Munden, Joseph Shepherd (DNB00)
|←Munden, John||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 39
Munden, Joseph Shepherd
MUNDEN, JOSEPH SHEPHERD (1758–1832), actor, the son of a poulterer in Brook's Market, Leather Lane, Holborn, was born early in 1758, and was at the age of twelve in an apothecary's shop. Writing a good hand he was subsequently apprenticed to Mr. Druce, a law stationer in Chancery Lane. Prompted by his admiration for Garrick, he was in the habit of running away to join strolling companies, and was more than once brought home by his mother, In Liverpool he was engaged for a while at 10s. 6d. a week in the office of the town clerk, augmenting his income by appearing on the stage as a supernumerary. After playing with strollers at Rochdale, Chester, &c., and having the customary experience of hardship, he was engaged to play old men at Leatherhead. Thence he proceeded to Wallingford, Windsor, and Colnbrook, returned to London, took part in private performances at the Haymarket, and began to make his mark at Canterbury under Hurst, where in 1780 he was the original Faddle in Mrs. Burgess's comedy, 'The Oaks, or the Beauties of Canterbury.' In the company of Austin and Whitlock in Chester he held a recognised position, and he played at Brighton, Whitehaven, Newcastle, Lancaster, Preston, and Manchester. Money was then advanced to enable him to purchase the share of Austin in the management of the Chester, Newcastle, Lancaster, Preston, Warrington, and Sheffield theatres. Here he played the leading comic business, rising in reputation and fortune. A liaison with an actress named Mary Jones, who deserted him after having by him four children, subsequently adopted by Mrs. Munden, brought him into temporary disfavour, which was forgotten when he married, 20 Oct. 1789, at the parish church of St. Oswald, Chester, Miss Frances Butler, a lady five years his senior with some claims to social position. This lady had made her début at Lewes, 28 July 1785, as Louisa Dudley in the 'West Indian,' had joined the Chester company, and on her marriage retired from the stage. After the death in 1790 of John Edwin [q. v.], Munden was engaged at 8l. a week for Covent Garden. Having disposed to Stephen Kemble [q. v.] of his share in the country theatres, he came to London with his wife, living first in Portugal Street, Clare Market, and then in Catherine Street, Strand. On 2 Dec. 1790, as Sir Francis Gripe in the 'Busy Body' and Jemmy Jumps in the 'Farmer,' the latter a part created by Edwin two or three years earlier, he made his first appearance in London, and obtained a highly favourable reception.
At Covent Garden, with occasional summer appearances at the Haymarket, and frequent excursions into the country, he remained until 1811, rising gradually to the position of the most celebrated comedian of his day. In his first season he played Don Lewis in 'Love makes a Man,' Darby in the 'Poor Soldier,' Quidnunc in the 'Upholsterer,' Lazarillo in 'Two Strings to your Bow,' Level in 'High Life below Stairs,' Cassander in 'Alexander the Little,' Pedrillo in the 'Castle of Andalusia,' Daphne in 'Midas Reversed,' Tipple in the 'Flitch of Bacon,' and Camillo in the 'Double Falsehood.' On 4 Feb. 1791 he was the original Sir Samuel Sheepy in Holcroft's 'School for Arrogance,' an adaptation of 'Le Glorieux' of Destouches. On 14 March he was the first Frank in O'Keeffe's 'Modern Antiques,' and 16 April the earliest Ephraim Smooth in O'Keeffe's 'Wild Oats.' He presented from the first a remarkable variety of characters, and the removal of Quick and Wilson further extended his repertory. Putting on one side merely trivial parts, a list of between two and three hundred characters stands opposite his name. These include the Gentleman Usher in 'King Lear,' the Second Witch in 'Macbeth,' the First Carrier and Justice Shallow in 'King Henry IV,' Lafeu, the Tailor and Grumio in 'Katherine and Petruchio,' Autolycus, Polonius, Dromio of Syracuse, the Town Clerk and Dogberry in 'Much Ado about Nothing,' Launce, Launcelot Gobbo, Menenius in 'Coriolanus,' Malvolio and Stephano in the 'Tempest,' Sir Anthony Absolute, Hardcastle, Don Jerome in the 'Duenna,' Peachum in the 'Beggar's Opera,' Trim in 'Tristram Shendy,' Scrub in the 'Beaux Stratagem,' Robin in the 'Waterman,' Tony Lumpkin, Sir Peter Teazle, Justice Clement and Brainworm in 'Every Man in his Humour,' Marrall in 'A New Way to pay Old Debts,' Hardy in the 'Belle's