Elizabeth Farren

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Farren, Elizabeth, Countess of Derby, an actress, was born in 1759 at Cork, where her father, George Farren, was a surgeon and apothecary. His drinking habits brought on bankruptcy and early death, and his widow returned to her relatives in Liverpool, and went on the stage to support herself and her three children. Elizabeth, when scarcely more than a child, became an actress, and gave so much promise of excellence, and was endowed with such delicacy of mind and refinement of manners, that she soon became a public favourite. After her early novitiate, she never consented to appear in male attire, and thus shut herself out from many characters in which her rival and countrywoman, Mrs. Woffington, shone.

After playing in the provinces, in June 1777 she made her appearance in London, at the Haymarket, as "Miss Hardcastle" in She Stoops to Conquer. Her reception, though favourable, was by no means enthusiastic. Next year she played at Drury-lane, and her talents were there fully appreciated: during the summer vacations she filled up her time at the Haymarket and in the provinces. She had not been many seasons on the London stage, when by her purity of life and her professional success she obtained the entree of the fashionable world, and occasionally took part in, and conducted the stage arrangements at the private theatricals of the nobility. It was thus she first became acquainted with the Earl of Derby.

Mr. Fox was one of her ardent admirers. The Earl of Derby was at this time married, but separated from his wife — the marriage had been most unhappy. Miss Farren is thus described at this period: "Her figure is considerably above the middle height, and is of that slight texture which requires the use of full and flowing drapery; her face, though not regularly beautiful, is animated and prepossessing; her eye, which is blue and penetrating, is a powerful feature when she chooses to employ it on the public, and either flashes with spirit, or melts with softness; her voice we never thought to possess extreme sweetness, but it is refined and feminine; and her smile fascinates the heart, as her form delights the eye."

On 14th March 1797 the Countess of Derby died; a month afterwards Miss Farren took leave of the stage in her favourite character of "Lady Teazle," and on the 8th May she was married to the Earl of Derby. She was received at Court with peculiar favour by Queen Charlotte. She died 29th April 1829, aged 70. Her husband survived her five years. For notes regarding her ancestry, see Notes and Queries, 3rd Series.

Sources

3. Actors, Representative: W. Clark Russell. London,1875.

54. Burke, Sir Bernard: Peerage and Baronetage.

116. Dublin University Magazine (65). Dublin, 1833-'77.

286. Players, Lives of the: John Galt. 2 vols. London, 1831.

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