Betterton, Thomas (DNB00)
|←Bethune, John Elliot Drinkwater||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 04
BETTERTON, THOMAS (1635?–1710), actor and dramatist, was born in Tothill Street, Westminster, and was apprenticed by his father, who was under-cook to Charles I, to a bookseller. These are the only undisputed facts concerning his life before he adopted the stage as a profession. The mystery with which his early years are surrounded is the less explicable, as Betterton appears to have been communicative and to have found contemporaries willing to collect and give to the world information concerning him. Their statements, however, are conflicting. In the 'Life of Betterton' in the 'Biographia Britannica' an attempt is made upon the strength of new information from Southerne to disprove the previously accepted assertions of Gudon and others. On the appearance of the first volume of the 'Biographia Britannica' (1747) Southerne had been dead a year. He was eighty-six years of age at the time of his death, and there is no reason for supposing that his memories concerning his conversations with Betterton thirty-six years previously were more trustworthy than those of Gildon, who was in direct personal communication with Betterton, in whose lifetime he wrote, or than those of Downes, who also had constant access to the actor, and whose 'Roscius Anglicanus ' was published in 1708, two years before Betterton s death. Gildon, who speaks of Betterton as being seventy-five years of age at his death, supports the view that his birth took place m 1635. Downes speaks of Betterton as about twenty-two years of age in 1659, and Ourll, in a 'History of the English Stage from the Restauration to the Present Time' (1741), which he fathered upon Betterton, gives the date of his birth as 1637. Curll says that Betterton was present as a soldier at the battle of Edgehill in 1643, when, if Curll date of his birth be correct, he was only five years old, and, upon any date suggested, he was not more than seven. This ridiculous assertion is, however, copied by Messrs. Maidment and Logan in the Life of Davenant prefixed to the reprint of his works (Edinburgh, Paterson). Betterton, who received a good education, displayed some taste for reading. Aocording to the 'Biographia Britannica,' presumably following Southerne, the intention of bringing him up to a learned profession was abandoned, owing to the 'violence and confusion of the times putting this out of the power of his family. That the lad elected to be apprenticed to a bookseller is acknowledged by all authorities. he was, according to the 'Biographia Britannica,' bound to Mr. John H olden, who, as the publisher of 'Gondibert,' was much in the confidence of Sir William Davenant. A way to the stage, it has been suggested, was thus at once opened out. The authoritv advanced for this is Richardson's 'Life of Milton' (p. 90), in which it is affirmed that Betterton told Pope that he was bound to llolden. The 'Biographia Britannica' then assumes it to be ' highly probable ' that Betterton 'began to act under the direction of Sir William Davenant in l656 or 1657 at the Opera House in Charter House Yard.' Gildon (supported by Downes) says : 'His father bound him apprentice to one Mr. Rhodes, a bookseller, at the Bible at Charing Cross, and he had for his underprentice Mr. Kynaston. But that which prepar'd Mr. Betterton and his fellow-prentice for the stage was that his master, Rhodes, having formerly been wardrobe-keeper to the king's company of comedians in the Blackfryars, on General Monck*s march to London in 1659 with his army, got a licence from the powers then in being to set up a company of players in the Cockpit in Drury Lane and soon made his company compleat, his apprentices, Mr. Betterton for men's parts, and Mr. Kynaston for women's parts, being at the head of them' (Life of Betterton, p. 5). Downes gives the company with which Rhodes started at the Cockpit, the chief names, in addition to Betterton and Kynaston, being Underbill, Nokes (Robert and William), and William Betterton, assumed to be a brother of Thomas. The story told by Gildon has been accepted by the authors of the 'Biographia Dramatica,' by Genest (with the assumption that Salisburv Court should be substituted for Cockpit), oy Gait in his 'Lives of the Players' (1881), and Bellchambers in his edition of Colley Cibber^s 'Apology,' 1822. Davies, in his 'Dramatic Miscellanies,' attaches value to Southeme's recollections, but points out errors and inconsistencies in them. R. S. (? Shiels), who contributed the account of Betterton to the ' Lives of the Poets ' of Theophilus Cibber, 1753, adheres closely to the views of the ' Biographia Britannica.'
