Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘John Phillip Kemble’

Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

William Henry Ireland
2 August 1775 – 17 April 1835

PastedGraphic-2016-09-22-06-00.png

William Henry Ireland

William Henry Ireland claimed throughout his life that he was born in London in 1777, recently discovered evidence puts his birth two years earlier, on 2 August 1775. His father, Samuel Ireland, was a successful publisher of travelogues, collector of antiquities and collector of Shakespearian plays and “relics”. There was at the time, and still is, a great paucity of writing in the hand of Shakespeare. Of his 37 plays, there is not one copy in his own writing, not a scrap of correspondence from Shakespeare to a friend, fellow writer, patron, producer or publisher. Forgery would fill this void.

William Henry also became a collector of books. In many later recollections Ireland described his fascination with the works and the glorious death of the forger Thomas Chatterton, and probably knew the Ossian poems of James Macpherson. He was strongly influenced by the 1780 novel Love and Madness by Herbert Croft, which was often read aloud in the Ireland house, and which contained large sections on Chatterton and Macpherson. When he was apprenticed to a mortgage lawyer, Ireland began to experiment with blank, genuinely old papers and forged signatures on them. Eventually he forged several documents until he was ready to present them to his father.

In December 1794, William told his father that he had discovered a cache of old documents belonging to an acquaintance who wanted to remain unnamed, and that one of them was a deed with a signature of Shakespeare in it. He gave the document – which he had of course made himself – to his overjoyed father, who had been looking for just that kind of signature for years.

A letter supposedly written by Shakespeare (forged by Ireland) expressing gratitude towards the Earl of Southampton.

Ireland went on to make more findings – a promissory note, a written declaration of Protestant faith, letters to Anne Hathaway (with a lock of hair attached), and to Queen Elizabeth – all supposedly in Shakespeare’s hand. He claimed that all came from the chest of the anonymous friend. He “found” books with Shakespeare’s notes in the margins and “original” manuscripts for Hamlet and King Lear. The experts of the day authenticated them all.

On 24 December 1795, Samuel Ireland published his own book about the papers, a lavishly illustrated and expensively produced set of facsimiles and transcriptions of the papers called Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments under the Hand and Seal of William Shakespeare (the book bears the publication date 1796). More people took interest in the matter and the plot began to unravel.

In 1795, Ireland became bolder and produced a whole new play – Vortigern and Rowena. After extensive negotiations, Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan acquired rights for the first production of the play at London’s Drury Lane Theatre for £300, and a promise of half of all profits to the Irelands.

Sheridan read the play and noticed it was relatively simplistic compared to Shakespeare’s other works. John Philip Kemble, actor and manager of Drury Lane Theatre, later claimed he had serious doubts about its authenticity; he also suggested that the play appear on April Fool’s Day, though Samuel Ireland objected, and the play was moved to the next day.

Although the Shakespeare papers had prominent believers (including James Boswell), sceptics had questioned their authenticity from the beginning, and as the premiere of Vortigern approached, the press was filled with arguments over whether the papers were genuine or forgeries. On 31 March 1796, Shakespearean scholar Edmond Malone published his own exhaustive study, An Inquiry into the Authenticity of Certain Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments, about the supposed papers. His attack on the papers, stretching to more than 400 densely printed pages, showed convincingly that the papers could be nothing other than modern forgeries. Although believers tried to hold their ground, scholars were convinced by Malone’s arguments.

Vortigern and Rowena opened on 2 April 1796, just two days after Malone’s book appeared. Contemporary accounts differ in details, but most agree the first three acts went smoothly, and the audience listened respectfully. Late in the play, though, Kemble used the chance to hint at his opinion by repeating Vortigern’s line “and when this solemn mockery is o’er.” Malone’s supporters had filled the theatre, and the play was greeted with the audience’s catcalls. The play had only one performance, and was not revived until 2008.

When critics closed in and accused Samuel Ireland of forgery, his son published a confession – An Authentic Account of the Shaksperian Manuscripts – but many critics could not believe a young man could have forged them all by himself. One paper published a caricature in which William Henry is awed by the findings when the rest of the family forges more of them (as opposed to what was really going on). Samuel Ireland’s reputation did not recover before his death in 1800.

In 1805 William Henry published The Confessions of William Henry Ireland, but confession did not help his reputation. He took on a number of miscellaneous jobs as a hack writer but always found himself short of money. In 1814 he moved to France and worked in the French national library, continuing to publish books in London all the while. When he returned in 1823, he resumed his life of penury. In 1832 he published his own edition of Vortigern and Rowena (his father had originally published it in 1799) as his own play with very little success.

There has been recent scholarly interest in his later Gothic novels and his poetry. His illustrated Histories were popular, so to say that Ireland died in obscurity is probably not correct. He was, however, perpetually impoverished; he spent time in debtors’ prison, and was constantly forced to borrow money from friends and strangers. When he died, his widow and daughters applied to the Literary Fund for relief. They received only token amounts.

