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Mary Robinson and the dramatic art of the comeback.

I am allowed the power of changing my form, as suits the observation of the moment. (Mary Robinson as "The Sylphid" in Memoirs of the Late Mrs. Robinson) (1)

I considered the world a vast and varying theatre, where every individual was destined to play his part, and to receive ... applause or disapprobation. (Mary Robinson, Walsingham) (2)

A GLOW WITH THE SPLENDOR OF SOVEREIGNS AND THE BON TON, THE 1782-83 London theater season proved an especially stellar one. Led by the Morning Herald, newspapers exhaustively reported the meteoric rise of the "Sidonian dog-star" (3) Sarah Siddons at Drury Lane, debating whether her brilliance would prove lasting or ephemeral. Equally conspicuous during these same months was the ascent of another celestial body: "Perdita's ... transit of Venus," (4) or Mary Robinson "in the very zenith of her power" (5) at Covent Garden, the Opera House, and other places of fashionable resort. During the winter months, the two shone brightly in the daffy and weekly prints--usually under the inclusive heading of "Theatrical Intelligence"--uncannily mirroring one another in their respective comebacks. In the case of Siddons, it was a triumphant return from provincial exile. For Robinson, the victory appeared equally marvelous. Returning from a disappointing affair with the Prince of Wales that had left her 7,000 [pounds sterling] in debt, she achieved social prominence in little over a year, setting fashionable standards and becoming an arbiter of taste. She did so, moreover, on the arm of Colonel Banastre Tarleton, a rare British military hero in the aftermath of the war with the American colonies.

While Siddons' omnipresence in the London theater scene and daily news during the 1782-83 season will hardly surprise dramatic historians, Robinson's co-dominance of both venues very well may, particularly as she did not set foot on the stage after 1780. (6) Still, just as the stage forms only a portion of a theater's space, so do Robinson's years as an actress constitute only part of her theatrical career--a career, we argue, that extended through Robinson's life and governed her re-entry into London literary circles in 1788. Put another way, if Robinson's recent commentators still tend to separate the later Mrs. Robinson from the earlier one, focusing on the author at the expense of the actress, (7) it has been in part at the behest of Robinson herself, whose Memoirs repeatedly prefer the author and intellectual to her many previous selves. Astute commentators like Betsy Bolton and Judith Pascoe have interpreted Robinson's later poetic career in the 1790s through the rubric of performance. (8) Our aim in this essay is to extend such work by making a case for the theater itself--not just as metaphor and symbol, not just as dynamic space and dominant cultural institution, but as an identifiable collection of practices at once portable and applicable in other cultural arenas. The theater, we argue, not only provided the central vehicle for Robinson's transformation of herself from actress to icon, but also governed her metamorphosis in the late 1780s from icon to poet. Such a focus on theatrical space and practice, moreover, helps to foreground her relations with other writers--especially Hannah Cowley, whose plays and poems provided key vehicles for Robinson's triumphs in dramatic, fashionable, and, later, poetic circles.

I: The Mirror of Fashion

When she was to be seen daily in St. James's Street and Pall Mall, even in her chariot this variation was striking. Today she was a paysanne, with her straw hat, tied at the back of her head, looking as if too new to what she passed, to know what she looked at. Yesterday, she, perhaps, had been dressed belle of Hyde Park, trimmed, powdered, patched, painted to the utmost power of rouge and white lead; to morrow, she would be the cravatted Amazon of the riding house: but be she what she might, the hats of the fashionable promenaders swept the ground as she passed. (Laetitia-Matilda Hawkins, Memoirs) (9)

In January 1782 Robinson returned to England after an extended stay in France, bringing with her the newest in French couture, designs that, the 7 December 1781 Morning Herald predicted, could "not fail to set the whole world 'a madding'" (2). Having left the stage eighteen months earlier, her reappearance in the boxes of London theaters created such a sensation that the Morning Herald on 9 January 1782 could hardly contain its enthusiasm:
   Last night the divine Perdita visited the opera, for the first time
   since her return from Paris.... She was dressed in white satin,
   with purple breast-bows, and looked supremely beautiful.--Her
   head-dress was in a stile that may be called the standard of taste;
   her cap, composed of white and purple feathers entwined with
   flowers, was fastened on with diamond pins. (2)


Over the next two years Robinson would set trends in everything from hats to phaetons, hairstyles to portraiture. (10) That spring she caused a stir with an elaborate "Cataract Muff" and a sensation with the Chemise de la Reine, a puffed and ruffled muslin dress styled after one worn by Marie Antoinette. By that summer, a new likeness (painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds) and two new lovers (Charles James Fox and Banastre Tarleton) had appeared. Even with the year's early successes, it was the 1782-83 theater season that witnessed Robinson's most dramatic comeback, beginning with her October appearances at the Theatre Royals:
   Whenever the beautiful Perdita puts in her claim for admiration,
   every heart must bestow its suffrage. Her late appearance at
   Covent-garden theatre justifies this Remark, and shows that tho'
   other Beauties may dazzle for a time, yet like the mock suns of
   Greenland, they are totally lost and expire, whenever a superior
   Splendour approaches! (11)


It is during these months that we see Robinson engaged in her most spectacular performances, ones that extended her sway in dramatic circles beyond anything she commanded as an actress. In this sense, she provides an alternative model for what Jeffrey N. Cox has called the "whole show"; (12) for, just as a night at the theater included far more than a single play, so also did this same evening include the entrances and exits of a luminous audience fully visible in London's brightly-lit playhouses. If one is to believe even a fraction of the newspaper gossip of these months, Robinson effectively extended this already-capacious theatrical space even further, beyond the playhouse walls to her own place of residence. Thus, the Morning Chronicle of i January 1783 reported her first meeting with the Prince of Wales since their breakup as a momentous scene from a popular drama:
   Perdita and her Colonel have taken up their residence at Old
   Windsor, and are perpetually on horseback. The beautiful fair one
   was coming from her morning's exercise of riding, at the same time
   his R.H. came through this town from the chace; they met near the
   Market Place on horseback. His R.H. stopt when he came near her,
   and pulling off his glove, shook her by the hand; the blushing
   Perdita holding one of her hands at the same time across her
   face.--Oh! modesty to the extreme! (2)


Still captivated by their earlier affair, the reporter composes the episode as the opening of Perdita and Florizel's sequel, starring Robinson as a self-consciously coy and seemingly embarrassed former lover.

With post-holiday audiences in January 1783 primed for her next appearance, Robinson did not keep fans waiting. On the same day that the Morning Chronicle had reported her meeting with the Prince, the Morning Herald advertised "A MASKED BALL," to be held at the King's Theatre "[b]y desire of the Subscribers to the OPERA" (1). Proclaimed by the Morning Herald as "one of the grandest spectacles this or any nation ever beheld," (13) the King's masquerade inaugurated the winter season. With an attendance of nearly 1,500 people, (14) it was assiduously reported by all the London papers, the 25 January London Chronicle and Morning Herald each making Robinson a focal point of the entering procession while stressing different aspects of her performance. The former reported her sporting "a ramilie tail down to her heels" and noticing "many [other men] and with a familiarity not bordering upon constancy" (3). The latter described her "marching all night with her gallant Colonel, and frowning as unrelentingly as Bellona herself!" (3). With its conflation of social and dramatic modes of performance, the King's masquerade helps explain, among other things, how the press could so consistently report Siddons' and Robinson's respective comebacks side by side under the single heading of "Theatrical Intelligence," the former's return on stage at Drury Lane mirroring the latter's triumph in the auditoria of Covent Garden and the Opera.

Most striking about the event, however, is the self-consciousness with which it marketed social spectacles as integral to theatrical culture. If masquerades provide a space where fashion and theater collide, then the King's Theatre's decision to sell tickets to spectators wishing to watch the event from the gallery effectively transformed public assembly into theatrical spectacle. For a half a guinea, the Morning Herald reported on 23 January, "many hundreds" could obtain admission to the "Crown Gallery of the Opera House ... to see so noble a spectacle as that theatre will exhibit" but with the caveat "no masks are to be admitted, nor any communication with the house below" (3). Viewers were to witness the scene of the masquerade in much the same way that they would have beheld a play, paying the same price as a pit-ticket to a regular opera. (15) Here we see bon ton revelers taking the place of actors in a spectacle designed for public entertainment, the social world not just colliding with the theater but literally usurping its social space and function.

As the 1782-83 season progressed, Robinson continued to cultivate her complex position of celebrity within the theatrical world, the newspapers documenting with care her attendance at masquerades and her various roles and costumes. Thus, we find 1783 to be the year of the "Perdita Hood," the "Robinson hat for Ranelagh," the "Perdita handkerchief," and the "Robinson gown," (16) as Robinson continued to simplify female day dress and develop various pastoral, Quaker, and urbane personae. Among her most striking sartorial innovations were the gold silk embroidered stockings she wore to Covent-Garden Theatre, which the 11 March 1783 Morning Herald speculated would "become the rage at least among the gold-touching sisterhood!" (3). This "sisterhood"--also alternately referred to as "the frail sisterhood," "the fashionable flail," "the Cyprian choir," "the Cyprian circle," "the Cyprian corps," "the Cyprian Gallery," the "Cyprian Syrens," "the votaries of Venus, the Paphian priestesses, the impure sisterhood, the amorous phalanx, [and] the Cytherians" (17)--refers to the celebrated and notorious Covent Garden courtesans. Perched at the top of haute couture, these high-priced paramours--comprised of "Dally the Tall" (Grace Dalrymple Elliot), "the Bird of Paradise" (Mrs. Gertrude Mahon), "The Armistead" (Elizabeth Armistead) "The Covent Garden goldfinch" (alias "The Waterwagtail" the "Yellow-hammer" and "Sally the Small") (18) and numerous others (including Miss Bishop, Miss Carter, Mrs. Corbyn, Caroline Fisher, Kit Frederick, Greenhill, Lady Grosvenor, Hervey, Mrs. Lawrence, Matilda Marshall, Miss Watson, and Mrs. Wilson (19)--vied for fashionable preeminence. As Hester Davenport has noted bluntly, maintaining such a position of celebrity was a matter of necessity, since each "gold-touching sister" maintained her standard of living through the gifts and support of wealthy and powerful men (123). In so doing, they usually found themselves contending with their famous associate: Mary Robinson. Thus, when the 8 March 1783 Morning Chronicle reports on a subsequent King's masquerade, we find Robinson leading the way among her so-called "sisters": "Perdita ... walked triumphantly through the room, arm in arm with her gallant Colonel. Various others of the frail sisterhood followed, but haud passibus equis [not with equal stride]" (3). Their competition does more than create a corresponding mirror of the rivalry of actresses and courtesans; it inscribes a recognizable dramatic narrative (comic female rivalry) into what otherwise would be pure stage spectacle.

