Warde, James Prescott (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 59
Warde, James Prescott

by Thomas Seccombe
1904 Errata appended.

WARDE, JAMES PRESCOTT (1792–1840), actor, born in the west of England in 1792, was son of J. Prescott. A cadet at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich (15 Sept. 1807), and a second-lieutenant in the royal artillery (December 1809), he devoted himself to the stage, and was superseded for ‘absence without leave’ (1 April 1815). He adopted the name of Warde. His first recorded appearance was at Bath on 28 Dec. 1813 as Achmet in Browne's tragedy of ‘Barbarossa,’ a part created by Mossop. Genest says of him at this date: ‘He had not been long on the stage—he made a gradual improvement in his acting—and before he left Bath was deservedly a great favourite with the audience’ (Genest, viii. 440). During 1814 he played at Bath Faulkland in the ‘Rivals’ (5 March) and Harry Dornton in Holcroft's ‘Road to Ruin’ (17 April); and on 10 Dec. was ‘very good’ in the title-rôle of an improved version of Pocock's ‘John of Paris.’ At Christmas he was Aladdin in a pantomime, ‘but he was too good an actor to play in such a piece’ (ib. 491). In 1815 he was on 3 Jan. Laertes to the Hamlet of Macready. Ten days later he took his benefit as Fitzharding in Tobin's ‘Curfew,’ acting ‘very well.’ On 1 April he was the original Fitz-James in the ‘Lady of the Lake.’ As Dorilas in Hill's ‘Merope’ (1 Jan.) he overdressed the part. During 1816 he was on 18 Jan. Orlando in ‘As you like it,’ and on 8 Feb. Jaffier in ‘Venice Preserved,’ on 5 Oct. Joseph Surface, and on 14 Dec. Dudley in Cumberland's ‘West Indian.’

Next year he was seen as Doricourt in the ‘Belle's Stratagem’ (1 Nov.), was very good as Biron in Southerne and Garrick's ‘Isabella,’ and played during December Standard in a revival of Farquhar's ‘Constant Couple,’ Macduff, and Philaster. During January and February 1818 he appeared as Shylock, Hotspur, Alonzo in ‘Pizarro,’ Beverley, Belmour, and Durimel in Roberdeau's ‘Point of Honour.’ On 15 April he was seen as Rob Roy (first time in Bath), one of his best parts. ‘Rob Roy,’ says Genest, ‘did great things for the treasury.’ During the remainder of that season, which closed with May, he played Bevil in Steele's ‘Conscious Lovers,’ Lord Townly in the ‘Provoked Husband,’ and also Romeo and the Stranger to the Juliet and Mrs. Haller of Miss O'Neill. Others of Warde's leading parts at Bath, where he was seen at his best, were George Barnwell, Young Norval, Rolla, Inkle, Edgar, Posthumus, Florizel, Woodville in Lee's ‘Chapter of Accidents,’ and numerous other parts in forgotten plays. Cole says that Warde and Conway each had a patronising dowager in the city, who sat in opposite stage-boxes and led the applause for their respective protégés (Life of Charles Kean, 1859, i. 94).

Warde made his first appearance in London at the Haymarket on 17 July 1818 as Leon in Fletcher's ‘Rule a Wife and have a Wife.’ His choice of part was judicious, and he was well received. He was less successful as Shylock eleven days later, but was good as the Duke in Tobin's ‘Honeymoon’ (for his benefit on 11 Sept.). Next season he opened as Leon (26 July), and was seen as Faulkland, Don Felix in Centlivre's ‘Wonder,’ Valmont in ‘Foundling of the Forest’ (his benefit on 28 Aug.), Inkle, and the Stranger. From 1820 Warde's name disappears completely from the London bills, nor was he seen again at Bath until 1823, and then but rarely. He reappears on the London stage in the autumn of 1825, when he was engaged at Covent Garden as second lead to Charles Kemble, and was seen as Brutus (26 Sept.), Rob Roy, Iago (26 Oct.), and as the original Kruitzner in Miss Lee's ‘Three Strangers’ (10 Dec.) In 1826 (January–March) he was Prospero, Rolla in ‘Pizarro,’ Faulkland, Ford in ‘Merry Wives,’ and Honeywood in a revival of the ‘Good-natured Man’ to the Croaker of Farren. On 3 April he played Macbeth for the first time at Covent Garden, and he was on 20 May Oliver Cromwell in ‘Woodstock.’ During the next season he was (2 Oct.) seen as Cassius (one of his best impersonations), as Hubert in ‘King John,’ as Jaffier and Macbeth, Jaques in ‘As you like it,’ and the Duke in the ‘Honeymoon.’ At Covent Garden again, during 1827–8, he created several parts in inferior pieces, and was seen as Richmond in ‘Richard III,’ and as Edgar to Charles Kean's ‘Lear.’ The following season saw him as Hotspur, Appius in ‘Virginius,’ Bolingbroke in ‘Richard II,’ Sir Brian de Boisgilbert in ‘Ivanhoe,’ and also (on 27 April 1829) as King John. In October he was Richard Burbage in Somerset's ‘Shakespeare's Early Days,’ and he played the title-part in ‘Henri Quatre’ for his own benefit on 4 June 1830. The class of plays produced at Covent Garden was now declining, and the finances were in a state of hopeless confusion, reaching a climax in 1833, when inability to obtain his salary drove Warde to seek refuge at the Olympic, and afterwards at the Victoria Theatre, under the management of Abbott and Egerton. But the decay of the old ‘legitimate’ drama to which he was accustomed minimised the opportunities of an actor whose powers were already beginning to decline. He was engaged at Covent Garden during Macready's brief lesseeship of 1837–8, but was only entrusted with quite second-rate parts, such as Williams in ‘Henry V.’ He is said to have fallen ‘a prey to bad habits, engendered by actual want from the impossibility of getting a remunerative employment,’ and, constantly in debt and under arrest, was habitually ‘escorted to and from the theatre by bailiffs.’ He died unfriended and in penury, in a lodging in Manchester Street, on 9 July 1840, at the age of forty-eight. According to Genest he was a seldom great but eminently pleasing actor. Leigh Hunt thought poorly of his Jaffier, but Forster has a good word for his Cominius to the Coriolanus of Macready (Dram. Essays, 1896, p. 65). He was full of promise at the time of his first appearance in London; latterly, however, he developed an ‘unfortunate whining drawl,’ which prevented him from ever emerging completely from the ranks of ‘utility’ performers.

A drawing of Warde as Cassius, by Thurston, is in the Charles Mathews collection of theatrical portraits at the Garrick Club.

[Era, 12 July 1840; Gent. Mag. 1841, i. 439; Genest's Hist. of the Stage, 1832, vols. viii. and ix. passim; Macready's Reminiscences, 1875, ii. 79.]

T. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.275
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
349 i 19-18 f.e. Warde, James Prescott: for On becoming a player read Intended for the army, he became a cadet at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, on 15 Sept. 1807, and was appointed second lieutentant in the Royal Artillery in December 1809. He took part in theatricals at the Academy, playing in 1808 the title part in ‘Douglas.’ Subsequently his absorbing passion for the stage led to his supersession in the army for ‘absence without leave’ (1 April 1815). On becoming a professional player