Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 53.djvu/154

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


no more, but to devote himself to fox-hunting and country pursuits:

    Then take the circuit of my little fields,
    And taste the comfort that contentment yields.

He also declared (quite erroneously) that he had served the public thirty-five years. The retirement thus contemplated had a duration of barely more than six months.

Smith's first appearance at Drury Lane was made under Garrick, 22 Sept. 1774, as Richard III. Iachimo, Hamlet, Orestes in ‘Electra,’ Hastings in ‘Jane Shore,’ Duke in ‘Measure for Measure,’ Bajazet, and other parts followed, and he was the original Edwin, earl of Northumberland, in Dr. Franklin's ‘Matilda,’ 21 Jan. 1775, and Velasquez in Jephson's ‘Braganza,’ 17 Feb. His other new parts at Drury Lane consisted of George Hargrave in Mrs. Cowley's ‘Runaway,’ 15 Feb. 1776; Arzaces in Ayscough's ‘Semiramis,’ adapted from Voltaire, 13 Dec.; Loveless in Sheridan's ‘Trip to Scarborough,’ 24 Feb. 1777; Charles Surface in the ‘School for Scandal,’ 8 May; a part unnamed in the ‘Roman Sacrifice’ of William Shirley, 18 Dec.; Paladore in Jephson's ‘Law of Lombardy,’ 8 Feb. 1779; Almaimon in Hodson's ‘Zoraida,’ 13 Dec.; Acamas in ‘Royal Suppliants,’ adapted by Delap from Euripides, 17 Feb. 1781; Hamet in Pratt's ‘Fair Circassian,’ 27 Nov.; Morley in ‘Variety,’ assigned hesitatingly to Richard Griffith, 25 Feb. 1782; Montague in Hull's ‘Fatal Interview,’ 16 Nov.; St. Valori in Cumberland's ‘Carmelite,’ 2 Dec. 1784; Clifford in Burgoyne's ‘Heiress,’ 14 Jan. 1786; and Erragon in Delap's adaptation from Euripides ‘The Captives,’ 9 March. Among other parts in which he was first seen at Drury Lane are Don Felix, Captain Absolute, Ford, Alwin in the ‘Countess of Salisbury,’ and King Arthur.

He made his last professional appearance on the stage as Charles Surface, 9 June 1788, after which he retired, settling at Bury St. Edmunds. He returned to the stage of Drury Lane for one night, 18 May 1798, playing Charles Surface for the benefit of King. He died, 13 Sept. 1819, in his house at Bury St. Edmunds. His fortune, declared under 18,000l., he left principally to his widow, his will being proved on 14 Oct. 1819. At his request his funeral was without pomp, and no stone or other indication is erected to show his place of sepulture. He also directed that no biographical record should be issued after his death. Smith had married, in May 1754, Elizabeth, widow of Kelland Courtenay; she was second daughter of Edward Richard Montagu, viscount Hinchinbroke, and was thus a sister of John Montagu, the notorious fourth earl of Sandwich [q. v.] Great outcry being raised concerning the disgrace to the family, Smith offered to retire from the stage if an annuity equal to the income he made by his profession were given him. This proposal was declined, and the lady died on 11 Dec. 1762. He subsequently married another widow, of humbler station, but possessed of considerable property, who survived him and forgave him a solitary but too notorious escapade, when in the spring of 1774 he went to Paris in company with Mrs. Hartley, his Lady Macbeth.

Smith's youthful reputation as a ‘buck,’ the circumstances of his early life, and his marriage to the sister of a peer, conspired to secure him the appellation of ‘Gentleman.’ He deserved the name, however, for other reasons. He was by no means deficient in tact, and his rancour against the critics had less of absurdity in it than is common with the generality of actors. His manners were polished; his voice, though monotonous, was distinct, smooth, and powerful; his person was pleasing and his countenance ‘engaging;’ he was always easy and never deficient in spirit. In tragedy he did not stand foremost, though his Richard III was held a fine performance, and his Hamlet, Hotspur, Lothario, Edgar, and Henry V won recognition. In characters less essentially heroic he was esteemed. His Kitely was held better than Garrick's, and his Leon, Oakly, Ford, Clifford, Falconbridge, and Iachimo were warmly commended. His chief success was in gay comedy. His original performance of Charles Surface is held never to have been equalled, and in Plume, Archer, and other characters he had few successful rivals. Churchill, in the ‘Rosciad,’ speaks of

    Smith, the genteel, the airy, and the smart.

During his long connection with the stage Smith only twice acted out of London during the summer season. There seems something like affectation in his boast that he had never played in an afterpiece and never worn a beard or gone down a trap; but he is said to have had a clause in his engagements that he should not be called on to act on a Monday in the hunting season. Horseracing and hunting were his delight; he sometimes hunted in the morning, and took relays of horses so as to act at night, riding once, it is said, eighteen miles in an hour. When he came from his retirement to play Charles Surface for King's benefit, though nearly seventy years old and portly in figure, he showed signs of his old grace of movement.