Cobham, Thomas (1786-1842) (DNB00)

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COBHAM, THOMAS (1786–1842), actor, was born in 1786 in London. His father, whom in an account of his life which he supplied to the 'Dublin Theatrical Observer,' 1821-2, he vaguely describes as ' distinguished as an algebraist, mathematician, and architectural draughtsman,' died young, and Cobham was apprenticed by his mother to a printer. He rose to be reader and corrector for the press, and came into some relations with Malone, an edition of whose 'Shakespeare' he read for the printers. He first appeared as an amateur in Lamb's Conduit Street as Shylock, a part in which George Frederick Cooke [q. v.] had greatly impressed him. His first professional essay was at Watford, Hertfordshire. He subsequently played in various country towns, taking, like Kean, every part, from leading tragedian to harlequin. At Salisbury he married Miss Drake, an actress of the Salisbury Theatre. When playing at Oxford, Cobham, with his wife, was engaged by Penley for the theatre in Tottenham Street, where he appeared with much success as Marmion in a dramatisation by Oxberry of Scott's poem. He then went to the Surrey Theatre, and thence to the Royalty. On 16 April 1816 he appeared as Richard III at Covent Garden. That the experiment was a failure was in part ascribed to the supporters of Kean, and especially to the club known as 'The Wolves.' Hazlitt, however, who was present on the occasion, declares his Richard to have been ' a vile one,' a caricature of Kean, and continues : ' He raved, whined, grinned, stared, stamped, and rolled his eyes with incredible velocity, and all in the right place according to his cue, but in so extravagant and disjointed a manner, and with such a total want of common sense, decorum, or conception of the character as to be perfectly ridiculous' (A View of the English Stage, 1818, p. 274). The 'Theatrical Inquisitor' (April 1816), on the other hand, says of his performance that 'it was good very good,' and censures the audience for taking a cowardly advantage and condemning him before he was heard. The performance was repeated with some success on 22 April 1816, and Cobham then disappeared from the West-end. In 1817 he appeared at the Crow Street Theatre, Dublin, as Sir Giles Overreach, playing afterwards Macbeth, and Richard. He was in Dublin in 1821-2, a member of the Hawkins Street stock company, dividing with Warde the principal characters of tragedy. After Warde's disappearance he played, in the memorable engagement of Kean in July 1822, Richmond, Iago, Edgar in Lear, and the Ghost in Hamlet. Early in his career Cobham played at Woolwich, at the Navy Tavern, Glenalvon to the Young Norval of Kean. Subsequently at the Coburg Theatre the two actors met once more, Kean playing Othello, and Cobham Iago. The reception of Kean on this occasion by the transpontine public, the faith of which in Cobham was never shaken, was unfavourable. A full account of the scene of Kean's indignation and Cobham's speech to the audience appears in Cole's ' Life of Charles Kean,' i. 161-3. Cobham had some resemblance in appearance and stature to Kean, being dark, with flexible features, and about five feet five inches in height. In spite of Hazlitt's unfavourable verdict, he was a fair actor, a little given to rant, and to so-called and not very defensible ' new readings.' In the 'Dramatic Magazine,' ii. 210, he is placed in respect of genius above all actors of the day except Kean, Young, Macready, and Charles Kemble.

It is there also said that 'the modern stage affords few efforts of genius superior to his acting in the last scene of "Thirty Years of a Gambler's Life."' A coloured print of Cobham as Richard III was published in Dublin, presumably in 1821. In his later life he rarely quitted the transpontine stage. He died on 3 Jan. 1842, leaving a son and a daughter on the stage. The latter acted under the name of Mrs. Fitzgerald.

[Authorities cited; Oxberry's Dramatic Biography, vol. i.; Gent. Mag.; Era newspaper; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. ii. 318; Doran's Her Majesty's Servants; private recollections supplied.]

J. K.