Anna Cora Mowatt and Pauline at the Marylebone

Part XIII: Love

Like Christmas, Easter in mid-19th century England was a prime theatre-going holiday. Playhouses scheduled lavish extravaganzas to tempt patrons and out-of-town visitors. “The Lady of Lyons” was staged at the Marylebone Theatre in London on number of dates before and after the Easter Holidays in the spring of 1849 as part of a calendar packed with special events, including the debut of new plays. Judging from the newspaper advertisements, Bulwer’s drama seems to have run a total of four or five nights. I could only find one review of this production. I uncovered that critique quoted in a U.S. newspaper rather than in its original context. Therefore, to give you a fuller picture of this extremely important period in Mowatt’s career, I am going to cheat a little and supplement my recounting of this show with information about one fairly commonplace production – “Love” by James Sheridan Knowles — that took place just before “Lady of Lyons,” and an extremely significant one – John Oxenford’s “Virginia” –that occurred shortly afterwards.

Ad for "Lady of Lyons" at the Marylebone Theatre, 1849
Ad for “Lady of Lyons” at the Marylebone Theatre, 1849

In just a year, everything had turned around for Mowatt and Davenport. Walter Watts had provided the perfect environment for them to thrive in London at the little Marylebone Theater. The venue was an optimal size for them. Their gestures did not seem to be too large or too small. They did not sound like loud ranters or bland mouthers. No longer did they have to fight the stigma of being U.S. imports every time they stepped on stage.

Mowatt and Davenport’s personal attractiveness nicely complimented Watts’ taste for exquisite sets and costumes. Marylebone audiences enjoyed seeing the partners in light comedies or stylishly staged romantic dramas. Critics warmed from the dismissive indifference they had displayed in the spring of 1848 to contented expectation of consistently high quality productions from Walter Watts, his creative team, and his American stars.

Colorized Playbill header for the Marylebone Theatre 1849
Colorized Playbill header for the Marylebone Theater 1849

Before I go further, I want to pause and ask you to pay special attention to the way the critics talk about Watts as a manager in the reviews I quote for these three productions. After the events of 1850, there will be some contemporary sources who will emerge to claim that that they always believed that Watts was an incompetent manager. However, when one goes show by show in 1847-49, the evidence of newspaper reviews strongly contradicts such assertions. Henry Spicer, who was also a playwright/manager and an outsider to the London theatrical establishment, received regular scoldings from the critics via critiques of shows at the Olympic during his time in charge there. In sharp contrast to the sort of reprimands Spicer regularly received, the Marylebone under Walter Watts’ guidance was compared favorably by reviewers to Sam Phelps’ Sadler Wells. Critics frequently cited it as being an example of the best run of all London’s minor theaters during this time.

Back Entrance to the Marylebone Theater
Back Entrance to the Marylebone Theater

E.L. Davenport summarized the pleasant evolution of his and his partner’s professional standing in London that the passing of a year had wrought in the following letter home to a friend:

London, March 24th, 1849
My dear D–;
Here we are; making more fame than we can put up with. Armand has won the most complete success, and has really made our friend proud, not of herself, but of her country. Mr. Watts has behaved like a very liberal and gentlemanly soul, having given her the whole of the proceeds of her benefit, (at which, by the way, was the most fashionable house I ever saw, saying nothing of some forty bouquets and wreaths –) and moreover a magnificent silver vase, with appropriate inscriptions. It stands on the table before me and is a memento of English generosity. We are now in our tenth week. Oxenford is adapting a piece for her, to be played two weeks after Easter, and in it she will certainly make a hit. I have been laboring in a play written by the manager – the part was not good enough for your uncle, but he consented. We are daily adding friends to our ranks and extending our ranks and extending our acquaintance, and our portraits are being took by several artists. Armand has been published, and commanded great attention. We shall know in a few weeks what our fate is to be. *** The last and to me, best compliment I could have is that in Rolla and Martin Heywood, I remind the critics of the Wallack. I esteem this as a sterling piece of praise. *** Believe me, yours sincerely, E.L. Davenport.1

Because of the date of the letter, the play that Davenport was “laboring in” had to be Walter Watts’ temperance melodrama “Dream of Life.” When he says the character of Harry Betram is “not good enough for your uncle,” I am not certain how metaphorically the actor intends the phrase. However, this abusive, alcoholic character was certainly a rather thankless part with few opportunities to win applause from the audience and praise from critics. I have strong suspicion that Davenport might have requested the role simply because he was intrigued by the technical challenges of the production that I have written about in other entries and because it would afford him an excellent opportunity to play opposite Miss Fanny Vining.

