19. Choice 11: Lady Diana Beauclerk’s Drawings for “The Mysterious Mother”

19. Choice 11: Lady Diana Beauclerk’s Drawings for “The Mysterious Mother”

By Wilmarth S. Lewis

“Before 1962 when I was asked, ‘What would you most like to find?’ I answered promptly, ‘Lady Diana Beauclerk’s drawings for The Mysteriouos Mother.’ After praising Gibbon’s recently published Decline and Fall, Walpole asked Mason, ‘Do I know nothing superior to Mr Gibbon? Yes . . . I talk of great original genius. Lady Di Beauclerk has made seven large drawings in soot-water for scenes of my Mysterious Mother. Oh! such drawings! Guido’s grace, Albano’s children, Poussin’s expression, Salvator’s boldness in landscape and Andrea Sacchi’s simplicity of composition might perhaps have equalled them had they wrought all together very fine.’ High praise, but not a bit too high for Lady Di’s drawings. He wrote Mann, ‘Lady Di Beauclerk has drawn seven scenes of [The Mysterious Mother] that would be fully worthy of the best of Shakespeare’s plays–such drawings that Salvator Rosa and Guido could not surpass their expression and beauty. I have built a closet on purpose for them here at Strawberry Hill. It is called the Beauclerk Closet; and whoever sees the drawings, allows that no description comes up to their merit–and then, they do not shock and disgust like their original, the tragedy.’ Walpole described the Beauclerk Closet in an Appendix to the ’74 Description and bound the manuscript of it in Choice 8.

“‘[The Closet] is a hexagon, built in 1776, and designed by Mr Essex, architect, of Cambridge, who drew the ceiling, door, window, and surbase. . . . The closet is hung with Indian blue damask, and was built on purpose to receive seven incomparable drawings of Lady Diana Beauclerk for Mr Walpole’s tragedy of the Mysterious Mother. The beauty and grace of the figures and of the children are inimitable; the expression of the passions most masterly, particularly in the devotion of the countess with the porter,

“‘of Benedict in the scene with Martin,

“‘and the tenderness, despair, and resolution of the countess in the last scene; in which is a new stroke of double passion in Edmund, whose right hand is clenched and ready to strike with anger, the left hand relents.

“‘In the scene of the children, some are evidently vulgar, the others children of rank; and the first child, that pretends to look down and does leer upwards, is charming.’

“A writing-table of ‘Clay’s ware’ in the Closet contained ‘the play of The Mysterious Mother, to explain the drawings, bound in blue leather and gilt,’ a modest description of a beautiful book that is now at Farmington. Walpole wrote in it, ‘This copy to be kept in the Beauclerc Closet to explain Lady Di Beauclerc’s Drawings. H.W.’

                       

“Where, I used to wonder, had these drawings got to? They were bought at the Strawberry Hill sale by Lord Portarlington, but his descendant to whom I wrote knew nothing about them. Then one morning in 1962 I walked into the back office of Pickering and Chatto’s shop in London where the proprietor, Dudley Massey, an old friend from 1925, as I tell in Choice 13, was expecting me. The drawings were turned over on his desk and were switched round so that Walpole’s notes on their backs were upside down. I stared at them, transfixed in the doorway, for I recognized them immediately. When I asked without moving, ‘What do you want for them?’ Dudley dropped a land mine. To my question at lunch, ‘Where did I go wrong?’ he answered promptly, ‘You asked the price too quickly,’ adding truthfully, ‘You would have given even more.’ One of the seven drawings is still missing, but those that Walpole described are now at Farmington.

The Mysterious Mother, A Tragedy is set in the dawn of the Reformation; the scene is a castle, of course. There are two villainous friars, a faithful friend, a faithful porter, damsels, orphans, mutes. The plot turns on a double incest. Sixteen years before the play begins its chief character, the Countess of Narbonne, took the place of a girl she knew her son was about to seduce and now sixteen years later she fails to stop him from marrying their daughter. Byron called the play ‘a tragedy of the highest order, and not a puling love-play,’ and I agree with those who rank it above The Castle of Otranto as a work of art. Walpole tried to forestall possible criticism; but the subject, he said, was ‘so truly tragic in the two essential springs of terror and pity’ that he had to write it. To palliate the countess’s crime, and to raise her character he bestowed upon her, he tells us, ‘every ornament of sense, unbigoted piety, and interesting contrition.’ Although he protested that the subject was too ‘horrid’ for the stage, he hoped to see it acted; unfortunately, no one was up to playing the Countess and she has yet to be performed.*

