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To Mrs. Currie, Ince, near Wigan.
Liverpool, June, 1796.
MY DEAR Lucy,
Last night, being alone and a little disconsolate, I thought I might amuse myself with a sight of Mrs. Siddons. She played Jane Shore. The house was not full, nor indeed half full. Mrs. Ward played Alicia; Aikin, Shore; and Hargraves, Hastings. I amused myself with anatomising Mrs. Siddons' form and acting; and as the play gave me no disturbance, I did this at my ease.
I remarked that though not entirely out of powder, she was nearly so: her hair dressed very full on her brow, and down to her eyes. It was tucked up behind, but not so short as many of our ladies wear theirs.
She had her cestus in the natural position ; that is, about an inch lower than yours. Her dress was matronly and correct. I observed that, although rather too bulky, she her arm and fore-arm and hand, are all perfect. Her gesture and deportment are without a fault.
fine-made woman. The setting-on of her head, the fall of her shoulders, the turn of
is a very
Her acting is more correct, but less spirited than formerly. I could find nothing strained, affected, or ostentatious. Her movements were in exact unison with her sensations; and voice, gesture, and countenance were in perfect harmony. The part admits of little sublimity, and she did not introduce the sublime (as I have sometimes seen her do) to show her unrivalled excellence. She rather played under than over her part, as the phrase is, and managed her voice so as to raise its tones little above the level of conversation. Persons who did not watch her, did not perceive this; for such is the astonishing force of her countenance and attitude, that in the scene with Richard (the only one that admits of great force,) with an exertion of voice not greater than you are often obliged to employ in correcting your son or husband, she conveyed the utmost energy of impression!
After all, I thought nothing of Jane Shore. I had not, therefore, the least disposition to weep over her sorrows; I came out of the theatre as cool as I went into it. I shall not go again to please myself; but I have been thinking I must go to give you some account of her performance of Belvidera on Friday.
June 12. 1796. I went on Friday evening. The part she played was not Belvidera, but Lady Randolph, in which I had not seen her before. The house might be one-third full.. She was out of spirits evidently. Nevertheless, in some parts of the character she was divine. I confine this, however, to a single scene - that in which old Norval is brought in a prisoner, and in which, in the course of his examination, she discovers that young Norval is her son. In this scene she was fully supported; for Aikin did his part capitally, and there are no other persons of the drama engaged. You have heard of the astonishing effect produced by Mrs. Barry in this scene, by the question, “ Was he alive ?” She pronounced it in a kind of shriek stifled by terror. Mrs. Siddons, on the contrary, laying her hand on old Norval's shoulder, and looking in his face, asked the question in the lowest notes of her voice, and seemingly in an agony that refused her the
of utterance. In my mind, Mrs. Barry's was the best for the audience; but on old Norval himself, Mrs. Siddons must have made astonishing impression,
LETTERS TO HIS SON, W. W. CURRIE,
FROM 1796 to 1805.
Nos. 51. To 71.
Homer. Gibbon. Horace. Advice as to his Conduct on going to a Public School. - Anecdote of himself. Examples for Imitation and Avoidance. - Comparison of the Greyhound inactive and in the Chace. — Mischief arising from false Shame. On the Death of his Child. Provincial Pronunciation. Elocution. - Habit of Speaking, how acquired. - More natural to Women than to Men. Importance with reference to Public Life. - On a Case of Conscience. “ Respect your own Judgment.” Important Precepts. - Pleasure arising from epistolary Communication. - Superiority in this Respect from Civilisation. — Liverpool. – Athenæum. — Value of the Period of Youth for Study. - Politics. Pleasures of natural Scenery, and their Effect on the Mind. On the Value of the Quality; Attention.- Importance of Self-command, and Preference of what is good on the whole to what is pleasant at the moment. - On Manners.—Edinburgh. - Lectures. Taking Notes useful, if not too much an Object. - Verbal Criticisms. – Metaphysical Observations. — Caution against hazarding inconsiderate Opinions. — Value of a Disposition to be pleased. - Dugald Stewart's Lectures. - Malthus, Reflections on. — Folly of imprudent Marriages. — Aikin's Letters to his Son. Farther Observations on Malthus and his Doctrines on Population. - Anecdote of the Effect produced on a Lunatic by reading his Essay. - (Note) Anecdotes of General Wolfe and Franklin. - Steam Engine. Metaphysics — Difficulty attending the Study of, from their slight Impression on the Mind, and the Imperfection 198
of Language. Chief Practical Value of. · Anecdote of Fox and Horne Tooke. — St. Domingo. - Farther Observations on Metaphysical Studies. — Comparison between Metaphysics and Mathematics.- Conversational Powers.Three Individuals possessed of these in an uncommon Degree. - On his Determination to settle at Bath.