Fanny Vinning
Fanny Vinning (Mrs. E.L. Davenport) circa 1849

Fanny Vining was an extremely important addition to Mowatt and Davenport’s personal and professional lives. Her arrival on the scene was one of the reasons I chose Sheridan’s “Love” as a sample of the work Mowatt and Davenport were doing during this period. Vining was a rising young star in the Marylebone’s company. She was around eighteen years old. (I have not been able to track down a birth certificate for her yet. Different sources – including Vining herself – provide conflicting accounts of her age.)

Vining was part of a very active and respectable performing dynasty. There were Vinings in the casts of almost major production of London playhouses in 1848. George and Frederick Vining were well-respected leading men who were close relatives. Fanny’s grandfather was Irish actor, John Henry Johnstone. James and Lester Wallack were her cousins.

Lester, Charles, and James Wallack
Lester, Charles, and James Wallack

Fanny Vining was briefly married to actor Charles Gill. There seems to have been some difficulty or delay in obtaining a divorce. As with her age, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when E.L. Davenport and Vining married. Some sources place the date at around the time of the production of “Love” at the Marylebone.

Vining also formed a close friendship with Mowatt that would last for the rest of their lives. Fanny would later give several of her daughters names that were either Anna Cora’s nicknames or names of roles the actress had made famous. Vining penned the following poem for Mowatt in April of 1849;

To Mrs. Mowatt

Graceful and gentle on the mimic scene,
As in the quiet of the social hour,
Nature’s own lady both in form and mien;
Stately and proud, yet flexile as a flower.
Round thee may rally those who would uphold
A fair profession doomed to suffer slight –
And, by thy very purity made bold,
Choose thee as type whereby to do it right.
Oh! Never be the artist’s calling scorned,
That in its motley bosom fosters thee!
Many bright names its annals have adorned,
Not least among the brightest thine shall be.2

Although I will continue to speak of Mowatt and Davenport as partners in this entry, their meeting with Fanny Vining forever changed that dynamic. The duo became a trio in 1849.

Actress Fanny Vining Davenport
Actress Fanny Vining Davenport

Playwright James Sheridan Knowles was a cousin to Richard Brinsley Sheridan, author of such classic comedies as “School for Scandal” and “The Rivals.” “Love” is a historical romance. Like other Knowles’ hits such as “Love Chase” and “The Hunchback,” the drama has a playful, convention-challenging approach to gender politics that is more reminiscent of Restoration Comedy than the stereotypes one might associate with Victorian melodrama. Female characters have a great deal of agency in the plotline. The character played by Mowatt, the Countess, falls in love with her low-born tutor, Huon, portrayed by Davenport. She has to overcome her own pride, class-based prejudices, and interference from her father, the Duke, for the romance to succeed. Catherine, the character played by Fanny Vining, dons a male disguise and fights in a tournament to win the hand of the man she loves. The final outcome of the plot turns on the intervention from the Queen Victoria-like figure of the Empress.

“Love” premièred at Covent Garden in 1839 with a cast featuring Ellen Tree, James R. Anderson, and Madame Vestris. By 1849, the show was an established fixture in the catalogue of perennial picks on both sides of the Atlantic. Walter Watts’ Marylebone revival of this audience favorite received the type of warm and respectful praise that had become standard critical reception for Mowatt and Davenport’s work. The Era, who had dismissed the Americans as hardly worth wasting ink to review the year before, said of the show;

