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scandal, which was on the increase also, began to whisper away her private character. It is to be hoped that all the stories of that day proceeded from the envy of unsuccessful rivals, and that mean wish, which too frequently prevails in society, to mortify acknowledged excellence. Be this as it may, she quitted England in 1794, with a professed intention to visit Italy. On that occasion she was attended by her husband, and also her brother Mr. Charles Weicschell, the infant associate of her musical studies. He excelled on the violin, and by his taste and style of accompanying his sister, is thought to have contributed not a little to set off her talents to the best advantage. This may be literally stiled & musical tour, and she must be acknowledged to have been the first Englishwoman, who, in return for the immense sums levied by foreign artists in this country, laid the continent, itself under contribution. The cognoscenti at Milan, Venice, Leghorn, Padua, Genoa, Florence, and Trieste, were enraptured with her notes; they were astonished at her taste : they heard and confessed the wonders of voice which they almost allowed to surpass every thing hitherto produced on their own side of the Alps. But Naples, so renowned for musical excellence, became the theatre of her glory. The noted Lady Hamilton, then ambassadress from England, immediately took her accomplished countrywoman under her protection, and introduced her at court ! Both the king and queen received her with the most marked respect, and lavished the most magnificent proofs of high favour and protection. Nor were the English, then resident in that city, deficient in point of attention. It now became the fashion to entertain and patronise Mrs. Billington in a national point of view, as well as on account of her own particular excellence. Accordingly, the royal example was followed by Lady Templeton, Lady Palmerston, Lady Gertrude Villars, Lady Grandison, and all the English and Irish nobility then residing in that part of Italy, who either affected or possessed taste.
While at Naples, Mr. Billington died suddenly. This circumstance was at first attributed at home to assassination, and
all the horrors of the stiletto were enumerated and aggravated in the English newspapers. It appears, however, that he became a martyr to apoplexy *, with which he was seized while walking up stairs, in order to bring down a book of music for his wife, and expired on the spot.
This enchanting Syren did not long remain a widow. the irruption of Buonaparte, at the head of the French army, into Italy, she lost a considerable sum of money, to the amount of twenty thousand sequins, which had been deposited in the bank of Venice; but nearly at the same time she found a second husband. + Monsieur de Felessent, who had accompanied the troops of his native country in the commissariat department, became exceedingly dear to her, and made ample amends for the pecuniary losses experienced on the part of his countrymen.
He was a handsome man, and possessed such fascinations, that his English wife often declared, “ she was then in love for the first time in her life !” Having resigned his post, they lived for some time together on an estate purchased out of the remnant of her wealth, within the territories of Venice,
Meanwhile the English public was eager to pay homage to the talents of a female, who had charmed the Transalpine nations. Invitations from the managers, accordingly, poured in so fast upon her, that it was determined to return to England, for the purpose of receiving the golden shower that awaited the arrival of this new Danaë. Accordingly, leaving her disconsolate husband behind, who appeared extremely reluctant at the separation, to superintend her casino, and take care of nearly all that remained out of the wreck of her fortune, Mrs. Billington, after a cohabitation of about two years
and a half, re-visited the land that gave her birth. The enchantress re-appeared at Covent Garden Theatre on the 3d of
* A dignitary of the Church of England, who inhabited part of the hotel, witnessed the catastrophe. It occurred after eating a hearty dinner. As Mrs. Billington was to perform that night before the Court, the secret was kept from her until hes return, late in the evening.
† The marriage took place in 1797.
October, 1801, as the heroine in the serious opera of Artaxerxes. This was peculiarly appropriate on the present occasion, as Dr. Arne is said to have effected a happy as well as judicious combination of the Italian and English schools. In short, we have been told by an adept, that in the music of this drama " he has consolidated the beautiful melody of Hasse, the melifluous richness of Pergolese, the easy flow of Piccini, and the finished Cantabile of Sacchini, with his own pure and native simplicity."
