An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy

Letter VIII.

London, Nov 21, 17--.

[p. 48] I sit down once more, Madam, to continue my narrative. My entrance on my theatrical career is, if I recollect, to be the contents of this letter.

At the time I entered into an agreement with Mr. Rich, I was just fourten; of a figure not inelegant, a powerflu voice, light as the gossamer, of inexhaustible spirits, and possessed of some humour. From these qualifications he formed the most sanguine hopes of my success, and determined that I should immediately make trial of them. I had perfected myseelf in the two characters of Monimia and Athenais, and according to my own judgment had made no inconsiderable proficiency in them. The former was fixed on for my first appearance.

Mr. Rich now thought it time to introduce me to Mr. Quin, then the most capital performer at Covent-Garden; and capital he was, indeed, in those characters which his figure suited.1 This gentleman, at that period, governed the theatre with a rod of iron. Mr. Rich, though the proprietor, was, through his indolence, a mere cypher. He was, however, when he had resolved on any thing, the most determined of men. After waiting some time at the door of the liion's den, as the people of the theatre had denominated Mr. Quin's dressing-room, we were at length admitted. It is necessary here to observe, that this gentleman never condescended to enter the Green-Room, or to mix with the other performers, all of whom he was unacquainted with, except Mr. Ryan, for whom he entertained a particular friendship, which lasted till Mr. Ryan's death.

He no sooner heard Mr. Rich propose my appearing in the character of Monimia, then with the most sovereign contempt, he cried out, "It will not do, Sir." Upon which, the manager, to his infinite surprise, [p. 50] replied, "It shall do, Sir." I was so frightened at Mr. Quin's austere deportment, that had he requested me to give him a specimen of my abiliites, it would not have been in my power. But he held me too cheap to put me to the trial. After somw further altercation had passed, which was not much in my favour, Mr.Quin at last deigned to look at me, saying, at the same time, "Child, I would advise you to play Serina, before you think of Monimia." This sarcasm roused my spirits, which before were much sunk, and I pertly replied, "If I did, Sir, I should never live to play the Orphan."2

Sill, however, he insisted on the impropriety of a child's attempting a character of such importance. But the real cause seemed to be, that he was conscious he himself could play the character of young Chamont with very little propriety; as neither his age nor figure by any means suited it, and as Mr. Garrick had gained so much reputation in the character. He concluded with saying, if Mr. Rich persisted in such an absurd resolution, he would publicly delcare his sentiments upon the subject; and further, that he would not attend the rehearsals; being persuaded the manager would severely repent his having countenanced so improper an exhibition.

It may be supposed that this conversation was not very pleasing to me. As for Mr. Rich, the opposition he met with, seemed to [p. 51] increase his resolution; and taking me by the hand, he led me out of the Dressing Room, assuring me aloud, that, let who would oppose, he would protect me; and would let every one in the company know that he would be the Master of it, when he chose to be at the trouble. Before he quitted the scene, he ordered the prompter to call a rehearsal of The Orphan the next morning. When that hour arrived, the two gentlemen who were to play my lovers, Castalio and Polydore, in order to pay their court to Mr. Quin, did not think proper to appear. Mr. Rich, however, to convince them he would be obeyed, fined them more than the usual mulct. Even Serina, who was only an attendant upon tragedy Queens, smiled contemptuously on the poor Orphan.

Mr. Rich kindly endeavoured, by every means in his power, to support me under this mortifying opposition; and he took a very effectual method of doing it. The dresses of the theatrical ladies were at this period very indifferent. The Empresses and Queens were confined to black velvet, except on extraordinary occasions, when they put on an embroidered or tissue petticoat. The young ladies generally appeared in a cast gown of some person of quality; and as at this epoch the women of that denomination were not blest with the taste of the present age, and had much more oeconomy, the stage brides and [p. 52] virgins often made their appearance in altered habits, rather soiled. As the manager had in his juvenile days made the fair sex his principal study, and found the love of dress their darling foible, he concluded that, as a true daugher of Eve, I was not exempt from it. He therefore thought there could be no better method of putting me in a good humour with myself, and compensating for the affronts I had lately received, than by taking me to his mercer's, and permitting me to choose the clothes I was to appear in. A circumstance which evinced his partiality, as he had always been unwilling to indulge even his first performers in this point.

The following morning Castalio and Polydore attended the rehearsal, but my brother Chamont was inexorable. Mr Hale mumbled over Castalio, and Mr. Ryan whistled Polydore. This gentleman, from the accident of having been shot in the mouth by ruffians, had a tremor in his voice, which, till you were accustomed to it, was very disagreeable. But from his utliity in playing every night, the discordance of it grew familiar to the ear, and was not so displeasing. I have often heard Mr. Garrick say, that the greatet part of his merit in the character of Richard, aroses form the observations he had made on Mr. Ryan's manner of playing it.

Having an opportunity of seeing the piece performed at Drury-Lane-Theatre the nght before my appearance, it made me more acquainted [p. 53] with the jeu de theatre than twenty rehearsals would have done. The public, who always incline to the humane side, and epouse the cause of the injured, as soon as the treatment I met with was known, took umbrage at what they termed illiberal proceeding towards a young actesss, and I believe in the end, the opposition that was formedagainst me was of advantage to me. I own I was somewhat alarmed, when I reflected on my presumption in appearing in so capital a character after the inimitable Mrs. Cibber3.

At length the deadful evening arrived. -- but as so interesing an event, the bare recollection of which I still tremble at, surely deserves to be recorded in a letter by itself, I shall here put an end to this.

G. A. B.

  1. James Quinn (1693-1766), was a well-known celebrated actor of the era. Although shaped by Victorian attitudes, the chapters about Quinn in John Doran's Annals of the English Stage, introd. R. H. Stoddard (New York: 1880):2:319-50, 391-404, gives the reader a real sense of the man's character and his rivalries with Garrick, Barry, and some of the actresses of the age (Mrs Porter, Mrs Cibber).
  2. Serina and Monimia are characters in Thomas Otway's The Orphan (1680) Susanna Maria Arne Cibber (1714-1766), another well-known respected actress.

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