Sheridan Knowles’ beautiful play of Love was produced with great éclat on Monday evening, for the purpose of introducing Mrs. Mowatt and Mr. Davenport in the characters of the Countess and Huon. The former character is especially suited to the capabilities of Mrs. Mowatt, whose interpretation of the more impassioned portions of the play were truthful and effective in the extreme. The struggles between Love and Pride which are constantly occurring in the character of the Countess were depicted with nice discrimination. She was ably supported by Mr. Davenport, who read the part of Huon in an easy and gentlemanly manner. Miss F. Vining’s Katherine (Madame Vestris’ original part) was very effective; all the points were artistically displayed and told well. The play was elegantly mounted, and elicited much applause from an attentive and crowded audience.3

The Morning Advertiser elaborates on this praise;

Since the advent of Mrs. Mowatt and Mr. Davenport at this theatre, a selection of plays from the “legitimate drama” has been produced; following up this system, which it may be presumed has been a successful one, the management have presented the frequenters of this somewhat distant place of amusement with Sheridan Knowles excellent play of Love, in which the parties above named sustain the principal characters. The drama is admirably adapted for the display of histrionic talents, which are of no mean order, of Mrs. Mowatt and Mr. Davenport; and in the respective parts of The Countess of Eppenstein and the serf Huon they appear to peculiar advantage. The characters are well drawn by the author, and well-conceived by their present representatives. Mrs. Mowatt’s impersonation of the loving Countess, striving between two passions which divide her soul, is an admirable piece of acting, fraught with taste, care, and skill; the manner in which she depicts her scorn for her lover’s station, and her love for himself, is natural and unconstrained; each appears “feeding the other’s hate, and growing stronger.” The interviews with Huon, when he returns covered with the honors which his own courage have gained for him, are marked by a mixed portrayal of disappointment, impetuosity, and resignation of unrequited love. In addition to these, the lady dresses the character of the Countess of Eppenstein with considerable taste and artistic skill. Mr. Davenport’s Huon is a calm and dignified performance, giving by it an apt idea of “an independent self-exalted man,” who, with no other patrons than his heart, his arm, and head, raises himself from the base position of a serf to be the favourite of the Empress. Mr. Davenport’s physique, too, is well-adapted to give effect to the character…. The play has been well put upon the stage, with every regard to appropriate and effective scenery and appointments and was received with most unqualified approbation.4

These reviews are typical of the sort of positive critical reception the American duo was receiving at this time. As Davenport’s letter alludes, the pair had just completed well-received productions at the Marylebone of “Pizarro” and “Love’s Sacrifice.” The London debut of “Armand” in January had been such a success that Watts and the Mowatts had chosen the play for a revival for the Easter holiday week with a special benefit performance for Anna Cora.

The Marylebone’s production of “Lady of Lyons” squeezes into this story in mid-March of 1849. In the previous entry, I discussed the added importance that this play had because of the power the playwright wielded in the London theatrical community. The passing of a year had not made Edward Bulwer-Lytton less essential to that group. However, in addition to their growing popularity, events taking place in the larger theatre world in March of 1849 created an entirely different context for evaluating Mowatt, Davenport, and the relative significance of a single production of “Lady of Lyons.”

There were a number of increasingly violent disturbances generated by supporters of actor Edwin Forrest at performances by William Macready that preceded the riot at Astor Place on May 10th, 1849. Anna Cora Mowatt and E.L. Davenport along with Charlotte and Susan Cushman were frequently cited in the papers on both sides of the Atlantic during the months before and after the violence as examples of actors treated well by the British public, press, and Macready himself.

William Macready as Virginius
William Macready as Virginius

At the very beginning of Macready’s visit, the following was reported by a newspaper in the U.S.;

A splendid dinner was given to Mr. Macready in New Orleans; the evening of the 21st ult. Gen. Lewis presided. Mr. Macready made a speech, which is described by the Delta as one of “transcendent eloquence and beauty.” Mr. Prentiss also made a very eloquent speech; and Mr. Wilson, the Scotch vocalist, entertained the company with some songs. Among the regular toasts given at the dinner were the following:

5. CHARLOTTE CUSHMAN AND MRS. MOWATT – These representatives of the American Drama in England. Their generous reception by an English public shows that national distinctions and prejudices can never prevent or restrain the admiration and applause which true genius and merit must ever extort.

