Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 52.djvu/210

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Siddons
Siddons
200

Mr. and Mrs. C. Kemble. This was her last appearance.

From 1790 to 1802 Mrs. Siddons had resided at 49 Great Marlborough Street; thence she seems to have moved to Gower Street, where the back of her house was ‘effectually in the country.’ Her temporary dwellings included a cottage at Hampstead, lodgings in Prince's Street, Hanover Square, and (1805) a cottage known as Westbourne Farm, which stood until 1856, where she was visited by Miss Berry, Madame d'Arblay, Incledon, and other friends. Subsequently, during the winter at least, she lived in a house (now marked by a memorial slab) in Upper Baker Street, overlooking Regent's Park. There, until a year or two before her death, she frequently gave large parties, reading from Shakespeare to her guests. In April 1831 she suffered from erysipelas, which on 31 May took an acute form, and on 8 June she died at her house in Upper Baker Street. She was buried on 15 June in Paddington churchyard, where is a tomb to her memory. A slab is also in the church. On 14 June 1897 a memorial to her (in the shape of a white marble statue by L. Chavalliaud, after the famous painting by Reynolds) was unveiled at Paddington Green by Sir Henry Irving. A statue by Chantrey, colossal in size, is behind the Norris tomb in Westminster Abbey. It was erected mainly through the exertions of Macready.

Her husband, William Siddons, died on 11 March 1808 at Bath, where, on account of failing health, he had long dwelt. He was a handsome man, and an actor of some versatility but little talent, who finally abandoned the stage. He is said to have been a good judge of acting, and to have given his wife serviceable advice. They had for some years lived apart without apparently a formal separation. She spoke of Siddons to the last with a certain amount of regard and even of affection, visited him in the winter before his death, and after it took place interrupted her performances for a fortnight. She received, however, the intelligence with a placidity contrasting strongly with her agonies after the loss of her children. She had five children, of whom Maria died in 1798 and Sarah in 1803. The others were: George, who lived in India; Henry [q. v.]; and Cecilia, who married, in 1833, George Combe, writer to the signet, Edinburgh, (for her descendants see Fitzgerald's Lives of the Kembles, ii. 392–3; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. iii. 4).

Great annoyance was caused to the actress by the proceedings of her sister Ann or Anne Siddons (Mrs. Curtis), who read lectures at Dr. Graham's Temple of Health, led a discreditable career, attempted to poison herself in Westminster Abbey, made appeals to the public, and announced herself everywhere as the youngest sister of Mrs. Siddons. Anne's endeavours to wring money from her helped to burden Mrs. Siddons's memory with avarice. Mrs. Siddons allowed her 20l. a year on the condition, it is said, that she lived a hundred and fifty miles from London. Under the name of Hutton she wrote novels, and was known as ‘Anne of Swansea’ (see Notes and Queries, 7th ser. viii. 415; Fitzgerald, Lives of the Kembles, iii. 98, 107). She is described as a large woman with a squint. A volume is in existence, ‘Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects, by Ann Curtis, Sister of Mrs. Siddons,’ London, 1783, 8vo, printed for the author. It was dedicated to the Duchess of Devonshire, and is now very scarce.

Mrs. Siddons's greatest parts were Isabella in Garrick's version of Southerne's ‘Fatal Marriage,’ Lady Macbeth, Zara in ‘Mourning Bride,’ Elvira, Constance, Queen Katharine, Belvidera, and Lady Randolph. She was probably the greatest actress this country has known, and it is indeed doubtful whether in any country she has had her superior or even her equal in tragedy. Her school, ‘the Kemble school,’ was what is known as declamatory. Its influence has been depreciated, but never demolished, and it is doubtful whether it has entirely yielded even to the genius of Rachel. Christopher North spoke of the ‘divine, inspiring awe’ which she evoked (cf. Wilson, Noctes Ambrosianæ, 1863, ii. 355), and Hazlitt spoke of her, with a like enthusiasm, as ‘not less than a goddess, or than a prophetess inspired by the gods. Power was seated on her brow, passion emanated from her breast as from a shrine.’ More intelligible than these raptures is Tate Wilkinson's declaration, ‘If you ask me “What is a queen?” I should say Mrs. Siddons.’ Byron said that she was worth Cooke, Kemble, and Kean all put together. Lord Erskine declared her performance a school for oratory, asserting that he had studied her cadences and intonations, and was indebted to the harmony of her periods and pronunciation for his best displays. Haydon said that she always seemed to throw herself on nature as a guide, and follow instantaneously what it suggested. Many instances are given of the effect she produced not only on the audience, but on those with whom she acted. Charles Young, acting Beverley with her, says that he was so impressed as to lose his power of utterance. It was not until Mrs. Siddons said