Nowhere is this correspondence--between theatrical and social performance, and between theatrical and textual space--insisted on more strikingly than in the Rambler's Magazine, whose exhaustive coverage of Robinson's movements began with its inaugural issue in January 1783. (20) There in its first pages, readers would have found a frontispiece entitled "Perdita, Dally the Tall, and the Bird of Paradise," showing the three in various states of undress (see Figure I). The illustration corresponds to a dialogue from the magazine's January 1783 number in which Perdita listens to Dally read a series of newspaper paragraphs about herself, and responds as follows:
   Perdita. But middling--however it will rouse Florizel's feelings,
   and I shall hear from him in consequence of reading the article.
   Besides, I shall see him this night at the Opera, and I will place
   Lord M--n and him so directly opposite, and the Duke on an angle,
   that one nod, with a smile from me, will bring him home again. (19)


[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The dialogue lays bare the relation between a courtesan's market value and her appearance in newspaper paragraphs, where each paragraph serves as a "puff" that can be valued at a specific number of crowns or guineas to be earned by one of the three women. (In response to an especially gushing paragraph, Perdita at one point even exclaims, "That will do, 'twill do! You can't give less than a guinea for that!" [20].) The above passage, however, also transforms the economic picture into a social one by representing the theater as a key space within the courtesan's economy. In one sense, the point is obvious: "Dally the Tall" appears in Harris's List of Covent-Garden Ladies because she is one of the shows to be seen at that theater. (21) But Perdita's response anticipates one of Robinson's key innovations of the 1782-83 season: her use of her box as a theatrical space itself. Like a director, therefore, she blocks her scene in detail, placing "Lord M[alde]n" directly opposite the Prince's own box to provoke first the Prince's jealousy and then his declaration of undiminished love. Like the 1 January 1783 Morning Chronicle account of Robinson meeting the Prince at "Windsor, the Rambler's Magazine dialogue shows Perdita constructing an innately dramatic scene to bring Florizel to properly comic denouement.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

While it is unlikely that the Rambler's Magazine had notice of Robinson's doings and plans, its dialogue between Perdita and two sister courtesans anticipates her most enduring contribution to London's theatrical and fashionable worlds during the 1782-83 season: the design of her King's Theatre Opera box (see Figure 2). On 5 February 1783 the Morning Herald reported on opera subscriptions, noting that Robinson had subscribed to an entire box "in order to retain it to herself" (3). (22)

One benefit of retaining an entire box came from the control it gave the holder over who sat there, but it also allowed the holder to decorate it as she pleased. A fortnight later on February 20th, Robinson's box was back in the news, refitted "in the most elegant stile; the chairs, &c. are in pink satin, and it is ornamented with glasses in the Parisian taste!" (23) Spanning her box, these same full-length mirrors in turn caused further sensation and controversy, the Morning Herald reporting on them five times over the next weeks (24)--at first joking that Robinson charged dandies for the pleasure of looking at themselves, and then marveling as February ended that the mirrors had caused an "operatical uproar":
   Mrs. Robinson's box at the Opera has created universal envy and
   confusion among the frail sisterhood, who are ignorant that in
   Paris nothing is so common as a looking glass, which is placed not
   for the benefit of those in the box, but for the convenience of
   seeing the stage from every part of it. (25)


Calling attention to her cosmopolitan beauty and taste, Robinson's box was the envy of her Cyprian peers. It declared her a serious theatergoer while rendering her a theater's most prominent spectator, since the very mirrors that improved her own view of the. stage also increased her own visibility to other audience members. Her innovation, moreover, soon became standard theatrical practice, likely because it resonated on both practical and metaphorical levels. On the one hand, mirrors corrected the perennial problem of the overstuffed box by making it possible for those seated in back to see the stage from two angles. On the other, they made concrete the dynamic already existing between stage and box, not to mention providing an apt symbol for the interplay between theatrical and real-life performance in late-eighteenth-century London.

Robinson's box also accomplished a third coup de theatre by inscribing onto the theater's own space her heightened importance and grandeur. For just as the stage was reflected and (in Robinson's French mirrors) amplified for the viewing pleasure of those in the box, so was the fashionable Perdita reflected, amplified, and multiplied for the viewing pleasure of actor and audience member. Put succinctly, the mirrors' power resided in their enhancement of both the stage and Robinson herself, since they effectively projected her center-stage by uniting the stage with the theater space beyond it. For modern historians of theater, Robinson's innovation recalls that feature of eighteenth-century theater banned by David Garrick after 1762: the practice of allowing high-paying spectators to sit on the stage itself, where they effectively could be part of the show. (26) Readers of Foucault might find her box recalling some of the Panopticon's powers of surveillance, however different in its dynamics of gazing and being gazed upon. But the effect is probably closer to the modern spotlight, since the theater's bright candlelight reflecting in several full-length looking-glasses would have served to illuminate Robinson, making her and her box among the brightest objects in the theater.

2: Newspaper Poetics

There be parables in all things. (Morning Herald [1783]) (27)

John Bannister: They [newspapers] are the Body Politick of this Country--the Primrose of Literature and the Daisy of Eloquence. Every thing thats [sic] going forward in the World is to be found there.... One Paragraph Animadversion on the Balance of Power in Europe--next mention the Bad Pavement of Grays in[n] Lane--a third tells you that a British Ambassador was introduced to the Queen of France, and a Fourth that a Wapping Landlady was brought to Bed. The fifth is a Bon Mot of some Nobleman, and the Sixth a Puff for the Wit's Vade mecum ... all jumbled together in regular Confusion.

Miss Stale: You forgot the Theatrical Business.

John Bannister: O Lord Aye so I did....

(Finney, The Green Room) (28)

Like Robinson's looking glasses, contemporary newspapers also blurred the boundary between on- and off-stage performances, half-creating and half-celebrating a culture in which roles could be donned and doffed, lost and found, extended and modified. With their celebrations came an accompanying jumbling of ranks in the newspaper pages themselves, as reporters covering London theaters associated not just actors with courtesans but also actors with aristocracy. Such promiscuous juxtapositions were not driven exclusively by scandal. While newspapers like the Morning Chronicle, Morning Herald, Morning Post, and London Chronicle did not hesitate to conjoin an ascendant Mrs. Siddons to a "fallen" Mrs. Robinson through adjacent paragraphs, they also bestowed applause on Siddons' growing presence in elite circles--her many command performances, her multiple portrait sittings, and even her appointment in January 1783 as "reading preceptress to the two younger Princesses, by her Majesty's express command." (29) A typical paragraph from the London Chronicle of 4 January 1783 nicely illustrates this world in which theater, royalty, and fashion mix seamlessly:
   Last night their Majesties, the Prince of Wales, the Princess
   Royal, Princess Augusta, and Princess Elizabeth honoured Drury-lane
   theatre with their presence, to see the Grecian Daughter, and
   appeared highly pleased with Mrs. Siddons' performance. His Majesty
   had on a suit of ruby-coloured velvet. Her Majesty appeared in a
   carmelite satin gown, with pink bows, and had on a black hat-cap,
   ornamented with rich brilliant plume, and a row of jewels round it,
   with diamond earrings and necklace. The Prince of Wales was dressed
   in a fashionable brown. The Princess Royal was dressed in a clay
   colour and white striped satin, with white bows, and had on a
   beautiful cap, with a braid of jewellery in the front.--The
   Princess Augusta had on a pearl blue silk.--Princess Elizabeth wore
   a white dress, with Carmelite bows. The caps of the two younger
   Princesses were much alike, each having a small black plume in it.
   The shew of diamonds, however, were in favour of the Princess
   Augusta. (2)


In spite of its blending of ranks and contending performances, the paragraph maintains a strong sense of class hierarchy typical of daily papers of the time. Here, Siddons' performance in The Grecian Daughter is overshadowed by another kind of dramatic display: royal family fashion. As the Morning Herald's 28 January 1783 report of a subsequent command performance makes clear, such aristocratic performances were not just self-conscious, but read as such by theatrical reporters:
   Last night their Majesties, the Princess Royal and Princess Sophia,
   honoured D[r]ury-lane to see Mrs. Siddons in the character of
   Isabella, in the Fatal Marriage. They were attended by the Earl of
   Aylesbury, Lord Boston, Lord Amherst, Lady Holdernesse, Miss
   Vernon, Miss Jefferies, and Miss Boscawen. The Prince of Wales,
   with his attendants, sat in the opposite box to their Majesties. (3)


Amidst royal jockeying, Siddons' performance disappears, as the Prince of Wales, borrowing a page from the prompt-book of "Perdita" of the January Rambler's Magazine, chooses a box opposing that of the King and Queen, thereby producing an effect of potent social and political signification.

Amounting almost to competing logics, this clash of strict hierarchy and promiscuous association occurs both within newspaper paragraphs and across them. A typical example of this widespread practice occurs in the newspaper published by John Bell called The World, whose main section, also called "The World," usually reported first on the royal family before descending through the ranks to news of dukes, earls, lesser nobles, and other "original persons." Yet, The World would sometimes break ranks to link particular aristocrats to gossip and scandal, as with these two early adjacent paragraphs dated 9 July 1787:
   By express from Windsor, we are informed, that LORD MORNINGTON has
   received a formal notification from Lord John Russell's friends, of
   their intention to decline the present contest.

      The BEDFORD PARTY have left Windsor, and retreat, as they say,
   under the apprehension, that their application has been made too
   late, to afford such a prospect of success as to justify proceeding
   to a poll. (3)


As no previous announcements of Lord Mornington, the Bedford party, or their various doings occur in earlier numbers of The World--and since few of The World's 4,000 readers would have come to the paragraphs with direct knowledge of their affairs--we can begin to attain a vicarious sense of how such paragraphs work on readers. Certainly there is the voyeuristic pleasure of reading announcements ostentatiously written for those already in the know, even if we cannot understand the players or stakes fully. Yet we also are led to believe that the two paragraphs are somehow linked--not just through their common locus (Windsor) but also through their common language of "contest" and "retreat."

