[p. 9] The next character I appeared in was that of Athenais, in Theodosius.1 I had no sooner come upon the stage, on the night of its performance, than the first object that presented itself to my view was Lord Byron, who had placed himself in the stage-box. The tremor I was thrown into, by seeing a person so near who had been the cause of so much disquietude to me, entirely deprived me of all my powers, and I stood for some time motionless. Mr. Rich and his family, observing from their box that I suddenly turned pale, which was easily discernible from my complexion being usually too florid, he came immediately behind the scenes to enquire the reason of it. His Lordship had by this time quitted his seat, and placed [p. 10] himself against one of the side scenes, in sight of the audience. Mr. Rich, having let himself in by a private door from the box passage, of which he always had a key, found his Lordship in this situation, and was no longer at a loss to account for my trepidation.
As Lord Byron knew that our proprietor had in his youthful days been a man of gallantry, he accosted him with an assured look, and said, "Well, Rich; I am come to take away your Athenais!" Such a salutation could not fail to give offence to a person who had always treated me as daughter, and who possessed no little share of personal courage, united with an humane disposition. He accordingly reproved his lordship, for avowing a design of so unjustifiable a nature, so inconsistent with humanity and the laws of society, and consequently so much beneath the dignity of a peer. He at the same time remonstrated with his Lordship on the cruelty of coming to alarm a young person, who had never given him any room to suppose she approved of his passion, and who could not but be apprehensive from his Lordship's present conduct. Mr. Rich then said, in a resolute tone, "I desire, my Lord, that you will quit the scenes, for I cannot stand tamely by, and see my performers insulted."
[p. 11] His Lordshiop not chusing to resent this opposition from the manager, so as to make a serious affair of it, very prudently retired to his seat in the stage-box, meditating revenge. But he was no sooner seated there, than the audience, who generally engage on the side that humanity points out, took the alarm, and obliged his Lordship to retire from thence to the front boxes; in the back part of which he concealed himself from further insult.
Mr. Quin not playing that night he was not at the theatre; but the next evening he was informed of the terror I had undergone. Mr. Thomson, who had heard of it likewise, came to the house. As this gentleman passed near the back of the stage, he heard two persons in conversation, one of whom said to the other, "I will speak to her to night, or I will shoot my ------." The remainder of the sentence Mr. Thomson could not catch, but from the former part of it he concluded, that it could be no other than Lord Byron, thus uttering his design in confidence to a friend; and who, in revenge for the disgrace he had undergone in the preceding night, had determined to carry me off.
Mr. Thomson immediately acquainted Mr. Quin with the discourse he had been witness of, who adopted the same opinion. Accordingly the latter sent to me during the performance, and desired to speak with me as [p. 12] soon as my part was finished. His character having concluded in the fourth act, I found him undrest. The moment he saw me, he addressed me in a precipitate manner to the following purpose: "Madam, we must have no chairing it to-night. You must go home under my arm." You may be assured I was not a little frightened. But, upon his further assuring me that I should be safely escorted, and that he would send for his super to my lodgings, where Mr. Thomson was to make one of the party, my fears subsided.
When I was undressed, Mr. Quin ordered my chair to be brought from the stage-door in Bow-street, with all the curtains drawn, into the pasage, that it might be supposed I was actually in it; whilst we went through the house, and by way of the piazzas, into Tavistrock-street, where my mother and myself then lodged. We consequently got home before the chair could reach our house. When the fellows arrived, they informed us that they had been stopped on the way by a man muffled up in a great coat. That at first they affected to be unwilling to set down their fare; but upon the person's being preremptory, they obeyed his orders. He then lifted up tnh top of the chair, and threw something into it, swearing at the same time, that if the answer was not favourable, he was determined to destroy [p 13] himself. Having said this, he put the lid down, and ordered them to carry the lady home.
Our curiosity being excited by this account, Mr. Quin ordered the letter, which had been thrown into the chair, to be taken out. Whilst this was doing, one of the fellows said, he was sure the poor gentleman meant no harm to Miss, as he was one of the best men in the world. He added, that he had delivered me a letter from him some time ago; but I was so angry that he never durst venture to give me another. "And pray who is that gentleman?" said Mr. Quin. "Why, Sir, replied the chairman, "It is his honour Mr. Bullock." The letter being by this time brought , Mr Quin desired he might be permitted to read it. It was much against my inclination that it should be opened, as I had already received so many from the same person, that I had formed a resolution to send back his epistles in future as they came. The letter, however, was read, and the contents found to breathe nothing but love and madness. The inditer of it was a young gentleman of good expectations, being heir to a considerable estate. He was educated at Cambridge, and had not yet left college. His person was remarkably handsome, but the violence of his behaviour terrified instead of engaging me. Mr Quin, who was well acquainted with his father, put the letter into his pocket [p. 14] and promised to bring the young man to reason.
We had just sat down to supper, when a waiter came from the Bedford with a letter directed for me. Here I cannot avoid stopping a minute to trouble you with another soliloquy. I think that word is full as applicable to a moral reflection when written alone, as when spoken alone; at least I shall use it upon this occasion, as I cannot just now find another more expressive; and beg a truce with your criticism. -- But to come to this same soliloquy. --- To what continual solicitations are females in the theatrical line, whose persons and abilities render them conspicuous, exposed! They go through an ordeal almost equally hazardous to that used of old as a test of chastity. The maturest judgment and firmest resolution are required, to enable them to steer aright. And is this to be expected from frail fair ones, hoodwinked by youth, inexperience, vanity, and all the softer passions? Instead of wondering that so many of those who tread the stage yield to the temptations by which they are surrounded, it is rather a matter of amazement that all do not. Continually besieged by persons of the highest rank, who are practiced in the arts of seduction, and impowered by their affluence to carry the most expensive and alluring of these into execution, it is next to impossible that the fortress [p. 15] should be impregnable, --Fortunate is it for many who pride themselves in their untried virtue, that their lot is cast in a less hazardous state.
We had just sat down to supper, as I said before, when a waiter came from the Bedford-Head, with a letter directed for me. The servant indifferently took it in; which so shocked my mother's delicacy, that I had almost said she made herself ridiculous. I could not refrain from telling her, that it was not possible for me to be contaminated by the impertinence of a man that must be inebriated, or he would not have taken such an unwarrantable liberty. Nor could the house from whence it came give her just cause for offence; as Woodifield's, though situated in Covent-Garden, was honoured with parties of the best character, ladies as well as gentlemen.
Upon opening the scrawl, we found it came from Lord Byron; who, though he was lately married to one of the best and loveliest of her sex, made me therein an offer of a settlement. His Lordship concluded with swearing that if I did not consent to his proposal, he would pursue me till I took shelter in another's arms. As soon as Mr. Quin had read the letter, he called for pen and inkk, and sent the following answer to it. "Lieutenant O'Hara's compliments to Lord Byron, and if he ever dares to insult his [p. 16] sister again, it shall not be either his title or cowardice that shall preserve him from chastisement." This fortunate impromptu of Mr. Quin's so frightened his Lordship, that the waiter came soon after to let us know he was gone. And we found that this valiant nobleman actually set off the next morning for Nottinghamshire. Nor have I ever since been troubled with his attacks. Lady Byron, some time after, came to my benefit, and honoured me with marks of her generosity; which were the more pleasing to me, as they likewise afforded a proof of the liberality of her sentiments.
Could you have formed any conception that there had been men of his Lordship's cast? of those who break their marriage vows so soon after they have been made; ere they had well reached Heaven's portals? Yet such you see there are. But from such false ones may Hymen preserve you and every other worthy woman.