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TO YRS. SHAW.
London, 4 March, 1786. MY DEAR SISTER, I SELDOM feel a sufficient stimulus for writing until I hear that a vessel is just about to sail, and then I find myself so deep in debt, that I know not where to begin to discharge the account; but it is time for me to be a little more provident; for, upon looking into my list, I find I have no less than eighteen correspondents, who have demands upon me. One needs to have a more fruitful fund than I am possessed of, to pay half these in sterling bullion. I fear many will find too great a quantity of alloy to be pleased with the traffic.
I think, in one of my letters to you last autumn, I promised to give you some account of the celebrated actress, Mrs. Siddons, whom I was then going to see. You
suppose my expectations were very high; but her circumstances were such then as prevented her from exerting that force of passion, and that energy of action, which have rendered her so justly celebrated. .. You will suppose that she ought not to have appeared at all upon
I should have thought so too, if I had not seen her; but she had contrived her dress in such a manner as wholly to disguise her situation; and chose only those tragedies where little exertion was necessary. The first piece I saw her
in was Shakspeare's “ Othello.” She was interesting beyond any actress I had ever seen ; but I lost much of the pleasure of the play, from the sooty appearance of the Moor. Perhaps it may be early prejudice; but I could not separate the African color from the man, nor prevent that disgust and horror which filled my mind every time I saw him touch the gentle Desdemona; nor did I wonder that Brabantio thought some love potion or some witchcraft had been practised to make his daughter fall in love with what she scarcely dared to look upon.
I have been more pleased with her since in several other characters, particularly in Matilda in “ The Carmelite," a play which I send
your amusement. Much of Shakspeare's language is so uncouth that it sounds very harsh. He has beauties which are not equalled ; but I should suppose they might be rendered much more agreeable for the stage by alterations. I saw Mrs. Siddons a few evenings ago in “ Macbeth," a play, you recollect, full of horror. She supported her part with great propriety ; but she is too great to be put in so detestable a character. I have not yet seen her in her most pathetic characters, which are Jane Shore, Belvidera in “ Venice Preserved," and Isabella in “ The Fatal Marriage.” For you must make as much interest here to get a box when she plays, as to get a place at Court; and they are usually obtained in the same way. It would be very
difficult to find the thing in this country which money will not purchase, provided you can bribe high enough.
What adds much to the merit of Mrs. Siddons, is her virtuous character; slander itself never having slurred it. She is married to a man who bears a good character; but his name and importance are wholly swallowed up in her fame. She is the mother of five children ; but from her looks you would not imagine her more than twenty-five years old. She is happy in having a brother who is one of the best tragic actors upon the stage, and always plays the capital parts with her; so that both her husband and the virtuous part of the audience can see them in the tenderest scenes without once fearing for their reputation. I scribble to you upon these subjects, yet fear they do not give you the pleasure I wish to communicate ; for it is with the stage as with Yorick's “ Sentimental Journey,” no person can have an equal relish for it with those who have been in the very place described.
I can, however, inform you of something which will be more interesting to you, because it is the work of one of our own countrymen, and of one of the most important events of the late war. Mr. Trumbull has made a painting of the battle at Charlestown, and the death of General Warren. To speak of its merit, I can only say that in looking at it my whole frame contracted, my blood shivered, and I felt a faintness at my heart. He is the first painter who has undertaken to immortalize by his pencil those great actions, that gave birth to our nation. By this eans he will not only secure his
own fame, but transmit to posterity characters and actions which will command the admiration of future ages, and prevent the period which gave birth to them from ever passing away into the dark abyss of time. At the same time, he teaches mankind that it is not rank nor titles, but character alone, which interests posterity. Yet, notwithstanding the pencil of a Trumbull and the historic pen of a Gordon and others, many of the component parts of the great whole will finally be lost. Instances of patience, perseverance, fortitude, magnanimity, courage, humanity, and tenderness, which would have graced the Roman character, are known only to those who were themselves the actors, and whose modesty will not suffer them to blazon abroad their own fame. These, however, will be engraven by Yorick's recording angel upon unfading tablets, in that repository, where a just estimate will be made both of principles and actions.
Your letters of September and January I have received with much pleasure, and am happy to find that the partiality of a parent with regard to a very dear son, had not lessened him in the eyes of his friends ; for praises are often so many inquisitors, and always a tax where they are lavished. I think I may with justice say, that a due sense of moral obligation, integrity, and honor, are the predominant traits of his character; and these are good foundations, upon which one may reasonably build hopes of future usefulness. The longer I live in the world, and the more I see of mankind, the more deeply I am impressed with the importance and necessity of good principles and virtuous examples being placed before youth, in the most amiable and engaging manner, whilst the mind is uncontaminated, and open to impressions. Yet precept without example is of little avail, for habits of the mind are produced by the exertion of inward practical principles. The 6 soul's calm sunshine" can result only from the practice of virtue, which is congenial to our natures. If happiness is not the immediate consequence of virtue, as some devotees to pleasure affirm, yet they will find that virtue is the indispensable condition of happiness; and, as the poet expresses it,
“ Peace, O Virtue ! peace is all thy own.” But I will quit this subject, lest my good brother should think I have invaded his province, and subscribe myself
TO MISS LUCY CRANCH.
London, 2 April, 1786. Your kind letter, my dear niece, was received with much pleasure. These tokens of love and regard which I know flow from the heart, always find their way to mine, and give me a satisfaction and pleasure beyond any thing which the ceremony and pomp of courts and kingdoms can afford. The so