Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Macready, William Charles

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MACREADY, William Charles, English actor, b. in London, 3 March, 1793 : d. in Cheltenham, England, 27 April, 1873. He was the son of an Irish actor and theatre-manager, and received a thorough education at Rugby, preparatory to his admission to a course of study in theology. But family circumstances changed his course, and on 10 June, 1810, he appeared, under his father's management, at the Birmingham theatre, as Romeo in “Romeo and Juliet.” Here he remained until 1814 as leading juvenile performer and stage-manager, making occasional visits to other large cities. On 16 Sept., 1816, he played at Covent Garden theatre in London, as Orestes in “The Distressed Mother,” and achieved an immediate success. He was connected for many years with Covent Garden, Drury Lane, and the Haymarket theatres of the metropolis, and performed in most of the large playhouses of Great Britain and Ireland. During his career he created several original characters, and constantly advanced in favor with his audiences. Among these specialties were the rôles of Orestes, William Tell, Virginius, Werner, Rob Roy, and Richelieu. He also made several short visits to Paris, and in 1844 played Hamlet before the royal family at the Tuileries. In 1837 and 1838 Macready managed Covent Garden theatre, and in 1842 and 1843 cast his lot with Drury Lane. On both occasions he produced sterling plays, with unequalled splendor and historic truthfulness. From these undertakings, however, came no pecuniary reward, and he retired from the control of Drury Lane with heavy loss. In 1850 and 1851 Macready gave a series of farewell performances in the principal cities of the United Kingdom, closing at the Haymarket theatre in London with an extended round of his best characters. His last incidental appearance was on 26 Feb., 1851, at Drury Lane theatre, in Macbeth. Thereafter he resided in Sherborne, occasionally giving readings to London audiences, and occupying his leisure with schemes for the education of the poor. Macready made three visits to the United States — in 1826, 1843, and 1848 — and was always received with much favor. His last appearance here was on 7 May, 1849, at the Astor place opera-house, in “Macbeth,” on the evening of the Forrest-Macready riot. (See Forrest, Edwin.) This event terminated Macready's engagement, and forever destroyed Forrest's popularity. The breach between the two actors had been caused by Macready's refusal to permit the American tragedian to appear in London in the plays of “Virginius” and “Richelieu,” both of which, by purchase, had become Macready's property. Macready's private life was without blemish. At all times he sought to elevate and dignify his profession. On his retirement Tennyson addressed to him these grateful lines:


“Farewell, Macready, since to-night we part:
  Full-handed thunders often have contest
  Thy power well used to move the public breast.
We thank thee with one voice, and from the heart.
Farewell, Macready, since this night we part.
  Go take thine honors home; rank with the best;
  Garrick, and statelier Kemble, and the rest,
Who made a nation purer through their art.
Thine is it that the drama did not die.
  Nor nicker down to brainless pantomime.
  And those gilt gauds men-children swarm to see.
Farewell, Macready, moral, grave, sublime,
Our Shakespeare's bland and universal eye
  Dwells pleased, thro' twice a hundred years on thee.”