This month is the turn of author Margaret Porter. Journey with her as she spends at day at the Georgian theatre. But she's not in the audience...
My twenty-four hours of time travel would return me to my original profession—actress—and the world of the Georgian-era theatre, setting for at least three of my twelve published novels, and two future ones.
I was prepared for my career by none other than the premiere actor of our time, David Garrick. Described by nearly all critics as the greatest performer of his—or possibly any generation, he schools promising young actresses in the elegant parlour of his residence in the Adelphi. His lovely wife, by birth an Austrian, is a regular observer of these instructive sessions, and has been especially kind to me. Prior to their marriage, Mrs Garrick was a renowned dancer and protegée of Lord and Lady Burlington. Their callers are numerous—actors, politicians, even aristocrats. The Garricks are popular within a vast circle of society, and are intimate friends of Lord and Lady Spencer.
Despite having the advantage of Mr Garrick’s tutelage, I’m not yet reigning queen of the theatrical realm, to be sure, but none would dispute that I am the princess. I well know the unwholesome reputations ascribed to female players, and can attest that in many instances they are justified. And yet not a few of us are women possessed of integrity and morality, whether spinster, wife, or widow. Many a time I have rebuffed unwelcome propositions from—I hesitate to employ the term ‘gentlemen’—rather, from the pleasure-seeking rogues who prowl the corridors leading to our Green Room and dressing rooms. I am not for them, nor they for me.
This morning, in London, I rose at a reasonable hour and sent my footman for the newspapers, so I may know what has been written of me. After dressing, I made my way to Drury Lane for a rehearsal of our newest play. Afterwards, I visited the milliners of Cranbourn Alley and secondhand clothing dealers in the upper part of St Martin’s Lane—we actresses must organise our own wardrobes for the play. If I am in funds, I shop in Oxford Street as well. My new prominence as a player enables me to set fashions, and because my clothing is admired and even copied, I dress as finely as I can afford.
For convenience, and economy, my lodging is an easy walking distance from my place of employment. In the evening if I’m due at Drury Lane, I dine before making my way to the theatre, and return at an advanced hour. This evening I do not perform, so I have penned my acceptance of Mrs Garrick’s standing invitation to watch the entertainment from the manager’s box. Afterwards I sup with her—and Mr Garrick, if he is able to join us—theatre business often keeps him late. I marvel that in the many years since their wedding day, he and his wife have not spent a single night apart. Such is their devotion to one another.
As additional proof that they treat me very much as a family member, I have paid many a visit to their charming villa at Hampton, on the River Thames. It was designed in imitation of Lord Burlington’s Chiswick retreat. We travel there tomorrow, and I am pleased to accompany them for more than one reason.
I shall now share my greatest secret, which I beg you will hold in confidence.
Last year, when staying at the Garrick’s villa, I became acquainted with their handsome neighbour, a former actor of good family, well-travelled. He resigned from the stage upon inheriting a substantial fortune and with it a riverside property. His mode of courtship was most endearing, and my admiration was succeeded by affection. In truth, he has won my heart. I have therefore accepted his marriage offer.
He has shown me his delightful house, with river walk and gardens, and an orangery. I have already grown fond of his companionable dogs and pedigree horses. Someday I shall know the privilege of reading every volume in his well-stocked library.
My beloved assures me of his pride in my achievements, and regrets the necessity of curtailing them. And though I must surely—and willingly—surrender the stage upon taking his name, he proposes an alternative use of my experience and talents: writing. Mr Garrick has been very encouraging to female playwrights—Mrs. Clive, Frances Sheridan, Hannah Cowley—and expresses a flattering eagerness to receive the early fruits of my pen. He fears I might first attempt a novel, also a possibility, instead of a drama or comedy for his playhouse.
My dear Mrs Garrick advises me to follow my Muse along whatever paths she may lead me . . . . And so I shall.
Margaret studied British history in the UK and the US. As historian, her areas of speciality are social, theatrical, and garden history of the 17th and 18th centuries, royal courts, and portraiture. A former actress, she gave up the stage and screen to devote herself to fiction writing, travel, and her rose gardens.
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