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Kay's Originals Vol. 1


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 147 shortly afterwards to Newport-Papell, where she contrived to live upon the interest of a small sum of money. At an early age, by means of his mother, he imbibed a taste for poetry ; and Shakspeare being almost his constant study, a wish to embody his characters on the stage was soon created. The play he admired most was the Winter’s Tab. When arrived at or near the age of eleven he was sent to a school at Hemel-Hampstead, and employed the short time he was there most advantageously. From thence he returned to London, to be placed under the charge of Mr. Fournier, an eminent artist, as he had given early indications of a taste for drawing. To the house of Mr. Cripps, a silversmith of very considerable business in St. James’s Street, to whom he was nearly related, he was soon afterwards transferred for the purpose of making drawings and designs for that business ; but the sudden death of Mr. Cripps put an end to his prospects iu this line. His ardent passion for acting now gained the ascendency, and Henderson made his first public appearance in a barn at a village in Islington, where he recited Garrick’s Ode to Xhakspeaw, at that time very popular. This effort procured him a number of admirers and many invitations to parties, at all of which he displayed his powers. Exertions were made to obtain the notice of the managers; and after several years’ attendance at the levee of the presiding genius of Drury Lane, during which he was refused an engagement at Covent Garden by Mr. Colman, Mr. Garrick condescended to grant him a day of audience, and heard him rehearse several scenes in a variety of characters. After some hesitation, the manager gave it as his opinion that he had in his mouth too much worsted, which he must absolutely get rid of before he was fit for Drury Lane stage.” The same fault has been found with the able representative of fiends and ruffians, 0. Smith, and a rhyming critique on the merits of his acting concludes thus :- “ But his delivery is very shocking- He speaks as if ’twere through a worsted stocking.” Garrick, however, having no wish to discourage the “young stager,” furnished him with a letter to Mr. Palmer, manager of the Bath Theatre, who gave him an engagement for a term of three years, at the very liberal salary of “ one pound one per week.” On the 6th of October then, in the year 1772, did “the Bath Roscius,” under the assumed name of Courtenay, make a most successful debut in the character of Hamlet, the known recommendation of Ganick operating upon the attendance at the theatre that evening, and controlling in no small degree the judgment of the audience after they went. In an address written for the occasion, Henderson shortly afterwards reclaimed his own cognomen. So attractive did he prove, that the manager found it for his interest to send him on ” that season in upwards of five-and-twenty different parts. He was noticed by people of the first rank and talent, among others Paul Whitehead, Gainsborough the painter, Dr. Schomberg, and Mr. John Beard. After the first Bath campaign ha repaired to London, fondly imagining that
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148 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. the strength of his fame would cause the doors of Covent Garden and Drury Lane to be thrown open to him, and that he had nothing to do but choose between the two. But the managers even then did not propose ; and though he invited Mr. Leake of Covent Garden to an entertainment, and exerted all his skill to convince him of his merit, by. various recitations, he was unsuccessful in procuring an engagement, and returned to “his old perch” chagrined and mortified at this reception. In the notice of his life in “ Oxberry’s Dramatic Biography,” it is affirmed that while in London he amused his friends with ludicrous imitations of favourite actors, particularly Garrick, who, being informed of it, invited him to breakfast, and requested a specimen of his talents in mimicry. At the imitations of Barry, Woodward, and Love, Garrick was in raptures:-(‘ But, Sir,” said he, ‘‘ you’ll kill poor Barry, slay Woodward, and break poor Love’s heart. Your ear must be wonderously correct, and your voice most singularly flexible. I am told you have me. Do, I entreat, let me hear what I am; for if you are equally exact with me as with Bany and Woodward, I shall know precisely what my peculiar tones are.” Henderson, after some hesitation, complied with his request, and though two disinterested auditors acknowledged the faithfulness of the portraiture, Garrick, displeased, said, “Egad! if that is my voice, I never have known it myself; for, upon my soul, it is entirely dissimiliar to every thing I conceived nine to be, and totally unlike any thing that has ever struck upon my ear till this blessed hour.’’ At Bath, Henderson rose in fame by his performing Falstuf and several other characters of Shakspeare, and at the close of the second season again entered London in search of an engagement, and again met with a repulse from Garrick, and from Foote, then managing at the Haymarket; but so eager was he to make an appearance on the London boards, that when in Bath, towards the end of 1774, he wrote to Mr. Garrick, and proposed, at his own risk and expense, to act on Drury Lane stage the characters of Hamlet and Shylock. Mr. Taylor of Bath also solicited Mr. Garrick to accede to this. Mr. Garrick answered Hr. Taylor very explicitly :-He thought the proposal would be extremely injurious to Mr. Henderson himself; he could not suppose that his playing two characters would give the public a proper idea of his merit. As his well-wisher, he would strenuously protest against the other scheme ; but if Henderson chose to be with him, why not fix upon Hamlet, Shylock, Benedict, or any other part he pleased to appear in next winter. To this letter Henderson, in answer, made a new proposal-to act the ensuing winter at Drury Lane Theatre, the parts of Hamlet, Shylock, Richard, and Lear, with other characters, under restrictions. Garrick was enraged that any one should presume to dictate terms to him, and “attempt to take the management out of his hands,” as he expressed it, and again declined his services. In the summer of 17 7 6, Henderson performed at Birmingham, under the banners of Mr. Yates, where Mrs. Siddons was the leading actress, having the preceding season been unsuccessful in London.
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