Posts Tagged ‘Mary Ann Duff’

Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

James Harvey D’Egville
1770 – 1836


James Harvey D’Egville

James Harvey D’Egville was an English dancer and choreographer.

James’ father Pierre D’Egville was ballet master at Drury Lane and Sadler’s Wells Theatres. His other son George D’Egville was also a dancer.

James D’Egville performed at the Paris Opera from 1784 to 1785.

Back in England, in June 1786, he danced in The Nosegay at the Haymarket Theatre with Maria Theresa Kemble in the presence of the Royal Family. On 7 July he appeared in a ballet entitled Jamie’s Return with Kemble and his brother George. It was well received which inspired an artist named Miller to do a painting depicting the three of them.

Between 1799 and 1809 he was choreographer at the King’s Theatre, now Her Majesty’s Theatre where he had danced as a child in 1783. One of his pupils was Mary Ann Dyke who became tragedienne Mary Ann Duff.

In 1827, the London Magazine published an article decrying the fact that D’Egville had won a libel suit against The Spirit of the Age newspaper for writing about his alleged association with the assassin of Princess Lambelle while he was in France in 1792. It annoyed the magazine immensely that simply writing that someone had said something libellous was grounds to win damages against a periodical. The magazine also had snide things to say about D’Egville’s ballets. They wrote of him, “the gentleman who deserves the thanks of all the saints on earth, for having cured the young men of the present day of the sinful taste for ballets.”

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

George Frederick Cooke
17 April 1756 – 26 September 1812


George Frederick Cooke

George Frederick Cooke claimed to have been born in Westminster, it seems likely that he was the illegitimate child of a British soldier in Dublin. He was raised in Berwick-upon-Tweed, where in 1764 he was apprenticed to a printer. However, early exposure to strolling players made an impact. By the end of the decade he had gotten himself released from his apprenticeship and become an expert.

He made his first appearance on the stage in Brentford at the age of twenty as Dumont in Nicholas Rowe’s Jane Shore. His first London appearance was at the Haymarket Theatre in 1778; he played in benefit performances of Thomas Otway’s The Orphan, Charles Johnson’s The Country Lasses, and David Garrick and George Colman’s The Clandestine Marriage. Almost immediately, however, he returned to the country, and he spent the next decade and more touring, from Hull to Liverpool. He first performed with Sarah Siddons in York in 1786; by that time he had earned a substantial provincial reputation. In 1794 in Dublin, as Othello, he first attained high rank in a national capital; by 1800, London critics had dubbed him the Dublin Roscius. His unusually long provincial apprenticeship in many ways served him well. After an initial concentration on romantic leads, particularly in comedy, he gradually found his metier playing rakes and villains. As a regional star, he performed with Siddons, Dorothy Jordan and other London celebrities; he had over 300 roles in his repertoire.

At the same time, he developed a drinking problem, and a reputation for unreliability inevitably followed. A binge drinker, Cooke would abandon his duties for weeks at a time, often spending whatever money he had in the process. Shortly after his first triumph in Dublin, he disappeared from the stage for over a year. At some point in 1795, he had enlisted in the British Army, in a regiment due for deployment to the Caribbean. He was extricated from the military by the efforts of theatre owners in Manchester and Portsmouth, and he returned to Dublin in 1796.

In 1801, he appeared at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden as Richard III; this role would become his most famous. That year he also played Shylock (The Merchant of Venice), Iago (Othello), Macbeth, Kitely (Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour), and Giles Overreach, and became the rival of Kemble, with whom, however, and with Mrs. Siddons, he acted from 1803. In 1802 he added roles in Edward Moore’s The Gamester and Charles Macklin’s Man of the World.

After Kemble and Siddons came to Covent Garden in 1803, the rivalry between the two actors unfolded on one stage instead of two. Fittingly, they debuted in Richard III, though Kemble played the title role and Cooke Richmond. Shortly later they acted in John Home’s Douglas: Cooke played Glenalvon to Kemble’s Old Norval, and Siddons was Lady Randolph. Washington Irving records seeing the group in Othello (Cooke was Iago, and Charles Kemble was Cassio); he called the performance delightful.

For the next decade, Cooke was an erratic star in London. Already a confirmed alcoholic when he arrived, he grew steadily less reliable as his career progressed. Already in 1801, he was unable to perform because he was drunk; such failures became more frequent in later years. In 1807, after failing to appear for his summer season in Manchester, he was jailed in Westmorland for several months. In the last years of the decade, he managed to curb his excesses to some extent; he was, for instance, frequently on stage during the Old Price riots.

