“Ingesting Celebrity: Commodities and Cuteness in the Circulation of Master William Henry West Betty”

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Ingesting Celebrity: Commodities and Cuteness in the Circulation of Master William Henry West Betty

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 On a shelf in the vaults of the Folger Shakespeare Library sit several snuffboxes bearing the image of Master William Henry West Betty, the child actor who dominated the imagination of British audiences between 1803 and 1806. Small, attractive, and delicate, these snuffboxes are undeniably “cute,” in keeping with the association of cuteness with fragility, empathy, and desire (Merish 187). Like other cute objects, they invite human touch them despite their vulnerable materiality, as if to say, “hold me carefully or I will break.” The tiny portraits painted onto the ivory lids enhance the boxes’ cuteness by depicting the “Young Roscius” in his most famous roles, from Shakespeare’s Romeo to the character of Norval in John Home’s Douglas. In turn, the skillful miniaturization of Betty’s image amplifies the cuteness of the boy himself, whom audiences admired as much, if not more, for his physical charms as his convincing stage impersonations.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 This essay investigates the commodities produced to celebrate Master Betty at the height of his popularity, including pamphlets, paper dolls, busts, caricatures, and snuffboxes⎯. Rather than treat these objects as incidental to the celebrity of nineteenth-century child performers and the corresponding history of cuteness, I suggest that close analysis of the production, distribution, and consumption of commodities bearing actors’ likenesses⎯and careful attention to the materiality of the objects themselves⎯can offer valuable insights into audience-performer relations. In this, I follow theatre scholar Robin Bernstein who argues that objects carry within them “scripts” that direct or guide human interaction and therefore offer valuable clues for historians looking to recover lost repertoires of audience interaction and engagement. As this essay shows, commodities mediated the relationship between Betty and his audience by extending the public experience of the theatrical event into the private realm of the home and, in some cases, the body.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Such commodities were central to the production of what we now recognize as celebrity culture. Although some historians see celebrity culture as a distinct phenomenon of late capitalism, historian Simon Morgan insists that celebrity needs to be understood “less as a somewhat arbitrary status assigned to this or that individual, and more as a cultural and economic formation which plays a wider role in society as a whole” (98). In Morgan’s equation, individuals become celebrities in the moment when “a sufficiently large audience is interested in their actions, image and personality to create a viable market for commodities carrying their likeness and for information about their lives and views” (98). If we accept Morgan’s argument, it becomes clear that such a market existed in the early nineteenth century, if not much earlier, and that Master Betty was undoubtedly a celebrity 1

