An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy

Letter XXXIV.

London, June 12, 17--.

[p. 36] About this period, that much admired poet, Thomson, was called by the great disposer of events, to enjoy that [p. 37] felicity in a happier region, he had in vain strove to deserve in this bustling world. His death seemed to throw an universal gloom over every susceptible mind. Whilst some lamented the loss of his great poetical talents, all wept for the removal of so great a man. The softness of his manners, his unbounded philanthropy, and indeed the possession of every valuable quality that can adorn a human being, endeared him to every one who had the happiness to be acquainted with him. That it was my fortunate lot to be upon terms of intimacy with him, is one of the most pleasing circumstances of my life that recollection can revive. -- Accept, departed shade, this tender tear! a votive tribute to that friendship with which I was honoured by thee.

Lord Lyttlelton and Mr. Quin, from the intimacy which had subsisted between Thomson and them, were the most affected by this sad event. After the first effusions of their sorrow were abated, they consulted in what manner to pay the most efficacious respect to the memory of their deceased friend. As his liberal disposition had prevented him from making any provision for his two sisters, they thought they could do nothing more consonant to his last wishes, than provide a decent support for them. A token of affection far more acceptable, I dare say, to their lost friend, if departed spirits be [p. 37] sensible of what passed here, than the most pompous obsequies, or richly sculptured monument.

Thomson, during the latter part of his life, had altered Shakpeare's tragedy of Coriolanus; the copy of which Mr. Quin had then in his possession. And the representation of this they thought would not a little conduce to the benevolent purpose. It was accordingly ordered to be got up at the theatre, and put immediately into rehearsal. Mrs Woffington and myself were to play the parts of the mother and daughter. The death of Thomson put a stop for some time to our parties at Mr. Quin's, in Henrietta-street, which gave us more time to expedite the performance. Lord Lyttleton wrote the following prologue to it.

[p. 39] COME not here your candour to implore
For scenes whose author is, alas! no more;
He wants no advocate his cause to plead
You will yourselves be patrons of the dead.
No party his benevolence confin'd,
No sect -- alike it flow'd to all mankind.
He lov'd his friends, (forgive this gushing tear:
Alas! I feel I am no actor here;)
He lov'd his friends with such a warmth of heart,
So clear of int'rest, so devoid of art,
Such gen'rous friendship, such unshaken zeal,
No words can speak it, but our tears may tell.
O candid truth! O faith without a stain!
O manners gently firm and nobly plain!
O sympathizing love of others bliss!
Where will you find another breast like his?
Such was the man. The poet well you know;
Oft has he touch'd your hearts with tender woe;
Oft in this crouded house with just applause
You heard him teach fair virtue's purest laws;
For his chaste muse employed her heav'n-taught lyre
None but the nobles passions to inspire;
Not one immoral, one corrupted thought,
One line which dying he could wish to blot.

Oh! may to-night your favourable doom
Another laurel add to grace his tomb.
Whilst he, superior now to praise or blame,
Hears not the feeble voice of human fame.
Yet if to those whom most on earth he lov'd,
From whom his pious care is now remov'd,
With whom his lib'ral hand and bounteous heart
Shar'd all his little fortune could impart,
Yet if to those friends your kind regard shall give
What they no longer can from him receive,
That ev'n now, above yon starry pole,
May touch with pleasure his immortal soul.

[p. 40] As soon as the piece was perfect, an evening rehearsal was called, upon a night when there happened to be no performance. Mr. Quin's pronounciation was of the old school. In this Mr. Garrick had made an alteration. The one pronounced the letter a open; the other sounded it like an e; which occasioned the following laughable mistake. In the piece, when the Roman ladies come in procession to solicit Coriolanus to return to Rome, they are attended by the tribunes. And the centurions of the Volscian army bearing fasces, their ensigns of authority, they are ordered by the hero (the part of which was played by Mr. Quin) to lower them as a token of respect. But the men who personated the centurions, imagining, through Mr. Quin's mode of pronunciation, that he said their faces, inftead of their fasces, all bowed their heads together.

Not being able to withstand so ridiculous a mistake, I could not restrain my risible faculties; and though tragedians ought to have an entire command of the countenance, I burst into a fit of laughter. This, for a moment, offended Mr. Quin, and drew the attention of the literati that were present, who, with many others, followed my example. The men, however, were at length set light, and thus the affair ended.

Had such a ludicrous mistake happened on the night of its representation, it would [p. 41] probably have excited the same emotions in the audience we had experienced, and might have proved fatal to the piece, or at least have interrupted the capital scene. The play, however, was at length represented with success, and Mr. Quin really shed tears. From the cynical manner that gentleman had adopted, and the sternness of his countenance, he was not supposed to possess so much of the milk of human kindness as he actually did. The circumstance was therefore considered as doubly forcible, and did not fail to operate on the sensibility of the whole house; who likewife testified, by their sympathetic tears, the respect they bore his friend.

