Yates, Mary Ann (DNB00)
YATES, Mrs. MARY ANN (1728–1787), actress, daughter of William Graham, captain's steward on the Ariel (buried at Richmond, 19 Sept. 1779; will dated 6 Aug. 1777, and proved 29 Nov. 1779: P.C.C. 457 Warburton), and his wife Mary (buried at Richmond, 24 Nov. 1777), was born in Birmingham in 1728 (other accounts say in London in 1737). Her contemporaries spoke of her as Mary or ‘Moll.’ The ‘Thespian Dictionary’ and Gilliland's ‘Dramatic Mirror’ (followed by Mr. Wheatley and Mr. Julian Marshall) call her Anna Maria. In Garrick's instructions for drawing up articles of agreement for her engagement at Drury Lane she is rightly called Mary Ann.
She is reported to have tried the stage unsuccessfully in Dublin, her first appearance being as Anne Bullen in ‘Henry VIII.’ Sheridan, by whom she was engaged, paid her a sum to retire. This is said to have been in 1752. The ‘Theatrical Biography’ unauthoritatively states that for her good looks she was engaged as a dresser at Drury Lane, with an occasional mute part. Her first known appearance in London, as Mrs. Graham, was made on 25 Dec. 1753 at Drury Lane in the character of Marcia, an original part, in Crisp's ‘Virginia.’ Garrick, who played Virginius, took some pains with her, though he mistrusted her capacity. On 29 April 1754, for her benefit, she played Jane Shore; on 9 Dec. she was Ismena in ‘Phædra and Hippolitus;’ on 22 Jan. 1755 Emilia in ‘Man of the Mode,’ and on 16 April Hermione in ‘Distressed Mother.’ Next season her name is not to be traced. Genest thinks she may not have been engaged. On 15 Dec. 1756, as Mrs. Yates late Mrs. Graham, she reappeared, playing Alcmena in ‘Amphitryon.’ Murphy, whom her statuesque beauty had attracted, and who had joined the company, had taken much pains with her, and under his tuition and that of Richard Yates [q. v.] she ripened into a fine actress. The Queen in ‘Spanish Friar’ and Lady Townly in the ‘Provoked Husband’ were given during the season. She remained at Drury Lane until 1767, playing many characters in tragedy and comedy, including Mrs. Marwood in ‘Way of the World,’ Zara in ‘Zara,’ Cleopatra in ‘Antony and Cleopatra,’ Mrs. Sullen, Rutland in ‘Earl of Essex,’ Miranda in ‘Woman's a Riddle,’ Lady Randolph, Calista, Monimia, Rosalind, Constance in ‘King John,’ Belvedera, Almeria in ‘Mourning Bride,’ Jacintha in ‘Suspicious Husband,’ Anne Bullen in ‘Henry VIII,’ Violante in the ‘Wonder,’ Lady Lurewell in ‘Constant Couple,’ Lady Jane Grey, Zapphira in ‘Barbarossa,’ Julia in ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona,’ Bellario in ‘Philaster,’ Indiana in ‘Conscious Lovers,’ Sylvia in ‘Recruiting Officer,’ Clarinda in ‘Suspicious Husband,’ Horatia in ‘Roman Father,’ Imogen, Desdemona, Cordelia, Perdita, Arpasia in ‘Tamerlane,’ Andromache, Fidelia in ‘Plain Dealer,’ Cleopatra in ‘All for Love,’ Roxana in ‘False Friend,’ and probably Chruseis in ‘Heroic Love.’
Her original parts at Drury Lane were numerous and important. They comprised Sandane in Home's ‘Agis,’ 21 Feb. 1758; Harriet in Murphy's ‘Upholsterer,’ 30 March; Mandane in Murphy's ‘Orphan of China,’ 21 April 1759; Mrs. Lovemore in Murphy's ‘Way to keep him,’ 24 Jan. 1760; a part in a farce called ‘Marriage à la Mode,’ 24 March; Emmeline in Hawkesworth's ‘Edgar and Emmeline,’ a character in which she was excellent, 31 Jan. 1761; Belinda in ‘All in the Wrong,’ 15 June; Araminta in Whitehead's ‘School for Lovers,’ 10 Feb. 1762; Mrs. Knightly in Mrs. Sheridan's ‘Discovery,’ 3 Feb. 1763; Lady Frankland in Mrs. Griffith's ‘Platonic Wife,’ 24 Jan. 1765; Clarissa in Murphy's ‘Choice,’ 23 March; Margaret of Anjou in Franklin's ‘Earl of Warwick,’ 13 Dec. 1766; Medea in Glover's ‘Medea,’ 24 March 1767; and Dido in Reed's ‘Dido,’ 28 March.