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Historically, children have been aligned with commodities through their performance of cuteness, while small or miniaturized commodities have in turn been aligned with children through their projection of vulnerability and fragility. “[T]he cute always in some sense designates a commodity in search of its mother,” writes cultural historian Lori Merish, “and is constructed to generate material desire; the consumer (or potential consumer) of the cute is expected… to pretend she or he is the cute’s mother” (186) 2 As one of the first child celebrities of the modern era, Master Betty circulated within an emergent economy of cuteness, wherein he was valued for his size, charm, and vulnerability, especially when he became ill and required “adult care” (187). But the cute commodities that constellated around the young boy complicate Merish’s observations in two ways. They suggest first that the triangulation of cuteness, commodities, and children occurred much earlier than the mid-nineteenth century, the focus of Merish’s study; and second, that cute commodities and cute children activated more than an “erotics of maternal longing” (188) directed principally at female consumers. As I aim to show, men were also huge fans of Master Betty and avid collectors of commodities associated with his name and image. Indeed, as analysis of the Folger snuffboxes suggests, for some male fans the act of taking snuff became suffused with an erotic longing that was anything but maternal.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Bettymania
William Henry West Betty was born in September 1791 in Shrewsbury and raised on the outskirts of Belfast. According to contemporary biographers, Betty fell in love with the stage after attending a production of Pizarro, a tragedy detailing the Spanish conquest of Peru starring the celebrated actress Sarah Siddons in the role of Elvira. Siddons’ performance apparently made such a strong impression on young Betty that when he returned home “his conversation ran upon the character of Elvira and the fascinations of the drama” (Harley 12). Of his own initiative (or so his biographers claim), the boy set about learning all of Elvira’s speeches “in imitation of Mrs. Siddons” (12), which he then recited to his parents and their friends. Overcome by the desire to learn more about the stage, he reportedly declared to his father, “I shall die, if you do not permit me to be a player” (13). His parents relented and approached Mr. Atkins, manager of the theatre in Belfast and his “ingenious and experienced prompter, Mr. Hough,” for assistance (13). Atkins and Hough agreed that with proper training Betty might be a success and so when unrest in Ireland led to the declaration of martial law and the subsequent closure of Belfast theatres, Mr. Hough traveled to the Betty’s home to tutor their son.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 In August 1803, several weeks shy of his twelfth birthday, Betty gave his first public performance in Belfast, playing the role of Osman in Zara, a tragedy by Aaron Hill. Surprised and delighted by the young boy’s well-crafted performance, the audience responded “with universal admiration…and tumultuous applauses” (Harley 15) 3 Betty’s next performances, as Young Norval in Douglas and Rolla in Pizzaro, drew increasingly large crowds to the theatre. As word of his talent spread throughout the region, he received invitations from theatre managers in Scotland and England as well as Ireland and so embarked upon a series of provincial tours. Between 1803 and 1804, Betty performed in Dublin, Cork, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Birmingham, Sheffield, and Liverpool, where large audiences greeted him with explosive rounds of applause. In addition to supervising Betty’s performances, Hough appears to have handled negotiations with managers. In a letter with the Birmingham manager, Mr. William M’Cready, 4 he outlined the length and terms for his appearance: Betty would play for six nights for a set share of the house (Harley 15). Hough also advised M’Cready that in preparing his promotional materials the manager should be sure to include Betty’s age, his characters, the previous cities visited, and his new nickname, “the Young Roscius,” a reference to the celebrated tragedian of the Roman stage (26, 30).

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Betty’s celebrity grew as he progressed from city to city. En route to Birmingham after visiting relatives elsewhere, his chaise was surrounded by hundreds of curious spectators, “who seemed perfectly happy in the opportunity of viewing the theatrical prodigy” (Bisset 37). In some cities, Betty was so popular that managers urged him to extend his stay beyond the normal engagement length. Writing from Edinburgh, Hough boasted in a letter to M’Cready that whereas Sarah Siddons’ engagements in the city typically lasted six days, Betty would likely play for four weeks (Harley 26). Some managers went to extraordinary lengths to engage the prodigy. At one point, the manager of the Buxton Theatre traveled to Sheffield at the behest of the local nobility to offer Betty fifty pounds to play one night. But M’Cready, who also managed the Sheffield theatre, had already reengaged the actor for another week and so the Buxton manager returned home empty-handed (Bisset 44-45). Not surprisingly, hotels and coach companies benefited from the surging “Bettymania” as “families of distinction” traveled from London to see what all the fuss was about. At the Doncaster Races, a special “Theatrical Coach” conveyed passengers from the racing grounds to Sheffield to attend the “Young Roscius”’s performances (47).

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 When word of Betty’s triumphs reached London, the management of the city’s licensed theatres, Covent Garden and Drury Lane, sent emissaries to sign him to their respective establishments. Justice Graham, acting on behalf of Drury Lane, offered Betty a seven-night engagement and the receipts from half a benefit. But this offer paled in comparison with others he had received and his parents swiftly rejected it. Seizing the opportunity to outperform their rivals, Covent Garden sent their representative to Birmingham with a more favorable offer, which the Bettys ultimately accepted (Slout and Rudisill 83) 5 However, a loophole in this contract meant that Betty was not prohibited from performing elsewhere on his nights off from Covent Garden and so Drury Lane succeeded in convincing Betty to perform for them on his “off-nights” (83).

