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Though Booth, from the possession of these qualifica. tions, must by attending to them, have necessarily reached the top of his profession, it was not till the production of Cato that he gained his eminence; and as the manner by which he obtained this part shews ingenuity and address on his side, as well as judgment on the side of the managers, we shall here relate it.
When Mr. Addison carried this admirable tragedy to the green-room, he, of course, as the author, read it first to the players: but being a man of uncommon bashfulness and diffidence, after this he desired Cibber would supply his place, who read it so much to the satisfaction of the author, that he requested him to perform the part of Cato.
Cibber, though otherwise a vain man, knew his own forte too well to risk his reputation in a character so much out of his way; he therefore preferred the part of Syphax, whilst Wilks took that of Juba. Cato, however, still remained undisposed of, till they both agreed that Booth would be the most likely representative, from figure, voice, and judgment, of this virtuous Roman: but Wilks, fearing that Booth would think himself injured in being cast for so venerable a character, the being then a young man,) had the good nature to carry the part to his lodgings himself; to inform him of its importance; and to persuade him, if necessary, to accept it. Booth, who told this anecdote to Victor, said, “ that he sunk the importance of the character, and seemed to accept it entirely at the manager's desire; which condescending behaviour, with his performance of the part so much to the delight and admiration of the audience, gave both Wilks and Cibber the greatest pleasure.” However, when the conséquences began soon after to appear, yiz. a reputation and interest to obtain a special licence from the Queen to be included as fourth manager of the theatre, this pleasure was converted into remorse and disappointment, and ended with one of the managers (Dogget) retiring in disgust from the stage for eyer.
The parts which Booth principally distinguished himself in, beside Cato, were Pyrrhus, Othello, Brutus, Lear, Marc Antony, Aurengzebe, Jaffier, the Ghost in Hamlet, &c.
· · MRS. WOFFINGTON. i The origin of Miss Woffinyton, as is well known, was very humble, Her mother, on the death of her father, kept a small grocer's shop (commonly called in Ireland a huckster's shop). upon Ormond-quay; and under this inauspicious circumstance did a woman, who afterwards delighted nations, and attracted the highest private regards, begin her career in life. What first gave rise to the accomplishment of so great a change, the following circumstance will explain.
There was a Frenchwoman, of the name of Madame Violante, who took up an occasional residence in Dublin about the year 1728. This woman was celebrated for exhibiting great feats of grace and agility on the tight: rope, &c. &c. ; and, as she supported a good private, character, her exhibitions were much resorted to at that time by people of the best fashion. Violante varied her amusements to the floating caprices of taste; and, as “ The Beggar's Opera" was then the rage all over the three kingdoms, she undertook to get up a representation of this celebrated piece with a company of children, or, as they were called in the bill3 of that day, “ Lilliputian Actors.” Woffington, who was then only in the tenth year of her age, she fixed upon as her Macheath; and such was the power of her infant talents, not a little perhaps aided by the partialities in favour of the opera, that the Lilliputian Theatre was crowded every night, and the spirit and address of the little hero the theme of every theatrical conversation.
Here was not only an early and accidental decision of her genius for the stage, but for her future excellence in breeches parts ;. as, had not the character of Macheath, been assigned her, it is inore than probable, she would have gone on in the usual line of acting, without ever being celebrated as the best male rake of her day..
A commencement so favourable got her an engagement a few years afterwards at Smock-alley Theatre, Dublin, where she soon fulfilled every expectation that was formed of her; and so little did her humble birth, and early education, bow down her mind to her situation, that her talents were found evidently to lie in the representation: of females of high rank and dignified deportment. Her person was suitable to such an exhibition, being of size above the middle stature, elegantly formed, and, though, not an absolute beauty, had a face full of exo
pression and vivacity. She was, beside, highly accomé plished for the stage, being a perfect mistress of dancing, and of the French language; both of which she acquired under the tuition of Madame Violante.
Her reputation on the Irish stage drew an offer from Mr. Rich, the manager of Covent-garden Theatre, for an engagement at a very handsoine salary, which Miss Woffington accepted, and in the the winter of 1740, (when our heroine was exactly twenty-two years of age, she made her first appearance on the London stage in the character of Sylvia, in “ The Recruiting Officer;" and in the same month she performed Sir Harry Wildair. The publication of this part to be undertaken by a woman excited the curiosity of the public, and more particularly as the character had for the most part lain dormant since the death of Wilks, (seven years before that time,) who was universally esteemed the first Sir Harry on the stage. However this curiosity was fully satisfied in favour of Miss Woffington, it was admitted by the best critics that she represented this gay, goodhumoured, dissipated, rake of fashion, with an ease, elegance, and deportment, which seemed almost out of the reach of female accomplishments; and her fame flew about the town with such rapidity, that the comedy had a run, and proved a considerable addition to the treasury for many seasons afterwards.
Miss Woffington, however great her reputation in this part, did not rest it wholly in Sir Harry. In characters of easy high-bred deportment, such as Millimant, Lady Townly, Lady Betty Modish, &c. she possessed a first-rate merit. She likewise excelled in many of the humourous parts of comedy ; such as Lady Pliant, in Congreve's Double Dealer ;” Mrs. Day, in “ The Committee;" and others; not in the least scrupling, on these occasions, to convert the natural beauty of her face to the wrinkles of old age, and put on the tawdry habiliments and vulgar manners of the old hypocritical city vixen.
In 1751, Mrs. Woffington quitted the London Theatres for a very profitable engagement under Mr. Thomas Sheridan, who was at that time Manager of Smock-alley House. It was at this æra that Woffington might have been said to have reached the acme of her fame: she was then in the bloom of her person, accomplishments, and profession; highly distinguished for her wit and vivacity; with a charm of conversation that at once