Emery, John (DNB00)

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EMERY, JOHN (1777–1822), actor, was born at Sunderland 22 Sept. 1777, and obtained a rudimentary education at Ecclesfield in the West Riding of Yorkshire. His father, Mackle Emery (d. 18 May 1825), was a country actor, and his mother, as Mrs. Emery, sen., appeared 6 July 1802 at the Haymarket as Dame Ashfield in Morton's ‘Speed the Plough,’ and subsequently played at Covent Garden. Emery was brought up for a musician, and when twelve years of age was in the orchestra at the Brighton theatre. At this house he made his first appearance as Old Crazy in the farce of ‘Peeping Tom.’ John Bernard [q. v.] says that in the summer of 1792 Mr. and Mrs. Emery and their son John, a lad of about seventeen, who played a fiddle in the orchestra and occasionally went on in small parts, were with him at Teignmouth, again at Dover, where young Emery played country boys, and again in 1793 at Plymouth. Bernard claims to have been the means of bringing Emery on the stage, and tells (Retrospections, ii. 257) an amusing story concerning the future comedian. After playing a short engagement in Yorkshire with Tate Wilkinson, who predicted his success, he was engaged to replace T. Knight at Covent Garden, where he was first seen, 21 Sept. 1798, as Frank Oatland in Morton's ‘A Cure for the Heartache.’ Lovegold in the ‘Miser,’ Oldcastle in the ‘Intriguing Chambermaid,’ Abel Drugger in the ‘Tobacconist,’ an alteration by Francis Gentleman of Jonson's ‘Alchymist,’ and many other parts followed. On 13 June 1800 he appeared for the first time at the Haymarket as Zekiel Homespun in the ‘Heir-at-Law,’ a character in the line he subsequently made his own. At Covent Garden, 11 Feb. 1801, he was the original Stephen Harrowby in Colman's ‘Poor Gentleman.’ In 1801 he played at the Haymarket Clod in the ‘Young Quaker’ of O'Keeffe, Farmer Ashfield in ‘Speed the Plough,’ and other parts. From this time until his death he remained at Covent Garden, with the exception of playing at the English Opera House, 16 Aug. 1821, as Giles in the ‘Miller's Maid,’ an unprinted comic opera founded on one of the rural tales of Blomfield, and attributed to Waldron. For a time he was kept to old men. His reputation was, however, established in country men, in which he had an absolute and undisputed supremacy. He was the original Dan in Colman's ‘John Bull,’ 5 March 1803; Tyke in Morton's ‘School of Reform,’ 15 Jan. 1805; Ralph Hempseed in Colman's ‘X Y Z,’ 11 Dec. 1810; Dandie Dinmont in Terry's ‘Guy Mannering,’ 12 March 1816; and Ratcliff in Terry's ‘Heart of Midlothian,’ 17 April 1819. Of many other characters in different lines Emery was the first exponent, and the number of parts he assumed was very great. His last performance was Edie Ochiltree in ‘The Antiquary,’ 29 June 1822. On 25 July 1822 he died of inflammation of the lungs in Hyde Street, Bloomsbury, and was buried 1 Aug. in a vault in St. Andrew's, Holborn. On 5 Aug. 1822, under the patronage of the Duke of York, the ‘Rivals’ and ‘Belles without Beaux,’ with a concert, were given at Covent Garden for the benefit of the aged parents and widow with seven children of the late Mr. Emery. An address by Colman was spoken by Bartley, and a large sum was realised.

Tyke was Emery's great part, in which he left no successor. He was excellent in some Shakespearean parts. Of his Barnardine in ‘Measure for Measure’ Genest, a reserved critic, says, ‘Emery looked and acted inimitably.’ His Caliban and Silence in ‘King Henry IV’ were excellent. His Ralph in the ‘Maid of the Mill,’ Dougal in ‘Rob Roy,’ Hodge in ‘Love in a Village,’ Winter in the ‘Steward,’ Sam Sharpset, John Lump, Andrew in ‘Love, Law, and Physic’ were unsurpassable performances. In the ‘New Monthly Magazine,’ October 1821, a writer, assumably Talfourd, says Emery ‘is one of the most real, hearty, and fervid of actors. He is half a Munden. … He has the pathos but not the humour, the stoutness but not the strangeness, the heart but not the imagination of the greatest of living comedians. … To be half a Munden is the highest praise we can give to any other actor, short of a Kean or a Macready.’ Hazlitt says of his acting: ‘It is impossible to praise it sufficiently because there is never any opportunity of finding fault with it’ (Criticisms and Dramatic Essays, 87–8), and Leigh Hunt says he does not know one of his rustic characters ‘in which he is not altogether excellent and almost perfect’ (Critical Essays, 106). In the ‘London Magazine,’ iii. 517, his Tyke is declared inimitable, and his acting is said to remind the writer of a bottle of old port, and to possess ‘a fine rough and mellow flavour that forms an irresistible attraction.’ Gilliland's ‘Dramatic Synopsis,’ 1804, p. 107, says Mr. Emery's delineation of Orson in the ‘Iron Chest’ is ‘a fine picture of savage nature characterised by a peculiar justice of colouring.’ Emery was about five feet nine inches, robustly built, with a light complexion and light blue eyes. He looked like one of his own farmers, sang well with a low tenor voice, composed the music and words of a few songs, and for his benefit wrote annually comic effusions, one of which, a song entitled ‘York, you're wanted,’ enjoyed a long reputation. He had considerable powers of painting, and exhibited between 1801 and 1817 nineteen pictures, chiefly sea pieces, at the Royal Academy. He was a shrewd observer, an amusing companion, and a keen sportsman, very fond of driving four-in-hand. Unfortunately he drank to excess, and was never so happy as when in the society of jockeys and pugilists. He married in 1802 a Miss Anne Thompson, the daughter of a tradesman in the Borough. No less than seven portraits of him in various characters, of which four are by Dewilde, and one, presenting him with Liston, Mathews, and Blanchard in ‘Love, Law, and Physic,’ by Clint, are in the Mathews collection in the Garrick Club.

[Books cited; Genest's Account of the Stage; Oxberry's Dramatic Biog. vol. ii.; Thespian Dict.; Gilliland's Dramatic Mirror; The Drama, 1821, vol. i.; Graves's Dict. of Artists, 1884; Reminiscences of Thomas Dibdin, 1827, vol. ii.]

J. K.