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 In the weeks prior to the Young Roscius’ London debut, several authors published competing accounts of the actor’s early life, singing his praises through biographical details, critical essays, and poetry. One of the earliest publications was Strictures Upon the Merits of Young Roscius, written by J. Jackson, a theatre manager in Edinburgh and Glasgow who “had the honour of first introducing Betty to the notice of a British audience” (Harral 35). Despite his enthusiasm, however, Jackson lacked the insider knowledge asserted by later pamphleteers. For example, when J. Bisett of Birmingham published his Critical Essays on the Dramatic Excellencies of the Young Roscius, he claimed to provide “the most authentic information respecting every particular of this wonderful Child of Thespis,” since “the account of the birth and commencement of his theatrical career” had come directly from “the Parents of his juvenile Hero” (“This day…” 71). And certainly Bisset’s compilation of Betty criticism, letters to the editor, and excerpts from Hough’s correspondence with theatre managers, offers a wealth of details about the juvenile actor’s early performances (Bisset 34). Like other pro-Betty biographers, Bisset positioned himself as a caring, surrogate father figure dedicated to upholding Betty’s reputation.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Not to be outdone, George Davies Harley declared that his Authentic Biographical Sketch of the Life, Education, and Personal Character, of William Henry West Betty, the Celebrated Young Roscius was superior to others because it included Betty’s “correct Portrait, engraved from an original Sketch” (“Mr. Harley’s” 71) 6 Like Bisset, Harley boasted about his access to the young boy. “I have undertaken to pen the following pages of authentic matter,” he wrote, “presuming that an intimate knowledge of him both on and off the stage, together with the documents which I have had an opportunity of procuring, may enable me to form a more accurate account of his talents…” (Harley 5). By emphasizing the authenticity and accuracy of their accounts, Harley and Bisset promoted both Betty’s name and their own names through association.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 While Bisset and Harley may have staked the boldest claims to Betty, they were hardly alone in harnessing the young boy’s celebrity for their own ends. Between 1804 and 1805, at least twenty Betty pamphlets entered circulation⎯some complimentary, others skeptical⎯, not to mention numerous other portraits, newspaper articles, and reviews. As the buzz around Betty grew, some Londoners questioned whether audiences in Birmingham, Sheffield, or Liverpool were capable of assessing real talent when they saw it, implying that Master Betty was something of a hoax. Others delighted in poking fun at the actor and his devotees and wrote mocking poetic tributes with titles such as The Bettyad, The Young Rosciad, and The Infant Roscius. In the following passage from The Young Rosciad, the pseudonymous poet Peter Pangloss depicts Betty as a god-like creature come to delight the public and displace established actors, writers, and critics:

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Ye Siddons, Johnstons, Popes, give way,
And never more presume to play.
Ye twinkling stars, of lustre lack,
Retire at once, or stand far back.
“He comes! he comes! YOUNG ROSCIUS comes’
“Sound all, ye trumpets⎯beat, ye drums!”
This glorious Sun, in lustre bright,
Irradiates the dusky night
E’en Garrick’s ghost he keeps at bay,
It flits before him in dismay! (Pangloss 16)

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Here Betty is compared to a celestial body, a “glorious Sun,” whose very presence leads mature, skilled actors like Sarah Siddons to retire or fade away from the stage 7 While dripping with cynicism, this and similar publications served an important promotional function, provoking intense curiosity in the young boy as his London debut approached.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 On December 3, 1804, Betty gave his first London performance at Theatre Royal Covent Garden in the role of Achmet (Selim) in Barbarossa, John Brown’s tragedy about the Algerian ruler. Curious to see if the boy was really all that others claimed him to be, a huge crowd gathered outside the theatre hours before the doors opened. The situation went from bad to worse, as the following journalistic account details:

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 It was in vain that at a very early hour yesterday evening, we took our station at the door, in order to procure admission. But so intense and so violent was the crowd of persons assembled with the same intention, that it was impossible to pass very far beyond the entrance, nor could we perceive, by any advance or diminution of numbers, that the inner doors were ever opened for admission. In this state, the heat and pressure, after a time became so intolerable, that a variety of persons fainted, and others were in danger of suffocation, and other injuries, from the weight and force of the numbers from without, who could not be prevailed upon, by the representations or the shrieks of the people confined within, to desist from attempting to force their passage.
The danger at last becoming extreme, the guards were almost unanimously called for, by the terrified persons who were included between the inner and outer doors, and who could not make good their retreat. (n 30)

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 This account vividly documents the intense desire that Betty’s name and presence evoked. Primed by circulating pamphlets, newspaper accounts, and images, the audience that gathered outside Covent Garden could no longer contain its yearning to see and consume the young child.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Critical response to Betty’s London debut was largely positive. London critics praised his technical skill, his “bold, correct and grace” attitudes, his “striking and elegant” posture, and his convincing portrayal of strong emotion (“Young Roscius” 73). In the weeks following his debut crowds flooded both Covent Garden and Drury Lane hoping to catch a glimpse of the boy. His admirers included the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of York, and other members of the royal household, as well as the Prime Minister and members of Parliament 8 To maintain public interest, Betty presented his entire repertoire, including Young Norval in Douglas, Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Frederic in Lover’s Vows, and introduced several new roles including Hamlet. For many the diversity of these parts testified to Betty’s uncanny virtuosity, though some critics observed that he was much less convincing as a romantic hero like Romeo (“Covent Garden” 70) and suggested that he was overstretching the limits of his talent as Hamlet (“Drury Lane Theatre” 81). Against such criticism, Betty’s friends and fans sprang to his defense, protecting the young child from attacks they considered unwarranted and unjust (“A Sincere Friend” 82) 9 Such passionate efforts point to the intensity of (male) fans’ imagined relationships with Betty, whom they perceived as delicate, vulnerable, and therefore in need of their help.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Fan relationships with Betty formed both inside and outside the theatre. According to one report, “The attraction of the young Roscius is not limited to the stage, for he cannot walk along the streets without drawing crowds, who naturally press after him to see the most extraordinary pickpocket that the Theaters ever knew” (“The attraction,” 75). Although the author’s use of “pickpocket” suggests a more skeptical view of the boy’s talents, public fascination with Betty increased with each performance. Those unable to gain access to tickets to see him at Covent Garden or Drury Lane went far as to wait in the street outside the front door of his Southampton row, hoping to catch “a peep before his drawing-room curtain!” (“Some people” 75). Such accounts support Merish’s equation of the cute child with “pure spectacle, pure display” (188). The harder it became to see Betty, the cuter he became to those privileged enough to catch a glimpse of him on the stage or in the street.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Betty’s health was also a concern for audiences, not to mention the managers who stood to lose a great deal of money if he was indisposed. In advance of the actor’s first move from Covent Garden to Drury Lane, manager Richard Sheridan announced: “Master BETTY shall not perform more than three times a week, and that he shall not be brought forward even so often, if it shall appear to be in the slightest degree inconvenient to his health or feelings” (“We are happy” 73). Carefully timed, this announcement positioned Sheridan as a benevolent manager anxious about jeopardizing his star’s health, while emphasizing the exclusivity of a Betty performance.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 When Betty became ill on December 18 and had to withdraw from his scheduled performance as Achmet in Barbarossa, audiences were overcome with worry. Anticipating such a reaction, the Drury Lane management prepared a special Notice “to circulate through every part of the Town” (“The Young Roscius” 19 Dec. 1804, 76). This Notice included a letter from Betty’s father to Drury Lane informing the theatre of his son’s illness, as well as a supporting letter from Dr. George Pearson verifying that for Betty to return to the stage would be hazardous to his health. An additional note described how the young boy had been seized with a bilious vomiting” the previous day, compounded by “cold and hoarseness” that rendered his voice barely “audible in his room” (76). In the days that followed, London papers published regular updates on Betty’s progress, with often graphic accounts of the various treatments he’d received (e.g. enemas). For their part, Betty’s family posted noticed outside the door to address the “numerous and incessant enquiries of the Nobility and Gentry” (“The Young Roscius” 22 Dec. 1804, 76).

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Such extreme reactions to Betty’s ill health (which appears to have been a fairly common cold or flu) highlight the role of vulnerability in accentuating cuteness. “What the cute stages is, in part, a need for adult care,” Merish observes (187). When Betty became sick, his already-attractive body became the focus of intense public scrutiny and heightened desire, aroused in part by his sudden inaccessibility. Hidden in the inner sanctum of his bedroom, Betty was literally untouchable, even by members of the nobility and gentry, which only made him seem more fascinating, more defenseless, and in need of greater care. In other words, Betty’s forced withdrawal from the stage made him cuter through his association with “the diminutive, the weak, and the subordinate” (Ngai 53).

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Caricaturists likewise played up Betty’s vulnerability and cuteness in comical representations of his on his on- and offstage performances. In William Holland’s caricature from December 1804 (Fig. 1), Betty as Young Norval (Douglas) sits on the lap of the actress Mrs. Harriet Litchfield as Lady Randolph, Young Norval’s mother. The tenderness of this scene, a reunion of a mother with her long-lost adult son, is amplified by the considerable size difference between the two performers. Betty looks like a small, delicate child in his mother’s arms, hardly the brave warrior of Home’s play. The poetic caption in the upper right corner of the page hails Betty as “Nature’s own sweet little fellow,” emphasizing his “genius,” “charm,” and delightful cuteness.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Fig. 1. “Lady Randolph and Douglas.” Houghton Library, Harvard University.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Betty’s cuteness is again emphasized in Fig. 2, published on November 30, 1804, four days before Betty’s debut. Here the caricaturist R. Ackermann playfully imagines the frustration of adult managers and actors forced to contend with Betty’s celebrity status and yield to his childish whims by depicting the young actor playfully leaping over the grumbling Covent Garden theatre manager John Philip Kemble costumed as Hamlet. Paraphrasing Ophelia’s lines, Kemble bemoans his fate: “woe is me/ Seeing what I have seen/ Seeing what I see!!/ Oh Roscius!” Again, Betty appears much younger than his thirteen years, while Kemble seems dismayed that the rambunctious child has reduced him to a glorified governess.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Fig. 2. “Theatrical Leap Frog.” Houghton Library, Harvard University.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 While “Theatrical Leap Frog,” alludes to the dangers of cuteness for those who come into contact with it⎯e.g. Betty transforms all adults into playthings⎯other caricatures point more explicitly to cuteness’s ugly underbelly, especially where subjectivity is concerned. As Merish observes, “cuteness enacts the fundamental ambivalence of the child in a liberal-capitalist order: as at once consenting ‘subject’ and property ‘object’” (187). In the following caricature, titled “The Young Roscius Weighing the Manager’s Gold” (Fig. 3), Betty’s status as a desirable commodity is made explicit. Bound by gold chains to Richard Sheridan, manager of Drury Lane, and Thomas Harris, representing Covent Garden, Betty questions the value of the gold on offer, observing that it “appears to be sterling on both sides.” Sheridan, on the right, promises that his offering is “true Pizarro gold brought by my slaves from the mines of Peru” (an allusion to the play Pizarro), while Harris assures him that his gold is pure. Although Betty appears to have the upper hand in these negotiations, his enchained body implies otherwise, hinting that the child actor might have more in common with Sheridan’s Peruvian slaves than his lucrative contracts would suggest. It is worth noting that Betty appears physically larger in this caricature than in others, as though the artist anticipated a negative reaction to the sight of a small child bound in chains. In this image cuteness is aligned with Betty’s function as a commodity and works to “aestheticize [his] powerlessness” (187), despite his central position.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Fig. 3. “The Young Roscius Wearing the Manager’s Gold.” Houghton Library, Harvard University.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Other critics noted Betty’s problematic commodification and accused his father of demanding ever-higher rates for his son’s services. In the mock poem The Rosciad, Peter Pangloss refers to Betty as “thy father’s prop” and “the public’s toy” (14). In Pangloss’s view, Betty’s money-loving father was to blame for thrusting the boy “down the people’s throats” (26). Yet Betty senior was hardly responsible for Bettymania or the reduction of his son into a “toy.” Rather, Betty’s commodification was the result of the collective efforts of theatre managers, critics, pamphleteers, artists, as well as those who produced cute, accessible commodities for Betty’s fans to consume.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 Within days of Betty’s London debut, entrepreneurs flooded the market with medals, fans, paper dolls, cups, “Norval caps,” “Achmet turbans,” and snuffboxes commemorating the young boy’s performances 10 Collectively, these commodities anticipated the full flowering of a “culture of commemoration,” historian Asa Briggs’s term to describe the British desire to celebrate all manner of battles, coronations, births, lectures, and celebrated individuals through the production and consumption of an array of material goods, from high art to cheap goods. Some commodities, like a set of paper dolls now housed in the Folger Shakespeare Library, invited Betty fans (presumably but not necessarily children) to put themselves simultaneously into the role of the young actor and his many characters (“Young Albert,” Ziegler). These dolls promote a peculiar nesting effect, inviting consumers to play with/as the doll Betty in a series of roles, including Ahmet and Hamlet. Other objects, like the “Roscius Dance Fan” appealed directly to women, encouraging them to perform their femininity through the mediation of the young Roscius, whose image they presumably carried in their hands as they moved across the dance floor (“The Young Roscius⎯New Fans”). But of all the Betty memorabilia produced at the height of the boy’s popularity, snuffboxes scripted a much more personal, even intimate, encounter with the actor, or at least his image, and hint at the erotic thrill that many male fans may have experienced watching him perform.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Inhaling snuff, dreaming of Betty
Snuff is ground up and distilled tobacco, often scented with jasmine, rose, bergamot, lemon, or other strong scents, which is inhaled directly through the nostrils. Snuff takers carried their snuff around with them in small boxes, from which they removed small “pinches” at a time, sometimes as frequently as every ten minutes. In the early eighteenth century, one observer described entering a London coffee-house where a “Fluttering Assembly of Snuffing Peripatetiks” had gathered. “[T]he Clashing of their Snush-Box lids, in opening and shutting made more noise than their Tongues,” he snidely remarked (qtd. in Hughes 15).

