« ElőzőTovább »
Miss Eliza Farren made her first appearance on the Liverpool stage, in 1773, as Rosetta, in "Love in a Village," being at that time only fourteen years of age. She performed this and many other characters with great success, not only at Liverpool, but at Shrewsbury, Chester, and other places where the company usually performed. At length, by the kindness of Mr. Younger, the manager, she obtained a letter of introduction to the elder Colman, at whose theatre in the Haymarket she appeared in the summer of 1777, in the character of Miss Hardcastle, in Goldsmith's comedy of "She Stoops to Conquer." That excellent mimic Edwin first appeared the same night as Tony Lumpkin; and the celebrated Henderson also made his debut during that season. It may not be unamusing to quote a contemporary critic on the lady: "Miss Farren's first appearance on a London stage, appeared the most leading figure in this group, and from that circumstance is entitled to some indulgence from the critic pen. Her performance of Miss Hardcastle, though far short of Mrs. Bulkeley, who was the original barmaid, would not have disgraced either of our winter theatres. Her person is genteel, and above the middle stature; her countenance full of sensibility, and capable of expression; her voice clear, but rather sharp, and not sufficiently varied; her action not directly awkward; and her delivery emphatic and distinct." On the 30th of August following, Miss Farren played the part of Rosina, in the " Spanish Barber," which was then first produced, and by her skilful performance greatly contributed to the success of the piece. But the part which completely established her fame as an actress, was Lady Townley. Her first performance of that character was the result of the recommendation and entreaty of the inimitable Parsons, who removed every scruple which timidity on Miss Farren's part interposed, and at length prevailed upon her, though not without great difficulty, to try it for his benefit. The consequence was just what he had predicted: the whole house was enraptured with the performance; and Miss Farren was engaged that night for both the winter theatres, and played alternately at Drury Lane and Covent Garden, through the season, the first characters in tragedy, as well as in comedy. It may be said that, throughout life, accidental circumstances greatly favoured Miss Farren. At Bath, Mr?. Siddons had played Almeida, in Pratt's tragedy of " The Fair Circassian," with great success. In bringing the piece forward at Drury Lane, it was Mr. Sheridan's intention that Mrs. Crawford should make her first appearance as the heroine. Through some disagreement, however, that lady was not engaged: the part of Almeida was consequently given to Miss Farren; and the piece had a nearly uninterrupted run of three-and-twenty nights. This was in the year 1780. Mrs. Abingdon's desertion of Drury Lane for Covent Garden, was another fortunate circumstance, which at once placed Miss Farren, who succeeded her, in her proper sphere. It was at about this period of her fame that the celebrated Charles Fox was observed to pay her particular attention, frequently dangling whole evenings behind the scenes for the sake of her company; but finding these attentions not meeting the success he anticipated, he gave up the pursuit to Lord Derby, who took every means in his power to promote her interest. He induced Lady Dorothea Thompson and Lady Cecilia Johnson to become her patronesses; by which means she was enabled to move in the first circles. She was naturally anxious to rival women of the highest rank and fortune in every female and polite accomplishment; and so indefatigable were the pains she took to improve, that Miss Farren was justly considered as a finished pattern of female elegance and fashion. The platonic affection that was said to exist between Miss Farren and Lord Derby was, of course, productive of a great many squibs, &c. among the would-be-wits and idlers about town; but their conduct was so guarded as to be free from the aspersions of the most censorious or malicious. His Lordship at that time was very painfully circumstanced with regard to his Countess: there had been a separation between them, but no divorce. At all the interviews between Lord Derby and Miss Farren, Mrs. Farren, who resided with her daughter, was present; and not a whisper of calumny was ever breathed against them. The exalted estimation in which Miss Farren's conduct and character were held, induced Mr. King, on his succeeding to the management of Drury Lane theatre, to pay her all possible respect and attention. When the Duke of Richmond became enamoured of private theatricals, Miss Farren was appointed to preside over the stage business, at his house in Privy Gardens. To this employment she devoted much attention, as it introduced her to a wider circle of nobility; and she was caressed by numerous ladies of rank and fashion. At the little theatre which the Duke had caused to be fitted up, Lord Derby, Lord Henry Fitzgerald, Charles Fox, General Fitzpatrick, Lord JohnTownshend, the Hon. Mrs. Darner, &c. were accustomed to appear in the principal characters. At this time Miss Farren had a house in the vicinity of Grosvenor Square, kept her carriage, and was received in the first circles. Occasionally, she played with great success in Ireland; where, also, she was much noticed by the nobility. On the opening of the new theatre of Drury Lane, in April, 1794, she delivered an amusing epilogue, written by George Colman the younger. The following character of Miss Farren, when she was in her meridian, was written by an eminent critic of that day: —
