MADAME VESTRIS AND HER TIMES
AND HER TIMES
CHARLES E. PEARCE
AUTHOR OP "THE AMAZING DUCHESS," "THE BELOVED PRINCESS"
'THE JOLLY DUCHESS," "POLLY PEACHUM AND THE BEGGAR'S OPERA'
WITH A PHOTOGRAVURE FRONTISPIECE AND
SIXTEEN OTHER ILLUSTRATIONS IN HALF-TONE
PRINTED UT CHEAT BRITAIN
THROUGHOUT the adventurous life of Madame Vestris
one fact is prominent : the publicity which accom-
panied every step of her career from her debut at the
King's Theatre in 1815 to her final appearance on
the stage at the Lyceum in 1854. ^ would be
difficult to find another actress who so stamped her
personality on the public mind. One may well
assume that her admirers did not think so much of
the characters she impersonated no matter what
they were as of Vestris herself, her lovely voice, her
irresistible smile, her magnetic gaiety, the perfection
of her figure, the grace of her movements, and the
indefinable charm with which she invested every
part she undertook. Even those who looked askance
at the stage and all who belonged to it could not
escape the fascination of her name. She was the
favourite theme of conversation with all ranks, her
frailties were regarded with indulgence, she was an
enfant gatee to be pardoned rather than reproved.
Both on and off the stage her doings provided excellent
" copy " for the journalist, and a diligent perusal of
the newspapers of the period supplies ample material
for the biographer. Of this material I have fully
availed myself, justification, I hope, being found in
the endeavour to picture the characteristics of a
fascinating and remarkable woman and in the desire
to do justice to her one-and- twenty years' influence
on dramatic art as the first woman theatrical manager.
I have to acknowledge my indebtedness to Mr.
Guy Tracey Watts, of Lincoln's Inn, barrister-at-
law, for the use of much valuable matter collected
for a biography of Madame Vestris which he con-
templated, but which for various reasons he was
compelled to abandon. Some of the illustrations, it
is to be noted, are reproductions from the collection
of the late A. M. Broadley, and were placed at my
disposal by Mr. Broadley at the time of the projection
of the book. The portrait of Isaac Nathan is from
an engraving in the possession of his grandson, Mr.
Douglas M. Gane, to whom I tender my thanks.
CHARLES E. PEARCE.
THE DEBUT OF LUCIA ELIZABETTA
First appearance of Madame Vestris. The King's Theatre in 1815. Its
interior. The " Omnibus " box and its privileges. " Fops' Alley." Lighted
by lamps. Madame Vestris at eighteen. Her beauty and fascination.
Appears in the opera // Ratio di Proserpina. Favourable surroundings attend
her debut. A pleasure-loving period. Chequered history of the King's
Theatre. Mr. Taylor the eccentric and improvident proprietor. Perpetual
litigation. Taylor "manages" the theatre from the inside of the King's
Bench Prison. War between Taylor and the proprietors. A merry party
in the King's Bench Prison. Lady Ladd's method of curing inebriety
THE BARTOLOZZIS' FAMILY HISTORY
Madame Vestris's good luck. Her chances in Italian opera. The King's
Theatre green-room. Its bad reputation. " Omnibus-box " admirers of
singers and dancers. Madame Vestris's family history. The mysterious
Captain Best. His fatal duel with Lord Camelford. Vestris's dissolute
husband, Armand Vestris, an unprepossessing person . . pp. 23-33
VESTRIS IN ITALIAN OPERA
Von Winter's // Ratio di Proserpina. Grassini and Billington's curious
arrangement. Their dispute. Michael Kelly's ruse to reconcile them.
Vestris's success in the opera. A fashionable audience of 1815. Gentlemen's
dress for the opera de rigueur. "Calls" before the curtain their origin.
Princess Charlotte of Wales enthusiastic over Vestris's voice and acting.
Her charm of expression. Her husband, Armand Vestris, arrested for debt.
A doubtful story of an intrigue with the Prince Regent. Scurrilous scribblers.
II Ratio di Proserpina with Elizabetta Vestris, repeated in 1816. Curious
reason for the postponement of the opening performance. Furore over
Braham's singing in Mozart's Clemenza di Tito. Armand Vestris's ballet.
