Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Heidegger, John James

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HEIDEGGER, JOHN JAMES (1659?–1749), manager of the opera, is said to have been the son of a clergyman and a native of Zurich in Switzerland. From ‘A Critical Discourse on Operas and Musick in England,’ appended to ‘A Comparison between the French and Italian Musick and Operas, translated from the French’ (of François Raguenet), 1709, pp. 69–71, it would appear that Heidegger selected the airs for ‘Thomyris, Queen of Scythia,’ produced at the theatre in Drury Lane in 1707 (see also Motteux's preface to that opera). Heidegger's ready address and witty conversation soon made him a favourite in the fashionable world, and he established a reputation as a great authority on operatic matters. Heidegger appears to have first undertaken the actual duties of manager of the opera-house in the Haymarket in the beginning of 1713. Francis Coleman records that Swiny, who was still manager, produced ‘Theseus’ on 10 and 14 Jan. 1712–1713, but after two nights broke and ran away from his liabilities. The singers concluded to go on upon their own account, and Heidegger managed for them both this and the succeeding opera, ‘Ernelinda,’ produced on 26 Feb. 1713 (Addit. MS. 11258). In 1718 and 1719 there was no Italian opera in London, but in April 1720 the new Royal Academy of Music commenced their first operatic season with the assistance of Heidegger and Handel. A few years previously masquerades had been introduced at the opera-house in the Haymarket (see Pope's letter written in June 1717; Letters and Works of Lady M. W. Montagu, 1861, i. 428), and under Heidegger's astute management they rapidly became the rage of the town (see Mist's Weekly Journal for 15 Feb. 1718). In consequence of many scandalous scenes an ineffectual attempt was made to obtain an act of parliament for their suppression. Ultimately a royal proclamation was issued against them, the effect being that they were called ‘ridottos,’ or balls, instead of masquerades. Though George II patronised them and appointed Heidegger master of the revels, a Middlesex grand jury in 1729 presented Heidegger ‘as the principal promoter of vice and immorality.’

In 1728 the Royal Academy of Music, under whose auspices the opera had been carried on at the house in the Haymarket since 1720, closed their doors, and the theatre passed into the hands of Heidegger, who thereupon entered into an operatic partnership with Handel, which lasted until June 1734, when Heidegger gave up the theatre to the rival Italian company of Lincoln's Inn Fields. This joint venture terminated disastrously, owing to Handel's quarrel with Senesino. In 1737 Heidegger once more resumed the management of the Haymarket opera-house, and offered Handel 1,000l. for two new operas. The season was not, however, successful. On 24 May 1738 he advertised for a new subscription, but on 26 July he announced that ‘the opera's for the ensuing season at the King's Theatre in the Haymarket cannot be carried on as was intended, by reason of the subscription not being full, and that I could not agree with the singers, tho' I offer'd one thousand guineas to one of them.’ Heidegger died at his house in Maid of Honour Row at Richmond, Surrey, on 5 Sept. 1749, at a very advanced age. Though it is stated in many authorities that Heidegger was buried in the churchyard at Richmond, his name does not appear in the burial register there. He left a natural daughter (Miss Pappet), who was married, on 2 Sept. 1750, to Captain (afterwards Vice-admiral Sir Peter) Denis [q. v.]

The management of the chief private as well as public entertainments was entrusted to Heidegger. Through these means he made an income, it is said, of some 5,000l. a year. He resided for some years at Barn Elms, in the house in which Sir Francis Walsingham received Queen Elizabeth. The greater part of it has since been rebuilt, and it is now in the occupation of the Ranelagh Club. It was here that George II invited himself to sup with Heidegger one evening. The king was vexed on his arrival at finding the house dark. Heidegger affected to apologise, and while he was speaking the house was instantaneously lighted up by an ingenious arrangement of lamps (Lysons, Environs of London, 1792, i. 14). Heidegger afterwards removed to a house in Maid of Honour Row, Richmond, the hall of which was decorated under his direction by his scene-painters with a series of views in Italy and Switzerland. These paintings, which were well executed, are still in perfect preservation.

