An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy

Letter VII.

London, Nov. 5, 17--.

[p. 41] How blind are mortals to the future! and from what trivial and apparently accidental circumstances do the success or misfortunes of our lives originate! to intend for the best is all that lies in our power; the event depends on "that unseen hand which makes all our moves." Thus my imprudent removal from the protection of the noble patroness to whose care I had [p. 41] been committed by Lord Tyrawley, though the motive ws insome measure alloweable, as it proceeded from filial affection, laid the foundation of all those errors and subsequent misfortunes which have been my lot -- But to proceed with my narrative --

My mother had contracted an intimacy of the most friendly nature of a lady who was lately arrived from the East-Indies, where her husand was then a governor. This lady, whose name was Jackson, had come to England for the education of her two daughters, and resided in Montpelier Row, Twickenham, on account of her ill state of health. She was generous to excess; a propensity which her husband enabled her to indulge, by allowing her a very considerable income. An illness prevented her from going out, or seeing much company, she invited my mother to pass the summer with her. My mother accepted the invitation, and at the conclusion of the season at the theatre, took me down with her. Upon our arrival I was introduced to the young ladies, who were about my own age, and who seemed to vie with each other to gain the first place my affectons.

As were walking out one evening, we were overtaken by the celebrated Mrs. Woffington.1 Having been at the same theatre in Dublin with my mother, she politely [p. 43] saluted her, and seemed desirous of renewing the acquaintance which had once subsisted between them. My mother shewing no reluctance on her part, Mrs. Woffington gave her a pressing invitation to spend some time with her at her house at Teddington, whither she was then going; and desired her to bring me with her.

Some unexpected company coming down soon after, to visit Mrs. Jackson, we took that opportunity to accept the invitation Mrs. Woffington had given us. During our stay at her sister's, I became acquainted with Mr. Sheridan, a celebrated actor, and a competitor of the incomparable Garrick. This gentleman invited us to his apartments, which were generally crowded with Irish gentlemen from the college of Dublin. Roscius2 at this time, languished to be reconciled to Mrs Woffington, with whom he had formerly lived upon terms of intimacy. For this purpose he obtruded imself in the house of a gentleman at Kingston, of whose talents, which were great, he was jealous to a degree, though they lay in a different line of acting. Mr. Sheridan's hospitality3 was as well known as Garrick's parsimony of which the latter condescended to avail himself. I flatter myself I shall be credited in this assertion, as I declare I have no reason to be partial to the former, as will appear in the course of the ensuing letters.

[p. 44] The general topic of conversation among my present associates was confined to theatrical affairs; with which I was totally unacquainted till I was introduced into this circle. The charms of novelty, however, rendered it agreeable. Whilst we staid here, it was agreed on to perform the tragedy of the Distressed Mother,4 in order to make trial of Miss Polly Woffington's abilities, who was intended by her sister for the stage. My mother and Mrs. Woffington played the attendants; Mr Garrick, Orestes; Mr Sullivan, a Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, Pyrrhus; Miss Woffington, Hermione; and Andromache fell to my lot.

In this performance, though my first, Mr. Garrick observed that I was much more in earnest than the young lady who had beem accustomed to theatrical amusements. And though I was inferior in beauty to my fair rival, and without the advantages of dress, which she enjoyed, yet the laurel was bestowed upon me. All the people of fashion in the neighbourhood honoured our barn with their presence. Among these was the late Sir Willam Young, who gave it as his opinion that I should make a figure in a capital line, if ever I came upon the stage.

Upon our return to Twickenham, we found our good friend Mrs. Jackson so much indisposed that her life was despaired of. However, through my mother's care, and a [p. 45] favourable crisis in her disorder, she was in a short time out of danger. But the air of the country being judged by her physicians to be too keen for her, she took a house in Henrietta-Street, Covent Garden: where my mother, who had now declined a profession she had never been calculated for, was easily prevailed upon to become her guest.

About this time a letter was received by Du Vall from Lord Tyrawley, in answer to one he had wrote him, in which his Lordshiop not only declared he would not allow me any support, but renounced me for ever. So highly was he exasperated against me for disregarding his injunctions.. As I loved his lordship superior to the whole world, this letter harrowed up my very soul. Nor did it give much less anguish to my poor mother; who now became sensible of her indiscretion in having induced me to leave so eligible a situation as his lordship had placed me in, and thereby forfeit his favour, merely to procure herself a temporary relief.5 We were, however, obliged to submit, and resign ourselves to that fate which could not now be averted. -- I have often thought since, as I have pondered o'er my misfortunes, that we owe the greatest part of the miseries we experience to our impatience. Not patient enough to let the signs of Providence, even when they appear to be in a favourable train, regularly and graduully develop, we fancy [p. 44]

[p. 46] we can get possessoin of the object we have in view by a shorter method; and having through our want of discernment broke one of the links of the chain, the wished for happiness is gone for ever.