Read Full Post »

Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Charles Mathews
28 June 1776 – 28 June 1835

PastedGraphic1-2015-09-19-06-00.png

Charles Mathews

Charles Mathews was born to James Mathews (died 1804), a Wesleyan Methodist bookseller, printer, and pharmacist on the Strand, who also served as minister in one of the Countess of Huntingdon’s chapels. Charles was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School in London, which had some openings for common boys. He was next apprenticed to his father. For religious reasons, the father forbade his children from visiting theatres. During his youth, Charles met the actor Robert William Elliston; after attending the Drury Lane theatre, he was utterly fascinated by that world. Charles left his father in September 1793 for his first public stage appearance at Richmond. The following year his father allowed him to take up acting in Dublin, writing, “Charles, there are your indentures, and there are twenty guineas ; I do not approve of the stage, but I will not oppose your wishes. At any time hereafter, should you feel inclined to turn to an honest calling, there are twenty guineas more, if you send for them, and your father’s house is open to you.” Charles never claimed the extra 20 guineas.

For several years Mathews took bit parts, but on 15 May 1803 he made his first London appearance at the Haymarket, as Jabel in Cumberland’s The Jew and as Lingo in The Agreeable Surprise. As a continued public success, he was taken on at the Drury Lane. His gift for mimicry enabled him to disguise his personality without a change of costume. His versatility and originality were displayed in his one man show, or “monodramatic entertainment,” entitled At Home or Matthews at Home, which he initiated in the Lyceum Theatre in 1808. Leigh Hunt wrote that his table entertainments “for the richness and variety of his humour, were as good as half a dozen plays distilled.” The show combined mimicry, storytelling, recitations, improvisation, quick-change artistry, and comic song.

In 1822-1823 Mathews toured the United States to great success. During his stay, he developed a number of impressions of American types. One of these was the African American, said to have been based on the American black actor James Hewlett, who performed Shakespeare roles at the African Grove. In his next show, A Trip to America, Mathews sang a version of the popular slave freedom song, “Possum Up a Gum Tree”, performing in dialect and possibly in blackface. One author called him “the paterfamilias of the Yankee theatre and the progenitor of all native American dialect comedy.” Mathews won 3,000 crowns’ damages after bringing an action for libel against the Philadelphia Gazette.

Returning to England in autumn 1823, he joined Frederick Henry Yates, manager of the Adelphi Theatre. During his successful career, Mathews, together with John Kemble and John Braham, was received as a guest by George IV. A few years after his return from the US, Mathews bought a half-share in the Adelphi Theatre. His connection with the Adelphi was a critical and popular success for Mathews, but not a financial success. In 1834, he made a second tour performing in the United States. He cut his trip short and returned ill from the tour, after his last appearance in New York City on 11 February 1835.

Failing to recover his health, Mathews died poor in Plymouth in June 1835, without appearing again on a British stage.

In 1797, Mathews married Eliza Kirkham Strong of Exeter, the author of a volume of poems and some novels, and an actress. She retired from the stage in 1801 and died in 1802.

In 1803, Mathews married Anne Jackson, an actress and half sister to the actress Frances Maria Kelly. Anne Jackson Mathews wrote a biography of Mathews. His only child by his second wife was Charles James Mathews, who became a successful actor in turn.

The character of Alfred Jingle in Charles Dickens’ novel, The Pickwick Papers, is said to have been inspired by Mathews.

Read Full Post »

Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

George Frederick Cooke
17 April 1756 – 26 September 1812

PastedGraphic1-2015-08-30-06-00.png

George Frederick Cooke

George Frederick Cooke claimed to have been born in Westminster, it seems likely that he was the illegitimate child of a British soldier in Dublin. He was raised in Berwick-upon-Tweed, where in 1764 he was apprenticed to a printer. However, early exposure to strolling players made an impact. By the end of the decade he had gotten himself released from his apprenticeship and become an expert.

He made his first appearance on the stage in Brentford at the age of twenty as Dumont in Nicholas Rowe’s Jane Shore. His first London appearance was at the Haymarket Theatre in 1778; he played in benefit performances of Thomas Otway’s The Orphan, Charles Johnson’s The Country Lasses, and David Garrick and George Colman’s The Clandestine Marriage. Almost immediately, however, he returned to the country, and he spent the next decade and more touring, from Hull to Liverpool. He first performed with Sarah Siddons in York in 1786; by that time he had earned a substantial provincial reputation. In 1794 in Dublin, as Othello, he first attained high rank in a national capital; by 1800, London critics had dubbed him the Dublin Roscius. His unusually long provincial apprenticeship in many ways served him well. After an initial concentration on romantic leads, particularly in comedy, he gradually found his metier playing rakes and villains. As a regional star, he performed with Siddons, Dorothy Jordan and other London celebrities; he had over 300 roles in his repertoire.

At the same time, he developed a drinking problem, and a reputation for unreliability inevitably followed. A binge drinker, Cooke would abandon his duties for weeks at a time, often spending whatever money he had in the process. Shortly after his first triumph in Dublin, he disappeared from the stage for over a year. At some point in 1795, he had enlisted in the British Army, in a regiment due for deployment to the Caribbean. He was extricated from the military by the efforts of theatre owners in Manchester and Portsmouth, and he returned to Dublin in 1796.