On 16 Oct. 1767 she made her first appearance at Covent Garden, playing Jane Shore. Besides repeating many favourite characters, she was seen for the first time as Palmyra in ‘Mahomet,’ Lady Macbeth, and Queen in ‘Hamlet.’ During the following four years she added to her repertory the Countess of Salisbury, Imoinda, Amelia in ‘English Merchant,’ Statira, Portia in ‘Merchant of Venice,’ Isabella in ‘Measure for Measure,’ Mrs. Oakly, Mrs. Cadwallader, Ximena in the piece so named, Eudocia in ‘Siege of Damascus,’ Isabella in ‘Isabella,’ and Viola in ‘Twelfth Night.’ Her original parts consisted of Mandane in ‘Cyrus,’ adapted by Hook from Metastasio, 3 Dec. 1768; Electra in ‘Orestes,’ taken by Dr. Francklin from Voltaire, 13 May 1769; Sophia in Cumberland's ‘Brothers,’ 2 Dec.; Ismena in Hook's ‘Timanthes,’ 24 Feb. 1770; Clementina in Kelly's ‘Clementina,’ 23 Feb. 1771; and Zobeide in Cradock's ‘Zobeide,’ 11 Dec. The profits of this piece, which was taken in part from ‘Les Scythes’ of Voltaire and was acted eleven times, were given by the author, a man of fortune, to Mrs. Yates. During the following two seasons Mrs. Yates was, with her husband, engaged for 700l. per season in Edinburgh, a member of the Edinburgh faculty of advocates subscribing 150l. so as to enable West Digges [q. v.] to undertake so costly a speculation. She appeared on 19 Jan. 1773 as Mandane, her husband having acted eight days previously. A round of her principal parts was played, and a great sensation was produced by the performance on 8 March of the ‘Prince of Tunis,’ an original play by Henry Mackenzie (1745–1831) [q. v.] In this Mrs. Yates played Zulima, the heroine, speaking also as the Genius of Scotland a prologue. Tragedy and actress were highly praised, but the former was seen during the season only five times. Mrs. Yates was in 1774 joint-manager with Mrs. Brooke of the Haymarket Opera House. As Electra in ‘Orestes’ she made at Drury Lane, on 15 Oct. 1774, ‘her first appearance there for eight years,’ and was on 17 Feb. 1775 the first Duchess of Braganza in Jephson's ‘Braganza.’ At this house she played Octavia in ‘All for Love,’ and was the first Semiramis in Ayscough's ‘Semiramis,’ 13 Dec. 1776; Berinthia in Sheridan's ‘Trip to Scarborough,’ 24 Feb. 1777; played a part in Shirley's ‘Roman Sacrifice,’ then first acted, 18 Dec.; was the first Edwina in Cumberland's ‘Battle of Hastings,’ 24 Jan. 1778; and Zoraida in Hodson's ‘Zoraida,’ 13 Dec. 1779. Back at Covent Garden, she was the original Thamyris in Mrs. Brooke's ‘Siege of Sinope,’ 31 Jan. 1781, a part written expressly for her. She had also a part in a revised version of Mrs. Cowley's ‘Second Thoughts are Best,’ 24 March. Lady Allworth in ‘A New Way to pay Old Debts’ was added to her repertory in 1781–2, and in the following season Euphrasia in the ‘Grecian Daughter.’ The last piece to which her name can be traced at Covent Garden is Constance in ‘King John,’ 29 March 1783. For the benefit of George Anne Bellamy she played for one night only at Drury Lane (24 May 1785) the Duchess of Braganza; this was her last appearance. She had played in Edinburgh in March 1785 a month's engagement, in which she appeared in a round of her tragic characters, and on her return journey had been seen in York on 26 April as Margaret of Anjou. She had engaged to act with Mrs. Crawford in the same tragedies. Through her illness the scheme fell through, and on 3 May 1787 she died of dropsy, and was buried with her father and mother at Richmond church in the chancel. Mrs. Yates left behind her a considerable fortune, which her husband augmented. Her last residences were on the banks of the Thames at Mortlake and at Stafford Row, Pimlico. In her house in Pimlico she entertained Home, Murphy, Cumberland, and a literary and theatrical circle. Boaden (Life of Kemble, i. 353) says that she contemplated joining John Henderson (1747–1785) [q. v.], but was prevented by his death.
