Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Baddeley, Sophia

BADDELEY, SOPHIA (1745–1786), actress and vocalist, was the subject of a biography by a woman who was her companion, and claims to have been her friend. This so-called life has the air of having been written for the purpose of extorting money from the men of rank implicated in the adventures it describes. The name of Mrs, Elizabeth Steele is advanced as that of the author; but the discredit of the publication has been assigned to Alexander Bicknell, the writer of a life of Alfred the Great. According to this work Sophia Snow was born in 1745 in the parish of St. Margaret's, Westminster. She was the daughter of Valentine Snow, serjeant-trumpeter to George II. From her father she received an education in music sufficient to enable her to turn to account a voice of much sweetness. When eighteen years of age she eloped with Robert Baddeley, an actor of Drury Lane Theatre, whom shortly afterwards she married. To the influence of her husband she owed her introduction to Drury Lane, at which house she appeared on 27 April 1765, when she played Ophelia. This is announced on the playbills as her third appearance on any stage. Genest supposes that her debut took place on the 27th of the previous September, when the same character, Ophelia, was assigned in the playbills to a 'young gentlewoman.' Her biographer gives Cordelia as her first role, and supports the statement by an assertion that when she saw Edgar as Mad Tom she screamed with real terror, and so obtained the sympathies of the audience. The line of Mrs. Baddeley scarcely extended beyond genteel comedy,' her most ambitious effort, consisting in appearing once or twice during an illness of Mrs. Barry as Mrs. Beverley in the 'Gamester.' As a singer she obtained high terms at Ranelagh and Vauxhall. Separated from her husband by her irregularities of life, she played during some years at the same theatre with him, never addressing him or being addressed by him, except when the utterance was dramatic. After a scene in the 'Clandestine Marriage,' in which Baddeley, as Canton, urged King, as Lord Ogleby, to make love to Mrs. Baddeley as Fanny, George III and Queen Charlotte were so delighted with the archness of the actress that they sent an order to her to go to Zoffany and be painted in the character. This order was of course obeyed. Mrs. Baddeley's exceptional beauty, her vanity, and reckless extravagance, made her the fashion. When it was known that admission would be refused her as an actress to a public entertainment, fifty gentlemen of highest station are said to have waited for her in the lobby, drawn their swords on the constables on her appearance, escorted her in triumph to the rooms, and obtained an apology from the directors of the entertainment, and a personally accorded welcome from the aristocratic patronesses. The large sums paid her were recklessly squandered, and she was compelled to take refuge from her creditors in Edinburgh. Here she played during the seasons of 1783-5. Her health appears to have been wretched. According to Tate Wilkinson (Wandering Patentee, ii. 151), she took in her later years to laudanum, and was on one occasion, about three years before her death, so stupidly intoxicated with it as to be unable to act. Wilkinson says concerning her: 'The quantity of laudanum she indulged herself with was incredible.' Gait, in his 'Lives of the Players,' asserts that she died in Edinburgh 1 July 1801, an impossible date, since in the 'Children of Thespis,' first printed in 1787, Anthony Pasquin (John Williams) speaks of Scotland and says (p. 121, ed. 1792):-

There Baddeley sleeps on Mortality's bier.

Emaciate and squalid her body is laid.
Her limbs lacking shelter, her muscles decayed,

Cadaverous, fetid, despised, and deformed.

There seems no reason indeed to dispute the statement in her 'Memoirs' that she died in Edinburgh in July 1786, having, during her last days, been supported by her fellows, with whom she was always a favourite. She is said to be buried in Edinburgh.

[Memoirs of Mrs. Sophia Baddeley by Mrs. Elizabeth Steele, 6 vols., London, 1781; Wilkinson's Wandering Patentee, 4 vols., London, 1795; Gait's Lives of the Players; Dutton Cook's Hours with the Players; Genest's Account of the English Stage, 12 vols., London, 1832.]

J. K.