[Illustration: Mr. Mills, Mrs. Porter, Mr. Cibber.]
’Twas a tragedienne, be it added, who possessed no wonderful charm of person. She was pleasing in figure and bearing, but her voice was naturally harsh, her features did not shine forth loveliness, and when the scene wherein she walked called neither for vehemence of feeling, nor melting tenderness, her elocution became a monotonous cadence.[A] Yet in moments of dramatic excitement, or in places where the deep note of pathos had to be sounded, Porter played with a distinction that either thrilled the spectator or reduced him to the verge of tears. She threw cadence and monotony to the four winds of heaven, or rather to the four corners of the stage, and spoke with the earnestness of one inspired.
[Footnote A: Mrs. Porter was tall, fair, well-shaped, and easy and dignified in action. But she was not handsome, and her voice had a small degree of tremor. Moreover, she imitated, or, rather, faultily exceeded, Mrs. Barry in the habit of prolonging and toning her pronunciation, sometimes to a degree verging upon a chant; but whether it was that the public ear was at that period accustomed to a demi-chant, or that she threw off the defect in the heat of passion, it is certain that her general judgment and genius, in the highest bursts of tragedy, inspired enthusiasm in all around her, and that she was thought to be alike mistress of the terrible and the tender.—THOMAS CAMPBELL.]
As Queen Catherine Mrs. Porter was all mournful grace and dignity, as Lady Macbeth she breathed of battle, murder and sudden death, and in the role of Belvidera she showed yet another phase of her incomparable art. “I remember Mrs. Porter, to whom nature had been so niggard in voice and face, so great in many parts, as Lady Macbeth, Alicia in ‘Jane Shore,’ Hermione in the ‘Distressed Mother,’ and many parts of the kind, that her great action, eloquence of look and gesture, moved astonishment; and yet I have heard her declare she left the action to the possession of the sentiments in the part she performed.” Thus wrote Chetwood, whose good fortune it was to see Oldfield, and Porter, and a host of other famous players, not forgetting, in later days, the wonderful Garrick himself.
Unlike several of her ilk, Mistress Porter could play the heroine off the stage as well as on. She lived at Heywoodhill, near Hendon, and used to wend her way homeward every night, at the conclusion of the play, in a one-horse chaise. The roads were dangerous, and highwaymen lurked in the neighbourhood, but the actress put her faith in Providence—and a brace of pistols which she always carried. The pistols came very nicely to her rescue one evening when a robber waylaid the chaise and put to the traveller the conventional question as to whether she most valued her money or her life. Nothing daunted by the impertinence of this ethical query, Mrs. Porter pointed one of the weapons at the intruder, and he, so goes