Thus rhapsodised the great Barton Booth, who could write harmless poetry when the cares of acting did not press too hard upon him. In this case the verses were addressed to the object of his passion, a lady who seems to have been, at first, a trifle parsimonious in her smiles; for, in another song intended for the same siren, the lover asks:
“Can then a look create a thought
Which time can ne’er remove?
Yes, foolish heart, again thou’rt caught,
Again thou bleed’st for Love.
“She sees the conquest of her eyes,
Nor heals the wounds she gave;
She smiles when’er my blushes rise,
And, sighing, shuns her Slave.
“Then, Swain, be bold! and still
Still the flying fair pursue:
Love, and friendship, still implore her,
Pleading night and day for you.”
[Illustration: BARTON BOOTH]
Who was this “flying fair” that the swain pursued with such despairing fervour? Nance Oldfield? Nay, there was no romance there, for while Booth could make the most exquisite stage love to the actress, he never carried that love beyond the mimic world. Rather was it the lovely Mistress Santlow, that dancing bit of sunshine, who turned the heads of many an amorous spectator, and had enough of the temptress about her to lead a mighty warrior from the path of domestic constancy, and bring a Secretary of State almost to the verge of matrimony.[A] She seemed the apotheosis of grace, did this merry, moving Hester, and when she forsook the art she so delightfully adorned, and took to the “legitimate,” there were not a few among her admirers who regretted the change. “They mourned,” says Dr. Doran, “as if Terpsichore herself had been on earth to charm mankind, and had gone never to return. They remembered, longed for, and now longed in vain for that sight which used to set a whole audience half distraught with delight, when in the very ecstacy of her dance, Santlow contrived to loosen her clustering auburn hair, and letting it fall about such a neck and shoulders as Praxiteles could more readily imagine than imitate, danced on, the locks flying in the air, and half-a-dozen hearts at the end of every one of them.”
[Footnote A: The Duke of Marlborough and Secretary Craggs respectively.]
At the end of one of those locks was the throbbing heart of Barton Booth, which he had completely lost in watching the auburn hair and the poetic movements of the coryphee:
“But now the flying fingers strike
The sprightly notes the nymph inspire.
She whirls around! she bounds! she springs!
As if Jove’s messenger had lent her wings.
“Such were her lovely limbs, so
flushed her charming face
So round her neck! her eyes so fair!
So rose her swelling chest! so flow’d her amber hair!
While her swift feet outstript the wind,
And left the enamor’d God of Day behind.”