Such linking of public characters by juxtaposition and association hardly began with The World, though as a technique it may have been perfected by another Bell newspaper, the Morning Post, one of the first London dailies to turn fashionable gossip into big business. (30) By the 1782-83 season, the Post's innovation of publishing innuendo had also become a general style among fashionable papers. Publishers were still as interested as ever in enhancing their profits through blackmail and extortion, but their editors had become increasingly interested in the ways that gossip and innuendo--under the catch-all heading of "Intelligence"--could generate sales by metonymically constructing, paragraph by paragraph, worlds of complex social relations and fantastic celebrity:
      The most general undress in the circle of the Royal Prince and his
   favourites, is a superfine blue cloth coat, lined before with
   buffcoloured cashmere, and the same stuff and colour for waistcoat
   and breeches.

      The report of Mrs. Robinson's taking a second trip to Paris,
   is totally void of foundation. Mrs. Robinson's new vis-a-vis is
   expected to be launched in the course of a fortnight, at
   farthest. (31)


Thus, the Morning Herald of 8 March 1783 places these two separate pieces of "intelligence" side by side, attempting to exploit the frisson of the Prince's past affair with Robinson and to link such activities with the "blue" and "buff" of the Whig party, Four days later, this same paper imposes the thematic link of "painting" to place them in the same paragraph:

Painting.--Sir Joshua Reynolds' application has of late been as well employed, and as successful as ever. A whole length of the Prince of Wales, with his horse in his picture, something in the manner of Lord Granby's picture. A whole length of Lord Harrington, "in complete steel." Whole lengths of Lord and Lady Temple, with their eldest son, for Stowe. Another portrait also of Mrs. Robinson, totally different from the former, and her left profile. A head of Mrs. Abington, in the Sultan, is also painted.

Romney has not made much progress with Mrs. Siddons; she has had but one sitting; it is to be a whole length. Two heads, that indeed could not easily be missed, Sir Richard Jebb, and Mr. Gibbons, Romney has hit off very successfully; he has also just done, very well, two whole lengths of the Duchess of Rutland and Lady Beauchamp. (Morning Herald

12 March 1783: 3)

Here the paragraphs operate with greater formal complexity and play off one another with superb effect. Organized by painter, at first glance they appear to reinforce hierarchy and rank, since Reynolds, as President of the Royal Academy, indeed comes before Romney in professional standing. This sense of ordering is further supported by the internal logic of the Reynolds paragraph, which commences with the Prince of Wales, moves via its similarity to Lord Granby's picture to Lord Harrington and Lord and Lady Temple, and then culminates with actresses Robinson and Mrs. Frances Abington, whom Reynolds had earlier painted in 1771. When we proceed to the Romney paragraph, however, such hierarchies evaporate. Instead, the paragraph begins with Siddons. Finding her placed before men and women of rank, we are invited to consider by what rationale she leads Romney's set and whether that rationale is the same that determines the Prince's primary position in the previous paragraph. Without taking this analysis too far, Morning Herald readers might even have eased their momentary discomfort by rereading the former paragraph. If they did so, they would have found it ordered by two further organizing principles: one that privileges painting size, where a full-length portrait takes precedence over a "portrait," which in turn takes precedence over a mere "head"; and one that privileges current portraits-in-progress as more newsworthy than finished works. These same principles, they would have found, apparently inform the structure of the second paragraph as well--and organizational consistency would have been (at least momentarily) restored.

In reading these paragraphs so closely, we might wonder whether we have strayed from Robinson's mirrored boxes and their significance were it not for the fact that late-eighteenth-century audiences strayed even farther, reading these same papers avidly and minutely. What emerges from even the most cursory reading of London dailies in these years is a sense not just of their complexity of innuendo, but also of the sophistication of their readers, who were invited to make (and did make) connections across the range of linguistic tropes. Thus, the 31 March 1783 Morning Herald ties a commentary on Robinson's appearance, to the mention of a Covent Garden courtesan (the "yellow hammer") to Siddons' pay:
   The Perdita is so much improved within these last two years, that
   she scarcely retains a resemblance of her former self," chiefly
   owing to her appearing more en bonne point, than she formerly did!

      The yellow-hammer of Covent-garden seems determined to eclipse the
   frail sisterhood in every necessary accomplishment of the amorous
   profession!

      The Drury-lane manager's treatment of Mrs. Siddons has been of the
   most liberal nature. When this lady first engaged with them, her
   agreement was for three years, at the rising salary of 10 [pounds
   sterling], 11 [pounds sterling], and 12[pounds sterling] per week
   for each year ... [until recently] settled ... at the rate of
   twenty pounds per week. (3)


The prevailing metaphor of prostitution can hardly be missed in these adjoining statements, which move from Robinson's successful emendations in person and dress since her return from the Continent to the amorous accomplishments of a Covent-Garden courtesan, before concluding with Siddons' rising wages. Invited to consider what links one paragraph to another, readers first contemplate two members of the "frail sisterhood" and then note their links to theater while considering Siddons' status as the highest-paid actor of the age. Taken as a whole, the paragraphs ask readers to consider the connection between female competition and prostitution, and prostitution and the theater. Considered more generally, paragraphs such as these had the power to invite readers to question social relations, including those of status and station. What might it mean, for instance, if the royal fashions of princesses were juxtaposed with those of the frail sisterhood?

3: The Two Mrs. Robinsons

The second scene being the Masquerade, I had time to collect myself. I never shall forget the sensation which rushed through my bosom when I first looked towards the Pit. I beheld a gradual ascent of heads: all eyes were fixed upon me; and the sensation they conveyed was awfully impressive. (Mary Robinson, Memoirs 2: 2)

In short, 'tis one universal masquerade, all disguised in the same habit and manners! (Hannah Cowley, The Belle's Stratagem) (32)

Part of our interest in exploring the relation between London's performance spaces and the representation of these same venues in the periodical press stems from practical necessity: given the ephemeral nature of performance, contemporary reports of it must stand in place of primary evidence since they often constitute all we know of a given performance. Where no primary source text exists to provide the illusion of stable signification, such secondary representations take on their own reality, as do their accompanying juxtapositions and innuendo. In one sense, our point is fairly simple: that London theater and newspaper audiences were aware of this slippage between event and report, that they took pleasure in it, and that Robinson was an early master of manipulating it.

Within this world of insinuation and virtuosity, one of the most provocative juxtapositions of Robinson's career came in the form of two consecutive paragraphs in the Morning Herald of 24 February 1783. The first informed readers that "Mrs. Robinson ... is said to have suffered such alarms on account of appearing in the Comedy of tomorrow evening, as to have been extremely ill" (3), before assuring her of the Covent-Garden audience's indulgence regarding her premiere in Hannah Cowley's A Bold Stroke for a Husband. The second paragraph (quoted on page 227) then reports that "Mrs. Robinson's box at the Opera has created universal envy and confusion among the frail sisterhood" (3), noting that its mirrors had been installed not to feed Robinson's vanity but to improve her visibility of the stage. The only distinction made in the paragraphs between the two Mrs. Robinsons comes through the italicization of the latter Robinson's name, the former Mrs. Robinson being, in fact, Hannah Henrietta Robinson, whose acting had been praised in the 1 January 1783 Morning Chronicle. Pairings such as this one have caused understandable confusion in twentieth- and twenty-first-century accounts of Robinson's career, with nearly all modern commentators mistakenly concluding Robinson to have returned to the stage in 1783 as an actress. (33)

Contemporary readers likely would have recognized the difference between the two Mrs. Robinsons. Even so, their juxtaposition invites comparison, since it asks us to connect two prominent London actresses, whether currently or formerly employed by Theatre Royals, with the same surname. In this instance, the two paragraphs echo the way in which the two actresses were to mirror each other during the first months of 1783, a point supported by Daniel O'Quinn's recent observation that in the 1780s "much of theatrical practice turned on recognizability of character ... the relationship between the performance of character on stage, the enactment of character in the boxes and pit, and the ensuing analysis of character in the newspapers." (34) On this particular day, the "Mrs. Robinson" of paragraph #1 acts a breeches role of the kind Mary Robinson had made famous, while the "Mrs. Robinson" of paragraph #2 views from her box. This imagined spectacle of the two Mrs. Robinsons, one acting a role seemingly designed for the other, does more than create a tableau of the fluid exchange existing between theatrical and fashionable worlds. It reminds us of just how seamless--and how wonderfully complex--such exchanges could be.

For while the modern tendency to mistake Hannah Henrietta Robinson for Mary Robinson may be simply the result of our own careless reading, the confusion is also emblematic of a theatrical world mapped by newspapers and exploited by fashionable figures like Siddons and Robinson. Certainly papers like the Morning Herald, in placing "Mrs. Robinson" and "Mrs. Robinson" side by side, purposely encouraged such confusions of alliance. Such dubieties no doubt sell newspapers, but they also constitute a view of the stage that reported the entire playhouse and united the activities of actors and playgoers. Such metonymical confluences, moreover, were echoed in the plays of the time as well. Thus, the same month that saw Mary Robinson unveil her mirrored box also saw the premiere of A Bold Stroke for a Husband, a play that extends theatrical performance both onto public spaces and into the domestic closet. (35) One of Cowley's most successful comedies, the play boasts two starring female roles: Victoria, who adopts the dress of a cavalier to win back her husband and her hereditary lands from the clutches of a courtesan; and Olivia, who performs a dizzying array of roles to ward away unwanted suitors and win the man of her choice, For the premiere of the play, Hannah Henrietta Robinson had stepped in for an indisposed Elizabeth Younge to play Victoria. One can understand her nervousness (as the Morning Herald paragraph quoted above attests) in taking on such a part.

Given A Bold Stroke for a Husband's focus on prostitution, seduction, and masquerade, not to mention its superb breeches role, the willingness of modern theater historians to cast Mary Robinson in the role of Victoria is more than understandable. Certainly for contemporary viewers the role's connections to her would have been difficult to miss. By the time she left the stage in 1780, Robinson had become renowned for her skill in roles requiting cross-dressing, nearly all of the new roles offered to her in her final season at Drury Lane being of this kind. Robinson was fond of such costume outside of the theater as well (36)--so much so that, early in their relationship, the Prince asked Robinson to come to a place of assignation dressed "in male attire" (Memoirs 2: 49-50). (She refused.)

