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The Palmy Days of Nance Oldfield by Edward Robins

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"Home?" An actress at home? Does it not seem strange to apply the dear
old English noun, so redolent of peace, and quiet, and privacy, to
the feverish life of a mummer? We go, night after night, to see our
favourite players shining 'mid the fierce glare of the footlights,
watch them approvingly as they pass from role to role, and finally
begin to believe, like the egotists we are, that they have no
existence apart from the one we are pleased to applaud. What fools
some of us must be to think there is never a time when the paint and
powder, the tinsel and eternal artifice of the stage--yea, even our
own condescending admiration--pall on the jaded spirits of the poor

"How sparklingly is Miss Smith acting Lady Teazle to-night!" we say,
elegantly pressing our hands together in token of august favour. We
are entranced, and it follows, therefore, that the actress must be
entranced likewise. Mayhap Miss Smith does not share the same ecstacy;
perhaps, as she stands behind the screen in Joseph Surface's rooms,
Sir Peter's wife is wishing that the comedy were ended and she were
comfortably ensconced in her cosy little lodgings round the corner.
She pictures that crackling wood fire, and her old terrier basking
in the gentle heat, and the tea-urn hissing near by (or is it a cold
bottle of beer in the portable refrigerator?) and in the background
sweet good Mr. Smith, who does nothing but spend his lady's salary.
In that temple of domesticity there are no thoughts of rouge, or
paint-pots, or of Richard Brinsley Sheridan--it is merely home. Dost
thou always hurry back to so attractive a one, thou patronising

Our Nance had a home to which she was glad enough to hurry back, like
the aforesaid Miss Smith, after the play was over at Drury Lane. There
was no husband there to await her, but a very devoted knight in the
person of Mr. Arthur Maynwaring, who, though he gave not his name nor
the ceremony of bell, book, and candle to the union, played the part
of spouse to the fair charmer. The town looked with good-natured
tolerance on the moral code, or the want thereof, of the frail one,
just as other towns, in later days, have looked with equal benevolence
upon the peccadillos of some petted favourite. The times were not of
the straightlaced order and no one expected from an actress wonders
of chastity or conventionality. Are we ourselves exacting where the
Thespian is concerned?

[Illustration: ANNE OLDFIELD


Fashion'd alike by Nature and by Art
To please, engage, and interest ev'ry heart.
In public life, by all who saw, approv'd;
In private life, by all who knew her, lov'd.

"Even her amours," says Chetwood in treating of Mistress Oldfield,
"seemed to lose that glare which appears round the persons of the
failing fair; neither was it ever known that she troubled the repose
of any lady's lawful claim; and was far more constant than millions in
the conjugal noose." Being thus acquitted of predatory designs
upon the peace of English wives, and having the further virtue of
constancy, a host of Londoners, men and women, high and low alike,
gazed with charitable eyes upon Nance's private life. And she, dear
girl, sinned on joyously.

Mr. Maynwaring, who helped Oldfield to break the spirit of one
commandment, was a brilliant figure in the reign of Queen Anne,
albeit, like other brilliant figures of that period, he has passed
into the darkness of oblivion. A clever dabbler in literature, an
honest politician--a politician with scruples was as rare in those
days as he is now--and a man of honour who could drink as much as his
friends, the volatile Arthur was, perhaps, best known as the most
attractive talker of the famous Kit-Cat Club. The Kit-Cat Club! What
a wealth of anecdote doth its name conjure up to the student of the
past! 'Twas in this famous organisation that noblemen and wits met on
common ground, drank many a toast to the House of Hanover or to some
reigning belle of London town, and exercised a patronising censorship
over the world of letters. They were "the patriots that saved Briton,"
says Horace Walpole, in referring to their anti-Jacobitism, and yet
the most of them are forgotten.

If tradition is to be believed (and what siren is more comfortable to
hearken unto than tradition?) these self-same patriots took their name
of "Kit-Cats" from prosaic mutton pies. 'Twould be horrible to think
on this gastronomic derivation of the title were we not to remember,
quite fortunately, that geese saved classic Rome. Why, therefore,
should not the preservers of perfidious Albion suggest the aroma of a
lamb pasty?

It seems that the Club had its first headquarters in Shire Lane, near
Temple Bar, at the establishment of Christopher Cat, a pastrycook
who helped to enliven the inner man by delicious meat pies dubbed
"Kit-Cats." Hence the name of that notable coterie of Whigs which
included Addison and Dick Steele, Congreve and His Grace of

[Footnote A: Our modern celebrated clubs are founded upon eating and
drinking, which are points wherein most men agree, and in which the
learned and illiterate, the dull and the airy, the philosopher and the
buffoon, can all of them bear a part. The Kit-Cat itself is said to
have taken its original from a mutton pie. The Beef-Steak and October
clubs are neither of them averse to eating and drinking, if we may
form a judgment of them from their respective titles.--ADDISON in the

Maynwaring came of good English stock, and in early life showed the
results of his relationship to the aristocratic house of Cholmondeley
by supporting the lost cause of James II. So fervent an admirer was he
of that apology for royalty that he took up the pen, if not the sword,
in his behalf, and steeped the mightier weapon with satirical ink when
he wrote a pamphlet entitled "The King of Hearts." Rumour paid to
the young author an unintentional compliment by insisting that the
brochure came from the great Mr. Dryden, but that genius denied the
soft impeachment while gracefully praising the unknown writer.

This pursuit of Jacobitism was varied by the study of law--a study
"sometimes relieved with a temporary application to music and
poetry"--and when the disconsolate Arthur had lost his father, and
thereby gained 800 pounds a year, he drowned his sorrows by an almost
exclusive devotion to "society and pleasantry." We are told[A] that on
the ratification of the Peace of Ryswick he went to Paris, where
he was exceedingly well received in consequence of the numerous
introductory letters which had been furnished him from various
quarters. He there contracted an intimacy with Boileau,--

"Whose rash envy would allow
No strain that shamed his country's creaking lyre,
That whetstone of the teeth, monotony in wire."

[Footnote A: "Memoirs of the Celebrated Persons comprising the Kit-Cat

"The French poet invited Maynwaring to his country seat, where he
behaved to him in a very hospitable manner, and frequently conversed
with him respecting the merits of our English poets, of whom, however,
he affected to know but little, and for whom he pretended to care
still less. Monsieur de la Fontaine was also at times one of their
company, and always spoke in very respectful terms of the poetry of
the sister nation. Boileau's pretending to be ignorant of Dryden
'argued himself unknown'; but, perhaps, another reason may be assigned
why the French writers found it convenient to know as little as
possible of their English contemporary, who in many of his admirable
prefaces and dedications has taken some trouble to explain the
frivolity of the French poets, their tiresome _petit maitre-ship_, and
all the finessing and trick with which they endeavour to make amends
to their readers for positive deficiency of genius."

After playing the _dilettante_ in France, Maynwaring returned home,
and in time became a staunch Whig, a Government official, and, later
on, a Member of Parliament. The cause of the Pretender knew him no
more, and in future this brilliant gentleman would be one of the
greatest friends of that stupid Hanoverian family which waited
drowsily, across the sea, for the death of Anne.

But what counted all the glamour of public life compared to the
possession of Nance Oldfield and an honoured seat at the festive board
of the Kit-Cat Club? Love and conviviality, youth and wit, carried the
day, and through the influence of these seductive companions handsome
Arthur failed to achieve greatness as a statesman. But when it came
to waging political warfare against sour Swift, or to assisting Dick
Steele with the "Tatler," or--better still--toasting some fair one at
the Club,[A] this _bon viveur_ was in his finest mood.

[Footnote A: The (Kit-Cat) club originated in the hospitality of Jacob
Tonson, the bookseller, who, once a week, was host at the house in
Shire Lane to a gathering of writers. In an occasional poem on the
Kit-Cat club, attributed to Sir Richard Blackmore, Jacob is read
backwards into Bocaj, and we are told:

"One Night in Seven at this convenient seat
Indulgent Bocaj did the Muses treat;
Their Drink was gen'rous Wine and Kit-Cat's Pyes their Meat.
Hence did th' Assembly's Title first arise,
And Kit-Cat Wits spring first from Kit-Cat's Pyes."

About the year 1700 this gathering of wits produced a club in which
the great Whig chiefs were associated with foremost Whig writers,
Tonson being secretary. It was as much literary as political, and its
"toasting glasses," each inscribed with lines to a reigning beauty,
caused Arbuthnot to derive its value from "its pell mell pack of

Of old Cats and young Kits.

Tonson built a room for the Club at Barn Elms to which each member
gave his portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller, who was himself a member.
The pictures were on a new-sized canvas adopted to the height of the
walls, whence the name "Kit-Cat" came to be applied generally
to three-quarter length portraits.--HENRY MORLEY'S Notes on the

It is to be supposed that at some time or other the health of Mistress
Oldfield was drunk by the Kit-Cats, whose custom of honouring
womankind in this bibulous way may have given rise to Pope's plaintive

"Say why are beauties prais'd and honoured most,
The wise man's passion, and the vain man's toast?
Why deck'd with all that land and sea afford,
Why Angels call'd, and angel-like adored?"

And if the actress was thus deified or spiritualised, who drained his
glass more fervently than did Arthur Maynwaring? For whatever may have
been the faults of this dashing Whig, he had the courage of his sins,
and took up his abode with Anne in the full light of day, as though
a marriage ceremony were a bagatelle not worth the recollecting. The
world was forgiving, to be sure, nor is it probable that either one
of this easily-mated pair suffered any loss of public esteem by the
union. Dukes--nay, even Duchesses--were glad to meet Nance, and
Royalty allowed her to bask in the sunshine of its gracious approval.
"She was to be seen on the terrace at Windsor, walking with the
consorts of dukes, and with countesses, and wives of English barons,
and the whole gay group might be heard calling one another by their
Christian names."

No wonder that the women of fashion, none of them saints, loved
Oldfield and winked at the elasticity of her moral ethics. The dear
creature was so bright in conversation, so full of _espieglerie_, and,
still more important, she looked so charming in her succession of
handsome toilettes, that she could be ever sure of a cordial welcome.
"Flavia," as Steele calls her, "is ever well-dressed, and always
the genteelest woman you meet, but the make of her mind very much
contributes to the ornament of her body. She has the greatest
simplicity of manners of any of her sex. This makes everything look
native about her, and her clothes are so exactly fitted, that they
appear, as it were, part of her person. Every one that sees her knows
her to be of quality; but her distinction is owing to her manner,
and not to her habit. Her beauty is full of attraction, but not of
allurement. There is such a composure in her looks, and propriety in
her dress, that you would think it impossible she should change the
garb you one day see her in, for anything so becoming until you next
day see her in another. There is no mystery in this, but that however
she is apparelled, she is herself the same: for there is so immediate
a relation between our thoughts and gestures that a woman must think
well to look well."

* * * * *

Here, verily, was an actress who could set the town wild by the beauty
and exquisite taste of her costumes, and who was conscientious enough,
nevertheless, to keep the millinery phase of her art modestly in the
background. You, ladies, who depend for theatrical success upon the
elegance of your gowns, and fondly believe that fairness of face and
litheness of figure will atone for a thousand dramatic sins, take
pattern by the industry of Oldfield. It will be a much better pattern
than those over which you are accustomed to worry your pretty heads.
The enterprising dressmakers who go to the play to get inspiration for
new clothes may cease to worship you, but think of the other sort of
inspiration which you will give to lovers of the drama! Then shall
there be no more announcements to the effect that, "Miss Lighthead
will act Lady Macbeth in ten Parisian gowns made by Worth," or that
when she treats us to the death of Marguerite Gautier (the aforesaid
Mdlle. Gautier dying, as everybody knows, in actual poverty) "Miss
Lighthead will wear diamonds representing one hundred thousand

There is not much to say about the domesticity of Nance and Arthur
Maynwaring. How could there be? The lady kept house for her lord and
master with grace and modesty (if it seems not paradoxical to mention
modesty in this alliance), and it is safe to believe that more than
one member of the Kit-Cat Club often tasted a bit of beef and pudding,
and sipped a glass of port, at the table of the happy pair. Congreve,
the particular friend and _protege_ of the host, must have dined more
than once with brilliant Nance, regaling his plump being with the joy
of food and drink, and wondering, perhaps, how any one could prefer
the hostess to his particular _chere-amie_, Anne Bracegirdle. And
Oldfield, of what did she think as she gazed into the rounded face of
Mr. Congreve, or listened to the merry wit of her devoted liege? Did
the ghost of poor, dead Farquhar ever arise before her, the reminder
of a day when love was younger and passion stronger? Let us ask no
impertinent questions.