7. GREAT BRITAIN AND THE UNITED STATES – With a common language — a common literature – a common drama – may no discord or hostility ever interrupt the friendly intercourse between them – the mother and the daughter.5

Artist's rendering of the vase Walter Watts presented to Anna Cora Mowatt
Artist’s rendering of the vase Walter Watts presented to Anna Cora Mowatt

Walter Watts’ presentation of a silver vase to Mowatt (although it would take on other connotations after his death) was lauded in editorials like the following from the Times as an exemplar of British-U.S. relations;

On surveying the treatment of other Transatlantic actors in this country, we shall find the very reverse of incivility. Messrs. Hackett and Hill were always respectfully heard; Miss Cushman was applauded to the echo on the very evening when Mr. Forrest failed as Macbeth, and is now a permanent tragedienne in this country; Mrs. Mowatt received but a few weeks ago from the manager of the theatre where she plays, a silver cup as a testimonial to her talents, and Mr. Davenport is well established as a favorite melo-dramatic actor. As far as Americans are concerned, the English are perfectly free from nationality in a vicious sense of the word.

If a consideration of these facts does not shame the riotous partisans of Mr. Forrest – if they deem that a mere critical disapprobation of an actor on one side of the Atlantic justifies a retaliation in the shape of personal insult and violence on the other, they can only be considered as a mob of irrational beings, and an English actor must avoid them as he would a set of cannibals.6

Edwin Forrest as Virginius
Edwin Forrest as Virginius

If Mowatt gave a sub-par performance — as from her autobiography it is apparent that she thought she did in “The Shadow on the Wall” or “Mary Tudor”– reviewers did not hesitate to honestly point out the flaws in the Marylebone’s productions. However, because of the spotlight the Forrest-Macready feud put on ugly, nationalistic prejudice in the theatre, the spring of 1849 was no time for London critics to indulge in open, virulent anti-Americanism. Mowatt was, therefore, not subject to the needlessly cruel “first of the second raters” treatment she got from the Lloyds Weekly reviewer for her performance at the Princess, nor the ludicrously high bar set for her performance of Pauline in Manchester. Instead, the Marylebone’s production of “Lady of Lyons” from the following brief review seems to have been treated by the critics as what it was – a thoroughly competent staging of a play everyone had seen a million times before sandwiched between many other more novel entertainments staged over the Easter holiday;

Had Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton but newly written his beautiful play of The Lady of Lyons, and submitted it for the first time to the public favor on Monday evening at the Marylebone Theatre, its success would have been as certain as it was under the auspices of its first production. In the crowded state of our columns, we are obliged to restrict our inclination of entering into a reminiscence of the performance. Suffice it that Mr. Davenport and Mrs. Mowatt were deserving successors to the original representatives, and were loudly called before the curtain at the close. The play was followed by a revival of the popular farce of Capers and Coronets. [London Sunday Times, April 22nd.]7

The final play that E.L. Davenport references in his letter that I quoted at the beginning of this entry is John Oxenford’s “Virginia.” Oxenford, the drama critic for the Times, was also a prolific and respected playwright as well as an academician who was known for his translations of Goethe.

James Sheridan Knowles had already mined the source material Oxenford used for “Virginia” to create his tragedy “Virginius” for William Macready. The play debuted at Covent Garden in 1820 and became a fixture in the repertoire of tragedians for the next fifty years. Oxenford’s play was both a translation and rewrite of the French play “Virginie” by M. Latour de St. Ybres. This drama had been performed at the St. James Theater by the great tragedienne Rachel and a troupe from the Comédie-Française in 1846. Thus, Oxenford’s script was inevitably going to be compared by the critics and the public to Sheridan’s. Mowatt’s performance would be measured against her idol, Rachel, and Davenport’s interpretation Virginius must stand toe-to-toe with Macready’s. The Marylebone’s “Virginia” was an extremely ambitious undertaking for everyone involved.

Scenes from Knowles' "Virginius"
Scenes from Knowles’ “Virginius”

Judging from the reviews, Virginia was an artistic high watermark of Mowatt’s career as an actress. The Examiner said of the play;

There is sufficient novelty in this version of the great Roman story, to which Mr. Oxenford has done delicate poetical justice, to attract and interest even of that portion of the play-going public who are familiar with the fine tragedy by Mr. Knowles. A much larger share of the interest is thrown upon the heroine. Icilius, like Queen Elizabeth in Mr. Puff’s tragedy, is kept in the green-room all night, until he is slain through the treachery of Appius Claudius; and the curtain falls upon the death of Virginia, and the slaying of Appius Claudius by Virginius on the judgement-seat.

