An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy

Letter XXVI

April 24, 17--

[p. 176] As the conclusion of my last letter was rather prolix, I shall enter on my story again, without any preamble to this. -- It will soon be seen that the apprehensions I entertained relative to my situation at the theatre were realized; and that the greatest error I had ever committed was the rejecting Mr. Garrick's offer. The next day I was informed that the Lord-Mayor had permitted Mr. Sheridan to open the theatre; but he was not allowed to perform till his trial with the persons who caused the riot was decided.

I am now about to mention an incident in my life, which relates to persons who have made a very conspicuous figure in the great world. As I was rerturning one day from rehearsal, at the bottom of Britain-Street, I heard the voice of distress. Yielding to an impulse of humanity, I oveleaped the bounds of good breeding, and entered the house from whence it proceeded. When I had done this, led by an irresistible attraction, I entered without ceremony the parlour, the door of which appeared to be guarded by persons not at all suited to those within. I here found a woman of most elegant figure, surrounded by four beauitful girls, and a sweet boy of about three years of age. After making the necessary apologies for my abrupt intrusion, I informed the lady, that as the lamentations of her little family had reached my ears as I passed [p. 177] by, I had taken the liberty of a neighbour to inquire if I could render her any service.

Mrs. Gunning, for that was the lady's name arose immediately from her seat,a nd calling me by my name, thanked me for the offer of my assistance, complimenting me at the same time, upon possessing such humane sensations. She then informed me, that having lived beyond their income, her husband had been obliged to retire into the country, to avoid the disagreeable consequences that must ensue. That she had been in hopes that her brother, Lord Mayor, listening to the dictates of fraternal affection, would not suffer a sister and her family to be reduced to distress; but that his Lordship remained inflexible to her repeated solicitations. The ill-looking men, I now found, had entered the house by virtue of an execution, and were preparing to turn her and her children out of doors.

Upon this, Mrs. Gunning and myself went up stairs to consult what was best to be done in so disagreeable a predicament. We there determined that I should return home, and send my man-servant, who was to wait under the window of the drawing-roolm, in the evening, and bring to my house every thing that could be thrown to him. It was further agreed, that as my mother and I had more room than we could conveniently occupy, the children and their servant should remain with us, whilst she went to her husband to assist him in settling his affairs. The whole of our plan [p. 178] being carried into execution, Miss Burke, Mrs. Gunning's sister, a lady of exemplary piety, who had passed her probation in the community of Channel-Row, sent shortly after for the two youngest girls, and the two eldest wre permitted, to my great pleasure, to remain at our house. As the beauty of these ladies has since made so much noise in the world, and has been so recently imprinted on the memory of every rank, it will be unnecessary here to give a description of them. I shall, therefore, only observe, that the eldest, Maria, the late Countes of Coventry, was all life and spirits; and that Miss Betty, the younger, now Dutchess of Argyll, &c. &c. with a longer train of noble titles than perhaps ever woman enjoyed before her, was more reserved and solid.

Here let me stop to bestow a remark once more on the strange vicissitudes of this sublunary state! Innumerable are the instances to be found in history, and many happen withit our own observations, of the rise and fall of families. Some we see, whose honours and affluence appear to be founded on so broad and permanent a basis, that neither the tie nor accident can affect hem; and yet in a few short years, undermined by unforeseen and unavoidable events, they dissolve away, and like "the baseless fabrick of a vision leave, no a rack behind." Whilst others, from being environed with [p. 179] distress; apprehensive of the approach of penury; and early a prey to despair; through incidents equally unaccountable and sudden, the darksome clouds all cleared away, find themselves exalted to a state of splendour, with the hopes of whch the most luxuriant sallies of their imagination could not have flattered them. Permit me to detain you a moment longer, whilst I just add, by way of illustration, that the very first page of history presents us with a memorable instance of the instability of human happiness in the fate of the first created pair. From the never-ceasing and inexpressible joys of paradise, where every wish was anticipated, and pleasures, real and lasting, grew spontaneously, did our great progenitors find themsevlews driven into a world of care, afflection, and uncertainy, there to earn, by a life of labour and toil, a precarious subsistence. What a heart-rending reverse to this once happy pair!

This seaons Mr. Woodward, an actor of the first merit in comedy, came to Dublin, and joined our company. About the same time Mr. Foote1 arrived to give tea, as he termed his exhibition; which consisted of mimickry, wherein he imitated or took off the voice and manner of most of the performers in England and Ireland. I never could find out what analogy there was between tea and the talent of mimickry. But as our modern Aristophanes was, undoubtedly, a man of learning as well [p. 180] as of wit and humour, there must be a propriety in his adopting the apellation, though it lies beyond the reach of my weak intellect.