The season of Lent now coming on, I had more leisure time on my hands than usual, and consequently had more frequent opportunities of seeing and hearing from Mr. Metham. He attended at Comte Haslang's chapel every Wednesday and Friday evening, where I generally met him. And so confident was I of his honour and affection, that if he happened to be indisposed, I made no scruple to go to his lodgings. Nor had I ever any reason to repent of my condescension; as he never attempted even to salute me. So much respect, mingled with tenderness, confirmed the partiality I before entertained for him; and what may be called at first only a preference, was now mellowed into [p. 42] esteem, friendship, and affection. This, perhaps, is the happiest aera of the human life. An innocent familiarity takes place, unimbittered by those apprehensions that experience gives birth to; and unalloyed by that satiety which too surely attends the enjoyment of our wishes.Youth, chearfulness, and pleasing expectations, unite to brighten the scene, and afford the happy pair an unclouded prospect.

Lord Tyrawley continued his visits; and the better to enable me to entertain him in the stile which duty and respect dictated, he generally divided the contents of his purse with me whenever he came. Being, therefore, through his Lordship's generosity, and the advantages she reaped from the disposal of her linen, in no want of money, my mother had not as yet sent to the theatre for any part of my salary; which she had concluded to have been settled at ten pounds a week. But having now an occasion to make a remittance to Ireland, she wrote to the treasurer to desire he would let her have what was due. Instead, however, of sending the sum she had calculated to be owing to me, she received only half as much.

Enraged at this duplicity, she laid her commands upon me not to play any more. Indeed, she was not displeased at the excuse that now presented itself of breaking off my theatrical engagements. On the contrary, [p. 43] she was glad of the opportunity that offered of effecting her darling scheme, that of uniting me to Mr. Crump. She accordingly lent back the money; and my pride assisting her views, she now made sure of bringing her long-wished-for project to bear. Miss O'Hara, who was perfectly well acquainted with my sentiments on the subject, endeavoured by every argument in her power, to dissuade her from pursuing a plan to which I was so inflexibly averse. But her endeavours were ineffectual. My mother continued as resolute as her daughter; though I unfortunately found means to frustate her intentions.

As the regard Mr. Metham and myself entertained for each other, had now attained such a pitch, that I considered him as my future husband, I made no scruple to accept the presents he was continually offering me. These past unobserved by my mother, who concluded that what money I had, was the consequence of my Lord's affection, which seemed daily to increase. The eye of envy, however, would not suffer so suspicious a circumstance to pass unnoticed; nor was so favourable a construction put upon my apparent affluence by my two threatrical companions, Mrs. Woffington and Mrs Ward. Being unwilling to account for the elegance of my drefs, by imputing it, as my mother done, to an allowable source, they thought it could only proceed from my [p. 44] having formed an unallowable connexion with Mr Metham. Taking this for granted, they did not hesitate to mention it as an affair that was absolutely settled. I did not indeed, hear of this scandal, at the time it was propagated by these censorious ladies at the theatre, having no intimacy with any person belonging to it, except Mr. Quin, Mr. Rich's family, and Mrs. Ridout. This amiable woman, I must stop to tell you, fell a victim to her fondness for her husband, the loss of whose affections she could not outlive; and I never reflected on her untimely death, without bestowing a sigh on her virtues.

Had I heard of these aspersions, conscious of my innocence, I should have treated them with the contempt they deserved; but, as I have just said, from my having so little communication with the people belonging to the theatre, I was not at that time made acquainted with them. Mrs. Woffington, however, notwithstanding she had propagated this scandalous report, reflecting that my quitting the theatre, particularly as the benefits were coming on, would prove an essential detriment to the whole company, she sent Mr. Swyny to me, in order to prevail on me to relinquish my intention. This gentleman had attached himself to her as a warm friend. And he gave her substantial proof of his regard, by leaving her the bulk of his fortune at his decease. But though [p. 45] this lady's ambassador urged her suit with all his rhetoric, I would not come to any determination relative to it, till I had consulted Mr. Quin on the subject, agreeable to the resolution I had lately formed.

As soon as I sent to this best of friends, he came to me; and upon talking over the affair, he judged it most prudent for me to continue my attendance at the theatre during the present season, as it was now drawing near a conclusion. Among other reasons he observed, that as I was in all the pieces commanded, on every Thursday night, by the prince and princess of Wales, and had been honoured with distinguished marks of approbation from their Royal Highnesses, as well as the public, he thought no pecuniary motive should induce me to decline playing during the remainder of the season. Giving up my resentment, therefore, to the the opinion of so good a judge, and so sincere a friend, I continued to perform as usual, without coming to an open rupture with the proprietor on account of his duplicity.

G. A. B.

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