What with acting, and supping, and an easy conscience, Mistress
Oldfield gaily trod the primrose path of dalliance, and Cupid hovered
near, albeit there was no law to chain him to the scene. But one day
he took to his wings and flew away, after witnessing the untimely
death (November 1712) of Mr. Maynwaring. The latter made his exit with
the assistance of three physicians, and Nance was near to smooth the
departure.[A] Then came the funeral, and after that Mrs. Mayn--Mrs.
Oldfield dried her lovely eyes (did she not have enough weeping to do
when she played in tragedy?), and began once more to think upon the
joys of existence.

[Footnote A: He died at St. Albans, November 13, 1712, of a
consumption, and was attended in his last illness by Doctors Garth,
Radcliffe and Blackmore. In his will he appointed Mrs. Oldfield, the
celebrated actress, his executrix, with whom he had lived for several
years, and by whom he had a son, named Arthur Maynwaring. His
estate was equally divided between this child, its mother and his
sister.--"Memoirs of the Celebrated Persons Comprising the Kit-Kat

When General Churchill, a nephew of the great Duke of Marlborough,
suggested to the disconsolate widow-by-brevet that she should share
his home, the proposal was accepted, and the actress entered for
a second time into a free-and-easy compact, and for a second time
remained faithful thereto until her new admirer went the way of Mr.
Maynwaring. It was even rumoured--scandalous gossip!--that the two
were married; and one day the Princess of Wales, afterwards Queen
Caroline, asked the "incomparable sweet girl," who was attending a
royal levee, whether such were indeed the case. "So it is said, may
it please your Royal Highness," diplomatically replied Nance, "but we
have not owned it yet."

To Churchill our unsteady heroine presented one son, and it was
through the marriage of the latter that the swift-running blood of
Oldfield now courses through the veins of the first Earl of Cadogan's
descendants.[A] This son and the one who bore the name of Maynwaring
were the only two children credited, or discredited, to the actress,
but there appears to have been a mysterious daughter, a Miss Dye
Bertie, who became, as Mrs. Delany tells us, "the pink of fashion
in the _beau monde_, and married a nobleman." It would not be wise,
however, to peer too closely into the dim vista of the past. The
picture might prove unpleasant.

[Footnote A: Her son, Colonel Churchill, once, unconsciously, saved
Sir Robert Walpole from assassination, through the latter riding home
from the House in the Colonel's chariot instead of alone in his own.
Unstable Churchill married a natural daughter of Sir Robert, and
their daughter Mary married, in 1777, Charles Sloane, first Earl of
Cadogan.... When Churchill and his wife were travelling in France, a
Frenchman, knowing he was connected with poets or players, asked him
if he was Churchill the famous poet. "I am not," said Mrs. Oldfield's
son. "Ma foi!" rejoined the polite Frenchman, "so much the worse for
you."--DR. DORAN.]

Surely we may have charity for Oldfield, when she dispensed the same
virtue to those around her. Towards none did she show it more sweetly
than to that disreputable fraud and alleged man of genius, Richard
Savage. In his own feverish day Dick Savage cut a literary swath more
wide than enviable, but when he is viewed from the unsympathetic light
of the present he seems merely a clever vagabond. Yet Dr. Johnson, who
could be so stern towards some of his contemporaries, condescended
to love the aforesaid vagabond, in a ponderous, elephantine way,
and deified him by writing the life of the ingrate, or an apology
therefor. Savage had, once upon a time, led the youthful Johnson more
than a few feet away from the path of rectitude, but the philosopher
forgave, without forgetting, the wiles of the tempter, and treated
him with a generosity by no means deserved. In the years of his
prosperity--and the remembrance did him credit--Johnson could never
forget that Savage and himself had been poor together, and had often
wandered through London with hardly a penny to show between them.

* * * * *

"It is melancholy to reflect," says Boswell, "that Johnson and Savage
were sometimes in such extreme indigence that they could not pay for
a lodging; so that they have wandered together whole nights in the
streets. Yet in these almost incredible scenes of distress, we may
suppose that Savage mentioned many of the anecdotes with which Johnson
afterwards enriched the life of this unhappy companion, and those of
other poets.

"He told Sir Joshua Reynolds, that one night in particular, when
Savage and he walked round St. James's Square for want of a lodging,
they were not at all depressed by their situation; but in high spirits
and brimful of patriotism, traversed the square for several hours,
inveighed against the Minister, and resolved they would _stand by
their country_."

* * * * *

The claim of Savage that he was the illegitimate son of the Countess
of Macclesfield--a claim which he was always asserting to the point of
coarseness--seems to have been the stock-in-trade of this vagabond's
life. There never was proof that the relationship which he thus
flaunted really existed; for, although the conduct of the Countess[A]
was unpardonable, the poet could never show that he had been the
mysterious infant which had this lady for its mother and Lord Rivers
for an unnatural father. The child disappeared, and nothing more was
ever known of its existence.

[Footnote A: Anne Mason, wife of Charles Gerrard, first Earl of
Macclesfield, was divorced from that nobleman by an Act of Parliament.
Another earl, Richard Savage, Lord Rivers, was the co-respondent.
This was the same Countess of Macclesfield who subsequently married
Cibber's friend, Colonel Brett.]

But Savage discovered, or affected to discover, that he was the
missing one, and from that moment made the Countess miserable by his
importunities for recognition and money, more particularly for
the latter. "It was to no purpose," records Dr. Johnson, "that he
frequently solicited her to admit him to see her; she avoided him with
the most vigilant precaution, and ordered him to be excluded from her
house, by whomsoever he might be introduced, and what reason soever he
might give for entering it." And the Doctor, who had an abiding and
very misplaced confidence in the fellow, adds plaintively: "Savage was
at the same time so touched with the discovery of his real mother that
it was his frequent practice to walk in the dark evenings for several
hours before her door in hopes of seeing her as she might come by
accident to the window, or cross her apartment with a candle in her

"Touched with the discovery," forsooth! 'Twas a species of blackmail
cloaked in the guise of filial sentiment.

This talented blackguard was wont to pray for alms from Mistress
Oldfield; and that dear charitable creature (are not most actresses
dear, charitable creatures?) would often waste her practical sympathy
upon him. She despised the man, but, with that generosity so
characteristic of her craft, was ever ready to relieve his
necessities.[A] Well, well, how the glitter from a few guineas can
envelop the fragile doner in a golden light, and throw over her faults
the soft glow of forgiveness.

[Footnote A: In this (Johnson's) "Life of Savage" 'tis related that
Mrs. Oldfield was very fond of Mr. Savage's conversation, and allowed
him an annuity during her life of L50. These facts are equally
ill-grounded; there was no foundation for them. That Savage's
misfortunes pleaded for pity, and had the desired effect on Mrs.
Oldfield's compassion, is certain; but she so much disliked the man,
and disapproved his conduct, that she never admitted him to her
conversation, nor suffered him to enter her house. She indeed often
relieved him with such donations as spoke her generous disposition.
But this was on the solicitation of friends, who frequently set his
calamities before her in the most piteous light; and, from a principle
of humanity, she became not a little instrumental in saving his
life.--CIBBER'S "Lives of the Poets."]

Savage himself once turned player, and no one must have been more
amused thereat than the Oldfield. It happened during the summer of
1723, when the poet, who was in his customary state of (theatrical)
destitution, determined to replenish his shabby purse by bringing out
a tragedy. While this play, "The Tragedy of Sir Thomas Overbury,"[A]
was in rehearsal at Drury Lane, Colley Cibber kept the author in
clothes, and the Laureate's son Theophilus, then a very young man,
studied the part of Somerset. The principal actors were not in London
just then, it being the off season, when the younger players strutted
across the classic boards of the house, and Savage determined himself
to enact Sir Thomas. He did so with melancholy results; even Johnson
admits the failure of so presumptuous a leap before the footlights,
"for neither his voice, look, nor gesture were such as were expected
on the stage; and he was so much ashamed of having been reduced to
appear as a player, that he always blotted out his name from the list
when a copy of his tragedy was to be shown to his friends."[B]

[Footnote A: Savage, with his usual bad taste, published this tragedy
as the work of "Richard Savage, _son of the late Earl Rivers_."]

[Footnote B: In the publication of his performance he was more
successful, for the rays of genius that glimmered in it, that
glimmered through all the mists which poverty and Cibber had been able
to spread over it, procured him the notice and esteem of many persons
eminent for their rank, their virtue, and their wit. Of this play,
acted, printed, and dedicated, the accumulated profits arose to an
hundred pounds, which he thought at that time a very large sum, having
been never master of so much before. In the "Dedication," for which
he received ten guineas, there is nothing remarkable. The preface
contains a very liberal enconium on the blooming excellence of Mr.
Theophilus Cibber, which Mr. Savage could not in the latter part of
his life see his friends about to read without snatching the play out
of their hands.--DR. JOHNSON.]

What a sublime hypocrite our Richard was, to be sure. That he felt so
keenly the disgrace (?) of "having been reduced to appear as a player"
was, no doubt, a sentiment intended for the exclusive ear of the great
lexicographer, whose prejudice against the stage and its followers was
strong to the point of absurdity. Despite the qualms of the poet
over exposing his sacred self to the gaze of an audience he had no
sensitiveness in receiving the money of an actress, and he was willing
enough to have her aid in another direction.

That aid was cheerfully given once upon a time when Savage came
dangerously near the scaffold. This prince of scamps and wanderer
among the beery precincts of pot-houses happened to stroll one night,
accompanied by two choice spirits (and himself full of spirits) into
a disreputable coffee-house near Charing Cross. The three men rudely
pushed their way into a parlour where some other roisterers were
drinking; the intrusion was naturally resented, and as each and every
one of the party chanced to be better filled with wine than with
politeness, a brawl was the consequence. Swords were drawn and Savage
killed a Mr. Sinclair, after which drunken act he cut the head of
a barmaid who tried to hold him. Then more swearing, shrieking and
sword-thrusting, a cry for soldiers, a flight from the coffee-house,
and an almost instant arrest. A pretty picture, was it not?

When Savage was put on trial for his life, he pleaded that the killing
of Sinclair was done in self-defence, and his acquittal would probably
have followed but for the shrewdness of the prosecution. This
prosecution was conducted by Francis Page, whose severity Pope
immortalised in the lines:

"Slander or poison dread from Delia's rage
Hard-words or hanging--if your judge be Page."

Page surely understood human nature, or that portion of it
appertaining to the average jurymen, and he disposed of Mr. Savage's
defence by one well-directed blow when he said to the good men and
true: "Gentlemen of the jury, you are to consider that Mr. Savage is
a very great man, a much greater man than you or I, gentlemen of the
jury; that he wears very fine clothes, much finer clothes than you
or I, gentlemen of the jury; that he has abundance of money in his
pocket, much more money than you or I, gentlemen of the jury; but,
gentlemen of the jury, is it not a very hard case, gentlemen of the
jury, that Mr. Savage should therefore kill you, or me, gentlemen of
the jury."

