« AnteriorContinua »
doubt that even the Duke of Cumberland could muster bronze enough to assert that he had always been a “zealous friend of the liberties of the people!” But he shall speak for himself, according to “ The Times” report :
“ The Duke of CUMBERLAND would not have obtruded himself on their Lordships' notice, had not the Noble Lord opposite (Earl Grey) chosen to charge him with being adverse to the liberties of the people. He denied the charge, and now stated before their Lordships and the country at large, that no memler of that or the other House would fight more strenuously for the liberties of the people than the individual who now addressed them. In what act of his life, during the thirly years he had l'een in the House, had he ever shown a spirit of hostility to the lilerties of the people? lie trusted his warmth of manner would be excused, but, in the situation in which he was placed, and acting with the friends around him, who were all strenuous friends of liberty, (Lords Eldon, Newcastle, Londonderry, Sidmouth, and Co.) he felt it necessary to vindicate himself from the charge of being an enemy to freedom. He was for maintaining the Constitution as it then stood, and for preserving to the King, to the aristocracy, and to the Commons the enjoyment of just and equal rights and privileges. With respect to the Reform Bill, he took a totally different view of it from the noble Premier and his colleagues. Whenever another measure on the subject should be brought forward, he neither pledged himself to oppose nor support it: he would listen with attention to the arguments, and make up his mind impartially on the merits of the case.
“ Earl Grey was not aware that he had spoken of the illustrious Duke as an enemy of the liberties of the people. What he thought he said was, that the illustrious Duke prided himself on his consistent opposition to every measure for improving the rights, and consolidating or extending the liberties of the country ; and that on this ground he concurred in the opposition to the Reform Bill, which had been designated as revolutionary. Those, he believed, were the words which he had used; he was in the recollection of their Lordships ; and these words he could neither retract nor deny. Every measure that had been brought forvard, whether for the extension of religious or civil lil'erty, had uniformly met the decided opposition of the illustrious Duke."
[Press of matter, and the lateness of the period of the nionth in which the present article necessarily was written, oblige us to omit the notices of Lord Plunkett's defence of himself against Sir Robert Bateson, and the debate on the 24th on foreign affairs, which Lord Aberdeen originated, as well as a notice of Lord John Russell's speech on introducing the Reform Bill, and to break off abruptly bere. We shall, however, endeavour to make up for the omission in our next number.]
SONNET, BY WILLIAM WORDSWORTH. [T. B. R. Haydon. Composed on seeing his Picture of Napoleon
musing at St. Helena.]
And before Him doth dawn perpetual run.
“ Implora pace !"-She, who upon earth ruled the souls and senses of men, as the moon rules the surge of waters; the acknowledged and liege Empress of all the realms of illusion; the crowned queen ; the throned muse; the sceptred shadow of departed genius, majesty and beauty,—supplicates-Peace !
What unhallowed work has been going forward in some of the daily papers since this illustrious creature has been laid in her quiet unostentatious grave! ay, even before her poor remains were cold ! What pains have been taken to cater trifling scandal for the blind, heartless, gossip-loving vulgar! and to throw round the memory of a woman, whose private life was as irreproachable, as her public career was glorious, some ridiculous or unamiable association which should tend to unsphere her from her throne in our imaginations, and degrade from her towering pride of place, the heroine of Shakspeare, and the Muse of Tragedy !
That stupid malignity which revels in the martyrdom of famewhich rejoices when, by some approximation of the mean and ludicrous with the beautiful and sublime, it can for a moment bring down the rainbow-like glory in which the fancy invests genius, to the drab-coloured level of mediocrity-is always hateful and contemptible; but in the present case it is something worse; it has a peculiar degree of cowardly injustice. If some elegant biographer inform us that the same hand which painted the infant Hercules, or Ugolino, or Mrs. Sheridan, half seraph and half saint—could clutch a guinea with satisfaction, or drive a bargain with a footman ; if some discreet friend, from the mere love of truth, no doubt, reveal to us the puerile, lamentable frailties of that bright spirit, which poured itself forth in torrents of song and passion : what then? 'tis pitiful, certainly, wondrous pitiful; but there is no great harm done, - no irremediable injury inflicted; for there stand their works: the poet's immortal page, the painter's breathing canvass witness for them. “ Death hath had no power yet upon their beauty"-over them scandal cannot draw her cold slimy finger ;- on them calumny cannot breathe her mildew ; nor envy wither them with a blast from hell. There they stand for ever to confute injustice, to rectify error, to defy malice; to silence, and long outlive the sneer, the lie, the jest, the reproach. But she - who was of painters the model, the wonder, the despair ;—she, who realised in her own presence and person the poet's divinest dreams and noblest creations;—she, who has enriched our language with a new epithet, and made the word Siddonian synonymous with all we can imagine of feminine grace and grandeur: she has left nothing behind her, but the memory of a great name: she has bequeathed it to our reverence, our gratitude, our charity, and our sympathy; and if it is 'not to be sacred, I know not what is—or ever will be.
