Vernon, Joseph (DNB00)

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VERNON, JOSEPH (1738?–1782), actor and singer, born at Coventry in 1737 or 1738, studied under W. Savage (Brown), presumably in the choir of St. Paul's Cathedral, London. As a boy Vernon had an exceptionally fine soprano voice, and on 23 Feb. 1751 he sang at Drury Lane in Arne's ‘Alfred.’ On 22 May he took part in ‘Queen Mab;’ on 20 Sept. in the funeral procession in ‘Romeo and Juliet;’ and on 19 Nov. in ‘The Shepherd's Lottery.’ In the early part of 1754 Vernon, whose voice in maturity was of poor quality (Boaden), sang tenor parts and acted comedy in Drury Lane, to which house he was faithful throughout his career, interrupted though it was after 1755, when he was married at the Savoy Chapel to Miss Poitier, a singer at Drury Lane. John Wilkinson, the incumbent of the Savoy Chapel, had imagined that the terms of the Marriage Act of 1753 did not apply to his extra-parochial church, and, in spite of warnings, he continued to issue licenses and to solemnise marriages. Among many technically irregular weddings Vernon's chanced to be the test case seized upon by authority. A declaration of illegality was hailed with joy (if Tate Wilkinson is to be believed) by Vernon and his bride, who sought other partners, not before ‘Mrs. Vernon’ had appeared in February 1755 in the ‘Fairies,’ and in 1757 in the ‘Tempest’ as Ceres. The scandal threatened temporarily to deprive Vernon of his livelihood. He was erroneously suspected of having inspired the legal action which led to the ruin of a woman and the fourteen years' transportation of two well-meaning clergymen, and the public resented his employment upon the stage. Vernon's enforced retirement from Drury Lane lasted but a few years. He had become a favourite in Dublin, and his ‘refined and musicianly art communicated dignity to the Vauxhall house’ (ib.) before his return to be for twenty years longer the delight of the patrons of Drury Lane Theatre. In 1762 he entered upon a series of Shakespearean and other parts, where his technically perfect singing was joined to an admirably natural style of acting. Shakespeare's Amiens, Lorenzo, Balthazar, Ferdinand, Thurio, Autolycus, Clown (‘Twelfth Night’), and Roderigo were assigned by Garrick to Vernon, and some characters in later comedy: Colonel Bully in the ‘Provok'd Wife,’ Master Stephen in ‘Every Man in his Humour,’ Sir John Loverule in the ‘Devil to Pay,’ and Sharp in the ‘Lying Valet.’ In opera and interlude he sang Macheath in the ‘Beggar's Opera,’ Principal Witch in the ‘Witches,’ Bates's ‘Pharnaces,’ 1765; Arne's ‘Cymon,’ 1767; and in the ‘Padlock,’ ‘Love in a Village,’ ‘Ode to Shakespeare,’ the ‘Jubilee,’ 1769; ‘Lionel and Clarissa,’ and ‘King Arthur,’ 1770; ‘Christmas Tale,’ 1773; the ‘Deserter,’ 1774; ‘Black-a-moor washed White’ (with Mrs. Siddons), ‘Rival Candidates,’ ‘Selima and Azor,’ 1776; and many others. The song in act iii. of the ‘School for Scandal’ was written by Linley for Vernon. His latest performances were Artabanes in ‘Artaxerxes,’ First Bacchanal in ‘Comus,’ and Truemore in the ‘Lord of the Manor,’ 1780. Until 6 Oct. 1781 he appeared in these and his older parts. He died on 19 March 1782 at Lambeth, and the administration of his effects was granted to Margaret Vernon, his widow.

Contemporary criticism was unanimous in praise of Vernon's merit as an actor of comedy. Boaden found that the exhilaration of Vernon ‘was peculiar; his look was an invitation to be happy, and his voice, though weak, sufficed to convey the effect of both words and music. … His style was full of meaning.’

Vernon compiled about 1782 ‘The New London and Country Songster, or a Banquet of Vocal Music.’ He composed several songs and ballads, including ‘New Songs in the Pantomime of the Witches,’ the celebrated epilogue in ‘Twelfth Night,’ and a song in the ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona.’

[Brown's Dictionary of Musicians, p. 600; Grove's Dictionary, iv. 255; Tate Wilkinson's Memoirs, i. 78; Drury Lane Collection Newspaper Cuttings, vols. i. ii. passim; Gent. Mag. 1782, p. 151; P. C. C. Administration Grant, 15 April 1782; Boaden's Siddons, i. 262; A. B. C. Dario; Papendieck Journals, i. 121; O'Keeffe's Recollections, i. 54, 93; Clark Russell's Representative Actors, p. 442; Genest's Hist. vi. 220; Dibdin's Professional Life, ii. 55; Hist. of the Stage, v. 365; Burn's Hist. of Fleet Marriages, 1834, pp. 139–41.]

L. M. M.