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I am not quite so sure that it was Mrs. Porter; but it was some great actress of that day. The name is indifferent; but the fact of the scalding tears I most distinctly remember.
I was always fond of the society of players, and am not sure that an impediment in my speech (which certainly kept me out of the pulpit), even more than certain personal disqualifications, which are often got over in that profession, did not prevent me at one time of life from adopting it. I have had the honor (I must ever call it) once to have been admitted to the teatable of Miss Kelly. I have played at serious whist with Mr. Liston. I have chatted with ever goodhumored Mrs. Charles Kemble. I have conversed as friend to friend with her accomplished husband. I have been indulged with a classical conference with Macready; and with a sight of the Player-picture gallery, at Mr. Mathews's, when the kind owner, to remunerate me for my love of the old actors (whom he loves so much), went over it with me, supplying to his capital collection, what alone the artist could not give them — voice; and their living motion. Old tones, half-faded, of Dodd, and Parsons, and Baddeley, have lived again for me at his bidding. Only Edwin he could not restore to me. I have supped with
- ; but I am growing a coxcomb. As I was about to say at the desk of the then treasurer of the old Bath Theatre - not Diamond's - presented herself the little Barbara S—
The parents of Barbara had been in reputable circumstances. The father had practised, I believe, as an apothecary in the town. But his practice, from causes which I feel my own infirmity too sensibly that way to arraign, - or perhaps from that pure in'felicity which accompanies some people in their walk through life, and which it is impossible to lay at the door of imprudence, was now reduced to nothing. They were, in fact, in the very teeth of starvation, when the manager, who knew and respected them in better days, took the little Barbara into his company.
At the period I commenced with, her slender earnings were the sole support of the family, including two younger sisters. I must throw a veil over some mortifying circumstances. Enough to say, that her Saturday's pittance was the only chance of a Sunday's (generally their only) meal of meat.
One thing I will only mention, that in some child's part, where in her theatrical character she was to sup off a roast fowl (O joy to Barbara!), some comic actor, who was for the night caterer for this dainty
in the misguided humor of his part, threw over the dish such a quantity of salt (O grief and pain of heart to Barbara !) that when he crammed a portion of it into her mouth, she was obliged sputteringly to reject it; and what with shame of her ill-acted part, and pain of real appetite at missing such a dainty, her little heart sobbed almost to breaking, till a flood of tears, which the well-fed spectators were totally unable to comprehend, mercifully relieved her.
This was the little starved, meritorious maid, who stood before old Ravenscroft, the treasurer, for her Saturday's payment.
Ravenscroft was a man, I have heard many old theatrical people besides herself say, of all men least calculated for a treasurer. He had no head for accounts, paid away at random, kept scarce any books, and summing up at the week's end, if he found himself a pound or so deficient, blest himself that it was
Now Barbara's weekly stipend was a bare halfguinea. — By mistake he popped into her hand whole one.
Barbara tripped away.
She was entirely unconscious at first of the mistake; God knows, Ravenscroft would never have discovered it.
But when she had got down to the first of those uncouth landing-places, she became sensible of an unusual weight of metal pressing in her little hand.
Now mark the dilemma.
She was by nature a good child. From her parents and those about her, she had imbibed no contrary influence. But then they had taught her nothing. Poor men's smoky cabins are not always porticoes of moral philosophy. This little maid had no instinct to evil, but then she might be said to have no fixed principle. She had heard honesty commended, but never dreamed of its application to herself. She thought of it as something which concerned grownup people, men and women. She had never known temptation, or thought of preparing resistance against it.
Her first impulse was to go back to the old treasurer,
and explain to him his blunder. He was already so confused with age, besides a natural want of punctuality, that she would have had some difficulty in making him understand it. She saw that in an instant. And then it was such a bit of money! and then the image of a larger allowance of butcher's meat on their table the next day came across her, till her little eyes glistened, and her mouth moistened. But then Mr. Ravenscroft had always been so goodnatured, had stood her friend behind the scenes, and even recommended her promotion to some of her little parts. But again the old man was reputed to be worth a world of money. He was supposed to have fifty pounds a year clear of the theatre. And then came staring upon her the figures of her little stockingless and shoeless sisters. And when she looked at her own neat white cotton stockings, which her situation at the theatre had made it indispensable for her mother to provide for her, with hard straining and pinching from the family stock, and thought how glad she should be to cover their poor feet with the same — and how then they could accompany her to rehearsals, which they had hitherto been precluded from doing, by reason of heir unfashionable attire, - in these thoughts she reached the second landingplace — the second, I mean, from the top — for there was still another left to traverse.
Now virtue support Barbara !
And that never-failing friend did step in for at that moment a strength not her own, I have heard her
say, was revealed to her a reason above reasoning — and without her own agency, as it seemed (for she never felt her feet to move), she found herself transported back to the individual desk she had just quitted, and her hand in the old hand of Ravenscroft, who in silence took back the refunded treasure, and who had been sitting (good man) insensible to the lapse of minutes, which to her were anxious ages, and from that moment a deep peace fell upon her heart, and she knew the quality of honesty.
A year or two's unrepining application to her profession brightened up the feet and the prospects of her little sisters, set the whole family upon their legs again, and released her from the difficulty of discussing moral dogmas upon a landing-place.
I have heard her say that it was a surprise, not much short of mortification to her, to see the coolness with which the old man pocketed the difference, which had caused her such mortal throes.
This anecdote of herself I had in the year 1800, from the mouth of the late Mrs. Crawford, 1 then sixty-seven years of age (she died soon after); and to her struggles upon this childish occasion I have sometimes ventured to think her indebted for that power of rending the heart in the representation of conflicting emotions, for which in after years she was considered as little inferior (if at all so in the part of Lady Randolph) even to Mrs. Siddons.
I HAVE an almost feminine partiality for old china. When I go to see any great house, I inquire for the china-closet, and next for the picture-gallery. I cannot defend the order of preference, but by saying that we have all some taste or other, of too ancient a date to admit of our remembering distinctly that it was an acquired one. I can call to mind the first play, and the first exhibition, that I was taken to; but I am not conscious of a time when china jars and saucers were introduced into my imagination.
I had no repugnance then why should I now have? — to those little, lawless, azure-tinctured grotesques, that, under the notion of men and women,
1 The maiden name of this lady was Street, which she changed, by successive marriages, for those of Daucer, Barry and Crawford. She was Mrs. Crawford, a third time a widow, when I knew her. C. L.