In 1801, he appeared at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden as Richard III; this role would become his most famous. That year he also played Shylock (The Merchant of Venice), Iago (Othello), Macbeth, Kitely (Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour), and Giles Overreach, and became the rival of Kemble, with whom, however, and with Mrs. Siddons, he acted from 1803. In 1802 he added roles in Edward Moore’s The Gamester and Charles Macklin’s Man of the World.

After Kemble and Siddons came to Covent Garden in 1803, the rivalry between the two actors unfolded on one stage instead of two. Fittingly, they debuted in Richard III, though Kemble played the title role and Cooke Richmond. Shortly later they acted in John Home’s Douglas: Cooke played Glenalvon to Kemble’s Old Norval, and Siddons was Lady Randolph. Washington Irving records seeing the group in Othello (Cooke was Iago, and Charles Kemble was Cassio); he called the performance delightful.

For the next decade, Cooke was an erratic star in London. Already a confirmed alcoholic when he arrived, he grew steadily less reliable as his career progressed. Already in 1801, he was unable to perform because he was drunk; such failures became more frequent in later years. In 1807, after failing to appear for his summer season in Manchester, he was jailed in Westmorland for several months. In the last years of the decade, he managed to curb his excesses to some extent; he was, for instance, frequently on stage during the Old Price riots.

However, he was unhappy with his treatment by the London press, and he was easily persuaded to travel to the United States in 1810. American audiences received him enthusiastically. He premiered as Richard III in New York on 11 November. Escorted by William Dunlap, he remained sober and performed in Boston, where he played opposite English tragedienne Mary Ann Duff, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Providence. Thomas Sully painted him as Richard; the result is generally considered Sully’s best painting of a human figure. He earned 20,000 dollars for his efforts, but the windfall reaped by the theater-owners (more than $250,000) left him feeling bitter and exploited. By 1812, he had accepted an invitation to return to Covent Garden. The outbreak of the War of 1812 stranded him in New York. He died of cirrhosis at the Mechanics’ Hall in Manhattan on 26 September.

A monument to his memory was erected in St. Paul’s chapel (on Fulton Street) by Edmund Kean during his first American tour in 1821. Barry Cornwall claimed that Kean brought Cooke’s big toe back to England, where his disgusted wife subsequently threw it away. Other biographers claim Kean stole a finger rather than a toe, and a relatively unreliable American writer claims that after Cooke’s skull was used as the skull of Yorick in a performance of Hamlet, members of a private New York club (including Daniel Webster and Henry Wheaton) subjected the skull to phrenological examination.
]
Cooke’s personal life was, unsurprisingly, markedly chaotic. Even apart from his binges, he was profligate and generous with his money, so that he rarely enjoyed a prolonged period of security. He married late. In September 1808 in Edinburgh he married Sarah Lamb. She accompanied him to London for the 1808 season, but in February 1809 Sarah returned to her family in Newark-on-Trent and was not associated with the actor thereafter. In New York, he married Violet Mary Behn, the daughter of a coffee-house owner. He left at his death $2000, all that remained of a lifetime as a famous actor.

Cooke may be called the first fully romantic actor in England. He drew on the style of Garrick and Macklin, both of whom he saw in his youth; he expanded on their naturalness and informality of style. That Kean idolized him is perhaps sufficient to suggest his style; there are also the contrasts that period critics saw between his style and that of the refined, dignified Kemble.

Cooke was about 5’10”, with a commanding stage presence and a long, aquiline nose. His stage presence was generally described as commanding, although many observers noted that his voice tended to become hoarse in the later acts of challenging plays. He was, like Garrick, a restless, physically dynamic performer; critics also noted his skill in using his eyes to convey complex thoughts or emotions, and his ability to project stage-whispers even in a large venue.

Little record of response to his early romantic roles exists; however, his technique in his mature tragic roles is abundantly recorded. He was at his best in roles of suave or energetic villainy or hypocrisy. In comedy, his Macsarcasm (from Macklin’s Love à la Mode) and Shylock were considered unsurpassable. In tragedy, in addition to Richard, he was a notable Iago. Though King Lear was not one of his signature roles, his interpretation of Lear’s madness influenced that of Kean and other actors.

Yet his performance in roles that required refinement or restraint was almost universally disparaged—perhaps inevitably, given the looming shadow of Kemble. His Hamlet was a failure. As Macbeth, he was said to manage nothing better than “low cunning.” Henry Crabb Robinson reports that Cooke failed in Kotzebue’s The Stranger; Robinson expressed a common opinion when he concludes that however compelling a presence, Cooke was too coarse for the greatest tragic roles. Leigh Hunt agreed, arguing that Cooke reduced all of his characters to their lowest motives. Of Cooke’s famous style of declamation (like Macklin, he delivered soliloquies as if thinking aloud), Hunt complained that it merely turned Shakespeare’s poetry into indignant prose.

