Prologue after Sarah Siddon's illness

  • Posted on: 20 September 2009
  • By: David Thrale

I have written an extempore Prologue, or rather an occasional Prologue—(tho’ I did make it in half an hour) for the Regent to come out again with after Siddons’s Illness; it alludes to the new Exhibition of a beautiful Woman one Mrs Wells1, who has diverted the Town by Imitations of our great Actress, while She was laid up with ill Health & Grief. I do think that Mrs Siddons for Vigour of Action, pathetic Tone of Voice, & a sort of Radiance which comes round her in Scenes where strong heroic Virtues are displayed, never had her Equal. For Versatility of Genius, or Comprehension of various Characters, Pritchard was greatly her Superior: Add to this, that our present Idol is eminently handsome—dear Pritchard’s Person came against her perpetually—but what a Mind She had!

1: May 1788 Here is my Prologue … They have shelfed it tho’; under pretence that no Epilogue had been made to keep it Company.
Sarah Siddons by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1784

When every Bird begins to build & sing,
And with new Notes salute the smiling Spring,
Our Bard—who fain would feather too his Nest,
Sends me before your Favour to request.
His little Fabrick pleas’d you in its Plan,
But Shakespear says—Such is the Lot of Man.
Fearful at first to give his Wishes Scope,
He scarce put forth the tender Leaves of Hope,
W hen your kind Culture liveliest Blossoms shed,
And heap’d the blushing honours on his Head.
Oh then reflect what Happiness was lost,
When the third Night there came a Killing Frost:
Nipt all his op’ning Pleasures in their Bloom,
And Tyrant-like reversed a People’s Doom.
Well! Well! no more we’ll fear this wintry Blast,
The storm is overblown, the Danger past.
As with fresh Vigour glows the rising Day,
While imitative Planets2 fade away;
Bright Venus’ Self with false reflected Light
Sinking unnoticed to oblivious Night
Nerv’d with recruited Strength our Tragic Muse
Her Course unrivalled thro’ these Scenes persues,
The Cause of Virtue with fresh Pow’r maintains
And most Applause deserves while most She gains.
All anxious thus, in Virgil’s classic Page
We see the fainting Hero quit the stage,
With Agitation wait the wish’d for Cure,
And rival Arts indignantly endure;
Till Fate proclaims him Heavn’s peculiar Care,
And sends the willing Chief renew’d to War.

Written by Hester Lynch Thrale. Thraliana entry dated 1 May 1788.

  • 1. Mary Wells, also known as Becky or Cowslip. who made a living from parodying Sarah Siddons.
  • 2. Allusion to Mary Wells.

Hester Thrale's spelling, grammar, punctuation and capitalisation, some of which may not conform to today's standards, are reproduced faithfully throughout. More writings by Hester Thrale