Greatest Actress of the English Stage
1755 – 1831 A.D.
Sarah Siddons, the greatest actress of the English stage, was the eldest of the children of Roger Kemble, the actor-manager, and appeared on the stage when very young.
At eighteen she married Mr. Siddons, a young member of the Kemble company.
She first appeared in London in 1775 as Portia in the Merchant of Venice,” gut failed to produce a decided impression, and at the close of the season was dismissed.
During the next seven years she devoted herself to study, while playing at various provincial theatres.
On October 10, 1782, she again appeared in London at Drury Lane as Isabella in The Fatal Marriage, and made so profound an impression as to place her at the head of the British stage, where she held her place for thirty years. Her dramatic genius, her personal beauty, and her highly esteemed character combined to make Mrs. Siddons the most eminent woman of her time. Sir Joshua Reynolds painted her as the Muse of Tragedy, and Gainsborough’s picture of her in the National Gallery is famous.
when she retired from professional life, June 29, 1812, she played Lady Macbeth, and the moment the sleep-walking scene was over, the audience rose, and demanded that the performance should end with that scene.
Sara Siddons was of medium height, symmetrical and majestic, with corresponding voice and expression, while her countenance was of extraordinary flexibility. Her genius at first inclined to pathetic characters as Isabella, Ophelia, Jane Shore and Belvidera, but later she excelled in more powerful and dignified creations, such as Lady Macbeth, Constance, Volumnia and Hermoine.
Talfourd though her “the greatest actress of whom there is any trace in living memory.” Fanny Kemble asserted that when Mrs. Siddons read Macbeth or King John it was “one of the grandest dramatic achievements that could be imagined.” Hazlitt, the most conservative and intelligent of critics, wrote of her: “She embodied, to our imaginations, the fables of mythology of the heroic and deified mortals of elder time. Power was seated on her brow; passion radiated from her breast as from a shrine; she was Tragedy personified.” And Lord Byron said: “Of actors Cooke was the most natural, Kemble the most supernatural, Kean the medium between the two – but Mrs. Siddons was worth all put together.”
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.