Whereupon the defendant began to make a speech in his own behalf, but
his flow of eloquence was quenched by the judge, and the jury soon
found Savage as well as Gregory, one of his companions in the drunken
broil, to be guilty of murder. Many influences were now brought to
bear on Queen Caroline, consort of George II., to secure a pardon for
the rascal, but that good lady was for a time obdurate. She had heard
a few choice stories anent the man, and among them, one which Dr.
Johnson glosses over in this way: "Mr. Savage, when he had discovered
his birth, had an incessant desire to speak to his mother, who always
avoided him in public, and refused him admission into her house.
One evening walking, as it was his custom, in the street that she
inhabited, he saw the door of her house by accident open, he entered
it, and, finding no person in the passage to hinder him, went upstairs
to salute her. She discovered him before he entered her chamber,
alarmed the family with the most distressful outcries, and when she
had by her screams gathered them about her, ordered them to drive
out of the house that villain who had forced himself in upon her and
endeavoured to murder her. Savage, who had attempted with the most
submissive tenderness to soften her rage, hearing her utter so
detestable an accusation, thought it prudent to retire."

Thus the Queen refused to interfere until the Countess of Hertford
pleaded the cause of the imprisoned poet. In the meantime Mistress
Oldfield interceded with the mighty Robert Walpole, and the result of
all this wire-pulling was that Savage received the king's pardon,[A]
being thus left free to continue the persecution of his alleged
mother, to beg from friends and strangers alike, and to follow a
mode of life which scandalised even his kindly biographer. And when
Oldfield, the latchets of whose shoes he was not worthy to tie, played
her last part and passed away from the earthly stage, Richard wore
mourning for her, as for a mother, "but did not celebrate her in
elegies;[B] because he knew that too great profusion of praise would
only have revived those faults which his natural equity did not allow
him to think less because they were committed by one who favoured him;
but of which, though his virtue would not endeavour to palliate them,
his gratitude would not suffer him to prolong the memory or diffuse
the censure."

[Footnote A: March 1728. It is cheerful to know that Mr. Gregory also
escaped hanging. It was contended during the trial, and afterwards,
that the testimony against both these defendants was more damning than
the facts warranted.]

[Footnote B: Nevertheless Savage did write a poem in Oldfield's
honour, although he did not sign his virtuous name thereto. The verses
are quoted by Chetwood. _Vide_ Chapter XI.]

Poor, crusty Samuel! what rot you could write now and then, and how
you did hate players and their craft. But may not the bewildered
reader ask how the aphorisms of the doctor and the disreputable
affairs of Savage concern that home life of Nance to which the
chapter is presumably consecrated? In answer the writer can only cry
"Peccavi," and, having done so, will sin boldly again by giving one
more anecdote. The story concerns Savage, but Steele is the hero of
it, and as winsome Dick is always welcome, we may take leave of the
other Dick in a pleasant way.

Savage was once desired by Sir Richard (says Johnson), with an air
of the utmost importance, to come very early to his house the next
morning. Mr. Savage came as he had promised, found the chariot at the
door, and Sir Richard waiting for him and ready to go out. What was
intended, and whither they were to go, Savage could not conjecture,
and was not willing to inquire; but immediately seated himself with
Sir Richard. The coachman was ordered to drive, and they hurried with
the utmost expedition to Hyde Park Corner, where they stopped at a
petty tavern and retired to a private room. Sir Richard then informed
him that he intended to publish a pamphlet, and that he had desired
him to come thither that he might write for him. He soon sat down to
the work. Sir Richard dictated, and Savage wrote, till the dinner that
had been ordered was put upon the table. Savage was surprised at the
meanness of the entertainment, and after some hesitation ventured to
ask for wine, which Sir Richard, not without reluctance, ordered to
be brought. They then finished their dinner, and proceeded in their
pamphlet, which they concluded in the afternoon.

Mr. Savage then imagined his task over, and expected that Sir Richard
would call for the reckoning and return home; but his expectations
deceived him, for Sir Richard told him that he was without money, and
that the pamphlet must be sold before the dinner could be paid for;
and Savage was therefore obliged to go and offer their new production
to sale for two guineas, which with some difficulty he obtained. Sir
Richard then returned home, having retired that day only to avoid his
creditors, and composed the pamphlet only to discharge his reckoning.

Savage also told Johnson another merry tale of careless Dick. "Sir
Richard Steele having one day invited to his house a great number of
persons of the first quality, they were surprised at the number of
liveries which surrounded the table; and after dinner, when wine and
mirth had set them free from the observation of a rigid ceremony,
one of them inquired of Sir Richard how such an expensive train of
domestics could be consistent with his fortune. Sir Richard very
frankly confessed that they were fellows of whom he would very
willingly be rid. And being then asked why he did not discharge them,
declared that they were bailiffs, who had introduced themselves with
an execution, and whom, since he could not send them away, he had
thought it convenient to embellish with liveries, that they might
do him credit while they stayed. His friends were diverted with the
expedient, and by paying the debt discharged their attendants, having
obliged Sir Richard to promise that they should never again find him
graced with a retinue of the same kind."

These little pleasantries are echoes of the halcyon days when Steele
thought Savage a very fine fellow, made him an allowance and even
proposed to become the poet's father-in-law. But the recipient of all
this favour was caddish enough to ridicule his patron, a kind friend
mentioned the fact to Sir Richard, and the knight shut his doors on
the ingrate. Let us, likewise, give the fellow his _conge_.



We have seen that Oldfield affected to despise tragedy, and was wont
to suggest Mistress Porter as a lady better suited than herself to the
purposes of train-bearing. And as the present chapter will be devoted
to a few of Nance's contemporaries let us linger, if only for an
instant, over the imposing memory of one whom cynical Horace Walpole
thought even finer than Garrick in certain scenes of passion. This
"ornament to human nature," as a biographer warmly called the Porter,
played her first childish part in a Lord Mayor's pageant during
the reign of James II., appearing as the Genius of Britain, and
incidentally falling under the august notice of another genius of
Britain, the great Mr. Betterton. That worthy man regarded the little
girl with prophetic eyes, saw in her a wealth of undeveloped talent,
and was soon instructing the chit in the mysteries of dramatic art.
Sometimes the actress-in-miniature revolted, poor mite ("she should
have been in the nursery, the minx," says some practical reader) and
then noble Thomas would give vent to an awful threat. She must speak
and act as she was directed, or else--horrible thought--the child
should be thrown into the basket of an orange-girl and buried under
one of the vine leaves which hid the luscious fruit! And with
that punishment hanging over her, the novice went on learning and
originating, until one day London woke up to find a new tragedienne
within its boundaries.

[Illustration: Mr. Mills, Mrs. Porter, Mr. Cibber.]

'Twas a tragedienne, be it added, who possessed no wonderful charm
of person. She was pleasing in figure and bearing, but her voice was
naturally harsh, her features did not shine forth loveliness, and when
the scene wherein she walked called neither for vehemence of feeling,
nor melting tenderness, her elocution became a monotonous cadence.[A]
Yet in moments of dramatic excitement, or in places where the deep
note of pathos had to be sounded, Porter played with a distinction
that either thrilled the spectator or reduced him to the verge of
tears. She threw cadence and monotony to the four winds of heaven,
or rather to the four corners of the stage, and spoke with the
earnestness of one inspired.

[Footnote A: Mrs. Porter was tall, fair, well-shaped, and easy and
dignified in action. But she was not handsome, and her voice had a
small degree of tremor. Moreover, she imitated, or, rather, faultily
exceeded, Mrs. Barry in the habit of prolonging and toning her
pronunciation, sometimes to a degree verging upon a chant; but
whether it was that the public ear was at that period accustomed to a
demi-chant, or that she threw off the defect in the heat of passion,
it is certain that her general judgment and genius, in the highest
bursts of tragedy, inspired enthusiasm in all around her, and that
she was thought to be alike mistress of the terrible and the

As Queen Catherine Mrs. Porter was all mournful grace and dignity, as
Lady Macbeth she breathed of battle, murder and sudden death, and in
the role of Belvidera she showed yet another phase of her incomparable
art. "I remember Mrs. Porter, to whom nature had been so niggard in
voice and face, so great in many parts, as Lady Macbeth, Alicia in
'Jane Shore,' Hermione in the 'Distressed Mother,' and many parts of
the kind, that her great action, eloquence of look and gesture, moved
astonishment; and yet I have heard her declare she left the action
to the possession of the sentiments in the part she performed." Thus
wrote Chetwood, whose good fortune it was to see Oldfield, and Porter,
and a host of other famous players, not forgetting, in later days, the
wonderful Garrick himself.

Unlike several of her ilk, Mistress Porter could play the heroine off
the stage as well as on. She lived at Heywoodhill, near Hendon, and
used to wend her way homeward every night, at the conclusion of the
play, in a one-horse chaise. The roads were dangerous, and highwaymen
lurked in the neighbourhood, but the actress put her faith in
Providence--and a brace of pistols which she always carried. The
pistols came very nicely to her rescue one evening when a robber
waylaid the chaise and put to the traveller the conventional question
as to whether she most valued her money or her life. Nothing daunted
by the impertinence of this ethical query, Mrs. Porter pointed one of
the weapons at the intruder, and he, so goes the story, gracefully
surrendered, for the reason that he was himself without firearms. The
man made the best of the situation, however, by assuring the occupant
of the vehicle that he was "no common thief," and had been driven to
his present course by the wants of a starving family. He told her,
at the same time, where he lived, and urged his distresses with such
earnestness, that she spared him all the money in her purse, which was
about ten guineas.[A]

[Footnote A: Bellchambers' "Memoirs." This episode happened in the
summer of 1731.]

Thereupon the highwayman departed, and Mrs. Porter whipped up her
horse. In her excitement she must have used the lash too freely, for
the animal started to run, the chaise was overturned, and the actress
dislocated her thigh bone. When she had in part recovered from the
accident, the victim made up a purse of sixty pounds, subscribed
among her friends, and sent it to the poverty-stricken family of the
desperado. How Nance would have laughed at the story had she been at
the theatre to hear it told. But there was no more merriment for
this daughter of smiles; she was lying cold and still amid the stony
grandeur of Westminster Abbey.

Poor Porter outlived Oldfield for more than thirty years and, having
also outlived an annuity settled upon herself, spent her declining
days in what polite writers call straightened circumstances. One of
the closing scenes of her career shows us a meeting between this
veteran of the stage and Dr. Johnson, who could allow his kindness
of heart and sense of generosity to overcome his hatred of things
theatrical. It is easy to imagine the whole interview: the shrunken
face of the Porter beaming all over with an appreciation of the honour
paid her, and the Doctor full of benevolence and patronising courtesy,
even to the extent of drinking cheap tea without a grumble. After the
philosopher takes his leave he will likewise take with him a vivid
memory of the beldam's many wrinkles--so many, indeed, that "a
picture of old age in the abstract might have been taken from her

[Footnote A: Dr. Johnson was pleased to avow that "Mrs. Porter in the
vehemence of rage, and Mrs. Clive in the sprightliness of humour, he
had never seen equalled."]

Of a different calibre was Lacy Ryan, an ill-trained genius who could
shine pretty well in both tragedy and comedy and from whom, according
to Foote,

"... succeeding Richards took the cue,
And hence his style, if not the colour, drew."[A]

[Footnote A: Justice has scarcely been done to Ryan's merit. Garrick,
on going with Woodward to see his Richard with a view of being amused,
owned that he was astonished at the genius and power he saw struggling
to make itself felt through the burden of ill-training, uncouth
gestures, and an ungraceful and slovenly figure. He was generous
enough to own that all the merit there was in his own playing of
Richard he had drawn from studying this less fortunate player.--PERCY

Like Mrs. Porter, Ryan was a youthful disciple of Betterton, and was
brought to the notice of Roscius in a curious fashion. One day, when
Lacy had just begun, as a boy of sixteen or seventeen, to court the
dramatic muses, he was cast for the role of Seyton, the old officer
who attends on Macbeth, and was, no doubt, charmed with the
assignment. To wait upon Macbeth, in however humble a capacity, was
in itself no mean honour, and when the aforesaid Macbeth would be
Betterton himself, the importance of the task was re-doubled.

