Imatges de pÓgina

which surrounded some of the most important transactions of her life, we would have perhaps passed by his garrulity, and compromised with his inveterate gossip. But in truth Mr. Boaden has left the melancholy story of this celebrated actress just in as much obscurity as he found it. He puts on the most important of airs; something "more than natural" is always to be sought for in his most casual observations: a dreadful hypothesis startles us here, and in the next page an ominous enigma prepares us for the worst. The ludicrous offspring of the clamorous mountain was not presaged by more preposterous throes of alarm, than this tardy effort of Mr. Boaden's old age. He speaks of letters of Mrs. Jordan's. There is nothing in them which we can discover, that alters a single fact or impression which was not already known to the world. Indeed in our opinion, the principal positive result of Mr. Boaden's work on the public mind, will be to mystify the whole affair between Mrs. Jordan and the Prince, who participated so largely in her fortunes, and to make that which was plain and straight forward before, appear doubtful and suspicious. By a most incontinent anxiety to justify every body and every action, Mr. Boaden contrives with marvellous ingenuity to leave nobody without a share of blame; so that though hitherto we could speculate, with a tolerable chance of being right, upon the actors in this extraordinary drama, the whole question is opened up, and it is to be discussed afresh, and decided on its merits. A more fitting occasion will present itself by and by to exhibit the effect of Mr. Boaden's interference in this matter. We shall now endeavour to sift from the enormous heap of chaff which lies before us, something like a substantial narrative, which, though it may not be so valuable as to recompense our pains, will go a great way towards that end, if it only save the reader some perplexity and more trouble.

The vicissitudes and contrasts of Mrs. Jordan's life are typified in the brief words that describe its principal events. She was born in Ireland; her parents were Welsh; England was the country of her adoption; and she died in France. Mr. Boaden fixes the date of her birth in the year 1762, and states that it took place in the neighbourhood of Waterford. Her parents were then engaged in an itinerant company of players. Her mother's name, Phillips, seems to have been given to the child from its birth, instead of that of its father, Bland, a circumstance that increases very much the ambiguity in her situation, which, Mr. Boaden remarks, continued to attend her during her life. However, this name she dropped, and assumed that of Francis on adopting the stage, which she appears to have done almost in her childhood. With the exception of an offer of marriage by a Lieutenant Doyne, in Ireland, nothing material appears in the history of Miss Francis until her twentieth year, when she made her first appearance, we suppose in England, at Leeds, where the renowned Tate Wilkinson was at that time stage manager. Here she astonished the operatives by her versa

tility, drawing tears by her performance of Calista, and breaking their hearts with merriment by singing the Greenwood Laddie. At York, whither Miss Francis proceeded with her mother, she was under the necessity of changing her name again, and as this is the last erratum, unfortunately, which fate made in her description, the occasion of it is worth commemorating.


Upon the arrival of the ladie at York, the manager received a note from Mrs. Bland, stating that, for very particular reasons, which would be explained, the name of Francis must be changed, and some other adopted. Wilkinson naturally proposed Bland, to which she had a natural title, but the actress now wrote to him "that his wish, as to the insertion of Bland, could not be complied with, as that name in the prints might probably much injure her in the opinion of her father's relations." I chuse to cite, on this occasion, the manager's own words, because I believe them to be sincere, and find them marked with a propriety that will not escape admiration." So," says he, " on our meeting, and the matter being explained, there appeared obvious and pressing reasons for a change of name, and that of Mrs. Jordan was adopted.



'But the reader must be made acquainted with the reason which produced this new decision as to name, on the arrival at York, which had indeed, before been attended with some difficulty. The fact was, that her aunt, Miss Phillips, who had also been an actress in the York company, and was now lying dangerously ill, had that last infirmity of the Welsh mind, a high value for the families to which she claimed alliance. She had earnestly entreated to see her sister, Mrs. Bland, and to welcome her niece, whom she pronounced to be already an honour to the stock from which she derived alike her theatrical and lineal honours; and as this near relation was at the point of death, and destined a very enviable wardrobe as a legacy to her beloved niece, upon the payment of a slight equity of redemption, both prudence and affection concurred in allowing the last wish of an aunt who felt her interest so strongly. Miss Phillips is said to have considered herself the greatest actress that had ever appeared, and she had the opinion to herself. Her niece has been generally considered unrivalled in her particular walk, but it was a pretension which I believe she never uttered, if she for a moment believed it to be just. Within a week after this transaction, the aunt died, and Mrs. Jordan pursued her profession, though she did not exactly tread in her steps.'-pp. 29-31.

