Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/West, Mrs.

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757094Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 60 — West, Mrs.1899John Joseph Knight

WEST, Mrs. (1790–1876), actress, the daughter of Mr. Cooke of Bath, was born in Bath on 22 March 1790. Influenced by the example of her cousin and playmate, Mrs. Harriet Waylett [q. v.], she appeared at the Bath Theatre on 22 May 1810 for the benefit of her uncle, an actor, as Miss Hardcastle in ‘She stoops to Conquer,’ and in 1811, at the same house, played Emily Tempest in the ‘Wheel of Fortune.’ In the summer of 1812 she played at Cheltenham and Gloucester. Recommended by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kemble, she made, as Miss Cooke, her first appearance at Covent Garden on 28 Sept. 1812 as Desdemona. On 3 Oct. she played Lady Percy in ‘Henry IV,’ and on the 16th had a part in an unprinted play called ‘Schniederkins.’ Miranda in Dryden's ‘Tempest,’ Julia in the ‘Rivals,’ and Angelica, an original part in Jameson's ‘Students of Salamanca,’ on 23 Jan. 1813 followed, but attracted little attention. Next season she was Fanny Sterling in the ‘Clandestine Marriage,’ Charmian in ‘Antony and Cleopatra,’ was the first Georgiana in ‘Folly as it Flies’ on 27 Nov., and the first Eliza Arundel in Pocock's ‘For England Ho!’ on 15 Dec. On 10 Nov. 1814 she played Juliet at Edinburgh. Thither she was followed by West, whom in March 1815 she married.

On 30 Sept. 1815, as Mrs. W. West (late Miss Cooke) from Edinburgh, she reappeared in Bath, playing Statira in ‘Alexander the Great,’ Violante in the ‘Wonder,’ Queen Mary in ‘Albion Queens,’ Julia in ‘Italian Lover,’ Cherry in the ‘Beaux' Stratagem,’ Dame Kitely in ‘Every Man in his Humour,’ Lydia Languish to her husband's Fag, and Eugenia in the ‘Duke of Milan.’ Here she remained during the two following seasons, playing Imogene in ‘Bertram,’ Mrs. Belmour in ‘Is he Jealous,’ Aspasia in ‘Tamerlane,’ Calista in the ‘Fair Penitent,’ Leonora in the ‘Revenge’ to Kean's Zanga, Millwood in ‘George Barnwell,’ Ellen in ‘Lady of the Lake,’ Octavia in ‘All for Love,’ Elvira in ‘Pizarro,’ Tilburina in the ‘Critic,’ Helen McGregor in ‘Rob Roy,’ Alicia in ‘Jane Shore,’ and other parts.

On 17 Sept. 1818 she made as Desdemona her first appearance at Drury Lane. Leading business, principally tragic, was now assigned her, and she was seen during the first season as Belvidera in ‘Venice Preserved,’ Lady Townley, Lady Macbeth, Hermione, Mrs. Beverley, Jane Shore, Julia in the ‘Rivals,’ Mrs. Haller, and in very many original rôles, among which may be named Tarquinia in Howard Payne's ‘Brutus’ on 3 Dec., Clare St. Clare in ‘Flodden Field’ (‘Marmion’) on 31 Dec., Imma in Soane's ‘Dwarf of Naples’ on 13 March 1819, Angelina in Buck's ‘Italians’ on 3 April, Rosa in Milner's ‘Jew of Lubeck’ on 11 May, and Claudina in Twiss's ‘Carib Chief’ on 13 May. Among parts played in subsequent seasons were Lady Amaranth in ‘Wild Oats,’ Lady Anne in ‘Richard III,’ Cordelia, Adelgitha in a piece so named, Cora in ‘Pizarro,’ Portia in ‘Julius Cæsar’ and in the ‘Merchant of Venice,’ Ella Rosenberg, Queen Katharine in ‘Henry VIII,’ Zorayda in the ‘Roman Actor,’ Yarico, Juliet, Perdita, Alcmena in ‘Amphitryon,’ Zaphira in ‘Barbarossa,’ and the Queen in ‘Hamlet.’ Most important among her many original parts were Rebecca in the ‘Hebrew’ (Soane's adaptation of ‘Ivanhoe’) on 2 March 1820, Virginia in ‘Virginius’ (put up at Drury Lane to rival Knowles's play at Covent Garden) on 29 May, Mary Queen of Scots in Hamilton's ‘David Rizzio’ on 12 June, Pocahontas in the piece so named on 15 Dec., Julia in ‘Montalto’ on 8 Jan. 1821, Angiolina in ‘Marino Faliero’ on 25 April, and Norna in the ‘Pirate’ on 15 Jan. 1822. She had hitherto constantly supported Kean. On 13 Oct. 1823 she played Virginia in Knowles's tragedy to Macready's Virginius, and on 18 Nov. was the first Licinia in Knowles's ‘Licinius.’ She was the first Amy Robsart in a version of ‘Kenilworth,’ 5 Jan. 1824. On 13 Oct. at the Haymarket she played Sophia in the ‘Road to Ruin.’ She was at Drury Lane the first Beaumelle in an alteration of the ‘Fatal Dowry’ on 5 Jan. 1824, Lorina in Soane's ‘Massaniello’ on 17 Feb., Berengaria in ‘Knights of the Cross’ (‘The Talisman’) on 29 May 1826, Emerance in Grattan's ‘Ben Nazir the Saracen’ on 21 May 1827, Julia in the ‘Gambler's Fate’ (adapted from the French by Thompson) on 15 Oct., and Maria de Padilla in Lord Porchester's ‘Don Pedro’ on 10 March 1828. When the record of Genest stops, information concerning her becomes scanty. In 1835 she was at Covent Garden under Osbaldiston, but played chiefly secondary parts, and she then lapsed into performing at the minor theatres, and subsequently disappeared in the country. Her last London engagement was at the Marylebone about 1847. She died at Glasgow on 30 Dec. 1876 at the house of her nephew, Mr. Henry Courte Cooke, and was buried at Sighthill cemetery on 2 Jan. 1877.