Elizabetta as Susanna in Le Noxze di Figaro .... pp. 33-42
VESTRIS AND ELLISTON
The parting of Madame Vestris and her husband. She sings at the Paris
Italian Opera and is the life of a " certain sort of society." Her alleged associa-
tion with Windham Anstruther. The association dissolved. Madame Vestris
introduced to Elliston, the manager of Drury Lane Theatre. Her first
appearance at Drury Lane. Elliston and his eccentricities. His production
of the Coronation. Poses as George IV. Vestris makes a hit in The Siege
of Belgrade. Her success in Artaxerxes. Braham's extravagant style
" GIOVANNI IN LONDON "
Vestris as Captain Macheath. Her stupendous success in Giovanni in
London. A severe condemnation. Madame's charms described in verse. The
plot of Giovanni. The music, and Vestris's vivacity and daring costume, its
attraction. " Joe Gould," the first impersonator of the Don at the Olympic
Pavilion. Played for one night only. Elliston's style of advertising. Tom
Moore delighted with Vestris in Giovanni ..... pp. 52-59
MADAME THE TALK OF THE TOWN
Vestris's success in the provinces. Her alleged escapades and gallantries.
The " Giovanni" fever renewed in London. Drawbacks to her career as a
concert singer. She appears in Italian opera at the King's Theatre and in
ballad opera at Drury Lane. Elliston's pageant of the Coronation. Extra-
ordinary scene at the real Coronation. Production of Giovanni in Ireland,
and failure both in London and Dublin ..... pp. 60-69
THE MONTAGU GORE AFFAIR
The King's Theatre green-room. Lord Fife and his mania for ballet dancers.
His passion for Mile Noblet. Court regulations altered to suit her. Maria
Mercandotti and Ball Hughes. The " bucks " of the day and their fads.
Fashionable gallantries. Madame Vestris and Mr. Montagu Gore. Their
correspondence. Harris the useful "go-between." Gore's offer of 300 per
annum rejected. The affair broken off . . . . . pp. 70-79
THE WAYS OF PRIMA DONNAS
Vestris in Italian opera. The Montagu Gore "affair" again. Josephine
Bartolozzi and her admirers. Madame Vestris's alleged " victims." Vestris
announced to sing in Rossini's "oratorio" Cyrus in Babylon. Vestris
returns to the King's Theatre. The ways of prima donnas. An impresario
and his troubles. The rules of dressing-rooms at the King's Theatre. Vestris
insists upon more candles. A queer offer to Ebers. The beautiful Miss
Chester. She is appointed reader to George IV. . . . pp. 80-89
SQUABBLES AT THE KING'S THEATRE
Ebers transfers the King's Theatre to Benelll. Rossini appointed musical
conductor. Rossini's lucrative private engagements. Madame Vestris in
The Barber of Seville. Her " Rosina " not a success. Her engagement at
Drury Lane. In Shakespeare at the Haymarket. The Beggar's Opera and
incongruous costumes. Success of Alcaid. Vestris in a "breeches" part.
Private Sunday concerts projected. A "misunderstanding" at the King's
Theatre. Madame Vestris alleged to be in fault. Hostile reception of
Vestris. She bursts into tears. The matter explained and Vestris held to be
blameless. An angry scene at Covent Garden. Vestris infuriated
THE MARIA FOOTE SCANDAL
Turmoils in the theatrical world. Stormy reception of Kean at Drury
Lane. Rowdy audiences. Private and public boxes drawbacks to the latter.
Why theatre audiences had deteriorated. Maria Foote and her action for
breach of promise. " Pea-green " Hayne. The notorious Colonel Berkeley.
Miss Foote's love complications. The Times weeps. Maria Foote faces an
uproarious audience at Covent Garden Theatre. Hostile reception of Madame
Vestris. Theatrical squabbles and fisticuffs. Ebers and The Barber of
Seville. Complaints that Vestris smiles and shows her teeth too much.
The claque at the King's Theatre. Dress regulations at the opera ridiculed.
A critic's facetiousness .*..... pp. 102-114
The advent of Velluti. His mixed reception. Vestris in " legitimate "
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
MADAME'S MORALS CENSURED
Vestris at the height of her popularity as a ballad singer. Poetical homage
to the lively actresses of the day. Madame Vestris severely censured by the
moralists. A gross attack upon her in Oxberry's Theatrical Biographies.
Scandalous stories. Her alluring personality. The Age and its scurrilities.
The Morning Chronicle's insulting allusions. A skit hi the Age upon
Madame's energies. The Age her champion. She performs in Dublin. A
slander refuted. Hints of blackmail ..... pp. 130-138
MADAME AND HER ADMIRERS
Vestris's strenuous life. Takes part in old comedies, Shakespeare, and the
Italian opera. Censured for her garbled version of Susanna in The Marriage of
Figaro. Mutilation of Mozart's II Seraglio. Uproar over " I've been roaming."
