Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stirling, Mary Anne

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STIRLING, Mrs. MARY ANNE, commonly known as Fanny, afterwards Lady Gregory (1815–1895), actress, the daughter of Captain Kehl, a military secretary at the war office, was born in July 1815 in Queen Street, Mayfair, London, and was, it is said, educated at the catholic seminary, Brook Green House, Hammersmith. Her first appearance was made unobtrusively at the Coburg Theatre, then managed by Davidge, where, under the name of Fanny Clifton, she carried messages and the like. Her first part of importance was Amelia Wildenheim in ‘Lovers' Vows,’ adapted from Kotzebue. She is said to have been in the ballet at the Surrey in 1827. At the East London Theatre, Commercial Road, she opened early in 1832 in John Stafford's ‘Pretender, or the Rose of Alvery,’ and Dimond's ‘Hunter of the Alps,’ her principal business being comedy and ‘singing chambermaids.’ On Easter Monday 1832, at a salary of 3l. weekly, she opened for leading business at the Pavilion Theatre, under Farrell, as Susan Oldfield in ‘Speed the Plough,’ and as Patrick in O'Keeffe's one-act musical farce ‘The Poor Soldier.’ Here she met Edward Stirling or Lambert (see below), who was playing ‘walking gentleman.’ Soon afterwards she married him, and went with him to Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham, where she became a favourite. Her first appearance in the west-end was at the Adelphi, where, as Mrs. Stirling from Birmingham, she succeeded Mrs. Nisbett, her manager, as Biddy Nutts in Buckstone's ‘Dream at Sea.’ A prominent position was thus at the outset assigned her. She was a brilliantly pretty woman, with much grace and propriety of style, carriage, and diction. In the ‘Ghost Story’ by Serle, ‘Luke Somerton,’ ‘Catching an Heiress,’ and the ‘Dream at Sea’ she played soubrette and low-comedy parts, and as Lady Randolph in William Leman Rede's ‘Douglas Travestie’ essayed burlesque. In May 1836 she played at the St. James's the heroine of a burletta entitled ‘Love and Charity.’ In Leman Rede's ‘A Flight to America, or Ten Hours in New York,’ she made, at the Adelphi, a great hit as Sally Snow, singing negro and patter songs, her associates being T. D. Rice, Yates, John Reeve, and Buckstone. Other parts were played at the Adelphi, the St. James's, and elsewhere; and Mrs. Stirling then accompanied W. J. Hammond, the manager of the Strand, to Drury Lane, where he soon beggared himself. Here in November she failed as Beatrice in ‘Much Ado about Nothing,’ and in December made a success as the heroine of ‘A Night in the Bastille,’ a translation by T. Archer of Mlle. de Belle-Isle. In 1840, at the Haymarket under Webster, she took Helen Faucit's part of Clara Douglas in ‘Money’ (in which her ‘freshness’ was praised by Macready), and in 1841 Mrs. Glover's rôle of Mrs. Franklin in the same piece. In Macready's second season at Drury Lane she was, on 1 Oct. 1842, Celia in ‘As you like it.’ She played during the season, among other parts, Sophia in Holcroft's ‘Road to Ruin,’ Mrs. Foresight in Congreve's ‘Love for Love,’ and acted with Keeley and C. J. Mathews in Selby's ‘Eton Boy.’ At the Strand, in June 1843, she was the first Mrs. Blandish in Lunn's ‘Rights of Woman,’ playing other parts. She failed in January 1844 at Drury Lane as Queen Anne in ‘Richard III.’ Rejoining Macready at the Princess's in 1845, she was a poor Helen in the ‘Hunchback,’ but made a success as Cordelia to his Lear. In 1846 she was Dot in the version of the ‘Cricket or the Hearth’ given at the Princess's Theatre, played Julie de Mortemar in a revival of ‘Richelieu,’ and Mercury in a fantasy called ‘The Ruins of Athens.’ In April she was the first Ernestine in the piece so named, in May was Cora in ‘Pizarro,’ played Mrs. Ford in the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor,’ and was the original Madeleine Weir in White's once famous ‘King of the Commons.’ On 4 Sept. 1848 she was, at the Olympic, the original Laura Leeson in ‘Time tries All.’ She was also seen as Juliana in the ‘Honeymoon,’ Katharine in ‘Taming of the Shrew,’ and Cousin Cherry in the piece so named. After the burning of the Olympic on 29 March 1849, she joined the Strand under Henry Farren, and was on 10 Oct. the original Adrienne of the ‘Reigning Favourite,’ Oxenford's adaptation of ‘Adrienne Lecouvreur.’ Other original parts were Iolanthe in [Sir] Theodore Martin's ‘King René's Daughter,’ and Olivia in Tom Taylor's adaptation of the ‘Vicar of Wakefield.’ At the rebuilt Olympic, under William Farren, she played, on 14 Oct. 1850, the heroine of Stirling Coyne's ‘My Wife's Daughter’ (‘La Femme de quarante Ans’), and on 13 Jan. 1851 Martha Gibbs in ‘All that glitters is not Gold;’ the Widow, in an adaptation of Sir Roger de Coverley, followed. Back at the Haymarket, she was on 21 April 1852 the first Fanny Morrison in Mark Lemon's ‘Mind your own Business.’ On 20 Nov., at the Haymarket, she obtained her greatest success as Peg Woffington in ‘Masks and Faces,’ by Taylor and Reade. Mrs. Trotter Southdown, in ‘To oblige Benson,’ was seen at the Olympic on 6 March 1854. At the height of her powers she played at the Olympic Lady Teazle, Miss Dorrillon in Mrs. Inchbald's ‘Wives as they were, and Maids as they are,’ and some original parts, among which were: Mrs. Metcalfe in ‘Stay at Home,’ an adaptation by Slingsby Lawrence (G. H. Lewes); Mrs. Levenson in Troughton's ‘Leading Strings,’ and Madam Bergmann in Wilkie Collins's ‘Red Veil.’ In February 1857, at the Lyceum, she had been the heroine in Taylor's ‘Wolf in Sheep's Clothing.’ At the Haymarket she was, 6 March 1861, the first Joconde in Taylor's ‘A Duke in Difficulties;’ her daughter Fanny—who had on 25 July 1860 played at Drury Lane Miranda in the burlesque of the ‘Enchanted Isle’ for a benefit—making as Colombe her first regular appearance on the stage, which she soon quitted.

