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dal " of a far more interesting nature. This time
the scene of action was Covent Garden Theatre.
The amatory escapades of Miss Maria Foote, a pretty,
engaging, and popular comedienne, had for some
time past been a favourite gossiping topic, and in
the beginning of 1825 the climax of interest was
reached when she was awarded ^3,000 damages in an
action she brought for breach of promise of marriage.
The defendant was the young gentleman of fashion
already alluded to of the name of Hayne, known among
his associates as " Pea-green " Hayne, whether from the
colour of the clothing he affected or from his facile
capacity for being duped is not quite certain. " Pea-
green " Hayne belonged to the set of fashionable bucks
and Corinthian Toms who thirsted for notoriety,
buzzed round green-rooms, gambled in the St. James's
Street hells, and whose pride it was to boast of the
favours of fashionable actresses. So far as can be
gathered, chivalry was an unknown quantity among
these " fashionables " and they had not the slightest
objection to washing their dirty linen in public
indeed, they seemed to seek the opportunity. Maria
Foote had had an attachment of an intimate nature
previous to her engagement to Hayne, and the fact
must have been well known to the green-room gossipers;
but " Pea-green " Hayne appears to have been unaware
of the lady's past or said he was, an assertion which
may well be doubted.

The story, however, was not public property until
October i6th, 1824, when the following statement by
" Pea-green " Hayne, putting his case with brutal
frankness, appeared in the newspapers : " I was
not aware, when I made a proposal to Miss Foote, that
she had ever been under the protection of Colonel
Berkeley, her father and mother having always upheld
(and I believed) her to be a paragon of virtue, and
had not Colonel Berkeley in the latter end of June
last in the presence of James Maxe, Esq. (as the


Colonel's friend), and Thomas Best, Esq. (as my friend),
owned her having had children by him, the youngest
then not a month old, I should have been in ignorance
of the facts until too late to retrieve my happiness."

There is no evidence that Madame Vestris was in
any way connected with this curious business ; it
is odd, however, to find the man Best, with whom,
according to report, she had been associated, posing
as Hayne's friend and witness. Whether the memory
of the public was stirred by the mention of Best's
name cannot now be said, but it is certain from an
episode which occurred later on that some kind of
ill-feeling was created against her.

Maria Foote was the daughter of Samuel Foote,
an ex-officer in the Army, and Colonel Berkeley's
father was the Earl of Berkeley. The two became
acquainted at Cheltenham, where the young lady was
acting, and the Colonel, who affected amateur theatri-
cals, made furious love to her. He could have married
her, so he said, but that an association with an actress
would have damaged his prospects, as he was expecting
a peerage, and the love-affair was kept a profound
secret, save from Maria's father and mother. It was
said that the Colonel never visited Maria at her mother's
house in Keppel Street, but she used to pay visits
to Berkeley Castle whenever he wished, her mother
always accompanying her on these occasions, but hardly
on account of propriety, as during the five years of
this association children were born.

Differences arose between them. Whether Maria
saw that the Colonel's passion was waning it is hard
to say, but it is certain that in the beginning of 1824
she encouraged the advances of " Pea-green " Hayne,
and, according to Colonel Berkeley, a gallant of the
same " fashionable " class named Clagitt. Hayne
seems to have been looked upon by Mr. and Mrs.
Foote as a very desirable husband for Maria. The
father borrowed money of the youthful suitor, who
was about twenty-three, and the mother made herself


agreeable to him ; and as for Maria, she wrote
Hayne many letters and, what was a somewhat re-
markable thing for a love-lorn damsel to do, kept
copies of her letters.

In due time Hayne proposed, all his proceedings
and love-makings being, so Maria's counsel asserted,
duly reported to Berkeley, who apparently had some-
one prying round. After his proposal Hayne repented,
and the letter quoted above was published in order
to justify his refusal to marry the lady. It was a
mean business, and perhaps Hayne's conscience smote
him, for he took back his refusal and, in spite of Maria's
past, he again proposed and, what was more to the
purpose, actually purchased the licence. But shortly
after he once more altered his mind, and the result
was an action in the Court of King's Bench for breach
of promise and the defendant was cast in damages.

