Richard Mant.

Public and private life of that celebrated actress, Miss Bland, otherwise Mrs. Ford, or, Mrs. Jordan; late mistress of H. R. H. the D. of Clarence; now King William IV., founder of the Fitzclarence family .. online

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Online LibraryRichard MantPublic and private life of that celebrated actress, Miss Bland, otherwise Mrs. Ford, or, Mrs. Jordan; late mistress of H. R. H. the D. of Clarence; now King William IV., founder of the Fitzclarence family .. → online text (page 3 of 13)
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risible muscles.

It had long been the wish of Mr. Kemble that some piece
written expressly for Mrs. Jordan should appear, and at length
Mr. Cumberland produced a comedy called the Imj^ostor, wherein
she performed the prominent part, and during the first four acts
the piece met with well merited applause, but the concluding act
pi'oving tedious, the comedy had but a short run.

During the summer of this year (1788), his late Majesty George
III. accompanied by the Royal Family, visited Cheltenham, when
in order that her attractions might not pall upon the lovers of the
drama in London, by a too frequent repetition of her parts, our
heroine determined on a professional excui'sion to the above
watering-place, where she w^as welcomed with enthusiasm. During
her continuance at this town, the nobility and gentiy presented
Mrs. Jordan with a very elegant gold medal, accompanied by a
written document so truly gratifying to her feelings, as to confer
tenfold value on the token by which it was accompanied.

It now appears that the brilliant success and increase of salary
awarded to our heroine, excited great uneasiness in the Kemble

22 Life of Mrs. Jordan.

family. Mrs. Sidclons in particular, the Melpomene of the day,
whose idol was Cra^sus, could not restrain her internal dissatis-
faction, which became so intrusively disagreeable to the subject
of this memoir, that overtures were made to her from the manager
of Covent Garden and a Carte Blanche tendered, in order that she
might stipulate her own terms. Alarmed at the idea of losing
one of the main props of his house, Mr. Sheridan had an interview
with Mrs. Jordan, who having stated her grievances respecting
the Kemble coterie, he at once closed with our heroine at a salary
of thirty pounds per week, then esteemed a very enormous stipend.
In reference to the dissatisfaction of Mrs. Siddons, a caricature
was issued, we believe from a design of Bunbury, i*epresenting the
tragic queen with pockets overgorged Avitli gold and bank paper ;
while hanging to the prong of a pitch-fork thrust up from the in-
fernal regions, was a bag of gold, to obtain which the hungry
Melpomene was stretching forth her hand in a fine tragedy atti-
tude, accompanied by a look of greedy supplication.

If such was a leading trait in the conduct of Melpomene, Thalia
was the very opposite : charity being the prominent characteristic
of her mind. No deserving object ever applied for relief in vain,
and even prior to her connection in a certain quarter, the follow-
ing fact may be relied upon. Bearing in mind the cruel conduct
exerted towards herself by Mr. Dayly, and the difficulties expe-
rienced during her pregnancy, she always entertained the most
humane and lively feelings for destitute females similarly circum-
stanced. Actuated by that praise-worthy sentiment, Mrs. Jordan
provided herself with several complete sets of linen necessary for
lying-in women ; which, upon application and a knowledge that
the objects were deserving, she was accustomed to lend out for
the use of females under such circumstances. Being better enabled
to indulge her philanthropic disposition after joining an exalted
personage, her charitable exertions increased for a time in pro-
portion to her Dieans, and numerous were the objects who showered
blessings upon one whose benevolence was as unostentatious as it
proved liberal and extended in its varied ramifications.

The winter of 1789 was spent by our heroine in personating,
during the season, most of those characters in which she had so
uniformly obtained the plaudits of her hearers. In the summer
of the present year she made another trip to Edinburgh, where
the same success crowned her endeavours until towards the close
of her theatrical exertions, when the manager sought to cast an
odium upon her for not completing her agreement, which she was
prevented from doing on account of the death of her revered
mother. No female ever felt more unbounded love for a parent

Life of Mes. Jordax. 23

than did Mrs. Jordan, who experienced the most acute anguish
for the loss she had sustained ; it was indeed, an affliction so
deeply rooted that it required every effort of reason and pliilosophy
to counteract its poignant effects. Grief, perhaps, found some
alle%"iation from the efforts of the poetic muse, as at the period
alluded to we find that the accompanying lines were written by
our actress, the same having found insertion in the Edinburgh


" Be ready, reader, if thoa hast a tear,

Nor blush if sympathy bestows it here ;

For a lost mother hear a daughter moan —

Catch the last sounds, and learn like her to groan I

Yet e'en those groans (sad echo's all to mine)

Must prove faint offerings at so dear a shrine :

If feeble these, how feebler far must bo

The tribute to be paid by poesy !

