Mills, John (d.1736) (DNB00)

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MILLS, JOHN (d. 1736), actor, said by Downes in his ‘Roscius Anglicanus’ to ‘excel in Tragedy,’ appears to have joined the company at Drury Lane and Dorset Garden after the secession in 1695 of Betterton, Mrs. Barry, and other actors to Lincoln's Inn Fields. Judging by the parts then assigned him, he must have had some previous experience. He was the original Lawyer in Cibber's ‘Love's Last Shift,’ January 1695–6, and in the same year the original Jack Stanmore in Southerne's ‘Oronooko;’ Nennius in an alteration of ‘Bonduca;’ Mustapha in ‘Ibrahim XIII [should be XII], Emperour of the Turks,’ by Mrs. Pix; Peregrine in the ‘Cornish Comedy,’ and Castillio in ‘Neglected Virtue, or the Unhappy Conqueror,’ founded on the ‘Pilgrim.’ During his first season at Drury Lane his wife played Margaret, a subordinate part, in the ‘Cornish Comedy.’ At Drury Lane, with one or two migrations to the Haymarket, Mills remained forty years. His early assumptions were principally comic. He played in 1697, among other parts, the first Sir John Friendly in Vanbrugh's ‘Relapse, or Virtue in Danger,’ and Ned Stanmore in Settle's ‘World in the Moon,’ and undertook Leontius in the ‘Humorous Lieutenant.’ In 1698 he was Merope, king of Egypt, in Gildon's ‘Phaeton, or the Fatal Divorce,’ Colonel Dorange in D'Urfey's ‘Campaigners,’ Winlove in ‘Sawny the Scot’ (Lacy's alteration of the ‘Taming of the Shrew’), Artan (a devil) in Powell's ‘Imposture Defeated, or a Trick to Cheat the Devil;’ in 1699 Lovewell in Farquhar's ‘Love and a Bottle,’ in which Mrs. Mills was Trudge, and Sir Harry Wildair in Farquhar's ‘Constant Couple, or a Trip to the Jubilee.’ He also played, among other parts, Agamemnon in ‘Achilles, or Iphigenia in Aulis,’ extracted by Boyer from Racine. Following years saw him as the original Ned in Burnaby's ‘Reformed Wife’ (the cast of which is not in Genest); Arcadius in Oldmixon's ‘Grove, or Love's Paradise;’ Count Bassino in Mrs. Centlivre's ‘Perjured Husband;’ Don Duart in Cibber's ‘Love makes a Man, or the Fop's Fortune;’ Colonel Standard in Farquhar's ‘Sir Harry Wildair;’ Dugard in Farquhar's ‘Inconstant, or the Way to win him;’ Campley in Steele's ‘Funeral;’ Octavio in Cibber's ‘She would and she would not,’ 26 Nov. 1702; Trueman in Farquhar's ‘Twin Rivals,’ 14 Dec. 1702; Octavio in Mrs. Carroll's ‘Love's Contrivance, or Le Medecin malgre Lui’ (sic), 4 June 1703; Clerimont Senior in Steele's ‘Tender Husband,’ 23 April 1705, and many similar parts. In the autumn of 1706 a contingent of actors from Drury Lane appeared, under the direction of Swiney, at the Haymarket. Among them was Mills, who played, 26 Oct. 1706, Douglas in the ‘First Part of King Henry IV,’ and on 30 Oct. Edmund in ‘King Lear.’ He also enacted the King in the ‘Maid's Tragedy,’ Lord Morelove in the ‘Careless Husband,’ Bertram in the ‘Spanish Fryar,’ Leon in ‘Rule a Wife and have a Wife,’ the Ghost in ‘Hamlet, Volpone, Timon of Athens, Petruchio in ‘Sawny the Scot,’ Bosola in the ‘Duchess of Malfi,’ Pierre in ‘Venice Preserved,’ Octavius in ‘Julius Cæsar,’ and many other serious parts, and was the original Aimwell in Farquhar's ‘Beaux' Stratagem.’

On 15 Jan. 1708 Mills rejoined, as Horatio in ‘Hamlet,’ Drury Lane, where he remained until his death. A list of his parts, of those even which were original, would occupy columns. The chief are Prospero, 1708; Melantius in the ‘Maid's Tragedy;’ Antonio; Macbeth; Pylades, an original part, in Philips's ‘Distressed Mother,’ 17 March 1712; Julius Cæsar; Sempronius; Buckingham in ‘King Richard III;’ Falstaff; Bajazet; Titus Andronicus; Cassius; Lear; Othello; Cato; Orestes; Hamlet; and Wolsey. He was the original Belmour in ‘Jane Shore,’ 2 Feb. 1714; Fantôme in the ‘Drummer,’ 10 March 1716; Zanga in the ‘Revenge,’ 18 April 1721; Sir John Bevil in Steele's ‘Conscious Lovers,’ 7 Nov. 1722; and Manly in Vanbrugh and Cibber's ‘Provoked Husband,’ 10 Jan. 1728. At the close of the season of 1734–5 Mills was selected as one of a committee of management at Drury Lane, but this arrangement was not carried out. His last performance (4 Dec. 1736) was as the King in the ‘Second Part of King Henry IV.’ He was afterwards announced for Macbeth, and was seen by Davies hurrying to the theatre to play it, but was taken ill, and resigned the rôle to Quin. He died on the 17th, after an illness of twelve days, at his residence in Martlet's Court, Bow Street, and was interred in the parish church of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields on the 20th, his pall-bearers being Charles Fletewood (sic), Colley Cibber, Johnson, Quin, Griffin, and Theophilus Cibber.

The ‘London Evening Post,’ 18 Dec. 1736, says that ‘he deservedly acquir'd a very great reputation; not only for his capacity, but also for his application and diligence in his profession,’ and for his conduct in public and private life. It adds: ‘He liv'd so generally and deservedly beloved that his loss is not only a great misfortune to the stage and his brethren there, but to the public in general, he being in all respects a very worthy and good man.’ This testimony is borne out from other sources. Victor calls him ‘the most useful actor that ever served a theatre,’ speaks in high praise of his Bajazet, and describes his person as ‘nearly approaching to the graceful; and his voice a full deep melodious tenor, which suited the characters of rage.’ His features appear, however, to have been large rather than expressive. Colley Cibber says that he owed his advancement to Wilks, to whose friendship his qualities as an ‘honest, quiet, careful man, of as few faults as excellences, commended him,’ and adds that he was advanced to a salary larger than any man actor had enjoyed during his (Cibber's) time on the stage. Mills's salary, 4l. a week, with 1l. for his wife, was in fact the same as Betterton's. Rich, in an advertisement provoked by a quarrel with his players, says that ‘the salary was paid for little or nothing.’ Steele in the ‘Tatler,’ No. 201, taxes Mills with want of sentiment, and suggests that ‘making gesture too much his study, he neglected the higher attributes of his art.’ Pierre, in which ‘he is charged with wearing a white hat,’ was his best part, in the opinion of the actors and of the public. As Corvino in ‘Volpone’ he was held to surpass Colley Cibber. His wife played few important parts. William Mills, his son, known as ‘the younger Mills,’ died of dropsy 18 Aug. 1750, his benefit being announced for the 21st. Davies praises his Julius Cæsar, and says ‘he was in general a snip-snap speaker,’ whose eccentricities Garrick mimicked very happily in the ‘Rehearsal.’ He was an indifferent actor.

[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Cibber's Apology, ed. Lowe; Downes's Roscius Anglicanus; Davies's Dramatic Miscellanies; Victor's History of the Theatres; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. i. 25, 78.]

J. K.