An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy

Letter XIX

March 12, 17--.

[p. 118] The theatre opened with eclat -- But hold, I must first give way to an impulse I cannot resist, and write an exordium in this letter, in which several great men in their professional line are to make their appearance. Though apparently digressive from my history, yet it may perhaps tend to further the puropse of it, which is to mingle instruction with amusement. -- It is by industry and application alone a person can arrive at eminence in any profession. Though natural genius is the most essential quality towards the attainment of every art or science, yet genius unassisted by cultivation can never reach perfection. Intense study and close application are absolutely needful (save in a few instances) to form the truly great; and if the private life of all the great men who have rendered themselves famous in any branch of knowledge, were to pass in review before us, we should find that these have not been wanting towards the acquisition of their fame. The following beautiful lines of the inimitable Spencer convey [p. 119] this document with irresistible force, and should be always imprinted on the mind of every son and daughter of genius.

"Abroad in arms, at home in studious kind,
Who seeks with painful toil, shall Honour
          soonest find.
In woods, in waves, in wars, she's wont to
And will be found with peril and with pain,
Nor can the man that moulds in idle cell,
Unto her happy mansion e'er attain.
Before her gate High God did sweat ordain,
And wakeful watches ever to abide:
But easy is the way, and passage plain,
To Pleasure's palace; it may soon be spy'd
And day and night her doors to all stand
          open wide."

I shall only add (not that I mean to rate myself among the great) that what merit I acquired as an actress, although I found time to keep up an acquaintance in the genteel circle just mentioned, was not acquired without close application.

But to proceed -- The theatre opened with eclat. And what was very fortunate for me, [p. 120] the Earl of Chesterfield was at that time Viceroy. Mr. Barry made made some figure on the stage the preceding winter, in the character of Othello; and upon my being engaged, the manager wrote to him to study that of Castalio, as he proposed that I should early appear in The Orphan. To add to our success, Mr. Garrick joined the company this season. Having some dispute with the proprietor of Drury-Lane-Theatre, and Mr. Rich declining to give him the terms he required, he came to Dublin. Three such capital performers as Garrick, Sheridan, and Barry, in one company, was a circumstance that had scarely ever happened.

The two first, Mr. Garrick and Mr. Sheridan, agreed to play Shakespear's characters alternately, and to unite their strength in every performance. In The Orphan, Garrick performed Chamont; Barry, Castalio; and Sheridan Polydore. In The Fair Penitent, Sheridan played Horatio, Garrick Lotherario; and Barry, Altamont The latter character was played so capitally by Mr. Barry, that this part seemed as consequential as either of the others. I was obliged to appear almost everyrnight and sometimes in characrters very unfit for me. The great applause that I received, however, spurred me on, and excited in me the strongest endaavours to deserve it. And that I might at once pay proper attention to the [p. 121] duties of my profession, and have time to enjoy the society of my new friends, I scarcely allowed myself even that portion of the rest which nature requires. A good constitution, however, and inexaustible spirits, enabled me to go through the season.

After some time, the tragedy of King John was proposed, wherein Roscius and the manager were to appear together, and play alternately the King and the Bastard. Upon this occasion Mr. Sheridan insisted on my playing Constance; whilst Mr Garrick would objected to it, as there would be no person to play Prince Arthur, but the late Mrs. Kennedy, at that time Miss Orpheur, who was nearly of the same age as myslf, and from being hard-favoured, looked much older.

Upon Mr. Garrick's absolute rejection of my appearance in the character, on which I had set my heart, and for the performance of which I had stipulated in my articles, I flew to my patroness Mrs. Butler, to complain of the breach of them. Notwithstanding her partiality for Mr. Garrick, so highly did I stand in her favour, that she immediately sent round to all her friends, to request they would not go to the play the evening it was performed. Besides the consequence of family and fortune, this lady possessed very great power in the genteel world. To this may be added, that as she [p. 122] frequently gave balls, all young ladies that were usually invited, were always ready to oblige her in any request of hrtis nature, to insure themselves a place at those entertainments. And every one of the these readily obeyed, and spread abroad her injunctions. The house on the night King John was performed for teh first time was, of course, very thin. The receipts did not amount to forty pounds.

This was the first theatrical humiliation the immortal Roscius ever met with; and he severely repented preferrring Mrs .Furnival, who played the character of Constance, to my little self. But what completed my trimph was, that when the same play was again performed, and Mr. Sheridan played the King; Garrick, the Bastard; and myself Constance; more people were turned away than could get places; and the dispute relative to the characters which had lately happened, made the auidience receive me with the warmest marks of approbation.

But notwithstanding this success, I was determined to return the mortification Mr. Garrick had been the cause of to me, the very first opportunity that presented itself; and it was not long before one offered. This LITTLE great man was to have two benefits during the season; and that they might not come too near each other, it was agreed that he should have one of them early in it. He [p. 123] had fixed on Jane Shore, for his first benefit. And on application being made to me to perform that character, I absolutely refused it, alledging the objection he had made to my playing Constance, namely my youth. Finding that entreaties were ineffectual, he prevailed on Mrs. Butler to make use of her interest with me; sensible that I could not refuse the solicitations of a lady to whom I was bound not only by the ties of gratitude, but those of policy. And whilst he made this application, that he might leave no method of obtaining my consent untried, he wrotre me a note at the same time, which occasioned the following laughable incident, and furnished conversation for the whole city of Dublin.

In his note he informed me,

"that if I would oblige him, he would write me a goody goody epilogue; which, with the help of my eyes, should do more mischief than ever the flesh or the devil had done since the world began."

