Booth, Barton (DNB00)

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BOOTH, BARTON (1681–1733), actor, was the youngest son of John Booth, a Lancashire squire, nearly related to the Earl of Warrington. Three years after his birth his father, whose estate was impaired, came to London and settled in Westminster. At nine years of age Booth was sent to Westminster School, then under the management of Dr. Busby. A taste for poetry soon developed itself. For Horace, according to a statement of Maittaire, who was at that time an usher in the school, he had ‘a particular good taste,’ and he delighted much ‘in repeating parts of plays and poems, especially from Shakespear and Milton.' ‘In his latter plays,’ continues Maittaire, as quoted by Theophilus Cibber in his ‘Life of Booth' (p. 2), ‘ I have heard him repeat many passages from the "Paradise Lost" and "Samson Agonistes," &c., with such feeling, force, and natural harmony as might have waked the lethargic and made even the giddy attentive. A performance of Pamphilus in a customary representation of the ‘Andria’ of Terence attracted much attention to Booth, secured him the consideration of Dr. Busby and his successor Dr. Knipe, and filled him with stage fancies. When, accordingly, it was proposed to remove him to Trinity College, Cambridge, preparatory to his entering the church, he took motion on his own behalf with a view to adopting the stage as a profession. An application to Betterton was unsuccessful, the great actor not caring, it is supposed, to encourage a youth of family to take a step distasteful to his friends. Booth accordingly proceeded in June 1698 to Dublin and offered his services to Ashbury, the lessee of Smock Alley Theatre. An untrustworthy account of Booth, which has been accepted by Galt in his ‘Lives of Actors,' represents him as having run away from Trinity College, Cambridge, joined a travelling company, and been the hero of some comic adventures. Ashbury gave the fugitive an engagement, or at least allowed him to appear. This he did in the character of Oroonoko, with sufficient success to obtain from the manager a much-needed douceur of five guineas. Records concerning the Irish stage are more untrustworthy even than those of the English. To this it must be attributed that Hitchcock's ‘Historical View of the Irish Stage’ mentions Booth, who, however, may possibly, though for many reasons it is improbable, have been another actor of the name, as playing about 1695—when he could only have been fourteen years of age—Colonel Bruce in ‘The Comical Revenge, or Love in a Tub, ‘Freeman in ‘She would if she could,' and Medley in ‘The Man of Mode,' all by Etherege. After two seasons in Dublin Booth determined to try his fortune in London. He quitted Ireland accordingly, and, furnished with an introduction from Lord Fitzharding, lord of the bedchamber to Prince George of Denmark, made a second application to Betterton. Bowman the actor was also instrumental in bringing him to the notice of Betterton. This time Booth was successful. Before his first appearance at Lincoln's Inn Fields which took place in 1700 as Maximus in ‘Valentinian,’ he is supposed to have played in a country company. So complete and immediate was the triumph of Booth, that Rowe, who in the year 1700 brought out an 'Ambitious Stepmother,' confided to him the part of Artabun. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields Booth, remained playing secondary characters until 1704, in which year he married Frances Barkham, a daughter of Sir William Barkham, bt., of Norfolk. This lady died about 1710 without issue. A free liver at first, Booth took warning by the contempt and distress in which drunkenness had plunged Powell, forswore all excess in drinking, and had resolution enough to keep his vow. On 17 April 1705 Booth accompanied Betterton to the new theatre erected by Sir John Vanbrugh in the Haymarket; on 15 Jan. 1708 he appeared with the associated companies at Drury Lane, playing Ghost to the Hamlet of Wilks. In the year 1713 the star of Booth rose in the ascendant. Although kept in the background by Wilks, who perpetually subordinated him to Mills, an actor in every way his inferior, Booth had acquired a reputation as a tragedian. Downes, in his ‘Roscius Anglicanus,’ first published in 1708, speaks of him quaintly as ‘a gentleman of liberal education, of form venust; of mellifluent pronunciation, having proper gesticulations, which are graceful attendants of true elocution; of his time a most complete tragedian.' It is difficult to realise in what characters, beyond the Ghost in ‘Hamlet,’ in which he was supposed to be unrivalled, his tragic reputation had at that time been made. Hippolitus in the ‘Phædra and Hippolitus' of Smith is almost the only part of primary importance which had been trusted to him. Not till some years later (17 March 1712) did his performance of Pyrrhus in ‘The Distressed Mother.' Philips's contemptible rendering of Racine's ‘Phédre,' win him the highest honours. A year later (14 April 1713) his impersonation of Cato in Addison’s tragedy brought him to the front of his profession. With the performance of Cato, Booth’s reputation reached a climax. No subsequent performance did anything to raise it, though such characters as Jaffier, Melantius (in the ‘Maids Tragedy‘), Bajazet, Timon of Athens, and Lear now came to him. Something like a reaction, indeed, very easy to understand in the case of a success so rapid, set in, and has since been maintained. No player of reputation equal to Booth has obtained from subsequent times more grudging recognition. Cato was the means of bringing Booth fortune as well as honour. He had always received a large amount of aristocratic patronage, and when acting at Windsor found always, as he stated to Chetwood (General History of the Stage, pp. 92–3), a carriage and six horses provided by some nobleman to ‘whip’ him back to London. To the favour with which Booth was regarded by Lord Bolingbroke it is attributed that Colley Cibber, Doggett, and Wilks, the managers of Drury Lane, received the command of Queen Anne to admit him into the management. Of the revolt which this exercise of royal authority occasioned, Cibber, in his ‘Apology,' gives a long description, The only title on which Wilks, Doggett, and Cibber held their license was their professional superiority. Cibber, writing long after the event, admits that Booth had likewise‘s manifest merit.’ The years which followed Booth’s promotion to the post of manager were undistinguished by many events outside the performance of the principal characters in the drama. An intrigue with Susan Mountfort, the daughter of Mrs. Mountfort, brought upon Booth accusations of mercenariness, from which his biographers have triumphantly acquitted him. In 1719 he married Hester Santlow, a dancer of more beauty than reputation, who was said to have lived under the protection of the Duke of Marlborough, and subsequently of Secretary Craggs. Mrs. Santlow had a considerable fortune, and to this was attributed the act of Booth, who, as Dennis states in his ‘Letter on the Character and Conduct of Sir John Edgar,' knew of her irregular life. A perusal of Booth's poems to his mistress shows, however, that he was genuinely enamoured. Contrary to expectation, the marriage proved signally happy. Booth in his will speaks in handsome terms of his wife, to whom he left his whole estate, consisting of her own money, diminished by about one-third; and she, forty-five years after his death, in her ninety-third year, erected a monument to his memory in Westminster Abbey. As an actress Mrs. Booth was pleasing rather than great. Davies, in his ‘Dramatic Miscellanies,’ says of her Ophelia that ‘figure, voice, and department in this part, raised in the minds of the spectators an amiable picture of an innocent, unhappy maid, but she went no farther’ (iii. 126–7). Theophilus Cibber speaks of her with enthusiasm, so far as regards her moral qualities: ‘she was a beautiful woman, lovely in her countenance, delicate in her form, a pleasing actress, and a most admirable dancer; generally allowed, in the last-mentioned part of her profession, to have been superior to all who had been seen before her, and perhaps she has not been since excelled. But, to do her justice, she was more than all this; she was an excellent good wife; which he has frequently, in my hearing, talked of in such a manner as nothing but a sincere, heartfelt gratitude could express; and I was often an eye-witness (our families being intimate) of their conjugal felicity‘ (Life of Barton Booth, p. 33). Booth continued his theatrical duties till 1727, when he was seized with a fever which lasted six-and-forty days. He returned to the stage and appeared on 19 Dec. as Julio in ‘The Double Falsehood’ of Theobald. He played also in the winter and spring in ‘Cato,’ ‘The Double falsehood,’ and ‘Henry VIII.' A relapse ensued, his illness settled into jaundice, and he appeared no more upon the stage. In spite of the abstinence from drink, which itself was only comparative, he seems to have been a gourmand. He went to Belgium and afterwards lived at Hampstead in the vain pursuit of health, and died on Tuesday, 10 May 1733. In accordance with his own wishes, he was buried at Cowley near Uxbridge.

