Knight, Edward (DNB00)

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KNIGHT, EDWARD (1774–1826), actor, commonly known as ‘Little Knight,’ and spoken of as a Yorkshireman, was born in 1774 in Birmingham. While practising as a sign-painter, or, as is sometimes said, an artist, he was stirred to emulation by the performance of a provincial company. He appeared accordingly at Newcastle, Staffordshire, as Hob in ‘Hob in the Well,’ and was so complete a victim to stage-fright that, despite the encouragement of a friendly audience, he ran off the stage and quitted the town. A year later at Raither in North Wales, with a salary of five shillings per week, he was fortunate enough to get in safety through the same part. Playing Frank Oatland in ‘A Cure for the Heartache’ he was seen and engaged by Nunns, the manager of the Stafford Theatre. In Stafford he stayed some years, increasing in reputation, and he married a Miss Clews, the daughter of a local wine merchant. Tate Wilkinson, to whom he introduced himself, engaged him for the York circuit about 1803. His reception was favourable. After a time he was gratified by the present from Wilkinson of a chest containing all the appliances of an actor's wardrobe, with the compliment: ‘I have been long looking for some one who knew how to value them; you are the very man.’ While at Leeds his wife died, and Knight, left with a young family, married in 1807 Susan Smith, who had succeeded her sister, Sarah Bartley [q. v.], as leading lady, and, though an actress of no great power, was a remarkable favourite. Engaged by Wroughton, on the report of Bannister, for Drury Lane for three years, at a salary rising from 7l. to 9l., Knight arrived with wife and children in London, to find the theatre burnt down. At the Lyceum accordingly, whither the company betook itself, Knight made, 14 Oct. 1809, as Timothy Quaint in the ‘Soldier's Daughter,’ and Robin Roughhead in ‘Fortune's Frolic,’ his first appearance in London. The favourable impression he created in these characters, and as Label in the ‘Prize,’ was fortified by his creation of Jerry Blossom in Pocock's ‘Hit or Miss,’ 26 Feb. 1810, in which he and Mathews as Cypher retrieved the fortunes of the piece. Scrub in the ‘Beaux' Stratagem,’ Varland in the ‘West Indian,’ Zekiel Homespun in the ‘Heir-at-Law,’ Dominique in ‘Deaf and Dumb,’ Sam in ‘Raising the Wind,’ Gripe in the ‘Confederacy,’ and Risk in ‘Love laughs at Locksmiths,’ are among the parts he took at the Lyceum, where he was also the original Diego in the ‘Kiss,’ an alteration of Fletcher's ‘Spanish Curate.’ With the company he went to the new theatre in Drury Lane, to which he remained constant until his death. Simple in the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor,’ 23 Oct. 1812, is the first part in which he can be traced at this house. The Clown in ‘Twelfth Night’ and Little John in ‘Robin Hood’ were given during his first season. He played many parts, chiefly domestics, rustics, farm-labourers, and the like, and was the representative of scores of characters in feeble pieces by T. Dibdin, Pocock, Kenney, and other writers. Francis in ‘King Henry IV,’ Sim in ‘Wild Oats,’ Hawbuck in ‘Town and Country,’ Quiz in ‘Love in a Camp,’ Tom in ‘Intrigue,’ Gripe in the ‘Two Misers,’ Stephen Harrowby in the ‘Poor Gentleman,’ Solomon Lob in ‘Love laughs at Locksmiths,’ David in the ‘Rivals,’ Appletree in the ‘Recruiting Officer,’ Silky in the ‘Road to Ruin,’ Tester in the ‘Suspicious Husband,’ Peter in ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ Isaac in the ‘Duenna,’ Nym in ‘King Henry V,’ and Crabtree, represent the range of his abilities. Among his original parts, Tom in ‘Intrigue’ and Farmer Enfield in the ‘Falls of Clyde’ may be mentioned. During the season of 1825–6 he retired from the stage in consequence of illness. He died 21 Feb. 1826 at his house in Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, and was buried on the 27th in a vault in St. Pancras New Church. His son by his first wife, John Prescott Knight, the portrait-painter, is separately noticed.

Knight was a shy, careful, benevolent, and retiring man, who shrank from social intimacies, and was wholly domestic in habits. His figure was small and pliable, his height being five feet two, his hair and eyes dark, his voice shrill, but not unmusical. He sang well and made up well, and in various lines of pert servants was unequalled. The ‘Mirror of the Stage’ calls him a very natural actor. Oxberry, a rival, says that Sim was his best part; that in characters such as Spado, Ralph, Trap, and Lingo he surpassed Harley, was inimitable in decrepit old men, was the best actor of the day in sharp footmen and cunning rustics, and, although capable of pathos, showed his art in squeezing tears to his eyes. His country boys (the same critic adds) are ‘never unsophisticated; they are shrewd, designing, knowing.’ Terry, in his ‘British Theatrical Gallery,’ says: ‘There is always oddity, and sometimes pathos, in his acting,’ but charges him with being ‘a curious compound of quietude and restlessness.’ Knight had a precise walk, a firm bearing, and a habit of laughing too much. He was author of a musical farce in two acts, entitled ‘The Sailor and Soldier, or Fashionable Amusement,’ which was produced for his benefit in Hull in 1805. It is without merit.

A famous engraved picture in the Mathews collection in the Garrick Club by Clint shows him as Ralph in ‘Lock and Key,’ with Munden as Old Brummagem, Mrs. Orger as Fanny, and Miss Cubitt as Laura. In the same collection are pictures of him by De Wilde as Robin Roughhead in ‘Fortune's Frolic;’ and by Foster as Jailor in ‘Plots, or the North Tower,’ and Jerry Blossom in ‘Hit or Miss.’ A coloured print after Clint of Knight as Hodge in ‘Love in a Village’ is in Terry's ‘British Theatrical Gallery.’

[Books cited; Genest's Account of the Stage; Oxberry's Dramatic Biography, vol. ii.; Terry's British Theatrical Gallery; Biographia Dramatica; Theatrical Inquisitor and New Monthly Mag., various years; Georgian Era; Clark Russell's Representative Actors.]

J. K.