Mr. Sheridan being now permitted again to tread the stage, some of the apprehensions which had been the cause of my uneasiness began to be realized. He played, as I had aprpehended, the character of Antony. But, oh! what a falling off was here! Instead of the silver-toned voice and bewitching figure of a Barry, which used to enchant the audience, formality and monotonous declamation presented itelf. The difference was to conspicuous to escape the observation of the public. And every one regretted the loss of his powers in the part of Ventidius, wherein, as I have before observed, he was truly capital; as indeed he was in all sententious characters. To render, however, the piece as pleasing as possible, a dance of gladiators was introduced, as an entertainment to the enamoured queen. To add to my distress during my performing the part of Cleopatra, Mrs. Kennedy happened unfortunately to have a ragged tail to her dress, pulled upon the stage after her the half of a kettle drum. Alarmed at hearing so uncommon an noise, I turned about, whilst in the warmth of my inquiry after my much-loved hero, and seeing the droll circumstances that occasioned it, I could not refrain from bursting into a loud fit of laughter, in which the audience joined me. Nor could I compose [p. 181] my countenance till the asp had finished my night's duty.

As there was soin an essential difference in the receipts of the house from what they had been during the last seaon, I was desired by the manager to give orders to all the young ladies of my acquaintance that would condescend to accept of them. In consequence of this desire, scarcely a n ight passsed on which I did not grant an introduction to several with whom I had formed an intimacy at Mrs. Kendall's assembly, as well as my two lovely visitants.

Mr. Woodward being attacked by Foote in his humourous exhibition, got up, in his defense, a piece, which he termed, "Tit for Tat, or a Dish of Chocolate." This was attended with such success, that his rival, being defeated at his own weapons, left the field to his opponent, and precipitately retired to the Haymarket-Theater. When the benefits commenced, Mr. Woodward, exclusive of his agreeement with the manager, received ten guineas a night from each performer, at whose benefit the piece just mentioned was acted.

When I first made my appearance at Covent-Garden-Theatre, this gentleman had solicited my hand. A refual being given, we were not, from that time, on the best terms. Resentment, however giving way to interest, he was very happy to have a tolerable Actess perform with him. The Careless Husband2 was revived. His Lord Foppington was, as [p. 182] usual, justly admired. Nor did I fail of applause in Lady Betty Modish. I wish I could say as much of the manager. He played the character of Sir Charles Easy; but it would, I think, have been more a-propos, if the syllable un ahd been prefixed to the last word, and the baronet's name had been Sir Charles Uneasy; so aukwardly did the part sit on the performer of it. The character of this play were dressed, by direction of Mr. Sheridan, in the manufactory of Ireland, which he judiciously thought, would increase at once his popularity and receipts.

The season drawing to a conclusion, my mother, at my request, determined to return to England. And this resolution was accelerated by the treasurer of the theatre bringing in my account, with a charge of seventy-five pounds for orders. As it was at the express desire of the manager, that these orders were issued, I could by no means admit of such an imposition. A dispute consequently ensured between Mr. Sheridan and myself, when I absolutely refused to play any more. Mr. Victor the treasurer ,however, came to me, the next day, with the balance of my account, offering to pay me the whole sum, if I would enter into a fresh engagement. But the illiberal treatment I received upon this occasion from the manger would have induced me to withhold my consent, had not the reasons alleged added their weight to fix me in the performance of my resolution.

[p. 183] Before my departure, I took leave of all my acquaintance. A painful task to a susceptible mind! Mrs. O'Hara pressed me to her bosom with her most affectionate warmth; and we did not part without many tears. My dear and honoured patroness, together with her much-loved daughter, shewed the tenderest concern at losing me; and the pain I felt upon the occasion was equal to their own. They, as well as my aunt, made me some considerable presents. The separation from such invaluable friends, for such they were in the strictest sense of the word, would not have been so pungent, had there been a probability of my seeing either my aunt or Mrs. Butler again. From the age and infirmities of the former it was not to be expected. And the illness of the latter, though lingering, was pronounced to be fatal.

One inducement for hastening our departure was, that Lord Tyrawley was returned form his embassy at Russia, and was coming to Dublin to pay the last duties to his siter, Mrs. O'Hara. My mother seemed to regret nothing so much as leaving Mr. Crump; for who, from the intimacy that had subsisted between them, she entertained great respect. Upon our return, that gentleman advised her to lay out what money she had saved, which was no inconsiderable sum, in Irish linens. This she did, and found it turn out to advantage.

The friendship I had entertained of my two lovely visitors was now increased to the [p. 184] tenderest affection. If there was any difference, it was in favour of the elder, whose disposition more nearly resembled my own; and from whom I felt it the most painful to part. This partiality created no little jealousy in the bosom of Miss Butler, who claimed the first place in my heart, from the priority of our acquaintance. And to an indifferent person, the letters I received from her, upon that occasion, would appear to have been dictated by the green-eyed monster himself. But that young lady was soon convinced of the permanency of my attachment to her. And though I have not had the pleasure of seeing her for many years, it still continues unabated.

G. A. B.

  1. Samuel Foote), (1720-1777), dramatist, actor, and theatre manager.
  2. The Careless Husband (1704) is a comedy by Colley Cibber. The hero, Sir Charles Easy, is carelessly brutal to women.

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