Highly favourable verdicts have been passed upon Booth by competent judges. Davies preferred his Brutus to that of Quin, but judged his Lear inferior on the whole to that of Garrick, though worthy of a comparison with it. Booth's Henry VIII, in which he succeeded Betterton, Davies greatly admired, as, he states, did Macklin and Quin. Theophilus Cibber says he had 'all the advantages that art or nature could bestow to make an admirable actor,' speaks in warm praise of his voice and perfect articulation, and dwells with enthusiasm upon his deportment, his dignity, and majesty. He praises especially his Hotspur and Lothario. Aaron Hill, in a letter addressed to Victor, one of Booth’s biographers, speaks warmly of Booth’s ‘gestures,’ of his ‘peculiar grace,’ his ‘elegant negligence,’ and his ‘talent of discovering the passions where they lay hid in some celebrated parts.’ Colley Cibber sneers at Booth, but his motives in so doing are transparently interested. Booth is the author of ‘The Death of Dido, a Masque,’ London, 8vo, 1716, said in the ‘Biographia Britannica’ to have been played in the same year at Drury Lane. He also wrote some poems, and a Latin epitaph on Smith the actor. The poems have a certain conventional sprightliness and fancy, but are in no sense remarkable.

[Genest's History of the Stage; Baker, Reed, and Jones's Biographia Dramatica; Colley Cibber's Apology by Bellchamber, 1822; Davies's Dramatic Miscellanies, 1784; Chetwood's General History of the Stage, 1749; Theophilus Cibber's Life and Character of Barton Booth, published by an intimate acquaintance of Mr. Booth (B. Victor), by consent of his wife. 1733.]

J. K.