Thus, while this phenomenon of the two Mrs. Robinsons arose in part from chance--an understudy Mrs. Robinson stepping in for an ailing Mrs. Younge--it also arose from Mary Robinson's affiliation with Cowley and their shared fascination with specific aspects of theatrical culture. Beginning their theatrical careers in the same year, Cowley and Robinson shared similar trajectories with multiple points of convergence. Both were introduced to the theater through David Garrick, and Cowley's first play, The Runaway, premiered in 1776, the same year that Robinson debuted on stage. (37) A little over a year later, the role of Emily in The Runaway became one of the first leading comic roles Robinson made her own. Even after Cowley's subsequent move to Covent Garden, her plays still managed to invoke Robinson or converge with her life experiences. Such resemblances go beyond the fact that nearly every Cowley comedy features scenes of cross-dressing and masquerade. In the same months that we find Cowley in The Belle's Stratagem (Covent Garden, 28 February 1780) lampooning journalists who author "Tete-a-Tetes" (gossip articles describing a couple's sexual liaisons, accompanied by portraits facing one another in profile), we find Town and Country Magazine publishing a "Tete-a-Tete" of Robinson and Lord Malden entitled "The Dramatic Enchantress and The Doating Lover." (38) And in A Bold Stroke for a Husband, when Olivia claims to Victoria (Hannah Henrietta Robinson) that "a pretty widow at four-and-twenty has more subjects and a wider empire than the first monarch upon earth," it is difficult not to call to mind the other Mrs. Robinson--who, though not widowed, had separated from her husband, wooed the future monarch, and at the sparkling age of twenty-four (39) could profess amorous and fashionable devotees in both England and France, not to mention the heart of the imperial Colonel Tarleton.

But the most striking tete-a-tete between the two Mrs. Robinsons would have occurred directly on the Covent Garden Stage during Act IV of A Bold Stroke for a Husband. There, played by Hannah Henrietta Robinson in breeches, Victoria enters disguised as a "Cavaleiro" to woo Donna Laura and regain the hereditary lands that Laura has artfully obtained from Don Carlos, Victoria's husband. The scene presents a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of associations. Stepping on stage en travesty as Victoria, Hannah Henrietta Robinson recalls the more famous Mary Robinson, whose association with such roles functioned as a kind of signature. With the play's many earlier scenes of masquerade and role-playing--and -with Mary Robinson featuring conspicuously during the 1782-83 season in the "Intelligence" of various newspapers--such associations become all the more unavoidable. Thus, when Victoria confronts the high-priced courtesan Donna Laura, the scene becomes a spectacle of one version of Mary Robinson confronting another, as a Mrs. Robinson in breeches confronts a particularly beautiful and ruthless model of the "gold-touching sisterhood" Robinson was so often depicted as heading. In effect, Robinson-the-actress confronts Robinson-the-courtesan, and the former wins through her skills of performance and direction.

The scene's triumph of masquerade and superior direction in turn becomes the basis of the play's sexual politics. While waiting for the entrance of Donna Laura, Victoria exhorts household gods very different from those usually associated with comedies of intrigue and disguise:

Victoria. Oh, love! Oh, married love assist me! If I can, by any art, obtain from her that fatal deed, I shall save my little ones from rain--and then--But I hear her step--

(Agitated, pressing her hand on her bosom)--There! I have hid my griefs within my heart, and now for all the impudence of an accomplished cavalier!

(Sings on air--sets her hat in the glass--dances a few steps, &c. then runs to Laura, and seizes her hand). Victoria. My lovely Laura!

(Bold Stroke IV.i)

More important, Victoria already has blocked her play's climactic scene with the skill of an experienced director, having enlisted her father's steward Gaspar who, disguised as Victoria's uncle Don Sancho, informs Donna Laura that he had never bestowed an estate on Victoria, and that Don Carlos has duped her with a false deed. Hearing this news from the false Don Sancho, Donna Laura tears up the deed of transfer in a fit of rage and treads it under her feet, restoring to Victoria her dower and her children's patrimony. The play's ideological victory is thus resolved through a theatrical triumph, the former made possible because Gaspar and the virtuous Victoria both masquerade for the social good.

While the title of A Bold Stroke for a Husband recalls Susanna Centlivre's A Bold Stroke for a Wife (1718), (40) its characterization of women does not. Centlivre's heroine Miss Lovely lacks social and sexual agency, calling on outside forces to save her from personal distress and decide her marriage options. While Centlivre sought to depict the injustices of a marriage system in which women like Miss Lovely are sacrificed to an overpowering patriarchal structure, Cowley navigates a different tack through female characters effecting their own change. Victoria and Olivia render themselves more powerful by shifting the facades of costume and character; Victoria's successful cross-dressing as Don Florio at once highlights her sexual agency while exposing other undercurrents: where the recipient of one woman's sexual interest is another woman, the necessity for male involvement in female desire becomes questionable.

The play's many acts of linguistic veiling and masquerade, moreover, mirror its stage action, particularly in those scenes featuring Olivia, whose stage character is established through her rapid wit and command of double entendre. The play's opening act discovers her telling Victoria that she has rid herself of an unwanted suitor by "discover[ing] his antipathy to cats, and, and so scar'd the hero, by pretending an immoderate passion for young kittens" (Bold Stroke I.ii)--"cat" being slang for "a common prostitute" and "kitten" a term for "whore," (41) Responding to another suitor's musical monomania, Olivia suggests that, with such a passion, he marry his Viol de Gamba, an instrument played between one's legs (Bold Stroke I.ii). This kind of sexual punning, however, is taken to new levels the first time Olivia engages in conversation on the Prado with Don Julio, the man whom she has admired from afar for two years, and for whom she has performed the role of termagant to keep away other lovers:

Olivia. Suppose I should understand, from all of this, that you have a mind to be in love with me.

Julio. Charmingly caught! if you'll let me understand, at the same time, that you have a mind to be in love with me.

Olivia. In love with a man! heavens! I never lov'd any thing but a squirrel!

Julio. Make me your squirrel--I'll put on your chain, and gambol and play for ever at your side.

Olivia. But suppose you have a mind to break the chain?

Julio. Then loosen it; for, if once that humour seizes me, restraint won't cure it.--Let me spring and bound at liberty, and when I return to my lovely mistress, tired of all but her, fasten me again to your girdle, and kiss me while you chide.

Olivia. Your servant--to encourage you to leave me again?

Julio. No, to make returning to you, the strongest attraction of my life--Why are you silent?

Olivia. I am debating whether to be pleased or displeased at what you have said.

(Bold Stroke III.ii)

Unlike earlier suitors shocked by Olivia's impropriety, Julio spars happily, fastening to Olivia's once-loved squirrel (yet another vernacular term for a prostitute [Grose]) his own impromptu scene of chains and chiding. In addition to signaling intellectual and sexual compatibility, their shared linguistic agility supports a view of dramatic character that is, in Lisa Freeman's words, "neither singular nor unitary, but rather manifold and incongruous." (42) For Cowley's women--and for sympathetic men like Julio and Gaspar--this command of multiple discourses and subjectivities becomes the basis of social power and self-authorship.

As the Rambler's Magazine and a contemporary memoir of her attest, Mary Robinson was famous for such verbal jousting, (43) and one can read Olivia's mastery of such skills not just as another tie to Robinson but also as testimony of her desire to avoid the kind of early marriage that blighted the prospects of women like her. At home wielding the language of sexual knowledge, Olivia is nevertheless prepared to take on other, more feminine, personae when they further her ends. Early in the play, for example, she promises her father Don Caesar that she will be "a soft civil creature" (Bold Stroke II.ii) when meeting her next suitor:

Don Caesar. Can't you look gently and prettily, now, as I do? and say, "yes Sir, and no, Sir, and 'tis very fine weather, Sir; and pray, Sir, were you at the ball last night? and I caught a sad cold the other evening; and bless me! I hear Lucinda has run away with her footman, and Don Philip has married his housemaid."--That's the way agreeable ladies talk, you never hear anything else. (Bold Stroke II.ii)

When the suitor finally appears, however, Olivia carries out the request so exactly--repeating Don Caesar's empty and disconnected phrases verbatim--as to render her father's instructions foolish and absurd. The scene foregrounds the pleasures of role-playing while encouraging spectators to question social codes that restrict self-expression. Don Caesar's exasperated cry of "Oh, such perverse obedience!" (Bold Stroke n.iii) signals more than his chagrin at again being out-maneuvered by his daughter; it marks his realization that he unwittingly has given her yet another identity with which to play.

For Cowley, then, the politics of masquerade are primarily emancipatory and reformist. Olivia's determination to author her own destiny leads her, like Victoria, to don diverse personae that stand outside the bounds of female propriety and decorum; only with erotic fulfillment and intellectual compatibility, the play maintains, are such personae unnecessary. Yet, such precepts are present even in Cowley's earliest works: unlike most of the heroines of Robinson's signature roles, Emily of The Runaway may not don breeches, but she nevertheless spends nearly the entire play in disguise to escape the control of her dictatorial uncle. Taking refuge with the benign Mr. Drummond and presented to his neighbors as a beautiful Incognita, she proceeds to attract the attention of George Hargrave, who recognizes her from an earlier masquerade. The scenario that results will prove recognizable to any reader of A Bold Stroke for a Husband, as Emily and George adopt a series of disguises to outmaneuver their respective guardians, each of whom insists on a mercenary marriage to another person. At the same time, the two lovers joust with one another until they produce through their negotiations an equitable partnership. The Runaway thus provides another example of a play modeling sexual self-determination through masquerade, one that not only renders the lessons of A Bold Stroke for a Husband general but also makes clear the sustained nature of Mary Robinson's own engagement with such theatrical devices. As this essay's final section argues, these same practices provided Robinson with an authorial model with which to launch her poetic career--a career that inevitably brought her into intimate contact with fellow masquerader, Cowley.

4: "To Him Who Will Understand It"

Again I started from my bed, traversed my chamber, and, by the most incoherent exclamations, alarmed the whole family.... I obstinately refused to re-enter my bed; and, having half-dressed myself, hastily demanded pen, ink, and paper.

They were instantly brought. I wrote many unintelligible lines, and uttered the wildest language of a confirmed maniac. (Walsingham 221)

"Well, Mr. Gnat," cried Miss Woodford, "how did you like Mr. Terence's last play? ... Did you not discover many good situations?"

"Many--in every part of the theatre," answered Mr. Gnat.

"I observed several ladies extremely affected," said Miss Woodford.

"The principal actress in particular," cried Mr. Gnat; "but she generally is affected."

"You are more severe than usual," said Mr. Optic.

The duke smiled.