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 Snuff’s enduring popularity among the social elite as well as members of the emergent middle class throughout the eighteenth and into the nineteenth century encouraged the expansion of a market for lavish snuffboxes, including those ornamented with miniature portraits, painted onto vellum and then ivory with watercolors. Both Lord Byron and Beau Brummel were known for their extensive snuffbox collections and the Earl of Harrington was rumored to have enough snuffboxes for every day of the year, with specific boxes designated for morning, afternoon, and evening use (Hughes 17). Portrait subjects include famous individuals, loved ones, and even family pets. As noted above, the Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection of Master Betty snuffboxes includes an array of miniature portraits on the snuff-box covers, which point to their popularity among Betty’s fan base and in turn offers evidence of a strong male contingent in that base (women did use snuff but the practice was typically gendered male) 11

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 The Folger snuffboxes vary in size and design. Some feature Master Betty’s face in profile, highlighting his attractive facial features and curly mane of hair, while others show Betty in character. Interestingly, the thick lace ruff on Betty’s shirt in Fig. 4

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Fig. 4. Snuffbox with profile portrait of Master Betty. Folger Shakespeare Library.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 connotes softness and delicacy; the lace leads us to where we might expect to see some décolletage if Betty was a woman. By contrast, the snuffbox in Fig. 5 places less emphasis on the child’s physical features (though the artist depicts a very active body) \

