But there reached his ear occasional silver tones, which seemed to assure him of the rare excellence of the instrument. Still, like "the great Mrs. Barry," her first appearances were failures; and such were those of Sarah Siddons, in after years. Warmed by encouraging applause, however, the promise ripened, and with opportunity, the perfection that came was demonstrated both to watchful Cibber and an expectant public.
In the company was at Bath, where Queen  Anne might have been seen in the Pump Room in the morning,—later in the day, at the play.
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But the joyous and brilliant queen of comedy was not there. Verbruggen, the Mrs. Mountfort of earlier days, was ill in town, nursing a baby, whose birth ultimately cost the life of the mother. There was a scramble for her parts.
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Each of the more influential actresses obtained several; but to young and unobtrusive Mrs. Oldfield, there fell but one,—the mediocre part of Leonora, in "Sir Courtly Nice. He was careless, from lack of appreciation of the actress; she was piqued, and sullenly repeated the words set down for her. There was, in short, a mutual distaste. But , when the night came, Colley saw the almost perfect actress before him, and as he says,—"she had a just occasion to triumph over the error of my judgment by the almost amazement that her unexpected performance awaked me to; so sudden and forward a step into nature I had never seen.
And what made her performance more valuable was, that I knew it all proceeded from her own understanding,—untaught and unassisted by any one more experienced actor. Colley Cibber had then in his desk the unfinished manuscript of his "Careless Husband;" it had long lain there, through the author's hopelessness of ever finding an actress who would realise his idea of Lady  Betty Modish.
He had no longer any doubt. He at once finished the piece, brought it on the stage, and silent as to his own share in the triumph, attributed it all, or nearly all, to Mrs.
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Oldfield's, dressed up by him, "with a little more care than when they negligently fell from her lively humour. And Cibber avows, what the testimony of Walpole confirms, that he had "often seen her in private societies, where women of the best rank might have borrowed some part of her behaviour without the least diminution of their sense of dignity. In , the merit of Mrs. Oldfield was not recognised by Gildon, who, in his "Comparison between the two Stages," classes her among "the rubbish," of which the stage should be swept. Of Mrs.
Verbruggen Mountfort , he speaks as "a miracle. By the year , however, she had risen to be on an equality with such a brilliant favourite as Mrs.
The salary of the latter then, and for some years later, was not, however, a large one, if measured by modern rule. Her own benefit was always profitable; but I am sorry to add, that this joyous-looking creature, apparently brimful of good nature, was very reluctant to play for the benefit of her colleagues. A remark of hers to Cibber, shows how she entered into the spirit of her parts.
Oldfield played Barnaby's wife. The couple are a sort of George Dandin and his spouse. When the play was over, Cibber asked her, in his familiar way, "Nancy, how did you like your new husband? Genest cites Cibber, Chetwood, and Davies, in order to describe her adequately. In the wearing of her person she was particularly fortunate; her figure was always improving, to her thirty-sixth year; but her excellence in acting was never at a stand. And Lady Townley, one of her last new parts, was a proof that she was still able to do more, if more could have been done for her.
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Davies, after noticing her figure and expression, says of her "large speaking eyes," that in some particular comic situations she kept them half shut, "especially when she intended to give effect to some brilliant or gay thought. In sprightliness of air and elegance of manner, she excelled all actresses, and was greatly superior in the clear, sonorous, and harmonious tones of her voice.
How are Wilks and the inimitable She photographed for posterity? Oldfield was equally happy in Estifania. When she drew the pistol from her pocket, pretending to shoot Perez, Wilks drew back, as if greatly terrified, and in a tremulous voice, uttered, 'What, thine own husband! From Cibber, again, we learn that she was modest  and unpresuming; that in all the parts she undertook, she sought enlightenment and instruction from every quarter, "but it was a hard matter to give her a hint that she was not able to improve.
Like Mrs. Barry, she entered fully into the character she had to represent, and examined it closely, in order to grasp it effectually. When the "Beaux' Stratagem" was in rehearsal , in which she played Mrs. Sullen, she remarked to Wilks, that she thought the author had dealt too freely with Mrs. Sullen, in giving her to Archer, without such a proper divorce as would be a security to her honour. Wilks communicated this to the author. Oldfield was the original representative of sixty-five characters. The greater number of these belong to genteel comedy, as it is called, a career which she commenced as peculiarly her own, in , when chance assigned to her the part of Leonora, in "Sir Courtly Nice.
Her mere conversation in that play intoxicated the house. At a later period, her audiences were even more ecstatic at her Lady Townley,—an ecstasy in which the managers must have shared, for they immediately added fifty guineas to her salary. It was just the sum which the benevolent actress gave annually to that most contemptibly helpless personage, Savage. Her highest salary never, I believe, exceeded three hundred guineas; but this was exclusive of benefits, occasions on which gold was showered into her lap. Humour, grace, vivacity,—all were exuberant on the stage, when she and Wilks were playing against each other.
Indeed, one can hardly realise the idea of this supreme queen of comedy wearing the robe and illustrating the sorrows of tragedy. She, for her own part, disliked the latter vocation. She hated, as she said often, to have a page dragging her tail about. She can put on a better tragedy-face than I can. When "Cato" was in preparation, Mrs. Oldfield was cast for Marcia, the philosophical statesman's daughter. Addison attended the rehearsals, and Swift was at Addison's side, making suggestions, and marking the characteristics of the lively people about him.
He never had a good word for woman, and consequently he had his usual coarse epithet for Mrs. Oldfield, speaking of her as "the drab that played Cato's daughter;" and railing at her for her hilarity while  rehearsing that passionate part, and, in her forgetfulness, calling merrily out to the prompter, "What next?
Yet this hilarious actress played Cleopatra with dignity, and Calista with feeling. She accepted with great reluctance the part of Semandra, in "Mithridates," when that tragedy was revived in ; but Chetwood says she performed the part to perfection, and became reconciled to tragedy by reason of her success. In these characters, however, she could be excelled by others, but in Lady Betty Modish and Lady Townley she was probably never equalled.
In the comedy of lower life she was, perhaps, less original; at least, Anthony Aston remarks, that in free comedy she borrowed something from Mrs. Verbruggen's manner. When Wilks, as Lord Townley, exclaimed "Prodigious! Oldfield, the house applied it to her acting, and broke into repeated rounds of applause. Actors and actresses can only guess at the tone of high life, and cannot be inspired with it. Why are there so few genteel comedies, but because most comedies are written by men not of that sphere.
Etherege, Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Cibber wrote genteel comedy, because they lived in the best company; and Mrs. Oldfield played it so well, because she not only followed, but often set the fashion.
General Burgoyne has writ the best modern comedy  for the same reason; and Miss Farren is as excellent as Mrs. Oldfield, because she has lived with the best style of men in England. Farquhar's plays talk the language of a marching regiment in country quarters.
Wycherley, Dryden, Mrs. In this there is some injustice against Mrs. Centlivre, for whose name should be supplied that of Aphra Behn. It has been said of Mrs. Oldfield, that she never troubled the peace of any lady at the head of a household; but I think she may have marred the expectations of some who desired to reach that eminence.
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She early captivated the heart of Mr. He was a bachelor, rich, connected with the government, and a hard drinker, according to the prevailing fashion. He was Cymon subdued by Iphigenia. He loved the lady's refinement, and she kept his household as carefully as if she had been  his wife, and presided at his table with a grace that charmed him.