"We all know that Mr. Optic is the exclusive idolater of Mrs. Siddons," said Gnat. (Walsingham 235)

As the above passages from Walsingham (1797) testify, Mary Robinson hardly jettisoned the theater or its devices when she began writing and publishing in earnest in the 1790s. If anything, taking on the mantle of authorship expanded her range of performance by giving her talent for roleplaying freer rein. In the sprawl of sexual obsession and masquerade that is Walsingham, Robinson successively dons the robes of learned reverends, demonic servants, honorable colonels, selfish parents, principled tutors, self-indulgent lovers, cross-dressing heroines, aspiring authoresses, affected poetasters, cynical literati, waspish reviewers, benevolent patrons, vulnerable ingenues, dueling gamesters, and seducing dowagers--a virtuosic list, incidentally, covering only the first two of the novel's four volumes. Looking to Walsingham and to Robinson's prolific output in the final months of her life--The Natural Daughter (1799), Letter to the Women of England (1799), The False Friend (1799), the "Sylphid" essays for the Morning Post (1799-1800), and Lyrical Tales (1800)--commentators like Claire Brock, Sharon M. Setzer, and Julie A. Shaffer have begun to connect Robinson's early years as an actress to these last works, arguing that, taken together, they form a kind of supporting commentary to Robinson's Memoirs-begun by Robinson in 1797, completed by Robinson's daughter Maria Elizabeth, and published in 1801 after Robinson's death. (44)

Our aim here, though, is to do more than demonstrate the degree to which Robinson's last works were "theatrical." As her career as actress and icon suggests, such retrospective practices began not with Walsingham but much earlier--as early as January of 1782 with what we have described as Robinson's first comeback. What Robinson later accomplished in print through the self-conscious layering of allusion--bringing classical, dramatic, and personal references into collision with one another--she first accomplished in the space of the theater. Presiding in boxes overlooking stages on which she had once performed, Robinson in those years embodied the figure of desire and loss that was "Perdita," the physical distance between box and stage providing a visual allegory of the gulf between Robinson's present and past selves. Joshua Reynolds' 1783 portrait of Robinson in profile looking onto a stormy sea provides our most lasting image of the role she periodically assumed for nearly two decades (see the image on the cover of this issue). (45) Still, Robinson's ability to electrify audiences through such public performances also captures their determined plurality of purpose--their ability not just to incite sympathy and desire but also to create new personae. On one level, the spectacle of the fallen Mrs. Robinson surveying former scenes of innocence and triumph structurally anticipates Wordsworth's poetics of recollection, where identity and self-knowledge are constituted through the process of remembering and engaging with past selves. But here Wordsworthian sincerity--with its insistence on a single, tree self--is replaced by Robinson's deep knowledge of masquerade and penchant for performance. Like the Sylphid's talent for changing its form (or Olivia's for inhabiting a new role with the entrance of each unwanted suitor), Robinson's skill in marshaling past versions of herself in the service of present ones provided her with a strategy for social liberation and survival.

The theatricality of such poses is undeniable; but our point is less their nature than their deployment and implementation. As the successes of 1782 and 1783 testify, such performances could produce superb drama--what Walsingham's Miss Woodford dubs "many good situations"--not to mention providing, through their piling of literary and personal allusion, fashionable London with an absorbing frisson of gossip and forbidden romance. The durability of her dramatic practices, moreover, was confirmed in the lean years that followed. When the summer of 1783 brought with it a rheumatic fever that partially deprived Robinson of the use of her legs, she responded by creating elaborate new carriages and taking public airings ha them, recreating herself as a kind of moving spectacle that Judith Pascoe has dubbed "the spectacular flaneuse" (130). But little could be done in the face of continuing medical and financial setbacks, which eventually drove Robinson and Tarleton the following summer to the Continent and out of the public eye. Taking advantage of the absence, a hostile Morning Post recast Robinson into a series of tragic roles: first as a broken woman, then as a diseased bankrupt, and finally as dead. (She responded in print to her obituary with a cheerful denial. (46)) Robinson's daughter Maria Elizabeth describes this period of her mother's life as a time of retrospection and as a turning point; recent biographers Hester Davenport and Paula Byrne concur in describing Robinson's years of exile (1784-88) as transformative. (47) Whether struck by the irony of having to deny her own death or driven simply by the need to find a new mode of expression, Robinson began publishing poems in the French press in the autumn of 1787 and, by 1788, was back in England, first at London and Bath and then that summer at Brighton, writing poems and planning, in Byrne's triumphant narrative, to "restore her much-tarnished reputation, and remake herself as a woman of letters and of genius" (Perdita 244).

While reviewers over the next decade were amazed by Robinson's success as an author (by any standards her achievement, accomplished in a single decade, is astonishing), the manner and materials of her second comeback should not have surprised them, Again drawing on the conventions of comic performance and her own talent for dense and deft allusion, she mixed personal, theatrical, and high cultural references with an alacrity that later, in books like Sappho and Phaon and The Young Philosopher, became a kind of signature style. Certainly Maria Elizabeth's account of Robinson during her 1788 Brighton residence takes care to present her in the full range of guises, from devoted mother and woman of feeling to wronged heroine and natural poetic genius, not to mention as the melancholy beauty Reynolds painted five years earlier:

During hours of tedious watching over the health of her suffering child, Mrs. Robinson beguiled her anxiety by contemplating the ocean, whose successive waves, breaking upon the shore ... afforded a melancholy pleasure, which could scarcely be relinquished without regret. Whole nights were passed by Mrs. Robinson at her window, in deep meditation, contrasting with her present situation the scenes of her former life. (Memoirs 2: 115).

Her portrait of Robinson is most interesting for the ways it duplicates Robinson's own practices by insistently tying performed persona to natural and reasonable cause, histrionic effusion to immediate context. Thus, the above passage's allusion to the Reynolds portrait transforms that painting into a prophetic scene of real-life regret. Robinson's rediscovery of role-playing and poetic performance, meanwhile, arise from the natural anxieties of a mother seeking to amuse a sick child:

Every device which a kind and skilful nurse could invent to cheer and amuse her charge, was practised by this affectionate mother, during the melancholy period of her daughter's confinement. In the intervals of more active exertion, the silence of a sick chamber proving favourable to the muse, Mrs. Robinson poured forth those poetic effusions, which have done so much honour to her genius, and decked her tomb with unfading laurels. (Memoirs 2: 115-16)

The result is dramatic character rendered authentic or, put another way, sentimental performance presented as natural. Here, Robinson's gifts for inventing and wielding "devices" that will "cheer and amuse" are placed firmly under the banner of committed motherhood, her production of persona anchored by a single, responsive self whose genius produces natural effusions of permanent value, and whose penitence is at once beautiful and heartfelt. Such moments typify the theatrical practice of Robinson's life and work. On the one hand, posed portraits can prophecy real-life tragedy; on the other, the mundane task of nursing a sick child can inspire not just a series of command performances, but a second career as an artist.

If Maria Elizabeth's account of the Brighton summer idealizes through its generalizations, its more concrete anecdotes nevertheless provide telling glimpses into Robinson's remaking and remarketing of herself as a poet during these same months. Chief among these is the account of Robinson "conversing one evening with Mr. Richard Burke [son of Edmund Burke], respecting the facility with which modern poetry was composed" (Memoirs 2: 116). Whether Robinson planned that evening to stage her debut is unclear; the effect, however, was electric:

Mrs. Robinson repeated nearly the whole of those beautiful lines, which were afterwards given to the public, addressed--"To him who will understand them." ... This improvisatore produced in her auditor not less surprise than admiration, when solemnly assured by its author, that this was the first time of its being repeated. Mr. Burke entreated her to commit the poem to writing, a request which was readily complied with. Mrs. Robinson had afterwards the gratification of finding this offspring of her genius inserted in The Annual Register, with a flattering encomium from the pen of the eloquent and ingenious editor. (Memoirs 2: 116, 120-21)

Coming just after Maria Elizabeth's depiction of Robinson's pouring forth poems in the sickroom, the episode becomes an almost pantomimic scene of unintentional authorship, where a powerful editor discovers hidden poetic genius and gallantly publishes spoken improvisation as lasting art. But, as Burke did not print Robinson's poem until 1791, the anecdote is even more remarkable for what it elides: how in these same three years Mary Robinson applied her knowledge of the theater and her talent for masquerade to break into the most prestigious group of poets of the time, the Della Cruscan coterie, and eventually become its most popular and acclaimed poet. Maria Elizabeth's elisions thus present us with yet another allegory of two Mrs. Robinsons: the one of the Memoirs and the one who returned to England ailing, in debt, and determined to make her living as an author. The gap separating the two constitutes a testimony to Robinson's ingenuity and will to survival, and it is littered with the furniture of the theater and its practices.

Commentaries on Della Cruscan writing have tended to ignore Robinson's entree into that coterie for understandable reasons. Faced with the task of describing a derided and little-known poetic movement, they have focused instead on apparent origins and endings: either on the poetic romance of Robert Merry ("Della Crusca") and Hannah Cowley ("Anna Matilda") or on William Gifford's verse satire The Baviad. (48) Robinson's recent biographers have echoed this practice, following Maria Elizabeth's embarrassment in presenting Robinson first as having no special attachment to Della Cruscan poetics and later as regretting her affiliation. (49) Yet, as Jerome McGann and Judith Pascoe have argued, the Della Cruscan movement found its origins prior to The World's launch into the poetry of sensibility. Pseudonymical poets wrote one another in the pages of fashionable newspapers long before Merry and Cowley began their correspondence, and Robinson's writing under her own name and under a host of pseudonyms until her death demonstrates that the movement hardly died with Gifford's satire.

In many ways, the only surprising aspect of Robinson's involvement with the Della Cruscans or The World is that it took her so long--until the autumn of 1788--to make her first verse forays into that fashionable circle. Eager to establish The World as London's most fashionable newspaper, John Bell and its editors had featured Robinson in the inaugural number on I January 1787, declaring her the chief beauty currently residing at Aix La Chapelle (3). The World's headquarters in the Beautfort Buildings, furthermore, were haunted by mainstays of the London theatrical world. Besides Merry (who later married the actress Anne Brunton and wrote several plays) and its great dandy editor Edward Topham, the paper featured comic dramatist Miles Peter Andrews, the tragedian Bertie Greatheed (author of The Regent), and Thomas Vaughan (the original for Dangle in Sheridan's The Critic and an occasional dramatist). The addition of Hannah Cowley (through her anonymous poetic correspondence with Merry) meant that by the end of 1787 The World boasted a set of contributors unrivaled in London's fashionable world, and it quickly became extremely profitable.

