The Story of Nell Gwyn/Chapter 3

CHAPTER III.

Epsom in the reign of Charles II.—England in 1667—Nelly resumes her Engagement at the King's Theatre—Inferior in Tragedy to Comedy—Plays Mirida in "All Mistaken"—Miss Davis of the Duke's Theatre—Her song, "My Lodging it is on the Cold Ground," parodied by Nell—Influence of the Duke of Buckingham in controlling the predilections of the King—Charles II. at the Duke's Theatre—Nelly has leading parts in three of Dryden's new Plays—Buckhurst is made a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, promised a peerage and sent on a sleeveless errand into France—Nell becomes the Mistress of the King—Plays Almahide in "The Conquest of Granada"—The King more than ever enam oured—Parallel case of Perdita Robinson and George IV.


Nelly was now at Epsom, then and long after the fashionable resort of the richer citizens of London. "The foolish world is never to be mended," is the remark of "a gentleman of wit and sense" in Shadwell's comedy of The Virtuoso. "Your glass coach," he says, "will to Hyde Park for air; the suburb fools trudge to Lamb's Conduit or Tottenham; your sprucer sort of citizens gallop to Epsom; your mechanic gross fellows, shewing much conjugal affection, strut before their wifes, each with a child in his arms, to Islington or Hogsden." The same agreeable writer, whose plays supply truer and happier illustrations of the manners and customs of the time than any other contemporary dramatist, has left us a comedy called "Epsom Wells," in which, notwithstanding the sneer of Dryden about his "hungry Epsom-prose," he has contrived to interest us by peopling the place with the usual frequenters out of term-time; men of wit and pleasure; young ladies of wit, beauty, and fortune; with a parson and a country justice; with two cheating, sharking cowardly bullies; with two rich citizens of London and their wives, one a comfit-maker, the other a haberdasher, and both cuckolds ("Epsom water-drinking" with other ladies of pleasure); with hectors from Covent Garden, a constable, a Dogberry-like watch, and two country fiddlers—in short, by picturing "the freedom of Epsom" as it existed in an age of easy virtue.

The Derby and the Oaks, the races which have rendered Epsom so famous, and our not less celebrated Tattenham Corner, were then unknown; but the King's Head and the New Inn, Clay Hill and Mawse's Garden, were favourite names, full of attractions to London apprentices, sighing to see their indentures at an end, and Epsom no longer excluded from their places of resort. The waters were considered efficacious, and the citizens east of Temple Bar were supposed to receive as much benefit from their use, as the courtiers west of the Bar were presumed to receive from the waters of Tunbridge Wells. The alderman or his deputy, on their way to this somewhat inaccessible suburb of the reign of Charles II., were met at Tooting by lodging-house keepers, tradesmen, and quack-doctors, with so many clamorous importunities for patronage, that the very expressive English word touting derives its origin from the village where this plying for trade was carried to so importunate an extent.

There is now at Epsom, or was to be seen there till very lately, a small inn with the sign of the King's Head, lying somewhat out of the present town, on the way to the wells. It was at "the next house" to this inn, or to an inn with the same name, that Nelly and Lord Buckhurst put up, keeping "merry house," with Sedley to assist them in laughing at the "Bow-bell suckers" who resorted to the Epsom waters.[1] Nelly would contribute her share to the merriment of the scene around them. The citizens of London were hated by the players. They had successfully opposed them in all their early attempts in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. to erect a theatre within the jurisdiction of the city; and at no time had they ever encouraged the drama by their presence. The poets and actors lived by the King and court, while they repaid their opponents and gratified the courtiers by holding up every citizen as a cuckold and a fool. So long was this feeling perpetuated on the stage (it still lives in our literature), that Garrick, in his endeavour to supplant the usual performance of the "London Cuckolds" on the 9th of November (Lord Mayor's day), was reduced to play first to a noisy and next to an empty house.

