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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. II


346 OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. [North Bridge. Newcastle, to witness what all spoke of with wonder. There were one day applications for 2,557 places, while there were only 630 of that kind in the house. Porters and servants had to bivouac for a night in the streets, on mats and palliasses, in order that they might get an early chance to the box-office next day. The gallery doors had to be guarded by detachments of military, and the bayonets, it is alleged, did not remain unacquainted with blood. One day a sailor climbed to a window in front of the house, for a professional and more expeditious mode of admission ; but he told afterwards that he no sooner got into the port-hole than he was knocked on the head, and tumbled down the hatchway. Great quantities of hats, wigs, and shoes, pocket-books, and watches, were lost in the throng, and it was alleged that a deputation of London thieves, hearing of the business, came down to ply their trade.? * So much were the audience moved and thrilled, that many ladies fainted, particularly when Mrs Siddons impersonated Isabella in the Fatal Mar- . riage, and she had to portray the agony of a wife, on finding, after a second marriage, that her first and most loved husband, Biron, is alive ; and concerning this a curious story is told. A young Aberdeenshire heiress, Miss Gordon of Gicht, was borne out of her box in hysterics, screaming the last words she had caught from the great actress, ?Oh, my Biron ! my Biron ! ? There was something of an omen in this. In the course of a short time after she was married to a gentleman whom she had neither seen nor heard of at the epoch of Mrs. Siddons? performance, the Honourable John Byron, and to her it proved a ? fatal marriage,? in many respects, though she became the mother of the great Lord Byron. A lady who was present in the theatre on that night died so recently as In 1786 there died in hkr apartments in Shakespeare Square an actress who had come to fulfil an engagement, Mrs. Baddeley, a lady famous in those days for her theatrical abilities, her beauty, and the miseries into which she plunged herself by her imprudence. Her Ophelia and inany other characters won the admiratipn of Ganick; but her greatest performances were Fanny in the Clandestine Ma7- riage, and Mrs. Beverley in the Gamester. In I 788 a new patent was procured in the names of the Duke of Hamilton and Henry Dundas, afterwards Viscount Melville, with the consent of Mr. Jackson, at the expense of whom it was taken out. 1855. . - _. ~- ? Sketch of the Theatre Royal,? privately printed. Mr. Jackson, the patentee, having become bankrupt, Mr. Stephen Kemble leased the theatre for one year, and among those he engaged in 1792 were Mr. and Mrs. Lee Lewes, of whom Kay gives, us a curious sketch, as ?Widow Brisk? and the ?Tight Lad ? in the Road to Ruin. They had previously appeared in Edinburgh in 1787, and became marked favourites. Towards the close of their second season Kemble played for a few nights, while Mrs. Lewes took the parts of Lady Macbeth and Lady Randolph. Mrs. Esten, an actress greatly admired, now became lessee and patentee, while Stepheo Kemble, disappointed in his efforts to obtain entirely the Theatre Royal, procured leave to erect a? rival house, which he called a circus, at the head of Leith walk, the future site of many successive theatres. Mrs. Esten succeeded in obtaining a. decree of the Court of Session to restrain Kemble from producing plays; but the circus was nevertheless permanently detrimental to the old theatre, as it furnished entertainments for many years too closely akin to theatrical amusements. The ?? Annual Register ? for I 794 records a riot, of which this theatre was the scene, at the time when the French Revolution was at its height. The play being Charles the Fir.rt, it excited keenly the controversial spirit of the audience, among whom a batch of Irish medical students in the pit made some of their sentiments too audible. Some gentlemen whose ideas were more monarchical, rose in the boxes, and insisted that the orchestra should play God Save the King, and that all should hear it standing and uncovered; but the young Irish democrats sat still, with their hats on, and much violence ensued. Two nights afterwards a great noise was made all over the house, and it became evident that much hostility was being engendered. On the subsequent Saturday the two sets of people having each found adherents, met in the house for the express purpose of having a 4?row,?? and came armed with heavy sticks, for there was a wild feeling abroad then, and it required an outlet. When the democrats refused to pay obeisance to the National Anthem and respond to the cry of ? Off hats,? they were at once attacked with vigourchiefly by officers of the Argyleshire Fencibles-and a desperate fray ensued ; heads were broken and jaws smashed on both sides, and many were borne out bleeding, and conveyed away in sedans ; and conspicuous in the conflict on the Tory side towered the figure of young Walter Scott, then a newly-fledged advocate. He never after ceased to feel a glow of pleasure at the recollection of this