The first plays in which Betterton made a public appearance are said to have been the 'Loyal Subject,' the 'Wild Goose Chase,' and the ' Spanish Curate ' of Beaumont and Fletcher. He played also while a member of Rhodes's company in the 'Maid in the Mill,' ' Mad Lover,' ' Pericles,' ' Wife for a Month,* 'Rule a Wife and have a Wife,' 'Woman's Prize,' 'Aglaura,' 'Changeling,' ' Bondman,' &c. His chief success appears to have been obtained in ' Pericles,' the 'Mad Lover,' the ' Loyal Subject,' the ' Bondman,' and as Deflores in the 'Changeling.' His voice, according to Downes, who was the prompter at Lincoln's Inn Fields, was even at this time 'as strong, full, and articulate as in the meridian of his acting.' When, accordingly, he joined in 1661 the companjr formed by Sir William Davenant at the Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre, he was an actor of some experience. To distinguish it from the company of Thomas Killigrew, formed like itself under a patent from Charles II, and known as the King's Company, the troupe collected by Davenant was styled the Duke's Company. One of the first recorded duties of Betterton was, at royal command, to visit Paris with a view to seeing the French stage, and judging what, in its scenery, &c., might with advantage be adopted in England. Scenery was not altogether unknown on the English stage. Davenant had employed it in an entertainment entitled the ‘Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru, expressed by vocal and instrumental music and by art of perspective in scenes.’ This was performed at the Cockpit in 1658, Cromwell, by whom it is said to have been read, having given permission for its performance as calculated to inflame public sentiment against the Spaniards. In the ‘Siege of Rhodes’ in two parts by Davenant, witnessed by Pepys on 2 July 1661, and in the ‘Wits’ of the same author, scenery, according to Downes, was first publicly employed. Supposing the visit of Betterton to have immediately anticipated the performance of the ‘Siege of Rhodes,’ in which he played Solyman, Betterton would probably have seen ‘L'Ecole des Maris’ of Molière. He must, whenever his visit took place, have seen the representations given at the Théâtre de Molière. That the comedies of Molière influenced him in his dramatic composition is evident. At the close of this year (1661) Betterton played Colonel Jolly in the ‘Cutter of Coleman Street’ of Cowley, and made his first appearance in one of his greatest characters, Hamlet. Mercutio, Sir Toby Belch, Bosola in the ‘Duchess of Malfi,’ and Macbeth are among the characters he assumed in 1662–6. In 1665 and 1666 performances, in consequence of the plague and the fire, were almost entirely suspended. In April 1668 Davenant died. The Duke's Company remained at Lincoln's Inn Fields until 1671, when it migrated to a new house built for it, by subscription as it seems, in Salisbury Court, Fleet Street, and named Dorset Garden Theatre. Davenant's patent had come into the hands of his son, Charles Davenant, who associated with himself in the management Harris and Betterton. Prior to the removal Betterton had taken part in a play of his own and had married. ‘Woman made a Justice,’ a comedy which has never been printed, and concerning which nothing is known except that it was acted fourteen consecutive days, a long run for the period; the ‘Amorous Widow, or the Wanton Wife,’ a comedy taken from Georges Dandin; and the ‘Roman Virgin, or the Unjust Judge,’ an alteration of Webster's ‘Appius and Virginia,’ all by Betterton, were all, according to Downes, given at Lincoln's Inn Fields. In the ‘Amorous Widow’ Betterton played a character called Lovemore; in the ‘Roman Virgin’ he was naturally Virginius. Mrs. Saunderson, whom Betterton married, was a member of the Lincoln's Inn Company. She has been erroneously said to have been the first woman who ever appeared on the English stage. Downes mentions her as one of the four principal women actresses of Davenant's company whom Davenant boarded at his own house. She was an excellent actress and an estimable woman. Colley Cibber preferred her Lady Macbeth in some respects to that of Mrs. Barry. ‘She was,’ he continues, ‘to the last the admiration of all true judges of nature and lovers of Shakespeare, in whose plays she chiefly excelled, and without a rival. When she quitted the stage, several good actresses were the better for her instruction. She was a woman of an unblemished and sober life, and had the honour to teach Queen Anne, when princess, the part of Semandra in “Mithridates,” which she acted at court in King Charles's time. After the death of Mr. Betterton, her husband, that princess, when queen, ordered her a pension for life, but she lived not to receive more than the first half-year of it.’ She also, according to Davies (Dramatic Miscellanies), gave lessons to the Princess Mary and to Mrs. Sarah Jennings, afterwards Duchess of Marlborough. After the death of her husband she lost her reason. Mrs. Betterton is said in the ‘Biographia Britannica,’ on the authority of ‘a lady intimate with her for many years,’ to have recovered her senses before she died. ‘According to our best information,’ says the same publication, her death ‘was about six months’ after that of her husband. This is inaccurate. Betterton died on 28 April 1710. On 4 June 1711, or more than thirteen months after his death, the ‘Man of the Mode’ was acted at Drury Lane Theatre for the benefit of the ‘widow of the late famous tragedian Mr. Betterton.’ She lived for nearly six months after this date. 1670 is ordinarily given as the year of her marriage to Betterton. Both the ‘Biographia Britannica’ and the ‘Biographia Dramatica,’ the last edition of which is generally trustworthy, speak positively on the subject. This date is also wrong. Downes, the prompter to the company, gives the cast with which the ‘Villain’ by Major Thomas Porter, ‘King Henry VIII,’ ‘Love in a Tub’ by Etherege, the ‘Cutter of Coleman Street’ of Cowley, Webster's ‘Duchess of Malfi,’ and other dramas were played between 1662 and the outbreak of the plague in 1665, and in each case numbers Mrs. Betterton among the actors. Before 1662 she is always called Mrs. Saunderson. Genest, noticing the performance of the 'Villain,' 20 Oct. 1662, says Belmont — Mrs. Betterton, late Saunderson. Under the management of Charles Davenant (acting for his father's widow), Betterton, and Harris, the Duke^s Company, established (1671) in Dorset Garden, though recruited hy such actors as Leigh, Jevon, and Mrs. Barry, found some difficulty in coping with the rival company at the Theatre Royal (Drury Lane). A theatre, accordingly, which could boast such actors as the Bettertons, Sandford, Underbill, and Smith, was driyen to the production of spectacular and musical pieces, such as the ' Psyche ' of Shadwell (February 1673-4), on the scenery of which no less than 800l., an enormous sum for those days, was spent. Betterton, however, found opportunity to enlarge his repertory, to which, without counting characters now forgotten, he added Antony in Sedleys 'Antony and Cleopatra,' Orestes in Charles Davenant's ' Circe, Œdipus in the tragedy of Dryden and Lee, and Timon of Athens, Troilus, King Lear, &c., in adaptations from Shakespeare by Dryden, Shadwell, or Tate. In 1675 he superintended the performance at court of Crowne's pastoral, 'Calisto, or the Chaste Nymph.' So successful were the rectacular pieces at Dorset Garden that the King's Company was in turn brought into difficulties. In 1682 the two companies, probably in consequence of a royal order, coalesced. A memorandum of an agreement between Dr. Charles Davenant, Thomas Betterton, gent., and William Smith, gent., of the one part, and Charles Hart, gent., and Edward Kynaston, gent., of the other part, dated 14 Oct. 1681, given in the life of Betterton by Gildon and frequently reprinted, proves that Hart and Kynaston had been won over to the side of Betterton. So one-aided and dishonest was this agreement that it was regarded in those days as a blot upon Betterton. Gildon can only plead that the two houses were at war, and ask: 'Dolus an virtus, quis in hoste requirat P ' The union of the companies was effected in 1682 according to Gildon and Downes, and 1684 accordingto Colley Cibber, who is followed by Dr. Burney. On the strength of a prologue of Dryden, dated 1686, the 'Biograpnia Britannica' would assign the event to 1686. The correct date is 1682, and the united companies opened at the Theatre Royal on 16 Nov. of that year in the 'Duke of Guise,' Betterton playing the Duke, Kynaston the Eang of France, Mountfort Alphonso Corso, and Mrs. Barry Marmoutier. Dorset Garden was not, however, abandoned, those pieces which required mechanical and spectacular effects being reserved for that theatre. Hart, according to Cibber, regretted so much his Judas-like action, the result of which was to hand over his former associates to their rivals, that he left the stage. He appears, however, to have taken for four years previously little part in the performances, his name not appearing in the bills after 1678. His old associate as soldier and actor, Mohun, also died immediately after the imion, Colley Cibber seems to imply in conseauence of it. The new management prosperea, but the fortunes of Betterton suffered at this time a defeat from which they never rallied. Betterton embarked (1692) a sum of 8,000l., 6,000l. of which were advanced by the famous Dr. Radcliffe, in a venture to the East Indies undertaken by a friend, Sir Francis Watson, bart. The speculation was successful, but the vessel on the return voyage, after arriving safely in Ireland, was seized by the French in the Channel. The entire savings of Betterton appear to have been sunk in this speculation. Sir Francis Watson is said to have died of his