Litchfield, Harriett (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

LITCHFIELD, Mrs. HARRIETT (1777–1854), actress, is said to have been born 4 May 1777. Her father, John Silvester Hay, only son of the vicar of Maldon in Essex, was surgeon of the Nassau, East Indiaman, and afterwards head surgeon of the Royal Hospital, Calcutta, where he is stated to have died in his thirty-seventh year, leaving his daughter aged about nine. He may be identical with the ‘Mr. John Hay, proprietor and printer of the “Calcutta Gazette,”’ and proprietor and manager of the Calcutta theatre, who died at Fort William in April 1787 (Gent. Mag. 1787, pt. ii. p. 1024). Miss Hay, sometimes called Miss Silvester, made her first appearance at Richmond in the summer of 1792, as Julia in the ‘Surrender of Calais.’ Encouraged by the applause of Mrs. Jordan, who was one of a pleased audience, she played three or four other characters. Early in 1793 she acted in Scotland, receiving, it is said, after her return a letter from Burns inviting her in the name of the citizens of Dumfries to revisit that town. During an unsatisfactory engagement at Liverpool under Aikin she played two parts, Sophia in the ‘Road to Ruin,’ and Edward in ‘Every one has his fault.’ In 1794 she married John Litchfield (d. 1858), of the privy council office, ‘a gentleman well known and admired in the literary world, and much esteemed as a private character’ (Gilliland, Dramatic Mirror); he was author of some prologues and epilogues. She retired from the stage upon her marriage, but for a short time only. For the benefit of Mrs. Davenport, presumably May 1796, she appeared at Covent Garden as Edward. At the reopening of Covent Garden, 20 Sept. 1797, she played Marianne in the ‘Dramatist,’ this being announced as her first appearance in that character and fourth on this stage. Catalina in the ‘Castle of Andalusia,’ Lady Anne in ‘Richard III,’ Dimity in ‘Three Weeks after Marriage,’ Ismene in ‘Merope,’ Irene in ‘Barbarossa,’ Ascanio in ‘Disinterested Love’ (an alteration of Massinger's ‘Bashful Lover’), Moggy in the ‘Highland Reel,’ Betty Blackberry in the ‘Farmer,’ and the Marchioness in the ‘Child of Nature,’ were played during the season. At Covent Garden she remained, with the exception of the season of 1799–1800, when she played tragic characters in Birmingham, until 1806, the more prominent parts first assigned her being Miss Vortex in ‘A Cure for the Heartache’ and Emilia in ‘Othello.’ On 5 Dec. 1800, to the Macbeth of Cooke, she played Lady Macbeth, making a success which established her as a judicious actress. She also enacted Mrs. Haller in the ‘Stranger,’ Queen Elizabeth in ‘Essex,’ Statira, Mrs. Beverley in the ‘Gamester,’ Mrs. Oakley, Aspasia, Constance in Dr. Valpy's alteration of ‘King John’ (for her benefit at Covent Garden, 20 May 1803), Roxana, Andromache, Lady Randolph, Alicia in ‘Jane Shore,’ Merope, the Queen in ‘Richard III,’ Millwood in ‘George Barnwell,’ Lady Rodolpha in the ‘Man of the World,’ in all of which she played respectably. Few original characters of importance were assigned her, the most conspicuous being Ottilia in ‘Monk’ Lewis's ‘Alfonso, King of Castile,’ 15 Jan. 1802, and Mrs. Ferment in Morton's ‘School of Reform,’ 15 Jan. 1803. Having quarrelled with the Covent Garden management, she went to the Haymarket as Widow Brady in the ‘Irish Widow.’ This was announced as her first appearance there for five years. She had first been seen there as Julia in the ‘Surrender of Calais,’ 14 July 1801. The Queen in ‘Hamlet,’ Lady Caroline in ‘John Bull,’ Susan in ‘Follies of a Day’ (‘La folle journée’), Elvira in ‘Pizarro,’ Leonora in ‘Lovers' Quarrels,’ with some other parts, were played during the season of 1805–6, after which she disappeared. She played six nights at Bath, being her first appearance there, in May 1810, during which she enacted Lady Clermont in Dimond's ‘Adrian and Orilla,’ and was seen in a monodrame by ‘Monk’ Lewis (consisting of one scene, for Mrs. Litchfield), which had been acted by her for a single occasion at Covent Garden, 22 March 1803. On 8 Oct. 1812 she appeared for Terry's benefit at the Haymarket as Emilia to the Othello of Elliston. This was announced as her first appearance on the stage for six years; it seems also to have been her last. She died, probably in London, 11 Jan. 1854.

Mrs. Litchfield's best part was Emilia. She had great power in irascible characters, had good judgment, a clear articulation, and some vivacity, against which has to be placed a disadvantageous figure. Her portrait by De Wilde as Ophelia is in the Mathews collection in the Garrick Club, where also is a second portrait by Samuel Drummond, A.R.A., presented by John Poole.

[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Thespian Dict.; Gilliland's Dramatic Mirror; Memoirs of Charles Mathews; Peake's Colman Family; Holcroft's Theatrical Recorder; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. xii. 272; Gent. Mag. 1858, ii. 92; Monthly Mirror, various years.]

J. K.