Rich, John (DNB00)

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RICH, JOHN (1682?–1761), pantomimist and theatrical manager, the son of Christopher Rich [q. v.], is said to have been born about 1682. On the death of his father, on 4 Nov. 1714, Rich, with his brother Christopher Mosyer Rich, came into possession of the new theatre, then all but completed, in Lincoln's Inn Fields. This edifice he opened on 18 Dec., coming forward dressed in mourning to speak an elegiacal prologue (cf. Fitzgerald, New History of the English Stage, ii. 388). The piece given was the ‘Recruiting Officer’ of Farquhar, John Leigh from Ireland making his first appearance as Captain Plume. The remainder of the cast is unknown. Rich's company consisted, however, of seceders from Drury Lane, Keen, the Bullocks, Pack, Spiller, Griffin, Mrs. Rogers, Mrs. Kent, Mrs. Cross, and others, who seem, on joining him, to have run a risk of being silenced by the lord chamberlain; the latter's interference in the theatres was at the time equally arbitrary and tyrannical. The company was announced as playing under letters patent granted by Charles II. In 1715, as Essex in Banks's ‘Unhappy Favourite,’ Rich made his appearance as a tragedian, a line he soon abandoned.

No special feature distinguished at the outset Rich's management. His theatre was large, and had a large stage, gorgeously furnished with mirrors. The opening receipts were 143l., a sum rarely exceeded during the season. Shorn as it was of some of its best actors, Drury Lane, under the admirable management of Colley Cibber, Booth, and Wilks, still possessed the more capable company, and the new theatre held a secondary place in public estimation. Rich accordingly began in 1716 to give entertainments in the Italian style, which speedily developed into pantomime. On 22 April the performance of the ‘Cheats’ was followed by that of a piece unnamed, of which the characters only are given. These consist of Harlequin by Lun, Punch by Shaw, and Scaramouch by Thurmond. Lun was the name under which in pantomime Rich invariably appeared.

Rich is thus to be credited with the invention of what in England has, under changing conditions, been known as pantomime. Davies says, concerning these entertainments: ‘By the help of gay scenes, fine habits, grand dances, appropriate music, and other decorations, he exhibited a story from Ovid's “Metamorphoses,” or some other fabulous writer. Between the pauses or acts of this serious representation he interwove a comic fable consisting chiefly of the courtship of Harlequin and Columbine, with a variety of surprising adventures and tricks which were produced by the magic wand of Harlequin, such as the sudden transformation of palaces and temples to huts and cottages, of men and women into wheel-barrows and joint-stools’ (Life of Garrick, i. 130). Rich himself invariably played Harlequin. From 1717 to 1760, the year before his death, Rich produced a pantomime annually. Few failed of success, most of them running forty or fifty nights consecutively; Drury Lane, put on the defensive, was obliged reluctantly to follow the example set at Lincoln's Inn Fields.

Rich's management continued on the whole eminently successful. In the season of 1718–1719 the ‘Two Harlequins’ (from the French of Lenoble) was acted by a French company at Lincoln's Inn Fields, and printed in English and French in 1718. ‘The Fair of St. Germain’ (‘La Foire de St. Germain’ of Boursault), translated by John Ozell [q. v.], was given under similar conditions. On 1 Feb. 1721, during the performance of ‘Macbeth,’ a disturbance took place. Rich politely expressed his intention to stop a drunken earl who sought to cross the stage while the play was in progress, and received a box on the ears which he promptly re- turned. He was thereupon attacked by the companions of his assailant. But Quin, Ryan, and other actors gathered round him, and the aristocratic party rushed into the body of the house slashing the hangings with their swords, breaking the sconces, and doing so much damage that the theatre had to be shut for a couple of days. The offenders were expelled by the watchmen, whom Quin summoned [see Quin, James]; and the king, on the application of Rich, granted a guard, as at Drury Lane, to attend the theatre. ‘Harlequin Dr. Faustus,’ produced at Drury Lane in 1723, by Thurmond, a dancing master, was answered by Rich with ‘The Necromancer, or the History of Dr. Faustus,’ on 20 Dec. 1723. At Lincoln's Inn Fields, and subsequently at Covent Garden, extra prices were charged on the nights on which the pantomime was played. This caused some protest. The offer was then made to return the overcharge to those going out before the overture to the pantomime. On 21 Jan. Rich brought out ‘Harlequin, a Sorcerer,’ by Theobald, a piece subsequently revived at Covent Garden with prodigious success. ‘Harlequin Anna Bullen’ was given on 11 Dec. 1727. On 29 Jan. 1728 the production of Gay's ‘Beggar's Opera,’ refused at Drury Lane and accepted by Rich, eclipsed all previous success, making, as was said, ‘Gay rich, and Rich gay.’ It was given without intermission sixty-three times, and was revived next season and played both by the regular company and by children. The performance of Gay's sequel, ‘Polly,’ was prohibited by the lord chamberlain.