Mrs. Yates was one of the greatest of our tragic actresses, dividing during many years the supremacy with Mrs. Crawford. If her star paled before that of Mrs. Siddons, she was an old woman when that actress came on the stage. Tate Wilkinson, one of the best of judges, declared her Margaret of Anjou as unrivalled as Mrs. Siddons's Zara. It was far from a bad sign that she was kept back at the outset by timidity. Subsequently, though deficient in tenderness and apt to be too forcible and violent in the display of the stronger passions, she was unsurpassed and rarely equalled in rage and disdain. She is said to have spent some time in Paris studying the methods of the great tragic actress Mme. Clairon, who was at the height of her fame between 1750 and 1760. The retirement of Mrs. Cibber opened to her the command of tragedy. In comedy she was weak, weaker even than Mrs. Cibber. Her Lady Townly was poor, and in Desdemona and Monimia she was indifferent. Her Imogen and Calista were fine but not perfect performances. Mandane in the ‘Orphan of China’ and Cleopatra first raised her to eminence. Her Mandane in ‘Cyrus,’ Constance, and Lady Macbeth were superb performances, and as Medea in Glover's tragedy she was unrivalled. No other actress attempted this part during her life, and only one—Mrs. Pope—on a solitary occasion for a benefit after Mrs. Yates's death. Davies declares that her just elocution, noble manner, warm passion, and majestic deportment had excited the admiration of foreigners, and fixed the affection and applause of her own countrymen. Campbell, holding his customary brief for Mrs. Siddons, says that Mrs. Yates's ‘countenance, with the beauty of the antique statue, had also something of its monotony,’ but adds: ‘Taylor himself told me that she was the most commanding personage he had ever looked upon before he saw Mrs. Siddons.’ Boaden and Churchill speak in similar terms of disparagement. The latter, in his ‘Rosciad,’ concludes his estimate:
The brow still fix'd in sorrow's sullen frame,
Void of distinction, marks all parts the same.
‘Kitty’ Clive, with characteristic orthography, charges her with ‘totering about to much and flumping down to often.’ Dibdin says that what might have been monotony in other actresses, due to ‘an emulation of the best French actresses which gave a declamatory air to her delivery,’ was in her case ‘penetrating [sic] to admiration.’ In addition to a fine voice she had, he holds, ‘all the grand and noble requisites of tragedy in great perfection.’ Dr. Thomas Somerville [q. v.] spoke of Mrs. Siddons as, ‘in representing the passions of indignation and fury, inferior to my early favourite, Mrs. Yates.’ Goldsmith deemed her the first of English actresses, and wrote for her a prologue to be spoken at the Opera House, of which she was at one time joint-manager with Mrs. Brooke. He espoused her side in a quarrel she had with Colman. Reynolds stated that he saw Garrick, with whom he was seated in the orchestra on the first night of Jephson's ‘Braganza,’ melted to tears by her performance; and James Harris, the author of ‘Hermes,’ wrote to Hoadly that ‘she acted the part of Electra in the “Orestes” of Voltaire, translated on purpose for her. For tone and justness of elocution, for uninterrupted attention, for everything that was nervous, various, elegant, and true in attitudes and action, I never saw her equal but in Garrick, and forgive me for saying I cannot call him her superior.’
Of Mrs. Yates, who, in the words of Boaden, ‘courted a likeness to the statues of antiquity in the solemn composure of her attitudes,’ many portraits are in existence. The Mathews collection in the Garrick Club contains a portrait by Coates [Cotes?]. One as Electra, by Samuel Cotes, was engraved by P. Dawe and published 25 June 1771; a second by Pine, as Medea, was engraved by W. Dickinson; and a third, by Romney, said to be of her, was engraved by Dunkarton. Another portrait by Romney, as Melpomene, was engraved by V. Green. Her portrait painted by Reynolds in 1772 was No. 586 in the second loan exhibition of 1867. A portrait by R. Dighton was engraved by R. Laurie and published by W. Richardson. In Parkinson's picture, engraved by Laurie, of Garrick led to the Temple of Fame, but looking back to Tragedy and Comedy, Mrs. Yates is believed to represent Tragedy. Another portrait of her as Jane Shore was executed by Parkinson. A portrait of her supposed to be speaking the epilogue to the ‘Earl of Warwick’ is in the National Art Gallery at South Kensington.[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Smith's Catalogue; Georgian Era; Garrick Correspondence; Notes and Queries, 9th ser. iii. 134; works cited and the authorities specially given under Richard Yates. A rhapsody by F[rances] B[rooke], entitled Authentic Memoirs of Mrs. Yates, appeared in Gent. Mag. 1787, i. 585; Wheatley and Cunningham's London.]