Mrs. Siddons, as an artist, presented a singular example of the union of all the faculties, mental and physical, which constitute excellence in her art, directed to the end for which they seemed created. In any other situation or profession, some one or other of her splendid gifts would have been misplaced or dormant. It was her especial good fortune, and not less that of the time in which she
lived, that this wonderful combination of mental powers and external graces, was fully and completely developed by the circumstances in which she was placed.* “With the most commanding beauty of face and form, and varied grace of action ; with the most noble combination of features, and extensive capability of expression in each of them ; with an unequalled genius for her art, the utmost patience in study, and the strongest ardour of feeling ; there was not a passion which she could not delineate; not the nicest shade, not the most delicate modification of passion, which she could not seize with philosophical accuracy, and render with such immediate force of Nature and truth, as well as precision, that what was the result of profound study and unwearied practice, appeared like sudden inspiration. There was not a height of grandeur to which she could not soar, nor a darkness of misery to which she could not descend; not a chord of feeling, from the sternest to the most delicate, which she could not cause to vibrate at her will. She had reached that point of perfection in art, where it ceases to be art, and becomes a second nature. She had studied most profoundly the powers and capabilities of language ; so that the most critical sagacity could not have suggested a delicacy of emphasis, by which the meaning of the author might be more distinctly conveyed, or a shade of intonation by which the sentiment could be more fully, or more faithfully expressed.” While other performers of the past or present time, have made approaches to excellence, or attained it now and then, Mrs. Siddons alone was pronounced faultless ; and, in her, the last generation witnessed what we shall not see in ours ;—no, nor our children after us ;-that amazing union of " splendid intellectual powers, with unequalled charms of person, which, in the tragic department of her art, realised the idea of perfection.”.
Such was the magnificent portrait drawn of Mrs. Siddons twenty years ago ; and it will be admitted by those who remember her, and must be believed by those who do not, that in this case, eulogy could not wander into exaggeration, nor enthusiasm be exalted beyond the bounds of truth.
It has been disputed, whether Mrs. Siddons possessed genius. If genius be exclusively defined as the creative and inventive faculty of the soul, I do not think she did. If it be taken, in its usual acceptation (Vide Johnson,) as “a mind of large general powers, accidentally determined to some particular direction," then she undoubtedly possessed it. It appears to have been slowly developed. She did not like her niece, spring at once into the chair of the tragic muse;" but toiled her way up to glory and excellence in her profession, through length of time, difficulties, and obstacles innumerable. She was exclusively professional; and all her attainments, and all her powers seem to have been directed to one end and aim. Yet I
suppose no one would have said of Mrs. Siddons, that she was a mere actress," as it was usually said of Garrick, that he was a “ mere player;"—the most admirable and versatile actor that ever existed; but still the mere player ;-nothing more—nothing better. He does not appear to have had a tincture of that high gentlemanly feeling, that native elevation of
• Some of the sentences which follow (marked by inverted commas,) are taken from a portrait of Mrs. Siddons, dated 1812.
character, and general literary taste which strike us in John Kemble and his brother ; nor any thing of the splendid imagination, the enthusiasm of art, the personal grace and grandeur, which threw such a glory around Mrs. Siddons. Of John Kemble it might be said,* as Dryden said of Harte in his time, that “ kings and princes might have come to him, and taken lessons how to comport themselves
with dignity.” And with the noble presence of Mrs. Siddons, we associated in public and in private, something absolutely awful. Who was it?-(I think Northcote the painter,) who said he had seen a group of young ladies of rank, Lady Fanny's and Lady Mary's, peeping through the halfopen door of a room where Mrs. Siddons was sitting, with the same timidity and curiosity as if it had been some preternatural being,~ much more than if it had been the Queen : which I can easily believe. I remember that the first time I found myself in the same room with Mrs. Siddons, I was struck with a sensation which made my
heart pause, and rendered me dumb for some minutes; and when I was led into conversation with her, my first words came faltering and thick,which never certainly would have been the case in presence of the autocratrix of all the Russias ; nor was this feeling of her power, which was derived from her association with all that was grand, poetical, terrible, confined to those who had felt and could appreciate the full measure of her endowments. Every member of that public, whose idol she was, from the greatest down to the meanest, felt it more or less. I know a poor woman who once went to the house of Mrs. Siddons to be paid by her daughter for some embroidery. Mrs. Siddons happened to be in the room, and the woman perceiving who it was, was so overpowered, that she could not count her money, and scarcely dared to draw her breath. “ And when I went away, Ma'am,” added she, in describing her own sensations, “I walked all the way down the street, feeling myself a great deal bigger.” This was the same unconscious feeling of the sublime, which made Bouchardon say that, after reading the Iliad, he fancied himself seven feet high. It reminds one also of the poor musician, who, when introduced to Mozart, was so overcome by the presence of that greatness which had so long filled his imagination, that he could not even lift his eyes from the ground; but stood bowing, and stammering out “ Imperial majesty !-Ah !-Imperial majesty!"