"At the drawing up of the curtain," observes the same writer, who was also a spectator, "Mrs. Billington was welcomed with that warmth which bespoke the high expectations of the audience, and the pleasure they felt at seeing her again on the London stage. At the very commencement of her performance all their expectations were justified. In the duet of "Fair Aurora," which she sung with Mr. Incledon, she glided through the chromatic passage which closes the first and second strain, with a sweetness of effect which no one but herself could produce, and gave the minor third at the words,
"Torn from the idol of my heart,"
with a delicacy and tenderness that came from the soul, and touched the nerves of the whole audience.
"In the beautiful and richly-accompanied air "Adieu, thou lovely youth!"
she was equally charming; her expression was every where perfectly just, and her divisions infinitely neat. In
"If o'er the cruel tyrant, Love,"
she was exquisite. We never witnessed a higher degree of taste, or a more sweet and impressive manner, than she displayed in almost every bar of this fine and original air. Her ornaments, though abundant, were chaste; and the additional notes at the final close, in which she soared with ease to D in alt. were as ingenious and tasteful as they were forcible and expressive. Her
"Let not rage," &c.
was also enchanting, and admitted no idea but of excellence of the first order. The winning softness with which she accented the notes; her high-wrought yet chaste embellishments; the melting delicacy of her turns, and the affecting emphasis with which she enforced the sentiment at the words
" Father, brother, lover, friend," sunk to the heart of every hearer, and convinced the whole audience of the powers of vocal music. In a word, nothing remained to crown the delight of the evening but her execution of the noble bravura, which precedes the finale. In this,
<< The soldier tir'd of war's alarms:”
she displayed the triumph of her art. We, who have heard the once celebrated Miss ‘Brent, (afterwards Mrs. Pinto,) in this fine song, were utterly astonished to find the performance of that accomplished singer so far exceeded by that of Mrs. Billington. With fewer liberties than first-rate performers generally take with songs of this description, she gave it a force and novelty of effect which perfectly enraptured us. The distances were hit with a clearness and precision that evinced her perfect intimacy with the first secrets of fine performance ; and the variation she introduced at the repetition of the concluding division, as also the energy with which she darted to the key note, in alt. kept pace with every expectation her previous excellence had created, and impressed us with ideas of admiration and astonishment."
Mrs. Billington, at that period, was such a favourite with the public, that both houses vied for her support. She accordingly played alternately at Drury-Lane and CoventGarden, and was also commonly engaged at all the fashionable concerts. This charmer, who neither improved the head nor the heart, actually earned more in the course of a coupie of seasons than all the men of genius in the Augustan age of English literature obtained during the course of almost half a century. In the year 1801-2, the profits of her various en
gagements are supposed to have exceeded the sum of 10,0001.; the next season 'equalled the former in point of emolument; and several subsequent ones were no less productive. Many large acquisitions, too, were obtained under the names of presents, allowances, benefits, &c. &c. : so that at one period, her fortune, the chief part of which was wisely placed for a time in the hands of trustees, “ for her own sole use and benefit,” did not fall far short of 65,0001.!
To enter into a minute description of her life, and mention a series of noble and distinguished personages, who declared themselves captivated with her voice and person, would neither be very delicate nor very edifying. After leaving the stage she lived at a charming residence in the vicinity of Hammersmith in a princely style, both as to elegance and expenditure. Her villa was fitted up with a degree of taste and magnificence seldom witnessed in any rank of life; and under the character of a professional woman, she received royal, noble, and plebeian visitors, while some ladies of high title, and connexions, did not disdain to appear at her concerts, and partake of her entertainments, all of which were magnificent and gratuitous.
At length, in 1817, M. de Felessent, who had lived separately from his wife since 1801, suddenly made his appearance in England. It would appear that an absence of full sixteen years had not in the least abated the ardour of his attachment! Flying on the wings of love and expectation, he traversed Italy, advanced rapidly through France, and threw himself at the feet of his long-lost spouse. She, in return, received her husband with open arms, and preparations were instantly made for their return together to the continenf.
Her plate and valuable ornaments were accordingly transmitted by sea, while the two old, but newly-united lovers, crossing at Calais, proceeded by land towards the shores of the Adriatic. After re-visiting their mansion at St. Artien, near Venice, it was their intention to proceed to Rome, and tn Naples. But the hand of death interposed, and put a period to the travels of Mrs. Billington, who was taken ill on the 18th