Actors, Musicians and Theatre Personalities with Scottish Links ~ Henry Siddons 1774- 1815

Henry Siddons, 1774–1815

Henry Siddons (1774–1815), 1808, by Samuel John Stump (1778-1863).  Watercolour on card, 79 mm x 64 mm oval.  Original in the Collection of the National Portrait Gallery.  Purchased, 1972. [The original image is out of copyright.]

Henry Siddons, 1774–1815

On starting his managerial career, Siddons aimed at producing plays with greater efficiency in all directions than had hitherto characterised the Edinburgh Theatre. In this effort he was encouraged by Scott, who frequently wrote strongly in his praise.

Miss Joanna Baillie's ‘Family Legend’ was produced by Siddons on 29th January 1810, and Scott, in his letters to the authoress, highly commended Siddons's share in the production. On 15th January 1811 Siddons produced the ‘Lady of the Lake,’ an adaptation Scott affected to sneer at, but he took much interest in its preparation.  Fitzjames was played by Siddons. But he was fighting an uphill battle, and lost much money. He died at Edinburgh on 12 April 1815.

Siddons's merits as an actor were imperfectly recognised during his lifetime. Scott and a few other good judges formed a high opinion of his ability, but his reputation suffered in the public regard from constant comparison with the commanding genius of his relatives, the Kembles.

He adapted from a work by Engel ‘Illustrations of Gesture and Action,’ 1807, and also wrote some plays of no particular merit.  Of one, ‘The Friend of the Family,’ Scott wrote, ‘Siddons's play was truly flat, but not unprofitable.

Other pieces by him were ‘Time's a Tell-tale,’ and ‘Tale of Terror, or a Castle without a Spectre’ (produced at Covent Garden on 12 May 1803).

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Henry Siddons


Henry Siddons, 1774–1815

Sarah Siddons as Isabella with her son, Henry Siddons, in 'Isabella'
by Thomas Southerne (1660 - 1746), engraved by J Caldwell after a painting by William Hamilton RA. (1751 - 1801)  Published in London, England 1 June 1785. [The original image is out of copyright.]

Henry Siddons adaptation of Engel's ‘Illustrations of Gesture and Action,’

The modifications of the body, which depend upon the cooperation of the soul, and which manifest themselves in a manner more or less imposing, often have a signification extremely vague and general: they answer to the inflexions of the voice, which should be managed with so much nicety as to fix the attention of the auditor to the same point which employs that of the speaker. But this method of exciting the attention must be aided by another, more marking, more rapid, and more determinable that is to say, by a method which may strike with greater force upon the senses, as, for example, by the raising or sinking of the voice by a pronunciation more slow and more imposing or by a particular tone, marked and emphatical, on the word indicating the idea peculiarly worthy of this distinction,

However feeble this mode may appear at the first blush, its utility has been confirmed by long practice and experience; the mind which feels its own resources will never fail to have recourse to it, more especially if that mind be aided and assisted by a well tuned voice. If the inflexion or tone of the voice comes sometimes to aid attention, action or gesture will certainly have the same effect; as, for example, the hand spread out, the arm extended to its full length, the 'Manus minus arguta, digitis subsequens verba, non exprimens (the) brachium procerius projectum, quasi quoddam telum oratoris.' Cicero de Oral, 1. iii. c. 59.

The gently striking of one hand against the other; a slight movement of the head, which indicates a wish to dwell on such or such a word: all these means may be employed to aid the elucidation of a particular idea. The rule by which this kind of action should be governed is the same to which the accents and tones of the voice ought to be limited. For as the actor ought to employ the aid of emphasis for principal words alone, without accenting them all with the same precision, which would render them confused, pompous, and ridiculous, so in his actions he ought to retain their force for such passages as more immediately require them. A perpetual seesaw of the arms, such as we observe in schoolboys when repeating their set speeches, fatigues the eye by its insipidity, as much as an indiscriminate emphasis on every word, in a long sentence, fatigues and disgusts a well governed ear by its tiresomeness and monotony." Any thing so overdone is from the purpose of playing." Shakespeare.

[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.]

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