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Fig. 5. Snuffbox showing Master Betty as Selim (Achmet) in Barbarossa. Folger Shakespeare Library.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 than on his skill and talent as an actor. Another pair of finely detailed snuffboxes represent Betty in the role of Douglas (a warrior) and Romeo (a lover) (Fig. 6-7). Their similar design suggests that they may have been part of a set produced to appeal to fans’ collecting instincts. In some cases, the snuffbox illustrations are reproductions of frontispieces or other artists’ portraits of the actor, a not uncommon practice at the time 12

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Fig. 6 and Fig. 7. Snuffboxes showing Betty in character as Romeo and Young Norval. Folger Shakespeare Library.

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 As objects of devotion and affiliation, these snuffboxes offer insight into the collectors’ desires and their relationship (imagined or otherwise) with the “Young Roscius.” In their size, design, and function, they invited collectors to feel an intimate, embodied connection to the actor. Size is an important factor in this: as small, transportable objects, snuffboxes were typically “carried in the left hand waistcoat pocket from which it was withdrawn with the right hand and passed to the left hand” (Hughes 16). In other words, a snuffbox was an everyday accessory⎯a crucial part of the wardrobe⎯held in the hands or worn in the waistcoat pocket, concealed between the outside world and the snuff-user’s body. But more than this, the snuffbox carried material (snuff) that its owner ingested into the body through the nasal passageways. One can imagine, then, the kind of erotic associations that snuff users might have drawn between the experience of taking snuff and that of witnessing a handsome young boy appear onstage 13 By this I don’t mean to suggest that taking snuff was an inherently sexual act or that it prompted same-sex desire. Nevertheless one can imagine that there was something decidedly sensual about the combination of the cute boy, the cute snuffbox, and the delicious rush that apparently followed the act of taking snuff. Thus while Lori Merish maintains that “[c]uteness performs the de-sexualization of the child’s body, redefining that body from an object of lust (either sexual or economic) to an object of ‘disinterested’ affection” (188), the cute snuffboxes seem to have confused matters somewhat by bringing Betty (or at least Betty’s image) into intimate association with his male fan’s bodies.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 This reading of the complex, sensual (if not sexual) dynamic between Betty and his male fans is supported by accounts of the number of men who attended the young boy’s performances and swarmed the pits to get close to him. At Betty’s first appearance at Covent Garden, for example, the crush in the pits was so intense and the air so stale that several men passed out and had to be lifted to the boxes to safety. “We have not heard of any fatal accident,” commented the Morning Herald in its account of the opening, “but the fainting, bruises, and minor contingencies are beyond all enumeration (“Theatre” 72). I see a curious analogue here between the theatregoers’ desire to be physically close to Betty, to inhale the same air as him by occupying the pit, and the act of taking snuff, an act of ingestion or inhalation. The latter, of course, was much safer, at least in the interim. By purchasing one or more snuffboxes with Betty’s image, fans could imaginatively align themselves with the star; and when they held the box, removed a pinch of snuff, and inhaled, they may have felt intimately connected to him.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Of course, it is impossible to know for sure what fans experienced when they held a Betty snuffbox, read a Betty pamphlet, or purchased a Betty portrait. Yet the proliferation of Betty-marked commodities between 1803 and 1806, and their existence in performing arts archives today, confirms the existence of a “viable market” eager to access, hold, touch, or embrace the cute child. Whether foregrounding his vulnerability, accentuating his charms, or imitating his diminutive size, these objects made it possible for fans to feel that Betty was a part of their daily lives and that they were part of his too.

