An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy

Letter IX

London, Nov 27, 17--.

[p. 53] The dreaded evening at length arrived. Previous to it, Mr. Quin, having in all companies declared it as his opinion, that I should not succeed; and Mr. Rich, on the contrary, having been as lavish in my praises the public curiosity was much more excited, than if there hased been no contention about me. The curtain drew up to a splendid audience, which seldom happened at Covent-Garden-Theatre, except when a new or revived pantomime was represented.

[p. 54] It is impossible to describe my sensations on my fist entrance. I as so much dazzled by the lights, and stunned by the repeated plaudits, that I was for some time deprived both of memory and voice. I stood like a statue. Till compassion for my youth, and probably some prepossession for my figure, and dress, which was simply elegant, a circumstance not very customary, induced a gentleman, who was dictator to the pit, and therefore ludicrously denominated Mr. Town1, to call out, and order the curtain to be dropped, till I could recover my confusion.

This caused Mr. Quin to excult so much, that Mr. Rich entreated me in the most earnest manner to exert my powers. But his entreaties were ineffectual. For when I made the next attempt, my apprehensions so totally overpowered me, that I could scarcely be heard in the side-boxes. The applause, indeed, was so universal, during the first act, for what did not reach the ears of the audience, that had I possessed my full powers of exertion, they could not have profited by them.

The manager having pledged himself for my success, he had planted all his friends in different parts of the house, to insure it. But when he found that I was unable to raise my spirits, he was as distracted as if his own fate, and that of his theater, had depended upon it.

[p. 55] He once more had recourse to persuasion and encouragement; but nothing could rouse me from my stupidity till the fourth act. This was the critical period which was to dertermine my fate. By this criterion was I, as an actess, to stand or fall. When, to the astonishment of the auidence, the surprise of th eperformers, and the exultation of the manager, I felt myself suddenly inspired. I blazed out at once with meridian splendour; and I acquitted myself throughout the whole of this most arduous part of the pcharacter, in which even many veterans have failed with the greatesy eclat.

Mr Quinn was so fascinated (as he expressed himself) at this unexpected exertion that he waited behind the scenes till the conclusion of the act; when lifting me upfrom the ground in a transport, he exclaimed aloud, "Thou art a divine creature, and the true spirit is in thee." The audience, likewise, honoured me with the highest marks of their approbation. As for Mr. Rich, he expressed as much triumph upon this occasion, as he usually did on the success of one of his darling pantomimes.

The performers, who, half an hour before, had looked upon me as an object of pity, now crowded around me to load me with compliments of gratulation. And Mr. Quin, in order to compensate for the conempt with which he had treated me, was warmer, if possible, in hid eulogiums, than he had been in his sarcasms. [p. 56] This, I own appears to be a bold assertion, as the pungent salt of his satire often got the better of the goodness of his heart; which I have reason to think one of the best that ever inhabited mortal's bosom.

The novelty of such success attending a child (for from my appearance I could not be judged to be so old as I really was) against the united force of a Garrick and a Cibber, attracted the notice of the public so much, that the piece was performed three nights successively. This was a singular circumstance at that time, as The Orphan was an old play, much hackneyed, and supported by only one character. For though Mr. Quin was most justly celebrated, as I have alrady observed, in every character which his figure and time of life suited, yet as he was now near sixty, and rather corpulent, he certainly was a very unfit brother for a girl of my age. So flattering a reception, it may be naturally supposed, elated a heart rendered vain by praises surprassing my most sanguine expectations.

Mr. Quin being thus become my friend, he made enquiry relative to my mother's character and circumstances, with which he appeared to be totally unacquainted, notwithstanding she had performed at the same theatre with him for years. Being satisfied with the inquiries he made, he was determined not to oblige by halves. Finding I was the reputed daughter of his old friend [p. 57] Lord Tyrawley, in order not to alarm our fears, or mortify the dignity of our minds, he enclosed a bank bill in a blank cover, and sent it to my mother by the penny-post. And not satisfied with having administered to our wants, he took every opportuinity of shewing us respect. In particular, he favoured me with a general invitation to the suppers he usually gave four times a week; enjoining me at the same time never to come alone; "because," as he jocularly said, "he was not too old to be censured."

All the literati of the age frequented those parties, where wit, repartees, bon-mots, convivialiyt, and good cheer, went hand in hand. The conversation at these repasts turned on the literary productions of the day. And as most of the gentlemen present were themselves authors, they either candidly acknowledged the merit of the works which were the subject of discussion, or with perfect good-breeding, and true critical knowledge, pointed out their defects.

It is worthy of remark, that all characters have their bright and shaded parts. The more splendid the one, the deeper generally are the traits of the other. Thus it was with Mr. Quin; who, with the most liberal mind and benevolent heart, had his whims, his prepossessions, and his prejudices; many of which he frequently expressed in language somewhat too sarcastic, and not over delicate.

[p. 58] But perfection is not to be expected in this transitory state.

From some passages in several of the fore-going letters, it may be observed, that learned conversations were not unacceptable to me. And I found my judgment more enlightened by the remarks made at Mr. Quin's petits soupers, than if I had read all the literary productions which made their appearance at that time. Mrs. Jackson usually did me the honour to accompany me there; where she one evening met with a relation she had not seen for some years; and who should this be, but Mr. Thomson, a gentleman not less celebrated for his goodness, than for his admirable poetical works, The Seasons, &c. Whilst Mr. Quin is the immediate subject of my pen, I will beg leave to relate an anecdote of him, which will be for ever imprinted on my memory, and does infinite honour to his. During the time he had the chief direction at Covent-Garden Theatre, he revived The Maid's Tragedy, written by Beaumont and Fletcher. In it he played the characer of Melantuis; Mrs. Pritchard, Evade; and myself, Aspasia. One day, after the rehearsal was finished, he desired to speak with me in his dressing room. As he had always carefully avoided seeing me alone, I was not a little surprised at so unexpected an invitation. My apprehensions even made me fear that I had, by some means or other, [p. 59] offended a man, whom I really loved as a father. My fears, however, were not of long duration. For as soon as I had entered his dressing-room, he took me by the hand, with a smile of ineffable benignity, and thus addressed me; "My dear girl; you are vastly followed, I hear. Do not let the love of finery, or any other inducement, prevail upon you to commit an indiscretion. Men in general are rascalsy You are young and engaging, and therefore ought to be doubly cautious. If you want any thing in my power, which money can purchase, come to me, and say, 'James Quin, give me such a thing," and my purse shall be always at your service." The tear of gratitude stood in my eye, at this noble instance of generosity; and his own glistened with that of humanity and self-approbation.

With a story, so much to the honour of that worthy man, and so pleasing, even in recollection, to myself, willI conclude this letter.

G. A. B.

  1. Mr Chitty (Bellamy's note)

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