The bleeding heart that's whelm'd with real woe.

Affects no flow'rs near Helicon that grow ;

Sobs and swoln sighs ill suit sweet numbered lays:

The tear that waters cypress, drowns the bays.

Hard then must be the task in mournful verse,

The praise of a lost parent to rehearse.

Mild sufFring saint ! exemplary throngh life,

A tendfer mother and a patient wife ;

Whose firm fidelity no wrongs could shake.

While curbed resentment was forbid to speak.

Thus silent anguish marked her for her own,

And comfort coming late was barely known ;

It, like a shadow, smil'd and slipp'd away —

For churlish Death refused to let it stay :

A two-fold dart he levell'd to destroy.

At once a mother's and a daughter's joy ;

Better a double summons had been given.

To wipe our sorrows score, and make all ev^r

By kindly calling both at once to Heaven.'

It is not a little singular that while our heroine fulfilled this
engagement at the Edinburgh theatre, her uncle, the elder brother
of her father, Colonel Bland officiated as treasurer of that estab-
lishment. In the early part of his life, this gentleman had served
in the army, but being at length reduced in circumstances, was
under the necessity of having recourse to the theatrical profession
in order to procure subsistence.

The first appearance of our actress at Drury Lane after her
return to London from the north, was as late as the 8th of Feb-
ruary, 1790, at which period Mr. Kemble gave a situation in the
theatre to Mr. Bland, ]Mrs. Jordan's brother, who performed

ev'n, >

24 Life of Mks. Jordan.

Sebastian in Ttveljth Night, to his sister's Viola. Tlie gentleman
in question bore a personal reseinl)lance to our actress, and as his
figure "was diminutive, not even towering above that of his dis-
guised relative, the mistaking one for the other was rendered
more agreeable to the eye of the observer. In person, however,
consisted the only resemblance between the niale and female of
this family, Mr. Bland never having displayed talents above

Mr. Kemble, on the 8th of INIarch, brought forward Mrs. Behn's
comedy of The Hover, under the title of Love in many Masks ;
it had not been peformed for thirty years, at which period it came
out at Covent Garden theatre, the cliaracters of Whihnore, Blunt,
and Helena, having been sustained by Messrs. Smith and Shuter,
and Mrs. Woffington, the latter lady being replaced by Mrs.
Jordan. Although the title adopted by Mr. Kemble, on the re-
vival of this piece, was by no means striking, he had nevertheless
the powers of our actress to support the attempt, which she did
to the universal satisfaction of her auditors.

On the benefit night of our heroine, the 22nd of the same month,
after playing in 2'he Belle's Stratagem with her accustomed excel-
lence, she brought forward the fai'ce of Tlie Spoiled Child, wlien
her Little Pickle was hailed with rapturous enthusiasm. This
piece, ascribed to Mr. Ford, was frequently performed, and to
those Avho recollect her execution of the ballad commencing "Since
then I'm doom'd," it would be superfluous to panegyrise, as her
personification of the mischievous hero of the piece far outstripped
all attempts at praise.

We next find our actress inducted to the part formerly sustained
by Mr. Clive, in Fielding's Intrigxiing Cliamhermaid, and on the
17th of November, Miles Peter Andrews in conjunction with
Messrs. Reynolds and Topham, brought forward Better Late than
Never, wherein Mrs. Jordan had to personate the heroine under
a series of disguises. This piece possessed so little merit that not-
withstanding the efibrts of our actress, it speedily became a dead
letter. Our heroine, for her benefit, revived Tlie Humorous
Lieutenant of Beaumont and Fletcher, under the title of The
Greek Slave, or School for Cotcards, a comedy in which she played
Celia, the part formerly filled by Mrs. Woffington. After the
play, our actress delivered an epilogue, written expressly for the
occasion by Harry Bunbury ; the opening lines, though applicable
to the piece, seem as if in allusion to an event then, perhaps, on
the tapis.

" How str.vnge ! methinkB I hear the critic say,
What she, tlie serious heroine of a play !

Life of Mrs. Jordan. 25

The manager his want of sense evinces,
To pitch on Hoydens for the love of Princes !
To trick out Chamhermaids in awkward pomp, —
Horrid ! to make a Princess of a Romp.