That afternoon Ryan came on the stage in all the glory of a
full-bottomed wig (imagine playing Shakespeare these days with
full-bottomed wigs) and a smiling young face, being very much pleased
with himself and the world in general. To Betterton, who had expected
to see in Seyton a henchman of mature years, and who up to this moment
had been unconscious of Lacy's existence, the appearance of the boy
came as a shock. Had the witches of the tragedy been turned into
beautiful children he could not have been more surprised. However, he
gave the new Seyton an encouraging look, and the stripling played the
part in a way to earn the approbation of the great actor. After the
performance was over, Betterton scolded old Downes, the prompter, for
"sending a child to him instead of a man advanced in years."

This anecdote seems to show that the art of "make-up" had not reached
perfection in those times, for a few well-put strokes of the pencil
should have destroyed the juvenile aspect of Seyton. It must not be
supposed, nevertheless, that the decoration of the face was unknown,
and an entry in Pepys' delightful diary proves that "make-up" of a
certain kind flourished at the Restoration. "To the King's house,"
says Pepys, "and there going in met with Knipp, and she took us up
into the tireing-rooms;[A] and to the women's shift, where Nell
(Gwyne) was dressing herself, and was all unready, and is very pretty,
prettier than I thought. (Imagine the gloating eyes of the old
hypocrite.) And into the scene-room, and there sat down, and she gave
us fruit: and here I read the questions to Knipp, while she answered
me, through all her part of 'Flora's Figarys,' which was acted to-day.
But, Lord! to see how they were both painted, would make a man mad,
and did make me loath them: and what base company of men comes among
them; and how loudly they talk! And how poor the men are in clothes,
and yet what a show they make on the stage by candle-light, is very
observable. But to see how Nell cursed, for having so few people in
the pit, was strange," _et cetera_.[B]

[Footnote A: Mrs. Knipp was an actress belonging to the King's Company
and Mr. Pepys had for her a timid admiration.]

[Footnote B: In his notes to Cibber's "Apology," Lowe suggests the
plausible theory that young actors playing "juveniles" did not use
any "make-up" or paint, but went on the stage with their natural
complexion. He instances this paragraph from Cibber: "The first thing
that enters into the head of a young actor is that of being a heroe:
In this ambition I was soon snubb'd by the insufficiency of my voice;
to which might be added an uniform'd meagre person (tho' then not
ill-made) with a dismal pale complexion."]

To leave the merry days of Charles II, and wander back to those of
Queen Anne, it may be said that Ryan made his first success as the
Marcus in the original production of "Cato." It was a success rather
added to than otherwise by an adventure of which this actor was the
unfortunate victim. "In the run of that celebrated tragedy," writes
Chetwood, "he was accidently brought into a fray with some of our
Tritons on the Thames; and, in the scuffle, a blow on the nose was
given him by one of these water-bullies, who neither regard men or
manners. I remember, the same night, as he was brought on the bier,
after his suppos'd death in the fourth act of 'Cato,' the blood, from
the real wound in the face, gush'd out with violence; that hurt had
no other effect than just turning his nose a little, tho' not to
deformity; yet some people imagine it gave a very small alteration to
the tone of his voice, tho' nothing disagreeable." And a very good
advertisement it was, no doubt.

In later years another much-discussed accident befell Mr. Ryan. As he
was going home from the theatre one night, the actor was attacked by a
footpad, and received in his face two bullets which broke a portion of
his jaw. "By the help of a lamp [again is the quotation from Chetwood]
the robber knew Mr. Ryan, as I have been inform'd, begg'd his pardon
for his mistake, and ran off. Of this hurt, too, he recover'd, after a
long illness, and play'd with success, as before, without any seeming
alteration of voice or face. His Royal Highness, upon this accident
(was it the Prince of Wales, afterwards George II?) sent him a
handsome present; and others, of the nobility, copy'd the laudable
example of the second illustrious person in the three kingdoms."

This was Lacy Ryan, who in his time played many different parts, among
them Iago, Hamlet, Macduff, Captain Plume, and Orestes. He was not in
any sense of the word a great actor, but he well adorned the station
of theatrical life in which it had pleased heaven to place him, and
strutted his lengthy hour upon the stage with much satisfaction to
his companions and the public. Even when Ryan had to kill a bully in
self-defence (it was a fellow named Kelly, who loved to haunt the
coffee-houses, pick quarrels with peaceable citizens, and then half
murder them), the world looked on approvingly, and averred that the
player had acted with his usual conscientiousness.

Another contemporary of Nance was Benjamin Johnson,[A] who achieved
curiously enough some of his greatest successes in the plays of his
namesake, the other Ben Jonson. He began life as a scene painter, but
afterwards turned his attention to the front, rather than the back,
of the stage--or, as he would humorously explain, "left the saint's
occupation to take that of a sinner." Johnson seems to have been a man
of the world, and he saw a good deal of life, even though he never
passed through the rough-and-tumble adventures of Lacy Ryan. When he
was born (1665) Betterton dominated the boards; when he died (1742)
Garrick had become the talk of London; and it is probable that in his
latter years Ben could tell many a story of interesting experiences.

[Footnote A: Ben Johnson excelled greatly in all his namesake's
comedies, then frequently acted. He was of all comedians the chastest
and closest observer of nature. Johnson never seemed to know that he
was before an audience; he drew his character as the poet designed

There was one story, at least, that this actor used to relate with
much unction after a visit which he once paid to Dublin. The hero of
the affair was an Irishman, named Baker, who relieved the monotony
of his work as a master pavior by acting Sir John Falstaff and other
parts. When he was in the streets, overseeing the labours of his men,
this pavior-artist usually rehearsed one of his characters, muttering
the lines, gesticulating, and almost forgetting that he was without
the sacred walls of a theatre. The workmen soon got accustomed to
these out-of-door performances, and everything proceeded with the
utmost smoothness, until one exciting day when Baker chanced to be
alone with two new paviors. These recruits (countrymen from Cheshire)
were much alarmed at a sudden change in the demeanour of their master,
whose eyes began to roll and lips to move under the pressure of some
strange emotion. Baker was merely rehearsing Falstaff; but the two men
made up their little minds that he had lost his head, and they felt
quite sure that their employer was a dangerous lunatic, when he gave
them a piercing glance, and cried:

"Soft! who are you? Sir Walter Blunt: there's honour for you! here's
no vanity! I am as hot as molten lead, and as heavy too. God keep lead
out of me!"

"Wauns! I'se blunt enough to take care of you, I'se warrant you,"
shouted one of the workmen, who had now recovered what he presumed to
be his wits, and thereupon he and his companion laid violent hands on
Baker. A crowd soon gathered, and despite the indignant cries of
the master-pavior, who declared he was never more sane, this son of
Thespis was tied hand and foot, and carried home in triumph with a
howling mob for attendants. That ended Mr. Baker's rehearsal for the
nonce; and it is to be presumed that, when next he essayed the lusty
Sir John, he made sure of an appreciative audience.

It is a seductive occupation to delve into the lives of these bygone
players, and there is always temptation to tarry long and lovingly
amid such chequered careers. But, like poor Joe, of Dickens, we must
keep moving on, and so leave Johnson and Baker for another actor
who waits to strut across the stage of these "Palmy Days." Thomas
Elrington is the new-comer; the same Elrington who sought to outshine
the tragic Barton Booth, without possessing either the genius or the
scholarship of that noble son of Melpomene. As a boy, Thomas was
apprenticed by an impecunious father to an upholsterer in Covent
Garden, but he cared more for the theatre than for his trade, and
was, no doubt, regarded by his employer as a future candidate for the

* * * * *

"I remember when he was an apprentice," relates Chetwood, "we play'd
in several private plays; when we were preparing to act 'Sophonisba,
or Hannibal's Overthrow,' after I had wrote out my part of Massiva I
carried him the book of the play to study the part of King Masinissa.
I found him finishing a velvet cushion, and gave him the book:
but alas! before he could secrete it, his master (a hot, voluble
Frenchman), came in upon us, and the book was thrust under the velvet
of the cushion. His master, as usual, rated him for not working, with
a 'Morbleu! why a you not vark, Tom?' and stood over him so long that
I saw, with some mortification, the book irrecoverably stitch'd up in
the cushion never to be retriev'd till the cushion is worn to pieces.
Poor Tom cast many a desponding look upon me when he was finishing the
fate of the play, while every stitch went to both our hearts.

"His master observing our looks, turn'd to me, and with words that
broke their necks over each other for haste, abused both of us. The
most intelligible of his great number of words were Jack Pudenges, and
the like expressions of contempt. But our play was gone for ever.

"Another time," continues the biographer, "we were so bold to attempt
Shakespeare's 'Hamlet,' where our 'prentice Tom had the part of the
Ghost, father to young Hamlet. His armour was composed of pasteboard,
neatly painted. The Frenchman had intelligence of what we were about,
and to our great surprise and mortification, made one of our audience.
The Ghost in its first appearance is dumb to Horatio. While these
scenes past, the Frenchman only muttered between his teeth, and we
were in hopes his passion would subside; but when our Ghost began his
first speech to Hamlet, 'Mark me,' he replied, 'Begar, me vil marke
you presently!' and, without saying any more, beat our poor Ghost off
the stage through the street, while every stroke on the pasteboard
armour grieved the auditors (because they did not pay for their
seats), insomuch that three or four ran after the Ghost, and brought
him back in triumph, with the avenging Frenchman at his heels, who
would not be appeas'd till our Ghost promised him never to commit the
offence of acting again. A promise made, like many others, never to be

* * * * *

Elrington ultimately became a favourite player with Dublin audiences,
and then contested with Booth in the latter's own ground of London. He
never equalled the classic Barton, yet made a success in tragedy, and
was once asked (1728-9) to join the forces of Drury Lane for a term
of years. He told the managers that he could not think of permanently
leaving Ireland, where he was so well rewarded for his services, and
added, "There is not a gentleman's house there to which I am not a
welcome visitor," which shows that an actor can be a snob, like the
worst of us.

When Elrington died, two years after the taking off of Oldfield, his
epitaph was written in these flattering lines:--

"Thou best of actors here interr'd,
No more thy charming voice is heard,
This grave thy corse contains:
Thy better part, which us'd to move
Our admiration, and our Love,
Has fled its sad remains.

"Tho' there's no monumental brass,
Thy sacred relicks to encase,
Thou wondrous man of art!
A lover of the muse divine,
O! Elrington, shall be thy shrine,
And carve thee in his heart."

One of Elrington's friends and artistic associates happened to be
John Evans, a player possessed of talent, fatness, and indolence. As
adventures seem to be in order in this chapter, let us recall two
which occurred to this gentleman at a time when he was in high favour
with the Irish. The first episode, making a warlike prologue to the
second, had for its scene a tavern in the good city of Cork, where
Evans had been invited to sup by some officers stationed in the
neighbourhood. Jack responded gladly to the hospitable suggestion; the
gathering proved a great success, the wine was circulated generously,
and many toasts were offered. When the actor was called upon for a
sentiment, he proposed the health of his gracious sovereign, Anne,
whereat all in the company were pleased with the exception of one
disloyal redcoat. Whether the latter had within him the contrariness
which cometh with too liberal dalliance with the flowing bowl, or
whether he chanced to be a Jacobite, further deponent sayeth not, but
it is at least certain that the officer was not pleased at the honour
paid to the Queen whose uniform he was willing to wear. So Mr.
Malcontent leaves the room, and then sends up word to poor,
inoffensive Jack, that he will be delighted to see that worthy below
stairs; whereupon Jack quietly steals away and finds his would-be
antagonist lurking behind a half-opened door. The soldier makes a
lunge with his sword at the player, who succeeds in disarming the
coward, and there the matter apparently stops.