However, he was unhappy with his treatment by the London press, and he was easily persuaded to travel to the United States in 1810. American audiences received him enthusiastically. He premiered as Richard III in New York on 11 November. Escorted by William Dunlap, he remained sober and performed in Boston, where he played opposite English tragedienne Mary Ann Duff, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Providence. Thomas Sully painted him as Richard; the result is generally considered Sully’s best painting of a human figure. He earned 20,000 dollars for his efforts, but the windfall reaped by the theater-owners (more than $250,000) left him feeling bitter and exploited. By 1812, he had accepted an invitation to return to Covent Garden. The outbreak of the War of 1812 stranded him in New York. He died of cirrhosis at the Mechanics’ Hall in Manhattan on 26 September.

A monument to his memory was erected in St. Paul’s chapel (on Fulton Street) by Edmund Kean during his first American tour in 1821. Barry Cornwall claimed that Kean brought Cooke’s big toe back to England, where his disgusted wife subsequently threw it away. Other biographers claim Kean stole a finger rather than a toe, and a relatively unreliable American writer claims that after Cooke’s skull was used as the skull of Yorick in a performance of Hamlet, members of a private New York club (including Daniel Webster and Henry Wheaton) subjected the skull to phrenological examination.
Cooke’s personal life was, unsurprisingly, markedly chaotic. Even apart from his binges, he was profligate and generous with his money, so that he rarely enjoyed a prolonged period of security. He married late. In September 1808 in Edinburgh he married Sarah Lamb. She accompanied him to London for the 1808 season, but in February 1809 Sarah returned to her family in Newark-on-Trent and was not associated with the actor thereafter. In New York, he married Violet Mary Behn, the daughter of a coffee-house owner. He left at his death $2000, all that remained of a lifetime as a famous actor.

Cooke may be called the first fully romantic actor in England. He drew on the style of Garrick and Macklin, both of whom he saw in his youth; he expanded on their naturalness and informality of style. That Kean idolized him is perhaps sufficient to suggest his style; there are also the contrasts that period critics saw between his style and that of the refined, dignified Kemble.

Cooke was about 5’10”, with a commanding stage presence and a long, aquiline nose. His stage presence was generally described as commanding, although many observers noted that his voice tended to become hoarse in the later acts of challenging plays. He was, like Garrick, a restless, physically dynamic performer; critics also noted his skill in using his eyes to convey complex thoughts or emotions, and his ability to project stage-whispers even in a large venue.

Little record of response to his early romantic roles exists; however, his technique in his mature tragic roles is abundantly recorded. He was at his best in roles of suave or energetic villainy or hypocrisy. In comedy, his Macsarcasm (from Macklin’s Love à la Mode) and Shylock were considered unsurpassable. In tragedy, in addition to Richard, he was a notable Iago. Though King Lear was not one of his signature roles, his interpretation of Lear’s madness influenced that of Kean and other actors.

Yet his performance in roles that required refinement or restraint was almost universally disparaged—perhaps inevitably, given the looming shadow of Kemble. His Hamlet was a failure. As Macbeth, he was said to manage nothing better than “low cunning.” Henry Crabb Robinson reports that Cooke failed in Kotzebue’s The Stranger; Robinson expressed a common opinion when he concludes that however compelling a presence, Cooke was too coarse for the greatest tragic roles. Leigh Hunt agreed, arguing that Cooke reduced all of his characters to their lowest motives. Of Cooke’s famous style of declamation (like Macklin, he delivered soliloquies as if thinking aloud), Hunt complained that it merely turned Shakespeare’s poetry into indignant prose.

As Richard III, Cooke offered an interpretation that both differed from and excelled Kemble’s rather staid performance. In such melodramatic scenes as the murder of Henry VI, Cooke excelled in conveying Richard’s horrid glee (as, indeed, had Kemble); unlike Kemble, however, Cooke was also able to convey a sense of Richard’s disgust with himself. This aspect of Richard was most notable in his discussion of his hunchback and in his response to Norfolk’s doggerel in 5.2. Where Kemble had simply brushed the bad news aside, Cooke pondered the verse carefully before rejecting it without force. The effect was to deepen Richard’s characterization, providing him with a gradually increasing awareness of his own villainy. Cooke’s Richard was, then, something more than the fairy-tale ogre described by Charles Lamb.

On the whole, though, the limits of Cooke’s talent are indicated by the probably apocryphal story related by Macready and others. Wishing to impress well-born visitors with his mimetic talent, Cooke made a number of faces meant to represent various emotions. One of his looks stumped the visitors. They guessed rage, anger, and revenge before Cooke, exasperated, told them it was meant to be love.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Mary Ann Duff
1794- September 5, 1857


Mary Ann Duff

Mary Ann Duff and her younger sisters Elizabeth and Ann were all born in London. Their father was an Englishman, employed in the service of the British East India Company, and he died abroad while they were children. Their mother prepared them for the stage under James Harvey D’Egville, ballet-master of the King’s Theatre, London.