At the close of the season, incessant attendance on her theatrical
duties had so far impaired the health of Mrs. Jordan, that she
became seriously indisposed, and a spitting of blood that took
place, seemed indicatory of an approaching decline. As her medi-
cal adviser thought change of air essential, and being partial to
the north of England, Mrs. Jordan determined to visit York,
where she had not been for some years. Thither she repaired,
accompanied by Mr. Ford, and performed during the race week
in several of her first rate parts. A dislike, however, to the luke-
warm conduct displayed by the York audience, led her to refuse
the fulfilment of stipulations previously entered into, wherefore
she chose to forfeit the sum named in case of failure, rather than
play ; and being then at Castle Howard for the benefit of the
country air, she forwarded a letter, of which the annexed were
the contents.

" Sir. — I agree with pleasure to your proposal of giving you
thirty pounds rather than ever perform in York. I shall return
to-morrow, and settle the balance of the account.

J am. Sir,
Your obliged humble Servt. — D. Ford."

After continuing her tour to Newcastle, and other towns of the
north, Mrs. Jordan returned to the London boards, being how-
ever, compelled at intervals to absent herself, owing to the increase
of her family by Mr. Ford. In this state of affairs she continued
until the summer of 1791, when following her professional avoca-
tions at York, she was on many occasions subjected to gross insults
while on the stage, fi'om the interference of some rigid moralists,
in consequence of her cohabiting with Mr. Ford in the character
of his mistress ; and it was then our actress for the first time
began seriously to contemplate a separation, unless he consented
to ratify his promise by making her his wife.

On resuming her engagement in London, immediately after the
occurence above referred to, it was the adverse fate of the heroine
of our tale, to arrest the attention of an exalted individual, who
became particularly fascinated by her personification of Little
Pickle in The Spoiled Child. The exquisite symmetry of Mrs.
Jordan's form in male attire, and more particularly her unmatched
talents m delineating the character of Little Pickle, combined to
subdue the affections of the personage in question ; and in con-
sequence ovea'tures were made, when the lady, with that delicacy

26 Life of Mrs. Jordan.

of feeling so invariably characteristic of her actions, rejected the
offer, situated as she still was Avith Mr. Ford. Thus for a time
matters continued ; tlie lover's importunities increasing, while
pecuniary offers were tendered in the way of a settlement to the
amount of one thousand pounds per annum, which ultimately led
our heroine to conceive that it became a bounden duty, on account
of her offspring, to reflect seriously on the subject. The ultimatum
of this painful scrutiny was a proposal on the part of ]\Ers. Jordan,
that as she had for so many years cohabited with, and borne him
(Mr. Ford) a family of children ; in consideration also of her having
been uniformly introduced into society as his wife, she conceived
herself justly entitled to his hand ; and in consequence stipulated
that Mr. Ford should at once name a day to ratify the promise so
incessantly made, or in the event of a refusal she conceived her-
self at liberty to act as the dictates of prudence should prescribe.
INIr. Ford, however, thought tit to evade the question, when our
heroine conceived herself at liberty to embrace the protection
offered by the Duke of Clarence ; as in that case, she conceived
ample means would be placed at her disposal to provide for her
offspring, in whose behalf no legal plea on Mr. Ford could be set

This state of affairs was soon bruited abroad, when a party
sprung up in vindication of Mr. Ford, by whom he was represented
as an abandoned and injured man, to which were added aspei'sions
on her conduct in a professional point of view. Mrs. Jordan,
however, who, when roused, was as capable as any woman to vin-
dicate her own wrongs, determined by a bold step to effect that
end, and in consequence the following letter appeared in all the
public, prints, dated from the treasury of Drury Lane theati'e, the
30th of November, 1790.

" Sir, — I have submitted in silence to the unprovoked and un-
manly abuse which, for some time past, has been directed against
me, — because it has related to subjects about which the public
could not be interested ; but to an attack upon my conduct in my
profession, and the charge of want of respect and gratitude to the
public, I think it my duty to reply.

Nothing can be more cruel and unfounded than the insinuation
that I absented myself from the theatre, on Saturday last, from
any other cause than real inability, from illness, to sustain my
part in the entertainment.

