Charles E Pearce.

Madame Vestris and her times online

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she could not prevent herself trusting the wrong people.
About Anderson little definite information is forth-
coming. When he was paying court to Josephine
he was believed to possess means, but this is very
doubtful. Most likely he was an adventurer and
lived on his wits a method of livelihood extremely
common in the thirties. It is certain Vestris at one
time was not on good terms with him, as the squabble
between the two on the stage of Drury Lane amply
proves. He went with his wife to America, and on
his return was employed in some business capacity
by Vestris, probably because she wanted to help her
sister. From what appeared in the newspapers in
1837 it is perfectly clear that either the young noble-
man already alluded to made use of him or, what was
more probable, Anderson made use of the nobleman.

However this may be, the public, who were always
ready to swallow scandal, were highly interested
when the Times of February 25th, 1837, contained a
report of an application made by Madame Vestris
in the Vice-Chancellor's Court to restrain the negotia-
tion of certain bills of exchange. " Anderson, who
was the plaintiff's brother-in-law," so the report
ran, " had been employed by her as an agent in the
general management of her affairs and in such charac-
ter had been entrusted with certain bills of exchange


and several blank acceptances which were to be used in a
particular way specified. The affidavit stated that on
the 1 3th inst. a letter was received by Madame Vestris
from a money-lender setting forth the particulars
of a certain bill of exchange which bore her accept-
ance. Madame Vestris, however, swore she was quite
ignorant of the matter and that the acceptance had
been made use of in a way not authorised by her.
As she had reason to believe there were many other
bills drawn under similar circumstances she now
applied for the injunction of the Court to restrain
the defendant from drawing any more bills in her
name as her agent, and also to restrain the negotiation
of those already in circulation." The injunction was

Westmacott pounced upon this piece of information
and made use of it to deliver one of his characteristic
stabs : " The injunction," he pointed out, " is only
ex -parte, consequently Mr. Anderson will show cause
against it, when we are authorised to state, he will
prove that he never was her agent, but as her friend
and brother-in-law he has at various times up to
October lent upwards of ^3,000 and 550 more to
enable her to pay the rent of her theatre, besides
various other sums to " (the spendthrift nobleman)
" at her particular request to liquidate her inamorato's
board and lodging bills while at hide and seek from
unpleasant visitors who troubled him at her residence
in Chesham Place." The assertion that Anderson
lent Madame money was subsequently proved to be
wholly untrue ; but of course truth was a matter of
no moment to Westmacott, and the following week
he returned to the charge in this paragraph : " We
are informed Mr. Anderson is preparing his answer
to this bill and that it will shortly be on the files of
the Court, disclosing all the transactions between
himself and the jair enchantress and that outlawed
magician. . . ."

This " answer " was probably bounce. At all


events, before Anderson made any move the daily
papers of April 23rd came out with the following
frank declaration :


" Gratitude for the unceasing favour bestowed upon
my efforts as actress and manager will not suffer me
to remain silent while an event on the result of which
my character depends is made known to you through
other channels.

" Painful but mature consideration has convinced
me that this address is called for by respect for you
by respect for myself.

" An unfortunate entanglement in a series of bill
transactions, the first step in which no one can regret
more than myself, has lately drawn itself so closely
round me as to preclude all hope of extrication by
private means, though none which honour, honesty,
and self-sacrifice could dictate have been left untried
and my name is about to appear in the Gazette as
a bankrupt.

" I shall carefully and respectfully abstain from all
attempt to forestall or to influence the result of the
coming enquiry, but calumny will doubtless be busy
with my name and I ask you, the kind dispensers of
the popularity I enjoy, to suspend your judgment
and to protect me against the penalties to which
your envied favour is sure to expose me.

" The two reports most obvious for malevolence
to fix on are personal extravagance and failure of
the Olympic Theatre, and these I shall briefly answer
by anticipation.

