Siddons, Henry (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 52
Siddons, Henry

by James Caxton Dibdin
1904 Errata appended.
Contains subarticle Harriet Siddons (1783–1844).

SIDDONS, HENRY (1774–1815), actor, born on 4 Oct. 1774, was the eldest child of Mrs. Sarah Siddons [q. v.], and received his schooling at the Charterhouse, being intended by his mother for the church. He, however, joined the Covent Garden company, and made his first appearance as Herman in a play called ‘Integrity,’ 8 Oct. 1801. His future wife, Harriet Murray (see below), played in the same piece. His mother withdrew any objections she originally had to his adoption of the profession of actor, and acted Lady Randolph to his Douglas on 21 May 1802, on the occasion of his benefit. He married on 22 June 1802 (see below), and remained a member of the Covent Garden Theatre until the spring of 1805. On 21 Sept. 1805 he made his first appearance at Drury Lane, playing Prince of Wales to Elliston's Hotspur in ‘Henry IV.’ On 7 Oct. he appeared as Romeo, and on the following evening as Sir G. Touchwood in the ‘Belle's Stratagem.’ During his stay at Drury Lane he played a variety of good parts, including Banquo, Jaffier, George Barnwell, Douglas (in ‘Percy’), Claudio (in ‘Much Ado’), Rolla, and terminated his connection with the London stage at the close of the season 1808–9. Largely through Sir Walter Scott's influence, he then secured the Edinburgh patent, and opened there on 14 Nov. 1809 with the ‘Honeymoon,’ in which he played the Duke; his wife appeared as Juliana.

On starting his managerial career, Siddons aimed at producing plays with greater efficiency in all directions than had hitherto characterised the Edinburgh Theatre. In this effort he was encouraged by Scott, who frequently wrote strongly in his praise. Miss Joanna Baillie's ‘Family Legend’ was produced by Siddons on 29 Jan. 1810, and Scott, in his letters to the authoress, highly commended Siddons's share in the production. On 15 Jan. 1811 Siddons produced the ‘Lady of the Lake,’ an adaptation Scott affected to sneer at, but he took much interest in its preparation. Fitzjames was played by Siddons. But he was fighting an uphill battle, and lost much money. He died at Edinburgh on 12 April 1815.

Siddons's merits as an actor were imperfectly recognised during his lifetime. Scott and a few other good judges formed a high opinion of his ability, but his reputation suffered in the public regard from constant comparison with the commanding genius of his relatives, the Kembles. He adapted from a work by Engel ‘Illustrations of Gesture and Action,’ 1807, and also wrote some plays of no particular merit. Of one, ‘The Friend of the Family,’ Scott wrote, ‘Siddons's play was truly flat, but not unprofitable.’ Other pieces by him were ‘Time's a Tell-tale,’ and ‘Tale of Terror, or a Castle without a Spectre’ (produced at Covent Garden on 12 May 1803).

Harriet Siddons (1783–1844), wife of the above, born in 1783, was a daughter of Charles Murray (1754–1821) [q. v.] As a young child she appeared at Bath as Prince Arthur on 1 July 1793. Her first London appearance was at Covent Garden as Perdita (‘Winter's Tale’), 12 May 1798. She remained at that theatre until the summer of 1805, when she joined the Drury Lane company, together with her husband. She left it with him in 1809. At Covent Garden she played with success a large range of parts, such as Rosalind, Viola, Lady Townly, Lucy Ashton, Desdemona, Beatrice, Portia, Lady Teazle, and Miss Hardcastle. At Drury Lane on 24 Sept. 1805 she was Juliet to Elliston's Romeo. After moving to Edinburgh, she devoted herself to helping her husband in his managerial work, which from the first proved to be too arduous for him. In 1814 the Drury Lane management made her a tempting offer to play leading female parts to Kean; she, however, declined it. When Siddons died the affairs of the Edinburgh Theatre were in a bad condition, but, with quiet determination and the unremitting assistance of her brother, William Henry Murray [q. v.], she continued to steer clear of all difficulties, and eventually was able to retire, at the end of her twenty-one years' lease of the theatre, with a competence. The turning point in the fortunes of the house had been the production on 15 Feb. 1819 of ‘Rob Roy,’ in which Mackay made a great hit as the Bailie. When the same piece was played by royal command before George IV, on the occasion of his visit to Scotland, Mrs. Siddons played, for that night only, the part of Diana Vernon. Mrs. Siddons's farewell benefit took place on 29 March 1830. Sir Walter Scott wrote for the occasion an address which she delivered. She died on 2 Nov. 1844. She was highly esteemed both in private and in public life, and surrounded herself with friends in the highest circles of society in the Scottish capital. Her portrait, by John Wood, is in the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.

[Genest's History of the Drama and Stage; J. C. Dibdin's Annals of the Edinburgh Stage; playbills and other private information.]

J. C. D.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.250
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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194 i 18-19 Siddons, Henry: for during the summer of 1801 read on 22 June 1802