As Richard III, Cooke offered an interpretation that both differed from and excelled Kemble’s rather staid performance. In such melodramatic scenes as the murder of Henry VI, Cooke excelled in conveying Richard’s horrid glee (as, indeed, had Kemble); unlike Kemble, however, Cooke was also able to convey a sense of Richard’s disgust with himself. This aspect of Richard was most notable in his discussion of his hunchback and in his response to Norfolk’s doggerel in 5.2. Where Kemble had simply brushed the bad news aside, Cooke pondered the verse carefully before rejecting it without force. The effect was to deepen Richard’s characterization, providing him with a gradually increasing awareness of his own villainy. Cooke’s Richard was, then, something more than the fairy-tale ogre described by Charles Lamb.

On the whole, though, the limits of Cooke’s talent are indicated by the probably apocryphal story related by Macready and others. Wishing to impress well-born visitors with his mimetic talent, Cooke made a number of faces meant to represent various emotions. One of his looks stumped the visitors. They guessed rage, anger, and revenge before Cooke, exasperated, told them it was meant to be love.

Read Full Post »

Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Thomas Apthorpe Cooper
1776 – 21 April 1849

PastedGraphic1-2015-08-27-06-00.png

Thomas Apthorpe Cooper

Thomas Apthorpe Cooper was an actor. He received a good education, and, on the death of his father, was adopted by Thomas Holcroft and William Godwin. His first appearance on the stage was with Stephen Kemble’s company in Edinburgh, and later he acted at Covent Garden, London, with great success as Hamlet and Macbeth. In December, 1796, he made his first appearance in Philadelphia as Macbeth at the Chestnut Street Theatre, and in August of the following year played in the Greenwich Street Theatre, New York, as Pierre in Venice Preserved. He returned to England in 1802, and for several years held a foremost rank on the English stage. In 1804 he returned to New York and soon afterward, for a long time, became lessee of the Park Theatre. Later he again visited England, but soon returned to the United States, where he continued to play until advanced in years. His daughter, Priscilla, having married the son of President John Tyler, he held various public offices, among which were that of military storekeeper in Frankford, Pennsylvania, during 1841, and later the office of surveyor to the ports of New York and Philadelphia. Cooper had great natural endowments of person and voice, but did not excel as a student. His acting was of the school of John Philip Kemble, whom he bid fair to rival in his early days.

Read Full Post »

Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Lucia Elizabeth Vestris
January 1797 – 8 August 1856

PastedGraphic-2014-11-17-06-00.png

Lucia Elizabeth Vestris

Lucia Elizabeth Vestris January 1797 – 8 August 1856) was an English actress and a contralto opera singer, appearing in works by Mozart and Rossini. While popular in her time, she was more notable as a theatre producer and manager. After accumulating a fortune from her performances, she leased the Olympic Theatre in London and produced a series of burlesques and extravaganzas for which the house became famous, especially popular works by James Planché. She also produced his work at other theatres she managed.

She was born Elizabetta Lucia Bartolozzi in London in 1797, the first of two daughters of the highly regarded German pianist Theresa Jansen Bartolozzi and Gaetano Stefano Bartolozzi. He was a musician and son of the immigrant Francesco Bartolozzi, a noted artist and engraver, appointed as Royal Engraver to the king. Gaetano Bartolozzi was a successful art dealer, and the family moved to Europe in 1798 when he sold off his business. They spent time in Paris and Vienna before reaching Venice, where they found that their estate had been looted during the French invasion. They returned to London to start over, where Gaetano taught drawing. They separated there and Therese gave piano lessons to support her daughters.

Lucia studied music and was noted for her voice and dancing ability. She was married at age 16 to the French dancer, Auguste Armand Vestris, a scion of the great family of dancers of Florentine origin, but her husband deserted her four years later. Nevertheless, since she had started singing and acting professionally as “Madame Vestris”, she retained the stage name throughout her career.

In 1815 her contralto voice and attractive appearance gained Madame Vestris her first leading role at age 18 in Italian opera in the title-role of Peter Winter’s II ratto di Proserpina at the King’s Theatre, where she also sang in 1816 in Martín y Soler’s Una cosa rara and performed the roles of Dorabella and Susanna in Mozart’s operas Così fan tutte and The Marriage of Figaro. She had immediate success in both London and Paris. In the French capital city she occasionally appeared at the Théâtre-Italien and various other theatres, and legend has it that she even performed as a tragic actress at the Théâtre-Français playing Camille opposite François-Joseph Talma in Corneille’s Horace. Which however has turned out to be untrue. The mistake derived from a misreading of Talma’s Mémoires where the actor narrates an episode in which a ‘Madame Vestris’ – not Eliza Lucia Vestris, who was born several years later.