" My bona. fide creditors have shown every con-
fidence in me and have cheerfully and unanimously
agreed to every proposition made with a view to my
avoiding the step now forced upon me, and with a
full knowledge of the receipts and expenditure of
the theatre they have been willing to allow me an
ample annual income out of the profits and to re-

ceive the remainder and gradual liquidation of their

" These are facts and enquiry cannot shake them.
Their intentions for my good and for their own have
been frustrated by persons who have purchased my
acceptances which I was incautious enough to sign
in blank. Indeed to such an extent has misplaced
confidence blinded me that I await the coming inves-
tigation to ascertain their number and amount.

" My first impulse was to withdraw myself from
the stage until the ordeal should have been passed
through, but the claims of all those who are dependent
on the theatre remaining open claims which, be it
remembered, have never during seven seasons been
one houi in arrear, came forcibly to my mind and I
did not hesitate to sacrifice my private feelings to
my public duty.

" You will, I am assured, put the most generous
construction on my motives. You will remember
when I present myself before you that I am labouring
for others in a field where I must not reap for myself
and you will receive me not only with your usual
kindness, but with all needful indulgence.


" STORY'S GATE, A-pril igtb, 1837."

Westmacott was not pleased. He had apparently
constituted himself a sort of father-confessor to the
lady, and anything she did without telling him before-
hand was wrong. He was inordinately jealous of
Planche, and saw in the announcement an opportu-
nity of a gibe at the dramatist's expense. He " strongly
condemned the advice which caused its publication
and the person who composed it, the adviser and
composer being of course J. R. Planche." He ques-
tioned Madame Vestris's facts and wanted to know
what had become of the profits of ^16,000 or .17,000
the theatre yielded in 1834. He hinted at a " recent
remittance " from Bath. Where had that gone to ?


He wound up by a belief that there " must be some-
thing wrong somewhere " a tolerably safe assertion
as matters stood.

Her examination in bankruptcy came on in due
course, when the court was packed not only with
members of the theatrical world, but with the outside
public, anxious to see what the famous actress looked
like off the stage. Her debts, considering her mode
of life, were not large some 1,300 but these were
the " proved " debts. There were probably others
which did not figure in the schedule, while certain
creditors who would possibly have proved their debts
were unable to gain admission to the court by reason
of its crowded condition.

The story of Madame's financial embarrassments
does not differ very much from hundreds of others
of a similar character. The principal creditors were
money-lenders, and their methods of business were
those which Thackeray so graphically describes in
The Newcomes. These gentry rarely called themselves
money-lenders. They were bill discounters, wine
merchants, cigar merchants, picture-dealers, anything
which suited their purpose and enabled them to
make a little extra profit. One of the fraternity who
appeared to prove his debt against Vestris dabbled
in wine. He discounted one bill for 250 and 100
worth of wine of very doubtful vintage, one may
be sure. Madame denied all knowledge of this
transaction, but the merchant (?) protested that the
wine was sent to her residence in Chesham Place.
Another discounter gave 180 for a bill for 200,
and this was paid to Anderson, though the discounter
imagined the money was for Madame Vestris. About
this transaction also Madame said she knew nothing.
The key to the mystery seems to be that Anderson
prepared a number of bills with the amounts not filled
up which Vestris accepted, the idea being that Ander-
son or the titled spendthrift should insert the figures
according to circumstances. The whole thing was


concocted between these two, and Vestris's name
appearing as the acceptor there was no difficulty in
getting the bills discounted. How much went into
her pocket and how much was lost on the way thither
for the benefit of the two men cannot be said not
that it is of the least consequence at this distance of
time. The affair was unsavoury from beginning to
end whichever way it is looked at ; and apart from the
initial mistake of compromising herself with a reckless
and unscrupulous spendthrift, it is but fair to regard
Madame Vestris as more sinned against than sinning.

It is pretty clear that Madame Vestris was as ignorant
as a child in purely business matters. There was
no difficulty in deceiving her and imposing upon her
good-nature. One of her box-keepers absconded
with all the money he could lay his hands upon, and
at the time of her bankruptcy she had taken legal
action against a treasurer over a matter of $oo alleged
to be owing her. Disagreeable as was the ordeal of
disclosing her affairs amatory as well as monetary
to the public, she must have been thankful that she
had the courage to cut the Gordian knot of her
troubles. Bankruptcy cleared away her load of debts
incurred, as she probably would be the first to admit,
through her own folly, and when a few weeks after
her examination the bankruptcy was annulled the
proceedings were in private and she returned to
the theatre a free woman, we may well believe that she
repeated her words in her letter to Harris : " I hope
to God I shall never get into difficulties again."

