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Kay's Originals Vol. 1


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 149 At last chance brought about that which his own fame and the strong recommendations of men of genius and nobles could not effect. Mr. Colmaa having purchased the patent for acting plays at the Haymarket from Mr. Foote, and fearing that the infirmities of that gentleman might incapacitate him from furnishing his quota of public entertainment in writing and acting, engaged Henderson to supply his place occasionally, at a salary of one hundred pounds for the season, which was eagerly accepted. He opened in Shylock, and, after appearing in one or two other parts, his success was complete. All the world ran to the Haymarket to witness his performances, and a considerable sum was realised by the manager, who, though no stipulation had been made to that effect, gave him a free benefit. Messrs. Harris and Leake, of Covent Garden theatre, insinuated that Henderson was not fit for the t'opping parts, but was only equal to a second or third rate character, and still withheld from engaging him ; but Sheridan, who had seen him act, Hamlet twice, was not to be swayed by their dictum, and, on his own responsibility, enrolled him as a member of the corps of Drury Lane for the ensuing winter season. His salary was fked at 310 per week, and Mr. Sheridan at the same time undertook to pay the forfeiture of articles to Palmer, the Bath manager, amounting to 3300, which was done by Sheridan giving Palmer the liberty of performing The School for Scandal. Nothing was now wanting but the countenance of Mr. Garrick ; but he, to use his own words, '' could not think of having any connection with a man who had ridiculed him by mimicry, and had exposed and laughed at his letters." The latter charge Henderson always denied. On the conclusion of the season, Henderson took a trip to Ireland, by which movement his purse and reputation were considerably increased. On his return to England, he espoused a lady bearing the Cockney plebeian name of Figgins, at her native place, Chippenham, Somersetshire, on the 13th January 1779. He again visited Ireland during the summer of that year, and in consequence of some disagreement between him and Mr. Sheridan, transferred his services to Covent Garden during the winter. It was during this engagement that he performed Macbeth for the first time. The summer of 1780 he passed at Liverpool, and returned to Covent Garden in the winter, when he appeared in the characters of WoEsey, Sir Jolm Bwte, and Iago; there is an engraving of him in the last character by Bartolozzi, which is rather scarce. In the summer of 1781 he was without an engagement; 1782, he played at Liverpool; and in November 1783, appeared as Tamerlane to Mr. Kemble's Bajazet. On Saturday, 31st July 1784, he made his first appearance on the Scottish stage at Edinburgh, in the character of Handet. The following is a notice of his performance of that character :-" On Saturday evening Mr. Henderson made his first appearance in this theatre, in the character of Handd, to a very genteel audience. The house was full, but not crowded. This gentleman is undoubtedly the most correct actor at present on the stage. His deportment is easy and unaffected ; his voice, when not carried too high, pleasing and comprehensive ; and his action is the result of good sense, taste, and a perfect know
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150 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. ledge of his author. To speak comparatively, Digges’ figure was better, and his voice perhaps more mellow and powerful, but Digges played with little judgment, was very deficient in the nicer touches of the art, and often had no conception of what he spoke. In judgment and taste Mr. Henderson is eminent, He understands perfectly the character he plays, and never fails to give the just meaning of his author, and this, in so difficult and various a character as Hamlet, requires the powers of a master. He avoids that unnatural violence and rant which is often introduced into the part, and which seldom fails to catch the ears of the groundlings, but is certainly more characteristic of the blustering player than the Prince of Denmark. From what we have seen we are of opinion that the admirers of Shakspeare, who wish to understand perfectly their favourite author, should attend Mr. Henderson ; in his mouth no passage seems perplexed, and he is a comment at once pleasing and instructive.” On the 2d August he acted Shylock in the Merchant of Venice, which the newspaper advertisement, for the instruction of the ignorant, announces to be “ written by Shakspeare.” “ One would have thought,” continues the critique alluded to, “from the crowded state of the house, that the Siddons was still here. Greater praise, perhaps, was not due to Mrs. Siddons for any of her parts than to Mr. Henderson ,for the inimitable humour and original manner in which he played Falstn, In this character he stands unrivalled on the British stage. He met with repeated bursts of applause from every part of the house. One honest gentleman was so tickled with the humour, that he almost fell into convulsions with laughing. Mr. Henderson was perhaps painted too youthful for the character.” 5th, Don John in the Chances, as altered from Beaumont and Fletcher by Garrick. In this comedy “he gave a proof that his powers were as well adapted to the lively-spirited rake, as to the serious and philosophic Hamlet.” 7th, Acted iyacbeth. ‘‘ In Macbeth he was equally animated and correct as in any of the other parts he has displayed.” Sth, Sir John Falstaf, in the First Part of King Henry IK, for his benefit. “ In this character he exceeded any thing we have seen of his performance. The continued peals of laughter and applause, from a most brilliant and crowded audience, testified the strongest approbation, and the part perhaps was never played with such inimitable genuine humour. The Knight’s description of his troop, with Mr. Henderson’s looks, tones, and gestures, was beyond description admirable. On the 3d, Sir John Falstaf in the Merry Wives of Windsor. loth, Richard 111. 14th, King Lear. 16th, Sir Oiles Ouerreach. 1 ‘‘ It is surprising that there should not be a proper Scots dress on the stage in the metropolis of Scotland, and that a Spauish dress, or indeed any other, should serve as a Highland dress by the addition of a piece of tartan drawn awkwardly across the shoulder, as if it waa the insignia of an order of knighthood. The characters in Macbeth, indeed, exhibited the dresses of all nations, and one might have thought that a dealer in Monmouth Street had been airing his stock-in-trade to prevent it being eaten by moths.”-Courccnt. . The witches are said to have made a Dutch chorus of the music.
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