An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy

Letter XXI

March 25, 17--.

[p. 138] "Proceed and indulge yourself in any manner you please, whenever fancy prompts you to wander from the road of your history; for I read with inexpressible pleasure every part of your letters." -- Do you really write thus, my dear Madam? And does my humble attempt to afford you entertainment answer the intended purpose? It does, it does. You tell me so; and I know you are too sincere to flatter me. Thus encouraged, I will proceed. Nor shall one reluctant sigh at the length of the way which still lies before me, or a further fear of proving tiresome to you, escape me.

Notwithstanding the applause bestowed upon my theatrical talents by the people of Dublin, was an indubitable proof of my possessing no mean degree of merit, yet I was apprehensive (though naturally vain) that this was rather exaggerated by their partiality, and the support I received on account of my family from the higher ranks. I endeavoured therefore, by intense application, as I have already told you, to render them more justly deserving of the public approbation.

Mr. Garrick having about this time purchased a half-share of the patent of Drury-Lane theatre, and my success in Dublin having reached his ears, he wished to engage me for [p. 139] the ensuing season. And Mr. Delany, an actor then of the first rate, being obliged to visit Ireland to take possession of an estate left him by his mother, Mr. Garrick deputed him to make me an offer of ten pounds a week. This offer however I refused; and I acknowledge my indiscretion in so doing. I must here just observe, that the applause I met with in comedy was equal, if not superior, to that which was bestowed upon me when I played in tragedy. And by playing the character of Biddy in Miss in Her Teens1, I convinced the town, that I was no less qualified to perform in low than in genteel comedy.

I was abou this time informed that Mr. Quin had been so displeasd with me for my apparent ingratitude, that he had consented to be reconciled to Mrs. Cibber: and now bestowed that generous attention on her that I should otherwise have shared in. He had been greatly offended with that lady also, on account of her desertion from Covent-Garden theatre to Drury-Lane. She lay under as many obligations to him for real favours as I did for intentional ones; for she had not only been necessitated to accept of those of a pecuniary nature, but had been obliged to him for her re-establishment on the English stage, from whch she had been precluded, for some time, by the machinations of her husband. Her ingratitude was, notwithstanding, now obliterated from Mr. Quin's mind, and he took her once more under his protection.

p. 140] My refusal of Mr. Garrick's offer offended him so highly, that, it was said, he formed a resolution never to engage me upon any terms whatever. But the resolutions of managers are seldom considered as binding, when opposed by their interest. Self-interest, with them, as with the greatest part of mankind, is the grand moving principle. Pique, resentment, prejudice, in an instant dissolve before it. Even pride and arrogance bend submissive to it. It may therefore be truly said, however degrading the thought, to be the ruling passion of the human mind.

Just at this period an event happened, which, if it had been attended with the expected consequences, would have broken Mrs. O'Hara's heart, have greatly affectd the mind of my patroness, and have ruined my reputation for ever. One night, as I was performing the part of Lady Townley in The Provoked Husband2, I received a card from Mrs. Butler, wrote in a servant's hand, requesting me to come to her house as soon as I should be at liberty. As the note was delivered to me during the performance of the play, I had only leisure just to send verbally, with my compliments, that the fatigue of the evening would prevent me from being able to do myself that honour.

Had I attended to the circumstance of the card's being written by a servant, I must have been convinced that something was [p. 141] wrong; as my dear friend Miss Butler was always happy in seizing every occasion to write to me. It, however, passed unnoticed. Not long after, I received another note, informing me, that I must absolutely come the moment I had finished, and even without waiting to change my dress. So very pressing an invitation, I own excited my curiosity, and made me impatient for the conclusion of my business. I was to have played Miss Biddy in the entertainment; but the gentleman who was to have performed Fribble being suddenly taken ill, the after-piece was obliged to be changed; which enabled me to make my curtsey much sooner than I had reason to expect.

My task being done, I got into my chair in the same dress in which I had played the character of Lady Townley, and hastened away to Stephen's-Green. As the dess I wore was a modern one, there was no great impropriety in my appearing in it off the stage. Just as I entered one door of the parlour in which Mrs. Butler and her female visitors were, the Colonel, and several gentlemen, who had just risen from their bottle, were ushered in at the opposite one. The company was numerous; and the elegance o fmy dress attracted the attention of all the gentlemen; but not one of the ladies condescended to speak to me. Even the lady whose guest I as only deigned to welcome [p. 142] me on my entrance, with a formal declination of her head.

A reception so different from what I had been accustomed to in that hospitable mansion, not only surprised, but greatly shocked me. In this agitation of mind, I made up to Mrs. O'Hara, who was present, and requested she would inform me what was the occasion of it. The answer I received from her was, that a few minutes would determine whether she should ever notice me again. The coolness of her manner, whilst she uttered this, as I was conscious of my innocence, and my aunt must have been well assured of the sincerity of my heart, piqued my pride for a moment; but this emotion soon went off, and I assumed, at least in appearance, my usual tranquillity.