Whilst Buckhurst and Nelly kept "merry house" at Epsom in the months of July and August, 1667, it was not altogether merry in England elsewhere. the plague of 1665 had been followed by the fire of 1666, and both plague and fire in 1667 by the national shame of a Dutch fleet insulting us in the Thames, burning some of our finest ships in the Medway at Chatham, and by the undeserved disgrace inflicted by the King and his imperious mistress, Castlemaine, on the great Lord Clarendon. Wise and good men, too, were departing from among us. Cowley finished the life of an elegant and amiable recluse at Chertsey in Surrey, and Jeremy Taylor that of a saint at Lisnegarry, in Ireland. England, too, in the same year, had lost the loyal Marquess of Worcester and the virtuous Earl of Southampton, neither of whom could she well spare at such a period; on the other hand, the country was receiving a noble addition to her literature by the publication of "Paradise Lost;" but this, few at the time, cared to read, as the work of "that Milton who wrote for the regicides,"[2]—"that Paradise Lost of Milton's which some are pleased to call a poem,"[3] or chose to understand, from the seriousness of the subject, or the grandeur of its treatment.

At the Court, where undisguised libertinism was still triumphant, the burning of the city began to be talked of as an old story, like that of the burning of Troy, and the disgrace at Chatham as something to be obliterated by the disgrace of the Lord Chancellor. Indeed there was no feeling of fear, or any sentiment of deserved dishonour, maintained at Court. On the very day on which the Great Seal was taken from Clarendon, and his ruin effected, the Countess of Castlemaine, one of the leading instruments of his fall, was admiring the rope-dancing of Jacob Hall, and laughing at the drolls and odd animals exhibited to the citizens at Bartholomew Fair!


Covent Garden in the reign of Charles the Second.[4]
Nelly, after a month's absence, returned to London in August, 1667, and resumed some of her old parts at the theatre in Drury Lane, playing Bellario in Beaumont and Fletcher's "Philaster;" Panthea, in "A King and No King," of the same authors; Cydaria, in "The Indian Emperor," of Dryden and his brother-in-law; Samira, in Sir Robert Howard's "Surprisal;" Flora, in "Flora's Vagaries," a comedy attributed to Rhodes; and Mirida, in "All Mistaken, or the Mad Couple," of the Hon. James Howard. Of her performance in some of these parts Pepys again is our only informant. How graphic are his entries!

"22 Aug. 1667. With my lord Brouncker and his mistress to the King's playhouse, and there saw the 'Indian Emperor,' where I found Nell come again, which I am glad of; but was most infinitely displeased with her being put to act the Emperor's daughter, which is a great and serious part, which she does most basely. The rest of the play, though pretty good, was not well acted by most of them, methought; so that I took no great content in it.

"26 Aug. 1667. To the King's playhouse and saw 'The Surprisal,' a very mean play I thought, or else it was because I was out of humour, and but very little company in the house. Sir W. Pen and I had a great deal of discourse with [Orange] Moll, who tells us that Nell is already left by my Lord Buckhurst, and that he makes sport of her, and swears she hath had all she could get of him; and Hart, her great admirer, now hates her; and that she is very poor, and hath lost my Lady Castlemaine, who was her great friend, also; but she is come to the house, but is neglected by them all.

"5 Oct. 1667. To the King's house, and there going in met Knipp, and she took us up into the tiring rooms; and to the women's shift, where Nell was dressing herself [as Flora], and was all unready, and is very pretty, prettier than I thought. And into the scene-room, and there sat down, and she gave us fruit; and here I read the questions to Knipp, while she answered me through all the part of 'Flora's vagaries,' which was acted to-day. But, Lord! to see how they were both painted would make a man mad, and did make me loath them; and what base company of men comes among them, and how lewdly they talk! and how poor the men are in clothes, and yet what a show they make on the stage by candlelight, is very observable. But to see how Nell cursed for having so few people in the pit was pretty; the other house carrying away all the people at the new play, and is said now-a-days to have generally most company, as being better players.

"26 Dec. 1667. With my wife to the King's playhouse, and there saw 'The Surprisal,' which did not please me to-day, the actors not pleasing me, and especially Nell's acting of a serious part, which she spoils.

"28 Dec. 1667. To the King's House, and there saw 'The Mad Couple,' which is but an ordinary play; but only Nell's and Hart's mad parts are most excellent done, but especially hers, which makes it a miracle to me to think how ill she do any serious part, as, the other day, just like a fool or changeling; and in a mad part do beyond imitation almost."