With the Merry-Cowley dialogue raging in The World's pages throughout the first half of 1788, Robinson's decision to perform the lines "To Him Who Will Understand Them" for Richard Burke appears part of a larger plan formulated in Brighton at the time she was experiencing her first burst of literary productivity. Both the poem and the dramatic scene of recital, with its accompanying acts of seizing pen and ink and seemingly spontaneous composition, smack of planned spontaneity. A well-connected editor of the Annual Register and fellow Whig campaigner, Burke presented precisely the kind of publishing insider Robinson required. Whether he eased Robinson's introduction into The World's pages is unknown, but Robinson's first publications show conclusively that she had an ally in The World's editorial offices.

A week before the now retitled "To Him Who Will Understand It" appeared under the signature of "Laura," The World's 24 October 1788 number contained the following apology: "DELLA CRUSCA to ANNA MATILDA, was meant for this day; but the Paper is crowded ... the Lines are SEVENTY, and their beauty--AKENSIDE and THOMSON are the only Poets of late fit to talk of with him" (2). On the opposing page is Robinson's debut poem, "LINES, Dedicated to the MEMORY of a much-lamented YOUNG GENTLEMAN," whose ending portrays its speaker weeping over the tomb of an "Ill-fated Youth," accompanied by "Genius":
   But GENIUS, bending o'er th' untimely Bier,
   Shall mourn her Darling Son, with many a Tear;
   While in her glowing Heart, the World shall view,
   The ONLY PARENT that thy sorrows knew.

(11-14)


Signed "Laura," the lines not only surpass most of those published in The World, but perform the same dialogue between literary allusion and real-life tragedy so present in Robinson's later Memoirs, as the very Petrarchan "Laura" composes a sonnet at once performing and prophecying the same grief her own death will later inspire in another. Yet, these same fines also create a situation of poetic cross-dressing similar to Robinson's roles in the spring of 1780: she may take on the role of Petrarch in the character (and under the signature) of "Laura," but readers in the know will understand the identity and real-life grief of the sufferer.

Neither Robinson's signature nor her imagery can make their full impact, however, without Merry's "To Anna Matilda," which had been slated for the same day but instead appeared four days later:
   For ANNA! O I live, I live for thee alone!--
   And when to LAURA'S Tomb I came,
   Glowing with PETRARCH'S purest flame,
   As the first drop my Pity shed,
   I started as if thou wert dead!

(30-34)


The affinity of Robinson's lines to Merry's suggest not just that she had advance knowledge of them, but also that she had planned her World debut carefully. Where Merry narrates Della Crusca flying from Anna Matilda only to find her imaginatively at Laura's tomb, Robinson presents "Laura" herself, coincidentally weeping on the bier of a young man very much like Della Crusca.

Had the two poems appeared on the same day as originally advertised, the effect would have been electric, the poetic equivalent of a set scene where hero and heroine recognize innate affinities in one another and fall in love at first sight. At once strikingly dramatic and apparently coincidental, the mirroring of the scenes is as elaborately staged as any Robinson public appearance. Their mirroring, moreover, enacts the same coincidental sympathy Merry celebrates in his own poem, which presents Della Crusca receiving his premonition of Anna Matilda's death while in a state of sympathetic possession brought on by the pure flame of Petrarch's poetry. Robinson's sonnet presents an equally fortuitous moment of carefully planned emotional correspondence, all the more meaningful because it appears accidental, the two poems' kinship cemented by the association between Robinson's pseudonym and "LAURA'S Tomb."

The World's speedy publication of Robinson's next two poems suggests further maneuvering by her behind the scenes. "To Him Who Will Understand It" appeared 1 November 1788, only three days after Merry's "To Anna Matilda." The poem's rapid manifestation points to the likely advocacy either of Burke or of the dramatist Miles Peter Andrews, who in the previous year had published "To Laura" in The World under the signature of "Arley"; (50) its belated endorsement, received the day after its publication, further suggests that Robinson's identity had become known to Bell and The World's editors:

LAURA: Her EXQUISITE POETRY, in the WORLD of yesterday, failed of an introduction proportioned to her great claims, merely from some casual Obscurities of Penmanship. These the WINTER made out--the CONDUCTOR could not. More fanciful and pathetic Lines, are scarcely to be found in the whole body of English Literature. (3)

Like most of The World's writing, Bell's encomium smacks of double-entendre. Whether the "Obscurities of Penmanship" referred to are those of handwriting or identity--or both--is unknown, as is the question of whether Bell recognized the author's hand or merely knew "Laura" to be a desirable acquisition from Robinson's advocates. Whatever the cause, Bell never again made the mistake of failing to puff her verse.

With its provocative title, "To Him Who Will Understand It" plays to the same voyeuristic pleasures that made newspapers like The World, The Morning Herald, and The Morning Post successful. It is a poem ostentatiously written for readers already in the know; yet, its chief pleasures arguably are reserved to those left in ignorance to speculate on the identity of its addressee. As such, the poem's aria, replete with allusions half-personal and half-literary, recalls Robinson's performances on the stage, in the box, and within the paragraphs of the fashionable dailies: in both she is at once in character and seemingly exposing her most personal feelings. The poem thus provokes through its repeated asking of the same question: who will claim to understand it, and in what way? At the very least, her decision to publish under the name of "Laura" a poem already known in private circles to be hers recalls the public-private strategies of events like the King's Opera masquerades, where one appears en masque to the public but is known to a fashionable few. Certainly the poetic exchanges appearing almost daily in The World were intended to extend this world of masquerade and fashionable intrigue into a print medium, and Robinson's poem does just this, and expertly.

To read "To Him Who Will Understand It" in the context of The World's pages is to read it--perhaps inevitably--as an address to that poet of "sweet Delusion," Della Crusca. Though written months earlier to Tarleton, the poem plays not just to Merry's vanity but also to the academic and Italianate associations of his pseudonym. (51) Robinson cements these connections late in the poem, when Laura declares that she also will leave Britain's shores and on "ITALIA'S gales ... explore th' HISTORIC PAGE" of the ancient world (lines 63, 56). (52) Taking a journey where Della Crusca went but four days before, Laura's soul, like his, will be soothed by "Sweet POETRY" and "PHILOSOPHY" until "With finer nerves my heart shall beat, / Touch'd by Heaven's own PROMETHEAN heat" (57-58, 61-62). For him who will understand these lines, Robinson's poem is, of course, a call for sympathetic response from a mind of "finer nerves" and equally "Promethean heat." Either join me or tell me to check my rash speed, the poem asks, but do not leave me to make good on my parting promise to "breathe the spicy gale / Plunge the clear stream, new health exhale / O'er my pale cheek diffuse the rose, / And drink OBLIVION to my woes" (81-84).

When in the face of this magnificent invitation Merry made no answer, Robinson published a fortnight later an even more explicit companion-piece, "The Muse." Exhorting inspiration in its highest form, Robinson as "Laura" this time stipulates only that the Muse's possession must bring with it no "THRILLING TRANSPORT" OR "SOFT SENSATION" o'er the Heart" (64, 62). (53) If so, she concludes, "keep thy Gifts, and let me fly, / In APATHY's cold Arms to Die" (65-66). This time, the poem accomplished its goal of eliciting a poetic response, and it is easy to see why. "The Muse" is one of the most remarkably intertextual and admirably calculating poems Robinson ever wrote. Maintaining the character of "Laura" throughout, Robinson manages--through direct allusion, expert mimicry, and virtuoso performance--what amounts to a wholesale appropriation of Anna Matilda's voice, taking the best known lines of Cowley's most famous poem ("To Della Crusca: The Pen") and producing an ode of greater daring and higher tone.

Without directly addressing Della Crusca or Anna Matilda, "The Muse" opens by invoking both poets:
   O! LET me seize thy Pen Sublime,
   Which paints in flowing dulcet Rhyme
   The melting Pow'r, the Magic Art,
   Th' extatic raptures of the Heart:

(1-4)


Read in the context of the Della Crusca-Anna Matilda correspondence, Robinson's title and first lines connote so strongly because her intertextual practice deliberately blurs the question of who "The Muse" might be. "The Muse" may claim to address the Muse, but by echoing the lines in which Anna Matilda originally had addressed Della Crusca, Robinson invites readers to interpret Laura's lines as also addressed to the same poet. Robinson's acts of appropriation, furthermore, derive less from motives of homage than a desire for competition, since she invokes Anna's lines to foreground Laura's comparative excellences. Where Cowley had addressed Della Crusca directly as an erotic and sentimental muse, asking him to "SEIZE again thy golden quill / And with its point my bosom thrill; / With magic touch explore my heart / And bid the tear of passion start" (1-4), Robinson invokes these lines as part of a more idealized and outrageous course: more idealized because she addresses a disembodied female muse rather than a corporeal male poet; more outrageous because readers familiar with "To Della Crusca: The Pen" will know Laura's muse to be, through the poem's intertextual logic, also Della Crusca's.

Thus, for these same readers, Robinson's opening line brings with it the pleasures of a veiled obscene joke. In it, the virginal Laura asks to seize the Muse's pen--but does so in the same language in which Anna Matilda addressed Della Crusca, thereby transforming the opening line into an exhortation to seize Della Crusca's phallic pen. The rest of the poem continues this dance between overt eroticism and Promethean idealism:
   O! teach me, with swift light'ning's force,
   To trace wild PASSION'S varied course;
   To mark th' ENTHUSIAST'S vivid Fire,
   Or calmly touch thy Golden Lyre;
   While gentle REASON, sweetly sings
   Responsive to the trembling strings.

(11-16)


Robinson's aim in "The Muse" is at once to invoke and surpass by outperforming Anna Matilda through superior skills in intelligent masquerade and daring seduction. She seeks to recall the erotic charge of Cowley's verse while presenting Laura as of a superior order: as exhibiting greater daring and higher elevation, and as desiring the active power to inspire passion rather than the passive capacity merely to feel it. The intent is not to show Cowley's lines as ludicrous, but as wanting the same high polish--in other words, to invoke her opening while avoiding her too-tactile imagery:
   On FANCY's wings my Soul shall fly
   To the bright Regions of the Sky;
   There my enlighten'd Sense shall view
   Thro' Ether Realms of azure hue,
   That Flame where SHAKSPERE used to fill
   With matchless Fire this "Golden Quill;"
   While from its point his Genius caught
   The Wit Sublime, the glowing Thought,
   The Magic Strain, that sweetly hung,
   Upon the Music of his Tongue!

