Victor, Benjamin (DNB00)

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VICTOR, BENJAMIN (d. 1778), theatrical manager and writer, began life as a barber ‘within the liberties of Drury Lane,’ but from the first had a great affection for the stage. In 1722 he was at Norwich for a term, possibly to establish a business in the sale of Norwich stuffs (Biogr. Dramatica, i. 726), and in that year, after he had been introduced to Steele by Aaron Hill, he defended, in ‘An Epistle to Sir Richard Steele’ (two editions, 1722), Steele's play of the ‘Conscious Lovers’ against the attacks of John Dennis [q. v.] In 1728 he was introduced to Barton Booth, and his ‘Memoirs of the Life of Barton Booth, published by an intimate acquaintance,’ 1733, is one of the chief authorities on that actor's career (Aaron Hill, Works, ii. 115–19).

After the arrival of Frederick Louis, prince of Wales, in England in December 1728, Victor presented to him, through the favour of Lord Malpas, a congratulatory poem, and had hopes of obtaining a place in the prince's household, but was disappointed. Next year he composed a satire called ‘The Levée Haunter,’ which met with the approbation of Sir Robert Walpole. Necessity then forced him to take up the sale of Irish linen, and, that he might the better introduce the fine linens of Ireland to the attention of the upper classes in England, he established his business at ‘a large house in the middle of Pall Mall.’ Between 1734 and 1746 he made two visits to Ireland in order to extend his connections; but the business did not prove profitable. In January 1745–6 he resolved to give it up, and on 11 Oct. 1746 he settled with his family in Dublin as treasurer and deputy-manager to Thomas Sheridan (1719–1788) [q. v.] at the theatre in Smock Alley.

From that year Victor wrote the birthday odes for the court of Dublin, and the Duke of Dorset, when resigning the position of lord lieutenant in 1755, obtained permission to put Victor's name, as poet laureate of Ireland, on the viceregal establishment. Several of these painful productions are in his collections of 1776, and two of them, printed separately, are in the British Museum Library. The theatre for some years was fairly successful; but about 1753 Sheridan was at variance with a portion of the theatre-going public, and for two years Victor and Sowden, a principal actor in the company, took over its management. On 15 July 1755 Sheridan returned to Dublin, and Victor resumed his old position. After much discouragement and pecuniary trouble the theatre was closed on 20 April 1759, and Victor repaired to England, out of debt, but with very little money at his command.

In 1755 Victor, who seems to have known Sir William Wolseley, the fifth baronet, of Staffordshire, published an anonymous narrative entitled ‘The Widow of the Wood;’ this was republished at Glasgow in 1769, and proved so offensive to members of the Wolseley family that they are said to have destroyed every copy of the narrative that they could obtain; it is still to be met with in catalogues of secondhand books (Simms, Bibl. Stafford.)

Shortly after his return to England Victor was so fortunate as to obtain the post of treasurer of Drury Lane Theatre, which he retained until his death. In 1761 he published, in two volumes, a very useful ‘History of the Theatres of London and Dublin from 1730, with an Annual Register of all Plays performed at the Theatres Royal in London from 1712,’ and in 1771 he published a third volume, bringing the narrative down to that date. The second volume has much information on the lives of the chief actors from about 1710 to 1745, and the work still retains its value. Its egotism was so marked that Churchill said ‘Victor ego’ should have been his motto. Walley Chamberlain Oulton [q. v.] compiled in 1796 a continuation in two volumes, bringing the record down to 1795; and in 1818, in three more volumes, he carried it on to 1817.

Victor published in 1776, with a dedication to Garrick, three volumes of ‘Original Letters, Dramatic Pieces, and Poems.’ The first volume preserved some interesting anecdotes, especially on Sir Richard Steele, and the second volume contained Victor's plays— ‘Altamira,’ a tragedy; ‘Fatal Error,’ a tragedy; ‘The Fortunate Peasant,’ a comedy; and ‘The Sacrifice, or Cupid's Vagaries,’ a masque—all of which were unacted. Victor also produced an adaptation of ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona,’ which was given five times at Drury Lane in 1763.

Victor died at his lodgings in Charles Street, Covent Garden, London, on 3 Dec. 1778. He was married before 1738; his first wife died late in 1757, and by 1759 he had married again.

[Original Letters, passim; Gent. Mag. 1778, p. 607; Aitken's Life of Steele, ii. 285; Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. App. p. 281; Garrick Corresp. i. 16, 235, ii. 163, 235, 303; Baker's Biogr. Dramatica 1812, i. 726–7, ii. 21, 228, 245–6, iii. 52, 236; Halkett and Laing's Anon. Lit. iv. 2783, 2814.]

W. P. C.