Vestris furious. The uproar renewed another night. Josephine Bartolozzi's
first appearance on the stage. Poetical effusions concerning Vestris and her
admirers. Vestris attacked by the Times and Morning Chronicle. She is
defended by the Age. Miss Harriet Coveney as Captain Macheath. The
Chronicle severely condemns "breeches parts" and prefers the legs of Miss
Foote and Mrs. Humby to those of Vestris . , . pp. 139-150
MORE THEATRICAL SCANDALS
London theatres at a low ebb. Covent Garden Theatre closed. Failure
of Charles Kemble's management. A subscription fund started. The King's
Theatre in difficulties. Laporte converts pit rows into stalls. Mutiny in the
orchestra. Vestris complains she has no new parts to play. Kemble
impersonates William Shakespeare in Shakespeare's Early Days. Various
remedies proposed to restore theatrical prosperity. A quarrel on the stage
between Vestris and her future brother-in-law. A ludicrous scene. Vestris
threatens legal proceedings. Alexander Lee, the musical composer, manager
of Drury Lane. His curious history. Elopement of Lady William Lennox
( Miss Paton) with Wood, the tenor singer. Molloy Westmacott thrashed by
Charles Kemble. Vestris engaged at the Tottenham Street Theatre. The
managers of the patent theatres, frightened by Vestris's success, take action.
Vestris leases the Olympic Theatre. Its varied history . . pp. 151-163
VESTRIS MANAGERESS OF THE OLYMPIC
Madame opens the Olympic with great eclat. The theatre entirely remodelled
and redecorated. Maria Foote and Colonel Berkeley. Listen and Count
D'Orsay. Vestris surrounded by men of fashion. Theodore Hook and an
" impromptu." Tremendous excitement on the first night. The Olympic
Revels the first of Planch6's " extravaganza burlettas." The Duke of Devon-
shire's compliment to Vestris. An innovation the entertainment shortened.
The Age abusively attacks Vestris and Planch6. The attacks increase in
vulgarity. Westmacott suddenly becomes complimentary. Captain Phil-
lipson ( "Handsome Jack") charged with threatening to " whop " Westmacott.
A lively verbal duel at Bow Street. The Age renews its offensiveness. The
paper's lying statements. Blackmail the probable motive . . pp. 164-177
A DISASTROUS LOVE INTRIGUE
Madame Vestris's regime at the Olympic. Her novelties and innovations.
J. R. Planch6 installed as her adviser. The Olympic Revels and The Olym-
pic Devils. Puzzling volte face of Molloy Westmacott. The 1832 season
ends successfully. Vestris's address. Season 1832-3. Great attraction of
Planche's Court of Queen's Bench and The Paphian Bower. Madame's
anxieties and luxuries. Her inner life. Impending misfortunes. A disas-
trous intrigue. Sudden disappearance of Vestris. Fracas between Mr. T. S.
Duncombe and Molloy Westmacott. Westmacott's cunning to obtain credit
for preventing a dueL Westmacott's insinuations against Vestris. Big
sums of money paid to Vestris. Vestris, saddled with debts, takes flight
with an aristocratic admirer to Devonshire. Vestris's despairing letters.
Westmacott paid to hold his tongue. Vestris appeals to Harris to send her
money. Vestris's bitterness at having been duped . . pp. 178-189
MADAME'S CHARACTERISTIC LETTERS
Madame Vestris as a letter-writer. The inner history of the Montagu
Gore affair. Madame's dependence on Charles Harris. Her amusing notes
to him. A sidelight on her last amatory escapade. Card debts and plain
speaking. A curious epistolary list . . % t pp. 190-205
THE CLIMAX OF EMBARRASSMENTS
The third Olympic season opens. Madame's management thorough and
efficient. Alfred Bonn's muddling manoeuvres. Scenery and dresses at the
Olympic never allowed to be shabby. Spiteful personal attacks on Vestris in the
A ge and in Figaro in London. Vestris powdered, 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 . pp. 206-216
The retirement of Listen. 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 personality. 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 . . . pp. 217-231
FROM THE OLYMPIC TO COVENT GARDEN
The Olympic management reviewed. A wonderful record. Westland
Marston's analysis of Vestris's dramatic art. Her amazing versatility.
How The Court Beauties was produced. A model of realism. Novelties in
The Olympic Picture. Riquet with the Tuft, the pioneer of the modern gorgeous
pantomime. The pantomime of the thirties little more than a harlequinade.
