Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Becher, Eliza

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BECHER, ELIZA, Lady (1791–1872), actress, was daughter of an Irish actor named O'Neill, of no great reputation, who was stage-manager of the Drogheda theatre. Her mother before marriage was a Miss Featherstone. After a little instruction, obtained at a small school in Drogheda, Miss O'Neill made, as a child, her first appearance on the stage of the Drogheda theatre. Two years were subsequently spent in Belfast, and Miss O'Neill then proceeded to Dublin, where she speedily made a high mark as Juliet and Jane Shore, and as Ellen in a version of the 'Lady of the Lake.' An engagement followed at Covent Garden, at which house she appeared 6 Oct. 1814 as Juliet to the Romeo of Conway. A success altogether beyond the modest expectations of the management was reaped; the houses were nightly crowded, and the débutante was hailed with extravagant enthusiasm as 'a younger and better Mrs. Siddons.' For five years Miss O'Neill was a reigning favourite, commanding acceptance in comedy in such parts as Lady Teazle, Mrs. Oakly, Lady Townly, and Widow Cheerly, but causing a more profound sensation in Juliet, Belvidera, Monimia, and other characters belonging to tragedy. Stories concerning the influence of her acting — now not easy to credit — were freely told. Men are said to have been borne fainting from the theatre after witnessing her tragic performances. Through her theatrical career an unblemished reputation was maintained, and a constantly iterated charge of avarice was the worst accusation brought against her. On 18 July 1819 she made as Mrs. Haller what was announced as her last appearance before Christmas. It proved to be her last appearance on the stage. On 18 Dec. in the same year she married Mr. William Wrixon Becher, an Irish member of parliament for Mallow, where he possessed considerable estates. By the death of an uncle Mr. Becher became subsequently a baronet. Lady Becher never returned to the stage. She died 29 Oct. 1872. By the best judges she is credited with the possession of gifts all but the highest. Reynolds, the dramatist, alone ventured a word of disparagement, saying that her acting was 'of too boisterous and vehement a nature.' He owns that in this opinion he was in a minority (Life, ii. 398). Macready, speaking of her début, says: 'Her beauty, grace, simplicity, and tenderness were the theme of every tongue. ... The noble pathos of Siddons's transcendent genius no longer served as the grand commentary and living exponent of Shakespeare's text, but in the native elegance, the feminine sweetness, the unaffected earnestness and gushing passion of Miss O'Neill the stage had received a worthy successor to her' (Reminiscences, ed. Sir F. Pollock, i. 86). From this estimate of her he did not recede. Hazlitt also gave her high, if discriminating praise, saying that 'her excellence — unrivalled by any actress since Mrs. Siddons — consisted in truth of nature and force of passion' (Dramatic Essays, p. 309, ed. 1851). Her beauty appears to have been of the classical type, her features having a Grecian outline; her voice was 'deep, clear, and mellow;' her figure was middle-sized, and she had a slight stoop in the shoulders, which does not seem to have detracted from her grace and dignity. It has been maintained that with her the race of tragic actresses expired — a statement in which there is as much truth as is to be found in other similarly sweeping assertions.

[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Kelly's Reminiscences; London Magazine; Burke's Baronetage; Era Almanack.]

J. K.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.20
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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75 i 17-19 Becher, Eliza, Lady: for By the death . . . baronet read He was created a baronet on William IV's coronation in 1831