Virginia was acted by Mrs. Mowatt. Throughout it, and especially in the more quiet scenes, as in the appeal to the house-hold gods before leaving the home on the bridal morning, the character was rendered in a touching, truthful, womanly manner, that might have furnished a good lesson to some actresses of high pretensions we could name. There is a great merit in all this lady does. She very rarely o’ersteps the modesty of nature. She is not a conventional performer. She has a true feeling for nature, and for her art; and we question whether anyone now upon the stage could have acted this part better or have acted it so well. Mr. Davenport also, as Virginius, played admirably; with a great deal of pathos, passion, and dignity. Both were loudly called for at the close of the play and heartily greeted.

We have already spoken, in general terms, of the manner in which the piece was put upon the stage. It would be unjust not to particularize the last scene of the Roman Forum, which exhibits quiet a wonderful use of the space and the resources of the Theatre, and is a most complete and beautiful thing. The same spirit pervades all that is brought forward here…

It is a pleasant duty to point out the deserts of this theatre as it is now conducted, and to recommend it earnestly. We know what some minor theatres in London are, and we know what this was, before it became a refuge for the proscribed drama. The influence of such a place cannot but be beneficial and salutary. It richly deserves support, and we hope it will be supported.8

The following quote from the Morning Herald reveals that despite the high-brow appeal of Oxenford’s script, Walter Watts did not forget that the Marylebone audiences preferred fast-paced action, grand spectacle, and lovely women in attractive costumes;

The French tragedy of Virginie, which was written by M. Latour de St. Ybare, and in which Rachel played during one of her engagements in London, has been brought on a scale of splendor which we now rarely find equaled except at the Lyceum. The scenes, by Mr. Dayes, are only three in number, but they are admirably contrived, the Forum, with its riotous multitude, reminding the spectator of the mob assemblages in Coriolanus, during the management of Covent Garden by Mr. Macready.

As the tragedy, unlike the English Virginius, is written for the display of a feminine star, Virginia is the leading personage, and her griefs and her virtues are strongly brought forward, instead of being allowed to repose in the shade. The American beauty, Mrs. Mowatt, who fills the part, acts as if it she liked it thoroughly. The long speeches cause her no embarrassment, but she manages her voice with judgement, and frequently produces unexpected effects upon the audience. She has an excellent ear for verse, which she writes, we need hardly remark, with correctness, and excels rather in steady declamation than in sudden transitions; and hence, we should say, she is rather fitted for the school of Racine than for that of Shakespeare. Moreover, the Roman drapery becomes her to perfection, and she has rarely looked so lovely as when representing the plebian maiden. Virginius is a straightforward personage, with his mouth full of those democratic sentiments which are well adapted to the atmosphere of Marylebone, especially when uttered by Mr. Davenport, who plays with remarkable force and energy. Appius Claudius is a profligate whose peculiarities are elaborated with great care, and though from his position he is the least agreeable character in the piece, he is the one that exhibits most originality of conception in the French author, and great point is given to his dialogue in the English version. Mr. Johnstone seems to luxuriate immensely in the concentrated villainy of the wicked deceiver.

Mr. Oxenford, who has adapted the piece for the English stage, and whose old predilection for British fun appears to be giving place to a love for the unities and severities of the French classical school, has executed the task with the greatest care, and the utilitarian simplicity of the language stands in marked contrast with the limitations of the Elizabethan dramatist. In having a company of actors who upon the whole are well “up” in the art of declamation, he has been singularly fortunate.