The affair created an immense sensation. Both sides
had their adherents, but on the whole public opinion
upheld Maria ; the Times of all papers in the world
bursting into tears in a gush of sympathetic senti-
mentality. " Poor Miss Foote ! " sobbed the " Thun-
derer." " We are sure our hearts, and we think every
heart, must bleed for her. She is a fellow-creature
destroyed beyond the power of human redemption.
May Eternal Mercy pardon her errors as Eternal
Justice will no doubt avenge her wrongs." The Times
must have been sorry it perpetrated such an absurdity
when in after-years " human redemption " came to
Maria in the person of the Earl of Harrington (once
the sparkish Lord Petersham), who made her his
countess. After this " Eternal Mercy " and " Eter-
nal Justice " were hardly worth thinking about.

Miss Foote might well congratulate herself on being
rid of Hayne, especially as she was ^3,000 the richer
by his refusal to marry her. Hayne was little more
than a mere simpleton, if the author of a memoir of
Miss Foote in Oxberry's Dramatic Biographies has
not maligned him. " We are informed," he writes


in 1825, " this precious youth about three years since
paid his vows to Miss Bartolozzi, the sister of Madame
Vestris and the object of the peculiar regard of the
butterfly Petersham ; that he deceived Miss B. as
he did our heroine and ultimately refused to fulfil
his engagements, and that the friends of that lady . . .
consented to ' hush it up ' for a * good round sum.' . . .
A celebrated duellist, indeed the best shot in the
Kingdom, is said to have been the mediator in this
delicate transaction." The identity of this gentle-
man is sufficiently indicated by the pun on his name.

Six years later, after Miss Foote became the Countess
of Harrington, Hayne wrote to her husband asking
for the return of the jewels, valued at .5,000, he
presented her during his courtship, but he received
no satisfaction either from the Earl or the Countess.
Within a year or two he became insolvent, having run
through every penny of his fortune. In 1820 he
came into the possession of .162,000 ; in 1834 he had
hardly a sixpence. Miss Foote did not err on the
side of generosity.

Emerging triumphantly from the law courts with
all the secrets of her heart disclosed, Maria Foote
appeared at Covent Garden Theatre and everybody
rushed to see her. About half-past four in the
afternoon of February 6th the pit doors were sur-
rounded by an unruly mob which gradually increased,
and on the doors being opened at six o'clock the rush
was terrific. In a very short time it was made known
that the house was full and the doorkeepers refused
to take any more money. Clamorous applicants for
box places were, however, told that the orchestra
had been elegantly fitted up and seats could be had
there for two guineas each.

The play was The Belle's Stratagem, possibly chosen
because many of the passages put into the mouth
of Letitia Hardy were appropriate to the circum-
stances. It was soon evident that the sympathisers
were in a vast majority, and when the young lady came


upon the stage she had an uproarious reception.
What with " shouts, rapping of fans, clapping of hands,
and the rattling of the boards in the boxes, mingling
with the astounding noise that burst from the pit,"
no wonder Maria was overwhelmed and as much
frightened as pleased. After a dissentient in the
gallery had been summarily ejected, the house settled
down to enjoy the play, and every expression that
could be twisted into an allusion to the case was
boisterously approved.

The episode previously alluded to concerning
Madame Vestris was thus described by the Morning
Post : " After the drop-curtain fell, Madame Vestris
was discovered in the boxes and a shout was raised
against her from the pit and gallery. It did not,
however, in the least disconcert the lady. She kept
her seat as quietly as though she were the * lion '
of the night." It is impossible to give an explana-
tion of this expression of disapproval. One can only
conjecture either that the gossips had chosen to
assume she was in some way mixed up in the scandal
or that in the excess of their virtuous mood the censors
fastened upon Madame as a typical representation of
fashionable frivolity and frailty and condemned her

The readiness with which aggrieved persons took
the law into their own hands was very noticeable during
the next few weeks. As if Colonel Berkeley had not
made himself sufficiently notorious, he must needs
take umbrage at some adverse criticisms upon his
conduct in a Cheltenham paper, and accompanied
by a friend he called upon the editor and savagely
assaulted him.

Poole, the dramatist, was similarly affected by the
mania for pugnacity. Indignant at Elliston's striking
his name off the free list as a retaliation for his attack
on the Drury Lane manager contained in the intro-
duction to his play Married and Single, he soothed
his feelings by the use of his walking-stick.