I have ever been ready and proud to exert myself to the utmost
of my sti-ength, to fultil my engagements with the theatre, and to
manifest my respect for tlie audience : and no person can be more
grateful for the indulgence and applause with which I have been

Life of Mrs. Jordan. 27

constantly honoured. I would not obtrude upon the public at-
tention to anything that does not relate to my profession, in
which alone I may, without presumption, say, I am accountable
to them ; but thus called on, in the present instance, there can be
no impropriety in my answering those who have so ungenerously
attacked me, — that if they could drive me from that profession,
they would take from me the only income I have, or mean to
possess, the whole earnings of which, upon the past, and one half
for the future, I have settled upon my Children. Unjustly and
cruelly traduced as I have been, upon this subject, I trust that
this short declaration will not be deemed impertinent ; and for
the rest, I appeal with confidence to the justice and generosity of
the public. I am. Sir,

Your Obedient Servant, — Dor. Jordan."

A variety of ill-natured paragraphs appeared in the daily prints
notwithstanding this unvarnished explanation of facts, until the
10th of December, when Mrs. Jordan performed the part of
Roxalana in The Sultan, on which occasion the public displeasure
was openly manifested, but conscious of the rectitude of her own
sentiments, she advanced boldly to the front of the stage, and
alluding only to circumstances connected with her theatrical
calling, addi'essed the audience in the following terms.

" Ladies and Gentlemen, — I should conceive myself utterly
unworthy of your favour if the slightest mark of public disappro-
bation did not affect me very sensibly.

Since I have had the honour and the happiness to strive here
to please you, it has been my constant endeavour by unremitting
assiduity, to merit your approbation. I beg leave to assure you,
upon my honour, that I have never absented myself one minute
from the duties of my profession, but from real indisposition.
Thus having invariably acted, I do consider myself under the
public protection."

The separation of Mrs. Jordan from Mr. Ford was at length
made public, when she immediately became the protegee of her
royal admii-er ; it should, however, be explicitly understood that
no improper intimacy took place between the parties anterior to
the candid proposal made upon her part to Mr. Ford, as previously
explained, and his non-acquiescence with the same. When the
proposal of his Royal Highness became the theme of public
discussion, Sir Francis and Lady Lumm, whose names we have
previously had occasion to introduce, most strenuously advised
Mrs. Jordan never to accede to the terms of his Royal Highness,
as in such case, however painful to their feelings, they could no
longer tolerate her as a visitor to their mansion.

28 Life of Mrs. Jordan.

Immediately after Mrs. Jordan's separation from Mr. Ford, the
latter gentleman conceived it necessary, on many accounts, to quit
the shores of England for a period until the publicity of the
affair should have subsided. We have previously remarked that
the individual in question had for a series of years introduced our
actress into the best societies, in the character of his lawful wife,
and it was no very improbable conjecture upon his part, that
some fathers of families, or brothers, tenacious in regard to the
characters of their wives, daughters, or sisters, might conceive
tliemselves called upon to demand that explanation which Mr.
Ford was not able to give in a satisfactory manner, and must
have brought things to extremities. To this may be added the
vacillating conduct of the gentleman, after the assurances so
often and so solemnly reiterated, that he would give his j^fotegee
a legal claim to his affections ; being thus placed in no very en-
viable 23oint of view with men of honourable feeling, — for those
reasons he determined on absenting himself from England.

It is singular that the writer, then a youth, accompanied by his
father, was in the packet boat that conveyed Mr. Ford to France,
and as far as we are enabled to call circumstances to our mind,
the gentleman alluded to, whose only intercourse during the pas-
sage was with our parent, — seemed to enjoy no very enviable state
of mind, a fact that in some measure redounds to his credit, as
an apathetic sentiment under similar circumstances, must have
stamped him altogether divested of the best feelings of humanity.

The opposition to our actress, which had previously manifested
itself, became more formidable after her open cohabitation with
the Duke of Clarence, several attempts being set on foot to drive
her from the stage ; but these ebullitions gradually subsided, and
her talents and sweetness of disposition ultimately reinstated
her completely in public favour.

Among the numerous anecdotes circulated in consequence of
this splendid connection, we insert the following : —

The late illustrious parent of Thalia's new protector is reported
to have said to his son, "Hey, hey; — what's this — what's this?
you keep an actress, keep an actress, they say." — "Yes, sir." —
"Ah, well, well; how much do you give her, eh?" — " One thousand
a year, sir." — ^" A thousand ! a thousand ! too much, too much !
five liundred quite enough — quite enough ! " It is added that the
son wrote to our actress, expressing the opinion of his parent,
and as it was then customary at the bottom of the play bills, to
annex these words : "No money returned after the rising of the
curtain ! " that our actress tore the same ofi', and enclosed it in a
blank cover, to her protector.