The success of the tragedy on Monday night, when it was produced for the first time, was unequivocal. The opening acts went a little heavily, but as the story progressed the interest of the audience increased likewise and the third, fourth, and fifth acts were a series of triumphs, each greater than the preceding one.9

The Era, which the previous year had dismissed Mowatt and Davenport as being beneath critical notice, had nothing but praise for the play – along with the writer’s usual hefty side-dish of script analysis;

A new classical tragedy, in five acts, with the title of Virginia, was produced at this house, with great success, on Monday evening. The modern French tragedy of Virginie, which was written for Rachel, and in which the Siddons of the French stage appeared at the St. James’ Theatre during her last visit to London, has furnished Mr. Oxenford with the materiel for the tragedy under notice. The construction of the plot, and the arrangement of the scenes and incidents, are nearly identical with the French piece, but in the translation of the dialogue the author has so modified the prosy formality and chilling verboseness of the original, occasionally introducing fresh matter of his own most judiciously, that the work is entitled to higher rank than that of a mere translation. Mr. Oxenford had an abundance of excellent materials to select from, and, with a nice perception of the good and beautiful, he has chosen such only, in the building of his play, as would conduce to perfection in the ensemble. In plain language, he has expressed in vigorous English dramatic poetry the story, thoughts, and sentiments of the original tragedy, which, in common with all of French extraction, was little else than a series of formal set speeches, interspersed with cumbrous dialogue, and almost a total want of action. Indeed, the latter is still the great fault of the piece, and one which Mr. Oxenford could not overcome. Much as has been cut away, there is still a redundancy of dialogue, which, however classically conceived or poetically expressed, causes the piece, from its want of necessary action, to drag, and renders its beauties more apparent in the closet than on the stage.

Knowles’s play of Virginius, and M. Latour’s, of Virginie, in plot are nearly the same; in the former, Virginius, the father, is the prominent character, to whom Virginia, the daughter, is but secondary; though her child-like simplicity, and captivating sweetness of character, render her throughout the play an object of intense interest and admiration. In the tragedy of M. Latour the positions are reversed, the daughter is the leading character. She becomes a high-minded and energetic Roman heroine, undauntedly confronting the tyrant who had dared to insult her with his licentious proposals, repelling them with scorn and indignation, and heaping on him in return sarcasm and invective. Such was the character of Virginie, as drawn for Rachel to embody and which, from her peculiar powers, she succeeded in delineating with fearful intensity and truth; but in the adaptation Mr. Oxenford appears to have introduced several touches of natural feeling and tenderness, which render the character less noble and tragic perhaps, but far more soft and feminine, hence much more acceptable to an English audience.

Mrs. Mowatt was the Virginia, and seldom has she appeared to so much advantage; she looked the character to perfection; the pure and high-minded Roman maiden stood before us, and her delineation of the part was natural and affecting – simple, without affection – stern and uncompromising in her course of duty, without becoming hard or severe in her interpretation. True, we missed the tragic intensity of Rachel, but in its place, we had true womanly grace and feeling, which, though they might be considered less classical, were far more charming and interesting. She was immensely applauded throughout, and most deservedly so, for she rendered ample justice to the text of her author, developing, with nice perception, the many beauties of thought and diction contained in it. We have said Virginius, in this tragedy, is the secondary character; it was acted with great manliness and appropriate feeling by Mr. Davenport, who was exceedingly effective in the more impassioned scenes… The tragedy was beautifully mounted, the scenery, costumes, and appointments being correct and in excellent taste. The last scene – The Forum – from its beauty, merits especial commendation. The tragedy was completely successful, a house crowded in every part testifying its approval by repeated applause, and the recall on the fall of the curtain of Mrs. Mowatt, Mr. Davenport, and Mr. Johnstone.10

It should be apparent that the opprobrium in this review is not the result of coddling of American performers in reaction to attacks on Macready taking place in the U.S., but rather a real appreciation for Mowatt and Davenport’s work as artists in this skillfully written and staged production. At Walter Watts’ Marylebone Theatre, the partners were presenting the type of material in the sort of environment that displayed their talents to the best advantage. London reviewers and audiences were now in the proper frame of mind to embrace the American performers in a way that seemed nearly impossible the year before.

