention in that its woodcut caricatures
were drawn by Seymour, whose coloured sporting
sketches were very popular and really were the origin
of Pickwick, which was originally intended to chronicle
the doings of a Cockney sporting club to be illustrated
by Seymour. Figaro in London thought it funny
to remark of The Paphian Bower : " Madame is still
charming though old . . . rouge and carmine are

(From a painting by G. Clint, A.R.A.)



very good substitutes for nature, while enamel may
serve for the neck as well as unpurchased whiteness."
This was written in 1832, when Madame was but
thirty-five ; but, unfair as the statement was, it was
not less so than the reference to paint and enamel.
If she used rouge on the stage, she was quite entitled
to do so. Of pearl powder she made prodigal use,
but enamel was one of the many fictions of which
Madame was the subject. It was currently believed
that her arms, neck, and face were covered with a
coat of enamel " which required her to sit for an
hour before the fire to dry." A writer in the Cornhill
Magazine (March 1863) says : " Those who knew that
agreeable and accomplished actress off the stage are
aware that she allowed the brown of her brunette
complexion to appear undisguised, however liberally
she might have applied rouge and pearl powder when
on the stage." But anything served the purpose of
the " smart " journals of those days so long as it
was rudely personal.

Figaro in London was an insignificant effusion, but
it added to the annoyances of 1833. The paper's
main object, theatrically speaking, was to laud the
superiority of the theatre in Tottenham Street (then
known as the Fitzroy) to the detriment of the Olympic.
" The new pieces," it wrote of the latter in the spring
of 1833, " are particularly poor and seem often written
to puff off the at last fading attractions of Madame
Vestris. ... It is absurd to hear an old woman in
the immediate precincts of forty constantly referred
to as a goddess " ; and of the final night it remarked
that " the Olympic has closed after a season not quite
so prosperous as the two that have preceded, but
Madame Vestris still contrives to reap a tolerably
abundant harvest from her very amiable reputation.
Her personal attractions are, however, rapidly de-
clining and as she has been content to trust to them
more than to any other resource the Olympic may
soon be in want of another manager."



How silly and futile were these assertions and prog-
nostications was proved by the twenty years of triumph
in store for the indefatigable woman. This after-
career is all the more remarkable because, as already
intimated, for three years she was continually being
harassed by monetary difficulties arising out of her
unhappy connection with the spendthrift aristocrat.

If Madame Vestris was fortunate in some of her
friendships with men, she was unfortunate in others.
In her early years it was Captain Best who influenced
her, hardly for her good ; in the period we are now
dealing with, Anderson, who married her sister Jose-
phine, was her evil genius. With all her shrewdness

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Online LibraryCharles E PearceMadame Vestris and her times → online text (page 16 of 24)