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Davison, Maria Rebecca (DNB00)

DAVISON, MARIA REBECCA (1780?–1858), actress, is supposed to have been born in Liverpool, where her father and mother, who were named Duncan, were actors. From an early age she played children's parts in Dublin, Liverpool, and Newcastle, her first recorded appearance having been, according to varying accounts, in one or other of those towns, more probably the first, in 1794–5, as the Duke of York to the Richard III of George Frederick Cooke [q. v.] She also played at an early age Rosella in ‘Love in a Village,’ and Polly in Bate Dudley's opera ‘The Woodman.’ Miss Farren, by whom she was seen in the last-named character, is said to have recognised in her a talent kindred to her own. Her first regular engagement was from Tate Wilkinson, as a member of whose company she appeared in York near the close of last century, playing on her first appearance Sophia in Holcroft's ‘Road to Ruin,’ and Gillim in Dibdin's ‘The Quaker.’ With augmenting reputation she acted in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Liverpool. At Margate in 1804 she was engaged by Wroughton for Drury Lane, where she appeared 8 Oct. 1804 as Miss Duncan from Edinburgh, playing Lady Teazle to the Sir Peter of Mathews, and the Charles Surface of Elliston. Rosalind in ‘As you like it’ followed on the 18th, and Lady Townly on the 27th. Miss Hardcastle, Sylvia in the ‘Recruiting Officer,’ Maria in the ‘Way to keep him,’ Miranda in the ‘Busy Body,’ Lydia Languish, Letitia Hardy in the ‘Belle's Stratagem,’ and many other leading characters were taken in the course of her first season. On 31 Jan. 1805 she ‘created’ the rôle of Juliana in the ‘Honeymoon,’ a character with which her name is indissolubly connected. During fourteen consecutive years she remained with the Drury Lane company, migrating with it to the Lyceum or elsewhere. The presence of Mrs. Jordan was for some time an obstacle. Miss Duncan, however, was received with high favour, not only in the characters named, but in parts essentially in Mrs. Jordan's line, such as Nell in the 'Devil to Pay,' Peggy in the 'Country Girl,' and Priscilla in the 'Romp.' On 31 Oct. 1812 she married James Davison, and on 5 Nov. played as Mrs. Davison, late Miss Duncan, Belinda in 'All in the Wrong.' On 8 Sept. 1819, as Lady Teazle to Macready's Joseph Surface, she made her first appearance at Covent Garden. The following year she returned to Drury Lane, 31 Oct., as Julia in the 'Rivals,' apparently for one night only, as on 15 June 1821 she played for her benefit at Covent Garden Lady Teazle, and Marian Ramsay in 'Turn out.' In 1825 Mrs. Davison was at the Haymarket, taking leading business. The same year she returned to Drury Lane, acting Villetta in 'She would and she would not,' Flippanta in the 'Confederacy,' Mrs. Candour, &c. In the season of 1827-8 she was still at Drury Lane, assuming elderly characters, Lucretia McTab, Mrs. Dangleton in the 'Wealthy Widow,' &c. As Mrs. Subtle in 'Paul Pry,' 13 June 1829, she is once more mentioned in connection with Drury Lane. This was probably her last appearance there. Her subsequent performances, if any, were presumably at other theatres. She lived for many years in retirement, greatly respected, and died at Brompton 30 May 1858, ten weeks after her husband. She was rather tall in stature, with dark hair, and strongly formed and very expressive features. She had a fine voice and a good knowledge of music, sang with much expression, and was in her day unequalled in such Scotch ballads as 'John Anderson' and 'Roy's Wife.' Her singing as the Marchioness Merida in the 'Travellers,' Drury Lane 13 May 1823, revealed powers almost fitting her for opera. No better exponent of Lady Teazle, Lady Townly, Beatrice, and other similar parts is said to have existed in her day. As Juliana in the 'Honeymoon' she had no rival. Leigh Hunt devotes to her many pages of his 'Critical Essays on the Performers of the London Theatres,' speaks of her as the 'best lady our comic stage possesses,' and only censures her fondness for appearing on the stage in masculine garb. She is mentioned with implied commendation by Hazlitt, and Talfourd says in the 'New Monthly Magazine' (vol. vi.) of her Mrs. Sullen in the 'Beaux' Stratagem,' that she acts it 'in high style,' that it is 'by far her best character,' and that he wishes for nothing better of the kind.

[Books mentioned; Genest's Account of the Stage; Theatrical Inquisitor, vol. ii.; Biography of the British Stage; Oxberry's Dramatic Biography, vol. i.; Coles's Life of Charles Kean, 1859.]

J. K.