Anna Cora Mowatt as Pauline in "Lady of Lyons" 1848
Anna Cora Mowatt as Pauline in “Lady of Lyons” 1848

In June, poet Camilla Crosland wrote the following poem cataloguing Mowatt’s charms and accomplishments upon hearing rumors that the actress planned to return to the U.S.;

To Anna Cora Mowatt
By Camilla Crosland

Blow western wind, athwart the wave, —
Blow western breezes, still, —
And hold at bay the envious bark,
That seeks its said to fill,
When’er the threatened day arrives
(We dream of it with pain)
That calls the bird of passage home,
Across the Atlantic main.
A bird – a pearl – a “lily” flower!
We love to liken thee!
To something fresh from Nature’s hand
In mystic purity.
And Protean should be types, I ween,
Of thee, O richly gifted!
By triple rights and triple crowns
Above the herd uplifted.

Thy perfect beauty not the theme
On which to fondly warm;
For common clay has ta’en, ere now,
The Spartan Helen’s form.
And yet that beauty had a spell
Which unto awe could reach,
When first I clasped thy hand, and heard
The music of thy speech.

It stayed the words upon my tongue,
My foot upon the floor;
I could but gaze as I, methinks,
Had never gazed before.
We were not strangers – O, no, no!
And cordial was thy clasp;
And yet, that awe well-nigh forbade
My hand return the grasp.

I knew thee by a knowledge deep—
That of thy printed page;
But not as yet had I beheld
Thy triumphs of the stage.
Thy Blanche was still a hearsay thing,
Thy Pauline was but a dream;
And Shakespeare’s women dwelt apart,
And not in life might seem.

Far from conventional, cold rules,
That tell of paint and glare,
And all the playhouse tricks of trade,
And player’s studied care,
Thy poet soul can mold and bring
The poet’s thought to life,
As when Italian Juliet loves,
And dies a hapless wife; —

Or chaste Virginia, tyrant-doomed,
Amid her household gods,
Most desolate, yet undismayed,
By Roman lictor’s rods!
To goodness, greatness, love and faith,
Thy heart responsive bends;
They woman’s nature is the spell
That with thy genius blends, —

The spell that binds our hearts to thee
With chains more strong than steel,
And girds thee round with British love,
And friends both warm and real,
Who bid the western breeze to blow
Athwart the Atlantic main,
And envy thy broad land the right
To lure thee back again.11

Even though “Lady of Lyons” only played for a few nights at the Marylebone, the role of Pauline does make Crosland’s list of Mowatt’s London triumphs. The poem’s composition and its publication in the trendy lady’s magazine “La Belle Assemblée” are indications that Mowatt had found her place in the London theatre world. After many initial disappointments, she and Davenport had found a home at the little Marylebone Theater. The American partners had made the difficult transition from being viewed as intruding outsiders to being welcomed insiders.

In London, in the summer of 1849, Mowatt and Davenport were — at last — beloved.

Images of Anna Cora Mowatt at the Marylebone Theatre, 1849
Images of Anna Cora Mowatt at the Marylebone Theatre, 1849

1. Quoted in the Daily Evening Transcript. Wednesday Evening, April 25, 1849. Page 1, col. 6.
2. Vining, Fanny. “To Mrs. Mowatt.” Norwich Chronicle. Saturday, April 7, 1849. Page 2, col. 1.
3. “Marylebone.” The Era. Sunday, February 18, 1849. Page 11.
4. “Marylebone Theatre.” Morning Advertiser. Friday, February 16, 1849. Page 3, col. 5.
5. “The Macready Dinner.” Hartford Courant. Thursday, April 5, 1849. Page 3, col. 4.
6. Quoted in “The ‘Forrest and Macready Row’ in England.” Public Ledger, Philadelphia, PA. June 11, 1849. Page 1, col. 5.
7. “Marylebone Theatre.” Daily Evening Transcript. Monday, May 14, 1849. Page 4, col. 1.
8. “The Theatrical Examiner.” The Examiner. May 12, 1849. Page 294, col. 2
9. “The Marylebone Theatre.” The Morning Herald. Thursday, May 10, 1849. Page 5, col. 4.
10. “Marylebone.” The Era. Sunday, May 13, 1849. Page 12, col. 1.
11. Crosland, Mrs. Newton. “Lines Addressed to Mrs. Mowatt.” Daily Evening Transcript. Saturday Evening, June 9th, 1849. Page 1, col. 6.

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