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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 223 pages of information about The Palmy Days of Nance Oldfield.

Frontispiece:  Mrs. Anne Oldfield

Title-page:  Mrs. Oldfield in the Character of Fair Rosamond

Colley Cibber in the Character of Sir Novelty Fashion

Robert Wilks

William Congreve

Mrs. Anne Bracegirdle

Mrs. Bracegirdle as the “Sultaness”

Joseph Addison

Mrs. Anne Oldfield

Mr. Mills, Mrs. Porter, Mr. Cibber

Sir John Vanbrugh

Sir Richard Steele

Barton Booth

THE PALMY DAYS OF NANCE OLDFIELD

CHAPTER I

FROM TAVERN TO THEATRE

“Out of question, you were born in a merry hour,” says Don Pedro to the blithesome heroine of “Much Ado About Nothing.”

“No, sure, my lord,” answers Beatrice.  “My mother cried; but then there was a star danced, and under that was I born.”

Surely a star, possibly Venus, must have danced gaily on a certain night in the year of grace 1683, when the wife of Captain Oldfield, gentleman by birth and Royal Guardsman by profession, brought into the busy, unfeeling world of London a pretty mite of a girl.  ’Twas a year of grace indeed, for the little stranger happened to be none other than Anne Oldfield, whose elegance of manner, charm of voice and action and loveliness of face would in time make her the most delightful comedienne of her day.  Perhaps she found no instant welcome, this diminutive maiden who came smiling into existence laden with a message from the sunshine; her father was richer in ancestry than guineas, and the arrival of another daughter may have seemed an honour hardly worth the bestowal.[A] But Thalia laughed, as well she might, and even the stern features of Melpomene relaxed a little in witnessing the birth of one who would prove almost as wondrous in tragedy, when she so minded, as she was fascinating in the gentler phases of her art.

[Footnote A:  According to Edmund Bellchambers, Anne Oldfield “would have possessed a tolerable fortune, had not her father, a captain in the army, expended it at a very early period.”]

Yet the laughter of Thalia and the unbending of her sister Muse were hardly likely to make much impression in the Oldfield household, where money had more admirers than mythology, and so we are not surprised to learn that, with the death of the gallant captain, this “incomparable sweet girl,” who would ere long reconcile even a supercilious Frenchman to the English stage, had to seek her living as a seamstress.  How she sewed a bodice or hemmed a petticoat we know not, nor do we care; it is far more interesting to be told that, though only in her early teens, the toiler with the needle found her greatest recreation in reading Beaumont and Fletcher’s plays.  The modern young woman, be her station high or low, would take no pleasure

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