In 1730 Rich set on foot a subscription to build a house in Bow Street, Covent Garden, and gave a public exhibition of the designs of his architect, Shepherd. Before January 1731 six thousand pounds were subscribed and the building begun. Rich paid a ground-rent of 100l. a year to the Duke of Bedford. At the prices charged, 5s. to the boxes, 2s. 6d. to the pit, 2s. and 1s. to the gallery, and 10s. 6d. for a seat on the stage, the house was calculated to hold about 200l. An accident, by which several workmen were killed or injured, combined with some lack of funds, delayed the opening of the house until late in 1732. Meanwhile Rich's company opened the season at Lincoln's Inn Fields with ‘Hamlet’ on 22 Sept. 1732. On 5 Dec. the ‘Anatomist’ concluded, as was supposed, the performances at the old house, and on the 7th the new house opened unostentatiously with a revival of Wycherley's ‘Way of the World.’ To meet the great demand for seats, pit and boxes were ‘laid together at 5s.’ The only actor of primary importance in the cast was Quin, who played Fainall. The scenes were new and well painted, and the decorations handsome, and the piece ran for four nights. The ‘Beggar's Opera,’ with Miss Norsa as Polly, was then revived, and proved once more so successful that the regular company went back to Lincoln's Inn Fields, and did not return until 11 Jan. 1733. On 10 Feb. Gay's posthumous opera of ‘Achilles’ was given for the first time, and played for eighteen consecutive nights, compelling a further withdrawal of the regular company to Lincoln's Inn Fields. No pantomime was given, but Lun (Rich) played, 23 Jan., Harlequin in the ‘Cheats or the Tavern Bilkers, in a dialogue between Harlequin, Punch, and Scaramouch.’ Drury Lane showed hostile feeling to the new house, producing in rivalry the ‘Way of the World’ and the ‘Beggar's Opera.’ But Covent Garden held its own. Rich gave in all some 123 representations during his first season there, the theatre closing on 1 June. In spite of the augmented prices the receipts on the opening night were only 115l., and this was reduced on the second night to 61l. 7s. 6d. Ordinary prices began on 11 Dec. 1732. The largest amount obtained was with the ‘Beggar's Opera,’ which produced on the second night 122l. 11s. The house was visited by royalty about six times during the season. Hogarth's picture, erroneously dated 1728, of Rich's ‘Glory, or the Triumphant Entry into Covent Garden,’ refers to Rich's removal in 1732 to the new theatre. Vandergucht also issued a scenic print with the distich:

    Shakespeare, Rowe, Jonson, now are quite undone;
    These are thy triumphs, thy exploits, O Lun!

The somewhat sleepy and uneventful course of management was interrupted by the appearance of Garrick. When, on 10 May 1746, Garrick arrived in London, after his second visit to Dublin, he arranged for six performances at Covent Garden. These began on 11 June, and were remunerative alike to actor and manager. The following season Garrick remained at Covent Garden, Rich engaging in addition Quin and Mrs. Cibber. This season's profits are said to have amounted to 8,500l. Next year, when Garrick was at Drury Lane and Quin and Woodward had withdrawn from Covent Garden, matters were wholly different. Rich subsequently re-engaged Quin, Mrs. Woffington, Mrs. Cibber, Macklin, and other good actors. He exercised no influence over them, was despised by them, and was even held by some of them to have paid for hostile manifestations in order to render them more amenable to discipline, an imputation which Rich publicly repudiated in the ‘General Advertiser’ for 25 Jan. 1751. The season of 1750–1 was that in which Garrick at Drury Lane and Barry at Covent Garden were the rival Romeos, Miss Bellamy and Mrs. Cibber the opposing Juliets, and this was followed in 1755–6 by the famous competition between Barry at Covent Garden as Lear and Garrick in the same part at Drury Lane. On 26 Nov. 1761 Rich died at his house in Covent Garden Piazza, aged, it is said, 79. He was succeeded as manager of Covent Garden by John Beard [q. v.], who married his daughter Charlotte. On his tomb it is stated that ‘in him were united the various virtues that would endear him to his family, friends, and acquaintances. Distress never failed to find relief in his bounty.’