(29-38)


Here we have no bosom thrilled by the point of Della Crusca's golden quill, but rather the quill itself seized as the common property of genius.

Whether "The Muse" succeeded where Robinson's earlier "Laura" poems had not, eight days later a response appeared in The World of 21 November 1788 entitled "To Laura"--though signed "Leonardo" rather than "Della Crusca." Laura's "warbled woes" (1), Leonardo writes, have given him the "melting anguish" (12) of sympathetic tears, and since he too has loved and lost, he reasons that Laura's poems have arisen from a similar unhappy love for a "faithless mate" (9). Having traveled to all the places Laura proposes to fly, he urges her to triumph over adversity by remaining in the land of "British virtues" (52)--or at least to "avoid ITALIA'S coast / Where ev'ry sentiment is lost / Where TREACH'RY reigns, and base DISGUISE" (43-45). Rejecting thus the carnivals of the Continent, the poem closes with a declaration of love and a stipulation: that if Laura must depart, she must "for a LOVER LOST, receive a FRIEND" (66).

Yet the poem's rejection of masquerade as a technique for recultivating the self is itself a masquerade. "Leonardo," of course, was Merry writing under a different guise, wielding the language of anti-theatricality and sentimental transparency even as he donned the dress of a second pseudonym. Still seeking a correspondence with The World's most famous poet, "Laura" did not immediately reply; instead, she began to create alternative pseudonyms and inaugurate new correspondences with other well-known World poets. (54) It was at this moment that Cowley published "To Della Crusca" on 26 February 1789, a poem in which Anna Matilda, in an apparent triumph of sentimental insight over masquerading deceit, unmasked "Leonardo" as Della Crusca himself:
   Hah! didst thou hope I should not trace
   The mental features of thy face?
   Didst thou believe the thickest veil
   Could DELLA CRUSCA's brow conceal?
   Oh! how impossible the task
   To hide thy radiance in a mask!

(35-40)


A longtime master of sentimental comedy, Cowley constructs in these lines a staple scene of the genre. Her exposure of the "FALSE Lover! TRUEST Poet!" (55) residing behind the persona of "Leonardo" recalls the climactic scenes of Sheridan's The School for Scandal or, closer to home, her own The Runaway and A Bold Stroke for a Husband. There, villains and ingenues alike are stripped of their accumulated masks in the name of the full disclosure that comes with comic resolution.

Having at last created the comic love triangle she had sought, Robinson, needless to say, kept in dramatic character with alacrity and discipline. Forty-eight hours after the appearance of Anna Matilda's "To Della Crusca," Laura published "Sonnet: To Leonardo," in which she chooses the friend over the lover and maintains her aversion to sensual pleasure; and the following day, The World's readers found Laura more than equal to the crisis in "Laura to Anna Matilda":
   Subdue the haggard WITCH, whose em'rald eye,
   Darts fell Revenge, and pois'nous Jealousy;
   Mark, where amidst her ebon hair,
      The scaly serpents mingling twine,
   While darting thro' th' infected air,
      The murd'rous vapours shine!
   O turn thee, ANNA, quickly turn,
   Where DELLA CRUSCA's torch shall burn
   For thee alone; his harp is strung
   To the soft musick of thy tongue;
   No verse of mine his song inspir'd;--Thy
   notes so lov'd, so long admir'd,
   Still vibrate in his glowing heart,
   Where ev'ry chord is tun'd to thy poetic Art.

(13-26)


Like Robinson's invocation in "The Muse," these lines perform a similar dual function, associating Anna Matilda with the "haggard WITCH ... Jealousy" even as Laura extends her assurances of Della Crusca's fidelity. Given Robinson's efforts to insert herself into the Della Crusca-Anna Matilda correspondence, Laura's denial ("No verse of mine his song inspir'd") is especially wonderful, both as brazen denial and as rhetorical strategy, since it pins Anna Matilda to one of two undesirable outcomes: either Della Crusca has been unfaithful, which means Laura can inspire as well as Anna Matilda, or Anna is entirely wrong in descrying Della Crusca behind Leonardo, which means that she cannot recognize her own lover's essential style. Either way, Robinson's response forces the Merry-Cowley correspondence back into the scripted logic of romantic comedy, within which her jealous lovers are propelled towards a final dramatic catastrophe.

Ten days later on 16 March 1789, Merry did respond in the guise of a distraught Delia Crusca. His "To Anna Matilda" does not deny responding to Laura's verse, but rather seeks to separate his two personae from one another. Della Crusca contends that, in hearing Laura's echo of Anna Matilda in "The Muse," "'twas thy Image fill'd my mind,--I heard a tuneful Phantom in the wind ... And wond'ring, NOT DECEIV'd, / I breath'd the friendly vow" (63-64, 68). What emerges is a hierarchy of masks, an argument structured by the analogy that "Leonardo" is to "Della Crusca" as "Laura" is to "Anna Matilda." Protesting Laura to be a "Pale ECHO" of her original source, Della Crusca responds with his own pale phantom Leonardo, reserving his true poetic self for Anna only.

While Della Crusca's explanation produced a temporary reconciliation, it also brought about the crisis Robinson sought. Wishing more than ever to know his Anna's true identity, Merry would no longer be put off by World editors Charles Este and Edward Topham, and insisted on a meeting in early April of 1789. It was not a success. Twelve years Merry's senior, Cowley in her early poems had warned of the husband, graying locks, and matronly body shrouding her "blooming soul," (55) but Merry had been too enraptured for close reading. (56) After this, things deteriorated quickly. Another newspaper, The Star, revealed Merry as Della Crusca on 23 April (Werkmeister 179); around this time, Merry quarreled with Charles Este, who then quarreled with Topham, who then quarreled with Bell. As a result, Bell sold The World to Topham and founded a rival paper, The Oracle, which he launched i June 1789, taking most of the The World's poets with him. Laura's penultimate efforts for The World appeared in mid-June and mid-July. Entitled "Love, thou sportive fickle boy" and "To the Memory of Wetter," they read as knowing commentaries on the poetical romance she helped terminate.

By late summer of 1789, amid breathless reports from Paris, we find Robinson firmly established as The Oracle's premier poet, her pseudonym now changed to the half-literary, half-personal "Laura Maria." Extolled in its pages as a "Favourite of the Muses" and compared to John Milton and James Thomson, she appears at least seven times in The Oracle's first ten weeks of publication. Securing a regular engagement from Bell in August or September, (57) Robinson quickly inaugurated her own correspondence with Della Crusca, one which culminated in Bell's publication of Robinson's Ainsi va Le Monde, A Poem, Inscribed to Robert Merry ... Author of The Laurel of Liberty and the Della Crusca Poems, by Laura Maria (1790). Adding, among other names, the male identity of "Oberon" to her repertoire, she began poetic correspondences that year with the "Queen of the Fairies," "Cesario," and even "Petrarch" himself. Yet arguably the most conspicuous among her new roles was "Mrs. Robinson," author of "Lines Inscribed to the Memory of David Garrick" and "Monody on the Death of Chatterton." Though only periodically appearing in The Oracle's pages, her figure anticipates the "Mrs. Robinson" of the Memoirs: her lines always elegiac, always inscribed to public figures of genius. (58)

It is with this final persona of "Mrs. Robinson" that we close this essay. On 3 May 1791, published by "John Bell ... Bookseller to His Royal Highness the PRINCE of Wales" and boasting a list of 600 subscribers headed by the Prince himself contributing at least one guinea each, there appeared Poems, by Mrs. Robinson. The volume's short Preface claimed authorship of those poems "published in The Oracle, under the Signatures of LAURA, LAURA MARIA, OBERON, &c. &c"; its frontispiece is etched from Reynolds' portrait of her (see Figure 3). Though its list of subscribers makes clear that people had long had knowledge of Robinson's authorship, her Preface nevertheless performs the official ceremony of unmasking with great fanfare: "MRS. ROBINSON has the particular gratification of knowing that the efforts of her pen were warmly, and honourably patronized under FEIGNED Signatures: had she avowed them at an earlier period the pleasure she now feels would have been considerably diminished, in the idea that the partiality of friends had procured the sanction her Poems have been favoured with from the candid and enlightened." (59) Like the Memoirs' anecdote of Richard Burke, Robinson's Preface performs a scene in which authorial modesty and true merit are rewarded, where pseudonyms do not produce social and artistic liberation so much as bypass the unwelcome fame of Robinson's ghostly past selves. The result, as we have argued, is the codification of a second "Mrs. Robinson"--one resembling the experienced Perdita of the box and of Reynolds' portrait, at once capable of real regret and of authoring all of the personae contained within the 1791 Poems.

Part of our project in this essay has been to make a case for the theater not just as a powerful cultural force, but also as a kind of knowledge and a mode of allusive practice, at once portable and transportable, that extended into other public spaces and dominated journalism, politics, literature, and art. Describing the trajectory of Mary Robinson's career has been our other task, and in a sense our method has been to track the thing (theatricality) analogically through the dazzling trail left by the woman. In joining opera boxes to newspaper paragraphs, Windsor to Theatre Royals, and the improvisatory comedy of masquerade to Della Cruscan poetics, we have sought to connect the theater's handling of space and situation to its particular vision of identity and performance. In the process, we have stressed the flexibility of its practices as tools for navigating the fashionable world of 1780s London. The canvas is a sprawling one--yet arguably the only one capacious enough for narrating Robinson's dramatic art and its multiplying selves.

[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]

University of Pennsylvania / University of Colorado at Boulder

(1.) Mary Robinson [and Mafia Elizabeth Robinson], Memoirs of the Late Mrs. Robinson, 4 vols. (London: R. Phillips, 1801) 3: 4.

(2.) Mary Robinson, Walsingham: or, The Pupil of Nature, ed. Julie A. Shaffer (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview P, 2003) 74.

(3.) Morning Herald 27 March 1783: 2.

(4.) Morning Herald 3 January 1783: 2.

(5.) Morning Herald 6 January 1783: 2.

SiR, 48 (Summer 2009)

(6.) Robinson's final performance was 31 May 1780.

(7.) Notable exceptions include Brock and Shaffer.

(8.) See Betsy Bolton, Women, Nationalism, and the Romantic Stage: Theatre and Politics in Britain, 1780-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001), and Judith Pascoe, Romantic Theatricality: Gender, Poetry, and Spectatorship (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2005).

