Actors, Musicians and Theatre Personalities with Scottish Links ~ Louisa Fontenelle 1773 - 1799

Louisa Fontenelle, 1773-1799

Louisa Fontenelle, 1773-1799 as Moggy McGilpin in The Highland Reel at Covent Garden ca. 1788.  Engraving by Barlow

Fontenelle must have been a woman of great charm and culture. Burns greatly admired her acting and wrote for her 'The Rights of Woman', an address to be given by her on her Benefit Night at  Dumfries on 26th November 1792. 

With the Prologue, he sent a letter to her:

'In such a bad world as ours, those who add to the scanty sum of our pleasures, are positively our benefactors. To you, Madam, on our humble Dumfries boards, I have been more indebted for entertainment, than ever I was in prouder Theatres. Your charms as a woman would ensure applause to the most indifferent Actress, and your theatrical talents would secure admiration to the plainest figure.'

He also wrote a poem 'To Miss Fontenelle, on Seeing her in a Favourite Character':

'Sweet naivete of feature,
Simple, wild, enchanting elf,
Not to thee, but thanks to nature,
Thou art acting but thyself.
Wert thou awkward, stiff, affected,
Spurning nature, torturing art;
Loves and graces all rejected,
Then indeed thou'dst act a part.'


For her Benefit Night in December the following year, Burns wrote another Address, 'Still anxious to secure your partial favour', declaring in the accompanying letter:

'God knows I am a powerless individual. And, when I thought on my Friends, many a heart ache it has given me! But if Miss Fontenelle will accept this honest compliment to her personal charms, amiable manners, and gentle heart, from a man, too proud to flatter, though too poor to have his compliments of any consequence, it will sincerely oblige her anxious Friend, and most devoted humble Servant...'

Fontenelle married John Brown Williamson, an actor known to Burns and sometime manager of the Dumfries Theatre. They emigrated to America in 1796 where they played in Boston and New York as members of the Charleston  (South Carolina) company. She died of yellow fever at Charleston on 30th October 1799, aged 26.

[Text draws on Genest's Some Account of the English Stage, 1822 and the Robert Burns website.]

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