Underhill, Cave (DNB00)
|←Underdown, Thomas||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 58
UNDERHILL, CAVE (1634–1710?), actor, the son of Nicholas Underhill, clothworker, was born in St. Andrew's parish, Holborn, on 17 March 1634, and was admitted to Merchant Taylors' school in January 1644–1645. He became a member of the company which was collected by Rhodes [see Betterton, Thomas], and was afterwards sworn by the lord chamberlain to serve (under Sir William D'Avenant [q. v.]) the Duke of York at the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields. In 1663 a true bill was found against him, in conjunction with Betterton and James Noke or Nokes [q. v.], for having riotously assaulted Edward Thomas, and he was fined 3s. 4d. In the following year, on 17 Nov., he married at St. James's, Clerkenwell, Elizabeth Robinson, widow of Thomas Robinson, a vintner in Cheapside; she died in October 1673, at which time the actor seems to have been living in Salisbury Court (Smyth, Obituary, Camden Soc. p. 100). On 15 June 1673 Underhill is described ‘of St. Bride's, gent.,’ and appears on a list of communicants at St. Dunstan's-in-the-West.
The first character to which Underhill's name appears is Sir Morglay Thwack in D'Avenant's comedy, ‘The Wits,’ previously acted at the court by the ‘king's men’ on 28 Jan. 1634, and revived, with alterations, at Lincoln's Inn Fields on 15 Aug. 1661. In Cowley's ‘Cutter of Coleman Street’ he was the same season the original Cutter, or swaggerer, and he also played the first Gravedigger in ‘Hamlet,’ a part he retained over forty years, and Gregory in ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ So successful was he in these and other characters that D'Avenant publicly styled him the ‘truest comedian’ at that time upon his stage. In 1662 he played before the king and queen at Whitehall the part of Ignoramus in a translation of Ruggles's Latin comedy of that name. In 1663 he was the clown in ‘Twelfth Night;’ was between 5 and 12 Jan. the original Diego in Tuke's ‘Adventures of Five Hours;’ on 28 May the first Peralta in the ‘Slighted Maid,’ by Sir R. Stapleton; and subsequently the first Tetrick in the ‘Stepmother’ of the same writer. In 1664 he ‘created’ the parts of the Duke of Bedford in Lord Orrery's ‘Henry V,’ Palmer in Etherege's ‘Comical Revenge,’ Cunopes in the ‘Rivals’ (D'Avenant's alteration of ‘Two Noble Kinsmen’), and he played Gardiner in ‘Henry VIII.’ After the theatre had been closed for eighteen months through the plague and the fire, he was the first Moody in Dryden's ‘Sir Martin Marrall’ on 16 Aug. 1667, second performance; and on 7 Nov. Trincalo in the ‘Tempest,’ as altered by Dryden and D'Avenant. On 26 March 1668 he was the first Jodelet in D'Avenant's ‘Man's the Master,’ and in 1669 the first Timothy in Caryl's ‘Sir Solomon.’
On the opening in 1671 of the new theatre in Dorset Gardens, Underhill was the original Sir Simon Softhead in Ravenscroft's ‘Citizen turned Gentleman’ (‘Monsieur de Pourceaugnac’), and Pedagog in Lord Orrery's ‘Mr. Anthony.’ The year 1672 saw Underhill as the first Justice Clodpate in Shadwell's ‘Epsom Wells,’ and Tutor in Arrowsmith's ‘Reformation,’ and in 1673 he was Fullam in Nevil Payne's ‘Morning Ramble.’ He was, presumably, in 1676, the first Jacomo in Shadwell's ‘Libertine’ (‘Don Juan’), and was certainly the first Sanco in Ravenscroft's ‘Wrangling Lovers’ and Old Jollyman in D'Urfey's ‘Madame Fickle.’ During 1677 he appears to have been confined in the Poultry Compter (apparently for debt, at the suit of William Allen). His liberty was demanded in April by Sir Allen Apsley, on the ground that he was one of the Duke of York's menial servants; but the gaolers hesitated to comply with the request until the case was put before the House of Lords (Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. App. ii. 94). The same year saw him as the original Blunt in Mrs. Behn's ‘Rover.’ In 1678 he was the first Ajax in Bankes's ‘Destruction of Troy,’ Sir Noble Clumsey in Otway's ‘Friendship in Fashion,’ Pimpo in D'Urfey's ‘Squire Oldsapp,’ Fabio in ‘Counterfeits’ (attributed to Leanard), and Phæax in Shadwell's ‘Timon of Athens.’ In 1679 he was Thersites in Dryden's alteration of ‘Troilus and Cressida,’ and Tickletext in Mrs. Behn's ‘Feigned Courtezans.’ In Otway's ‘History and Fall of Caius Marius,’ taken from ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ he was in 1680 the first Sulpitius (Mercutio). Mrs. Barry, in the epilogue to this, speaks of those who come here
wrapt in cloaks,
Only for love of Underhill and Nurse Nokes.