“Walpole kept nearly all fifty copies of the play he printed at the Press. Those he gave away were eagerly read; five transcripts are at Farmington. In thirteen years he let Dodsley publish the play in London to forestall a pirated edition. Four more editions of it appeared before 1800, after which there was none until Chiswick Press brought it out in 1925 with The Castle of Otranto and and introduction by Montague Summers. The Mysterious Mother is known today only to student of eighteenth-century tragedy, a small audience.

“Seven copies of the Strawberry edition are at Farmington. On the most interesting one Walpole wrote, ‘With MSS alterations by Mr. Mason.’ In his ‘Postscript to the Alterations’ Mason wrote that they were ‘To make the foregoing scenes proper to appear upon the stage.’ Walpole thanked him with deepest gratitude, which he repeated years later, but what he really thought of the alterations is shown in his note written on Mason’s letter to him of 8 May 1769 (now at Farmington) that accompanied Mason’s alterations: ‘N.B. I did not adopt these alterations because they would totally have destroyed my object, which was to exhibit a character whose sincere penitence was not degratded by superstitious bigotry.’ Mason’s copy of the play was the Walpole item bought by Maggs in the Milnes Gaskell Sale of 1924. A dozen years later I discovered the new owner who obligingly took me to Messrs Robinsons’ in Pall Mall for me to see it. As he dropped me off at Brown’s Hotel afterwards he said, ‘I don’t care much about this book, but you want it so badly I think I’ll keep it.’ When death, the ally of collectors, took him away members of his family kindly turned the book over to me. Two of my letters to their relative, written on the Yale Walpole letter-head, were inside. They show that I had not yet learned to perform sedately the English gavotte of letter-writing, a clumsiness that has frustrated countless American scholars.

“In my Mellon Lectures Horace Walpole, 1960, I wrote of The Mysterious Mother, ‘the twentieth century has been initiated into the mysteries of the unconscious and needs no gloss on The Mysterious Mother, but one point should perhaps be noted for what it may be worth. When Walpole came to arrange his works for posthumous publication he printed his “Epitaph on Lady Walpole,” with its praise of her sensibility, charity, and unbigoted piety, immediately after The Mysterious Mother.'”

Lewis goes on to discuss other drawings by Lady Diana Beauclerk in the Lewis Walpole Library collection as well as the ebony Beauclerk cabinet. This is followed by a brief biographical sketch, including notes about her abusive husband, and a consideration of talented women and other amateurs. Lewis concludes his Choice 11 with “The discovery of talent in persons of quality whose gifts were generally unrecognized gave Walpole, the champion of the neglected, great pleasure. His gallery of well-born geniuses was assembled to do justice to their talents. At its head was Lady Di who had suffered so cruelly and had borne her lot with such fortitude and dignity.”

Lewis, Wilmarth S. Rescuing Horace Walpole. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1978.

To see the full chapter from Rescuing Horace Walpole called Choice 11: Lady Diana Beauclerk’s Drawings for “The Mysterious Mother” download or expand the link here:

*N.B. The Lewis Walpole Library is staging an on-book reading of an abridged version of The Mysterious Mother on May 2, 2018, 5:30 pm, Yale Center for British Art Lecture Hall, 1080 Chapel Street, New Haven, CT. Open to the public.

 

18. Strawberry Hill Theatricals

18. Strawberry Hill Theatricals 

By Judith Hawley, Royal Holloway, University of London

Horace Walpole maintained a lifelong interest in the theatre and is associated with leading theatrical personalities such as Kitty Clive and David Garrick. He also wrote for and about the stage. Best known in this connection is his tragedy, The Mysterious Mother (written 1768, soon to be performed as a staged reading https://walpole.library.yale.edu/event/staged-reading-horace-walpoles-play-mysterious-mother-1768).