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North Bridge.] THE PLAYHOUSE GHOST. 347 youthful frolic ; and it was a rich treat to hear him tell of a Highland solicitor?s apprentice, who, on hearing some one express a hope there would be no blows, exclaimed, ? Plows, by Got ! ? and fell on. At a distance of thirty years, on an opportunity occurring of speaking a good word in favour of an application of this person for a situation in the Exchequer, Scott felt bound to use his influence, from a friendly feeling about the Rayhouse Row.? In 1797 there appeared in the Edinburgh Theatre Henry Erskine Johnston, known in his time as ? The Scottish Roscius,? from the circumstance of his having been born in the High Street, where his father was a barber ; the latter happened to be shaving Henry Erskine, when intelligence was brought that his wife had just presented him with a son, whom he named from the learned barrister then under his hands. Old Johnston afterwards kept an oyster tavern in Shakespeare Square, where he died in 1826. Quitting a writer?s oflice in which he was a clerk, his son came forth as an actor, his favourite parts being those of Hamlet and Norval, and he was nightly the attraction of Scottish playgoers, whom he was wont to astonish by playing the Danish Prince and Harlequin alternately. A young lady who saw him acting in a piece called The Storming of Srhgafatam fell deeply in love with him, ? and after a short, albeit impassioned courtship, she became Mrs. Johnston, although at that period only about fifteen.? From Edinburgh he went to Dublin and elsewhere. We shall have to recur to him as manager of the rival theatre in the city. Prior to that his story was a painful one. His young wife became, as an actress, the rage in London, and, unhappily for him, yielded to the temptations thrown in her way-she shone for a few short years in the theatrical atmosphere of the English metropolis, and then sank into insignificance, while poor Johnston became a houseless and heart-broken wanderer. The old Theatre Royal had an unpleasant tenant in the shape of a ghost, which made its appearance, or rather made itself heard first during the management of Mr. Jackson. His family occupied a small house over the box-office and immediately adjoining the theatre, and it was alleged that long after the latter had closed and the last candle been snuffed out, strange noises pervaded the entire building, as if the mimic scenes of the plays were being acted over again by phantoms none could see. As the story spread and grew, it caused some consternation. What the real cause of this was has never been explained, but it occurred for nights at a time. Between 1794 and 1809 the old theatre was in B very struggling condition. The debts that encumbered it prevented the management from bringing to it really good actors, and the want of these prevented the debts from being paid OK For the sum of ;EB,ozo Mr. Jackson, the old manager, became the ostensible purchaser of the house in 1800, and for several years after that date it was conducted by Mr. Rock, who, though an able and excellent actor, could never succeed in making it an attractive or paying concern, ?? One of the few points of his reign worthy of notice was the appearance here of the Yourg Ros&s, a boy who, for a brief space, passed as a great actor. The Edinburgh public viewed with intense interest this lad playing young Norval on the stage, and the venerable author of the play blubbering in the boxes, and declaring that until now his conception of the character had never been realised.? Many old favourites came in succession, whose names are forgotten now. Among these was Mrs. Charters, a sustainer, with success, of old lady parts. Her husband, who died in 1798, had been a comic actor on the same boards, in conjunction with Mr. Henderson, in 1784. He had by nature an enormous nose, and was deemed the perfection of a Bardolph, in which character Kay depicts him, with a three-cocked hat and knee breeches; and Henderson, as FalstaK, in long slop-trousers, and armed with a claymore! Mrs. Charters died in 1807, and her obituary is thus recorded in the Edinburgh papers of the day :- ?Died here on Monday last, with the wellmerited reputation of an honest and inoffensive woman, Mrs. Charters, who has been in this theatre for more than thirty years. She succeeded the much-admired Mrs. Webb, and for many years after that actress left the city was an excellent substitute in Lady Dacre, Juliet?s Nurse, Deborah Woodcock, Dorcas, Mrs. Bunale, &c., &c.? In her own line she was worthily succeeded by Mrs. Nicol, who retired from the Theatre Royal in 1834, after a brilliant career of twenty-seven years, and died in 1835. In her old lady parts she was . ably succeeded by her daughter, Miss Nicol, whose name is still remembered with honour and regard by all the old playgoers of Edinburgh. Another Edinburgh favourite for upwards of thirty years was Mr. Woods, the leading actor, whom the public strenuously opposed every attempt on the part of the management to change. He retired from the boards in April, 1802, intending to open an elocution class in the city, but died in the December of that year. For his benefit in I 784, he appeared as ?(Young Riot ? in a local
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