[p. 69] About this time I received a letter from Mr. Quin, apologizing for not having kept his promise in paying me a visit during [p. 70] the summer. He at the same time informed me, that although it was so late in the season, he desired I would make all possible haste to London, as he had obtained an engagement for me, which would compensate for Mr. Rich's behaviour the preceding winter. He told me that the proprietor had agreed to give me seven pounds a week with a free benefit; and that my salary was to commence from the opening of the house.
Mr. Metham who had stayed at home from the beginning of my illness, began now to find York very dull. He therefore languished to be in London; and wished me to accept of the offer. I made use of all the arguments in my power to prevail on him to suffer me to remain in a retirement where I was so happy; and where we could live genteely upon the most reasonable terms. Though till our settling at York, I had never been accustomed to true management of a family, I had applied with so much industry to acquire a knowledge of it, and was become such an oeconomist, that our weekly expences did not exceed three guineas.
But neither the reasons I could urge, nor even that power I once flattered myself I had acquired over his heart, could now avail. Fortunate would it have been for us both had I succeeded. But fate decreed it otherwise. And I was reserved to suffer calamities, of which had it been possible for [p. 71] me to have acquired a foreknowledge the very apprehension would have broken my heart; and prevented the completion of them.Happy is it for mortals that they are not endowed with a prescience of their future destiny.-The prospect in general would prove so gloomy, that it would make them wish for their dissolution, and too often tempt them to precipitate it;Small evils would be magnified, by being viewed through the alarming perspective, to insurmountable ones; and every pleasure lost in the succeeding pain, We are therefore truly bleat in this ignorance.
We did not set off for town till the beginning of February, having been prevented by my weakness from undertaking the journey before. And the waters happening to be out as we proceeded, this gave me some further time to recover strength. On our arrival we went to a ready-furnished house in Lisle-street, Leicester-fields, which had been taken for us; where I found two or three notes from Mr. Quin, who had expected me for several days. Soon after we were set down, I sent to inform him that I was arrived, and he immediately answered my message in person.
When congratulations were over, he said, it was with the most singular pleasure he could inform me, that since my return to the stage had been publickly announced, there [p. 72] had been continual enquiries about me, and the boxes taken for many nights. He added, that he was concerned he had made the agreement for me, though he thought it a good one at the time. But the eager desire of the public to see me, gave him reason to think that had he not engaged his word, I might have made my own terms. He further acquainted me that Lord Tyrawley was gone to Ireland.
This intelligence relative to his Lordship gave me pleasure, as I was sensible that there was but little probability of my obtaining his forgiveness. Especially as he had lately declared to Mr. Quin, that if Metham married me, he would never be reconciled to him, though he would not fay he could totally forget me. As I was no stranger to his Lordship's inflexibility, I was the less anxious about him.
Steadiness of disposition is certainly a commendable virtue.And oh the contrary, instability is the greatest weakness of human nature.Having maturely weighed the tendency and propriety of any determination, if it be agreeable to that rectitude we ought never to lose sight of, no inducement whatever, when it is once made, should prevail on us to deviate from it.
By adhering to this exalted magnanimity, the heroes of Sparta and Rome immortalized their names; whilst the great men of Egypt [p. 73] and Asia acquired but little glory through their slothful inability.That these are the real senrtiments of my mind, I have evinced upon many occasions. This firmness has been even productive of all the wants I have experienced. I, however, can most solemnly affirm, that I never regretted mv perseverance in a resolution which some years latter deprived me at once of all the elegancies of life; of respect; of envy upon account of my supposed happy Situation; and likewile, of something more than common praise from those who honoured me with intimacy.Judging of my veracity in the frankness with which I acknowledge my errors, I flatter myself you will favour me with your belief of this assertion.
This topic of perseverance brings to my memory a conversation which once passed between the Honourable Charles Townsend and myself on the subjeft, and which, for the sake of the singular anecdote it contains, I beg leave to repeat here. That gentleman regretting my want of liability, he told me it was happy for the country I lived in, that my mind was not. inclined to mischief; if it was, I might prove as dangerous a ember of society as the once admired Comtesse de ----------------, who was put to the torture on the Grieve at Lyons, for poisoning her eldest son, that the younger, for whom she had [p. 74] a greater affection, might inherit the family title and estates.