"It might be sufficient praise to say of Miss Farren's performances, if she had never deviated from the walk for which art as well as nature designed her, it might, perhaps, be sufficient praise to say, that, were we to collect every idea which has been suggested to us by books, or has been the result of our own observations on life, assisted by all that the imagination could conceive of a woman of fashion, we should find every idea realised, and every conception embodied, in the person and acting of Miss Farren. Her figure is considerably above the middle height, and is of that slight texture which allows and requires the use of full and flowing drapery, an advantage of which she well knows how to avail herself; her face, though not regularly beautiful, is animated and prepossessing; her eye, which is blue and penetrating, is a powerful feature when she chooses to employ it on the public, and either flashes with spirit or melts with softness, as its mistress decides on the expression she wishes to convey; her voice we never thought to possess much sweetness, but it is refined and feminine; and her smiles, of which she is no niggard, fascinate the heart as much as her form delights the eye. In short, a more complete exhibition of graces and acplishments never presented itself for admiration before the view of an audience.
"To this enumeration of personal charms, we have to add the list of her talents. It is not wise, indeed, to separate them — they are mutually benefited and improved by each other. Dant simtd et accipiunt. A rarer combination of nature and art to qualify their favourite for the assumption of the principal characters in the higher comedy has never been known: she possesses ease, vivacity, spirit, and humour; and her performances are so little injured by effort, that we have often experienced a delusion of the senses, and imagined what in a theatre it is so difficult to imagine, the scene of action to be identified, and Miss Farren really the character she was only attempting to sustain: we cannot admit the supposition even, that St, James's ever displayed superior evidence of fine breeding than Miss Farren has often done in her own person." Mr. Boaden also, in his "Memoirs of Kemble," thus speaks of her: —
"In my remarks upon the leading actresses of the year 1783, I shall first pay my respects to Miss Farren, who in comedy, if not in tragedy, merited the highest distinction. She had succeeded at Drury Lane theatre to the characters which had been performed by Mrs. Abingdon, though it would be difficult to mention two actresses who differed more essentially in their comic style. They both delighted to exhibit the woman of fashion; but the character received the differences of its colouring from the personal and mental qualities of the representatives.
"Miss Farren, at this time, in her person was tall, and perfectly graceful; her face was beautiful and expressive; her voice was rather thin, and of but slender power, but rendered effective by an articulation of the greatest neatness and precision. It was her practice, from the weakness of her organ, to stand rather forward upon the stage.
"When I carry my recollection back to the peculiar character of her acting, I think I may say that it was distinguished by the grace of delicacy beyond that of every comic actress I have seen. It was, as it were, the soul of every thing she did; and even in the comedies of Congreve she never lost it for a moment, amid the free allusions, and sometimes licentious expressions, of his dialogue. The eye sparkled with intelligence; but it was a chaste and purified beam, from a mind unsullied, though sportive. Her levity, therefore, was never wanton; her mirth had no approach to rudeness. She played upon a coxcomb of either sex with the highest zest, but refinement was the invariable attendant upon her ridicule, and taste seemed to preside alike over her action and her utterance.
"From her early habit of acting tragedy, she had drawn enough to give to the occasional pathos of comedy a charm of infinite value. The reproach of her Julia, in the "Rivals," to Falkland, was extremely affecting; and few scenes drew more tears than her sensibility commanded, on the return of Lady Townley to the use of her heart and her understanding. Many years have now elapsed since I first beheld this distinguished lady; but I can safely say that in her own line she has never been equalled, nor approached." At length, by the death of his first Countess, March 14. 1797, the obstacle to Lord Derby's wishes was removed; and Miss Farren quitted the stage. Her last performances were —