Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Boucicault, Dion

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BOUCICAULT, DION (1820?–1890), originally called Bourcicault, actor and dramatist, was born in Dublin on 26 Dec. 1820 (or by other accounts on 20 Dec. 1822). His guardian in youth was Dionysius Lardner, who showed almost parental interest in him. He was educated partly in Dublin and partly at Thomas Wright Hill's school at Bruce Castle, Tottenham, and at the London University under his guardian, Dr. Lardner. On 4 March 1841, under the pseudonym of 'Lee Morton,' he produced at Covent Garden 'London Assurance,' a five-act piece, which, supported by Charles Mathews (Dazzle), W. Farren, James Anderson, Mrs. Nesbitt (Lady Gay Spanker), and Madame Vestris (Grace Harkaway), was a triumph, remains to this day one of the best of acting plays of its period, and is a remarkable work for so young a man. In February 1842 he gave to the same theatre, under his own name, 'The Irish Heiress,' and on 19 Sept. to the Haymarket 'Alma Mater, or a Cure for Coquettes.' 'Woman' followed at Covent Garden, 2 Oct. 1843, and at the Haymarket, 18 Nov. 1844, 'Old Heads and Young Hearts.' Other pieces, written alone or in conjunction with Benjamin Webster [q. v.], were 'A Lover by Proxy,' 'Curiosities of Literature,' 'Used Up,' 'The Fox and the Goose,' and 'Caesar de Bazan,' a translation of 'Don César de Bazan,' 'A School for Scheming,' 'Confidence,' 'The Knight of Arva' and 'The Broken Vow' ('L'Abbaye de Castro'), 'The Willow Copse,' and 'The Queen of Spades' ('La Dame de Pique'). On 14 June 1852 Boucicault made at the Princess's, as the Vampire in his own adaptation of the piece 80 named, his first appearance as an actor. To the Princess's he gave 'The Corsican Brothers,' 'Louis XI,' and 'Faust and Marguerite,' and to the Adelphi 'Prima Donna,' 'Janet Pride,' 'Genevieve,' and other skilful adaptations. He married, in January 1853, Miss Agnes Robertson, with whom he played in New York, returning occasionally to superintend the production of pieces at Drury Lane or the Adelphi. With his wife he began at the Adelphi, 10 Sept. 1860, an engagement, playing Myles-na-Coppaleen to the Eily O'Connor of Mrs. Boucicault in his best-known drama, 'The Colleen Bawn,' based to some extent upon Gerald Griffin's Irish story, 'The Collegians.' This piece was remarkably successful, being played 360 nights. 'The Octoroon,' in which he was Salem Scudder, followed on 18 Nov. 1861, 'The Dublin Boy' ('Le Gamin de Paris') was seen 10 Feb. 1862, and 'The Life of an Actress' 1 March. 'Dot' ('The Cricket on the Hearth') was given at the Adelphi, 14 April 1862, and at Drury Lane, of which he became temporarily manager, 'The Relief of Lucknow.' As manager of Astley's he gave, 21 Jan. 1863, 'The Trial of Effie Deans.' In 1864 the St. James's saw his 'Fox Chase,' and the Princess's 'The Streets of London.' 'Arrah-na-Pogue,' first seen in Dublin, perhaps his greatest success, was given at the Princess's 22 March 1865, and was translated into and acted in French and other languages. The author took the part of Shaun, the Post. 'The Parish Clerk,' written for Joseph Jefferson, was given in Manchester, 'The Long Strike' at the Lyceum, 'The Flying Scud' for the opening of the Holborn, 'Hunted Down' at the St. James's, 'After Dark' (1868) and 'Presumptive Evidence' at the Princess's, and 'Formosa' at Drury Lane. In 1870 he gave to the Princess's 'Paul Lafarge,' 'A Dark Night's Work,' and 'The Rapparee,' and to the Holborn 'Jezebel.' After revisiting America, he appeared at the Gaiety on 4 May in ' Night and Morning,' and was Dennis Brulgruddery in an alteration of 'John Bull.' ' Led Astray ' followed in 1874, and at Drury Lane in 1875 'The Shaughraun.' In 1876 he retired to America, where, after repudiating his wife and making other so-called nuptial arrangements, casting on his children an unmerited stigma, he died 18 Sept. 1890. Two sons of Boucicault and two daughters are, or have been, on the stage. One daughter married John Clayton (1843–1889) [q. v. Suppl.] Mr. Dion Boucicault, jun., was concerned with the management of the Court Theatre, and is at present at the Criterion.

His name appears to a few plays in addition to those mentioned; he was responsible for 'Babil and Bijou,' given at Covent Garden 29 Aug. 1872, a fairy extravaganza, which may claim to have been the most scandalously costly spectacle ever put on the English stage. On 2 Aug. 1880 he gave to the Haymarket 'A Bridal Tour,' an alteration of 'Marriage,' played in the United States. To the same year belong 'Forbidden Fruit' and 'The O'Dowd.' In 1881 he produced 'Mimi,' and in 1886 'The Jilt,' in which he was last seen in London.

Boucicault was an excellent actor, especially in pathos. His Irish heroes he rendered very touchingly, and his Kerry in 'Night and Morning', ('La Joie fait Peur') might stand comparison with the Noel of M. Regnier of the original. His dramas show little originality, being almost without exception built on some work, play, or romance previously existing. They are often models of construction, and the characterisation is not seldom effective. They have never been collected. Many of them are included in the acting national drama of Webster, and the collections of Lacy, French, and Dicks. Boucicault's brilliant literary and histrionic qualities were not supported by any very rigorous moral code. He was for a time a strong advocate of Irish home rule.

[Personal knowledge; Pascoe's Dramatic List; Scott and Howard's Blanchard; Cook's Nights at the Play; Cole's Life of Charles Kean; Era; Era Almanack; Athenæum, 27 Sept. 1890; Sunday Times, various years; Men of the Time, 12th edit.]

J. K.