Anderson and his aristocratic partner also went
through the purifying process of bankruptcy. In
the affairs of the first no one took the slightest interest.
The second was a very different personage in the
eyes of the public, and his association with Madame
Vestris gave him an importance which he did not
merit personally. He had behaved badly to his friend
T. S. Duncombe ; so much so that Westmacott in
September 1835 wrote: "We have read a letter

bearing Lord 's signature . . . attempting a

vindication of himself and an aspersion of his guardian
friend. We could if we chose give a better history
of the whole transaction than has yet appeared, but
rfimporte at present. . . . Mr. Duncombe is uni-
versally liked by all parties, and we will never submit
to see even a party enemy borne down by the intrigues
of an ungrateful and heartless courtezan and the
trickery of her titled paramour." Pleasant reading
for poor Vestris !

The noble bankrupt, however, had the grace to
write (in September 1837) offering his " sincere ex-
pressions of regret for any trouble or annoyance "
that he might have occasioned Mr. Duncombe. This
letter was published in the Times and was dated from
the King's Bench Prison, where his lordship was
awaiting the benefit of the Insolvent Debtors Act.
Mr. Duncombe's reply was that of a generous gentle-
man. He accepted the apology, expressing his opinion
that his debtor " would never have pursued a hostile
course towards him had he not been influenced by
misrepresentations and unfounded statements." The
proceedings in bankruptcy showed that the nobleman's
debts amounted to .221,000. He owed .8,200 to
Mr. Duncombe, of which the latter saw no return.
The Times inferentially called the bankrupt a " noble
dupe," a description which was probably very near
the mark.



The retirement of Liston. The end of the seventh Olympic season.
Madame turns over a new leaf and contemplates a serious step.
Charles James Mathews. He sends a drama to Vestris, which she
accepts. Mathews's first appearance at the Olympic. Enthusiastic
reception. Mathews's genius as a comedian. His wonderful per-
sonality. Antiquated stage methods swept away at the Olympic.
Madame Vestris married to Mathews. Engaged for a tour in America.
Unfavourable reception owing to scandalous gossip. Prejudice in
New York against Vestris. The Mathewses take farewell of America
at Philadelphia. Criticism of the American Press. Mathews and
Vestris return to the Olympic. A hearty welcome.

ON June 1st, 1836, while Madame Vestris was at
the height of her troubles, came a notable event in
the history of English comedy the retirement of
Liston, whose personality as well as his art had drawn
forth more laughter from his audiences than perhaps
any other humorous actor in the annals of the stage.
His farewell performance was in the character of
Monsieur Champignon in the burletta A Peculiar
Position, and in the farce of A Gentleman in Diffi-
culties, in which his ludicrous woes when dressed
in the red plush inexpressibles and other parapher-
nalia of a full-blown lacquey were irresistible. " He
seemed on this occasion to put forth all his powers
to play if possible with more than his usual excellence
in order that the public might feel the more sensibly
the great loss they were about to sustain by his retire-
ment " (Morning Chronicle). The fall of the curtain
was the signal for tumultuous applause and cries for
" Mr. Liston." He was led forward by Mr. Vining,



but was too overcome to say a word. All he could do
was to bow again and again. When the audience
was sufficiently quiet, Mr. Vining delivered a farewell
address terminating the seventh Olympic season
an address which was listened to with sympathetic