(9.) Laetitia-Matilda Hawkins, Memoirs, Anecdotes, Facts, and Opinions, 2 vols. (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green; and C. & J. Ribington, 1824) 2: 24.

(10.) See Claire Brock, "'Then smile and know thyself supremely great': Mary Robinson and the 'splendour of a name,'" Women's Writing 9.1 (2002): 112. See also Paula Byrne, Perdita: The Literary, Theatrical, and Scandalous Life of Mary Robinson (New York: Random House, 2004) 165-79, 189-211.

(11.) Morning Herald 21 October 1782: 2.

(12.) Jeffrey N. Cox, "'Spots of Time': The Structure of the Dramatic Evening in the Theater of Romanticism," Texas Studies in Literature and Language 41 (1999): 403-25.

(13.) Morning Herald 23 January 1783: 3.

(14.) Figures provided by the London Chronicle 23-25 January 1783: 2.

(15.) See Charles Beecher Hogan, "Introduction," The London Stage 1660-1800: Part 5: 1776-1800, ed. Charles Beecher Hogan, 3 vols. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1968) 1: xxviii, who for the 1780S prices pit seats at 10 s 6 d, first gallery seats at 5 s, and second gallery seats at 3 s.

(16.) A range of newspapers and periodicals covered Robinson's innovations; arguably the most assiduous was the Lady's Magazine, which began reporting on Robinson in 1780 and continued throughout the decade. For coverage of the 1782-83 season, see the Lady's Magazine, or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex 14 (1783): 187, 268, 331, 650-51.

(17.) Quoted from, respectively, Morning Herald 24 February 1783: 3; Morning Chronicle 25 January 1783: 2; Morning Herald 25 January 1783: 3; Morning Herald 9 January 1783: 2; Morning Herald 20 March 1783: 3; Rambler's Magazine 1 (January 1783): 238; Morning Herald 25 January 1783: 3; and Hester Davenport, The Prince's Mistress: A Life of Mary Robinson (Thrupp: Sutton, 2004) 123.

(18.) Morning Herald 20 March 1783: 3.

(19.) Morning Herald 22 February 1783: 3. See also the lists in the Morning Chronicle and Morning Herald for 25 January 1783.

(20.) In the eight numbers of the Rambler's Magazine, Robinson is the subject of four illustrations, nine articles, and twenty-seven paragraphs of gossip or "Amorous and Bon Ton Intelligence."

(21.) Anonymous, Harris's List of Covent-Garden Ladies: or, the Man of Pleasure's Kalender for the Year 1788 (London: H. Ranger, 1788).

(22.) On the Morning Post list, Robinson's name appears four times and Tarleton's twice.

(23.) Morning Herald 20 February 1783: 3.

(24.) See the Morning Herald for 5, 20, 22, 24, and 26 February 1783. The Rambler's Magazine regularly reprints the Morning Herald's theatrical and masquerade notices; for two such examples, see the Rambler's Magazine 1(March 1783): 107-10 and 118-19.

(25.) The phrase "operatical uproar" occurs in the Morning Herald 26 February 1783: 3. The block quotation is taken from the Morning Herald 24 February 1783: 3.

(26.) Leo Hughes, The Drama's Patrons (Austin: U of Texas P, 1971) 21.

(27.) Morning Herald 11 March 1783: 3.

(28.) Finney, The Green Room, Huntington Library Larpent MS 635 (25 August 1783), n.pag. This was a one-act prelude produced for Bannister's benefit.

(29.) Morning Herald 22 January 1783: 2.

(30.) See Lucyle Werkmeister, The London Daily Press 1772-1792 (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1963) 90, who notes that the Morning Post "had the distinction of being the first newspaper to make a business of extortion [and] to systematize and expand these practices so that they became the principal source of revenue."

(31.) Morning Herald 8 March 1783: 3.

(32.) Hannah Cowley, The Belle's Stratagem (London: T. Cadell, 1782) II.i (27).

(33.) Both Byrne and Davenport note this error, which most likely has stemmed from the entry on Mary Robinson in Philip H. Highfill, Jr., Kalman A. Burnim, and Edward A. Langhans, A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers & Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800, 16 vols. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1783-82) 13: 35.

(34.) Daniel O'Quinn, Staging Governance: Theatrical Imperialism in London, 1770-1800 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2005) 11.

(35.) Hannah Cowley, A Bold Stroke for a Husband (London: T. Evans, 1784).

(36.) Robinson first donned breeches on to May 1779 as Jacintha in The Suspicious Husband, a role for which she received positive reviews. Five days later she took the role of Fidelia in The Plain Dealer, and the following week again made the papers by wearing Jacintha's breeches to a Covent Garden masquerade. As the Morning Post 11 May 1779:3 review of her as Jacintha makes clear, this was not the first time Robinson had cross-dressed in public: "Mrs. Robinson wore the breeches for the first time (on stage at least) in the character of Jacintha in the Suspicious Husband, and was allowed to make a prettier fellow than any of her female competitors." The last two months of the 1779-80 season were especially busy for Robinson, as Sheridan exploited the flurry of rumors surrounding her and the Prince. During these months she played Jacintha, Viola in Twelfth Night, Nancy in The Camp, Rosalind in As You Like It, Oriana in the Inconsistant, Widow Brady in The Irish Widow, and Eliza Camply in The Miniature Picture--all breeches roles, and four (Oriana, Widow Brady, Eliza, and Nancy) new to Robinson. See John Genest, Some Account of the English Stage, 10 vols. (Bath: Carrington, 1832) 5: 348-49.

(37.) Hannah Cowley, The Runaway (London: Printed for the Author, 1776).

(38.) Town and Country Magazine 12 (1780): 235.

(39.) Some discrepancy lies between Robinson's stated and actual ages. While her Memoirs gives her date of birth as 27 November 1758, Paula Byrne argues that she was likely born "on 27 November 1757" (Perdita 400).

(40.) Susanna Centlivre, A Bold Stroke for a Wife, ed. Nancy Copeland (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview P, 1998).

(41.) See, respectively [Francis Grose], 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: .,t Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence (London: Macmillan, 1981) n.pag.; and James T. Henke, Courtesans and Cuckolds: A Glossary of Renaissance Dramatic Bawdy (Exclusive of Shakespeare) (New York: Garland, 1979) 36.

(42.) Lisa Freeman, Character's Theater: Genre and Identity on the Eighteenth-Century English Stage (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2002) 18.

(43.) The Rambler's Magazine reported, "The Perdita is allowed to have wit as well as beauty: She paid a fine turned compliment to her gallant Colonel a few days ago. The Colonel observed to her, that she looked divinely in a riding habit; she assured him she would always wear that dress, provided he would always be in a riding habit when he came to visit her" (February 1783): 79; see also Anonymous, The Memoirs of Perdita; interspersed with anecdotes of the Hon. Charles F-x; Lord J-; ... and many other well known characters (London: G. Lister, 1784) 28.

(44.) In addition to Brock's essay mentioned above, see also Sharon Setzer, "The Dying Game: Crossdressing in Mary Robinson's Walsingham," Nineteenth-Century Contexts 22 (2000): 305-28. and Julie A. Shaffer, "Walsingham: Gender, Pain, Knowledge," Women's Writing 9 (2002): 69-85.

(45.) Paula Byrne describes the portrait as a "picture of thoughtfulness, introspection, wistfulness. This particular pose of the turned-away head was known technically as a lost profile: a fitting pose for Perdita, 'the lost one'" (Perdita 233).

(46.) See the Morning Post 13 August 1784, 16 August 1784, 14 July 1786, and 4 August 1786.

(47.) See Byrne, Perdita 243; Davenport, Prince's Mistress 159.

(48.) See John Mark Longaker, The Della Cruscans and William Gifford (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1924) 44; Roy Benjamin Clark, William Gifford: Tory Satirist, Critic, and Editor (New York: Columbia UP, 1930) 36-80; W. N. Hardgreaves-Mawdsley, The English Della Cruscans and Their Time 1783-1828 (The Hague: Marinus Nijhoff, 1967) 179; and Jerome McGann, The Poetics of Sensibility: A Revolution in Literary Style (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996) 74-77.

(49.) Davenport devotes one page to Robinson's three-year involvement in the coterie. Byrne's excellent chapter nevertheless concurs with Maria Elizabeth's assessment, stressing Robinson's later embarrassment and financial need: "Della Cruscanism was flavour of the month, so she became a Della Cruscan" (251).

(50.) The World 1 September 1787: 3. While The British Album claims the poem to be addressed to Robinson, it is not clear from its content that this is tree; see John Bell, The British Album, 2 vols. (London: Bell, 1790) 47-49.

(51.) Della Crusca refers to the Accademia della Crusca, closed by Austrian Grand Duke Leopold 11 in 1783. Merry actually belonged to the Real Accademia, which replaced it.

(52.) Mary Robinson, "To Him Who Will Understand It," The World I November 1788: 3.

(53.) Mary Robinson, "The Muse," The World 13 November 1788: 3.

(54.) Among Robinson's identities was "Bridget," aunt to "Simkin the Second," celebrated for verse epistles to his brother in Wales. Robinson's "Aunt Bridget to her Sister Margaret, Mother of Simkin and Simon," appeared in The World on 25 January 1789.

(55.) See Hannah Cowley, "To Della Crusca," The World 4 August 1787: 3, lines 5-10, 31-40.

(56.) Merry wrote a final poem as Della Crusca, "The Interview," published in The World on 19 June 1789; it commemorated the event and effectively terminated the correspondence.

(57.) See Robinson, Memoirs 2: 126, which incorrectly dates Robinson's involvement with the Della Cruscans as beginning in 1790 rather than 1788. August 1789 therefore seems the most likely for her business meeting with Bell, since it precedes the first poem Robinson published in The Oracle under her own name, and corresponds to a strangely proprietary puff by Bell on 13 August 1789: "Laura Mafia has already acquired Fame ... That Fame sprang from The ORACLE--To The ORACLE let her Productions, and the CONSQUENT FAME, be confined" (3).

(58.) "Lines to David Garrick" by "Mrs. Robinson" appeared in The Oracle on 26 September 1789; the "Monody to Chatterton" appeared 11 May 1791. Robinson continued this practice after 1791 with monodies to Marie Antoinette and Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1793. Part of the interest of these poems is their generational flavor, since they all invoke figures most famous during the decade of Robinson's own celebrity.

(59.) Mary Robinson, Poems (London: J. Bell, 1791) n.pag.
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Author:Gamer, Michael; Robinson, Terry F.
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Date:Jun 22, 2009
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