1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Clairon, La

CLAIRON, LA (1723–1803), French actress, whose real name was Claire Joseph Hippolyte Leris, was born at Condé sur l’Escaut, Hainaut, on the 25th of January 1723, the natural daughter of an army sergeant. In 1736 she made her first stage appearance at the Comédie Italienne, in a small part in Marivaux’s Île des esclaves. After several years in the provinces she returned to Paris. Her life, meanwhile, had been decidedly irregular, even if not to the degree indicated by the libellous pamphlet Histoire de la demoiselle Cronel, dite Frétillon, actrice de la Comédie de Rouen, écrite par elle-même (The Hague, 1746), or to be inferred from the disingenuousness of her own Mémoires d’Hippolyte Clairon (1798); and she had great difficulty in obtaining an order to make her début at the Comédie Française. Succeeding, however, at last, she had the courage to select the title-rôle of Phèdre (1743), and she obtained a veritable triumph. During her twenty-two years at this theatre, dividing the honours with her rival Mlle Dumesnil, she filled many of the classical rôles of tragedy, and created a great number of parts in the plays of Voltaire, Marmontel, Saurin, de Belloy and others. She retired in 1766, and trained pupils for the stage, among them Mlle Raucourt. Goldsmith called Mlle Clairon “the most perfect female figure I have ever seen on any stage” (The Bee, 2nd No.); and Garrick, while recognizing her unwillingness or inability to make use of the inspiration of the instant, admitted that “she has everything that art and a good understanding with great natural spirit can give her.”