We understand from Mr. Boaden's insinuations that Mrs. Jordan commenced her course of indiscretion in the first year of her theatrical career, at York; but as her good acting put the folks of that part of the world in excellent humour with her, they looked indulgently on her sins. The characters in which she was most popular were those for which we would suppose she was the least calculated, namely, the parts of William, in Rosina, and Patrick, in the Poor Soldier. In this part of the country she remained about three years, when she was invited to London on the favourable report of a Mr. Smith, one of the purveyors for

Drury Lane Theatre. On the 18th October, 1785, Mrs. Jordan, who was retained at a salary of four pounds a week, made her first appearance at that house in the Country Girl. Of this event we have the following account by Mr. Boaden.

'Mrs. Inchbald knew her in the York company, and records of her that "she came to town with no report in her favour, to elevate her above a very moderate salary (four pounds), or to attract more than a very moderate house when she appeared. But here moderation stopped. She at once displayed such consummate art, with such bewitching nature--such excellent sense, and such innocent simplicity-that her auditors were boundless in their plaudits, and so warm in her praises, when they left the theatre, that their friends at home would not give credit to the extent of their eulogiums."

Nothing can be more exactly true than this report. I agree also with that lady in the melody of her voice; but in the remark that "her pronunciation was imperfect," I cannot concur. "Most of her words was uttered with a kind of provincial dialect." It was not of that description at all. It was a principle of giving to certain words a fulness and comic richness, which rendered them more truly representatives of the ideas they stood for; it was expressing all the juice from the grape of the laughing vine. To instance once for all. She knew the importance attached to a best gown. Let the reader recollect the full volume of sound which she threw into those words, and he will understand me. It was not provincial dialect—it was humorous delivery: and, as a charm, only inferior to her laugh. Again, "but I don't"--" I won't"-" Bud"-" Grum," and a hundred others, to which she communicated such blunt significance, such whimsical cadence, as showed she was the great mistress of comic utterance, and aware of all the infinite varieties which modify the effects of the human voice. Henderson had the same sort of talent without the perfect voice. It was best displayed in his reading. A reflection upon this hint will shew what a narrow, imperfect, and even delusive record printing must needs be, of what in living speech accompanied the utterance of the mere words. Such was Mrs. Jordan when she burst upon the metropolis, in the year 1785. Perhaps no actress ever excited so much laughter. The low comedian has a hundred resorts by which risibility may be produced. In addition to a ludicrous cast of features, he may resort, if he chooses, to the buffoonery of the fair; he may dress himself ridiculously; he may border even upon indecency in his action, and be at least a general hint of double entendre, to those whose minds are equally impure. But the actress has nothing beyond the mere words she. utters, but what is drawn from her own hilarity, and the expression of features, which never submit to exaggeration. She cannot pass by the claims of her sex, and self-love will preserve her from any willing diminution of her personal beauty. How exactly had this child of nature calculated her efficacy, that no intention on her part was ever missed, and, from first to last, the audience responded uniformly in an astonishmeut of delight. In the third act they more clearly saw what gave the elasticity to her step. She is made to assume the male attire; and the great painter of the age pronounced her figure the neatest and most perfect in symmetry that he had ever seen. This distinction remained with her

a long time, notwithstanding the many family encroachments upon the public pleasure.

But her fertility as an actress was at its height in the letter scene, perhaps the most perfect of all her efforts, and the best jeu de theatre known, without mechanism. The very pen and ink were made to express the rustic petulance of the writer of the first epistle, and the eager delight that composed the second which was to be dispatched instead of it to her lover. King was her Moody upon this occasion, but I thought Wroughton afterwards gave more effect to the intimidation. He had a vast deal of truth in his comedy, and concealed every appearance of the actor's art.

"There was a seeming coincidence in the ages of the actress and the character she played. The play concludes with some rhymes, no great achievement, it is true-I suppose them Garrick's-in which Miss Peggy apologizes for deserting her Bud.

"I've reasons will convince you all, and strong ones;
Except old folks, who hanker after

young ones:

But was so passionate, and grown so thrifty,
'Twas a sad life-and then he was near fifty!-
I'm but nineteen."