This notorious play whose scandalous subject matter made it unperformable in his lifetime has perhaps caused his other contributions to theatrical culture to be overlooked. Not only did he write an afterpiece, Nature Will Prevail (1778) that was frequently performed in the eighteenth century, he contributed various prologues and epilogues for performances by friends by theatrical friends. Moreover, he was a serious critic of the state of the contemporary stage, writing a stinging Letter to David Garrick, Esq; On Opening the Theatre. In which, with great Freedom, he is told how he ought to behave (London: I. Pottinger, 1769) and the more measured Thoughts On Tragedy In Three Letters To Robert Jephson, Esq. and Thoughts on Comedy (1775, 1776) both published in The Works of Horatio Walpole, Earl of Orford (London: G.G. and J. Robinson, and J. Edwards, 1798). The aim of all these works is to reform the stage by encouraging original and experimental writing. One of his implications is that this kind of writing is more likely to come from amateurs of his class than professional playwrights who churn out formulaic works from commercial motives. He knew whereof he spoke. He amassed a library of eighty volumes of plays in two series. One series – ‘Theatre of the Reign of George the 3d’ (Hazen 1810) – comprising 58 volumes with an additional volume of prologues, epilogues and newspaper clippings, contains plays dated 1760-95. The other, known as ‘A collection of plays’ (Hazen 1818), is in 23 volumes and contains plays dated 1730-60. Each volume contained multiple works and his collection ran to over 700 plays. The volumes in Hazen 1818 each had a contents page written by Walpole and many bear his notes and markings in pen.  The ‘Theatre of the Reign of George the 3d’ was more systematically annotated by Walpole with information such as the date of first performance and authorship; many were tagged with gossipy anecdotes (see Hazen, vol. II, pp. 98-143, 145-56).

One play in this vast collection stands out because it is annotated in a substantially different way. The sixth item in volume five of Hazen 1818 is The Devil to Pay; or, the Wives Metamorphosed (1731). It is heavily scored in pencil throughout. This three-act ballad opera by Charles Coffey (d. 1745) and John Mottley (1692-1750) was adapted from Thomas Jevon’s Devil of a Wife (1686). The plot contains Shakespearean elements in the form of the taming of a shrewish wife and the humiliation of a puritanical character who tries to ban Christmas revels.  The termagant, Lady Loverule, is encouraged by her hypocritical non-conformist parson, Ananias, to persecute her pleasure-loving husband and servants.  At the same time, a drunken cobbler, Jobson, abuses his lovely wife, Nell (played, when it opened at Drury Lane in 1731, by Miss Raftor, i.e. Kitty Clive). By means of magic, the two wives are swapped with the result that Jobson whips Lady Loverule into submission.  Sir John Loverule, delighted that his wife has been tamed, pays Jobson to take back Nell on condition that he ceases beating her. This nasty comedy was further adapted by Theophilus Cibber who reduced it to one act in 1748 by stripping out the non-conformist sub-plot and various minor characters. Hazen suggests that the pencil markings make the text correspond with the one-act version: ‘the text has been marked in pencil for extensive cutting, as shortened by Theophilus Cibber.’ (Hazen, II, p. 147) We can tell that Walpole knew this play as he alluded to it several times in his correspondence (Correspondence, 12: 150; 13: 167; 18: 51). But did he mark these cuts, and if so, why did he depart so much from his usual practice?

A further mystery resides in the fact that the cuts do not entirely coincide with Cibber’s one-act version. For example, pages 22-34 are crossed out thus omitting all of act one scenes four and five and act two scene one. Cibber’s version retains I.iv in which the doctor conjures up his spirits to effect the wife-swap, but cuts the other two scenes in the first of which Lord Loverule complains about his wife to some old friends and in the second, the servants torment Ananias.

1818 v.5:6, pp. 22-23

A volume which fairly recently found its way back to Strawberry Hill sheds some light on this mystery.  An octavo volume with half calf binding and worn marbled paper boards lettered ‘PLAYS’ on its spine reveals who annotated Walpole’s copy of The Devil to Pay and why.  The volume is listed as ‘Collection of seven play scripts’ and described in the exhibition catalogue, Anne Damer: Sculpture and Society, ed. Michael Snodin (Twickenham: Strawberry Hill Trust, 2014), p. 18. (I am grateful to Michael Snodin for drawing it to my attention and to Nick Dolan for allowing me to view and photograph it.) It collects together the prompt books Anne Seymour Damer used in her private theatricals. A prompt book is the copy of the script marked up for the use of the prompter during the performance; it includes cuts to the text and details such as cues, entrances and exits as the prompter had duties which overlapped with those of the modern stage manager. Private theatricals – amateur performances staged in private houses for an invited audience – were extremely popular in the second half of the eighteenth century, especially in Walpole’s circle. His niece, the sculptress Anne Damer was a keen participant in the theatricals staged at Richmond House in 1787 and 1788. The LWL holds copies of the playbills, prologues and epilogues for these performances.