loss, leaving a daughter Elizabeth, aged about fifteen, whom Betterton adopted and who subsequentlv married Bowman the player. The outhnes of this story are supplied by Gildon ; the filling up is due to a correspondent of the 'Biographia Britannica,' who elected to remain anonymous, and who was too discreet, as were all authorities of the day, to mention the name of Sir Francis. The united company was probably one of the strongest ever collected. Soon after this period dissension began to manifest itself. Fearing, it may be assumed, no opposition, and anxious to reduce expenses, the patentees, whose outlay upon spectacular pieces had involved them in heavy debt, began to reduce the salary of the principal actors. Mount fort was stabbed on 9 Dec. 1692 by Lord Mohun and died the following day. Leigh expired a week later, and Nokes, or more properly Noke, according to Malone, died about the same time. Betterton and Mrs. Barry were accordingly the chief sufferers by the new departure. To justify the reduction of salary the patentees, under the pretence of bringing forward younger actors, entrusted several of Betterton's characters to the younger Powell, and offered Mrs. Barry's chief parts to Mrs. Bracegirdle. Colley Cibber, who had joined the company in 1690, gives a full account of these transactions. As a measure of defence the principal performers, with Betterton as their ead, formed a combination. An offer of a peaceful arrangement from the united actors was refused by the patentees, with results very damaging to the fortunes of the theatre. The grievances of the players were laid before the Lord Chamberlain, the Earl of Dorset, who induced King William to grant an audience to Betterton, Mrs. Barry, and others of the company. The death of Queen Mary, by stopping all public diversions, interrupted the negotiations. Royal license (not a patent) was, however, granted to Betterton and his associates to act in a theatre by themselves, and a subscription was formed for the purpose of erecting a theatre within the walls of the tennis-court in Lincoln's Lin Fields. While the old company accordingly, strength- ened by some additions, played with marked insuccess at the Theatre Koyal, Betterton, with his associates Doggett, oandford, Williams, Underbill, Bowman, Smith, Mrs. Barry, Mrs. Mountfort, and Mrs. Bracegirdle, who with commendable discretion refused the invitation of the patentees to rival Mrs. Barry and joined the coalition, opened 30 April 1695 in what was frequently called the 'Theatre in Little Lincoln's Inn Fields.' Williams and Mrs. Mountfort, however, soon rejoined the old company. The first venture was Congreve's 'Love for Love,' the success of which was so great that they had, according to Gibber, who was at the rival house, 'seldom occasion to act any other play till the close of the season.' Besides his profits from 'Love for Love,' Congreve accepted a full share from the company, binding himself, if his health permitted, to give them a new play every year. This undertaking was not kept, and the associated comedians were in a bad way when, between two and three years later, 1697, the 'Mourning Bride' came to save them. A like service was accomplished a<rain in 1700 by the 'Way of the World,' which though coolly received on the first production, kept possession of the stature, and 'was very soon after its first exhibition in favour with the public' (Davies, Dramatic Miscellanies, iii. 360). Once more things went wrong in a way that leaves room for suspicion that Betterton was an indifferent manager. A further subscription to provide a new house was set on foot. The building erected by Sir John Vanbrugh in the Haymarket was opened 9 April 1705. Betterton, who felt the weight of increasing years, resigned the management of the new house to Congreve and Vanbrugh, the former of whom soon abandoned it to Vanbrugh. Seventy years of age and a martyr to gout, Betterton, in spite of straitened circumstances, found himself compelled by physical infirmities to act less frequently. At the desire 'of several persons of quality' a benefit wa.s got up for him. The date of this famous performance is generally given 7 April 1709. In Curirs 'History of the Stage' it is said that the benefit took place on Thursday, 7 April. As 7 April was a Friday the date seems suspicious. Genest, however, gives the performance and the cast for the same day. By a note to the 'Tatler' for Tuesday 11 April, No. 157, however, the date, unless the performance was repeated, is fixed for Thursday, 13 April. Addison says : 'Mr. Bickerstaff, in consideration of his ancient friendship and acquaintance with Mr. Betterton, and great esteem for his merit, summons all his disciples, whether dead or living, mad or tame, Toasts, Smarts, Dappers, Pretty-fellows, musicians, or scrapers, to make their appearance at the play-house in the Haymarket on Thursday next, when there will be a play acted for the benefit of the same Betterton.' A great concourse of persons of distinction was assembled, the stage as well as the auditorium being crowded with ladies and gentlemen. The performance, at increased prices, brought Betterton 500l. The piece was 'Love for Love.' Betterton played Valentine; Doggett for that occasion only appeared at the Haymarket, and enacted Ben. Mrs. Barry and Mrs. Bracegirdle came from their retirement and appeared respectively as Mrs. Frail and Angelica. A prologue by Congreve, which has not survived, was, according to Curll, spoken by Mrs. Bracegirdle. After the performance Betterton appeared, supported on either side by Mrs. Barry and Mrs. Bracegirdle, the former of whom spoke an occasional prologue by Rowe. Though it has been much commended, it is poor stuff'. It was then determined that the benefit should be annual. No more than one anniversary was kept. Betterton acted rarely at the Opera House in the Haymarket, then under the management of Owen Swinny or Swiney. For his second benefit he played Melanti us in the 'Maid's Tragedy' of Beaumont and Fletcher, 25 April 1710 (13 April according to Genest, who is assumably wrong). Mrs. Barry again appeared and played Evadne. An attack of the gout was relieved by external applications, which, however, drove the disease inward. Betterton played with unusual spirit and briskness, I but was obliged to act with a slipper on one foot. On 28 A])ril he died, and on 2 May his body was interred in Westminster Abbey, in the south end of the east cloister. The funeral and the character of Betterton formed the subject of the 'Tatler,' No. 167, 4 May 1710, in which Steele pays a high tribute to the deceased actor. There seems to have been less pomp about the funeral than has been believed. Dr. Doran says he 'had a royal funeral;' Whincop, or the author of the list of 'English Dramatic Poets,' appended to his 'Scanderbeg,' affirms, on the contrary, that ' he was buried in a decent manner in the cloyster of Westminster Abbey.* Gildon (Life of Betterton) also says 'he was buried with great decency at Westminster Abbey.' If special honours had been paid the actor, it is fair to suppose they would have been chronicled by Steele or some contemporary writer.
The character of Betterton stands almost unassailed, a noteworthy circumstance in the ease of a man who, during very many years, occupied a position that besides being prominent brought him into collision with all sorts and conditions of men. Scarcely a discordant note is there in the chorus of praise. That he was once, 1698, fined for using indecent and profane expressions, as was also at the aame time Mrs. Bracegirdle, may be set down, as may the indelicacy of some scenes in his plays, to the manners of the age. The selection of Betterton for prosecution means probably that in the fit of virtue caused by the publication of Collier's famous 'Short View' representative actors were chosen for attack rather than the greatest offenders. The one regrettable action of Betterton that is on record is the share he took in securing the signature of the iniquitous agreement which preceded the fusion of the two companies. Against this stands out a life distinguished not only by integrity, respectability, and prudence, but by that last of virtues to be expected in an actor, modesty. Out of a salary which in his best days never exceeded four pounds a week — an extra pound was after a certain period paid him as a pension to his wife — ^he saved money. His financial troubles were attributable to the loss of his capital in the speculation with Sir Francis Watson and to the difficulties of management. He enjoyed the friendship of two if not three kings. For the performance of Alvaro in 'Love and Honour' Charles II lent his coronation suit. The chief writers of the day accorded him their friendship, and Pope at the outset of his career was admitted by him into close intimacy. A likeness in oil of the actor, by Pope, is now (1886) in the collection of Lord Mansfield at Caen Wood, Highgate. Dryden and Rowe bear testimony to the services rendered them by Betterton. In the preface to *Don Sebastian' the former says that 'above twelve hundred lines were judiciously lopp'd by Mr. Betterton, to whose care and excellent action I am equally obliged that the connection of this story was not lost' (Dramatic Works, vi. 15, ed. 1772). Rowe meanwhile, in the 'Life of Shakespeare,' owns 'a particular obligation' to Betterton 'for the moat considerable part of the passages' relating to the life. Praise for extending pecuniary assistance to embarrassed writers is said to be accorded Betterton in the 'State Poems.' The only reference of interest to the actor that a search through the four volumes of that unsavoury receptacle has furnished occurs in 'A Satyr on the Modern Translators,' by Mr. P——r, the third and fourth lines of which are —
Since Betterton of late so thrifty s grown.
Revives old plays, or wisely acts his own.
Vol. i. pt. i. p. 194.
Betterton's acting has been depicted with a vivacity and a closeness of observation that enables us to form a correct estimate of its value. Men of tastes so dififerent as Pepys and Pope have left on record their sense of his merits. Speaking of Betterton at a period when he could not have been long on the stage, 4 Nov. 1061, Pepys says: 'But for Betterton, he is called by us both (himself and wife) the best actor in the world.' Again, 28 May 1(303, he says : 'And so to the Duke's house, and there saw "Hamlett" done, giving us fresh reason never to think enough of Betterton.' Pope, in a letter to H. Cromwell, 17 May 1710, suggests as an epitaph suiting Betterton, 'as well in his moral as his theatrical capacity,' the line of Cicero, 'Vitæ bene actæ jucundissima est recordatio.' In the opening number of the ' Tatler ' Steele gives an account of Betterton's benefit. Speaking of his funeral (Tatler, No. 167), he says : 'I have hardly a notion that any performer of antiquity could surpass the action of Mr. Betterton in any of the occasions on which he has appeared on our stage. The wonderful agony which he appeared in when he examined the circumstance of the handkerchief in Othello ; the mixture of love that intruded upon his mind, upon the innocent answers Desdemona makes, betrayed in his gesture such a variety and vicissitude of passions as would admonish a man to be afraid of his own heart, and perfectly convince him that it is to stab it, to admit that worst of daggers, jealousy. Whoever reads in his closet this admirable scene will find that he cannot, except he has as warm an imagination as Shakespeare himself, find any but dry, incoherent, and broken sentences ; but a reader that has seen Betterton act it observes there could, not be a word added, that longer speeches had been unnatural, nay impossible, in Othello's circumstances.' In another 'Tatler,' No. 71, Steele dwells upon Betterton's Hamlet, praising 'the noble ardour after seeing his father's ghost,' and the 'generous distress for the death of Ophelia.'
Cibber's analysis of Betterton's acting is too well known for quotation. 'Betterton,' he says, 'was an actor as Shakespeare was an author, but without competitors.'
The writer of 'A Lick at the Laureate,' 1730, says : 'I have lately been told by a gentleman who has freauently seen Betterton perform Hamlet, that he observed his countenance, which was naturally ruddy and sanguine, in the scene of the third act, when his father's ghost appears, through the violent and sudden emotion of amazement and horror, turn instantly, on the sight of his father's spirit, as pale as his neckcloth, when his whole body seemed to be affected with a tremor inexpressible ; so that had his father's ghost actually risen before him, he could not nave been seized with more real agonies. And this was felt so strongly by the audience, that the blood seemed to shudder in their veins likewise, and they, in some measure, 'partook of the astonishment and horror with which they saw this excellent actor affected.' Stories are told of the effect produced by Betterton upon those with whom he played. There is, as a rule, little point in the anecdotes concerning Betterton which still survive. One, however, relating to Colley Gibber presents Betterton in a very agreeable light. For some breach of discipline Colley Gibber was condemned by Betterton to be fined. Against this order it was advanced that the youth had no salary. 'Put him down ten shillings,' said Betterton, 'and forfeit him five.' Tony Aston, who in a tract of singular rarity, 'A Brief Supplement to Colley Gibber, Esq., the Lives of the late famous Actors ancl Actresses, by Anthony, vulgo Tony, Aston,' undertakes to supply the omissions of his predecessor, expresses a wish that Betterton in his later years would 'have resigned the part of Hamlet to some young actor who might have personated though not have acted it better,' pp. 4-5. He owns, however, that no one else could have pleased the town. Of the appearance of Betterton he does not give a very flattering picture. His words are: 'Mr. Betterton, although a superlative good actor, labour'd under ill figure, being clumsily made, having a great head, a short thick neck, stoop'd in the shoulders, and had fat short arms, which he rarely lifted higher than his stomach — his left hand frequently lodg'd in his breast, between his coat and waistcoat while with his right he prepar'd his s])eech ; his actions were few, but just. He had little eyes and a broad face, a little pock-fretten, a corpulent body, and thick legs, with large feet. He was better to meet than to follow, for his aspect was serious, venerable, and majestic, in his later time a little paralytic. His voice was low and grumbling, yet he could tune it by an artful climax which enforc'd universal attention even from the fops and orange girls. He was incapable of dancing even in a country dance,' pp. 8-4. Dibdin, m his 'History of the Stage,' iv. 282, gives the opinion of Steed,, for many years prompter at Covent Garden, with whom, when a boy, he had been glad to converse on the relative merits of Betterton and Garrick. Steed, who lived to be eighty, said that while he admitted the various merits of Betterton, he was not, 'taking everything into consideration,' the equal of Garrick. A contrary opinion, however, generally obtains. Betterton's dramas are adaptations. The list assigned him is as follows : 1. 'The Roman virgin, or the Unjust Judce,' a tragedy, 4to, 1679, performed at Lincoln's Inn Fields. 1670, an alteration of Webster's 'Appius and Virginia.' 2. 'The Prophetess, or the History of Diocletian,' 4to, 1690, acted at the Theatre Royal 1690 according to Genest, at the Queen's Theatre according to Langbaine and the 'Biographia Dramatica;' this is an opera founded on the 'Prophetess' of Beaumont and Fletcher, and suppbed with music by Purcell. It was acted so late as 1784. Langbaine assigns it to Dryden. 8. 'King Henry IV,. with the Humours of Sir John Falstaff,' a tragi-comedy, 4to, 1700; acted at Lincoln's Inn Fields 1700, with Betterton as Falstaff, in which character he had a great success. It is a mere alteration of Shakespeare, more judicious than such ordinarily were at the epoch, as no interpolation is attempted, and the departure from text consists only in omission. 4. 'The Amorous Widow, or the Wanton Wife,' comedy, 4to, 1706, played at Lincoln's Inn Fields, circa 1070. This is a not very delicate adaptation of Georges Dandin. It is printed at the close of the biography or Betterton, assigned to Gildon. 5. 'Sequel of Henry IV, with the Humours of Sir John Falstaffe and Justice Shallow,' 8vo, no date (? 1719), an alteration from Shakespeare,, acted at Drury Lane. 6. 'The Bondman, or Love and Liberty,' a tragi-comedy, 8vo, 1719, altered from Massinger and act'd at Drury Lane 1719. From a paragraph in the 'Roscius Anglicanus' it may be assumed that the piece was played by Betterton twenty to thirty years earlier, probably at Lincoln's Inn Fields. 7. 'The Woman made a Justice,' a comedy never printed, but acted at Lincoln's Inn Fields. In addition to these works the 'Biographia Dramatica' and after it Mr. Halliwell-Phillips assign to Betterton 'The Revenge, or a Match in Newgate,' a comedy, 4to, 1680, acted at Dorset Garden (Mr. Halliwell-Phillips calls it the Duke's Theatre) 1680. This is an alteration of Marston's 'The Malcontent,' assigned by Langbaine to Mrs. Behn.
[The Life of Mr. Thomas Betterton, 1710; Roscius Anglicanus, with additions by the late Mr. Thomas Davies, 1789; Colley Cibber's Apology, 1740; Ib. by Bellingham, 1822; Aston's Continuation (1740?); Genest's Account of the English Stage, 1832; A Comparison between the Two Stages, in Dialogue, 1702; Biographia Dramatica, 1812; History of the English Stage, by Betterton, 1741; Langbaine's Dramatick Poets, 1691; The Tatler, vols. i., ii., and iv.; Dibdin's History of the Stage, no date (1795); Biographia Britannica, vol. ii., ed. 1777-98; Halliwell's Dictionary of Old English Plays. 1860; Davies's Dramatic Miscellanies, 1784; Stanley's Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey, 1868; Lives of the Poets by T. Cibber, 1763; Pepys's Diary, by Lord Braybrooke; Malone's Supplement to Shakespeare's Plays, 1780.]