Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Crouch, Anna Maria

CROUCH, ANNA MARIA (1763–1805), vocalist, daughter of Peregrine Phillips, a lawyer of Welsh extraction, was born 20 April 1763. Her mother, whose maiden name was Gascoyne, was of French origin, and said to be connected with Charlotte Corday. Anna Maria was the third of six children. Her mother died when she was young, and she was placed under the care of an aunt, Mrs. Le Clerc. At an early age she showed signs of musical talent. Her first teacher was one Wafer, the organist of a chapel in Berwick Street, but soon after she was sixteen she was articled to Thomas Linley for three years. With this excellent master she made such progress that she was engaged at Drury Lane for six seasons, at a salary rising from 6l. to 12l. per night. Her first appearance on the stage took place on 11 Nov. 1780, when she played Mandane in Arne's ‘Artaxerxes,’ with Mrs. Baddeley in the title-part, and Signora Prudom as Arbaces. A contemporary criticism of this performance relates that ‘Miss Phillips's pipe is a singular one; it is rather sweet than powerful; in singing it ravishes the ear with its delicacy and melting softness.’ For her first benefit (April 1781) she appeared as Clarissa in ‘Lionel and Clarissa,’ and at the end of the season was engaged at Liverpool, where she appeared on 11 June as Polly Peachum in the ‘Beggar's Opera.’ Her beauty seems to have been already quite as striking as her singing, and on the revival of Dryden and Purcell's ‘King Arthur’ she appeared in the masque as Venus. She remained all her life connected with Drury Lane, where she appeared occasionally in speaking parts, such as Louisa Dudley in Cumberland's ‘West Indian’ (1783), and Fanny Stirling in Colman and Garrick's ‘Clandestine Marriage’ (1784). She also played Olivia in ‘Twelfth Night,’ and Ophelia to Kemble's ‘Hamlet.’ In the summer of 1783 Miss Phillips was engaged at the Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin. She played there again in 1784. In the latter year the son of an Irish peer eloped with her, but before they could be married they were overtaken, and in the following year she was married at Twickenham to Crouch, a lieutenant in the navy. She continued for some time to play under her maiden name, but after the birth of a child (which only lived two days) she assumed her husband's name. In March 1787 Michael Kelly [q. v.], on his return from the continent, met her at Drury Lane. Kelly hardly knew any English, and Mrs. Crouch undertook to teach him, while in return he taught her Italian vocalisation. On his début at Drury Lane she played Clarissa to his Lionel. The intimacy thus begun increased to such a degree that Kelly took up his abode with the Crouches, and accompanied them on their annual tours to the country and Irish theatres—in 1790 joining them in a trip to Paris. Mrs. Crouch's marriage was not a happy one, and in 1791 she and her husband agreed to separate by mutual consent, she making him an annual allowance. The cause of the rupture was said to be an intimacy which had sprung up between the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Crouch, though this was indignantly denied by her defenders. However, the friendship with Kelly still continued, and they lived and acted together until her retirement.

During the season of 1792 Mrs. Crouch and Kelly were living in Pall Mall, where they gave brilliant receptions after the theatre, to which she would come in her stage costume. Here the Prince of Wales, Madame Mara, Mrs. Billington, Sheridan, and the Storaces were frequent visitors. For the next ten years Mrs. Crouch continued to sing and act at Drury Lane, both in opera and oratorio, besides appearing occasionally at provincial music festivals. One of her last performances was that of Celia in ‘As you like it,’ which she played for the first time, for Kelly's benefit, on 14 May 1801. During her later years she devoted herself much to training singers for the stage; she had also bought a cottage at Chelsea, where she gave entertainments in the sham-rural fashion of the day. In 1801 she retired: her health, which was never very strong, rapidly failed, and she died at Brighton 2 Oct. 1805. She was buried in the old churchyard, where Kelly put up a stone to her memory. The cause of her death was variously stated to be an internal injury and excessive drinking, but the latter allegation is probably unfounded. Her life was not blameless, but she was a devoted daughter, and charitable to excess. Her singing seems never to have created so much impression as her beauty; ‘her appearance was that of a meteor, it dazzled, from excess of brilliancy, every spectator,’ and Kelly declared that ‘she seemed to aggregate in herself all that was exquisite and charming.’ The principal portraits of Mrs. Crouch are two mentioned in Evans's ‘Catalogue,’ one of which is by Bartolozzi after Romney; an oval by Ridley after Lawrence, published 2 Jan. 1792; an oval (prefixed to her ‘Memoirs’), ‘printed for James Asperne, 17 June 1806;’ a three-quarter length mezzotint, in which she is represented holding up a rose, said to be in the character of Rosetta, but more probably in that of Mandane; and a full-length by E. Harding, jun., without inscription or date.

[M. J. Young's Memoirs of Mrs. Crouch; Clayton's Queens of Song, i. 186; Busby's Musical Anecdotes, iii. 178; Thespian Dict.; T. J. Dibdin's Reminiscences; Pohl's Mozart und Haydn in London, vol. ii.; Genest's Hist. of Stage; Georgian Era, iv. 287; Gent. Mag. lxxv. pt. ii. 977; European Mag. xlviii. 319; Kelly's Reminiscences; Morning Chronicle, 11 Nov. 1780; Bromley and Smith's Catalogues of Portraits.]

W. B. S.