[Folio 35 89B Copy 1]

After she inherited responsibility for Strawberry Hill House, she continued to stage performances there. Two performances are known from playbills held at LWL: in 1800 Damer and her friends staged The Old Maid (1761) by Arthur Murphy and Henry Fielding’s The Intriguing Chambermaid (1733).

[767 P69B R532 1788]

The following year, they performed Fashionable Friends, the satirical comedy written by her dear friend, Mary Berry and Lovers’ Quarrels.

[Quarto 33 30 Copy 6]

Damer’s prompt book does not seem to tally with the repertoire as recorded on these playbills. It comprises an unmarked copy of Colley Cibber’s Richard III; two copies of Susannah Centlivre’s The Wonder: a Woman Keeps a Secret (1714), one marked up for performance; Sir John Vanbrugh’s The Mistake (1705), marked up for performance; Henry Fielding’s The Intriguing Chamber Maid (1733) (also prepared for performance) and two copies of The Devil to Pay in the one-act version, both marked up but with some differences between them. There are recorded performances of some of the texts: The Wonder was performed at Richmond House in 1788; The Intriguing Chamber Maid was on the bill with The Old Maid at Strawberry Hill in 1800 (though there is no prompt copy of the latter in this volume). Others are puzzling. There is no record of a performance of Richard III associated with Damer and the text is not annotated. It doesn’t seem as if Damer produced The Mistake but actually Lover’s Quarrels is based on Vanbrugh’s five-act comedy: Thomas King (1730-1805) reduced it to the two-act farce Like Master Like Man in 1766 and it was later performed under the title Lover’s Quarrels: or Like Master Like Man. Damer’s cuts to The Mistake, which include deletions in pen and the cancellation of scenes by sticking pages together with sealing wax, are thus comparable to the pencil markings on Walpole’s copy of The Devil to Pay.

So, the Strawberry Hill prompt book provides evidence that Damer edited longer versions of a play to create a performance script. It is possible that she scanned the shelves of Walpole’s library looking for a play that might work for her troupe. Perhaps she tried to adapt the three-act Devil to Pay herself, then decided to work with the one-act version. Perhaps they didn’t have enough copies of the script so had to mark up this one.  Further mysteries remain. The first is the date of performance: in the absence of a playbill, we cannot date this performance with certainty, but there is a Dramatis Personae which provides some clues.

[The Devil to Pay, copy 2 in Collection of Seven Play Scripts. Courtesy of Strawberry Hill Trust]

Dramatis Personae

Sir John Loverule = Mr Mercer

[The Music Master in Fashionable Friends and Don Carlos in Lover’s Quarrels (1801)]

Jobson = Mr North

Conjuror [i.e. Doctor] = Earl of Mt Edgcumbe

[Clerimont in The Old Maid and Valentine in Intriguing Chambermaid (1800); Sir Dudley Dorimont in Fashionable Friends and Sancho in Lover’s Quarrels (1801)]

Butler = Mr Campbell

[Slap and Security in Intriguing Chambermaid (1800); John in Fashionable Friends and Lopez in Lover’s Quarrels (1801)]

Cook = Mr Burn

[Mr Harlow in The Old Maid and Goodall in Intriguing Chambermaid (1800); Lapierre in Fashionable Friends (1801)]

Coachman = Mr Berry

[Captain Cape in The Old Maid and Oldcastle in Intriguing Chambermaid (1800); Sir Valentine Vapour in Fashionable Friends (1801)]

Lady Loverule = Mrs Burn

[Mrs Harlow in The Old Maid and Mrs Highman in Intriguing Chambermaid (1800); Mrs Racket in Fashionable Friends (1801)]

Nell = Miss A Berry

[Trifle in The Old Maid and Charlotte in Intriguing Chambermaid (1800); Miss Racket in Fashionable Friends (1801)]

Lucy = Mrs Damer

[Lettice in Intriguing Chambermaid and the Epilogue (1800); Lady Selina Vapour in Fashionable Friends and Jacintha in Lover’s Quarrels (1801)]

