Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Glyn, Isabella Dallas

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GLYN, ISABELLA DALLAS (1823–1889), actress, was born in Edinburgh on 22 May 1823. Her father, Mr. Gearns, a strong presbyterian, was an architect with a turn for preaching. After taking part in London in amateur theatricals, she went with her first husband, Edward Wills, to Paris, where she studied acting. Returning to England in 1846, she received lessons from Charles Kemble, and on 8 Nov. 1847, under her mother's maiden name of Glyn, made at the Theatre Royal, Manchester, her appearance as Constance in ‘King John.’ Lady Macbeth and Hermione followed. On 26 Jan. 1848 she appeared at the Olympic in ‘Lady Macbeth,’ and on 16 Feb. as Juliana in the ‘Honeymoon.’ At the invitation of Pritchard she went on the York circuit, playing many Shakespearean parts. On 27 Sept. 1848, after the retirement of Mrs. Warner, Miss Glyn appeared at Sadler's Wells as Volumnia in ‘Coriolanus.’ At this house she remained until 1851, obtaining practice and winning recognition in characters such as Cleopatra and the Duchess of Malfi, and playing the heroines of some new dramas, among which may be counted Garcia in the ‘Noble Error’ by F. G. Tomlins. In 1851 she undertook a country tour, and in September gave the first of her Shakespearean readings. On 26 Dec. 1851, as Bianca in ‘Fazio,’ she made her first appearance at Drury Lane. This was followed, 16 Jan. 1852, by Julia in the ‘Hunchback.’ At the St. James's Theatre, 2 Oct. 1854, she was the original Miss Stewart in the ‘King's Rival’ of Tom Taylor and Charles Reade. After performing at the Standard she reappeared in 1859 at Sadler's Wells, and in May 1867 played Cleopatra at the Princess's. From this time her appearances on the stage were infrequent, and her time was principally occupied with theatrical tuition and with Shakespearean readings or ‘recitals.’ In 1870 she gave ‘recitals’ with much success in Boston, U.S.A., and in 1878 and 1879 delivered at Steinway Hall and the St. James's Hall a series of readings from Shakespeare, which elicited very favourable criticism. During her later years her earnings diminished. She died, after long suffering from cancer, on 18 May 1889, at her residence, 13 Mount Street, Grosvenor Square. A subscription for her benefit was opened just before her death. Miss Glyn married in Edinburgh, according to Scottish law, in December 1853, Eneas Sweetland Dallas [q. v.] On 12 July 1855 the pair were again married at St. George's, Hanover Square. They were divorced on Mrs. Dallas's petition, 10 May 1874. Mrs. Dallas was buried 22 May 1889 at Kensal Green Cemetery. She had a fine figure, in the end a little inclined to portliness. Her complexion was dark, her features were strong and expressive, and her voice was powerful and well modulated. Short of inspiration, she had most gifts of the tragedian of the Kemble school, of which she was one of the very latest adherents. Her gestures were large, and she had the power in a reading of marking the different characters. Her success was most distinct in characters in which her commanding figure was of advantage. A vein of comedy which in her early life she exhibited was less evident in later years. In character she was generous, good-hearted, frank, and impetuous. Self-confidence and a tendency to be exacting were professional rather than individual defects.

[Phelps and Robertson's Life of Phelps; Stirling's Old Drury Lane; Tallis's Dramatic Mag.; Pascoe's Dramatic List, 1879; Athenæum, various years; St. James's Gazette, 20 May 1889; Era, 25 May 1889; private knowledge and information.]

J. K.