A squabble between Decamp, the manager of the
Sheffield Theatre, and Macready happily ended with-
out the necessity of fisticuffs ; but it was the reverse
at Liverpool, where a young lady, having had a
difference with the management and receiving her
dismissal, posted up an appeal which resulted in the
audience championing her cause in very emphatic
fashion. The play with which the performance
commenced was allowed to proceed quietly, but
when The Forty Thieves, from which the young lady
in question had been ousted, began, the row started
with a bombardment of apples, oranges, potatoes,
penny pieces, and the like. In vain Vandenhoff,
who was in the company, protested ; the audience
was out for mischief. They pulled up the seats of
the gallery, they pulled down the ceiling, threw lime
at the actors, and hurled the gallery benches into the
pit and smashed the crystal chandelier, doing damage
to the extent of about ^400 in a very few minutes !
A theatrical audience in the days of Madame Vestris
was a veritable ogre, and little wonder when the
monster was angered that managers and players
did all they could to appease its wrath. The odd
thing was that the violators of the law were rarely,
if ever, punished.

No further disturbances of any moment occurred
during the year to offend the susceptibilities of play-
goers. There were annoyances, however, one of
which in connection with the opera may be men-
tioned as typical of the theatrical management of
the day. Ebers, finding he would have to close the
King's Theatre, for a time, as the gallery was unsafe
and threatened to give way, removed his company
to what was still called by its old name of " The
Little Theatre in the Haymarket." He altered the
interior to suit the requirements of his aristocratic
patrons, but the attractions were not quite satisfac-
tory. For instance, the fronts of the boxes were
not separated and " persons of fashion suffer the


pain of being seen by the next-door neighbours as
plainly as if they were exposing themselves in the public
boxes of vulgar theatres."

Another complaint was that the balcony, which
according to the advertisements " had been fitted
up in a commodious manner to communicate with
the boxes and pit," turned out to be the old two-
shilling gallery for seats for which ten shillings were
now charged. Pit-seat holders could transfer to
the balcony if it so pleased them, but the balconyites
were not admitted to the pit, though the price was
the same. " We observed one night," writes a
complainant, " that a servant of the house squared
himself before the pit passage and almost opposed
the entrance of individuals until they had answered
in the negative one question, whether they came from
the gallery." It is not surprising to read that " this
unusual piece of impertinence gave great disgust," and
no doubt squabblings were frequent and led to much
stormy language.

The theatre opened on March 1st with Nozze di
Figaro, the beautiful Ronzi de Begnis being the
Countess. Madame Vestris was Susanne, playing, so
the London Magazine thought, " with no great effect ;
indeed this lady seems to us altogether out of her ele-
ment on the opera stage, and when she enacts Susanne
in particular we cannot help fancying that we see
' Giovanni ' in petticoats, so decidedly rakish an air
does she fling into the character. The Susanne of
Madame Vestris is in truth so exceedingly knowing
a waiting-woman that it appears especially wonderful
to us that she contrives to carry her virtue safe to the
end of the piece." The critic was equally dissatisfied
with Vestris' s Rosina in // Earlier e. He thought her
voice was not equal to the music, " but if smiles can
make amends for this deficiency it must be confessed
that ample compensation is made for it."

The opera went back to the King's Theatre in
May, and opened on the I2th with Don Giovanni.


Grumblings were heard at the poorness of the com-
pany. " What does Madame Vestris do here ? "
plaintively asked the London Magazine ; and coming
to a notice of her as Zerlina, it remarked, " In singing
she was unequal to the part, but in smiling she far
exceeded it. No man likes to see fine teeth more than
we do, but a lady would not show her teeth to the
public as she would show them to a dentist a dis-
covery every now and then of these beauties is very
delightful, but an excessive exhibition of them destroys
the effect " an opinion which one is tempted to
commend to the notice of many actresses of the pre-
sent day, judging at least by their photographs. In
reading the adverse criticisms of Vestris in operatic
parts, one might be tempted to question the judg-
ment of Mr. H. F. Chorley quoted in a former chapter.
But if Madame persisted in singing music written for
a soprano with a voice that inclined to contralto,
what could she expect but unfavourable notices ?