But the end was not yet. When Evans went to Dublin, he found that his
late challenger was circulating a lie, which made it appear that the
comedian had in somewise affronted the whole British Army. No sooner
did Jack put his face upon the stage than a great clamour arose, and
it was decreed by the bullies among the audience (of whom there are
ever a few in every house), that no play should be presented until the
culprit had publicly begged pardon for a sin which he never committed.
The play was "The Rival Queens," the part assigned to Evans that of
Alexander, but 'twas some time before this Alexander could be induced
to crave the forgiveness of the excitable Dublinites. Finally he
yielded to expediency, and, coming forward to the centre of the stage,
expressed his contrition. At this, a puppy in the pit cried out
"Kneel, you rascal!" and Evans, now thoroughly exasperated, tartly
answered: "No, you rascal! I'll kneel to none but God, and my Queen."
Then the performance began.[A]

[Footnote A: "As there were many worthy gentlemen of the army who knew
the whole affair, the new rais'd clamour ceas'd, and the play went
through without any molestation, and, by degrees, things return'd to
their proper channel By this we may see, it is some danger for an
actor to be in the right."--CHETWOOD.]

How Chetwood bubbles over with a stream of ever-flowing anecdote. Much
that he gives us in his "General History of the Stage" is only gossip,
yet what is there more fascinating than tittle-tattle about players?
The gossip of the drawing-room is merely inane, or else scandalous;
but shift the scene to the theatre, and a story no longer bores; it is
consecrated by the sacrament of interest. Is any apology necessary,
therefore, if the quotation marks be again brought into requisition.
This time the anecdote is of Thomas Griffith, an excellent comedian,
and a harmless poet.

"After his commencing actor, he contracted a friendship with Mr.
Wilks; which chain remained unbroke till the death of that excellent
comedian. Tho' Mr. Griffith was very young, Mr. Wilks took him with
him to London (from Dublin), and had him entered for that season at
a small salary. The 'Indian Emperor' being ordered on a sudden to
be played, the part of Pizarro, a Spaniard, was wanting, which Mr.
Griffith procured, with some difficulty. Mr. Betterton being a little
indisposed, would not venture out to rehearsal, for fear of increasing
his indisposition, to the disappointment of the audience, who had not
seen our young stripling rehearse. But, when he came ready, at the
entrance, his ears were pierced with a voice not familiar to him. He
cast his eyes upon the stage, where he beheld the diminutive Pizarro,
with a truncheon as long as himself (his own words.)

"He steps up to Downs, the prompter, and cry'd, 'Zounds, Downs, what
sucking scaramouch have you sent on there?' 'Sir,' replied Downs,
'He's good enough for a Spaniard; the part is small.' Betterton
return'd, 'If he had made his eyebrows his whiskers, and each whisker
a line, the part would have been two lines too much for such a monkey
in buskins.'

"Poor Griffith stood on the stage, near the door, and heard every
syllable of the short dialogue, and by his fears knew who was meant by
it; but, happy for him, he had no more to speak that scene. When the
first act was over (by the advice of Downs) he went to make his excuse
with--'Indeed, Sir, I had not taken the part, but there was only I
alone out of the play.' 'I! I!' reply'd Betterton, with a smile, 'Thou
art but the tittle of an I.' Griffith seeing him in no ill humour told
him, 'Indians ought to be the best figures on the stage, as nature had
made them.' 'Very like,' reply'd Betterton, 'but it would be a double
death to an Indian cobbler to be conquer'd by such a weazle of a
Spaniard as thou art. And, after this night, let me never see a
truncheon in thy hand again, unless to stir the fire.' ... He took his
advice, laid aside the buskin, and stuck to the sock, in which he made
a figure equal to most of his contemporaries.

"Our genius flutters with the plumes of youth,
But observation wings to steddy truth."

No one can resist telling another story, this time of fat Charles
Hulet, whose abilities were only equalled by his corpulence. Having
been apprenticed to a bookseller, he straightway proceeded to take a
violent interest in the drama, and would often while away the evenings
by spouting Shakespeare and other authors. In lieu of a company to
support him young Hulet would designate each chair in the kitchen to
represent one of the characters in the play he was reciting. "One
night, as he was repeating the part of Alexander, with his wooden
representative of Clytus (an old elbow-chair), and coming to the
speech where the old General is to be kill'd, this young mock
Alexander snatch'd a poker instead of a javelin, and threw it with
such strength against poor Clytus, that the chair was kill'd upon
the spot, and lay mangled on the floor. The death of Clytus made a
monstrous noise, which disturbed the master in the parlour, who called
out to know the reason; and was answered by the cook below, 'Nothing,
sir, but that Alexander has kill'd Clytus.'"

* * * * *

In latter days Hulet took great pride in the sonorous tones of his
voice, and loved nothing more dearly than to steal up behind a man and
startle the unsuspecting one by giving a very loud "Hem." It was a
"Hem," however, which helped to make the actor's winding-sheet, for
one fine day he repeated the trick, burst a blood-vessel, and died
within twenty-four hours.

Heaven bless all these merry vagabonds! We may not always wish to
follow in their footsteps, but we like to keep near them and pry into
their careless, happy lives. When the Bohemians enter a pot-house we
are too virtuous, presumably, to go in likewise, but we stand without,
to get a tempting whiff of hot negus and a snatch of some genial jest
or tuneful song. Then, if our players stray, perchance, into the
gloomy precincts of a pawn-shop, are we not quite prepared to steal up
to the window and discover what tribute is being paid to mine uncle?
And so, speaking of pot-houses, and negus, and pawn-shops, let us end
our extracts from the invaluable Chetwood with this unconventional
reminiscence of another player, Mr. John Thurmond. It was a custom at
that time for persons of the first rank and distinction to give their
birthday suits to the most favoured actors. I think Mr. Thurmond was
honoured by General Ingolsby with his. But his finances being at the
last tide of ebb, the rich suit was put in buckle (a cant word for
forty in the hundred interest). One night, notice was given that the
General would be present with the Government at the play, and all
the performers on the stage were preparing to dress out in the suits
presented. The spouse of Johnny (as he was commonly called) try'd all
her arts to persuade Mr. Holdfast, the pawnbroker (as it fell out, his
real name) to let go the cloaths for that evening, to be returned when
the play was over. But all arguments were fruitless; nothing but
the Ready, or a pledge of full equal value. Such people would have
despised a Demosthenes, or a Cicero, with all their rhetorical
flourishes, if their oratorian gowns had been in pledge. Well! what
must be done? The whole family in confusion and all at their wits-end;
disgrace, with her glaring eyes and extended mouth, ready to devour.
Fatal appearance!

* * * * *

"At last Winny, the wife (that is, Winnifrede), put on a compos'd
countenance (but, alas! with a troubled heart); stepp'd to a
neighbouring tavern, and bespoke a very hot negus, to comfort Johnny
in the great part he was to perform that night, begging to have the
silver tankard with the lid, because, as she said, 'a covering, and
the vehicle silver, would retain heat longer than any other metal,'
The request was comply'd with, the negus carry'd to the playhouse
piping hot, popp'd into a vile earthen mug--the tankard _l'argent_
travelled _incog_. under her apron (like the Persian ladies veil'd),
popp'd into the pawnbroker's hands, in exchange for the suit--put on
and play'd its part, with the rest of the wardrobe; when its duty
was over, carried back to remain in its old depository; the tankard
return'd the right road; and, when the tide flowed with its lunar
influence, the stranded suit was wafted into safe harbour again, after
paying a little for 'dry docking,' which was all the damage received."

* * * * *

And Mr. Chetwood adds:

"Thus woman's wit (tho' some account it evil)
With artful wiles can overreach the Devil."

Among such as these, good, bad and indifferent, moral and otherwise,
did Mistress Oldfield pass what hours she consecrated to the theatre.
In the early years, when merely a poor, struggling postulant before
the altar of fame, the girl must have been more or less intimate with
her dramatic associates, but as time went on and Nance blazed into a
star of the first magnitude, the old feeling of fellowship may have
become weakened. Not that the actress was in any sense snobbish;
rather let it be said that the circumstances of her celebrity proved
quite enough, in the course of human affairs, to separate her from the
other players. Indeed, one of her biographers relates that Oldfield
always went in state to Drury Lane, accompanied by two footmen, and
that she seldom spoke to any one of the actors.[A]

[Footnote A: She always went to the house (_i.e._, the theatre) in the
same dress she had worn at dinner in her visits to the houses of great
people; for she was much caressed on account of her general merit, and
her connection with Mr. Churchill. She used to go to the playhouse in
a chair, attended by two footmen; she seldom spoke to any one of
the actors, and was allowed a sum of money to buy her own
clothes.--"General Biographical Dictionary."]

Nance may have made her entry into the green-room amid royal auspices,
but who can for a second believe that "she seldom spoke to any one
of the actors"? There was in her composition too much of sunshine to
warrant any such belief, and then we know that behind the scenes she
was ever affable and friendly. If she did not brook familiarity which
comes of contempt, and if she moved about among her companions with
dignity, then so much the better.

Of Nance's sweetness of temper and sterling common-sense, Cibber
has left us an attractive memory. It seems that when the Drury Lane
management determined to revive "The Provoked Wife" of Sir John
Vanbrugh (January 1726), Colley suggested that Wilks should take a
rest during the run of the piece, and allow Barton Booth to play the
lover, Constant. The idea did not meet with Wilks' approval; "down
dropt his brow, and fur'd were his features"; and the green-room
became the scene of a violent spat between Cibber and himself, with
Mrs. Oldfield and other members of the company as excited listeners.
Finally the author of the "Apology" said: "Are you not every day
complaining of your being over-labour'd? And now, upon the first
offering to ease you, you fly into a passion, and pretend to make that
a greater grievance than t'other: But, Sir, if your being in or out of
the play is a hardship, you shall impose it upon yourself: The part is
in your hand, and to us it is a matter of indifference now whether you
take it or leave it."


Upon this Mr. Wilks "threw down the part upon the table, crossed
his arms, and sate knocking his heel upon the floor, as seeming to
threaten most when he said least." Hereupon Booth generously yielded
up the much disputed Constant to his rival with the remark that "for
his part, he saw no such great matter in acting every day; for he
believed it the wholsomest exercise in the world; it kept the spirits
in motion, and always gave him a good stomach"--and the elegant
Barton, be it remembered, was a great eater.

* * * * *

"Here," says Cibber, "I observed Mrs. Oldfield began to titter behind
her fan. But Wilks being more intent upon what Booth had said,
reply'd, every one could best feel for himself, but he did not pretend
to the strength of a pack-horse; therefore if Mrs. Oldfield would
chuse anybody else to play with her, he should be very glad to be
excus'd. This throwing the negative upon Mrs. Oldfield was, indeed, a
sure way to save himself; which I could not help taking notice of, by
saying it was making but an ill compliment to the company to suppose
there was but one man in it fit to play an ordinary part with her.

"Here Mrs. Oldfield got up, and turning me half round to come forward,
said with her usual frankness, 'Pooh! you are all a parcel of fools,
to make such a rout about nothing!' Rightly judging that the person
most out of humour would not be more displeased at her calling us all
by the same name. As she knew, too, the best way of ending the debate
would be to help the weak, she said, she hop'd Mr. Wilks would not so
far mind what had past as to refuse his acting the part with her; for
tho' it might not be so good as he had been us'd to, yet she believed
those who had bespoke the play would expect to have it done to the
best advantage, and it would make but an odd story abroad if it were
known there had been any difficulty in that point among ourselves. To
conclude, Wilks had the part."