Her first hits in English were in 1820 at age 23 at the Drury Lane in Stephen Storace’s Siege of Belgrade, and in Moncrieff’s burlesque Giovanni in London, where she performed the male title-role of no less than Don Giovanni: the succès de scandale of this breeches performance in which she showed off her fabulously perfect legs, launched her career as a scandalous beauty. Thenceforward she remained an extraordinary favourite in opera, musical farces and comedies until her retirement in 1854. At the King’s Theatre she sang in the English premieres of many Rossini operas, sometimes conducted by the composer himself: La gazza ladra (as Pippo, 1821), La donna del lago (as Malcolm Groeme, 1823), Ricciardo e Zoraide (as Zomira, 1823), Matilde di Shabran (as Edoardo, 1823), Zelmira (as Emma, 1824) and Semiramide (as Arsace, 1824)”.

She excelled in “breeches parts,” and she also performed in Mozart operas, such as Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Blonde) in 1728, and later, in 1742, The Marriage of Figaro (Cherubino), in a complete specially crafted English version by James Planché. She was credited with popularizing such new songs as “Cherry Ripe”, “Meet Me by Moonlight Alone” (written by Joseph Augustine Wade), I’ve been roaming,” etc. She also took part in world premieres, creating the role of Felix in Isaac Nathan’s comic opera The Alcaid or The Secrets of Office, (London, Little Theatre in the Haymarket, 1824), and, above all, that of Fatima in Oberon or The Elf King’s Oath, “the Grand Romantic and Fairy Opera” by Carl Maria von Weber, which was given at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden on 12 April 1826.

In 1830, having accumulated a fortune from her performing, she leased the Olympic Theatre from John Scott. There she began presenting a series of burlesques and extravaganzas—for which she made this house famous. She produced numerous works by the contemporary playwright James Planché, with whom she had a successful partnership, in which he also contributed ideas for staging and costumes.

She married in 1838 for the second time, to the British actor Charles James Mathews and accompanied him on tour to America. She aided him in his subsequent managerial ventures, including the management of the Lyceum Theatre and the theatre in Covent Garden.

Mme Vestris and Mathews inaugurated their management of Covent Garden with the first-known production of Love’s Labour’s Lost since 1605; Vestris played Rosaline. In 1840 she staged one of the first relatively uncut productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which she played Oberon. This began a tradition of female Oberons that lasted for 70 years in the British theatre.

In 1841 Vestris produced the highly successful Victorian farce London Assurance by Dion Boucicault, with possibly the first use of a “box set”.

She also introduced the soprano Adelaide Kemble to the theatre in Bellini’s Norma and La Sonnambula. A daughter of John Kemble, actor-manager and one of the theatre’s owners, and niece of Sarah Siddons Adelaide had a sensational but short career before retiring into marriage.

About her time in charge at Covent Garden, a note by the actor James Robertson Anderson reported in C.J. Mathews’s autobiography, says:

Madame was an admirable manager, and Charles an amiable assistant. The arrangements behind the scenes were perfect, the dressing rooms good, the attendants well-chosen, the wings kept clear of all intruders, no strangers or crutch and toothpick loafers allowed behind to flirt with the ballet-girls, only a very few private friends were allowed the privilege of visiting the green-room, which was as handsomely furnished as any nobleman’s drawing-room, and those friends appeared always in evening dress….There was great propriety and decorum observed in every part of the establishment, great harmony, general content prevailed in every department of the theatre, and universal regret was felt when the admirable managers were compelled to resign their government.

Another contemporary actor George Vandenhoff in Dramatic Reminiscences also bears testimony to the fact that: ‘To Vestris’s honour, she was not only scrupulously careful not to offend propriety by word or action, but she knew very well how to repress any attempt at double-entendre, or doubtful insinuation, in others. The green-room in Covent Garden was a most agreeable lounging place, from which was banished every word or allusion that would not be tolerated in a drawing-room.’

Her last performance (1854) was for Mathews’ benefit, in an adaptation of Madame de Girardin’s La Joie fait peur, called Sunshine through Clouds. She died in London in 1856.

Read Full Post »

Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Thomas Lawrence
13 April 1769 – 7 January 1830

PastedGraphic1-2014-08-3-06-00.png

Thomas Lawrence

Lawrence was born at 6 Redcross Street, Bristol, the youngest surviving child of Thomas Lawrence, a supervisor of excise, and Lucy Read, the daughter of a clergyman. The couple had 16 children but only five survived infancy: Lawrence’s brother Andrew became a clergyman; William had a career in the army; sisters Lucy and Anne married a solicitor and a clergyman (Lawrence’s nephews included Andrew Bloxam). Soon after Thomas was born his father decided to become an innkeeper and took over the White Lion Inn and next-door American Coffee House in Broad Street, Bristol. But the venture did not prosper and in 1773 Lawrence senior removed his family from Bristol and took over the tenancy of the Black Bear Inn in Devizes, a favourite stopping place for the London gentry who were making their annual trip to take the waters at Bath.

