“Home?” An actress at home? Does it not seem strange to apply the dear old English noun, so redolent of peace, and quiet, and privacy, to the feverish life of a mummer? We go, night after night, to see our favourite players shining ’mid the fierce glare of the footlights, watch them approvingly as they pass from role to role, and finally begin to believe, like the egotists we are, that they have no existence apart from the one we are pleased to applaud. What fools some of us must be to think there is never a time when the paint and powder, the tinsel and eternal artifice of the stage—yea, even our own condescending admiration—pall on the jaded spirits of the poor player.
“How sparklingly is Miss Smith acting Lady Teazle to-night!” we say, elegantly pressing our hands together in token of august favour. We are entranced, and it follows, therefore, that the actress must be entranced likewise. Mayhap Miss Smith does not share the same ecstacy; perhaps, as she stands behind the screen in Joseph Surface’s rooms, Sir Peter’s wife is wishing that the comedy were ended and she were comfortably ensconced in her cosy little lodgings round the corner. She pictures that crackling wood fire, and her old terrier basking in the gentle heat, and the tea-urn hissing near by (or is it a cold bottle of beer in the portable refrigerator?) and in the background sweet good Mr. Smith, who does nothing but spend his lady’s salary. In that temple of domesticity there are no thoughts of rouge, or paint-pots, or of Richard Brinsley Sheridan—it is merely home. Dost thou always hurry back to so attractive a one, thou patronising theatre-goer?
Our Nance had a home to which she was glad enough to hurry back, like the aforesaid Miss Smith, after the play was over at Drury Lane. There was no husband there to await her, but a very devoted knight in the person of Mr. Arthur Maynwaring, who, though he gave not his name nor the ceremony of bell, book, and candle to the union, played the part of spouse to the fair charmer. The town looked with good-natured tolerance on the moral code, or the want thereof, of the frail one, just as other towns, in later days, have looked with equal benevolence upon the peccadillos of some petted favourite. The times were not of the straightlaced order and no one expected from an actress wonders of chastity or conventionality. Are we ourselves exacting where the Thespian is concerned?
[Illustration: ANNE OLDFIELD
By JONATHAN RICHARDSON]
Fashion’d alike by Nature and by
To please, engage, and interest ev’ry heart.
In public life, by all who saw, approv’d;
In private life, by all who knew her, lov’d.
“Even her amours,” says Chetwood in treating of Mistress Oldfield, “seemed to lose that glare which appears round the persons of the failing fair; neither was it ever known that she troubled the repose of any lady’s lawful claim; and was far more constant than millions in the conjugal noose.” Being thus acquitted of predatory designs upon the peace of English wives, and having the further virtue of constancy, a host of Londoners, men and women, high and low alike, gazed with charitable eyes upon Nance’s private life. And she, dear girl, sinned on joyously.