After having suffered the torture of the rack herself, the Comtesse was seated in a .chair on the scaffold, whilst her son underwent the same punishment in order to extort a confession from him; and she beheld the agonies of her darling child with such amazing fortitude and composure, that the Spectators not only thought her guiltless, but in all probability would have canonized her, had not the son at last pleaded guiltv. Having done this, he was taken from the rack and placed close by his mother, till he should be so far recovered as to be able to relate the particulars of their crime.. When, to the astonishment and terror of the surrounding multitude, the Comtesse drew a knife which she had secreted, and stuck it into the heart of her child; saying at the same time, with an audible voice and unaltered countenance., "Meurs, fils! indigne d'une telle mere!"1 So great was the general consternation at this sudden and resolute act, that the executioner had not pretence .of mind sufficient to prevent her from plunging the same weapon, which was reeking with the blood of her favourite boy, into her own bosom,The relation of this story filled my mind with horror. Nor was I very well pleased with the application of it; [p. 75] as was conscious, that however determined I usually was in a good cause, my dispostion was so humane, that I would not willingly hurt a fly.
When I made my appearance at the theatre, my success was greater than even my most sanguine hopes, or Mr. Quin's conversation gave me reason to expect. This caused the beautiful Mrs. Woffington to burst with envy, as she had now left the sock for the buskin. My being obliged to play so often, before I was perfectly recovered from my late indisposition, so much affected my health, that I was prononced to be in what is usually terme. a galloping consumption, Mr. Quinn having a great partiality for Doctor Thompson, to him I had recourse for advife. This son of AEsculapius obtained a knowledge of the science of physic by intuition; and though he had had not received the assistance of a regualar education, his practice was attended with very great fuccefs; which was the more mortifying to the regular bred professors.
Doctor Thompson's was an eccentric characcter, but a pleasing one. His oddities rendered him somewhat similar to that of Sterne's uncle Toby, only their hobby-horses were of different nature. The singularity of his disposition, joined to the opinion he entertained of his skill, induced the great Mr. Winnington to give him an invitation to live in the house [p. 76] with him; which added not a little to the illiberal abuse, and scurrilous denominations, that were bestowed upon him. Doctor Thompson, however, in a short time restored me to health, and Mr. Metham to his senses, who had been almost distracted, and continually reproaching himself as the cause of my indisposition, by persuading me, against my inclination, to come to town.
Mr. Quin had for some time entertained a dislike to Mrs. Woffington, which now increased, as I no longer fought her battles with him. And upon his refusing to grant a request at her benefit, which he thought unreasonable, she was illiberal enough to say something disrespectful of his mother; who had been many years in the grave. The old gentleman, irritated by so unwarrantable an attack, told her in the public green room, that it would be wronging the ashes of the dead to call her Sarah Malcomb. All the gentlemen prefent, even to her own admirers, laughed at the appellation bestowed upon her; for, from a person so famed for wit as Mr. Quin, every trifle passes as such, and is supposed deserving of a laugh. Stamp but the effigy of a prince upon lead, and it passes current.
Mrs. Woffington, besides her allowed beauty and figure, had certainly a strong natural understandig;; but it was uncultivated. She ssemed to build her fame for wit upon what [p. 77] is vulgarly called Blackgnardism. Having given offence to Mr. Quin, she was led to believe that he would prove an inveterate enemy to her. A superficial knowledge of that great and good man might lead a person into such an error; but a more intimate acquaintance with his dispofition would convince them that he was incapable of rancour. His sentiments, though hid under the rough manner he had assumed, would have done honour to his own Cato; for, by all accounts, he exceeded the original2
By an inattention to the actions of a man can we alone judge of his real character.Under a stern countenance and morose manners, is often found, as in the instance before us, a benevolent, humane, and honest heart.; Whilst the smile, the bow, the squeeze by the hand, the ready promise, and all the grimace of affected courtesy, too frequently conceal the dark designing, avaricious, unfeeling villain.But however pleasing the more specious demeanour of the latter may be, one ounce of plain sincerity of the former (to make use of a proverbial phrase) is worth a pound of it.
The situation of Mrs. Woffington being rendered uneasy, by the jealousy of her lover at home, and the anxiety of the one abroad [p. 78] and at the theatre, by the envy of her own mean mind, and her disappointment from Melpomene's3 refusal to admit her as a favourite; she took dudgeon, and set off for Dublin; where her beauty alone would insure her success.