It was during the family’s six-year stay at the Black Bear Inn that Lawrence senior began to make use of his son’s precocious talents for drawing and reciting poetry. Visitors would be greeted with the words “Gentlemen, here’s my son – will you have him recite from the poets, or take your portraits?” Among those who listened to a recitation from Tom, or Tommy as he was called, was the actor David Garrick. Lawrence’s formal schooling was limited to two years at The Fort, a school in Bristol, when he was aged six to eight, and a little tuition in French and Latin from a dissenting minister. He also became accomplished in dancing, fencing, boxing and billiards. By the age of ten his fame had spread sufficiently for him to receive a mention in Daines Barrington’s Miscellanies as “without the most distant instruction from anyone, capable of copying historical pictures in a masterly style”. But once again Lawrence senior failed as a landlord and, in 1779, he was declared bankrupt and the family moved to Bath. From now on, Lawrence was to support his parents with the money he earned from his portraits.

The family settled at 2 Alfred Street in Bath, and the young Lawrence established himself as a portraitist in pastels. The oval portraits, for which he was soon charging three guineas, were about 12 inches by 10 inches (30 by 25 centimetres), and usually portrayed a half-length. His sitters included the Duchess of Devonshire, Sarah Siddons, Sir Henry Harpur (of Calke Abbey, Derbyshire, who offered to send Lawrence to Italy – Lawrence senior refused to part with his son), Warren Hastings and Sir Elijah Impey. Talented, charming and attractive (and surprisingly modest) Lawrence was popular with Bath residents and visitors: artists William Hoare and Mary Hartley gave him encouragement; wealthy people allowed him to study their collections of paintings and Lawrence’s drawing of a copy of Raphael’s Transfiguration was awarded a silver-gilt palette and a prize of 5 guineas by the Society of Arts in London.

Sometime before his eighteenth birthday in 1787 Lawrence arrived in London, taking lodgings in Leicester Square, near to Joshua Reynolds’ studio. He was introduced to Reynolds, who advised him to study nature, rather than the Old Masters. Lawrence set up a studio at 41 Jermyn Street and installed his parents in a house in Greek Street. He exhibited several works in the 1787 Royal Academy exhibition at Somerset House, and enrolled as a student at the Royal Academy but didn’t stay long, abandoning the drawing of classical statues to concentrate on his portraiture. In the Royal Academy exhibition of 1788 Lawrence was represented by five portraits in pastels and one in oils, a medium he quickly mastered. Between 1787 and his death in 1830 he would miss only two of the annual exhibitions: once, 1809, in protest about the way his paintings had been displayed and once, in 1819, because he was abroad. In 1789 he exhibited 13 portraits, mostly in oil, including one of William Linley and one of Lady Cremorne, his first attempt at a full-length portrait. The paintings received favourable comments in the press with one critic referring to him as “the Sir Joshua of futurity not far off” and, aged just twenty, Lawrence received his first royal commission, a summons arriving from Windsor Palace to paint the portraits of Queen Charlotte and Princess Amelia. The queen found Lawrence presumptuous (although he made a good impression on the princesses and ladies-in-waiting) and she didn’t like the finished portrait, which remained in Lawrence’s studio until his death. When it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1790, however, it received critical acclaim. Also shown that year was another of Lawrence’s most famous portraits, that of the actress Elizabeth Farren, soon to be the Countess of Derby, “completely Elizabeth Farren: arch, spirited, elegant and engaging”, according to one newspaper.

In 1791 Lawrence was elected an associate of the Royal Academy and the following year, on the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds, King George III appointed him “painter-in-ordinary to his majesty”. His reputation was established, and he moved to a studio in Old Bond Street. In 1794 he became a full member of the Royal Academy. Although commissions were pouring in, Lawrence was in financial difficulties. His debts would stay with him for the rest of life: he narrowly avoided bankruptcy and had to be bailed out by wealthy sitters and friends, and died insolvent. Biographers have never been able to discover the source of his debts; he was a prodigiously hard worker (once referring in a letter to his portrait painting as “mill-horse business”) and didn’t appear to live extravagantly. Lawrence himself said: “I have never been extravagant nor profligate in the use of money. Neither gaming, horses, curricles, expensive entertainments, nor secret sources of ruin from vulgar licentiousness have swept it from me”. This has generally been accepted, with biographers blaming his financial problems on his generosity towards his family and others, his inability to keep accounts (in spite of advice from his friend the painter and diarist Joseph Farington), and his magnificent but costly collection of Old Master drawings.

Another source of unhappiness in Lawrence’s life was his romantic entanglement with two of Sarah Siddons’ daughters. He fell in love first with Sally, then transferred his affections on to her sister Maria, then broke with Maria and turned to Sally again. Both the sisters had fragile health; Maria died in 1798, on her deathbed extracting a promise from her sister never to marry Lawrence. Sally kept her promise and refused to see Lawrence again, dying in 1803. But Lawrence continued on friendly terms with their mother and painted several portraits of her. He never married. In later years two women would provide him with companionship, friends Elizabeth Croft and Isabella Wolff who first met Lawrence when she sat for her portrait in 1803. Isabella was married to the Danish consul Jens Wolff, but she separated from him in 1810, and Sir Michael Levey suggests that people may have wondered if Lawrence was the father of her son Herman.

