Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Abbot, William

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268758Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 01 — Abbot, William1885Edward Dutton Cook

ABBOT, WILLIAM (1789–1843), actor and dramatist, was born at Chelsea, and made his first essay on the stage at Bath in 1806. He remained a member of the Bath company for some seasons. For one night only he appeared at the Haymarket, in the summer of 1808, on the occasion of the benefit of Charles Young, the tragedian, returning afterwards to Bath. He reappeared at the Haymarket in 1810, and was first engaged at Covent Garden in 1812. He was a performer of light comedy and juvenile tragedy, but he took part in the melodramas which were then in vogue. He was assigned the part of Lothair upon the first production of the ‘Miller and his Men.’ For many years he continued to be a member of the Covent Garden company. ‘Mr. Abbot never acts ill,’ wrote Hazlitt in 1816. Macready, in his ‘Reminiscences,’ describing his own first appearance at Covent Garden in 1816 as Orestes in the ‘Distressed Mother,’ writes: ‘Abbot, as Pylades, was waiting for me at the side scene; and when the curtain had risen, grasping his hand almost convulsively, I dashed upon the scene,’ &c. Abbot was the original representative of Appius Claudius and of Modus in Sheridan Knowles's plays of ‘Virginius’ (1820) and the ‘Hunchback’ (1832). The critics applauded the spirit of his acting, and his ‘acute sense of propriety of emphasis.’ In 1827 Abbot was engaged, at a weekly salary of twenty napoleons, as stage manager of the English company visiting Paris, with Miss Smithson as their ‘leading lady.’ He played Charles Surface among other parts; but the ‘School for Scandal’ was little admired at the Salle Favart. The season concluded in Paris, Abbot, with others of the company, attempted to give English performances in certain of the chief towns of France; but the experiment was wholly unsuccessful, the company was disbanded, and the English actors, in a most necessitous condition, found their way home as best they could. Upon the first appearance of Miss Fanny Kemble in 1830 at Covent Garden, Abbot played Romeo to her Juliet. Leigh Hunt wrote of his performance: ‘Mr. Abbot has taken it in his head that noise is tragedy, and a tremendous noise he accordingly makes. It is Stentor with a trumpet. . . . We hear he is a pleasant person everywhere but on the stage, and such a man may be reasonably at a disadvantage with his neighbours somewhere.’ Abbot was the author of two melodramas, the ‘Youthful Days of Frederick the Great’ and ‘Swedish Patriotism, or the Signal Fire,’ produced at Covent Garden in 1817 and 1819 respectively, and both founded upon French originals. Abbot left England to try his fortune in America, meeting there with small success. He died at Baltimore in distressed circumstances, ‘shunned and neglected,’ it was said, ‘by those his former friendship served.’

[Biography of the British Theatre, 1824; Genest's History of the Stage in England, 1832; Donaldson's Recollections of an Actor, 1865.]

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