Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brougham, John

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263457Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 06 — Brougham, John1886George Clement Boase

BROUGHAM, JOHN (1814–1880), actor and dramatist, was born in Dublin on 9 May 1814, and, after having for some time attended Trinity College, began life as a student of surgery, and for several months walked the Peter Street Hospital; but an uncle from whom he had prospects falling into adversity, he was thrown upon his own resources, and thereupon went to London. A chance encounter with an old acquaintance led to his engagement at the Tottenham Street Theatre (a house long afterwards known as the Prince of Wales's), and there, in July 1830, acting six characters in the old play of 'Tom and Jerry,' he made his first appearance on the public stage. In 1831 he was a member of the company organised by Madame Vestris for the Olympic Theatre. His first play was written at this time, and was a burlesque, prepared for William Evans Burton, who was then acting at the Pavilion Theatre. When Madame Vestris removed from the Olympic to Covent Garden, Brougham followed her thither, and there remained as long as she and Charles Mathews were at the head of the theatre, and it was while there that he wrote 'London Assurance' in conjunction with Dion Boucicault. There has been much discussion about the authorship of this popular piece. Brougham stated in 1868 that he brought an action against Boucicault, whose legal adviser suggested the payment of half the purchase-money in preference to proceeding with the case. In 1840 he became manager of the Lyceum Theatre, which he conducted during summer seasons, and for which he wrote 'Life in the Clouds,' 'Love's Livery,' 'Enthusiasm,' 'Tom Thumb the Second,' and, in connection with Mark Lemon, 'The Demon Gift.'

Leaving England he arrived in America in October 1842, and opened at the Park Theatre, New York, as O'Callaghan in the farce 'His Last Legs.' A little later he was in the employment of W. E. Burton in New York, and wrote for him 'Bunsby's Wedding,' 'The Confidence Man,' 'Don Cæsar de Bassoon,' 'Vanity Fair,' and other pieces. Still later he managed Niblo's Garden, producing there his fairy tale called 'Home,' and the play of 'Ambrose Germain.' He opened a new theatre in Broadway, near the south-west corner of Broome Street, called Brougham's Lyceum, 15 Oct. 1850, and while there he wrote 'The World's Fair,' 'Faustus,' 'The Spirit of Air,' a dramatisation of 'David Copperfield,' and a new version of 'The Actress of Padua.' The Lyceum was at first a success, but the demolition of the building next to it made it appear to be unsafe, and the business gradually declined, leaving him burdened with debts, all of which, however, he subsequently paid. His next speculation was at the Bowery Theatre, of which he became lessee on 7 July 1856, and produced 'King John' with superb scenery and a fine company, but this not proving to be to the taste of his audiences, he wrote and brought out a series of sensational dramas, among which were 'The Pirates of the Mississippi,' 'Tom and Jerry in America,' and 'The Miller of New Jersey.' In September 1860 he returned to London, where he remained five years. While playing at the Lyceum he adapted from the French, for Charles A. Fechter, 'The Duke's Motto' and 'Bel Demonio,' and wrote for Miss Louisa Herbert dramatic versions of 'Lady Audley's Secret' and 'Only a Clod.' He also wrote the words of three operas, 'Blanche de Nevers,' 'The Demon Lovers,' and 'The Bride of Venice.' His reappearance in America took place on 10 Oct. 1865 at the Winter Garden Theatre, and he never afterwards left America. He opened Brougham's Theatre on 25 Jan. 1869, with a comedy by himself, called 'Better Late than Never,' but this theatre was taken out of his hands by James Fisk, junior, under circumstances which caused much sympathy on his behalf. On 4 April a banquet in his honour was given at the Astor House, and on 18 May he received a farewell benefit. The attempt to establish Brougham's Theatre was his final effort in management. After that time he was connected with various stock companies, but chiefly with Daly's Theatre and with Wallack's. In 1852 he edited a bright comic paper in New York, called 'The Lantern,' and he published two collections of his miscellaneous writings, entitled 'A Basket of Chips' and 'The Bunsby Papers.' On 17 Jan. 1878 he received a testimonial benefit at the Academy of Music, at which the sum of 10,278 dollars was received, and this fund, after the payment of incidental expenses, was settled on him in an annuity which expired at his death. His last work was a drama, entitled 'Home Rule,' and his last appearance on the stage was made as Felix O'Reilly the detective in Boucicault's play of 'Rescued,' at Booth's Theatre, New York, on 25 Oct. 1879. His rank among actors it is difficult to assign. He excelled in humour rather than in pathos or sentiment, and was at his best in the expression of comically eccentric characters. Among the parts that will live in memory as associated with his name are: Stout in 'Money,' Dennis Brulgruddery in 'John Bull,' Sir Lucius O'Trigger, Micawber, Captain Cuttle, Bagstock, O'Grady in 'Arrah-na-Pogue,' Dazzle in 'London Assurance,' and O'Callaghan in 'His Last Legs.' He was the author of over seventy-five dramatic pieces, many of which will long endure in literature to testify to the solidity and sparkle of his intellectual powers. He died at 60 East Ninth Street, New York, on 7 June 1880, and was buried in Greenwood cemetery on 9 June. He is said to have been the original of Harry Lorrequer in Charles Lever's novel which bears that name.

He married first, in 1838, Miss Emma Williams, an actress who had played at the St. James's Theatre, London, in 1836, and afterwards at Covent Garden, where she was the original representative of the Empress in 'Love.' In 1845 she left America for England, and remained away for seven years. On her return she appeared at the Broadway Theatre on 16 Feb. 1852, and played a short engagement; again, in 1859, she went to America, being then known as Mrs. Brougham Robertson. She died in New York on 30 June 1865. John Brougham married secondly, in 1844, Annette Hawley, daughter of Captain Nelson, R.N., and widow of Mr. Hodges. She had been on the London stage in 1830, and made her American debut at New Orleans as the Fairy Queen in 'Cinderella' in 1833. At one time she had the direction of the Richmond Theatre, which then went by the name of Miss Nelson's 'Theatre, and she was afterwards at Wallack's National, where she appeared as Telemachus. Her death took place at New York on 3 May 1870, the twenty-sixth anniversary of her wedding-day.

[Life, Stories, and Poems of John Brougham, edited by William Winter, Boston, United States of America (1881), with portrait; Appleton's Annual Cyclopaedia, 1880, p. 66; Ireland's Records of the New York Stage (1866-67), ii. 178, 210, 384, 594, 655.]

G. C. B.