Lawrence’s departures from portraiture were very rare. In the early 1790s he completed two history pictures: Homer reciting his poems, a small picture of the poet in a pastoral setting; and Satan summoning his legions, a giant canvas to illustrate lines from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The boxer John Jackson posed for the naked body of Satan; the face is that of Sarah Siddons’ brother, John Philip Kemble.

Lawrence’s parents died within a few months of each other in 1797 and he gave up his house in Picadilly, where he had moved from Old Bond Street, to set up his studio in the family home in Greek Street. By now, to keep up with the demand for replicas of his portraits, he was making use of studio assistants, most notable of whom would be William Etty and George Henry Harlow. The early years of the nineteenth century saw Lawrence’s portrait practice continue to flourish: amongst his sitters were major political figures such as Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville and William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, whose wife Lady Caroline Lamb was also painted by Lawrence. The king commissioned portraits of his daughter-in-law Caroline, the estranged wife of the Prince of Wales, and his granddaughter Charlotte. Lawrence stayed at the Montague House, the residence of the princess in Blackheath, while he was painting the portraits and thus became implicated in the “delicate investigation” into Caroline’s morals. He swore an affidavit that although he had on occasion been alone with the princess, the door had never been locked or bolted and he had “not the least objection for all the world to have heard or seen what took place”. Expertly defended by Spencer Perceval, he was exonerated.

By the time the Prince of Wales was made regent in 1814, Lawrence was acknowledged as the foremost portrait painter in the country. Through one of his sitters, Lord Charles Stewart, he met the Prince Regent who was to become his most important patron. As well as portraits of himself, the prince commissioned portraits of allied leaders: the Duke of Wellington, Field-Marshal von Blücher and Count Platov sat for Lawrence at his new house at 65 Russell Square. The prince also had plans for Lawrence to travel abroad and paint foreign royalty and leaders, and as a preliminary he was given a knighthood on 22 April 1815. Napoleon’s return from Elba put these plans on hold, although Lawrence did make a visit to Paris, where his friend Lord Charles Stewart was ambassador, and saw the art that Napoleon had looted from Italy, including Raphael’s Transfiguration, the painting he had reproduced for his silver-gilt palette as a boy.

In 1817 the prince commissioned Lawrence to paint a portrait of his daughter Princess Charlotte, who was pregnant with her first child. Charlotte died in childbirth; Lawrence completed the portrait and presented it to her husband Prince Leopold at Claremont on his birthday, as agreed. The princess’s obstetrician, Sir Richard Croft, who later shot himself, was the half-brother of Lawrence’s friend, Elizabeth Croft, and for her Lawrence drew a sketch of Croft in his coffin.

Eventually, in September 1818, Lawrence was able to make his postponed trip to the continent to paint the allied leaders, first at Aachen and then at the conference of Vienna, for what would become the Waterloo Chamber series, housed in Windsor Castle. His sitters included Tsar Alexander, Emperor Francis I of Austria, the King of Prussia, Field-Marshal Prince Schwarzenberg, Archduke Charles of Austria and Henriette his wife, and a young Napoleon II, as well as various French and Prussian ministers. In May 1819, still under orders from the Prince Regent, he left Vienna for Rome to paint Pope Pius VII and Cardinal Consalvi.

Lawrence arrived back in London 30 March 1820 to find that the president of the Royal Academy, Benjamin West, had died. That very evening Lawrence was voted the new president, a position he would hold until his death 10 years later. George III had died in January; Lawrence was granted a place in the procession for the coronation of George IV. On 28 February 1822 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society “for his eminence in art”. The royal commissions continued during the 1820s, including one for a portrait of the king’s sister Sophia, and one of Sir Walter Scott (along with Jane Austen, one of Lawrence’s favourite authors), as well as one to paint King Charles X of France for the Waterloo series, for which Lawrence made a trip to Paris, taking Herman Wolff with him. Lawrence acquired another important patron in Robert Peel, who commissioned the painter to do portraits of his family as well a portrait of George Canning. Two of Lawrence’s most famous portraits of children were painted during the 1820s: that of Emily and Laura Calmady and that of Master Charles William Lambton, painted for his father Lord Durham for 600 guineas and known as The Red Boy. The latter portrait attracted much praise when it was exhibited in Paris in 1827. One of the artist’s last commissions was of future prime-minister the Earl of Aberdeen. Fanny Kemble, a niece of Sarah Siddons, was one of his last sitters (for a drawing).

Lawrence died suddenly on 7 January 1830, just months after his friend Isabella Wolff. A few days previously he had experienced chest pains but had continued working and was eagerly anticipating a stay with his sister at Rugby, when he collapsed and died during a visit from his friends Elizabeth Croft and Archibald Keightley. After a post-mortem examination, doctors concluded that the artist’s death had been caused by ossification of the aorta and vessels of the heart. Lawrence’s first biographer, D. E. Williams suggested that this in itself was not enough to cause death and it was his doctors’ over-zealous bleeding and leeching that killed him. Lawrence was buried on 21 January in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. Amongst the mourners was J. M. W. Turner who painted a sketch of the funeral from memory.

