Sage, Letitia Ann née Hoare, later Robinson, 1773—1817
by Benjamin Colbert
Letitia Ann Hoare’s origins are obscure although two sisters with the maiden name of ‘Hoare’ provide some foundations. The sisters were both actors who débuted on the London stage and acted also in provincial theatres, namely, Katharine Hoare, later Powell (1762-1807), and Sarah Hoare, later Ward.
Letitia Hoare also began a career in acting either before or after she became the common-law wife of a Cheapside haberdasher named Sage. As ‘Mrs Sage’ she appeared as Lady Townly at The Provoked Husband at Covent Garden Theatre on 24 April 1773, and appears again at the same theatre playing Lady Macbeth in 1780 (although the St. James’s Chronicle reported that this was only ‘her second Appearance upon any Stage’).
Her greatest public appearance was as the first English female aeronaut, accompanying George Biggin on a brief flight above the Thames in Vincenzo Lunardi’s balloon on 29 June 1785, witnessed by ‘a Hundred Thousand Spectators in … St. George’s Fields’ according to the St. James’s Chronicle. A first attempt in May had not been successful, and Lunardi himself decided to sit out the second attempt when it became clear that the balloon would not ascend under the weight of the three passengers. An engraving based on Rigaud showing all three in the balloon, however, was issued in advance of the failed first attempt, and was re-engraved before the second. Interest was high in all things aeronautic and Letitia Sage capitalized on this by publishing her Letter … to a Female Friend (1785), said to be her sister in Liverpool (Morning Herald), Sarah Ward. The pamphlet passed into three editions within the year. In the meantime, through July, when public curiosity was at its height, Sage appeared at the Pantheon to converse with all who paid their shilling entrance fee, and, as the publicity assured, ‘young ladies may ascend in the Balloon … as high as the Dome will admit’ (Morning Herald, 13 July 1785).
Sage signs her letter ‘L. A. Sage, No. 10, Charles-Street Covent-Garden’, a home address that proves to be one of the few concrete facts of her mercurial life. She appears next in 1804 under the name of ‘Mrs Robinson’, dresser and wardrobe keeper for Charles Dibdin the younger at Sadler’s Wells Theatre; then from 1805 at the Crow Street Theatre, Dublin; and she is possibly the ‘Mrs Robinson’ who worked as a woman’s dresser at Drury Lane (1812-1817). Nothing further is at present known of her whereabouts after 1817.
Highfill, Philip H., Kalman A. Burnim, and Edward A. Langhans, eds. A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers, and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800. Vol. 13. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991. 167-69. Print.
Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, no. 1464 (Tues., 5 July 1785). Gale Databases: 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers. Web. 18 Dec. 2018.
Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, no. 1471 (Wed., 13 July 1785). Gale Databases: 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers. Web. 18 Dec. 2018.
St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post, no. 2987 (25-27 Apr. 1780). Gale Databases: 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers. Web. 18 Dec. 2018.
St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post, no. 3793 (28-30 June 1785). Gale Databases: 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers. Web. 18 Dec. 2018.
|A Letter, Addressed to a Female Friend. By Mrs. Sage, the First English Female Aerial Traveller||1785|