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attracted the admiration of the men, and the envy of the women.
How she was considered as an actress may be estimated from the following theatrical record, where Victor tells us, that, although her article with the Manager was but for four hundred pounds, yet by four of her characters, performed ten nights each that season, viz. Lady Townly, Maria, in the Nonjuror, Sir Harry Wildair, and Hermione, she brought four thousand pounds ; an instance, he adds, never known in any theatre from four old stock plays, and in two of which the Manager bore no part.
The next year Sheridan liberally enlarged her salary to eight hundred pounds; and though it was to be imagined that her force to draw audiences must be weakened, yet the profits, at closing the Theatre, did not fall short of more than three hundred pounds of the first season.
Her company off' was equally sought for as on the stage ; and though she did not much admire the frivolity of her own sex, and consequently did not mix much with them, she was the delight of some of the gravest and most scientific characters in Church and State. She was well known to be at the head of the Beef-Steak Club (a club held every Saturday at the Manager's expense, and principally composed of Lords and Members of Parliament,) for many years, where no woman was admitted but herself; and where wit and spirit, in taking their most excursive flights, never once broke through the laws of decorum.
This celebrated club, however, which made so great a noise at that time in the the theatrical world, and at which Mrs. Woffington gave and received such infinite satisfaction, after a few years dwindled into what was called “ Party Meeting," where Opposition thought the Court was too predominant ; and, in consequence of this opinion, wreaked their vengeance, in the end, on the unoffending Manager. Mrs. Woffington saw these troubles brewing, and actually afloat, whilst she remained in Dublin; she therefore thought proper to relinquish this scene of warfare once more for the regions of London, and in the winter of 1756 returned to her old quarters under Rich, the Manager of Covent-garden Theatre.
Though Mrs. Woffington was now only in her thirtycighth year (a time of life, generally speaking, which may be called meridional in point of constitution and professional talents), her health began visibly to decline: Vol. IV.
she, however, pursued her public profession till the year before her death, when her disorder increasing, she retired from the stage in 1759, and died on the 28th of March, 1700.
Her death was considered at that time as a general loss to the stage; and Mr. Hoole, (the ingenious Translator of Ariosto, &c.) who knew her perfectly well, has in the following lines (which we have extracted from his Monody to her Memory) drawn her public and private character so faithfully, that we cannot better conclude this sketch, than by giving them a repetition in this place.
Blest in each art, by Nature form'd to please,
Nor was thy worth to public scenes confin'd,
WILKS, THE CELEBRATED ACTOR. Thougą we have no very favourable account of Wilks from Colley Cibber, who hated him personally, as well as Dogget, (though he had more prudence in concealing it during Wilks's life,) and though he always preferred Powel to him, “who,” he says, “ excelled him in voice and ear in Tragedy, as well as humour in Comedy ;" yet he, on the whole, is obliged to allow him qualifications which leave him a very considerable actor ; particularly in his Sir Harry Wildair, Essex, Mark Antony, Valentine, Plume, &c. &c. To these he adds his uncommon attention to be perfect in his parts, which he was so exact in, that “I question,” says Cibber, “ if, in forty years, he ever five times changed or misplaced an article in any one of them.”
Of his determined perseverance in this exercise of
memory, he adds the following curious instance: “ In sorne new Comedy he happened to complain of a crabbed speech in his part, which he said gave him more trouble to study than all the rest; upon which he applied to the author, either to soften or shorten it. The author, that he might make matters perfectly easy to him, fairly cut it all out : but when Wilks got home from the rehearsal, he thought it such an indignity to his memory that any thing should be too hard for it, that he actually made himself perfect in that speech, though he knew it was never to be made use of.”
Wilks's general merits as an actor may be divided into the gay and fashionable characters of Comedy, and the animated and pathetic scenes of Tragedy. As a lover, no person, since the death of Mountford, who was his predeces or, could reach him; nor was he, perhaps, ever equalled, till the laurel descended upon Barry; and Davies, who had seen him act, speaks highly of his Edgar, Macduff, Mark Antony, Prince of Wales, &c.
Of Mark Antony, he says, “ As soon as Wilks entered on the stage, without taking any notice of the conspirators, he walked quickly up to the dead body of Cæsar, and knelt down: he then paused for some time before he spoke, and, after surveying the corpse with manifest tokens of the deepest sorrow, he addressed it in a most affecting and pathetic manner."
Of his Prince of Wales he speaks in still higher terms. “ The Prince, by Wilks,” says he, “ was one of the inost perfect exhibitions of the Theatre, who, with great skill and nature, threw aside the libertine gaiety of Hal when he assumed the princely deportment of Henry. At the Boar's-head he was lively and frolicksome: in the reconciliation with his father, his penitence was gracefully becoming, and his resolution of amendment manly and affecting.'
“ In his challenge of Hotspur, his defiance was equally gallant and modest : in his combat with that nobleman, his fire was tempered with inoderation; and his reflections on the death of the great rebel generous and pathetic. The Hotspur of Booth, though a noble portrait of courage, humour, and gallantry, was not superior to the Prince of Wales by Wilks."
Macklin used to praise him in three parts, which, perhaps, were the only characters he might have seen him in; and these were, his Mark Antony, Captain Plume,