Vestris's clear articulation highly praised. End of the ninth season of the
Olympic and Vestris's farewell address. She and Charles Mathews become
lessees of Covent Garden Theatre ...... pp. 232-242
DIFFICULTIES OF THEATRICAL MANAGEMENT
Vestris at Covent Garden Theatre. Her prospects. Qualifications as a
theatrical manageress. Westmacott's attacks cease. Difficulties in the way
of the new enterprise. Vestris's superiority to Macready as a manager.
Love's Labour's Lost, the opening piece. First night uproar. Shakespeare a
failure. Sheridan Knowles's play, Love. Financial embarrassments. The
Beggar's Opera put on as a last resource, dressed in the proper eighteenth-
century fashion. The house packed nightly, but embarrassments continue
VESTRIS REVOLUTIONISES THEATRICAL ART
Production of Leigh Hunt's Legend of Florence. State visits of Royalty.
A bad time for Shakespeare. Vestris's disputes with Sheridan Rnowles and
Samuel Lover. Madame carries her point. A Midsummer -Night's Dream
Vestris's wonderful triumph. A Shakespearean revelation. Madame's
liberality. Her excellent management behind the curtain. Vandenhoff's
tribute. Madame not to be dictated to. Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto
as a pantomime. Production of Boucicault's London Assurance. An enor-
mous success. Its curious inner history . , , , pp. 254-265
VESTRIS VERSUS MACREADY
Managerial difficulties. Vestris dependent upon old successes. The debut
of Adelaide Kemble. Her instant triumph in Norma. Great success of
Douglas Jerrold's Bubbles of the Day. Jules Benedict Adelaide Kemble's
proteg6. Vestris projects the presentation of Comus and Purcell's King
Arthur. Macready, alarmed, issues a counter-blast. Madame joins battle.
An angry controversy. Comus produced at Covent Garden. A wonderful
spectacle. Leffler the bass singer. How Balfe let him down. Vestris as
Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro. The first performance of the opera
on the English stage in a complete state. A bomb-shell from Charles Kemble.
Mathews and Vestris receive notice to give up possession of Covent Garden.
Allegations of arrears of rent due. The lease forfeited. The farewell per-
formance. The Morning Post a champion of Vestris . pp. 266-277
A STORMY TIME AT DRURY LANE
Mathews in the Queen's Bench Prison. Charles Kemble shows no mercy.
Mathews's bankruptcy annulled. An engagement offered by Macready.
Macready's grasping nature. His jealousy of Vestris. Why he engaged
Madame and her husband. Vestris at Drury Lane. She is systematically
kept in the background. Macready's manners. Vestris shows fight. Her
biting sarcasm. A stormy scene. Vestris throws up her part in King A rthur
and quits the theatre. Macready's disingenuous version of the dispute.
His ignorance of and contempt for music. Vestris and Mathews engaged at
the Haymarket. Owing to Mathews's blunder financial difficulties pursue them.
Mathews again a bankrupt. Termination of the Haymarket engagement.
The Lyceum enterprise entered upon ..... pp. 278-290
THE END OF A GREAT CAREER
The Lyceum campaign. Vestris's enormous responsibilities. The house
splendidly redecorated. Abolition of the " half-price " system. Vestris's
dramatic reforms. A magnificent reception. Production of Box and Cox,
with Buckstone and Harley. Walter Watts and the beautiful Mrs. Mowatt.
A tragic romance. Planch6's gorgeous extravaganzas. The scenic artist
super-eminent. The evolution of the modern pantomime transformation
scene. A string of successful pieces. The search for novelties. Melodrama
in eight acts I Frequent illnesses of Madame Vestris. The management
shows signs of decay. The final flicker of the candle. Madame Vestris's last
appearance. Charles Mathews's bankruptcy and arrest. Vestris's death.
The pathetic end of a great career and a great artist . . pp. 291-306
APPENDIX I MADAME VESTRIS'S OLYMPIC MANAGE-
MENT PP- 307-310
INDEX PP- 3"-3i4
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
MADAME VESTRIS . . . Photogravure Frontispiece
ARMAND VESTRIS, FIRST HUSBAND OF MADAME VESTRIS 16
LORD HARRINGTON, THE HUSBAND OF MARIA FOOTE 32
MADAME VESTRIS AT THE AGE OF THIRTY . . 48
MADAME VESTRIS AS GIOVANNI IN " GIOVANNI IN
LONDON" ........ 64
MADAME VESTRIS AS DON FELIX IN " THE WONDER " 64
Miss MARIA FOOTE ....... 96
JOHN BRAHAM ....... 128
Miss STEPHENS ....... 144
MADAME VESTRIS AS APOLLO IN " MIDAS" . . 160
ISAAC NATHAN, COMPOSER OF " SWEETHEARTS AND
WIVES " . . . 192
Miss MARIA FOOTE ...... 208
MADAME VESTRIS AS THE BUY-A-BROOM GIRL . . 224
MADAME VESTRIS'S HANDWRITING. (FROM A LETTER
TO CHARLES HARRIS) ..... 240
MADAME VESTRIS'S HANDWRITING. (FIRST DRAUGHT
OF A LETTER TO MONTAGU GORE) . . . 256
MADAME VESTRIS'S HANDWRITING. (FROM A LETTER
TO MONTAGU GORE) . , . . ... 272
MADAME VESTRIS . . . 288
MADAME VESTRIS AS CAPTAIN MACHEATH ,. . 304
MADAME VESTRIS AND
THE DEBUT OF LUCIA ELIZABETTA
First appearance of Madame Vestris. The King's Theatre in 1815.