Though Heidegger lived luxuriously he gave a great deal of money away in charity, the short notice of his death, which appeared in the ‘General Advertiser’ for 6 Sept. 1749, closing with the assertion that ‘of him it may be truly said, what one hand received from the rich, the other gave to the poor.’ Mrs. Delany describes Heidegger as being ‘the most ugly man that ever was formed’ (Autobiogr. i. 6). He was the first to make a jest of it himself, and won a bet that Lord Chesterfield would not produce a more hideous face in London. A woman whom Chesterfield produced was a formidable rival; but Heidegger, on taking her head-dress, was allowed to have won the wager (Nichols, Works of Hogarth, ii. 322–3). Pope alludes to him in the ‘Dunciad,’ book i. (lines 289–290):

And lo! her bird (a monster of a fowl,
Something betwixt a Heideggre and owl).

The ‘Masquerade,’ which is said to have been first printed in 1728, probably by Fielding, was ‘inscribed to C—t H—d—g—r by Lemuel Gulliver, poet-laureate to the King of Lilliput.’ Fielding also introduces him as ‘Count Ugly’ in the ‘puppet show called the Pleasures of the Town.’ He was commonly known as the ‘Swiss Count,’ by which name he is alluded to in the ‘Tatler’ (No. 18) in ‘A Critical Discourse on Opera's and Musick in England,’ and in Hughes's ‘Dedication of Charon or the Ferryboat,’ contained in Duncombe's ‘Letters by several Eminent Persons deceased,’ 1773, vol. iii. p. xxx. His face is introduced into more than one of Hogarth's prints. The sketch of ‘Heidegger in a Rage’ portrays the master of the revels after the elaborate practical joke had been played upon him by the Duke of Montagu, an account of which is given in Nichols's ‘Works of Hogarth,’ ii. 323–5. There is also a rare etching of Heidegger by Worlidge, and a mezzotint engraved by Faber in 1749 after a portrait by Van Loo. The engravings in Lavater's ‘Essays on Physiognomy’ (1789, i. 260–1) are from a mask taken from the face of C. Heidegger, and not from that of John James, as John Ireland states (Hogarth Illustrated, 3rd edit. vol. i. pp. xxxiii–iv). Heidegger's name is attached to the dedications of the librettos of the following Italian operas, viz.: ‘Almahide’ (1710), ‘Antiochus’ (1712), ‘Amadis’ (1713), ‘Arminius’ (1714); and his initials to the dedication of ‘Lucius Varus’ (1715). The share which he had in the composition of the librettos was probably very small, and it is more than likely that he only superintended the English translations of them.

[John Nichols's Works of Hogarth, 1810, i. 473, ii. 26, 60–1, 283, 308, 319–26; Burney's General Hist. of Music, 1789, vol. iv. chap. vi.; Sir John Hawkins's General Hist. of the Science and Practice of Music, 1853, ii. 812; Baker's Companion to the Playhouse, 1764, vol. ii.; Dibdin's Hist. of the Stage, vol. iv. chap. xiv.; Grove's Dict. of Music, i. 724, ii. 512, iii. 184; Schoelcher's Life of Handel, 1857; Thomas Wright's Caricature Hist. of the Georges, 1876, pp. 68–75; Cat. of Prints and Drawings in the Brit. Mus. 1873, vol. ii.; Autobiography of Mrs. Delany, 1861, i. 6, 138, 145, 587, 594; Lawrence's Life of Henry Fielding, 1855, pp. 15–16, 26; Chalmers's Biog. Dict. 1814, xvii. 306–10; Chambers's Book of Days, ii. 313–15; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. viii. 508, 6th ser. iv. 389, 471; Gent. Mag. 1749 xix. 429, 1750 xx. 428, 1778 xlviii. 267–8, 286, 372; Penny London Post, 6 Sept. 1749; London Daily Post, 24 May and 26 July 1738; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. F. R. B.