Verily, Oldfield was a gentlewoman.



"UNDERTAKER [_To his men_]. Well, come you that are to be mourners in
this house, put on your sad looks, and walk by me that I may sort you.
Ha, you! a little more upon the dismal; [_forming their countenances_]
this fellow has a good mortal look--place him near the corpse: that
wainscot face must be o' top of the stairs; that fellow's almost in a
fright (that looks as if he were full of some strange misery) at the
entrance to the hall. So--but I'll fix you all myself. Let's have no
laughing now on any provocation. [_Makes faces_.] Look yonder, that
hale, well-looking puppy! You ungrateful scoundrel, did not I pity
you, take you out of a great man's service, and shew you the pleasure
of receiving wages? Did not I give you ten, then fifteen, now twenty
shillings a week, to be sorrowful? and the more I give you, I think,
the gladder you are.

"_Enter a_ BOY.

"BOY. Sir, the grave-digger of St. Timothy's in the Fields would speak
with you.

"UNDERTAKER. Let him come in.


"GRAVE-DIGGER. I carried home to your house the shroud the gentleman
was buried in last night; I could not get his ring off very easilly,
therefore I brought you the finger and all; and, sir, the sexton gives
his service to you, and desires to know whether you'd have any bodies
removed or not: if not, he'll let them be in their graves a week

"UNDERTAKER. Give him my service; I can't tell readilly: but our
friend, Dr. Passeport, with the powder, has promised me six or seven
funerals this week."

* * * * *

These extracts are not from the manuscript of a modern
farce-comedy,[A] but belong to Steele's play of "The Funeral, or Grief
a la Mode." If they have about them all the air of _fin-de-siecle_
wit, so much the more eloquently do they testify to the freshness
of Dick's satire. Freshness, satire, and death! Surely the three
ingredients seem unmixable; yet when poured into the crucible of
Steele's genius they resulted in a crystal that sparkled delightfully
amid the lights of a theatre--a crystal which might still shed
brilliancy if some enterprising manager would exhibit it to a jaded

[Footnote A: In "A Milk White Flag," a good specimen of "up-to-date"
farce, Mr. Hoyt dallies entertainingly and discreetly with the
blithesome topics of undertakers, corpses, and widows.]

In "The Funeral" the author impaled, with many a merciless slash of
the pen, the hypocrisy and vulgar flummery that characterised the
whole gruesome ceremony of conducting to its earthly resting-place
the body of a well-to-do sinner. For the average Englishman loved a
funeral and all its ghastly accompaniments as passionately as though
he had Irish blood in his veins, and often insisted upon investing the
burial of his friends with the mockery, rather than the sincerity, of

Grief thus became a pleasure, and it was a pleasure, be it added,
which was not taken too sadly. (Pardon the paradox.) The spirits of
the deceased's many admirers had to be raised, and the enlivening
process was set in motion by means of numerous libations, not of
tea, but of lusty wine. When the wife of mine host of the "Crown
and Sceptre" left this world of cooking and drinking, the women who
crowded to the good lady's funeral had to drown their sorrows in a tun
of red port,[A] and it is evident that at the burial of men the grief
of the mourners required an equal amount of quenching. Indeed, the
most absurd expenditures and preparations were made for what should be
the simplest of ceremonies, and the result oftentimes proved garish
in the extreme. As an example of the display in this direction, John
Ashton quotes from the _Daily Courant_ a report of the obsequies of
Sir William Pritchard, sometime Lord Mayor of London. After a
vast deal of pomp wasted in St. Albans and other places upon the
unappreciative and inanimate Pritchard, the remains reached the
country seat of the deceased, in the county of Buckingham. "Where,
after the body had been set out, with all ceremony befitting his
degree, for near two hours, 'twas carried to the church adjacent in
this order, viz., 2 conductors with long staves, 6 men in long cloaks
two and two, the standard, 18 men in cloaks as before, servants to
the deceas'd two and two, divines, the minister of the parish and the
preacher, the helm and crest, sword and target, gauntlets and spurs,
born by an officer of Arms, both in their rich coats of Her Majesty's
Arms enbroider'd; the body, between 6 persons of the Arms of Christ's
Hospital, St. Bartholomew's, Merchant Taylors Company, City of
London, empaled coat and single coat; the chief mourner and his four
assistants, followed by the relations of the defunct, &c."[B] In this
aggregation of grandeur the mere bagatelle in the shape of a corpse
seems almost completely overshadowed, and it is thus comforting to
reflect that the latter finally had interment in a "handsome large
vault, in the isle on the north side of the church, betwixt 7 and 8 of
the clock that evening." The dear departed, or grief for his memory,
frequently played but too small a role in all these trappings of
despondency, and the insignificance of the deceased might only be
likened to the secondary position of a man at his own wedding. It was
all fuss and mortuary feathers, mourning rings and mulled wine in the
one case, just as in the other it is entirely a show of bride and
blushes, flounces and femininity. [Footnote A: In writing of the
customs connected with old-time English funerals, Misson says: "The
relations and chief mourners are in a chamber apart, with their more
intimate friends; and the rest of the guests are dispersed in several
rooms about the house. When they are ready to set out, they nail
up the coffin, and a servant presents the company with sprigs of
rosemary: Every one takes a sprig and carries it in his hand till the
body is put into the grave, at which time they all throw their sprigs
in after it. Before they set out, and after they return, it is usual
to present the guests with something to drink, either red or white
wine, boil'd with sugar and cinnamon, or some such liquor. Butler, the
keeper of a tavern, told me there was a tun of red port drank at his
wife's burial, besides mull'd white wine. Note, no men ever go to
women's burials, nor the women to the men's; so that there were none
but women at the drinking of Butler's wine. Such women in England will
hold it out with the men, when they have a bottle before them, as well
as upon t'other occasion, and tattle infinitely better than they."]

[Footnote B: The will of Benjamin Dod, a Roman Catholic citizen of
London (died 1714) runs in part as follows: "I desire four and twenty
persons to be at my burial ... to every of which four and twenty
persons ... I give a pair of white gloves, a ring of ten shillings
value, a bottle of wine at my funeral, and half a crown to be spent
at their return that night; to drink my soul's health, then on her
Journey for Purification in order to Eternal Rest. I appoint the room,
where my corpse shall lie, to be hung with black, and four and twenty
wax candles to be burning; on my coffin to be affixed a cross and this
inscription, _Jesus Hominum Salvator_. I also appoint my corpse to be
carried in a herse drawn with six white horses, with white feathers,
and followed by six coaches, with six horses to each coach, to carry
the four and twenty persons.... Item, I give to forty of my particular
acquaintance, not at my funeral, to every one of them a gold ring of
ten shillings value.... As for mourning, I leave that to my executors
hereafter nam'd; and I do not desire them to give any to whom I
shall leave a legacy.... I will have no Presbyterian, Moderate Low
Churchmen, or Occasional Conformists, to be at or have anything to do
with my funeral. I die in the Faith of the True Catholic Church. I
desire to have a tomb stone over me, with a Latin inscription, and
a lamp, or six wax candles, to burn seven days and nights
thereon."--_Vide_ ASHTON.]

Was it any wonder that when Dick Steele, aetat twenty-six, an officer
of Fusiliers, and a merry vagabond, wanted to redeem his reputation by
writing a rollicking comedy, his thoughts turned to the satirising of
the British undertaker? For the young man must prove to the town that
he was not the hypocrite several of his kind friends had dubbed him.
The fact was, that he had been virtuous enough to write a pious work
entitled, "The Christian Hero," which he afterwards published, but
as he had not grown sufficiently master of himself to live up to its
golden precepts (nay, rather did he continue to spend his evenings in
the taverns), the author came in for many a taunt and sneer. Why did
he not practice what he preached? was the sarcastic query of his

Yet there was no thought of cant in what the soldier had done. His
design in issuing the "Christian Hero" was, as he explained in after
years, "principally to fix upon his own mind a strong impression of
virtue and religion, in opposition to a stronger propensity towards
unwarrantable pleasures." This secret admiration was too weak; he
therefore printed the book with his name, in hopes that a standing
testimony against himself, and the eyes of the world (that is to say,
of his acquaintances) upon him in a new light, would make him ashamed
of understanding and seeming to feel what was virtuous, and living so
contrary to life.

But the man was weak where the author was willing, and thus gay
Richard went on "living so contrary a life" with true Celtic
perversity, and made of himself anything but a Christian Hero.
Rather was he a jolly Pagan, with a passion for his wine and his
coffee-house, and a kindly, merry word even for those who twitted him
upon his inconsistency. It was plain, therefore, that he must be some
other sort of hero, and so he evolved the brilliant satire of "The
Funeral," to "enliven his character, and repel the sarcasms of those
who abused him for his declarations relative to religion."



In the twinkling of an eye Steele became the spoiled darling of the
day. The comedy, which was produced at Drury Lane in 1702, was the
talk of the enthusiastic town, and the playwright arose from
his beer-mugs, his wine-flagons, and his contemplation of ideal
Christianity, to find himself famous. He had opened a new vein of
satire, and a vein moreover which upheld virtue and laughed to scorn
hypocrisy and vice. That was a moral which the dramatists of his epoch
seldom taught.[A] And so the people crowded to the theatre, applauded
the sentiment of the play, guffawed at the keen wit of the dialogue,
and swore that this young rascal Steele was the prince of bright
fellows. Then they went home--and revelled, as before, in the funerals
of their friends.

[Footnote A: The "Funeral" is the merriest and most perfect of
Steele's comedies. The characters are strongly marked, the wit genial,
and not indecent. Steele was among the first who set about reforming
the licentiousness of the old comedy. His satire in the "Funeral" is
not against virtue, but vice and silliness.--DR. DORAN.]

What of this remarkable comedy? Its story turned upon the marriage of
the elderly Lord Brumpton to a designing young minx who estranges the
nobleman from his son, Lord Hardy, the gentlemanly, poverty-stricken
leading man of the piece. When Brumpton has a cataleptic fit, and is
apparently dead as a doornail, the spouse confides his body to the
undertaker with feelings of serene pleasure. But let the lines of the
play, or a portion thereof, unfold the situation.

The scene is at Lord Brumpton's house; the nobleman has just been
pronounced defunct, and Sable, the undertaker, has arrived. The
latter, who is being bantered by two of the characters, Mr. Campley
and Cabinet, is evidently a bit of a philosopher, albeit an uncanny
one, for he says:

* * * * *

"There are very few in the whole world that live to themselves, but
sacrifice their bosom-bliss to enjoy a vain show and appearance of
prosperity in the eyes of others; and there is often nothing more
inwardly distressed than a young bride in her glittering retinue, or
deeply joyful than a young widow in her weeds and black train; of both
which the lady of this house may be an instance, for she has been the
one, and is, I'll be sworn, the other.

"CABINET. You talk, Mr. Sable, most learnedly.

"SABLE. I have the deepest learning, sir, experience; remember your
widow cousin, that married last month.

"CABINET. Ay, but how you'd you imagine she was in all that grief
an hypocrite! Could all those shrieks, those swoonings, that rising
falling bosom, be constrained? You're uncharitable, Sable, to believe
it. What colour, what reason had you for it?

"SABLE. First, Sir, her carriage in her concerns with me, for I never
yet could meet with a sorrowful relict but was herself enough to
make a hard bargain with me. Yet I must confess they have frequent
interruptions of grief and sorrow when they read my bill; but as for
her, nothing she resolv'd, that look'd bright or joyous, should
after her love's death approach her. All her servants that were not
coal-black must turn out; a fair complexion made her eyes and heart
ake, she'd none but downright jet, and to exceed all example, she
hir'd my mourning furniture by the year, and in case of my mortality,
ty'd my son to the same article; so in six weeks time ran away with a
young fellow."