The sisters made their first appearance in 1809, at a Dublin theatre and were described as “remarkable for beauty of person and winning sweetness of disposition.” While Mary was performing in Dublin, she met Irish poet Thomas Moore who proposed to her but was rejected as Mary had already formed an attachment to the man who became her husband. Moore turned his attentions to her sister Elizabeth whom he married soon after. Mary Ann married in her sixteenth year John R. Duff (1787–1831), an Irish actor. (The youngest sister Ann married William Murray, the brother of Harriet Murray), but died soon after the marriage.) John Duff had been a classmate of Moore at Trinity College, where he had read law, but was drawn to the stage. He was seen in Dublin by actor Thomas Apthorpe Cooper who recommended him to Powell and Dickson of the Boston Theatre. He was immediately engaged and he and Mary, barely sixteen, moved to America in 1810. In 1817, John became a partner in the Boston Theatre but relinquished his share after three years.

Mary Ann Duff first appeared in Boston as Juliet on December 31, 1810 with her husband as Romeo. The part of Mercutio was played by John Bernard. Although one critic remarked on her attractiveness, he felt that her youth with its concomitant lack of experience caused her performance to lack “both conception and power.”

Her next performance was on January 3, 1811, when she played Lady Anne in Richard III with George Frederick Cooke in the title rôle, following it with Lady Rodolpha Lumbercourt to his Sir Pertinax MacSycophant in Charles Macklin’s Man of the World, Charlotte to his Sir Archy MacSarcasm in Love a la Mode by the same author, and Lady Percy to his Falstaff in Henry IV, Part 1. Other roles she played at this time were Miranda, opposite her husband as Marplot, in The Busy Bodie by Susanna Centlivre and Eliza Ratcliff with John Bernard as Sheva in The Jew by Richard Cumberland. She also appeared in the pantomimes Oscar and Malvina by William Reeve, in which she also danced, and Brazen Mask by James Hewitt. On April 29, 1811 the Duffs appeared at a benefit in which Mary danced a solo while her husband performed in The Three and the Deuce by Prince Hoare. The latter was so popular that he would go on to repeat this triple-role performance more than eighty times over the course of his career. Mary’s first season in Boston ended with Victoria in Hannah Cowley’s A Bold Stroke for a Husband.

In July, the company made its annual migration to Providence, Rhode Island. Ellen Darley (neé Westwray) having retired as leading “juvenile lady”, Mary succeeded to most of her characters.

Other tragic rôles included Ophelia, Desdemona, and Lady Macbeth. In 1821, also in Boston, she played Hermione in The Distrest Mother, by Ambrose Philips, an adaptation of Racine’s Andromaque. So powerful was her performance that Edmund Kean feared it might be forgotten that he was the “star.” She first appeared in New York City in 1823, as Hermione, to the Orestes of the elder Booth.

In 1828, she played at Drury Lane, London, but soon returned to America where Mr. Duff died in 1831. He had been for some time in poor health and had declined in professional popularity, while his wife, at first viewed as inferior to him in ability, had surpassed and eclipsed him. After her husband’s death, Mary had a hard struggle with poverty, as she was the mother of ten children and actors, even of the best order, were poorly paid in those days. In 1826, in New York, Mr. and Mrs. Duff received jointly, during ten weeks, a salary of only $55 a week, together with the net proceeds of one benefit. In 1835, she played for the last time in New York and was married to Joel G. Sevier, of New Orleans in 1836. Her farewell to the stage in 1838 occurred there.

She lived in New Orleans, renounced the Stage, left the Catholic faith, and became a Methodist. For many years her life was devoted to works of piety and benevolence. About 1854, the once great and renowned actress, took up her abode with her youngest daughter, Mrs. I. Reillieux, at 36 West Ninth Street, New York City, where, on September 5, 1857, she died. Although she suffered from cancer, the immediate cause of death was an internal hemorrhage.

An article in The Philadelphia Sunday Mercury, August 9, 1874, written by James Rees, relates the strange circumstances of her burial. According to that authority, the body of Mrs. Duff-Sevier was laid in the receiving tomb at Greenwood, September 6, 1857, and shortly afterward that of her daughter, Mrs. Reillieux, was likewise laid there; but on April 15, 1858, both those bodies were thence removed and were finally buried in the same grave, which is No. 805, in Lot 8,999, in that part of the cemetery known as “The Hill of Graves,” — the certificate describing them as “Mrs. Matilda I. Reillieux & Co.” The grave was then marked with a headstone, inscribed with the words, “My Mother and Grandmother.” There seems to have been a purpose to conceal the identity of Mrs. Sevier with Mrs. Duff, and to hide the fact that the mother of Mrs. Reillieux had ever been on the stage, — but the grave of the actress was finally discovered and restored.

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