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Mrs. Bracegirdle, like Mrs. Mountfort, belongs to the stage of Charles II.'s reign only as a débutante. Her fame was won in later years. Yet our sketches will hardly be complete if they do not include this admirable actress, who, unlike most of her contemporaries, was also a virtuous woman. She was the ornament of the stage and the delight of the public from 1680 to 1707, when she gave way to the rising star of Mrs. Oldfield. “Never," says Cibber, “was any woman in such general favour of the spectators. . . . She was the darling of the theatre; for it will be no extravagant thing to say, scarce an audience saw her that were less than half of them lovers, without a suspected favourite among them; and though she may be said to have been the universal passion, and under the highest temptations, her constancy in resisting them served but to increase her admirers. It was even the fashion among the gay and young to have a taste or tendre for Mrs. Bracegirdle.” It was the fashion, also, among the old. One day the Earl of Burlington sent her a present of some fine old china. She told the servant he had made a mistake; that it was true the letter was for her, but the china was for his lady, to whom she bade him carry it. “Lord !” exclaims Walpole,“ the Countess was so full of gratitude when her husband came home to dinner.” Lord Lovelace was another of her suitors, and as unsuccessful as the rest. To the number and variety of the love-tokens poured in upon her Dryden alludes, in one of his epilogues written for her :
“ I have had to-day a dozen billets-doux
From fops, and wits, and cits, and Bow Street beaux :
A Covent Garden porter brought me four."
his addresses were welcome to her ; but she could not be induced to forfeit her self-respect. This he himself admits in verses which we confess we are almost ashamed to quote :
“ Pious Belinda goes to prayers
Whene'er I ask the favour,
When she thinks I'd leave her.
Or else had power to win her;
Or I of her a sinner.” One Captain Richard Hill, a dissolute man about town, fell so violently in love with her person—he could not appreciate her mind—that he resolved to carry her off by force, and persuaded Lord Mohun, who was as wild and wicked as himself, to assist. Ascertaining that, with her mother and brother, she was to sup one evening at the house of a friend, Mr. Page, in Prince's Street, Drury Lane, they hired six soldiers for the deed of violence, and posted them near Mr. Page's house. It was the 9th of December, 1692, and about ten at night, as she left Mr. Page's, the ruffians pounced upon her, but she screamed so loudly, and her brother and friend made so gallant a resistance, that the attempt failed. An excited crowd assembled, and Lord Mohun and Hill thought it prudent to undertake to escort her to her residence in Howard Street, Strand. Close at hand lived Mountfort, the actor, and Mrs. Bracegirdle, overhearing Captain Hill indulging in violent threats against him—from an absurd suspicion that he was a favoured rival-sent to Mrs. Mountfort to warn her husband, who was gone home, to be on his guard. The brilliant young cavalier, nothing alarmed, came round into Howard Street and saluted Lord Mohun; at the same moment Hill stepped up behind, struck him on the head, and, before he could draw in his defence, ran his sword through Mountfort's body. Captain Hill fled to the Continent; but Lord Mohun was tried by his peers for the murder, and acquitted by three-score against fourteen. He afterwards fell in the fatal duel with the Duke of Hamilton.
Mrs. Bracegirdle retired from the stage in 1707, but lived in the enjoyment of an inconsiderable fortune, the .centre of a wide circle of wits and men of letters, until 1748.