Skeffington, Lumley St. George (DNB00)

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SKEFFINGTON, Sir LUMLEY St. GEORGE (1771–1850), fop and playwright, younger but only surviving son of Sir William Charles Farrell Skeffington, was born in St. Pancras parish, Middlesex, on 23 March 1771. His father, Sir William, the only surviving son of William Farrell of Skeffington Hall, Leicestershire, married, at St. Peter le Poer, London, on 9 Dec. 1765, Catherine Josepha, eldest daughter of Michael Hubbert of Teneriffe, a merchant of the city of London; he took the surname and arms of Skeffington by royal warrant, dated 11 June 1772, was created baronet on 10 June 1786, and died on 26 Jan. 1815.

Lumley was educated in the school of the family of Newcome at Hackney, and, by taking part in the plays for which the institution was famous, acquired a taste for the drama. While at Hackney he recited an epilogue on the manners and follies of the day, which had been written by George Keate [q. v.], and, on quitting school, he soon set the fashions for the youth of the time. He was admitted into the select circle at Carlton House, was consulted on the subject of attire by the prince regent, and invented a new colour, known as the Skeffington brown. So early as 4 Feb. 1789 he dined with Sir Joshua Reynolds. Skeffington was well bred and good-tempered. His features were large, and he had a sharp, sallow face, with dark curly hair and whiskers. For many years his dress was ‘a dark blue coat with gilt buttons, a yellow waistcoat, white cord inexpressibles, with large bunches of white ribbons at the knees, and short top boots.’ He was on terms of intimacy with Cooke, Munden, John Kemble, Mrs. Siddons, and ‘Romeo’ Coates, never missed a first night or a début, and often visited four theatres on the same evening.

His peculiarities soon exposed him to the satire of Gillray. He was the subject of the caricaturist's ‘Half Natural’ (1 Aug. 1799), representing him—a back view—in ‘a Jean de Bry coat, all sleeves and padding.’ Next year (1 Feb. 1800) the same satirist depicted him in a very popular caricature as dancing, and with the words underneath, ‘So Skiffy Skipt-on, with his wonted grace,’ a reference to his appearance at the birthday ball in the previous month. In January 1801 he was introduced ‘in a state of elevation’ by Gillray into a print called ‘The Union Club;’ in the following March he and a friend were represented by that artist as ‘a pair of polished gentlemen,’ the insinuation being that their polish was mainly on their boots, and he was Harlequin in Gillray's caricature of ‘dilettanti theatricals.’

Byron ironically commemorated Skeffington in his ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers’ for his ‘Skirtless Coats and Skeletons of Plays,’ and letter viii. of Moore's ‘Twopenny Post Bag’ is from ‘Colonel Th-m-s to Sk-ff-ngt-n, Esq.,’ with allusions to his ‘pea-green coat’ and his ‘rich rouge-pot’ (cf. Hist. MSS. 14th Rep. App. iv. p. 559). The ‘frivolity and ease’ of his manner are painted by William Gardiner in his account of a rubber of whist in which this man of fashion took a hand, and he narrates that one night, when on a visit to Leicester, and the adjoining house was in flames, Skeffington was with great difficulty ‘urged to move quick enough to make his escape. In the street he cut a most amusing figure, in his nightgown, without his hat, and his hair in paper’ (Music and Friends, i. 303–4). In June 1819 he was dubbed by Horace Smith ‘an admirable specimen of the florid Gothic’ (Moore, Memoirs, ed. Russell, ii. 328).

Skeffington produced at Covent Garden Theatre on 26 May 1802 the comedy, in five acts, of the ‘Word of Honour’ (Genest, English Stage, vii. 557–8), and at Drury Lane, on 27 May 1803, a second comedy, of the same length, entitled ‘The High Road to Marriage’ (ib. vii. 574). A greater measure of success fell to his melodrama, ‘The Sleeping Beauty,’ which was brought out at Drury Lane with great splendour on 6 Dec. 1805 (ib. vii. 702). The entire play was not printed, but a volume containing ‘the songs, duets, chorusses,’ was published in that month (Gent. Mag. 1805, ii. 1146). Skeffington is said to have written several other plays, viz. ‘Maids and Bachelors,’ Covent Garden, 6 June 1806, which was an alteration of ‘The High Road to Marriage’ (Genest, viii. 19); ‘Mysterious Bride,’ Drury Lane, 1 June 1808 (ib. viii. 74); ‘Bombastes Furioso,’ possibly the play produced at the Haymarket on 7 Aug. 1810 (ib. viii. 203); ‘Ethelinde,’ an opera, produced at Drury Lane about 1810; and ‘Lose no Time,’ which came out at Drury Lane on 11 June 1813 (ib. viii. 359). Not one of these obtained any popularity. Several prologues by him were printed in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ (cf. 1792, i. 556).

Skeffington succeeded to the baronetcy and family property on his father's death in January 1815; but he had permitted his father to cut off the entail of their large estates, and his reckless extravagance had wasted the rest of his resources. He sought refuge for several years within the rules of the king's bench prison, living near the Surrey Theatre in Southwark. Some time before his death his means were augmented by the recovery of an hereditary estate producing about 800l. per annum; but he failed in his action in 1838 to obtain possession of the Hubbert property at Rotherhithe. He still continued to live in the southern suburbs, and it was at that time that Henry Vizetelly made his acquaintance. He was ‘a quiet, courteous, aristocratic-looking old gentleman, an ancient fop … wore false hair, and rouged his cheeks.’ He entertained, and had great store of anecdote. It was his boast that the secret of life lay in ‘never stirring out of doors during the cold damp winter months, and in living in a suite of rooms,’ so that he could constantly shift from one to another (Glances Back, pp. 111–12). He died, unmarried, in lodgings near the Indigent Blind School, St. George's Fields, Southwark, on 10 Nov. 1850, and was buried at Norwood cemetery on 15 Nov. The title became extinct.

Skeffington's portrait, engraved by Ridley and Holl from an original miniature by Barber, is prefixed to the ‘Monthly Mirror,’ vol. xxi.

[Gent. Mag. 1805 ii. 1120–1, 1815 i. 185, 1851 i. 198–200, 289; Baker's Biogr. Dramatica, i. 671–2; Monthly Mirror, xxi. 5–8, 78–9, 220–221, 1806; Nichols's Leicestershire, iii. 450; Gillray's Works, 1873, pp. 266, 274, 282; Wright and Evans's Caricatures of Gillray, pp. 203, 456–7, 462, 471; Robinson's Romeo Coates, pp. 170–4.]

W. P. C.