After the season of 1860–61 Mrs. Stirling seems to have temporarily retired from the stage. On 24 Aug. 1863, however, she was, at the Adelphi, the heroine of a drama called ‘Hen and Chickens;’ on 29 Aug. 1864 the first Mrs. Hall in ‘A Woman of Business,’ attributed to Webster; and on 30 Nov. the first Marguerite in the ‘Workman of Paris’ (‘Les Drames du Cabaret’). At the Princess's, 2 July 1866, as the Duchess, she supported Miss Neilson in Watts Phillips's ‘Huguenot Captain.’ In Coyne's ‘Woman of the World,’ Olympic, 18 Feb. 1868, she was the first Mrs. Eddystone. Her last original part was Lady Caryll in Pinero's ‘Lords and Commons,’ 24 Nov. 1883. On 23 April 1869 she gave at the St. James's Hall a reading of ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream.’ At Webster's farewell benefit, Drury Lane, 2 March 1874, she played Mrs. Candour, repeating the performance at the same house for Buckstone's benefit, 8 June 1876. At the Imperial (Aquarium), 22 Sept. 1879, she was Lady Bountiful in Miss Litton's revival of the ‘Beaux' Stratagem,’ where also she was seen as Mrs. Hardcastle. In 1880, at the Haymarket, she was Mrs. Malaprop, and on 8 March 1882, at the Lyceum revival of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ was the Nurse, a part she repeated on 1 Nov. 1884 at the same house to Miss Mary Anderson's Juliet. At the Haymarket, 6 Feb. 1883, she played the Marquise de Saint-Maur in a revival of ‘Caste.’ On 25 March 1885 she and Mrs. Keeley spoke an address at the Criterion, and on 29 Oct. she recited for Creswick's benefit a ballad called ‘Our Whaling Fleet.’ On 19 Dec. 1885 she was Martha in Wills's Lyceum version of ‘Faust,’ the last part in which she was seen. Her husband, from whom she had long been separated, died in August 1894, and in the same year she married Sir Charles Hutton Gregory, K.C.M.G., consulting engineer to the crown agents for the colonies, who was one year younger than herself, and with whom she had long been on terms of close intimacy. She died on 31 Dec. 1895. In her will, made in 1891, she speaks of herself as Mary Anne, otherwise Fanny Stirling or Lambert, wife of Edward Stirling or Lambert, formerly of Drury Lane Theatre. Her personal estate sworn under 11,556l., was left by codicil to her second husband.

Mrs. Stirling was an excellent actress, with a breadth of style in her late years drawing close to extravagance. She was almost the last actress to exhibit the grand style in comedy. Her method of receiving a call from the public was in itself a lesson in art. Peg Woffington was her greatest part, and was indeed a fine creation. In later years she had no equal in rôles such as Mrs. Candour, Mrs. Malaprop, and the Nurse. From 1870 her impersonations, though masterly, were rare, and she devoted herself principally to reciting and teaching elocution at the Royal Academy of Music. In her late years she was almost blind.

A portrait of her, in oils, is in the Garrick Club, and pictures from photographs are numerous.

Edward Stirling or Lambert (1809–1894), her first husband, born in April 1809, at Thame in Oxfordshire, was originally a banker's clerk, and took to the stage at the Pavilion in 1828, becoming a favourite in the country. At Birmingham he produced his first play, ‘Sadak and Kalasrade,’ a spectacular drama, the first of some two hundred pieces that have been seen at various London theatres. He was an actor stage manager under Yates at the Adelphi, and also at Covent Garden (where he produced ‘Antigone’), the Surrey, Olympic, Lyceum, and Drury Lane. In addition to patriotic pieces, farces, burlesques, melodramas, and adaptations from Charles Dickens (including versions of ‘Nicholas Nickleby,’ ‘The Cricket on the Hearth,’ ‘Old Curiosity Shop,’ and ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’), he is responsible for ‘Old Drury Lane—Fifty Years' Recollections,’ 2 vols. London, 1881, 8vo.

[Personal knowledge; Stirling's Old Drury Lane; Pascoe's Dramatic List; Theatrical Times; Macready's Reminiscences, ed. Pollock; Dramatic and Musical Review, various years; Scott and Howard's Blanchard; Era Almanack, various years; Clark Russell's Representative Actors. Accounts of Mrs. Stirling's early career are confused and contradictory.]

J. K.