Its interior. The " Omnibus " box and its privileges. " Fops'
Alley." Lighted by lamps. Madame Vestris at eighteen. Her
beauty and fascination. Appears in the opera // Ratio di Proser-
pina. Favourable surroundings attend her debut. A pleasure-
loving period. Chequered history of the King's Theatre. Mr.
Taylor the eccentric and improvident proprietor. Perpetual litigation.
Taylor " manages " the theatre from the inside of the King's Bench
Prison. War between Taylor and the proprietors. A merry party in
the King's Bench Prison. Lady Ladd's method of curing inebriety.
" KING'S THEATRE. Monsieur Armund [sic] Vestris,
Ballet Master, has the honour to inform the Nobility,
Subscribers to the Opera, and the Public, that his
Benefit is fixed for this Evening [the 2Oth of July], on
which occasion will be produced, for that night only,
the celebrated Opera, composed by Winter, entitled
IL RATTO DI PROSERPINA, in which Madame Vestris,
late Miss Bartolozzi, will make her first appearance on
any stage, in the part of Proserpina."
The above advertisement appeared in the London
daily papers for 1815 on the day in question. Other
attractions were also announced, but they do not con-
cern us. It is sufficient to say that the mention of
" Madame Vestris, late Miss Bartolozzi " was bound
to excite the interest of the patrons of the opera, a
14 MADAME VESTRIS AND HER TIMES
large proportion of whom were members of the
The opera of those days was the " preserve " of
the upper ten. The original King's Theatre, burnt
down in 1789, was rebuilt in 1792 and constructed
mainly to suit the requirements of its noble patrons.
It was re-christened Her Majesty's when Queen Vic-
toria ascended the throne and was again consumed
by fire in 1867.
The exterior in 1815 was very like other play-
houses of by-gone days, plain and unpretentious ; the
colonnade, which gave it the distinctive character
which many Londoners will remember, being added
in 1820 by Nash, the architect who laid out Regent
Street and who much favoured this type of architec-
tural adornment. The principal feature of the in-
terior not forgotten, one may venture to surmise, by
those septuagenarians who in their early days were
opera-goers was the number of boxes which, curving
in horseshoe form, rose tier upon tier to the gallery
and overlooked a pit of considerable area. There was
no dress circle, and stalls were additions of later years
in 1829 to be precise to the great disgust of the
pittites, who hissed heartily but went no further, as
they might have done twenty years before in the
O.P. rioting days.
Of the boxes, sixty-eight were the private property
of the holders, and the object of this unusual arrange-
ment was to raise the money for rebuilding the theatre
after its destruction in 1789 a method adopted by
the projectors of the Albert Hall, many of the boxes
and stalls in which are still held by the original pur-
chasers as their personal property. The trust deed
held by Mr. Taylor, the lessee, enabled him to dis-
pose of forty-one boxes (known as property boxes)
at one thousand pounds each for various terms, all
of which expired in 1824 or 1825. As time went on
these property boxes increased until they reached
the number already mentioned. After 1825 many
THE DEBUT OF LUCIA ELIZABETTA 15
of the boxes were hired for the season and were
paid for, occupied or not. The owner of the box
for the time being had the right of giving it to his
friends (each box held six persons) or of letting either
for a period or for the whole season. The opera
admissions were " bones," an ivory disc a little larger
than a penny, and had on one side " Opera for "
whatever the year might be, and on the other the
name of the lessee of the box. When anything
particularly attractive usually a ballet was the "draw"
was on, the boxes would be filled by representatives
of the fashionable world together with a considerable
sprinkling of rich persons of humble birth desirous
of rubbing shoulders with the aristocracy and of
partaking in their exotic pleasures. The pit, sometimes
called the " general boxes," was patronised by the
middle classes ; the gallery, known, oddly enough, as