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 Works Cited
Anonymous. Authentic Memoirs of the Young Roscius; Including His Birth, Family, and Education with Critical Remarks on His Theatrical Abilities &c. &c. &c. London: M.C. Springsguth, 1804. Houghton Library Collections, Harvard University. Print.
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Betty, Henry. “Print of Master Betty, Letter to the Editor,” Morning Herald 29 Dec. 1804. Collectanea 77.
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Harral, Thomas. The infant Roscius, or An Inquiry into the requisites of an actor, comprising a critical analysis of young Betty’s acting on the London boards. (1805). Houghton Library Collections, Harvard University. Print.
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“Mr. HARLEY’S authentic Account,” clipping, 1 Dec. 1804. Collectanea 71.
“Medals, 1st of each, of the Young Roscius,” Morning Herald 10 Dec. 1804 Collectanea 75.
Morgan, Simon. “Celebrity: Academic ‘Pseudo Event’ or a Useful Concept for Historians?” Social and Cultural History 8.1 (2011): 95-114. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.
Ngai, Sianne. Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012. Print.
Roach, Joseph. It. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. Print.
A Sincere Friend of the Young Roscius, “The Young Roscius,” Morning Herald 25 Mar. 1805. Collectanea 82.
Slout, William L., and Sue Rudisill. “The Enigma of the Master Betty Mania.” Journal of Popular Culture 8.1 (Summer 1974): 81-90. Periodicals Archive Online. Web. 18 Sept. 2015.
“Some people affect to be angry…” Morning Herald 15 Dec. 1804. Collectanea 75.
“Theatre,” clipping, n.d. Collectanea 72.
“We are happy to learn…” Morning Herald 6 Dec. 1804 Collectanea 73.
“Young Albert, the Roscius” (PN 2598 B65 Y7 Ex.ill.). Folger Shakespeare Library.
“Young Roscius,” clipping 10 Dec. 1804. Collectanea 73.
“The Young Roscius,” Morning Herald 19 Dec. 1804. Collectanea 76.
“The Young Roscius,” Morning Herald 22 Dec. 1804. Collectanea 76.
“The Young Roscius,” Morning Herald 27 Dec. 1804. Collectanea 77.
“The Young Roscius⎯New Fans,” Morning Herald 13 Dec. 1804. Collectanea 75.
Ziegler, Georgianna. “Introducing Shakespeare: The Earliest Versions for Children.” Shakespeare 2.2 (2006): 132-151. Web. 6 Jan. 2015.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 Notes:

  1. 44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0
  2. And certainly other scholars share this view of Betty, as the title of Jeffrey Kahan’s recent study, Bettymania and the Birth of Celebrity Culture, attests. Performance studies scholar Joseph Roach traces the emergence of celebrity culture to the court of Louis XIV.
  3. See also Sianne Ngai’s work on cuteness as an aesthetic category.
  4. See also Kahan, Slout and Rudisill for the details of Betty’s earliest performances.
  5. McCready was the father of the famous actor of the same name.
  6. This contract included a twelve-night engagement with a set nightly earning of 50 guineas and a clear benefit (Slout and Rudisill 83).
  7. Harley’s claim points to ongoing argument among artists who claimed that their portraits of Betty were superior to their competitors and accused others of misappropriating their work (“The Young Roscius” 27 Dec. 1804, “Print of Master Betty”).
  8. In fact, a number of leading actors did withdraw from the stage temporarily during Betty’s “reign,” either because their were no roles for them or because they did not wish to be associated with a child performer. For her part, Siddons, Betty’s idol, did not look favorably on the young boy (Slout and Rudisil 86).
  9. In [date] Betty visited the House of Commons with his father, (n -61) where he chatted with several representatives.
  10. See also Bisset 50-63.
  11. See various clippings in Collecteana, especially those on p. 75.
  12. I should note that some of the boxes in the Folger collection are not snuffboxes per se and may have been used for other purposes.
  13. Compare the illustration on the snuffbox in Fig. 5 with the frontispiece to Authentic Memoirs of the Young Roscius.
  14. John Philip Kemble was a snuff user but it is unlikely that he owned a Betty snuffbox. According to one account, when someone asked the actor-manager if he thought Betty was one of England’s finest actors, Kemble “stiffly replied by taking a pinch of snuff in his fingers and raising it pointedly at his nose, ‘I have never, my Lord, seen the young gentleman play’” (Slout and Rudisill 86).
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