In the same year Underhill's name stands to Amble, a trifling part in D'Urfey's ‘Virtuous Wife.’ Genest thinks it should be Brainworm. Underhill was also the first Circumstantio in Maidwell's ‘Loving Enemies.’ In the second part of Mrs. Behn's ‘Rover,’ 1681, as in the first part, he was the original Blunt. He was also Gomez in the first production of Dryden's ‘Spanish Friar.’ In D'Urfey's ‘Royalist’ in 1682 he was Copyhold; in Mrs. Behn's ‘False Count’ Guzman, and in Ravenscroft's ‘London Cuckolds’ Wiseacre.
On the union of the two companies Underhill came out on 4 Dec. 1682 at the Theatre Royal as Curate Eustace in the production of Dryden's ‘Duke of Guise.’ On 6 Feb. 1685, while ‘Sir Courtly Nice’ was being rehearsed, Underhill had to inform the author, Crowne, of the death of Charles II, by whose command the comedy had been written. When, however, the play was produced shortly afterwards, he achieved a great success as Hothead (cf. GENEST, i. 439). At the Theatre Royal he remained thirteen years, playing the following parts, all original: in 1684 Daredevil in Otway's ‘Atheist,’ Turbulent in the ‘Factious Citizen;’ in 1685, Hothead in ‘Sir Courtly Nice;’ in 1686, Don Diego in D'Urfey's ‘Banditti;’ in 1687, Dr. Baliardo in Mrs. Behn's ‘Emperor of the Moon;’ in 1688, Lolpoop in Shadwell's ‘Squire of Alsatia,’ a soldier in Mountfort's ‘Injured Lovers;’ in 1689, Old Ranter in Crowne's ‘English Friar,’ Oldwit in Shadwell's ‘Bury Fair;’ in 1690, Bernardo in Shadwell's ‘Amorous Bigot,’ Mufti in Dryden's ‘Don Sebastian,’ Guzman in Mountfort's ‘Successful Strangers,’ Timerous in Mrs. Behn's posthumous ‘Widow Ranter;’ in 1691, Sassafras in Mountfort's ‘Greenwich Park,’ Sir Rowland Rakehell in D'Urfey's ‘Love for Money;’ in 1692, Hiarbas in Crowne's ‘Regulus,’ Captain Dryrub in Southerne's ‘Maid's Last Prayer;’ in 1693, Setter in Congreve's ‘Old Bachelor,’ Stockjob in D'Urfey's ‘Richmond Heiress,’ Sir Maurice Meanwell in Wright's ‘Female Vertuosoes’ (sic), Lopez in Dryden's ‘Love Triumphant;’ in 1694, Sancho in the second part of D'Urfey's ‘Don Quixote’ (Doggett was Sancho in the first part), Sampson in Southerne's ‘Fatal Marriage,’ Sir Barnaby Buffler in Ravenscroft's ‘Canterbury Guests.’ He also played a Plebeian in ‘Julius Cæsar;’ the Cook in ‘Rollo, Duke of Normandy;’ and, if J. P. Collier may be trusted, Smug in the ‘Merry Devil of Edmonton.’
At the theatre in Little Lincoln's Inn Fields he was in 1695 the original Sir Sampson Legend in Congreve's ‘Love for Love’ (a part in which, according to Cibber, he was unrivalled); in 1696 Sir Topewell Clownish in Motteux's ‘Love's a Jest,’ Sir Thomas Testie in Doggett's ‘Country Wake,’ Sir Toby Cusifle in Granville's ‘She Gallants,’ Alderman Whim in Dilke's ‘Lover's Luck;’ in 1697 Bevis in Dilke's ‘City Lady,’ the Doctor in Ravenscroft's ‘Anatomist, or the Sham Doctor,’ Sir Blunder Bosse in D'Urfey's ‘Intrigues at Versailles,’ Flywife in Mrs. Pix's ‘Innocent Mistress’; and played Cacafogo in a revival of ‘Rule a Wife and have a Wife.’ The next year saw him as the original Sir Wealthy Plainder in Dilke's ‘Pretenders;’ and in 1700 Sir Wilfull Witwoud in Congreve's ‘Way of the World.’ In 1702 followed Merryman in Betterton's ‘Amorous Widow.’ His name now appeared less frequently. On 8 Feb. 1704 ‘Œdipus’ and ‘Rover’ were played for his benefit, and he played at court Timothy in a revival of ‘Sir Solomon.’ ‘The Virtuoso’ was played for his benefit on 31 March 1705, the last night of playing that season at Lincoln's Inn Fields.
