Incledon, Charles (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 28
Incledon, Charles (1763-1826)

by Lydia Miller Middleton
Contains subarticle, his son, Charles Incledon (1791-1865).

INCLEDON, CHARLES (1763–1826), vocalist, the son of Bartholomew Incledon, surgeon, and Loveday, his wife, was baptised at St. Keverne, Cornwall, on 5 Feb. 1763, as Benjamin, a name he afterwards discarded for 'Charles' (Boase and Courtney, Bibliotheca Cornubiensis, Suppl., p. 263). The family is probably a branch of the Incledons of Bratton in Devonshire, who intermarried with the Glinnes of Cornwall (Visitation of Devon, 1620). Incledon was sent to Exeter when he was eight to sing in the cathedral choir under Langdon and Jackson, but after a few years he abandoned his studies, and ran off to sea. About 1779 he was bound for the West Indies on board the Formidable (Captain Cleland). He afterwards changed to the Raisonnable (Captain Lord Hervey), and in 1782 saw some active service. In the meantime Incledon's voice and talent had been noticed by his officers, who encouraged him in his wish to leave the navy and seek his fortune on the stage, and furnished him (it is said) with letters of introduction to Colman and Sheridan; but if Incledon really applied to these managers, he failed to make any impression. He seems to have obtained his first hearing at Southampton with Collins's company in 1784 as Alphonso in Arnold's `Castle of Andalusia.' Twelve months later he appeared at Bath as Edwin in `Robin Hood,' Rauzzini among many friends there giving him valuable help and some instruction. In the seasons of 1786 to 1789 Incledon sang at Vauxhall Gardens, and at length, on 17 Sept. 1790, made his first appearance on the London stage at Covent Garden in the part of Dermot in Shield's `Poor Soldier.' The new singer's fine tenor voice, correct ear, and finished shake (Parke), won him popular favour, in spite of his unskilful acting (which was partly caused by a bad memory) and vulgar accent. For some time he and Mrs. Billington [q. v.] were the chief stars of Covent Garden Theatre, and Incledon's connection with it lasted until 1815. He was one of the eight representative actors who signed Holman's `Statement of the Differences subsisting between the Proprietors and Performers of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden,' &c., in 1801 [see Holman, Joseph George], but, unlike Holman, did not sever his connection with that house. At Covent Garden Incledon took the leading parts in Shield's operas, Arne's 'Artaxerxes,' the revival of the 'Beggar's Opera,' and other pieces, and he sometimes sang sailor-songs in costume between the acts. He was also an enthusiast for church music, and was engaged for the sacred music concerts at the King's Theatre under Linley in 1792, and at the Lenten oratorios under John Ashley [q.v.] at Covent Garden, where he took part in the first performance of Haydn's `Creation' on 28 March 1800 (he had sung before Haydn at a meeting of the Anacreontic Society on 12 Jan. 1791). His name occurs only once, at Worcester in 1803, as a singer at the Three Choirs meetings; but he frequently made provincial tours. On one of his journeys to or from Ireland he and his wife were shipwrecked, and narrowly escaped drowning. In 1816, the year after his secession from Covent Garden, Incledon wrote to Robbins (Brit. Mus. MS. Egerton 2334, fol. 1) that `if he could get an eligible situation at Drury Lane he should prefer it to anything.' Incledon sailed for America, and first appeared at the Park Theatre, New York, on 17 Oct. 1817, as Hawthorn in 'Love in a Village,' but did not create a favourable impression. His voice was past its prime, he was burly, careless in his dress, and poor as an actor (Records of the New York Stage, i. 329). He left New York in August 1818, took his leave of the stage at the English Opera House on 19 April 1822, and soon afterwards went to reside at Brighton. He died on 11 Feb. 1826 from a paralytic affection while on a visit to Worcester. He was buried in Hampstead churchyard.

It was in ballads that the 'marvellous sweetness and forcible simplicity' of Incledon's style were best heard (cf. Gent. Mag. 1815, pt. ii. 1616). His favourite songs included Stevens's 'The Storm,' Gay's `Black-eyed Susan,' Shield's `Heaving of the Lead,' and many love-songs by the same composer (see Fairburn, Incledonian and Vauxhall Songster, Lond., 1808, 12mo). In 'My bonny, bonny Bet, sweet Blossom,' Incledon used his falsetto with great effect; but after some years he abandoned excessive use of it. His natural voice, full, open, and pure, ranged from A to G (fourteen notes), his falsetto from D to E (or about nine notes). Leigh Hunt and H. Crabb Robinson have commented on the singer's awkwardness and vulgarity. `Just the man I should have expected,' wrote the latter, after meeting him in a coach, 15 Oct. 1811 (Diary, i. 343), 'seven rings on his fingers, five seals on his watch-ribbon, and a gold snuff box.' Incledon was always restless and eccentric in manner; good-natured, sometimes witty, generally coarse in his conversation. His irregular habits and eccentric ways annoyed Charles Mathews the elder, who joined him in a year's tour, and records the great triumphs of the singer in Ireland (Memoirs, i. 149, 151). Moore (Russell, Life, i. 96), recalling certain reunions on the island of Dalkey, near Dublin, where the young wits of the town founded a mock kingdom and held a court, notes that Incledon was knighted as Sir Charles Melody on one occasion (in 1795), when the singer visited the island with a party of friends. Mathews, at his own benefit on 4 June 1816, played the part of Macheath in the 'Beggar's Opera,' and attempted 'the voice and manner of a celebrated performer of that character' (Genest, viii. 554). This was said by Donaldson to be a perfect mimicry of Incledon's person and voice. Incledon was three times married. His first wife died in 1800, the second, Miss Howell of Bath, in 1811 (Gent. Mag. vol. lxx. pt. i. p. 93, vol. lxxxi. pt. i. p. 597). His third wife was in earlier life Mrs. Martha Hart.

Two portraits by De Wilde and a third by an unknown artist represented Incledon as Macheath. They are now in the Garrick Club. Another portrait, a head in oils by Lawrance, was in 1867 in the possession of Herr Brause wetter at Wagram. An etching of Incledon in the character of a sailor singing 'The Storm' was published by Roberts.

Incledon's eldest son Charles Incledon (1791-1865), in spite of his dislike of the profession of an actor (H. C. Robinson, Diary, ii. 418), appeared at Drury Lane as Meadows in 'Love in a Village' on 3 Oct. 1829, under the patronage of Braham. His voice was tenor, and pure in quality. For many years he lived at Vienna as an English teacher, and he died at Bad Tiiffer in 1865 (Pohl, Haydn in London, p. 337).

[Dict. of Music, 1827, i. 392; Grove's Dict. of Music, ii. 2; Parke's Memoirs, ii. 248; Russell's Representative Actors, p. 278; Bernard's Retrospections of the Stage, vol. ii.; Donaldson's Fifty Years of an Actor's Life, p.45; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. x. 92; Georgian Era, iv. 289; Era Almanack, 1870; Boase and Courtney's Bibliotheca Cornubiensis, iii. 1241, Supplement, p. 263, and Collectanea Cornubiensia, p. 405; authorities quoted above.]

L. M. M.