That Nell hated "serious parts," in which, as Pepys assures us, she was poor, we have her own testimony, in an epilogue which she spoke a few months later to the tragedy of the "Duke of Lerma."

I know you in your hearts
Hate serious plays—as I hate serious parts.

And again in the epilogue to "Tyrannick Love:"

I die
Out of my calling in a tragedy.

The truth is (as I see reason to believe), such parts were thrust upon her by Hart, her old admirer, who hated her for preferring Lord Buckhurst to himself. But this feeling was soon overcome, and Nell, as Mirida in the comedy of "All Mistaken," added to her well-earned reputation as an actress, obeying the advice of Mrs. Barry, "Make yourself mistress of your part, and leave the figure and action to nature."[5]

"All Mistaken, or the Mad Couple," a play commended by some, says Langbaine, "as an excellent comedy," has little merit of its own to recommend it to the reader. The whole success of the performance must have rested on Hart and Nelly. Philidor (Hart) is a mad, or as we should now call him a madcap, kinsman of an Italian duke, and Mirida (Nelly) is a madcap young lady of the same eccentric school. Philidor is troubled with clamorous importunities for marriage from six young ladies whom he has betrayed, and for money from those nurses by whom his children have been taken; and Mirida is persecuted with the importunate addresses, at the same time, of a very lean and of a very fat lover. Some of the pleasantries to which the madcap couple resort are of a coarse and practical character. Philidor tricks his besiegers, and Mirida replies to her importunate lovers that she will marry the lean one when he is fatter, and the fat one when he is leaner. The arts which the suitors have recourse to are somewhat tedious, and certainly not over decent. Yet it is easy to see that the play would tell with the audience to whom it was addressed, for many of the situations are humorous in the extreme. In one of the scenes Philidor and Mirida are bound back to back by the six ladies, Philidor losing his money and his hat, and Mirida consoling herself by the entry of a fiddler.

[Enter Fiddler.] Mirida.—A fiddle, nay then I am made again; I'd have a dance if I had nothing but my smock on. Fiddler, strike up and play my jig, call'd "I care not a pin for any man."[6]

Fiddler.—Indeed I can't stay. I am going to play to some gentlemen.

Mirida.—Nay, thou shalt stay but a little.

Fiddler.—Give me half-a-crown then.

Mirida.—I have no money about me; but here, take my hankercher.

[Dance and Exit.

In another part Mirida manages a sham funeral for Philidor, to which the six young ladies are invited, to hear the will of the deceased.

Mirida.—Poor young man, he was killed yesterday by a duel.

"Item. I give to Mrs. Mary for a reason that she knows, 500l. Item. 500l. to Mrs. Margaret for a reason she knows. Item. 500l. to Mrs. Sarah for a reason she knows. Item 500l. to Mrs. Martha for a reason she knows. Item. 500l. to Mrs. Alice for a reason she knows. Item. 500l. to Mrs. Elinor for a reason she knows, and so to all the rest. Item. To my nurses I leave each of them 20l. a year apiece for their lives, besides their arrears due to them for nursing. These sums of money and legacies I leave to be raised and paid out of my manor of Constantinople, in which the Great Turk is now tenant for life." [Laughs aside.] If they should hear how their legacies are to be paid, how they'd fall a-drumming on his coffin!

There is more of this; but it is time to turn to that incident from which the play derived its popularity, its satire on a recent event at the Duke's Theatre.

"The Rivals," a play altered by Davenant from "The Two Noble Kinsmen" of Beaumont and Fletcher, or rather of Fletcher alone, was brought upon the stage about 1664, but would not appear to have met with any great success till 1667, when the part of Celania was represented by little Miss Davis, who danced a jig in the play and then sang a song in it, both of which found their way direct to the heart of the merry monarch. The jig was probably some fresh French importation, or nothing more than a rustic measure, with a few foreign innovations. The song has reached us, and has much ballad beauty to recommend it.

My lodging it is on the cold ground,
And very hard is my fare,
But that which troubles me most is
The unkindness of my dear.

