Selby, Charles (DNB00)

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SELBY, CHARLES (1802?–1863), actor and dramatist, born about 1802, was, in 1832, a member of the company at the Strand. Two years later he produced at the Adelphi a farce entitled ‘The Unfinished Gentleman.’ The idea contained in this he worked out in a series of papers which appeared in the ‘Sunday Times’ newspaper, and were, with illustrations by Onwhyn, reprinted in 1841 (London, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1859) under the title of ‘Maximums and Speciments of William Muggins, Natural Philosopher and Man of the World.’ From the quasi-autobiographical revelations in this work (which is for the most part a dull and unskilful imitation of the earlier style of Charles Dickens) it may perhaps be gathered that Selby was self-educated, and that in the course of a vagabond life he had visited Barbados, and had some nautical experience. In 1841–2 he was, with his wife, under Macready at Drury Lane. In 1842 he gave to the Strand a drama founded afresh on his sketches in the ‘Sunday Times,’ and in June supplied the same theatre with his very successful farce, ‘Boots at the Swan.’ During thirty years he remained before the public as actor and dramatist, in the former capacity playing principally character parts, in the latter supplying a long series of plays chiefly adapted from the French. On 17 April 1843 he was, at Drury Lane, the Emperor Matapa in Planché's ‘Fortunio and his Seven Gifted Servants.’ In January 1844 his ‘Dissolving Views’ was received with much favour at the Strand. In July of the same year three farces from his pen were running at the same house, whereat in September his ‘Antony and Cleopatra,’ a farce, was given. In June 1845 he gave, at the Adelphi, ‘Powder and Ball,’ a terpsichorean burletta. At this house he played the French Minister in a two-act play of Dion Boucicault, entitled ‘Peg Woffington,’ and in October he acted in his own adaptation of ‘Le Diable à Quatre.’ In August 1846 a new farce of Selby's was given at the Queen's, where Mrs. Selby was playing Mrs. Candour, and an adaptation of ‘Le Pas des Déesses’ at the Adelphi, at which house ‘Phantom Dancers’ followed in November. On 4 Feb. 1847, at the Haymarket, he was the original Lord Fipley in Boucicault's ‘School for Scheming.’ On 12 July, at the Adelphi, his ‘Out on the Sly’ was played, and on 20 Dec. his spectacle, ‘The Pearl of the Ocean.’ On 10 May 1849 ‘Taken in and done for’ appeared at the Strand, and ‘Hotel Charges’ followed at the Adelphi on 13 Nov. In Taylor and Reade's ‘Two Loves and a Life’ (Adelphi, 20 March 1854) he was the first Duke of Cumberland, and on 31 May was the original M. Veaudoré in the ‘Marble Heart,’ his own adaptation of ‘Les Filles de Marbre.’ At the same house on 1 Oct. ‘My Friend the Major’ was given for the first time. On 5 March 1855 he was the original French Watchmaker in Boucicault's ‘Janet Pride.’ He was also seen at this time as Chanteloupe in ‘Victorine’ and Peppercoal in the ‘Flying Dutchman,’ and was Black Brandon in Haines's ‘My Poll and my Partner Joe.’ On 16 Nov. 1857 he was the original Dr. Neiden in the ‘Headless Man.’ His ‘Paris and Pleasure’ (‘Les Enfers de Paris’), was given at the Lyceum on 20 Nov. 1859. Selby was, on 1 March 1860, the original Flimsey in Watts Phillips's ‘Paper Wings.’ With Falconer at Drury Lane he was McIan, his last part in the manager's ‘Bonnie Dundee,’ on 23 Feb. 1863.

Selby also played Connor O'Kennedy in the ‘Green Bushes,’ Chenille in Jerrold's ‘Prisoner of War,’ on 8 Feb. 1842; Audley in his ‘Catspaw’ on 19 May 1850, and Jubilee in his ‘Retired from Business’ on 3 May 1851. Among other pieces, Selby wrote ‘Robert Macaire’ (a drama in three acts) and ‘Barnaby Rudge.’ A few of his plays are in two acts, and one or two are in three. The majority are one-act pieces of the lightest description, many of which are included in Duncombe's, Webster's, or Lacy's collection of plays. Selby had over seventy plays on the list of the Dramatic Authors' Society, and supplied with successful characters Yates, Wright, Compton, the Keeleys, Mrs. Nisbett, Mrs. Waylett, and others. He died at his residence, 27 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, of a combination of ague and dropsy, on 21 March 1863, and was buried at Kensal Green.

His wife, also a competent actress in middle-aged or elderly characters, who in 1832 was playing five parts in the same piece at the Queen's Theatre, the ‘Adventures of a Day,’ took, after her husband's death, to instructing stage pupils. In pursuit of this scheme she opened, on 31 Aug. 1863, the Royalty with ‘Court Gallants,’ a piece of her husband's, and other entertainments. She died on 8 Feb. 1873, aged 76.

Above middle height and with a good stage presence, Selby was a useful and responsible actor. His face had naturally a quaint comic twist, such as comedians are used to cultivate. Besides his plays and his ‘Maximums and Speciments of William Muggins,’ Selby issued in 1851 a small schoolbook entitled ‘Events to be remembered in the History of England,’ which passed through many editions, and a skit called ‘The Dinner Question, by Tabitha Tickletooth,’ 1860, 12mo.

[Notes and Queries, 8th ser. ix. 211; Dramatic and Musical Review, various years; Scott and Howard's Blanchard; Era newspaper, 22 March 1863; Era Almanack, various years; Lady's Magazine; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

J. K.