This ridiculous epistle he directed "To my soul's idol, the beautified Ophelia;" and delivered it to his servant, with orders to bring it to me. But the fellow having some more agreeable amusement to pursue than going on his master's errands, he gave it to a porter in the street, without having attended to the curious direction that was on it. The porter, upon reading the subscription, and not knowing throughout [p. 124] the whole city of Dublin, any lady of quality, who bore the title either of "My Soul's Idol," or "The beautiful Ophelia," naturally concluded that it was intended to answer some jocular purpose. He accordingly carried it to his master, who happened to be a newsman; and by his means it got the next day into the public prints. The inditer of this high-flown epistle, it must be suposed, was not a little mortified at its publication. Nor was my mother who was always awake for my reputation, without her alarms, left it should injure my character; but that, thank Heaven, was too well established, to be endangered by so ridiculous an accident.

"No man is wise at all hours," says the proverb. And never was this adage more completely verified than in the foregoing anecdote. That such silly goody goody stuff, as his epistle contained, should ever fall from the immortal pen of the immortal Roscius, even in the most careless and relaxed moment, "was strange, was passing strange." Fortune seems to have taken advantage of the writer's momentary imbecility, and at once to correct him for it, and to caution him against the indulgence of such trivial affected humour -- such an apology for wit -- in future, contrived matters so that it would be made public.

[p. 125] With such a company, it must reasonably be supposed, that the season turned out very lucrative to Mr. Garrick and to Mr. Sheidan. What the emoluments of Roscius were, I do not recollect, but it was reported that they were almost incredible.

After a reconciliation between Mr. Garrick and myself had been effected, he visited much oftener at Colonel Butler's than usual. The Colonel had a seat on the sea-coast not many miles from Dublin; and my mother thnking that bathing in the sea would be of great benefit to my health, she took a furnished house at the sheds of Clontarf, for that purpose. She fixed on this spot, that I might at the same time be near my much loved companion, Miss Butler; between whom and myself, as inseparable a connection had taken place, as if it had been cemented by the ties of blood. To such an extravagant height was our regard for each other carried, that nowithstanding we usually met at dinner, and spent the remainder of the day together, I had generally an epistle or two before that hour arrived. -- Sweet is the union which exists beween two young persons of the same sex, and of delicate and suspceptible minds, at our time of life. Unembittered by the turbulent desires and anxious cares of love, all is joy, deight, and pleasing expectation. The way is strewed with flowers, and not a thistle rears its head to wound the lightly-tripping foot.

[p. 126] At the conclusion of the season, Mr. Garrick prepared to return to England, with the rich harvest that had crowned his toils. Mrs. Butler, who had a taste for wit, was as fond of his company as her amiable daugher was of mine. Indeed it was not without reason she was so; for I know very pfew whose company was to be courted in preference to Mr. Garrick's, when he endeavoured to please. The folliwng whimsical manoeuvre of Mrs. Butler's will shew that her- fancy was sometimes as sportive, and her saitre as keen, as that of her witty guest.

Some days before Mr. Garrick's departure for England, as Mrs. Butler, her daughter, myself, and some other company, were walking on the terrace, we had the satistion to see the much admired hero come galloping up to house. He soon joined us; and to the great regret of us all, particularly Mrs Butler, announced his intension of leaving Dublin the next day. Whilest we were engaged in conversation, the lady of the house went away abruptly; but soon returned, bearing in her hand a sealed pocket, which she delivered to Roscius, thus aiding him at the same time. "I here present you, Mr. Garrick, with something more valuable than life. In it you will read my sentiments; but I strictly enjoin you not to open it till you have [p. 127] passed the Hill of Howth." We all looked surprised at this extraordinary presentation, especially Colonel Butler's chaplain, who was one of the party. As the lady inclined somewhat to prudery, and had always appeared to be governed by the most rigid rules of virtue, we could none of us guess the purport of the persent, though her conduct seemed to admit of a doubtful interpretation. But Garrick, who was as conscious of possessing nature's liberal gifts as any man breathing, took the packet with a significant graceful air; concluding, without hesitation, that it contained, not only a valuable present (the giver having the power, as well as the disposition, to be generous) but a declaration of such tender sentiments, as her virtue would not permit her to make known to him whilst he reamined in the kingdom.

After dinner Mr. Garrick took his leave; and he was no sooner departed, than Mr. Butler informed the company, that the contents of the valuable packet with which she had presented her visitor, were nothing more than Welsey's Hymns, and Dean Swift's Discourse on the Trinity, adding, that he would have leisure during his voyage, to study the one, and to digest the other. You may be assured that we all enjoyed the joke. As for my own part, I could scarcely keep my risible faculties in any order, when my imaginaton presented to me Garrick's disappointment [p. 128] at finding the contents of the packet so very different from what he had concluded them to be. I must inform you, that at our next meeting, Mr. Garrick acquainted me, that upon opening the packet and seeing what it contained, he was so much chagrined, that instead of benefiting by the Christinan precepts to be found therein, he, in the most Heathenish manner, offered them up a sacrifice to Neptune. In plain English, he threw both Mr. Wesley and the Dean cheek-by-jowl, into the sea. -- A more heterogeneous union certainly never took place.

Permit me just to add, that the happy manner inwhich I spent my time in this terrestrial paradise, and with such agreeable company, so much increased the pace of the old gentleman with the scythe and looking-glass, that he tripped along through days, weeks, and months, as nymble as a dryad; and that the summer passed imperceptibly away.

G. A. B.

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