It is interesting to find that the claque was actively
employed at the King's Theatre that is to say, when
it did not go to sleep. Apparently it had a way of
doing this and then suddenly waking up and applauding
in the wrong place. This fault induced one critic
ironically to suggest that " to avoid accidents of this
kind, which may sometimes prove extremely ridiculous,
it would be well to require clappers to attend rehearsals,
when they may practise applauding in the right, or
to speak it more properly in the desired place, and
may thus undergo a sort of drill which will perfect
them in their manual exercise." Coffee and strong
tea were also recommended, " as some of the gentlemen
towards the conclusion snore very disagreeably, so
much so indeed as to keep a number of people in the
neighbouring boxes awake."

Continuing his facetious mood, the writer falls foul
of the lax dress regulations, which, he thinks, might
be omitted, " for they have only the effect of taking
off the bonnets of women who go to the pit and of


obliging honest men to wear shoes instead of boots.
Black stocks are permitted in the pit and also shirts
nearly as black as the stocks are too frequently ob-
servable, which we regard as a much more serious
solecism. An order that no gentleman should be
admitted in dirty linen would be much more to the
purpose than the present law against boots. We
would just hint too that it would be well to have a
barber in attendance to trim the hair of certain for-
eigners who carry heads about that fill one with the
most frightful apprehensions."

The same gentleman certainly did his best to add
to the gaiety of nations. Remarking upon the dullness
which had suddenly come upon the theatrical world,
and after observing that Madame Vestris had " laid
in a stock of inexpressibles for summer use," he went
on to say : " Little of the usual theatrical chit-chat
has been passed to and fro during the past month
[April], and for want of a taste of fresh scandal people
have been reduced to the necessity of combining
Foote and Hayne and their pair of breaches ; Kean
and his immorality and Miss Paton's answer to Mal-
thus. . . ." (Miss Paton had the year before married
Lord William Lennox.) " No new actor has made in-
roads upon the domestic peace of the city ; no actress
has sinned herself into the sympathies of the public ;
no author has rebelled against that moral beef-eater
that casts jokes before the King and damns behind
him ; no manager has horse-whipped one of the lords
of the creation ; no lady behind the scenes has given
being to an unstamped peer ; no gentleman has been
thrown over from the gallery to the pit ; no anti-
gentleman has smashed a box door in the plenitude
of claret and morality to shout down Kean and uphold
Miss Foote. In short, nothing in the nature of a
regular novelty has transpired, and the old pleasures
have therefore been mourned very tenderly."

The " moral beef-eater " was of course the censor,
George Colman, against whom was raised a hearty


laugh concerning a one-act farce produced during
May at Covent Garden Theatre. Yates took the
part of a pavior, and the author had introduced a
topical joke apropos of Macadamised paving just
then introduced and keeping possession of our streets
until the advent of asphalt and wood blocks. " They
call the roads muck Adamed, but I call them damrfd
muck" Yates was to have said, but the egregious
George expunged the line and wrote a letter to
Fawcett on the subject. A wag protested that
" Colman never spoke of any other than Macka's
roads, as he could not bring himself to pollute his
lips with the whole name ! " George Colman was the
quintessence of morality in his censorship duties.
Privately he lived with Mrs. Gibbs, a popular and
vivacious actress.



The advent of Velluti. His mixed reception. Vestris in " legiti-
mate " drama at the Haymarket. She invites criticism in Shakespeare.
Paul Pry and Liston's inimitable personation. How Poole conceived
the character. Madame's piquant acting as Phoebe. " Cherry Ripe "
sung for the first time. Its history. Her sparkling address on the last
night of the comedy. Vestris's earnings in 1825. Velluti's meanness.
His squabble with the ladies of the chorus. They assert their rights
and are victorious. Their small pay. The popularity of Weber in
England. Der Freischutz. Weber's Oberon produced at Covent
Garden by Charles Kemble. An inefficient cast. Vestris the only
member who could act as well as sing. Braham no actor. Miss
Paton's stupidity. Weber's disgust. Miss Goward (afterwards Mrs.
Keeley) and the " Mermaid's Song." Oberon a qualified success.
Weber's death.