Yet still I cry, O turn love,
And I pr'ythee, love, turn to me,
For thou art the man that I long for,
And alack what remedy!

I'll crown thee with a garland of straw, then,
And I'll marry thee with a rush ring,
My frozen hopes shall thaw then,
And merrily we will sing.
O turn to me, my dear love,
And prythee, love, turn to me,
For thou art the man that alone canst
Procure my liberty.

But if thou wilt harden thy heart still,
And be deaf to my pitiful moan,
Then I must endure the smart still,
And tumble in straw alone.
Yet still, I cry, O turn, love,
And I prythee, love, turn to me,
For thou art the man that alone art
The cause of my misery.[7]

The success of the song is related by the prompter at the theatre in his curious little volume, called "Roscius Anglicanus." "All the women's parts," says Downes, "were admirably acted, but what pleased most was the part of Celania, a shepherdess, mad for love, and her song of 'My lodging is on the cold ground,' which she performed," he adds, "so charmingly that not long after it raised her from her bed on the cold ground to a bed royal."[8]

I might be excused for referring, at this period of Nelly's life, to the ribald personalities common to the stage in the reign of Charles II., but I am unwilling to stop the stream of my narrative by delating to relate the personal reference made by Nell, in the play of "All Mistaken," to the song and the incident at the Duke's House, which raised little Miss Davis to a "bed royal." The scene in "All Mistaken" which doubtless gave the greatest delight to the audience at Drury Lane, was that in the last act, where Pinguisier, the fat lover, sobs his complaints into the ear of the madcap Mirida.

Mirida.—Dear love, come sit thee in my lap, and let me know if I can enclose thy world of fat and love within these arms. See, I cannot nigh compass my desires by a mile.
Pinguisier.—How is my fat a rival to my joys! sure I shall weep it all away. [Cries.
Mirida.
Lie still, my babe, lie still and sleep,

It grieves me sore to see thee weep,
Wert thou but leaner I were glad;
Thy fatness makes thy dear love sad.

What a lump of love have I in my arms!
My lodging is on the cold boards,

And wonderful hard is my fare,
But that which troubles me most is
The fatness of my dear.
Yet still I cry, Oh melt, love,
And I prythee now melt apace,
For thou art the man I should long for
If 'twere not for thy grease.

Pinguisier.
Then prythee don't harden thy heart still,
And be deaf to my pitiful moan,

Since I do endure the smart still,
And for my fat do groan.
Then prythee now turn, my dear love,
And I prythee now turn to me,
For, alas! I am too fat still
To roll so far to thee.

The nearer the fat man rolls towards her, the further she rolls away from him, till she at length rises and laughs her hearty Mrs. Jordan-like mirth-provoking laugh, first at the man and then towards the audience, seizes a couple of swords from a cutler passing by, disarms her fat lover, and makes him the ridicule of the whole house. It is easy to see that this would not take now, even with another Nelly to represent it; but every age has its fashion and its humour, and that of Charles II. had fashions and humours of its own, quite as diverting as any of the representations and incidents which still prove attractive to a city or a west-end audience.

"Little Miss Davis" danced and sang divinely, but was not particularly beautiful, though she had fine eyes and a neat figure, both of which are preserved in her portrait at Cashiobury, by Sir Peter Lely.[9] The popular belief still lingering among the cottages surrounding the old Jacobean mansion of the Howards at Charlton in Wiltshire, that she was the daughter of a blacksmith, and was at one time a milkmaid, can only in part be true. Pepys was informed by Mrs. Pearse, wife of James Pearse, surgeon to the Duke of York and surgeon of the regiment commanded by the Duke, that she was an illegitimate child of Colonel Howard, son of the Earl of Berkshire, and brother of James Howard, author of the play in which, as we have seen, she was held up to ridicule through the inimitable acting of Nell Gwyn. The King's affection for her was shown in a marked and open manner. The ring of rushes referred to in the song was exchanged for a ring of the value of 700l., and her lodging about Ludgate or Lincoln's Inn (the usual resorts of the players at the Duke's Theatre) for a house in Suffolk Street, Haymarket, furnished by the King expressly for her use. The Queen, before she was worn into complete indifference by the uncontrolled vices of her husband, resented them at times with the spirit of a woman. When Miss Davis was dancing one of her favourite "jigs" in a play at Court, the Queen rose and "would not stay to see it." Nor was the imperious Countess of Castlemaine less incensed than the Queen herself at the unwelcome intrusion of little Miss Davis within the innermost chambers and withdrawing-rooms of Whitehall. Her revenge, however, was peculiarly her own—she ran into open infidelities; and, as the King had set her aside for an actress at his brother's house, so to be "even" with him (the expression is in Pepys), she extended her favours to Charles Hart, the handsome and celebrated actor, at his own house.

