Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tofts, Katherine

TOFTS, KATHERINE, afterwards Smith (1680?–1758?), vocalist, said to be connected with the family of Bishop Burnet, was born about 1680, and had her early training in England. She was announced to sing Italian and English songs at each of a series of Tuesday fortnightly subscription concerts, beginning on 30 Nov. 1703, and held at Drury Lane Theatre (except those of 21 Dec. and 1 Feb. 1704, which took place at the New Theatre, Little Lincoln's Inn Fields). A second series followed, but not until Francesca Margherita de l'Epine [q. v.] had appeared as a counter-attraction in a set of Saturday concerts at Drury Lane. At the second of these a disturbance was raised by Katherine Tofts's servant, who hissed and threw oranges at her mistress's rival. Tofts publicly repudiated her violent partisan (Daily Courant, 8 Feb. 1704); and the rivalry between the 'British Tofts' and the ' Tawny Tuscan ' was thenceforth more elegantly celebrated in contemporary verse, especially that of John Hughes [see art. Épine], in whose 'Ode to the Memory of the Duke of Devonshire' Tofts sang as Augusta and de l'Epine as Britannia. Both singers appeared on the stage of Drury Lane during the short reign of artificial English opera, de l'Epine at first taking a minor part or singing Italian arias between the acts or at the end. It was not until Tofts's retirement that de l'Epine became prima donna in the nondescript musical pieces which gave way in time to undisguised Italian opera. On 16 Jan. 1705, at Drury Lane, Katherine Tofts took part in Clayton's ‘Arsinoe,’ an opera which enjoyed some measure of success, running twenty-four nights in the first season, and eleven the following year. ‘Camilla,’ a pasticcio by Haym from Buononcini, afforded the heroine an effective scene with a wild boar, on whom was fathered a letter to the ‘Spectator’ explaining that his feigned brutality collapsed before the ‘erect mien, charming voice, and grateful motion’ of Tofts. On 4 March 1707 she played Queen Eleanor in Addison's ‘Fair Rosamund’ set by Clayton; and on 1 April in the pasticcio ‘Thomyris.’ The musical performances were then continued under Owen MacSwinny [see Swinny] at the Haymarket, where, on 14 Dec. 1708, was first produced Haym's arrangement of Scarlatti's ‘Pyrrhus and Demetrius,’ afterwards acted for thirty nights. With her performance in ‘Love's Triumph’ (February 1708–9) Katherine Tofts's brilliant operatic career came to an end.

Mrs. Tofts's voice was soprano, and she sang songs in various styles. Little idea of her executive power can be gained from the published music of her repertory, as much ornamentation was generally added by the vanity of the performer. Burney, however, quotes examples of her shake and iterated notes. Any defect which experts might have found in her manner of singing Italian was said by Cibber to be redeemed by her natural gifts. ‘The beauty of her fine-proportioned figure, the exquisitely sweet silver tone of her voice, with that peculiar rapid swiftness of her throat, were perfections not to be imitated by art or labour’ (Apology). Betterton remarked that scarce any nation had given us ‘for all our money’ better singers than Tofts and Leveridge. But Tofts drew a salary of 500l., which was far higher than that paid to the foreign members of the company (Coke MSS., now in the possession of Mr. Julian Marshall).

Early in 1709 Tofts retired with a fortune from the stage. It was believed that she lost her reason about the same date; but she recovered, and is stated to have married about 1710 Joseph Smith [q. v.], the British consul at Venice from 1740 to 1760. Her health relapsed, and she appears to have been put under restraint for some years prior to her death, which probably took place in 1757 or 1758.

[Clark Russell's Representative Actors, p. 38; Daily Courant, 1703, 1704, passim; Hughes's Correspondence, i. 211; Clayton's Queens of Song, vol. i.; Edwards's The Prima Donna, 1888, i. 9–22; Spectator, 1706; Grove's Dictionary, iv. 131; Cibber's Apology, 4th edit. i. 281; Hawkins's Hist. of Music, pp. 765, 816; Burney's Hist. of Music, iv. 197, 215, 633; Sotheby's Catalogues, 1773; Pope's Miscellanies, 1727; Tatler, 26 May 1709; Gildon's Life of Betterton, p. 157; Wentworth Papers, p. 66.]

L. M. M.