* * * * *

And so on (with a cynicism of which, of course, no modern "funeral
director" would be guilty--out loud), until the undertaker's men come
on the scene.

* * * * *

"Where in the name of goodness have you all been?" asks SABLE. "Have
you brought the sawdust and tar for embalming? Have you the hangings
and the sixpenny nails, and my lord's coat of arms?"

"SERVANT. Yes, sir, and had come sooner, but I went to the herald's
for a coat for Alderman Gathergrease that died last night--he has
promised to invent one against to-morrow."

"SABLE. Ah! pox take some of our cits, the first thing after their
death is to take care of their birth--let him bear a pair of
stockings, he is the first of his family that ever wore one.... And
you, Mr. Blockhead, I warrant you have not call'd at Mr. Pestle's the
apothecary: will that fellow never pay me? I stand bound for all the
poison in that starving murderer's shop: he serves me just as Dr.
Quibus did, who promised to write a treatise against water-gruel, a
healthy slop that has done me more injury than all the Faculty: look
you now, you are all upon the sneer, let me have none but downright
stupid countenances. I've a good mind to turn you all off, and take
people out of the playhouse; but hang them, they are as ignorant of
their parts as you are of yours.... Ye stupid rogues, whom I have
picked out of the rubbish of mankind, and fed for your eminent
worthlessness, attend, and know that I speak you this moment stiff and
immutable to all sense of noise, mirth or laughter. [_Makes mouths at
them as they pass by him to bring them to a constant countenance_.]
So, they are pretty well--pretty well."


* * * * *

When the stage is clear Lord Brumpton and his servant Trusty enter.
The former has wakened from his cataleptic trance, as the faithful
Trusty watched beside him, and is horrified to learn of Lady
Brumpton's lack of grief. But hush; he will conceal himself, for
here comes my lady, accompanied by her woman and confidant, Mistress

* * * * *

"_Enter_ WIDOW _and_ TATTLEAID, _meeting and running to each other_.

"WIDOW. Oh, Tattleaid, his and our hour has come!

"TAT. I always said by his church yard cough, you'd bury him, and
still you were impatient.

"WIDOW. Nay, thou hast ever been my comfort, my confident, my friend,
and my servant; and now I'll reward thy pains; for tho' I scorn the
whole sex of fellows I'll give them hopes for thy sake; every smile,
every frown, every gesture, humour, caprice and whimsy of mine shall
be gold to thee, girl; thou shalt feel all the sweets and wealth of
being a fine rich widow's woman. Oh! how my head runs my first year
out, and jumps to all the joys of widowhood! If thirteen months hence
a friend should haul one to a play one has a mind to see,[A] what
pleasure t'will be when my Lady Brumpton's footman called (who kept
a place for that very purpose) to make a sudden insurrection of fine
wigs in the pit and side-boxes. Then, with a pretty sorrow in one's
face, and a willing blush for being stared at, one ventures to look
round, and bow to one of one's own quality. Thus [_very directly_] to
a snug pretending fellow of no fortune. Thus [_as scarce seeing him_]
to one that writes lampoons. Thus [_fearfully_] to one who really
loves. Thus [_looking down_] to one woman-acquaintance, from box to
box, thus [_with looks differently familiar_], and when one has done
one's part, observe the actors do theirs, but with my mind fixed not
on those I look at, but those that look at me. Then the serenades--the
lovers! [A query--if the theatres were patronised only by those who
looked solely at the stage, what would be the size of the audiences?]

[Footnote A: A well-regulated widow kept herself at home for six weeks
after the death of her husband, and denied herself the theatre and
other public amusements for a twelvemonth.]

"TAT. Oh, madam, you make my heart bound within me: I'll warrant you,
madam, I'll manage them all; and indeed, madam, the men are really
very silly creatures, 'tis no such hard matter--they rulers! they
governors! I warrant you indeed.

"WIDOW. Ay, Tattleaid, they imagine themselves mighty things, but
government founded on force only, is a brutal power--we rule them by
their affections, which blinds them into belief that they rule us, or
at least are in the government with us. But in this nation our power
is absolute; thus, thus, we sway--[_playing her fan_]. A fan is both
the standard and the flag of England. I laugh to see men go on our
errands, strut in great offices, live in cares, hazards and scandals,
to come home and be fools to us in brags of their dispatches,
negotiations, and their wisdoms--as my good dear deceas'd use to
entertain me; which I, to relieve myself from, would lisp some silly
request, pat him on the face. He shakes his head at my pretty folly,
calls me simpleton; gives me a jewel, then goes to bed so wise, so
satisfied, and so deceived."

* * * * *

This pleasant conversation Lord Brumpton overhears, as he does also
the inmost secrets of his lawyer, Puzzle. The latter gentleman, who
has studied hard to cheat his good-natured employer, and succeeded, is
a daringly drawn satire on the pettifogging attorney of the period.[A]
Note the following words of wisdom, _apropos_ to the drawing of wills,
which Mr. Puzzle addresses to his nephew.

[Footnote A: Of the attorney of Queen Anne's day Ward wrote: "He's an
Amphibious Monster, that partakes of two Natures, and those contrary;
He's a great Lover both of Peace and Enmity; and has no sooner set
People together by the Ears, but is Soliciting the Law to make an end
of the Difference. His Learning is commonly as little as his Honesty;
and his Conscience much larger than his Green Bag. Catch him in what
Company soever, you will always hear him stating of Cases, or telling
what notice my Lord Chancellor took of him, when he beg'd leave to
supply the deficiency of his Counsel. He always talks with as great
assurance as if he understood what he only pretends to know: And
always wears a Band, and in that lies his Gravity and Wisdom. He
concerns himself with no Justice but the Justice of a Cause: and for
making an unconscionable Bill he outdoes a Taylor."]

"PUZZLE. As for legacies, they are good or not, as I please; for let
me tell you, a man must take pen, ink and paper, sit down by an old
fellow, and pretend to take directions, but a true lawyer never makes
any man's will but his own; and as the priest of old among us got near
the dying man, and gave all to the Church, so now the lawyer gives all
to the law.

"CLERK. Ay, sir, but priests then cheated the nation by doing their
offices in an unknown language.

"PUZZLE. True, but ours is a way much surer; for we cheat in no
language at all, but loll in our own coaches, eloquent in gibberish,
and learned in jingle. Pull out the parchment [_referring to the will
of_ LORD BRUMPTON], there's the deed; I made it as long as I could.
Well, I hope to see the day when the indenture shall be the exact
measure of the land that passes by it; for 'tis a discouragement to
the gown, that every ignorant rogue of an heir should in a word or
two understand his father's meaning, and hold ten acres of land by
half-an-acre of parchment. Nay, I hope to see the time when that there
is indeed some progress made in, shall be wholly affected; and by the
improvement of the noble art of tautology, every Inn in Holborn an Inn
of Court. Let others think of logic, rhetoric, and I know not what
impertinence, but mind thou tautology. What's the first excellence in
a lawyer? Tautology. What's the second? Tautology. What's the third?
Tautology; as an old pleader said of action."

* * * * *

Who shall say that the tautological sentiments of Mr. Puzzle are not
still inculcated? Nay, the whole play furnishes a capital instance of
the truism that the world changes but little, and, furthermore, that
the mould of nigh two centuries cannot spoil the wit of sparkling
Steele. Ah, Dick! Dick! you may have been a sorry dog, with your
toasts and your taverns, yet 'tis a thousand pities that a few
dramatists of to-day cannot drink inspiration from the same cups.

To continue our cheerful journey with this unusual "Funeral," we soon
find ourselves introduced to Lord Hardy, the unjustly discarded son of
Brumpton. Hardy is a high-spirited, honest man of quality, a trifle
out at elbows just now, owing to the stoppage of financial supplies
from the paternal mansion. His straits are oft severe, and it is
fortunate that he has in Trim a faithful servant who knows so well how
to keep the duns at bay. "Why, friend, says I [Trim is describing to
Hardy his method of dealing with his lordship's creditors], how often
must I tell you my lord is not stirring. His lordship has not slept
well, you must come some other time; your lordship will send for him
when you are at leisure to look upon money affairs; or if they are so
saucy, so impertinent as to press a man of your quality for their
own, there are canes, there's Bridewel, there's the stocks for your
ordinary tradesmen; but to an haughty, thriving Covent Garden mercer,
silk or laceman, your lordship gives your most humble service to him,
hopes his wife is well; you have letters to write, or you would see
him yourself, but you desire he would be with you punctually on such
a day, that is to say, the day after you are gone out of town, Which
shows very plainly that Trim could have earned large wages had he
lived in the nineteenth century. These 'Palmy Days' are not long
enough, however, to permit the introduction of all the characters, nor
the outlining of the entire story, with its brisk love-interest. But
this bit of dialogue, which occurs after Sable has discovered the
much-alive Lord Brumpton, is too good to be ignored:

"SABLE. Why, my lord, you can't in conscience put me off so; I must do
according to my orders, cut you up, and embalm you, except you'll come
down a little deeper than you talk of; you don't consider the charges
I have been at already.

"LORD BRUMPTON. Charges! for what?

"SABLE. First, twenty guineas to my lady's woman for notice of your
death (a fee I've before now known the widow herself go halves in),
but no matter for that--in the next place, ten pounds for watching you
all your long fit of sickness last winter--

"LORD BRUMPTON. Watching me? Why I had none but my own servants by

"SABLE. I mean attending to give notice of your death. I had all your
long fit of sickness, last winter, at half a crown a day, a fellow
waiting at your gate to bring me intelligence, but you unfortunately
recovered, and I lost all my obliging pains for your service.

"LORD BRUMPTON. Ha! ha! ha! Sable, thou'rt a very impudent fellow. Half
a crown a day to attend my decease, and dost thou reckon it to me?"

"SABLE.... I have a book at home, which I call my doomsday-book, where
I have every man of quality's age and distemper in town, and know
when you should drop. Nay, my lord, if you had reflected upon your
mortality half so much as poor I have for you, you would not desire to
return to life thus--in short, I cannot keep this a secret, under the
whole money I am to have for burying you."

* * * * *

Of course Lady Brumpton is discomfited and disgraced at the end of
the play, and, of course, Lord Brumpton is reconciled to his son--for
Steele took care that virtue should be rewarded and the moral code
otherwise preserved. As to her ladyship, who has proved a very
entertaining sort of villain, we shall take leave of her in one of the
best scenes of the comedy:

"WIDOW. _[Reading the names of the visitors who have called to leave
their condolences]_ Mrs. Frances and Mrs. Winnifred Glebe, who are

"TATTLEAID. They are the country great fortunes, have been out of town
this whole year; they are those whom your ladyship said upon being
very well-born took upon them to be very ill-bred."

"WIDOW. Did I say so? Really I think it was apt enough; now I remember
them. Lady Wrinkle--oh, that smug old woman! there is no enduring
her affectation of youth; but I plague her; I always ask whether her
daughter in Wiltshire has a grandchild yet or not. Lady Worth--I can't
bear her company; [_aside_] she has so much of that virtue in her
heart which I have in mouth only. Mrs. After-day--Oh, that's she that
was the great beauty, the mighty toast about town, that's just come
out of the small-pox; she is horribly pitted they say; I long to see
her, and plague her with my condolence.... But you are sure these
other ladies suspect not in the least that I know of their coming?

"TAT. No, dear madam, they are to ask for me.

