Rae, Alexander (DNB00)
RAE, ALEXANDER (1782–1820), actor, was born in London in May 1782. After the death of his father in 1787 he was educated under the Rev. W. Lloyd, and in his sixteenth year entered the office of a Mr. Campbell, an army and East India agent in the Adelphi. He is said to have been offered by his employer an appointment in India, which he declined. In 1806 he set out for Bath with an introduction from Richard Cumberland (1732–1811) [q. v.] to Dimond, the manager of the Bath Theatre. Oxberry says that he made his first appearance at Huntingdon. Upon his appearance at Bath as Hamlet on 28 Jan. 1806, it was announced as his ‘first appearance upon any stage.’ Hamlet, which remained his favourite part, was played twice in Bath, and once in Bristol; Rae also appeared in Bath on 4 Feb. as Octavian in the ‘Mountaineers,’ and Wilding in the ‘Liar,’ and on 18 Feb. as Charles Surface. His good figure and pleasing style, rather than any conspicuous display of talent, recommended him to Coleman, who engaged him for the Haymarket, where he appeared on 9 June 1806 as Octavian.
During the season, besides repeating Hamlet, he played Gondibert in the ‘Battle of Hexham,’ Count Almaviva, Captain Beldare in ‘Love laughs at Locksmiths,’ Frederick in the ‘Poor Gentleman,’ Sir Edward Mortimer in the ‘Iron Chest,’ Harry Harebrain in ‘The Will for the Deed,’ Lovewell in the ‘Clandestine Marriage;’ and he was, on 9 July, the original Edward in Dibdin's ‘Five Miles off is the Finger Post,’ a part that is said to have lowered him in public estimation. He was credited at this time with the possession of a genteel person, an expressive countenance, and a bad voice; he was said to have caught something from Kemble and more from Elliston, and to have the vice of expressing strong passion by hysterical ‘guzzles’ in the throat. At the close of the season he went to Liverpool, where he stayed four years, declining invitations from the Lyceum and from America. In Liverpool, where he succeeded Young, he played the lead both in tragedy and comedy, except for a time when he supported John Kemble. He fought so fiercely as Macduff that Kemble expressed his fear of being slain in earnest. Rae won some commendation from Mrs. Siddons, with whom he frequently acted. In the slack season he was in the habit of visiting Dublin and Scotland. On 14 Nov. 1812, as Rae from Liverpool, he made, on the introduction of Mrs. Siddons, his first appearance at Drury Lane, playing Hamlet. Norval in ‘Douglas,’ Romeo, George Barnwell, and Hastings in ‘Jane Shore’ followed, and on 23 Jan. 1813 he was the original Don Ordonio in Coleridge's ‘Remorse,’ a character that did something to augment his reputation. Lovemore in ‘The Way to keep him,’ Beverley in the ‘Gamester,’ Duke Aranza in the ‘Honeymoon,’ Philotas in the ‘Grecian Daughter,’ are among the characters assumed by him during his first London season. In Horace Smith's ‘First Impressions’ he was the original Fortescue on 30 Oct. 1813, and he played other original parts of little importance. He was Bassanio to the Shylock of Edmund Kean, upon the latter's first appearance at Drury Lane; and when, on 12 Feb. 1814, Kean played Richard III for the first time, Rae was Richmond. He is said, in a tale of dubious authority, to have wounded the vanity of Kean by asking him where he should hit him in the fight, and consequently to have been chased up and down the stage by Kean, who was an admirable fencer, before he was allowed to inflict the death-wound. Rae was, on 12 April 1814, the first Count Conenberg in Arnold's ‘Woodman's Hut.’ On 20 Oct. he was Othello to Kean's Iago, and 5 Nov. Macduff to Kean's Macbeth. He subsequently played Horatio in the ‘Fair Penitent’ to the Lothario of Elliston and the Sciolto of Pope, Orlando in ‘As you like it,’ Norfolk in ‘Richard II,’ Hotspur, Alonzo in the ‘Revenge’ to Kean's Zanga, John of Lorne (an original part) in Joanna Baillie's ‘Family Legend,’ Valmont in the ‘Foundling of the Forest,’ Don Felix in the ‘Wonder,’ Moneses in ‘Tamerlane,’ Hubert (an original part) in Kinnaird's ‘Merchant of Bruges, or Beggar's Bush’ (an adaptation from Beaumont and Fletcher), Valentine in ‘Love for Love,’ Plume in the ‘Recruiting Officer,’ Francesco in Massinger's ‘Duke of Milan,’ Osmond in the ‘Castle Spectre,’ and Ford in the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor.’ He was, on 5 Nov. 1816, the original Waverly in Tobin's ‘Guardians,’ and played Aboan in ‘Oroonoko,’ De Zelos (an original part) in Maturin's ‘Manuel’ on 8 March 1817, and Rashleigh Osbaldistone in the first production of ‘Rob Roy the Greygaract,’ Soame's adaptation from Scott, on 25 March 1818. On 22 Feb. 1819 he was the original Lenoir in R. Phillips's ‘Heroine, or a Daughter's Courage,’ and on 3 April took the part of Albanio, refused by Kean, in Bucke's ‘Italians, or the Fatal Accusation.’ Subsequently he played the ‘Stranger,’ Edgar in ‘Lear,’ and he was, on 29 May 1820, the original Appius in an anonymous version of ‘Virginius,’ and on 17 June the original Ruthven in Hamilton's ‘David Rizzio.’ He is last traced at Drury Lane, 19 June 1820, when he played Irwin in ‘Every one has his Fault.’
On the death of Raymond some few years previously, he was assigned the stage management of Drury Lane, and the promotion is said to have led him into a life of dissipation. He left his home and family to live with an actress who is charged with having, by threatening suicide, induced him to make what proved a crowning mistake. Quitting Drury Lane, he undertook in 1820 the management of the Royalty Theatre, Wellclose Square, where he opened as Sir Edward Mortimer in the ‘Iron Chest,’ Kean taking a box for the first night. Here, supported by Miss Pitt (afterwards Mrs. Faucit), Saville, West, Johnson, Gilbert, and other actors, he played the tragic parts of which at Drury Lane Kean had dispossessed him. The experiment was a failure, salaries were unpaid, and Rae was ruined. An attack of stone, from which disease he suffered, called for an operation, from which he never recovered. Attended by his wife, he died on 8 Sept. 1820. A performance for the benefit of his widow and three children was given at Drury Lane on 31 Oct.
Rae's most pronounced gift was elegance; he had penetration and judgment, but was wanting in intensity and inspiration. Oxberry, who says that Rae was the best Romeo he had ever seen, and that as De Zelos in ‘Manuel’ he threw Kean entirely into the shade, adds that his Hamlet came second only to that of John Philip Kemble, and that it had a beautiful settled melancholy which he never saw elsewhere. Rae was handsome, about five feet seven in height, dark-haired and a little bald, a fair singer, a good fencer, and a fascinating companion. A portrait of Rae as Hamlet by De Wilde is in the Mathews collection in the Garrick Club, which includes a second portrait by De Wilde and one by Turmeau. Portraits also appear in the ‘Monthly Mirror’ and Oxberry's ‘Dramatic Biography.’[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Monthly Mirror, 10 June 1810; Theatrical Inquisitor, September 1820; Oxberry's Dram. Biogr. vol. iv.; Stirling's Old Drury Lane; Georgian Era.]