Lawrence was famed for the length of time he took to finish some of his paintings (Isabella Wolff waited twelve years for her portrait to be completed) and, at his death, his studio contained a large number of unfinished works. Some were completed by his assistants and other artists, some were sold as they were. In his will Lawrence left instructions to offer, at a price much below their worth, his collection of Old Master drawings to first George IV, then the trustees of the British Museum, then Robert Peel and the Earl of Dudley. None of them accepted the offer and the collection was split up and auctioned; many of the drawings later found their way into the British Museum and the Ashmolean Museum. After Lawrence’s creditors had been paid, there was no money left, although a memorial exhibition at the British Institution raised £3,000 which was given to his nieces.

Read Full Post »

Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Thomas Morton (Playwright)
1764 – 28 March 1838

PastedGraphic-2014-02-19-06-00.png

Thomas Morton

Morton was born in the city of Durham. He was the youngest son of John and Grace Morton of Whickham, County Durham.

After the death of his father he was educated at Soho Square school at the charge of his uncle Maddison, a stockbroker. Here amateur acting was in vogue, and Morton, who played with Joseph George Holman, acquired a taste for the theatre. He entered at Lincoln’s Inn, in 1784, but was not called to the bar.

His first drama, Columbus, or A World Discovered, an historical play in five acts, founded in part upon Les Incas of Marmontel, was produced with success at Covent Garden, in 1792, Holman playing the part of Alonzo.

Children in the Wood, a two-act musical entertainment, Dublin, followed at the Haymarket in 1793. It was well acted and was more than once revived. Similar fortune attended Zorinski. In the same year appeared an anonymous pamphlet, Mr, Morton’s “Zorinski” and Brooke’s “Gustavus Vasa” Compared.

The Way to get Married, a comedy in five acts, with serious situations, was produced at Covent Garden in 1796, became a stock piece. A Cure for the Heart-Ache, a five-act comedy, in 1797 furnished two excellent characters in Old and Young Rapid, and became also a stock play. Secrets worth Knowing, a five-act comedy, in 1798, though a better play than the preceding, was less popular.

Speed the Plough, later in 1798, was acted forty-one times, and often revived. The Blind Girl, or a Receipt for Beauty, a comic opera in three acts (songs only printed) in 1801, was played eight times.

Beggar my Neighbour, or a Rogue’s a Fool, a comedy in three acts, was assigned to Morton but unclaimed by him, being damned the first night. It was afterwards converted into How to tease and how to please. in 1810, experienced very little better fortune, and remained unprinted.

Part of the plot of Beggar my Neighbour is said to have been taken from August Wilhelm Iffland. The School of Reform, or How to rule a Husband, a five-act comedy, was played with remarkable success at Covent Garden, in 1805, and was revived so late as 1867 at the St. James’s.

Town and Country, or which is best in 1807, with John Kemble as Reuben Glenroy and Charles Kemble as Plastic. For this piece £1,000 was paid whether it succeeded or failed.

The Knight of Snowdoun, founded on The Lady of the Lake, saw the light in 1811. Education, in 1813, is taken in part from Iffland.

In The Slave, Macready played Gambia, the slave in 1816. A Roland for an Oliver, in 1819, was a two-act musical farce. In Henri Quatre, or Paris in the Olden Time, 1820, a musical romance in three acts, Macready was Henri. At the same theatre appeared School for Grown Children in 1827, and The Invincibles, in 1828, a musical farce in two acts, included in Cumberland’s collection.

With his second son, John Maddison Morton, he was associated in the Writing on the Wall, a three-act melodrama, produced at the Haymarket, and it is said in All that Glitters is not Gold, a two-act comic drama played at the Olympic Judith of Geneva, a three-act melodrama, is assigned him in Buncombe’s collection, and ‘Sink or Swim,’ a two-act comedy, in that of Lacy.

Morton died on 28 March 1838, leaving a widow and three children, his second son being the farce writer, John Maddison Morton. He was a man of reputable life and regular habits, who enjoyed, two years before his death, the rarely accorded honour of being elected an honorary member of the Garrick Club. For much of his life, Thomas lived in Pangbourne in Berkshire.

He wrote about 25 plays, several of which had great popularity, among them Columbus, or a World Discovered (1792); Children in the Wood (1793); Zorinski (1795); The Way to Get Married (1796); A Cure for the Heart Ache (1797); Speed the Plough (1798); Secrets Worth Knowing (1798); The Blind Girl, or A Receipt for Beauty (1801); The School of Reform, or How to Rule a Husband (1805); Town and Country, or Which Is Best? (1807); The Knight of Snowdown (1811); Education (1813); The Slave (1816); Methinks I See My Father (1818); A Roland for an Oliver (1819); Henri Quatre (1820); School for Grown Children (1826); and The Invincibles (1828). The name of one of the characters in Speed the Plough, Mrs Grundy, has entered the English language as a synonym for “prude”.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »