Bunn, Alfred (DNB00)

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BUNN, ALFRED (1796?–1860), theatrical manager, is best remembered on account of his literary feuds. During many years he was spoken of with derision as ‘Poet Bunn,’ and the attacks upon him did not cease until he was driven into a retaliation, which is the most vigorous of his writings, and secured him a temporary respite. According to his own statement he came of good family. While scrupulously reserved concerning his birth and parentage, he says in ‘The Stage before and behind the Curtain,’ published in 1840, that he ‘was forty-three years old last April 8th’ (the preface is dated 22 June 1840); that his father ‘wore a sword instead of swallowing one,’ and that he was considered, ‘as the Rev. Mr. Plumtree has it, respectable “till he (I) took a turn for the stage.”’ Subsequently, under date 8 April 1838, he writes ‘Birthday—42!’ In 1826 he was manager of the Birmingham Theatre, and in 1833 he undertook the joint management of Drury Lane and Covent Garden Theatres. This arduous experiment resulted in failure, and his book ‘The Stage’ is a species of ‘apologia’ for his management. Bunn's connection with Drury Lane commenced in 1823, in which year he was appointed stage-manager by Elliston. The retirement of Kean from Covent Garden, immediately previous to his death (15 May 1833), the consequent closing of the theatre, and the failure of Captain Polhill, the third man whose fortune had been swallowed up in Drury Lane within ten years, led to the assumption by Bunn of the joint management.

The subsequent life of Bunn is the history of the two patent theatres. From the first opposition was encountered. A bill for the abolition of the patent theatres, for which leave had previously been obtained by Mr. Bulwer, afterwards Lord Lytton, was moved by him in the House of Commons on 25 July 1833, and passed by a majority of thirty-one. In response to a petition of Bunn it was thrown out by the upper chamber. From this moment, according to Bunn's statement, commenced the series of attacks upon him to which he was constantly subject. Thwarted perpetually by the actors on whom he reimposed temporarily a maximum salary, and, as he held, by the lord chamberlain, the Marquis Conyngham, and fronted by an increasingly arduous competition on the part of the other houses, Bunn found his post no sinecure. With Macready, whom he engaged, he was on such ill terms that a quarrel of long standing resulted, on 29 April 1836, in the tragedian assaulting the manager in his own room. For this Bunn received at the sheriff's court, on 29 June 1836, 150l. damages. On 17 Dec. 1840 Bunn appeared in Basinghall Street before Commissioner Merivale as a bankrupt. During his management he displayed abundant energy. Almost all the leading actors, headed by Macready, Charles Kean, Vandenhoff, W. Farren, Harley, Bartley, Meadows, and Mathews, were engaged by him during his term of management, which at Drury Lane lasted until 1848. In his attempt to establish English opera he brought out the principal operas of Balfe—the ‘Siege of Rochelle,’ 1835; the ‘Maid of Artois,’ 1836; the ‘Bohemian Girl,’ 1843; the ‘Bondman,’ 1846; the ‘Maid of Honour,’ 1847; and several other works. For the ‘Maid of Artois’ Madame Malibran was engaged at the then unheard-of salary of 125l. per week. The libretti of most of these operas were translated from the French by Bunn, who also took from the same source ‘The Minister and the Mercer,’ a version of the ‘Bertrand et Raton’ of Scribe, and some other dramas and farces the names of most of which are now forgotten. He also wrote occasional verses which can claim no quality beyond fluency. Many of these are included in ‘The Stage before and behind the Curtain,’ 1840, 3 vols. 8vo, a querulous record of his managerial experiences up to his bankruptcy. His ‘A Word with Punch,’ in which he retorted upon the principal writers in ‘Punch,’ whom he described as ‘Wronghead—Mr. Douglas Jerrold,’ ‘Sleekhead—Mr. Gilbert à Beckett,’ and ‘Thickhead—Mr. Mark Lemon,’ is written with smartness as well as acerbity. It is difficult to credit Bunn with the entire execution. It has, however, many marks of his style, and is in part incontestably his. The brochure, which was got up to resemble a number of ‘Punch,’ had a great success, and is now a bibliographical rarity. In his late years Bunn became a Roman catholic. He died of apoplexy at Boulogne on 20 Dec. 1860.

[Bunn's Stage before and behind the Curtain, 1840, 3 vols. passim; Sir F. Pollock's Macready's Reminiscences, 1875; A Word with Punch; The Era newspaper, 23 Dec. 1860; Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians.]

J. K.