Stratagem,' Croaker in the 'Good-natured Man,' Sir Fretful Plagiary in the 'Critic,' and Foresight in 'Love for Love.' Not less remarkable is his list of original characters. In countless pieces of Colman, Morton, Reynolds, and other dramatists of the day he took principal parts. His Old Dornton in Holcroft's 'Road to Ruin,' 18 Feb, 1792, sprang into immediate success, and remained a favourite to the end of his career. On 19 March 1795 he played Sir Hans Burgess in O'Keeffe's 'Life's Vagaries;' on 23 Jan. 1796 Caustic in Morton's 'Way to get Married;' 19 Nov. 1796 Old Testy in Holman's 'Abroad and at Home;' 10 Jan. 1797 Old Rapid in Morton's 'Cure for the Heart Ache;' 4 March 1797 Sir William Dorillon in Mrs. Inchbald's 'Wives as they were and Maids as they are;' 23 Nov. 1797 Solomon Single in Cumberland's 'False Impression;' and on 11 Jan. 1798 Undermine in Morton's 'Secrets worth Knowing.' These parts were all played at Covent Garden. At the Haymarket, 15 July 1797, he was the first Zekiel Homespun in the younger Colman's 'Heir-at-Law.' At Covent Garden he was, 12 Jan. 1799, Oakworth in Holman's 'Votary of Wealth;' 8 Feb. 1800 Sir Abel Handy in Morton's 'Speed the Plough,' and 1 May 1800 Dominique in Cobb's 'Paul and Virginia.' This season witnessed the dispute between the principal actors of Covent Garden and Harris the manager [see Holman, Joseph George]. Munden was one of the signatories of the appeal which Lord Salisbury, the lord chumherlain, as arbitrator, rejected in every point. Munden at the close of the season visited Dublin, Birmingham, Chester, and elsewhere.
At Covent Garden on 3 Jan. 1801, he was Old Liberal in T. Dibdin's 'School for Prejudice,' and 11 Feb. Sir Robert Bramble in the younger Colman's 'Poor Gentleman; 'on 15 Jan. 1805 General Tarragon in Morton's 'School of Reform;' 16 Feb. Lord Danberry in Mrs. Inchbald's 'To marry or not to marry,' and 18 April Torrent in the younger Colman's 'Who wants a Guinea?' On 15 Nov. 1806 he was the Count of Rosenheim in Dimond's 'Adrian and Orrila,' 3 Dec. 1808 Diaper in Tobin's 'School for Authors,' and on 23 April 1811 Heartworth in Holman's 'Gazette Extraordinary.' At the close of this season Munden quarrelled with the management on financial questions, and did not again, except for a benefit, set his foot in the theatre. At the Haymarket he played, 26 July 1811, Casimere in the 'Quadrupeds of Quedlinburgh,' taken by Colman from Canning. He was again at the Haymarket in 1812. During the two years, 1811-3, however, he was principally in the country, playing in Edinburgh (where he was introduced to Scott), Newcastle, Rochdale, Chester, Manchester, &c., obtaining large sums of money, and beginning for the first time to incur the charge of stinginess. He had hitherto been a popular and somewhat indulgent man, exercising hospitality at a house in Kentish Town, a witty companion, the secretary to the Beefsteak Club, and a martyr to gout. He now began a system of parsimony, which hardened into miserliness.
On 4 Oct. 1813, as Sir Abel Handy in 'Speed the Plough,' he made his first appearance at Drury Lane where, 11 March 1815, he created one of his greatest rôles, Dozey, an old sailor, in T. Dibdin's 'Past Ten o'Clock and a Rainy Night.' On 14 Dec. 1815 he was Vandunke in the 'Merchant of Bruges,' Kinnaird's alteration of the 'Beggar's Bush' of Beaumont and Fletcher. At Drury Lane he played few original parts of importance, the last being General Van in Knight's 'Veteran, or the Farmer's Sons,' 23 Feb. 1822. He had suffered much from illness, and took his farewell of the stage 31 May 1824, playing Sir Robert Bramble and Old Dozey, and reciting a farewell address. He was little seen after his retirement, being principally confined to the house, where he was nursed by his wife. Discontented with his receipts from his investment in government trusts, he sold out, and placing out his money at high interest experienced losses, which caused him anxieties that shortened his life. He refused many invitations to reappear, and after the death of a favourite daughter spent most of his time in bed. He died 6 Feb. 1832 in Bernard Street, Russell Square, and was buried in the vaults of St. George's, Bloomsbury. The disposition of his property, including a very inadequate provision for his wife, who died in 1836, caused unfavourable comment. He left several children. A son, Thomas Shepherd Munden, who died at Islington in July 1850, aged 50, wrote his father's biography.