"WIDOW. I hear a coach. [_Exit_ TATTLEAID.] I have now an exquisite
pleasure in the thought of surpassing my Lady Sly, who pretends to
have out-grieved the whole town for her husband. They are certainly
coming. Oh, no! here let me--thus let me sit and think. [_Widow on
her couch; while she is raving, as to herself_, TATTLEAID _softly
introduces the ladies_.] Wretched, disconsolate, as I am!... Alas!
alas! Oh! oh! I swoon! I expire! [_Faints_.

"SECOND LADY. Pray, Mrs. Tattleaid, bring something that is cordial to
her. [_Exit_ TATTLEAID.

"THIRD LADY. Indeed, madam, you should have patience; his lordship was
old. To die is but going before in a journey we must all take.

_Enter_ TATTLEAID, _loaded with bottles_; THIRD LADY _takes a bottle
from her and drinks_.

"FOURTH LADY. Lord, how my Lady Fleer drinks! I have heard, indeed,
but never could believe it of her. [_Drinks also_.

"FIRST LADY. [_Whispers_.] But, madam, don't you hear what the town
says of the jilt, Flirt, the men liked so much in the Park? Hark
ye--was seen with him in a hackney coach.

"SECOND LADY. Impudent flirt, to be found out!

"THIRD LADY. But I speak it only to you.

"FOURTH LADY. [_Whispers next woman_.] Nor I, but to no one.

"FIFTH LADY. [_Whispers the_ WIDOW.] I can't believe it; nay, I always
thought it, madam.

"WIDOW. Sure, 'tis impossible the demure, prim thing. Sure all the
world is hypocrisy Well, I thank my stars, whatsoever sufferings I
have, I have none in reputation. I wonder at the men; I could never
think her handsome. She has really a good shape and complexion but no
mein; and no woman has the use of her beauty without mein. Her charms
are dumb, they want utterance. But whither does distraction lead me to
talk of charms?

"FIRST LADY. Charms, a chit's, a girl's charms! Come, let us widows be
true to ourselves, keep our countenances and our characters, and a fig
for the maids.

"SECOND LADY. Ay, since they will set up for our knowledge, why should
not we for their ignorance?

"THIRD LADY. But, madam, o' Sunday morning at church, I curtsied to
you and looked at a great fuss in a glaring light dress, next pew.
That strong, masculine thing is a knight's wife, pretends to all the
tenderness in the world, and would fain put the unwieldly upon us for
the soft, the languid. She has of a sudden left her dairy, and sets up
for a fine town lady; calls her maid Cisly, her woman speaks to her by
her surname of Mrs. Cherryfist, and her great foot-boy of nineteen,
big enough for a trooper, is stripped into a laced coat, now Mr. Page

"FOURTH LADY. Oh, I have seen her. Well, I heartily pity some people
for their wealth; they might have been unknown else--you would die,
madam, to see her and her equipage: I thought her horses were ashamed
of their finery; they dragged on, as if they were all at plough, and
a great bashful-look'd booby behind grasp'd the coach, as if he had
never held one.

"FIFTH LADY. Alas! some people think there is nothing but being fine
to be genteel; but the high prance of the horses, and the brisk
insolence of the servants in an equipage of quality are inimitable.

"FIRST LADY. Now you talk of an equipage, I envy this lady the beauty
she will appear in a mourning coach, it will so become her complexion;
I confess I myself mourned for two years for no other reason. Take up
that hood there. Oh, that fair face with a veil! [_They take up her

"WIDOW. Fie, fie, ladies. But I have been told, indeed, black does

"SECOND LADY. Well, I'll take the liberty to speak it, there is young
Nutbrain has long had (I'll be sworn) a passion for this lady; but
I'll tell you one thing I fear she'll dislike, that is, he is younger
than she is.

"THIRD LADY. No, that's no exception; but I'll tell you one, he is
younger than his brother.

"WIDOW. Talk not of such affairs. Who could love such an unhappy
relict as I am? But, dear madam, what grounds have you for that idle

"FOURTH LADY. Why he toasts you and trembles where you are spoke of.
It must be a match.

"WIDOW. Nay, nay, you rally, you rally; but I know you mean it kindly.

"FIRST LADY. I swear we do.

[TATTLEAID _whispers the_ WIDOW.

"WIDOW. But I must beseech you, ladies, since you have been so
compassionate as to visit and accompany my sorrow, to give me the only
comfort I can now know, to see my friends cheerful, and to honour an
entertainment Tattleaid has prepared within for you. If I can find
strength enough I'll attend you; but I wish you would excuse me, for
I have no relish of food or joy, but will try to get a bit down in my
own chamber.

"FIRST LADY. There is no pleasure without you.

"WIDOW. But, madam, I must beg of your ladyship not to be so importune
to my fresh calamity as to mention Nutbrain any more. I am sure there
is nothing in it. In love with me, quotha!"

[WIDOW _is led away. Exeunt_ LADIES.

Thus runs the comedy, trippingly as the tongue of a gay _raconteur_.
Sometimes the scenes are exaggerated, sometimes the characters may be
overdrawn, but the satire is true, and the wit is of the best.
Take, for instance, the picture reproduced above. Are not its
colours--albeit bold and merciless--tinged with the redeeming hue
of naturalness? And of you, fair daughters of Eve (if any of you
condescend to read these pages), let the author ask one impertinent
little question: Is there not something in the conversation of Dick
Steele's First Lady, or his Second Lady, or all the other Ladies,
which suggests the charity and intellectuality that doth hedge in an
afternoon tea?



"Sweet are the charms of her I love,
More fragrant than the damask rose;
Soft as the down of turtle-dove,
Gentle as winds when zephyr blows;
Refreshing as descending rains,
On sun-burnt climes, and thirsty plains."

Thus rhapsodised the great Barton Booth, who could write harmless
poetry when the cares of acting did not press too hard upon him. In
this case the verses were addressed to the object of his passion, a
lady who seems to have been, at first, a trifle parsimonious in her
smiles; for, in another song intended for the same siren, the lover

"Can then a look create a thought
Which time can ne'er remove?
Yes, foolish heart, again thou'rt caught,
Again thou bleed'st for Love.

"She sees the conquest of her eyes,
Nor heals the wounds she gave;
She smiles when'er my blushes rise,
And, sighing, shuns her Slave.

"Then, Swain, be bold! and still adore her
Still the flying fair pursue:
Love, and friendship, still implore her,
Pleading night and day for you."

[Illustration: BARTON BOOTH]

Who was this "flying fair" that the swain pursued with such despairing
fervour? Nance Oldfield? Nay, there was no romance there, for while
Booth could make the most exquisite stage love to the actress, he
never carried that love beyond the mimic world. Rather was it the
lovely Mistress Santlow, that dancing bit of sunshine, who turned the
heads of many an amorous spectator, and had enough of the temptress
about her to lead a mighty warrior from the path of domestic
constancy, and bring a Secretary of State almost to the verge of
matrimony.[A] She seemed the apotheosis of grace, did this merry,
moving Hester, and when she forsook the art she so delightfully
adorned, and took to the "legitimate," there were not a few among her
admirers who regretted the change. "They mourned," says Dr. Doran, "as
if Terpsichore herself had been on earth to charm mankind, and had
gone never to return. They remembered, longed for, and now longed in
vain for that sight which used to set a whole audience half distraught
with delight, when in the very ecstacy of her dance, Santlow contrived
to loosen her clustering auburn hair, and letting it fall about such
a neck and shoulders as Praxiteles could more readily imagine than
imitate, danced on, the locks flying in the air, and half-a-dozen
hearts at the end of every one of them."

[Footnote A: The Duke of Marlborough and Secretary Craggs

At the end of one of those locks was the throbbing heart of Barton
Booth, which he had completely lost in watching the auburn hair and
the poetic movements of the _coryphee:_

"But now the flying fingers strike the lyre,
The sprightly notes the nymph inspire.
She whirls around! she bounds! she springs!
As if Jove's messenger had lent her wings.

"Such were her lovely limbs, so flushed her charming face
So round her neck! her eyes so fair!
So rose her swelling chest! so flow'd her amber hair!
While her swift feet outstript the wind,
And left the enamor'd God of Day behind."

Certes, Booth was in love when he wrote this eulogy.

But however sprightly and deftly did this charmer pirouette, she could
not deny herself the luxury of appearing as a regular actress. Her
first venture in this direction was as the Eunuch of "Valentinian,"
wherein she donned boy's attire, and was much more successful in
masculine garb than have been not a few better artists. From this
part to that of Dorcas Zeal in Shadwell's play, "The Fair Quaker of
Deal,"[A] was but a step, and a step, be it said, which for the moment
consoled the public for her desertion from the ballet. According to
Cibber, Santlow was the happiest incident in the fortune of the play,
and the Laureate tells us that she was "then in the full bloom of what
beauty she might pretend to."[B] He adds that "before this she had
only been admired as the most excellent dancer, which perhaps might
not a little contribute to the favourable reception she now met with
as an actress in this character which so happily suited her figure and
capacity: the gentle softness of her voice, the composed innocence
of her aspect, the modesty of her dress, the reserv'd deceny of her
gesture, and the simplicity of the sentiments that naturally fell from
her, made her seem the amiable maid she represented. In a word, not
the enthusiastick Maid of Orleans was more serviceable of old to the
French army when the English had distressed them, than this fair
Quaker was at the head of that dramatick attempt upon which the
support of their weak society depended."

[Footnote A: Produced at Drury Lane in February, 1710.]

[Footnote B: It might appear from this remark of Colley's that the
Santlow was not over handsome. Yet if a picture taken from life does
not belie her the dancer was most fair to look upon.]

This "weak society" was the new company recruited by William Collier
for Drury Lane Theatre, and wherein could be found, in addition to the
light-limbed Hester, such players as her adoring swain, Barton Booth,
Theophilus Keen, George Powell, Francis Leigh, Mrs. Bradshaw and Mrs.
Knight. Colley was at that time (1710) in opposition to Drury, his
interest lying with the Hay market management, and it is very evident
that the success of the "Fair Quaker"--a success made in face of the
counter attraction furnished by the long trial of Dr. Sacheverel--went
sorely against the grain with him.[A] The fact was that things at the
Hay market were not flourishing, and the prosperity enjoyed by the
Drury Lane comedy--and the Sacheverel show--seemed tantalising to

[Footnote A: Shadwell evidently had Cibber in mind when he wrote in
the preface to the "Fair Quaker of Deal": "This play was written
about three years since, and put into the hands of a famous comedian
belonging to the Haymarket Playhouse, who took care to beat down the
value of it so much as to offer the author to alter it fit to appear
on the stage, on condition he might have half the profits of the third
day; that is as much as to say, that it may pass for one of his,
according to custom. The author not agreeing to this reasonable
proposal, it lay in his hands till the beginning of this winter, when
Mr. Booth read it, and liked it, and persuaded the author that, with a
little alteration, it would please the town."]

Even in after years Colley grew bitter in thinking of the "Fair
Quaker," and could not help indulging in a dig at its expense when
he came to write the "Apology." He likewise paid his satirical
compliments to the new-fangled Italian opera which was given at the
Haymarket during the season of 1709-10, on the days when the regular
dramatic company did not appear. The opera had already proved a
drawing attraction, but at the time here mentioned the popular
interest in the performances had fallen off, and the dear and ever
fickle public, of high and low degree, prefered either Drury Lane or
the trial of Sacheverel to the artistic delights of music and the
drama at the rival house. And so Cibber plaintively sighs.

"The truth is, that this kind of entertainment [opera] being so
entirely sensual, it had no possibility of getting the better of our
reason but by its novelty; and that novelty could never be supported
but by an annual change of the best voices, which, like the finest
flowers, bloom but for a season, and when that is over are only dead
nosegays. From this natural cause we have seen within these two years
even Farinelli singing to an audience of five and thirty pounds, and
yet, if common fame may be credited, the same voice, so neglected in
one country, has in another had charms sufficient to make that crown
sit easy on the head of a Monarch, which the jealousy of politicians

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