Mrs. Siddons was born in 1755. She was in her twenty-first year when she made her first attempt in London, (for it was but an attempt,) in the character of Portia. She also appeared as Lady Anne in Richard III. and in comedy as Mrs. Strickland to Garrick's Ranger. She was not successful : the public did not discover in her the future tragic muse; and for herself—“ She felt that she was greater than she knew.” She returned to her provincial career ; she spent seven years in patient study, in reflection, in contemplation, and in mastering the practical part of her profession, and then she returned at the age of twenty-eight, and burst upon the world in the prime of her beauty and transcendant powers, with all the attributes of confirmed and acknowledged excellence.
It appears that, in her first season, she did not play one of Shak
• I believe it has been said ; but, like Mad. de Montpensier, my imagination and my memory are sometimes confounded.
speare's characters: she performed Isabella, Euphrasia, Jane Shore, Calista, and Zara. In a visit she paid to Dr. Johnson, at the conclusion of the season, she informed him that it was her intention, the following year, to bring out some of Shakspeare's heroines, particularly Katherine of Arragon, to which she then gave the preference as a character. Dr. Johnson agreed with her, and added that, when she played Katherine, he would hobble to the theatre himself to see her ; but he did not live to pay her this tribute of admiration. He, however, paid her another not less valuable : describing his visitor after her departure, he said, “ she left nothing behind her to be censured or despised; neither praise nor money, the two powerful corrupters of mankind, seem to have depraved her.* In this interview she seems to have pleased the old critic and moralist, who was also a severe and acute judge of human nature, and not inclined to judge favourably of actresses, by the union of modesty with native dignity; à rare union! and most delightful in those who are the objects of the public gaze, and when the popular enthusiasm is still in all its first intoxicating effervescence.
The first of Shakspeare's characters which Mrs. Siddons performed was Isabella in Measure for Measure, (1784,) and the next Constance. In the same year Sir Joshua painted her as the tragic muse.t With what a deep interest shall we now visit this her true apotheosis, now that it has received its last consecration - The rest of Shakspeare's characters followed in this order : Lady Macbeth in 1785, and, soon afterwards, as if by way of contrast, Desdemona, Ophelia, Rosalind. In 1786 she played Imogen ; in 1788 Katherine of Arragon; and, in 1789, Volumnia ; and in the same season she played Juliet, being then in her thirty-fifth year,— too old for Juliet; nor did this ever become one of her popular parts ; she left it to her niece to identify herself for ever with the poetry and sensibility, the youthful grace and fervid passion of Shakspeare's Juliet; and we have as little chance of ever seeing such another Juliet as Fanny Kemble, as of ever seeing such another Lady Macbeth as her magnificent aunt.
A good critic, who was also a great admirer of Mrs. Siddons, asserts that there must be something in acting which levels all poetical distinctions, since people talked in the same breath of her Lady Macbeth and Mrs. Beverley as being equally “ fine pieces of acting." I think he is mistaken : no one--none at least but the most vulgar part of her audience—ever equalized these two characters, even as pieces of acting; or imagined for a moment that the same degree of talent which sufficed to represent Mrs. Beverley could have grasped the towering grandeur of such a character as Lady Macbeth -dived into its profound and gloomy depths--seized and reflected its wonderful gradations-displayed its magnificence—developed its beauties, and revealed its terrors: no such thing. She might have drawn more tears in Isabella than in Constance-thrown more young ladies into hysterics in Belvidera than in Katherine of Arragon; but all with whom I have conversed on the subject of Mrs. Siddons, are agreed in this ;—that her finest characters, as pieces of art, were those which afforded the fullest scope for her powers, and contained in themselves the largest materials in poetry, grandeur, and passion :
* In a letter to Mrs. Thrale. + In the Grosvenor gallery. There is a duplicate of this picture in the Dulwich gallery.