There are few actors concerning whose appearance, method, and merits so much is known. Thanks to the utterances of Charles Lamb, Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, and Talfourd, the actor still lives to the present generation. Lamb's famous criticism begins, 'There is one face of Farley, one face of Knight, one (but what a one it is!) of Liston; but Munden has none that you can properly pin down and call his.' Lamb calls him 'not one but legion, not so much a comedian as a company.' Elsewhere, in a letter upon Munden's death in the 'Athenæum,' Lamb says: 'He was imaginative; he could impress upon an audience an idea; the low one, perhaps, of a leg of mutton and turnips; but such was the grandeur and singleness of his expression, that that single impression would convey to all his auditory a notion of all the pleasures they had all received from all the legs of muttons and turnips they had ever eaten in their lives.' Talfourd says: 'When he fixes his wonder-working face in any of its most amazing varieties, it looks as if the picture were carved out from a rock by Nature in a sportive vein, and might last for ever. It is like what we can imagine a mask of the old Grecian comedy to have been, only that it lives, and breathes, and changes. His most fantastical gestures are the grand idea of farce.' Talfourd knew of nothing finer than his Old Dozey. Munden was altogether lacking in simplicity, and was a confirmed grimacer. Hunt compares his features to the reflection of a man's face in a ruffled stream: they undergo a perpetual undulation of grin. Much of his acting is said to consist of 'two or three ludicrous gestures and an innumerable variety of as fanciful contortions of countenance as ever threw women into hysterics.' Hazlltt holds that compared with Liston Munden was a caricaturist. Mrs. Mathews chronicles concerning him 'that his heart and soul were in his vocation.' Boaden calls his style of comedy broad and voluptuous, indicates that he was self-conscious, and charges him with unfairness to his brother actors when on the stage, adding that he 'painted remarkably high for distant effects.' The anonymous author of 'Candid and Impartial Strictures on the Performers,' &c., 1795, calls his action 'hard and deficient in variety,' his voice strong, and his figure 'vulgar and heavy.' The 'Thespian Dictionary' says that he dressed his characters with judgment. In appearance Munden was short, with large blue eyes. Leigh Hunt says that 'his profile was not good when he looked grave. There was something close, carking, and even severe in it; but it was redeemed by his front face, which was handsome for one so old, and singularly pliable about the eyes and brows.' Genest numbers among his best impersonations Sir Francis Gripe, Ephraim Smooth, Old Dornton, Polonius, Hardcastle, Nipperton, Old Rapid, Captain Bertram, King in 'Tom Thumb,' Crack in the 'Turnpike Gate,' Sir Abel Handy, Sir Robert Bramble, Marrall, Kit Sly, and Moll Flagon, to which list should be added Menenius, Obadiah Prim in 'Honest Thieves,’ Harmony in ‘Every one has his Fault,’ and the Witch in ‘Macbeth.’
Eight portraits of Munden are in the Mathews collection in the Garrick Club. One by Zoffany shows him as Project, with Quick as Alderman Arable, and Lewis as Tanjore in ‘Speculation.’ De Wilde painted him as Verdun in ‘Lovers' Vows,’ as Peregrine Forester in ‘Hartford Bridge,’ as Crack in the ‘Turnpike Gate,’ and as Autolycus. Clint shows him as Old Brummagem in ‘Lock and Key,’ with Knight as Ralph, Mrs. Orger as Fanny, and Miss Cubitt as Laura. Other portraits are by John Opie, R.A., and Turmeau. An excellent sketch of Munden by George Dance, dated December 1798, was engraved by W. Daniell for ‘Dance's Portraits,’ London, 1808.
[The Memoir by his son, London, 1844, is the chief authority. Biographies are found in Gilliland's Dramatic Mirror, the Thespian Dictionary, and in innumerable magazines. These are even less trustworthy than usual, as Munden liked to hoax applicants for information. Genest's Account of the English Stage; Boaden's Life of Mrs. Jordan; Seilhammer's History of the American Stage, vol. iii.; Clark Russell's Representative Actors; Gilliland's Dramatic Synopsis; New Monthly Mag. vols. iii. xii.; London Mag. vol. iii.; Leigh Hunt's Critical Essays on the Performers, &c.; Hazlitt's Dramatic Essays; T. Dibdin's Reminiscences, i. 290; and manuscript information by J. Dirk Vanderpant, in a copy of the Memoir, have been consulted.]