Waylett, Harriet (DNB00)

WAYLETT, Mrs. HARRIET (1798–1851), actress, the daughter of a Bath tradesman named Cooke, was born in Bath on 7 Feb. 1798. She came of a theatrical family, her uncle being a member of the Drury Lane company, while Mrs. West [q. v.] was her cousin. After receiving some instruction in music from one of the Loders of Bath [see Loder, John David], she appeared on the Bath stage on 16 March 1816 as Elvina in W. R. Hewetson's ‘Blind Boy.’ In the following season she appeared as Leonora in the ‘Padlock’ and Madge in ‘Love in a Village,’ and played in Bristol and, it is said, Brighton. Soon after this time she accompanied to London a Captain Dobyn, against whom her father brought an action for loss of service, which was tried at Taunton and compromised. She then acted at Coventry, where she met and married in 1819 Waylett, an actor in the company. In 1820 she was at the Adelphi, where she was the original Amy Robsart in Planché's adaptation of ‘Kenilworth,’ and the first Sue to her husband's Primefit in Moncrieff's ‘Tom and Jerry.’ She played as Mrs. Waylett late Miss Cooke of Bath. In 1823 she was acting in Birmingham under Alfred Bunn [q. v.], playing in ‘Sally’ Booth's part of Rose Briarly in ‘Husbands and Wives.’ Her singing of ‘Rest thee, Babe,’ in ‘Guy Mannering’ established her in favour. Cicely in the ‘Heir-at-Law’ and Thérèse in the piece so-named followed. She played five parts in ‘Chops and Changes, or the Servant of All Work,’ and was seen as Jenny Gammon in ‘Wild Oats,’ Ellen in ‘Intrigue,’ Aladdin, Lucy in the ‘Rivals,’ Cherry in ‘Cherry and Fair Star,’ Patch in the ‘Busy Body,’ Tattle in ‘All in the Wrong,’ Susanna in the ‘Marriage of Figaro,’ Priscilla Tomboy in the ‘Romp,’ Diana Vernon, Mary in the ‘Innkeeper's Daughter,’ Chambermaid in the ‘Clandestine Marriage,’ Jessica, Marianne in the ‘Dramatist,’ Clari in ‘Clari, or the Maid of Milan,’ in which she sang ‘Home, sweet Home,’ Lucetta in the ‘Suspicious Husband,’ Clementina All-spice in the ‘Way to get Married,’ Bizarre in the ‘Inconstant,’ Zelinda in the ‘Slave,’ and in many other characters.

It was accordingly with a fair amount of experience, with a large repertory, and with a reputation as a chambermaid and a singer, that Mrs. Waylett accompanied her manager to Drury Lane, whereat she appeared as Madge in ‘Love in a Village’ on 4 Dec. 1824. The sustained and excessive eulogies which had been bestowed on her in the ‘Theatrical Looker-On,’ a Birmingham paper, the ownership of which the Birmingham public insisted on ascribing to Bunn, had given rise to a crop of scandals and to threats on his part of prosecutions for libel. On 14 Jan. 1825 Mrs. Waylett was Mrs. Page in the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor.’ Her appearances must, however, have been few, perhaps on account of the rivalry and jealousy of Mrs. Bunn, and she is no further traced at Drury Lane.