Rich, who lived at Cowley, Middlesex, in a house once belonging to Barton Booth, married as second wife an actress of small note named Mrs. Stevens, whose name occurs once or twice in the bills. She had been originally barmaid at Bret's coffee-house, and was subsequently Rich's housekeeper. She became after marriage a convert to methodism, and seems to have communicated some of her zeal to Rich, thus justifying Smollett's assertion that ‘the poor man's head, which was not naturally very clear, had been disordered with superstition, and he laboured under the tyranny of a wife and the terror of hell-fire at the same time.’ She survived Rich with four children.

As Harlequin Rich seems to have been unequalled. Davies says that after applying himself to the study of pantomimical representation, in which he was very fortunate, Rich ‘formed a kind of harlequinade very different from that which is seen at the opera comique in Paris, where harlequin and all the characters speak’ (Life of Garrick, i. 129). To this superiority Garrick refers when he says:

    When Lun appeared, with matchless art and whim,
    He gave the power of speech to every limb;
    Tho' mask'd and mute convey'd his quick intent,
    And told in frolic gesture what he meant.
    But now the motley coat and sword of wood
    Require a tongue to make them understood.

Churchill disparages ‘Lun’ in the ‘Rosciad,’ but Horace Walpole, who frequently mentions Rich in his ‘Letters,’ speaks with admiration of the ‘wit’ and ‘coherence’ of his pantomimes. Isaac D'Israeli says that Rich ‘could describe to the audience by his signs and gestures as intelligibly as others could express by words,’ an opinion derived probably, as is one equally laudatory by Leigh Hunt, from Davies. The latter declared that in fifty years no man approached him, and that Garrick's action was not more perfectly adapted to his characters than were Rich's attitudes and movements to Harlequin. His presentation of Harlequin hatched from an egg by the heat of the sun was a masterpiece of dumb show ‘from the first chipping of the egg, his receiving of motion, his feeling of the ground, his standing upright, to his quick harlequin trip round the empty shell. Through the whole progression every limb had its tongue, and every motion a voice.’ In pantomime he proved a valuable master to Hippisley and others, but he preferred teaching actors tragic parts. ‘You should see me play Richard,’ he said to Tate Wilkinson.

Rich was uneducated, and was quite illiterate. He talked of ‘larning’ Wilkinson to be a player; told Signora Spiletta to lay the emphasis on the ‘adjutant,’ and said ‘turbot’ for turban. He had some curious affectations. He pretended never to recall a name. Addressing Tate Wilkinson, he would call him in turns Williamskin, Whittington, or whatever other name came into his head. Having called Foote ‘mister’ several times, that somewhat irascible actor grew angry and asked the reason why Rich did not call him by his name. ‘Don't be angry,’ said Rich; ‘I sometimes forget my own name.’ ‘That's extraordinary,’ replied Foote, ‘for though I knew you could not write it, I did not suppose you could forget it.’ Rich does not appear to have been financially successful, though, unlike his father, he paid to the letter his actors and those with whom he made engagements. Dibdin says that he was compelled to take a house situated in three counties in order to avoid the importunity of the bailiffs.

Rich was the founder of the Beefsteak Society, and George Lambert [q. v.], his scene-painter, was an original member. It met at first in a room in Covent Garden Theatre. Among the presidents were Theophilus Cibber, Whitehead, Wilks, Colman, Charles Morris, and George IV when Prince of Wales.

Rich's portrait, with his family, attributed to Hogarth, who also painted a portrait of Miss Rich, is in the Garrick Club, where is another portrait of Rich as Harlequin. Rich's account books of Lincoln's Inn Fields and Covent Garden, from 1723 to 1740, were in the dramatic collection of the late Mr. Lacy, the theatrical bookseller in the Strand.

[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Gent. Mag. 1832, ii. 586 et seq.; Davies's Life of Garrick and Dramatic Miscellanies; Tate Wilkinson's Memoirs and Wandering Patentee; Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy; Jackson's Hist. of the Scottish Stage; Fitzgerald's New Hist. of the English Stage; Barton Baker's London Stage; Biographia Dramatica; Cibber's Apology, ed. Lowe; Doran's Annals of the Stage, ed. Lowe; Boswell's Johnson, ed. Hill; Letters of Horace Walpole; Georgian Era; Stirling's Old Drury Lane; Clark Russell's Representative Actors; Steele's Theatre and Anti-Theatre; Dibdin's and Victor's Histories; Wheatley and Cunningham's London Past and Present. A short list of pamphlets by or concerning Rich is found in Mr. Lowe's Bibliographical Account of English Theatrical Literature, under ‘Rich, John,’ and ‘Hill, John.’]

J. K.