Perhaps Mrs. Jordan looked rather more, not in her action, which was juvenile to the last, but the comic maturity of her expression seemed to announce a longer experience of life and of the stage, than could have been attained at nineteen. She retired that night from the theatre, happy to the extent of her wishes, and satisfied that she would not long be rated on the treasurer's books at four pounds per week. Smith congratulated with her very sincerely. He had bestowed upon the theatre, which he loved, a new and a powerful magnet, able to attract on the off nights of Mrs. Siddons, and even strengthen those of tragedy; which, with no greater force than Cumberland evinced in the Carmelite, began to need something auxiliary.'-vol. i. pp. 69-73.

Mrs. Jordan's merits having now received the stamp of metropolitan approbation, which she drew forth by her performance of several characters in the same line with William and the Country Girl, was now literally embarrassed by provincial engagements. These she discharged in a manner that promoted her celebrity, and the following season witnessed a very considerable addition to her popularity in the metropolis. It was about this time that an epilogue was put into her mouth, one passage of which in particular is very remarkable, in association with her subsequent circum


'How strange! methinks I hear a critic say;
What she, the serious heroine of a play!
The manager his want of sense evinces,

To pitch on Hoydens for the love of PRINCES!

To trick out Chambermaids in awkward pomp

Horrid! to make a Princess of a Romp.'-vol. i. p. 184.

In the summer following (1792), we find Mrs. Jordan making her professional tour through the north; and here, for the first time, we are rather abruptly introduced to Mr. Ford, who very


unceremoniously, but not surely without authority, talks of the lady as Mrs. Ford! In a very few pages afterwards we, all of a sudden, pounce upon the declared admiration of a Royal Duke;' and how long the Royal Duke' had been declaring his admiration of Mrs. Jordan, or how long Mr. Ford had been calling her wife, Mr. Boaden, who has a most inexplicable contempt for chronology, does not set forth. We shall allow the historian to speak for himself.

But a circumstance had occurred, which was now generally known; I mean the declared admiration of a Royal Duke for this delightful actress, and a wish for her society permanently, on such terms as his peculiar situation alone permitted. He invaded no man's absolute rights-he did not descend to corrupt or debase. Not considering himself entirely a creature of the state, he had presumed to avow an affection for a woman of the most fascinating description; and his yet unsullied HONOUR was the pledge, that the fruits, if any, of such an union, should be considered most sacredly as his-that he took the duties of a father along with the natural relation. We were now in the ferment of the French revolution, and it became a crime in the eyes of no small part of the public, that Mrs. Jordan had listened to a prince. In spite of his services as a naval officer, and the frank, cordial manners, which were not more the characteristics of his profession than of his own nature, the noble seaman was neither well treated by the government, nor did his popularity at all compensate a very niggardly establishment. On a sudden, writers in the daily papers became most anxiously solicitous about Mrs. Jordan's family; (as if it had not at all times been the " precious jewel of her soul'). "What in the new connexion, became of Mrs. Jordan's family?" Mr. Ford was elevated by some persons into an injured and deserted man; they neither knew him, nor his privity to the advances made by the noble suitor. They had never seen him at the wing of the theatre, and thrown their eyes, as he must have done, to the private boxes. Mrs. Jordan was not a woman to hoodwink herself in any of her actions--she knew the sanctions of law and religion as well as any body, and their value-this implies that she did not view them with indifference. And had Mr. Ford, as she proposed to him, taken that one step farther, which the Duke could not take, the treaty with the latter would have ended at the moment.'-vol. i. PP. 207--209.


The reader will think it strange that this is the first allusion we have in the book to Mrs. Jordan's family,' or to the treaty, or to the Duke at all; yet Mr. Boaden speaks of them as matters with which the reader is quite familiar. This is certainly one way of writing a biography. It appears, however, that Mrs. Jordan took those enquiries of the Press in great dudgeon, as she discovered in a letter which she directed to some of the papers.

'Finding herself thus annoyed at her very breakfast table, she resolved not to sit unmoved, but let the public know her own feeling as a woman, while she vindicated her conduct as an actress. The following letter from her accordingly appeared in all the public prints. It was dated from the Treasury, by which must be meant the treasury of the theatre.



« AnteriorContinua »