A gentleman now made his entree, whose figure, shape, dress, and address, exceeded every thing I had ever beheld before. The ladies notwithstanding, continued to look as serious and demure as a convocation of old maids met on purpose tt dissect the reputation of a giddy thoughtless young one. Nor did this beautiful stranger, with all his attractions, seem to be less neglected than myself. from being in such company, and in such a splendid dress, for my head was adorned with the jewels of my patroness, the gentleman might naturally conclude, that I was a person of quality. And as a young lady of distinction had lately taken an airing, [p. 143] on a moonlight night, with a noble lord, he imagined, in all probability, from the reserve with which he saw me received by the ladies, that I was the very identical girl who had made that faux pas, and who had now obtruded herself into the first circle in the kingdom. What other opinion could he form of me from the present appearance of things!

From this motive, or some other, his attention appeared to be fixed upon me, in preference to any of the other ladies; and he introduced hismelf to me with an air so easy and confident, that I knew immediately that he had travelled. He acquainted me, that he was just returned from taking the grand tour, and awas come to take possession of his estate, and settle for the remainder of his days in Ireland. We then entered into conversation on different subjects, in which I acquitted myself with more ease than I expected I could have done in a state of such suspence. My affected chearfulness was so well counterfeited, that it appeared to be real; and I kept up the ball with so much spirit, that my companion seemed to entertain a better opinion of me than he had done at first.

The test intended for the discovery of some dubious points, which will prseently be known, having now been carried on as long as necessary, Miss Butler was sent to put a stop to our tete a tete. When my Ganymede3, whose curiosity had been on tiptoe to find out who [p. 144] I was, went to the upper end of the room to make the needful inquiries of the lady of the house. Having in a whisper asked the question, Mrs. Butler answered ,aloud, "Surely, you must know her. I am certain you know her; nay, that you are well acquainted with her." The gentleman, not a little disconcerted at this want, in a lady of fashion, of what is usually termed du monde, that is, among other things, relying to a whisper in an audible voice; assured her, still in a low tone, that he had never seen me before, and now felt himself greatly interested in the enquiry. "Fye, fye, Mr. Medlicote," returned my patroness, "what can you say for yourself, when I inform you, that this is the dear girl whose character you so cruelly aspersed at dinner?"

I now plainly perceived, that this accomplished gentleman, vain of his attractive graces, had boasted, like too many others, of favours he had never received; not knowing that he did so in the presence of my best friends, that that there was a certainty of his false assertions being detected. The pencil of Hogarth4 alone could justly depicture the confusion of the gentleman at this discovery of his treachery; or of my petrifaction at finding myself the subject of his slander. It for some time totally deprived me of the use of every faculty. Till at length my patroness kindly relieved me from the situation in which I was [p. 145] absorbed. Coming up to me, she took me by the hand, and with a smile on her conntenance thus addressed me: "My dear child, you have gone through a fiery trial; but it was a very necessary one. This gentleman has vilely traduced your character. We were all perfectly convinced that you did not merit what he said of you; but had he seeny ou first at the theatre, instead of here, he would, doubtlessly have maintained his assertions with oaths, and there would then have been no possibility of contradiction then, however favourably we may have thought of you, notwithstanding. By the method we have pursued, though it has been somewhat irksome to you, his falsehoods have been so palpably disproved, as not to admit of the least palliation." Having said this, she embraced me in the most cordial manner. and as soon as I got from her embrace, I ran and threw myself into the arms of my dear aunt, who seemed to feel the utmwst satisfaction at my triumph.

As for my traducer, it may be supposed he did not long disgust us with his company. Charming and accomplished as he was, there did not appear to be a wish among us all to detain him -- How much more charming and accomplished would he have been, had truth spread her refulgent beams over those perfections with which nature in so bounteous [p. 146] a manner had favoured him! -- Of all human failings that of detraction is certainly one of the worst. The venom of the tongue is mo fatal in its consequences than the deadly poison of the asp. It not only proves destructive to individuals, but to the peace, and happiness of whole families. -- But its fatal effects are so pointedly and beautifully described by that great master of nature, Shakespeare5, in the following well-known passage, that were I to fill up a whole letter with the severest censures reason and experience could dictate, I should not be able to say the twentieth part of the tithe of what he has said in these few immortal lines:

Good name in man and woman
Is the immediate jewel of their souls;
Who steals my purse steals trash, 'tis
          something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to
But he that filches from me my good name,
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed."
G. A. B.

  1. Miss in Her Teens (1747) was a popular a farce by Garrick
  2. The Provoked Husband (1728, a comedy) represents a collaboration. Begun later in his playwriting career by John Vanbrugh (1664-1726) as A Journey to London, The Provoked Husband was completed and renamed by Colley Cibber (1671-1757), and became a frequently-performed play for the rest of the eighteenth-century.
  3. Ganymede was cupbearer to Jupiter (or Zeus); this reference gives an unconventional and (perhaps to Bellamy's sensibility) scurrilous sexual turn to the tete a tete. Mr. Medlicote is likened to a young man who was willing to make himself into a catonite to please the gods.
  4. The reference to the satirist William Hogarth (1697-1764) just below further condemns Medlicote as a scoundrel who should be caricatured.
  5. Othello, Act III, Scene V (Bellamy's note).

Contact Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated 8 April 2007