Mrs. West was a capable actress at the outset, and was classed next to Miss O'Neill. She had a pleasing face and figure, and, until in her later days she spoilt it by ranting, a very musical voice. The ‘London Magazine and Theatrical Inquisitor’ (iii. 517) says she was ‘the most plaintive and the most tenderly susceptible of all our modern actresses. In the affectionate endearments of a wife, in the soothing caresses of a daughter, as in the instances of Belvidera and Cordelia, we can imagine nothing finer … She is the sweetest yet the saddest of the daughters of Thespis; her conception is delicacy itself.’ She had intelligence also. After the death of Alexander Rae [q. v.], the Edgar to her Cordelia and the Lear of Kean, she spoke for the benefit of his family on 31 Oct. 1820 an occasional address, the last line of which was ‘pardon Cordelia's tears, they're shed for Rae.’ Conscious of the bathos and impropriety of this line, spoken in an assumed character of a man but recently alive, she substituted for it with overwhelming effect the line, ‘Pardon Cordelia's tears. Poor Tom's a cold.’ A portrait of her as Portia accompanies her life in Oxberry's ‘Dramatic Biography’ (vol. ii.). Oxberry calls her features exquisitely charming but incapable of strong expression; with a figure of middle size beautifully moulded, and with brown and abundant hair, one of the most beautiful women on the stage. In declamation and passions other than love she was not at her best; her Lady Macbeth was tame and unreal. More refined in comedy than Mrs. Davison and Mrs. Glover, she had less humour than either. She recited admirably poems such as Collins's ‘Ode to the Passions.’ Through jealousy she separated early from her husband, by whom she had two children, and never rejoined him.

Her husband, William West (1796?–1888), comedian and musical composer, lived to be called ‘The Father of the Stage.’ His father was connected with Drury Lane. After studying music under Thomas Welsh and subsequently under C. E. Horn, he appeared at the Haymarket in 1805 as Tom Thumb. He then at Drury Lane played parts such as Juba in the ‘Prize’ and Boy in ‘Children in the Wood.’ In 1814 he followed Miss Cooke to Edinburgh, and next year married her in the teeth of much competition. His first appearance in Edinburgh was on 10 Nov. 1814 as Don Carlos in the ‘Duenna.’ After playing in Bath and Bristol he appeared in London at the East London Theatre, and on 9 May 1822 played at Drury Lane Lord Ogleby in the ‘Clandestine Marriage.’ He also acted at the Olympic and other theatres. He gave in 1842 an entertainment illustrative of the clowns of Shakespeare, and died late in January or early in February 1888. His most popular songs were ‘When Love was fresh from her Cradle-bed,’ ‘Alice of Fyfe,’ and ‘Love and the Sensitive Plant.’ His glees include ‘The Ocean King,’ ‘Up Rosalie,’ ‘Oh, Bold Robin Hood,’ and ‘The Haaf Fishers.’ He is also responsible for a sonata, entitled ‘Maid Marian,’ and ‘An Ancient English Morris Dance with Variations.’ A woodcut portrait of West as Mungo in the ‘Padlock,’ in which he was excellent, is in the ‘Theatrical Biography’ for 1824.

[Books cited; Genest's Account of the English Stage; Theatrical Inquisitor; Dramatic and Musical Review; Scott and Howard's Blanchard; Clark Russell's Representative Actors; Mrs. Baron Wilson's Our Actresses; Georgian Era; Era newspaper, 7 Jan. 1877; Era almanack.]

J. K.