Forgive me, my dear Madam, for interpersing here and there these moral relfections. They at once give ease to my mind, and when they shall reach the public eye, may prove serviceable to the weaker sex; which may probably be admtted as some atonement for the errors that have occasioned them.6

My mother having a long account to settle with Mr. Rich,6 the salaries at that time not being very regularly paid, she had frequent occasions for calling at his house. And as I had contracted an intimacy with the young ladies, his daughers, to whom I had been introduced before we went into the country, I was happy to attend my mother whenever she went.

One evening, as I was upon a visit there, we agreed among ourselves to act Othello. They lent me the play, that I mght learn my part, which was to be that of Othello, and promised me, as it was soon to be performed at the theatre, a seat in their box to see it. When we were perfect in the words, we began to rehearse. During the rehearsal, as we were only playing for our own amusement, and I concluded we were not overheard, [p. 47] I gave free scope to my fancy and my voice; and I really believe our preformance was more perfect, as it was truly natural, than if it had been aided with the studied graces of the professors.

As I was raving in all the extremity of jealous madness, Mr. Rich acidentally passed by the room in which we were rehearsing. Attracted, as he afterwards said, by the powerful sweetness of the Moor's voice, which he declared to be superior to any he had ever heard, he listened without interrupting our performance; but as soon as it was concluded, he entered the room, and paid me a thousand compliments on my theatrical abilties. Among other things he said, that in his opinion I should make one of the first actresses in the world; adding that if I could turn any thought to the stage, he should be happy to engage me.

Not a little vain of receiving these enomiums from a person, who from his situation must be a competent judge, I went home and informed my mother of what had happened. At first she was averse to my accepting the proposal, having experienced herself all the disadvantages attendant on a theatrical life; but Mrs. Jackson uniting her persuasions with those of Mr. Rich, she at length consented. She, however, complied only on condition that the manager would assure her of his supporting me in a capital line. This Mr. Rich agreed to do; and that the more readily,as [p. 48] in his opinion, the ladies beloning to his theater were not altogether suited either for the characters of young heroines in tragedy, or of sprightly girls in genteel comedy. Mrs. Horton had nothing but a beautiful face to recommend her; Mrs. Pritchard's forte lay in a different walk; and Mrs. Clive's merit was always so unrivalled, that whatever I can say in praise of that darling daughter of Thalia, will not equal her desert7.

Here, as I am now arrived at another principal aera in my life, that of my entrance into the theatrical world, permit me, Madam, to give a little respite to my aching fingers.

G. A. B

  1. Margaret Woffington (1720-1760), a well-known actress of the era, would as another actress know Bellamy's mother.
  2. Familiar nickname for David Garrick (17770-1779). The name of a famed Roman actor, Quintus Roscius Gallus. George Anne Bellamy and David Garrick did have many conflicts.
  3. Thomas Sheridan (1719-1788) was an actor and managed a theatre company; his wife, Frances Chamberlayne Sheridan (1724-1766), wrote The Memoirs of Sidney Biddulph, and plays; their son was Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816), playwright and politician.
  4. The Distressed Mother by Ambrose Philips (1674-1749) is a free translation of Racine's Andromache. It was a very popular play on the English stage. See Paul E. Parnell, "The Distrest Mother, Ambrose Philips' Morality Play," Comparative Literature, 11: 2 (1959): 111-123, Autrey Nell Wiley, "Female Prologues and Epilogues in English Plays," PMLA, 48:4 (1933): 1060-1079.
  5. Not too much can be made of Bellamy's continual way of referring to her father as his lordship rather than her father, but it is nonetheless clear he is ridding himself of her to hurt her mother to the nth degree. The rationale would be that by associating with an actress, his daughter's reputation for chastity declines, and he cannot use her to make advantageous alliances. This is just the sort of added explanation and reflection that has been attributed to Alexander Bicknell. See Introductory note to the text.
  6. John Rich (1682-1761), an important theatre manager in 18th century London. He will play an important role in Bellamy's professional life.
  7. Catherine Clive (1711/6-1785) had a secure reputation.

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