The Duke of Buckingham (the wit, and the second and last Duke of the Villiers family) is thought to have been the principal agent at this time in directing and confirming the predilections of the King. The Duke and Lady Castlemaine had newly quarrelled, fiercely and almost openly, and both were devising means of revenge characteristic of their natures. By the influence of the Countess the Duke was removed from his seat at the council, and the Duke in return "studied to take the King from her by new amours," and thinking, truly enough, that a "gaiety of humour," would take with his Majesty more than beauty without humour, he encouraged his passion for little Miss Davis by all the arts and insinuations he was master of. The King, too, was readier than usual to adopt any new excess of enjoyment which Buckingham could offer him. La Belle Stuart, the only woman for whom he would seem to have entertained any sincere affection, had left his court in secret a few months before, and worse still had given herself in marriage to the Duke of Richmond, without his approbation, and even without his knowledge. Castlemaine was now past her zenith, though she retained much beauty to the last, and found admirers in the great Duke of Marlborough, when young, and in Beau Fielding, long the handsomest man about town. Yet Charles was not really unkind to her at any time. The song which he caused Will Legge to sing to her—

Poor Alinda's growing old.—
Those charms are now no more,—[10]

must have caused her some temporary uneasiness and a disdainful curl of her handsome and imperious lip; but she knew her influence and managed to retain it almost unimpaired to the very last, in spite of many excesses, which Buckingham seldom failed to discover and make known to the King.

Of the King, the Countess, and pretty Miss Davis, at this period, Pepys affords us a sketch in little—but to the point:—

"21 Dec. 1668. To the Duke's playhouse, and saw 'Macbeth.' The King and court there; and we sat just under them and my Lady Castlemaine, and close to a woman that comes into the pit, a kind of loose gossip, that pretends to be like her, and is so, something. And my wife, by my troth, appeared I think as pretty as any of them; I never thought so much before; and so did Talbot and W. Hewer, as I heard they said to one another. The King and the Duke of York minded me, and smiled upon me at the handsome woman near me; but it vexed me to see Moll Davis, in the box over the King's and my Lady Castlemaine's, look down upon the King, and he up to her; and so did my Lady Castlemaine once, to see who it was; but when she saw Moll Davis she looked like fire, which troubled me."

To complete the picture which Pepys has left us, we have only to turn to "The True Widow," of Shadwell, where, in the fourth act, the scene is laid in "the Playhouse," and stage directions of this character occur: "Enter women masked;" "Several young coxcombs fool with the orange-women;" "He sits down and lolls in the orange-wench's lap;" "Raps people on the backs and twirls their hats, and then looks demurely, as if he did not do it;"—such were daily occurrences at both theatres in the reign of Charles II.

Such were our pleasures in the days of yore,
When amorous Charles Britannia's sceptre bore;
The mighty scene of joy the Park was made,
And Love in couples peopled every shade.
But since at Court the moral taste is lost,
What mighty sums have velvet couches cost![11]

We are now less barefaced in our immoralities, but are we really better? Was Whitehall in the reign of Charles II. worse than St. James's Palace in the reign of George II., or Carlton House in the regency of George IV.? Were Mrs. Robinson, Mary Anne Clarke, or Dora Jordan, better women than Eleanor Gwyn or Mary Davis? Will future historians prefer the old Duke of Queensbury and the late Marquis of Hertford to the Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Rochester?

A new play of this period, in which Nelly performed the heroine, is the "Black Prince," written by the Earl of Orrery, and acted for the first time at the King's House, on the 19th October, 1667. Nelly's part was Alizia or Alice Piers, the mistress of Edward III.; and the following lines must have often in after life occurred to recollection, not from their poetry, which is little enough, but from their particular applicability to her own story.