" Aware," said Mr. Vining, " how much less graceful
is my bow than Madame Vestris's courtesy, I would
willingly have escaped from being her deputy upon
the present occasion. To the causes which have led
to my being so it is not her wish that I should make
more allusion than to express to you her deep sense
of your generous sympathy and support at a most
trying period. She will ever be delighted to share with
you the hours of merriment, but she is unwilling to
intrude upon you her moments of depression. Most
truly cheering has it been to her, and to us all, that
a two-months' extra season has brought with it a
two-months' extra success. The gracious condescen-
sion of His Majesty by permitting the extension of
the present season has hastened the approach of the
next, and for four months, therefore, ladies and gentle-
men, instead of six, in the name of Madame Vestris,
and of a company which feels justly proud of its
female captain, I respectfully and most gratefully bid
you farewell." The season, it may be remarked, should
have ended as heretofore in April, but representations
were made to the Lord Chamberlain, and in view of
Madame Vestris's difficulties and of the fact that
during the investigation of her affairs she would be
absent from the stage, the date of the closing of the
theatre was deferred as stated.

The crisis Vestris had passed through must have
told upon her emotional temperament. She resumed
her work at the Olympic, and on the opening night
of her eighth season (1837-8) played in The Country
Squire. After this her appearances were few. She
had had a severe lesson, but her resolution once decided
upon was not easily shaken. Frivolity and determina-


tion were strangely mixed in her nature, and having
arrived at the conclusion that her time of philandering
was past and that she could no longer face her re-
sponsibilities in haphazard fashion, what was to be
her next step ?

She was not one to live alone. Companionship
was vital to her existence. Her irregular associations
had lost their charm and her last experience must
have sickened her. Marriage was the best solution
of the problem, not because it was respectable but
because it would give her a stability of position which
was essential to her business undertakings. It is
pretty certain that she had no illusions about love,
and one can imagine that her ideal of the man she
would mate must possess qualities to interest her.
Her unbounded energy and restlessness demanded
appreciation and encouragement, and unless he was
of the same mind as her own in dramatic art she would
have none of him. Wealth, even a title, possessed
for her no attraction. Her world was not that of
the aristocracy. No one knew better than she that
no matter to what rank a husband might raise her
in the social scale, she would be ostracised by those
who moved in it by right of birth. She was not of
the class to which Miss Farren, Miss Bolton, and Miss
Stephens belonged. It is true that Maria Foote had,
like herself, a questionable " past," but it may be
doubted whether Maria was welcomed with open
arms by aristocratic dowagers, matrons, and their

There chanced to be a member of her company
who, like herself, was mercurial and took monetary
troubles lightly. He was withal a gentleman, well-
educated, and clever. This was Charles James Mathews,
the son of the wonderful mimic and entertainer,
Charles Mathews. Charles James was intended for
an architect, but considering the strain in his blood
it was not extraordinary that he should have a leaning
towards the stage. He began by writing a play, under


an assumed name, on Planche lines, with an eye to
getting it produced at the Olympic. He sent it to
Listen, who handed it to Madame Vestris, with the
result detailed in this letter :

" 33 BROMPTON SQUARE, December gtb, 1831.


" I gave Pyramus and Tbisbe to Madame
Vestris, as I promised you, but heard nothing further
about it, till last night, very unexpectedly, they in-
formed me it is their intention to put it in hand imme-
diately ; but previously they wished to communicate
with the author, and asked his name and address.
This was a poser as I could give neither without
compromising your incognito. I told them, however,
I would direct a letter to the Post Office, Brighton,
upon the chance of its reaching you. You had better
write without delay to Madame, 13 Craven Buildings,
as doubtless they wish to arrange the terms before
they put the piece into rehearsal.

" Give our love to your mother. Mrs. Listen
wrote to her some time back, not knowing she was
gone to Brighton. How do you get on ?

" Yours truly,

" J. LlSTON."

Mathews accordingly wrote to Vestris, who replied
very promptly as follows :

"Monday, December 12th, 1831.

" SIR,

" I received your letter this morning, and
have read your piece, Pyramus and Thisbe, which I
approve of much, as well as Mr. Listen, who has also
read it.

" My usual terms for a one-act piece are twenty-five
pounds, and if this meets your views I shall be glad
to hear from you immediately, as I shall put it into
hand without loss of time.


