A Compendium of Irish Biography/Wilks, Robert

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Wilks, Robert, an eminent actor, was born at Rathfarnham, County of Dublin, in 1670. Holding a lucrative clerkship under Secretary Southwell, he developed a taste for the stage, performed in some amateur theatricals in Dublin during rejoicings for the battle of the Boyne, and finally devoted himself unreservedly to the life of an actor, then but a poorly paid profession. After acting in Dublin, in Ashbury's company, he went to London, and took an engagement with Betterton, but was tempted back by an offer of £60 a year. He subsequently returned to London, and soon took his place in the first rank of actors there. In 1709 his name was joined with those of Dogget and Cibber in a patent granted by Queen Anne. His especial forte was comedy, yet he acted "Hamlet" and other Shaksperian parts with credit. Wilks died in London, 27th September 1732, aged 62, and was, by his own directions, interred at midnight, in St. Paul's Church-yard, Covent-garden. The age on his tomb, 67, does not correspond with the dates given for his birth and death. He was twice married—his second wife surviving him. He was munificent in his benefactions to poor actors. Dr. Johnson calls him "a man who, whatever were his abilities or skill as an actor, deserves at least to be remembered for his virtues, which are not often to be found in the world, and perhaps less often in his profession than in others." A theatrical critic says: "Mr. Wilks's excellence in comedy was never once disputed, but the best judges extol him for the different parts in tragedy. … He was not only perfect in every part he acted, but in those that were concerned with him in every scene, which often prevented mistakes." [1] [2] [3]

  1. Actors, Representative: W. Clark Russell. London, 1875.
  2. Players, Lives of the: John Gait. 2 vols. London, 1831.
  3. Worthies of Ireland, Biographical Dictionary of the: Richard Ryan. 2 vols. London, 1821.