You know, dear friend, when to this court I came,
My eyes did all our bravest youths inflame;
And in that happy state I lived awhile,
When Fortune did betray me with a smile;
Or rather Love against my peace did fight;
And to revenge his power which I did slight,
Made Edward our victorious monarch be
One of those many who did sigh for me.
All other flame but his I did deride;
They rather made my trouble than my pride:
But this, when told me, made me quickly know,
Love is a god to which all hearts must bow.

The King was present at the first performance, when his own heart was acknowledging and his own eyes betraying the sense he entertained of the beauty and wit of the charming actress who played Alizia on the stage, and who was hereafter to move in the same sphere in which the original had moved—with greater honesty and much more affection.

While little Miss Davis was living in handsome lodgings in Suffolk Street, and baring her hand in public in the face of the Countess of Castlemaine, to show the 700l. ring which the King had given her, a report arose that "the King had sent for Nelly."[12] Nor was it long before this gossip of the town was followed by other rumours about her, not likely, it was thought, to be true, from her constant appearance on the stage, speaking prologues in fantastic hats and Amazonian habits,[13] playing as she did, too, at this time Valeria in Dryden's last new tragedy of "Tyrannick Love, or the Royal Martyr," and Donna Jacintha in Dryden's latest comedy, called "An Evening's Love, or the Mock Astrologer." Other rumours, relating to Lord Buckhurst, and since found to be true, were current at the same time,—that he had been made a groom of the King's bed-chamber, with a pension of a thousand pounds a-year, commencing from Michaelmas, 1668; that he had received the promise of a peerage at his grandfather's death; and that he had been sent by the King on a complimentary visit to a foreign power, or, as Dryden is said to have called it, on a "sleeveless errand"[14] into France. In the meantime gossips in both the theatres were utterly at a loss to reconcile the stories repeated by the orange-women that Nelly was often at Whitehall with her constant attention to her theatrical engagements, and the increasing skill she exhibited in the acquirements of her art. Nor was it till the winter of 1669, or rather the spring of 1670, that the fact of the postponement of a new tragedy by Dryden, on account of Nelly's being away, confirmed some of the previous rumours; and it was known even east of Temple Bar, and among the Puritans in the Blackfriars, that Nelly had become the mistress of the King.

When this important change in her condition took place—a change that removed her from many temptations, and led to the exhibition of traits of character and good feeling which more than account for the fascination connected with her name—she was studying the part of Almahide in Dryden's new tragedy, "The Conquest of Granada." Before, however, the play could be produced Nelly was near giving birth to the future Duke of St. Alban's, and therefore unable to appear, so that Dryden was obliged to postpone the production of his piece till another season. The poet alludes to this postponement in his epilogue,—

Think him not duller for the year's delay;
He was prepared, the women were away;
And men without their parts can hardly play.
If they through sickness seldom did appear,
Pity the virgins of each theatre;
For at both houses 'twas a sickly year!
And pity us, your servants, to whose cost
In one such sickness nine whole months were lost.

The allusion is to Miss Davis at the Duke's, and to Nelly at the King's; but the poet's meaning has escaped his editors.

The "Conquest of Granada" was first performed in the autumn of 1670,—Hart playing Almanzor to Nelly's Almahide. With what manliness and grace of elocution must Hart have delivered the well-known lines,—

I am as free as Nature first made man,
Ere the base laws of servitude began,
When wild in woods the noble savage ran.

The attraction, however, of the play rested mainly upon Nelly, who spoke the prologue "in a broad-brimmed hat and waist-belt," and apologised in the following manner for her appearance, to the renewed delight of the whole audience:

This jest was first of th' other House's making,
And, five times tried, has never failed of taking;
For 'twere a shame a poet should be kill'd
Under the shelter of so broad a shield.
This is that hat whose very sight did win ye
To laugh and clap as though the devil were in ye.
As then for Nokes, so now I hope you'll be
So dull to laugh once more for love of me.

