Henry Siddons (1774 - 1815)   ~  Incidents and Events in a Professional Life

The Answer of Garrick to a French Comedian cited and expanded by Siddons.

Garrick thus answered a French comedian who asked his opinion of the manner in which he had performed a character in a certain play: "You have acted the part of a drunkard with much fidelity, which is extremely difficult to be effected in such little parts; but permit me to make one slight critique your left leg was too sober."

Upon various occasions I should be tempted to make the same remark to a number of players.

"According to my weak judgment, you have done ample justice to such or such a situation (for I can rarely hazard the lout ensemble of a character); you have perfectly imitated the intoxication of the passion you had to imitate; but your foot, your hand, your eye, your neck, your mouth (or any other part I chanced to find defective) was too tame!'

Do not you think, like me, that a similar extent of Garrick's criticism would be in effect well founded?

Since the physical intoxication attacks the whole nervous system, from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet, the same thing should, I think, take place in the moral intoxication of the affections: for the man has but one soul, which modifies the whole body. Thus, when a simple affection directs all the forces of the soul towards one single point, and the ideas and sentiments are in perfect unison, then the whole body ought to partake of the expression and every member to cooperate with it.

It is necessary then, that the actor, while studying his character, should not content himself in general reflections upon each passion, but give himself much trouble to learn what part of his body may contribute to its effect: if any of his powers are defective, he ought to correct them either by his own observation or by the judgment of his friends who, if his self love does not repulse each salutary counsel, will generally be both able and willing to instruct him.

It is not only requisite that the most, perfect harmony should exist between all the members of the body and every trait of the countenance to give the expression of the sentiment, but it is also necessary that this harmony should be proportioned to the degree of force and vivacity which the sentiment requires. If desire manifests itself too much by the play of the arms, and too little by that of the feet; if fear does not sufficiently open the eyes and the mouth while the body staggers, and the lifted arms remain immovable; if anger does not impress the deep frown on the forehead, or leaves the lip tranquil while the foot stamps with rage, the whole illusion is put to sudden flight, and the actor still lingers after the character has vanished out of sight.

From Illustrations of Gesture and Action.  Practical Illustrations & Rhetorical Gesture and Action; Adapted to the English Drama from a Work on the subject by M. Engel, member of the Royal Academy of Berlin, by Henry Siddons.  Second edition London, 1822


Harriet and Henry Siddons and the Drama in Perth

When the Perth Grammar School, which dated from about the fifteenth century, became vacant, an effort was made to fit up the building as a playhouse, and on 2nd May, 1810, the St. Anne's Lane Theatre, officially known as the New Theatre, Grammar School, Perth, commenced its nine-year dramatic career by announcing the appearance of Mrs. Glover, from the Covent Garden Theatre, in Colman's comedy, The Jealous Wife. Mrs. Glover appeared for four nights, performing also in Wives as They Were; reciting Collin's "Ode to the Passions"; and playing in the farces, Animal Magnetism; The Way to Keep Him; The Provoked Husband; and The Citizen.

In October, Hunt Week at Perth saw the re-opening of the theatre. On two successive days after the public dinner, most of the gentlemen, and many of the ladies, visited the theatre in St. Anne's Lane, and proceeded after to the dance, where the famous fiddler, Neil Gow, led his select little orchestra.

Under the patronage of the Duchess of Atholl, there, was a special night on October 4th, when the opera, Love in a Village, was presented, followed later in the week by Home's Douglas, and then by a performance of The Beggar's Opera.

The first appearance in Perth of the son of Mrs. Siddons and her daughter-in-law was billed for the week commencing October 22nd, when Mr. and Mrs. Siddons appeared for four nights in Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet (twice), and As You Like It, the latter part of the programme being devoted to various farces in which Mrs. Siddons appeared. For their benefit night on the Friday, the Siddons appeared in Henry Siddons' play, Time's a Tell Tale. It is worth noting here that the "stars" of these days were supposed not only to be versatile histriones but capable dramatists.

In 1812 the Town Council decided to buy the stage, seats, and appurtenances of the theatre for £60 and advertise the building for hire. Trueman rented it on a six months' lease, at a rent of £21, and ran a few shows. Subsequently the Town Council induced Mr. and Mrs. Siddons to take up a three years' lease at £60 per annum, but they did not open until the following year.

" The Theatre will open for Six weeks with the Edinburgh Company on May 10, 1813, with a 3 Act Comedy `The Child of Nature,' the part of Amanthis by Mme H. Siddons. whose health will not allow her the honour of appearing more than six evenings during the present season."

The fare presented during this six-week season included the musical tragedy of Torn Thumb the Great, Master Mason, performed by a seven-year-old boy, who also introduced Braham's Bravura Song.  Venice Preserved, Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice, farce, pantomime, and various novelties, formed the rest of the season's programme.

The Siddons sub-let the theatre to Henry Johnston on March 11, 1814, when that actor gave recitals from Cato, Henry IV., and Collin's "Ode to the Passions."

Text based on The Story of the Scots Stage By Robb Lawson (1919). Chapter Nine


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