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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Fontenelle, Louisa (1773 —99)

An actress popular in Scotland in Burns's day. Genest says in his Some Account of the English Stage that her first appearance on any stage was at Covent Garden on 6th November 1788. She took the role of 'Moggy' in the first representation of The Highland Reel, by O'Keefe, according to the Thespian Dictionary. She took the same role at Edinburgh's Theatre Royal on her first Scottish appearance on 17th October 1789. In the summer seasons of 1790 — 91 — 92, Louisa Fontenelle acted at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, but by January 1793, she was back in Edinburgh to join Mrs Esten's company for the season, playing Lucy in The Beggar's Opera among other roles. She also played in Glasgow at the theatre in Dunlop Street. In the winter of 1792, Sutherland's company, playing at Dumfries, included Louisa Fontenelle.

She must have been a woman of great charm and culture. Burns greatly admired her acting and wrote for her 'the Rights of Woman', an address to be given by her on her Benefit Night of 26th November 1792. With the Prologue, he sent a letter to her: 'In such a bad world as ours, those who add to the scanty sum of our pleasures, are positively our benefactors. To you, Madam, on our humble Dumfries boards, I have been more indebted for entertainment, than ever I was in prouder Theatres. Your charms as a woman would ensure applause to the most indifferent Actress, and your theatrical talents would secure admiration to the plainest figure.' He also wrote a poem 'To Miss Fontenelle, on Seeing her in a Favorite Character':

"Sweet naivete of feature,
Simple, wild, enchanting elf,
Not to thee, but thanks to nature,
Thou art acting but thyself.
Wert thou awkward, stiff, affected,
Spurning nature, torturing art;
Loves and graces all rejected,
Then indeed thou'dst act a part."

For her Benefit Night in December the following year, Burns wrote another Address, 'Still anxious to secure your partial favour', declaring in the accompanying letter: 'God knows I am a powerless individual. And, when I thought on my Friends, many a heart ache it has given me! But if Miss Fontenell will accept this honest compliment to her personal charms, amiable manners, and gentle heart, from a man, too proud to flatter, though too poor to have his compliments of any consequence, it will sincerely oblige her anxious Friend, and most devoted humble Servant...'

She married John Brown Williamson, an actor known to Burns and manager of the Dumfries Theatre. They emigrated to America in 1796 where they played in Boston and New York as members of Charleston, South Carolina, company of actors. She died of yellow fever at Charleston on 30th October 1799, aged 26.

Jackson, in his memoirs includes Louisa Fontenelle along with Mrs Yates, Mrs Esten, Mrs Jordan and Mrs Siddons, in a list of 'the most capital performers that could be had', while he was manager of the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh.

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Complete Burns Songs

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