« AnteriorContinua »
consequently, that her Constance, Katherine of Arragon, Volumnia, and Lady Macbeth stood pre-eminent. Lord Byron, I believe, preferred Constance ; but the general opinion stamps her Lady Macbeth as the grandest effort of her art; and therefore, as she was the first in her art, as the ne plus ultra of acting. This at least was the opinion of one who admired her with all the fervour of a kindred genius, and could lavish on her praise of such "rich words composed as made the gift more rare.” “Of her Lady Macbeth,” he says, thing could have been imagined grander,-it was something above nature; it seemed almost as if a being of a superior order had dropped from a higher sphere to awe the world with the majesty of her appearance. Power was seated on her brow, passion emanated from her breast as from a shrine. In coming on in the sleeping scene, her eyes were open, but their sense was shut; she was like a person bewildered; her lips moved involuntarily; all her gestures seemed mechanical—she glided on and off the stage like an apparition. To have seen her in that character was an event in every one's life never to be forgotten."
By profound and incessant study she had brought her conception and representation of this character to such a pitch of perfection that the imagination could conceive of nothing more magnificent or more finished; and yet she has been heard to say, after playing it for thirty years, that she never read over the part without discovering in it something new.
I am not old enough to remember Mrs. Siddons in her best days, but, judging from my own recollections, I should say that, to hear her read one of Shakspeare's plays, was a higher, a more complete gratification, and a more astonishing display of her powers than her performance of any single character. On the stage she was the perfect actress ; when she was reading Shakspeare her profound enthusiastic admiration of the poet, and deep insight into his most hidden beauties, made her almost a poetess, or at least like a priestess full of the god of her idolatry. Her whole soul looked out from her regal brow and effulgent eyes; and then her countenance !--the inconceivable flexibility and musical intonations of her voice! there was no got-up illusion here: no scenes—no trickery of the stage; there needed no sceptred pall --no sweeping train, nor any of the gorgeous accompaniments of tragedy :—She was tragedy! When in reading Macbeth she said, “ give me the daggers!” they gleamed before our eyes. The witch scenes in the same play she rendered awfuily terrific by the magic of looks and tones ; she invested the weird sisters with all their own infernal fascinations ; they were the serious, poetical, tragical personages which the poet intended them to be, and the wild grotesque horror of their enchantments made the blood curdle. When, in King John, she came to the passage beginning
If the midnight bell, Did with his iron tongue and brazen note, &c. I remember I felt every drop of blood pause, and then run backwards through my veins with an overpowering awe and horror. scenic representation I ever witnessed produced the hundredth part of the effect of her reading Hamlet. This tragedy was the triumph of her art. Hamlet and his mother, Polonius, Ophelia, were all there before us. Those who ever heard her give Ophelia's reply to Hamlet,
Hamlet. I loved you not.
Ophelia. I was the more deceived ! and the lines
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That suck'd the honey of his music vows, &c. will never forget their exquisite pathos. What a revelation of love and woe was there !--the very heart seemed to break upon the utterance.
She continued to exercise her power of reading and reciting to a late period, even till within a few weeks of her death, although her health had long been in a declining state. She died at length on the 8th of June last, after a few ħours of acute suffering. She had lived nearly seventy-six years, of which forty-six were spent in the constant presence and service of the public. She was an honour to her profession, which was more honoured and honourable in her
person and family than it ever was before, or will be hereafter, till the stage becomes something very different from what it now is.