On 5 Dec. 1706 he played at the Haymarket Sir Joslin Jolley in a revival of ‘She would if she could,’ a part in which in the following month he was replaced by Bullock; and on 20 Jan. 1707 he repeated Blunt in the ‘Rover.’ The ‘Mourning Bride’ was given for his benefit on 28 May. On 3 June 1709 a performance of ‘Hamlet’ was given at Drury Lane ‘for the benefit of Cave Underhill, the old comedian,’ who played once more the first Gravedigger. This character he repeated on 23 Feb. 1710. On 12 May he was, for his benefit, once more Trincalo in Dryden's ‘Tempest.’ This was his last performance at Drury Lane.
He was seen once, on 26 Aug. 1710, at Pinkethman's booth at Greenwich, where, for the benefit of Pinkethman, the part in the ‘Rover’ of Ned Blunt was acted ‘by the famous true comedian, Cave Underhill, to oblige Pinkethman's friends.’ This was Underhill's last appearance. His death is said to have taken place ‘soon after.’ He was in his late years a pensioner of the theatre. In his advertisement in the ‘Tatler’ he stated that he had acted under four reigns, was not now able to perform so often as heretofore, and had had losses to the value of near 2,500l. He was commonly called Trincalo Underhill; and his name was sometimes spelt Undril.
Under the date 30 May 1709 Steele in the ‘Tatler’ (No. 22), dating from Will's coffee-house, speaks to his friends ‘on behalf of honest Cave Underhill, who has been a comic for three generations: my father admired him extremely when he was a boy. There is certainly nature excellently represented in his manner of action, in which he ever avoided that general fault in players of doing too much.’ Cibber speaks of Underhill as being at the time he (Cibber) joined the company at the Theatre Royal one of the principal actors who ‘were all original masters in their different stile, not mere auricular imitators of one another, which commonly is the highest merit of the middle rank, but self-judges of nature from whose various lights they only took their true instruction’ (Apology, ed. Lowe, i. 99). In his ‘Brief Supplement’ Tony Aston disparages Underhill, saying that he knows Underhill was much cried up in his time, but he (Aston) is so stupid as not to know why. Underhill was, he says, ‘about fifty years of age the latter end of King William's reign, about six foot high, long and broad faced,’ and something inclined to corpulence. ‘His face very like the Homo Sylvestris or Champanza, for his nose was flattish and short, and his upper lip very long and thick, with a wide mouth and short chin, a churlish voice and awkward action’ (ib. ii. 308). Cibber praises Underhill for the very gifts for which he is censured by Aston (i. 154). Cibber speaks of the want of proportion in his features, which, ‘when soberly composed, with an unwandering eye hanging over them, threw him into the most lumpish, moping mortal that ever made beholders merry.’ Davies says that he was a jolly and droll companion, a tavern-haunter, dividing his time between Bacchus and Venus, a martyr to gout, acting till he was past eighty, and he adds (following Tom Brown) that he possessed an admirable vein of pleasantry, and told stories with a bewitching smile. In Brown's ‘Letters from the Dead to the Living’ is a scurrilous epistle from ‘Tony’ Lee or Leigh to Cave Underhill, and the reply. On this correspondence the charges of drunkenness and immorality against Underhill seem to rest.
An anonymous comedy, ‘Win her and take her, or Old Fools will be Meddling,’ 4to, 1691, acted at the Theatre Royal the same year, was dedicated by Underhill to Lord Danby. It is supposed to have been given to Underhill by the anonymous author, who wrote the part of Dullhead expressly for him.
A portrait by Robert Bing, engraved by John Faber, jun., of Underhill as Obadiah in the ‘Committee,’ published in 1712, and reproduced in Cibber's ‘Apology,’ does not bear out Aston's unflattering description of him as an anthropoid ape. The original of this is in the Mathews collection in the Garrick Club.[Merchant Taylors' Reg. i. 169; Masson's Milton, vi. 351; Cibber's Apology, ed. Lowe; Genest's Account of the English Stage; Biographia Dramatica; Davies's Dramatic Miscellanies; Tom Brown's Works, ed. 1707; British Essayists, ed. Chalmers; Doran's Annals of the English Stage, ed. Lowe; Betterton's English Stage; Dibdin's English Stage; Smith's Cat.; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. x. 206, 276.]