Tuesday, November 11, 2014
The popularity of that baby-faced boy, who possessed not even the elements of a good actor, was a hallucination in the public mind, and a disgrace to our theatrical history.
Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), Scottish poet. Life of Mrs. Siddons, ch. 18 (1834).
Campell referred to the child actor "Master Betty," William Henry West Betty (1791-1874), who had been taken up by the fashionable world, playing the roles of Romeo and Hamlet at the age of twelve, as well as that of Richard III. The craze lasted two years, to the despair of many, including journalist and poet Leigh Hunt. Hunt was eventually able to write in a contemporary newspaper: "The charm of novelty has at length broken ... and the town is just now somewhat in the position of the husband who, after passing the honeymoon with a beautiful but childish woman, finds his reason once more returning and is content to sit down and ask why he has been pleased."