" Your request as to the nom de guerre shall be
most faithfully attended to.
" I am, Sir,

" Your very obedient Servant,


The play does not seem to have been produced.
Mathews in his Life does not explain why. Perhaps
he and Madame could not come to terms, or it may
have been due to his ill-health, which sent him to Italy
to recuperate. On his return to England he went with
his father and mother to the Olympic. " At the
end of the performance," he writes, " I was carried
down from the box in the arms of my Italian servant,
and we were invited to wait in the little treasure of
the theatre, in order to escape the crowd at the doors.
After our departure a lady remarked to the stage
manager (looking after me, as I was lifted into the
carriage), 'Ah! poor young man! it's all over with
him he's not long for this world.' How astonished
would that lady have been had she been told that
she would be my wife for eighteen years, which, how-
ever, turned out to be the case."

Charles Mathews made his first appearance on the
stage (he was engaged at 6 a week) at the Olympic
on December yth, 1835, in The Hunchback Lover,
written for the occasion. In the latter his old friend
Listen also played, and John Coleman in Players
and Playwrights tells how that when in the course of
the piece the two were at work in the stable yard,
" the old coachman brushing up his hammer-cloth,
and the young tiger cleaning his cabriolet the house
rose at them, and the excitement intensified when
Liston took Mathews by the hand and led him down
to the footlights. The enthusiasm thus commenced
culminated at the close of the piece, and when the old
stager told the young one that he had reached home
at last, and that he hoped his friends would be kind
to him ' for the sake of his father,' the curtain fell


amidst such a tempest of applause that Listen was
overcome by emotion, and sank down almost fainting
in an arm-chair. After the play there was a regular
levee on the stage, assisted at by some of the most
distinguished men of the day in art, letters, and

The critics were as pleased as the audience. " He
is an actor by nature as well as by art," wrote the
Morning Chronicle. "... He now and then re-
minded us of his father, but more in manner than in
face or person." With this favourable start Mathews
soon made good his footing, and in the various pieces
in which he acted and displayed his budding personality
he strengthened his hold on the public a hold which
was not relaxed even when as a septuagenarian he made
his final bow to an audience. Mathews established
his reputation as a light comedian of no common
order. He was without a rival in his own particular

" Charles Mathews has more graceful ease, more
untiring vivacity, more general comprehension, than
the very finest of the Parisians," says a writer in
Blackwood? s Magazine. " For ninety-five nights he
has held a hushed theatre in the most complete
subjection to his magic art and was as fresh and
forcible on the last night of the course as at its
beginning. Yet never once does he raise his voice
above drawing-room pitch ; no reliance has he on
silver shoe-buckles or slashed doublets ; he wears
the same coat and other habiliments in which he
breakfasts at home or dines with a friend. Never
once does he point an epigram with a grimace or
even emphasise a sentiment with a shrug of his shoul-
ders. The marvel is how the effect is created, for
there is no outward sign of effort or intention. That
the effect is there is manifest from pit to gallery."

This was written in 1852, when Mathews had
polished and concentrated his style until he was
complete master of the difficult art of concealing art.


Yet in his early days his acting was marked by a finish
which so excellent a judge as Madame Vestris must
at once have appreciated. It is more than probable
that in his desire to be natural he saw the necessity
of having natural surroundings, and it is worthy of
note than when the Old and Young Stager was revived
on September 29th, 1836, the floor of the various
apartments in which the scenes were enacted was
covered with suitable carpets an accessory never
before seen on the stage.

Apropos of this innovation Mathews says that at the
Olympic was " introduced for the first time in England
that reform in all theatrical matters which has since
been adopted in every theatre in the kingdom. Draw-
ing-rooms were fitted up like drawing-rooms, and
furnished with care and taste. Two chairs no longer
indicated that two persons were to be seated, the two
chairs being removed indicating that the two persons
were not to be seated. A claret-coloured coat, salmon-
coloured trousers with a broad black stripe, a sky-blue
neckcloth with large paste brooch, and a cut-steel
eye-glass with a pink ribbon no longer marked the
* light comedy gentleman,' and the public at once
recognised and appreciated the change."

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Online LibraryCharles E PearceMadame Vestris and her times → online text (page 17 of 24)