THE operatic event of 1825 was the appearance of
Velluti, the last of a class of Italian vocalists who no
longer exist. For his phenomenal voice Meyerbeer
wrote // Crociato in Egitto. His tone was not always
pleasant, but his vocalisation was superb and alto-
gether he was an accomplished singer. The Times
heralded his approach by a gross personal attack ; the
" fashionables " were uncertain whether they ought to
applaud or hiss ; and his fellow-artists treated him
with great rudeness. The London Magazine remarked
sarcastically : " Madame Vestris, with a consistent
propriety that can only be equalled by the consistent
care of the public morals lowered by Mr. Theodore
Hook in the John Bull., offered any sum to the managers
that would engage another lady to sing with him."
The management was in despair and it was rumoured
that the production of the opera would be abandoned ;


the Duke of Wellington, however, so the report went,
called Mr. Ayrton, the musical director, into his
box at the opera and threatened to shut up the house
if // Crociato was not got out with all speed. Even-
tually the difficulty was overcome by the substitution
of Mademoiselle Garcia (in later days the famous
Madame Malibran) for the rebellious Vestris, the
opera was produced, and Velluti on the whole was
received with approval.

Meanwhile Madame was back at the Haymarket
Theatre, which had reverted to the " legitimate "
business. Apparently she was anxious to shine in
pure comedy or she would scarcely have played Letitia
Hardy in the Belle's Stratagem, a line of character
for which her distinctive powers were ill fitted. But
light comedy did not satisfy her, and again she essayed
Shakespeare and repeated her impersonations of Mrs.
Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Rosamond in
As Ton Like It, provoking the Age to declare that
" Madame Vestris cannot play Shakespeare because
she evidently cannot comprehend Shakespeare and
those who saw her Rosamond must confess this."

She was more at home in The Lord of the Manor,
as here she had plenty of scope for her voice,
among other songs singing Bishop's " Dashing White
Sergeant " with immense verve and acting much to
the satisfaction of the Sovereign " in her natural and
becoming habiliments. To the shame of the age,"
the critic of this journal went on to remark, " we
protest that we never saw this lady perform but
once before in female attire ; we therefore had more
than ordinary pleasure in witnessing her performance
of Annette in The Lord of the Manor, though we
thought the stamping sort of sauce-box air with which
she marched away to the tune of the ' Dashing White
Sergeant ' was too much in keeping with her notorious
male-attire exhibitions." And, waxing indignant, the
scribe concluded with : " This theatrical system of
putting the female sex in breeches is barbarous and


abominable." Protests on the score of propriety
were, however, in vain, for during the year Madame
appeared in a piece called The Epaulette, in which no
less than seven ladies in addition to Vestris desported
themselves in masculine garb !

Following The Lord of the Manor came The Beggar's
Opera, in which as Macheath she was facile princeps.
Apollo in Midas a burletta noteworthy for its charm-
ing song, " Pray, Goody," in which Sinclair, a favourite
Scotch tenor, made his name was a part admirably
adapted to show off Madame's figure, as one gathers
from the Mirror of the Stage, which in a notice of Miss
Foote's acting as Ariel severely observed : " Always
excepting Madame Vestris's Apollo we know no dress
so indelicate as that chosen by our heroine [Miss
Foote] in The Tempest." The equanimity of the
London Magazine was, on the other hand, by no means
disturbed by the exhibition, remarking that Vestris
called together all the young apprentices about town
previous to their suppers at the saloons in Piccadilly.
" She is," added the critic, " a very tight little per-
sonage in her dress and indeed looks a mighty dapper
Daphne hunter."

In September Poole's Paul Pry was produced and
at once took the town. It was, of course, Liston who
made the play, and his queer figure, his Hessian boots,
baggy breeches, black gloves, his Gampish umbrella,
his whimsical humour, and the catch phrases, " I
hope I don't intrude " and " I just popped in," were
talked about everywhere. Never was a man better
fitted by nature to be a comedian. He was irre-
sistible. To look at him was to laugh at him. Hazlitt
writes : " Mr. Liston has more comic humour, more
power of face and a more genial and happy vein of
folly than any other actor we remember. His face
is not caricature ; his drollery oozes out of his features
and trickles down his face ; his voice is a pitch-pipe
for laughter. He does some characters but indiffer-
ently, other respectably, but when he puts himself whole


Online LibraryCharles E PearceMadame Vestris and her times → online text (page 9 of 24)