On 12 May she made, as Zephyrina in the ‘Lady and the Devil,’ her first appearance at the Haymarket, where she played, among other parts, Catalina in the ‘Castle of Andalusia,’ Lady Emily in ‘Match-making,’ Daphne in ‘Midas,’ was the first Sophia Fielding in Ebsworth's ‘Rival Valets’ on 14 July, and the first Harry Stanley in ‘Paul Pry’ on 13 Sept. In 1826 she was Lady Racket in ‘Three Weeks after Marriage,’ Ellen in ‘Intrigue,’ Phœbe in the ‘Review,’ Charlotte (Mrs. Abington's part) in the ‘Hypocrite,’ Louisa in the ‘Duenna,’ and Rosa in ‘John of Paris.’ For her benefit on 9 Oct. 1827 she enacted Virginia in ‘Paul and Virginia.’ On 16 June 1828 she was the original Mary in ‘Daughters to Marry,’ and on the 28th the original Bridget in ‘Milliners.’ She was also Clari for the first time in London. In November 1828 she played at the Hawkins Street Theatre, Dublin, Phœbe in ‘Paul Pry.’ She was also seen as Maria in ‘Of Age To-morrow,’ Letitia Hardy in the ‘Belle's Stratagem,’ Maria Darlington in ‘A Roland for an Oliver,’ Don Giovanni in ‘Giovanni in London.’ She stood in highest favour as a singer and actress both in Dublin and Cork. Among her favourite songs were ‘Buy a Broom,’ which she sang in ‘Bavarian costume,’ ‘Kate Kearney,’ ‘Cherry Ripe,’ ‘The Light Guitar,’ ‘Nora Creina,’ ‘Away, away to the Mountain's Brow,’ and ‘Love was once a little boy.’ After her return from Dublin she played at the Haymarket, Drury Lane, Queen's Theatre (afterwards the Prince of Wales's), the Olympic, Covent Garden, and other houses. In 1832 she was acting at the Strand, of which house in 1834 she was ‘sole manager.’ Here she played original parts in the ‘Loves of the Angels,’ the ‘Cork Leg,’ the ‘Four Sisters,’ ‘Wooing a Widow,’ and in various burlesques. Admission to the house was obtained by paying four shillings an ounce at a neighbouring shop for sweetmeats, or purchasing tickets for the Victoria Theatre, which admitted also to the Strand, whereat the performances were nominally gratis. There were few London houses at which she was not seen, and she was a favourite in the country. In October 1835 she received in Dublin 800l. and half a clear benefit for twenty-one nights' performances. In 1838 she was engaged at the Haymarket.

In 1840 Waylett, from whom she had long been separated, who seems to have been a thoroughly objectionable, unworthy, and unpopular personage, and who, as Fitzwaylett, had married another woman, died, and she shortly afterwards married George Alexander Lee [q. v.], a musician, composer of many of her favourite songs, who survived her a few months, dying on 8 Oct. 1851; he was at one time page to the notorious Lord Barrymore (see Notes and Queries, 5th ser. xi. 276), at another lessee of Drury Lane, and in the end pianoforte-player to ‘Baron’ Nicholson's exhibition in Bow Street of poses plastiques.

In May 1843 Mrs. Waylett, as she was still called, was at the Lyceum, where she was the President in the ‘Ladies' Club,’ and played in the farce of ‘Matrimony.’ Her appearances became, through ill-health, infrequent, and in 1849 she was spoken of as retired. She died on 29 April 1851, after a long and painful illness.

Mrs. Waylett was one of the best soubrettes of her day, was almost as popular in ballad and song as Madame Vestris, was symmetrically proportioned, and was always acceptable in burlesque and extravaganza, and in masculine characters generally. Her life was associated with many scandals. Bunn demanded an apology for what was said concerning her and him in Oxberry's ‘Dramatic Biography’ in 1827. This was proffered by the publisher, but Oxberry refused to carry it out, and, after some talk of a duel, the matter dropped. Mrs. Waylett was taxed with ostentatiously overdressing the chambermaid parts in which she was seen.

A portrait of Mrs. Waylett as Elizabeth in some piece unnamed accompanies a memoir in the ‘Dramatic Magazine’ (ii. 97, 1 May 1830); a second, as Davie Gelletley (Gellatley), is prefixed to the ‘Public and Private life of Mrs. Waylett,’ forming No. 1 of a series to be called ‘Amatory Biography;’ a third, as Miss Dorville, is in Oxberry's ‘Dramatic Biography.’

[Most particulars of the early life of Mrs. Waylett are taken from the memoir in Oxberry's Dramatic Biography, new ser. 1827, i. 55. This life and a vindication by Bunn were reprinted in the Private and Public Life of Mrs. Waylett, n.d., a sixpenny tract of extreme rarity. Oxberry's memoir is copied into the Georgian Era, the Dramatic Magazine, and other theatrical publications. See also Genest's Account of the English Stage; Dramatic Observer, Dublin; Theatrical Looker-On, Birmingham; History of the Theatre Royal, Dublin; Dramatic and Musical Review; Era Almanack; and New Monthly Magazine.]

J. K.