And, since it has pleased the newspapers to lament over the misfortune of this celebrated woman, in having survived all her children, &c. &c. it may be interesting to add that, a short time before her death, she was seated in a room in her own house, when about thirty of her young relatives, children, grand-children, nephews and nieces were assembled, and looked on while they were dancing, with great and evident pleasure: and that her surviving daughter, Cecilia Siddons, who has been, for many years, the inseparable friend and companion of her mother, attended upon her with truly filial devotion and reverence to the last moment of existence. Her admirers may, therefore, console themselves with the idea that in “ love, obedience, troops of friends,” as well as affluence and fame, she had “ all that should accompany old age." She died full of years and honours; having enjoyed, in her long life, as much glory and prosperity as any mortal could expect: having imparted more intense and general pleasure than ever mortal did; and having paid the tribute of mortality in such suffering and sorrow as wait on the widowed wife and the bereaved mother. If, in the course of a professional career of unexampled continuance and splendour, the love of praise ever degenerated into the appetite for applause ;-if the habit of exciting and being excited became a mode of existence which wore away at last some of that simplicity of feeling and character which Dr. Johnson acknowledged and admired in her young days ;-if the worshipped actress languished out of her atmosphere of incense, is this to be made matter of wonder or of ill-natured comment ? Did ever any human being escape more intacte in person and mind from the fiery furnace of popular admiration? Let us remember the severity of the ordeal to which she was exposed; the hard lot of those who pass their lives in the full-noon glare of public observation, where every speck is noted ! What a difference too, between the aspiration after immortality and the pursuit of celebrity !—The noise of distant and future fame is like the sound of the far-off sea, and the mingled roll of its multitudinous waves, which, as it swells on the ear, elevates the soul with a sublime emotion ; but present and loud applause, Aung continually in one's face, is like the noisy dash of the surf upon the rock,--and it requires the firmness of the rock to bear it.
“ These are words that we should read like warnings,
Meekly, as fearing, if we had been tried,
It has been—it will be my fate-
grew up a neglected child :
The meanest floweret of the wild July. VOL. XXXII. NO. CXXVII.
Has far more culture and more care
I saw their smiles, but shared them not; And in the circle round the hearth
My very being seem'd forgot. They call'd me sullen, said my heart In natural fondness had no part; For that I sate apart from all, With cold cheek' turn'd to the dark wall. I hid my face-I could not bear It should be seen, while tears were there. “ I had a haunt, 'twas by the shade Wherein my mother's grave was made: It was a church-yard, small and lone, Without a monumental stone; But flowers were planted by each grave, Sweet, like the thoughts they seem'd to save From Time's forgetfulness—but one, One only, mid the sods had noneGrown with tall weeds, as if the wind Were the sole mourner it could find, And in its careless course had brought Whatever seeds its wild wings caught. And marvel you I had no pride To make that tomb like those beside? -Methought if there my hand should bring The sunny treasures of the spring, It would reproach my father's eye, That long had pass'd it careless by. “My melancholy childhood gone, Youth, with its dreamy time, came on; Affections long repress'd and chill'd, Days with their own vain fancies fill’d, Which haunt the heart-what soil was here For Love's wild growth of hope and fear? -It matters not my early tale, My heart was won, my will was frail; I knew I was not Evelyn's bride,But what to me the world beside ? One only voice was in my ear,
I only sought to meet one eye-
I knew that I could only die!
Faces, of which I knew not one;
I felt more than I ever felt
A stranger-utterly alone;
I spoke-it was to win his ear;
I only lived when he was near; His absence seem'd a void as deep, As dark as is a dreamless sleep. And was I happy?-no; still dread Hung like the sword above my head; My thoughts to other hopes would roamI kuew his home was not my home; I knew his name was not my name, And I felt insecure through shame. “ Still less it recks how, day by day, I saw the life of love decay ; The absent look, the careless word, The anger by a trifle stirr'd, And found that Evelyn's brow could be Harsh, though that brow was bent on me. -Brief be my tale, as was his loveHe, who had callid on heaven above To witness every vow he spokeMay it record the vow he broke! He loved another-calm and cold, He wrote farewell -and sent me gold. He came not-perhaps he could not bear To view what he had wrought-despair! “I thought that I would see his faceSecret I sought his dwelling-place, A villa, where the river strays I had been there in happier days: There was one room, whose windows led To where the turf its carpet spread, And shrubs and flowers a labyrinth wrought Of bud and leaf—that room I sought: 'Twas late-I scarce could find my path By the dim ray the starlight hath : A lamp was burning in the room, So faint it scarcely lit the gloom; Yet lovely seem'd the light—it fell Upon the face I loved so well. He'd Aung him on a couch to sleep
Ah! how unequal seem'd our share,
And he lay calmly slumbering there.