The jest "of the other house's making" is said to have occurred in May, 1670, while the Court was at Dover, to receive the King's sister, the beautiful Duchess of Orleans. The reception of her royal highness was attended with much pomp and gaiety—the Duke's company of actors playing Shadwell's "Sullen Lovers," and Caryl's "Sir Salomon, or the Cautious Coxcomb," before the Duchess and her suite. One of the characters in Caryl's comedy is that of Sir Arthur Addle, a bawling fop, played by Nokes with a reality of action and manner then unsurpassed upon the stage. The dress of the French attending the Duchess, and present at the performance of the plays, included an excessively short laced scarlet or blue coat, with a broad waist-belt, which Nokes took care to laugh at, by wearing a still shorter coat of the same character, to which the Duke of Monmouth added a sword and belt from his own side, so that he looked, as old Downes the prompter assures us, more like a dressed-up ape, or a quiz on the French, than Sir Arthur Addle. The jest took at once, King Charles and his whole Court falling into an excess of laughter as soon as he appeared upon the stage, and the French showing their chagrin at the personality and folly of the imitation. The sword, which the Duke had buckled on the actor with his own hands, was kept by Nokes to his dying day.

It was in the character of Almahide in "The Conquest of Granada," and while wearing her broad-brimmed hat and waist-belt in the prologue to the same play, that Charles became more than ever enamoured of Nelly. A satirist of the time has expressed the result of the performance in a couplet not wholly destitute of force—

There Hart's and Rowley's souls she did ensnare,
And made a King a rival to a player;—

while Granville, who enjoyed the friendship of Waller, and lived to be the patron of Pope, has told the result in his poem called "The Progress of Beauty:"

Granada lost, behold her pomps restor'd,
And Almahide again by Kings adored.

An effect from a stage performance which some still live to remember, when it found a parallel in the passion which George IV., when Prince of Wales, evinced for Mrs. Robinson, while playing the part of Perdita in "A Winter's Tale." What a true name is Perdita indeed for such a fate, and what a lesson may a young actress learn from the story of poor Mrs. Robinson, when told, as I have heard it told, by her grave in Old Windsor churchyard! Nor is Nelly's story without its moral—and now that we have got her from the purlieus of Drury Lane, and the contaminations of the green-room,—for the part of Almahide was her last performance on the stage,[15]—we shall find her true to the King, and evincing in her own way more good than we should have expected to have found from so bad a bringing up.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Pepys, 14 July, 1667.
  2. Evelyn's Diary, 2 June, 1686.
  3. Rymer's Letter to Fleetwood Sheppard, p. 143.
  4. Compiled from pictures, drawings, prints and descriptions.
  5. Curll's Stage, p. 62
  6. Nell was famous for dancing jigs. The Duke of Buckingham, in his Epilogue to "The Chances," laughs at poets who mistook the praise given to Nelly's jig for the praise bestowed on their own performances.
  7. The stage direction is—"That done she lies down and falls asleep."
  8. "Roscius Anglicanus," p. 24. ed. 1708.
  9. This is a half-length, seated,—the same portrait, I suspect, which Mrs. Beale saw in Bap. May's lodgings at Whitehall. The curious full-length portrait of her in after-life by Kneller, and now at Audley End, barely supplies a single feature that is attractive.
  10. Lord Dartmouth's note in Burnet, i. 458, ed. 1823. Where are these verses to be found?
  11. Gay to Pulteney.
  12. Pepys, 11 January, 1667–8.
  13. Before the 1669 edition of Catiline is a prologue "to be merrily spoke by Mrs. Nell in an Amazonian habit." Pepys and Evelyn both saw Catiline acted on the 19th Dec., 1668.
  14. Note by Boyer in his translation of De Grammont, 8vo. 1714, p. 343.
  15. The Mrs. Gwyn or Quyn who appeared on the stage while Nelly was alive, was a different person, though hitherto always confounded with her. I had come to this conclusion, when I was pleased to find my conviction made good by a MS. note by Isaac Reed, in his copy of the first edition of the Roscius Anglicanus, in my possession. Downes distinguishes Nelly by calling her "Madam Gwin," or "Mrs. Ellen Gwin;"—the other is always "Mrs. Gwin."