Lettice = Lady Eliz. Cole

[Trimming in Fashionable Friends (1801)]

I suggest The Devil to Pay was staged in 1798-99, after she had taken charge of the house and before the performances detailed on the surviving playbills. Why not after then? In 1802, Damer and some of the company, perhaps buoyed by their success at Strawberry, engaged in two ambitious schemes which went disastrously wrong. Damer, Mr Campbell and Richard Edgcumbe, 2nd Earl of Mount Edgcumbe and many other friends who had engaged in private theatricals for years, formed the Pic Nic Society, a subscription theatre-and-supper club which briefly occupied the Tottenham Street Theatre in London.  The managers of the patent theatres saw it as a direct threat to their revenues so mounted a press campaign that brought an end to the Pic Nic within a year. The furore also affected the other ambitious project that came from ‘the Theatre Strawberry’: Mary Berry’s Fashionable Friends was staged at Drury Lane in May 1802 but, because ‘the pit-filling public’ believed it to be ‘the production of some one of a certain Pic-nic Club then existing … they indignantly determined to stifle in it birth, and come to the first night determined to damn, without hearing it.’ (Preface to Fashionable Friends in Mary Berry, A comparative view of social life in England and France … To which are now first added, the lives of the Marquise Du Deffand and of Rachel lady Russell–Fashionable friends, a comedy, &c., by the same author, a new ed. (London: R. Bentley, 1844).)

Horace Walpole was intimately involved in theatrical culture as a fan and patron of actors, as a critic, playwright and collector. He eagerly transmitted gossip about both the professional stage and the private theatricals staged by numerous members of his circle. His library and house then fostered the theatrical activities of his beloved Damer and the Berrys. There is one final oddity about his copy of The Devil to Pay which demands explanation. There is a series of tiny deletions which is particularly intriguing. Among the revellers who celebrate Christmas in the home of Sir John Loverule is a character who does not appear in the Dramatis Personae: ‘the blind Fidler’. He appears in only one scene: act I, scene ii. The first reference to him occurs when the Butler wishes he were there so they could rejoice that the Lady has gone out (i.ii.5). Shortly after, he enters with Jobson and some neighbours and the Butler calls on ‘blind Will’ to strike up the music so they can sing a catch (I.ii.9-10). His only line is spoken when Lady Loverule breaks up the party and ‘Beats the Fiddle about the blind Man’s Head.’ (I.ii.15) The poor fellow exclaims ‘O Murder, Murder! I am a dark Man, which way shall I get hence? Oh Heav’n! she has broke my Fiddle, and undone me and my Wife and Children.’ Sir John pays him some compensation and sends him on his way.

1818 v.5:6, p. 15

He does not play a major role in the action, but the annotator pays a disproportionate amount of attention to him, striking out references to his blindness albeit very faintly on three of the four occasions on which it is mentioned.

1818 v.5:6, p. 5

1818 v.5:6, p. 9

These deletions are clearer in Damer’s prompt book, and particularly emphatic in the second copy (this copy includes the Dramatis Personae reproduced above so I think it is the actual performance text).

[The Devil to Pay, copy 2, p. 4 in Collection of Seven Play Scripts. Courtesy of Strawberry Hill Trust.]

[The Devil to Pay, copy 2, p. 5 in Collection of Seven Play Scripts. Courtesy of Strawberry Hill Trust.]

[The Devil to Pay, copy 2, p. 7, in Collection of Seven Play Scripts. Courtesy of Strawberry Hill Trust.]

As well as deleting references to his blindness, the fiddler’s speech is deleted altogether. Why? Walpole’s letter to Horace Mann dated 20 August 1776 perhaps provides the answer. ‘On Thursday Mr Damer [who had amassed huge gambling debts] supped at the Bedford Arms in Covent Garden, with four common women, a blind fiddler and no other man. At three in the morning he dismissed his seraglio, bidding each receive her guinea at the bar, and ordering Orpheus to come up again in half an hour. When he returned, he found a dead silence and smelt gunpowder.’ The blind fiddler was to report John Damer’s suicide. (Correspondence 24:234-35.)

I am grateful to the staff of the LWL and to Nick Dolan at Strawberry Hill who made this research possible. Images from Anne Damer’s prompt book are reproduced with permission of the Strawberry Hill Trust.