Life of Mrs. Jordax. 29

The well-known parsimony and illiberal sentiments of the in-
dividual alluded to in the first of the above statements, tend to
confer some appearance of validity as to this anecdote ; the latter
statement we have merely inserted in order to give it an unquali-
fied denial, as any person possessing a tithe of our knowledge of
Mrs. Jordan's delicacy of sentiment, would pronounce her wliolly
incapable of having made the indecent allusion referred to.

We have previously spoken of an annuity of one thousand
pounds a year, said to have been settled on our acti'ess by her new
protector. Now when she ultimately became reduced in circum-
stances, we should like, in the first place, to enquire what had
become of the lai'ge sums obtained during her long and brilliant
theatrical career, placed in the funds, and intended after death,
for the suppoi't of her offspring by Mr. Ford ; and secondly, where
were the proceeds and bi'illiant results expected to accrue from
this princely boon ?

We do not pretend to infer that such settlement did not take
place,— that is to say, as far as the signing a legal instrument was
concerned : but what avail sheets of parchment, with their seals
annexed, and barren autographs ? — the technicalities of the law
can neither create gold, or stamp Bank paper ! The only question,
therefore, resolves itself to this : — Was the annuity ever paid f
Prudent motives deter us from answering ; but from what will
be stated hereafter, we leave its solution to the cool judgment of
every dispassionate reader.

A remarkable addition to the foi'tune of our actress, occurred
in the year 1791, by the death of a near relative of her mother's,
which, coupled ■svith the emoluments derived from her professional
avocations, sv\'elled her income to three thousands pounds per

This ample fortune, and the high patronage obtained by Thalia,
would, of course, have empowered her to liquidate such pecuniary
obligations as might have oppressed her, had any such existed, or
in the event of a want of principle on her part (than which nothing
was so foreign to her sentiments), the laws were open to have
compelled her acquiescence with the calls of justice : yet no such
means ever were resorted to. We make these observations for
reasons that will become manifest in the progress of our recital.

Our actress was now the inmate of a mansion-house of poten-
tates'; carriages and servants attended her bidding, and she
seemed to bask in the full splendour of fortune ; while to crown
her felicity, she proved in that situation which is uniformly grati-
fying to those who feel anxious to present a progeny to their

^ Life of Mrs. Jordan.

So unostentatious and truly domestic were the habits of Mrs.
Jordan, after her new and exalted connection, that we have fre-
quently witnessed her arrival, in a plain yellow chariot, at Miss
Tuting's, a milliner in St. James's Street, when she would alight
with an infant in her arms ; and during her stay, frequently
change the linen of the little one in the shop, while freely con-
versing with the person in attendance to wait upon customers.

Among the personages of note who took delight in the manners
of Mrs. Jordan, were the great Burke, and more particularly,
Sir Joshua Reynolds, who conceived her histrionic talents far
superior to those of M rs. Abington ; and on one occasion, arguing
with a friend upon this topic, who maintained that the latter per-
former had a more extended range of playing. Sir Joshua remarked,
" I do not know that you can make out your point ; for opposed
to the fashionable ladies of Mrs. Abington, you have the fashion-
able men of Mrs. Jordan; and the women who would pass for
men, whether Wildcdrs or Hypolitas, in comedy, and the tender
and exquisite Viola of Shakspeare, where she combines feeling
with sportive effect, and does as much by the music of her melan-
choly, as the music of her laugh."

In the year 1792, our actress found herself compelled to retire
for a short period from professional duties, in consequence of a
miscarriage at Petersham, being far advanced in her pregnancy,
when she gave birth to a daughter. This event occurred early in
August, and being recovered in the September following, she
visited the Richmond Theatre, to witness Mrs. Litchfield, then a
young actress, personate Julia in the Surrender of Calais. The
powers of the lady in question, particulai'ly pleased our actress,
who was unbounded in her applause ; indeed, so violent was her
action, that she literally severed the links of a gold chain, whereto
was appeiided the miniature of a Royal Personage, which dropped
upon the stage, over which was the box occupied by Mrs. Jordan.

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryRichard MantPublic and private life of that celebrated actress, Miss Bland, otherwise Mrs. Ford, or, Mrs. Jordan; late mistress of H. R. H. the D. of Clarence; now King William IV., founder of the Fitzclarence family .. → online text (page 3 of 13)