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MRS. ANASTASIA ROBINSON,
Afterwards the Countess of Peterborough, in the year 1714, appeared upon the Opera stage, with a success that gave an impulse to the vocal art, and a sanction to the débutantes of the day.* Scarcely
* Mrs. Anastasia Robinson was descended from a good family in Leicestershire, and the daughter of a portrait painter, who, having visited Italy for the improvement of his art, had made himself inaster of the Italian language, and acquired a good taste in music. Afterwards being affected with a disorder in his eyes, which terminated in the loss of sight, he was under the necessity of availing himself of his daughter's taste for music, for the support of his family. She was placed under Drs. Croft and Sandoni, and made her appearance in the opera about the year 1720, quitting the stage upon her marriage with the gallant Earl of Peterborough. Her intimate acquaintance, Mrs. Delany, speaks of her as being of a most pleasing, modest countenance, with an easy deportment, and all the manners of a gentlewoman. Her father's house in Golden Square was frequented by men of genius and refined taste; among whom the Earl of Peterborough was a guest, who endeavored to convince her of his partial regard for her. But agreeable and artful as he was, she remained very much upon her guard, which rather increased than diminished his admiration and passion for her. Still his pride struggled with his inclination ; for all this time she was engaged to sing in public-a circumstance very grievous to her, but, urged by the best of motives, she submitted to it in order to assist her parents. At length Lord Peterborough made his declaration to her on honorable terms, which she accepted, as she was sincerely attached to him. He earnestly requested her keeping it a secret, till it was a more convenient time for him to make it known, to which she readily consented, having a perfect confidence in his honor. Among the persons of distinction who professed a friendship for Mrs. A. Robinson, were the Earl and Countess of Oxford, who attended her when she was privately married. They never lived under the same roof, till the Earl being seized with a violent fit of illness, solicited her to attend him to Mount Bevis, which she refused with firmness, unless she might be permitted to wear her wedding ring. His haughty
more than one star appeared in the subsequent fifty years, as we find no mention of any names but those of Miss Brent and Miss Young, afterwards the wife of Dr. Arne. Singing at this time was regarded as a natural faculty; and those persons whom nature had endowed with a good voice, were eagerly sought for. The fame of Richard Elford, a chorister at Lincoln, had reached the metropolis: he was sent for on account of his voice, but his person and action being extremely awkward, he was soon compelled to leave the stage, and was admitted a gentleman of the Chapel Royal. The first persons of any musical education in this country, were Reinhold and Beard, who flourished in Handel's time, and maintained the principal bass and tenor parts in his oratorios. Though Dr. Burney describes the voice of Beard as being of inferior quality, Rousseau, who had heard him during his visit in England, speaks of Beard, when compared with the French vocalists, in terms of admiration. There can be no doubt that he was the first Englishman who combined anything like taste in singing with the
spirit was still reluctant to making a declaration that would have done justice to so worthy a character to whom he was now united. At length he prevailed upon himself, and appointed a day, at the house of his niece, for all his nearest relations to meet him. When they were assembled, he began a most eloquent oration, enumerating all the virtues and perfections of Mrs. A. Robinson, declaring his determination to do her that justice which he ought to have done long ago, wbich was, to present her to his family as his wife. Lady Peterborough, not being apprized of his intention, was so affected, that she fainted away in the midst of the company.
intelligence of an actor; and by his superior knowledge in music and good conduct, he possessed the favor of the public through a long life. The next name that claims our attention, is that of
Who took a bachelor's degree in Oxford. Gifted with a fine tenor voice, and a forcible delivery, he introduced a style more energetic than that of his predecessors. The last song in the Messiah, 'If God be for us, who can be against us ?' now improperly given to a soprano voice, he sang with great expression, laying the emphasis upon 'who can be against us ?' with peculiar effect. Norris was bred up in the school of Purcell, whose compositions he sang with great fervor and spirit. Purcell, in the previous age, had degraded his muse to the sensualities of Charles the Second; and had written volumes of catches and glees devoted to drinking and revelry. The fashion of the times had scarcely risen from a taste so low, when the companionable qualities of Norris made him a welcome guest with the noble and the great. These convivial habits soon prostrated the powers of an ardent and sensitive mind. His last performance was at the Commemoration of Handel in Westminster Abbey, when he was injudiciously brought forward to produce those feelings of rapture which
in his better days he had inspired. Such, however, 'was his feeble state, that he could not even hold
the book from which he sang. His whole frame was agitated by a nervous tremor; and that voice 'which had formerly been heard with rapture, now 'excited the deepest emotions of pity.'
The following extract from Purcell, when emblazoned by the voice of Norris, was a specimen of Anacreontic brilliancy.
The arrival of Handel in the suite of George the First was the commencement of a new 'era in the vocal art. His compositions drew forth the extraordinary powers of the rival songsters, Cuzzoni and Faustina, who by their taste and execution imparted a new sense, and won the admiration of every country in Europe. After a lapse of twenty years, a still greater star arose, when
appeared 'like a divinity among mortals.' This extraordinary vocalist was the first English soprano who united passion to the power of song. Though Faustina had shown her brilliant execution, and Cuzzoni her pathetic tones, yet these wanted the emotion of the heart. It was reserved for Mara to infuse pathos and dignity into the power of song. The first display of her talents took place at the Commemoration of Handel in Westminster Abbey, in the year 1784. On her opening the first day's performance, Dr. Burney says, “though she had but 'a few simple notes to perform, they made me shiver, and I found it difficult to avoid bursting into tears.'