Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Moncrieff, William Thomas

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MONCRIEFF, WILLIAM THOMAS (1794–1857), dramatist, son of a tradesman in Newcastle Street, Strand, was born in London on 24 Aug. 1794. About 1804 he became a clerk in a solicitor's office, and afterwards entered the service of Moses Hooper, solicitor, Great Marlborough Street. At this early period he wrote songs, among them 'Pretty star of the night all others outshining,' which became popular. He soon became manager of the Regency Theatre (afterwards known as the Queen's Theatre, and then as the Prince of Wales's), for which, in 1810, under the name of William George Thomas Moncrieff, he wrote 'Moscow, or the Cossack's Daughter,' to which succeeded several other original dramas. When the theatre closed he wrote articles in magazines, and the theatrical criticisms for the 'Satirist' [cf. Manners, George] and the 'Scourge.' After gaining a livelihood as a working law stationer, he was introduced to Robert William Elliston [q. v.], lessee of the Olympic, and wrote and produced at that house 'All at Coventry,' a musical farce, 20 Oct. 1815; 'The Diamond Arrow,' a comedy, 18 Dec. 1815; 'Giovanni in London, or the Libertine Reclaimed,' an extravaganza, 26 Dec. 1817; and 'Rochester, or King Charles the Second's Merry Days,' a musical comedy, 16 Nov. 1818. Becoming manager at Astley's, he put on the stage an equestrian drama, 'The Dandy Family,' which ran nearly one hundred nights. From Astley's he removed to the Coburg Theatre, which he managed for Joseph Glossop, where he brought out in rapid succession the 'Vampire,' 'Gipsey Jack,' 'Reform, or John Bull,' the 'Ravens of Orleans,' the 'Shipwreck of the Medusa,' and, in 1820, the 'Lear of Private Life,' a drama founded on Mrs. Opie's 'Father and Daughter,' in which Junius Brutus Booth [q. v.] played the hero with brilliant success for fifty-three nights. In 1820 he joined Elliston at Drury Lane, and wrote for him 'Wanted a Wife,' 3 May 1819 (reproduced under the title of 'A Cheque on my Banker,' 13 Aug. 1821); 'Monsieur Tonson,' a successful farce, 20 Sept. 1821; 'The Spectre Bridegroom,' 2 July 1821; 'The Cataract of the Ganges,' a romantic drama, 27 Oct. 1823, which, owing to the introduction of a real waterfall, then a great novelty, drew large audiences; and 'Zoroaster,' a melodrama, 19 April 1824. During the same period he became connected with William Oxberry [q. v.], comedian and printer, and with him published in 1818 and the following years Pierce Egan's 'Boxiana.' He afterwards dramatised Egan's 'Life in London,' under the title of 'Tom and Jerry, or Life in London,' and produced it at the Adelphi Theatre on 26 Nov. 1821. The piece met with a success only second to that of the 'Beggar's Opera;' 'it ran consecutively for nearly two seasons, introduced slang into the drawing-room, and was equally popular in town and country (C. Hindley, The True History of Tom and Jerry, 1890; H. B. Baker, London Stage, 1889, ii. 77-82; see also Egan, Pierce, 1772-1849). At the Adelphi he also brought out his 'Secret,' 29 Feb. 1823; 'Bringing Home the Bride,' March 1825; 'Monsieur Mallet,' 22 Jan. 1829; and the 'Hearts of London,' February 1830. At Easter 1822 he brought Monsieur N. M. Alexandre the ventriloquist to London, and wrote for him an entertainment entitled 'Rogueries of Nicholas,' which well paid both author and actor. For his friend Charles Mathews the elder [q. v.] he wrote 'The Bashful Man,' a comic drama, produced at the English Opera House (now the Lyceum), 1826, besides furnishing him with many entertainments. In 1827 he undertook the management of Vauxhall Gardens, when his 'Actors al Fresco, or the Play in the Pleasure Ground,' a vaudeville, 4 June, and 'The Kiss and the Rose,' an operetta, 29 June, were first seen. In 1828, in conjunction with John Barnett, he opened a music shop in Regent Street. On 17 Feb. in the same year 'The Somnambulist, or the Phantom of the Village,' a dramatic entertainment, was produced at Covent Garden, and 'One Fault' on 7 Jan. 1833.

At the Surrey also many of his pieces were put on the stage, among others, 'Old Heads and Young Shoulders,' 8 Jan. 1828; 'The Irresistibles/ a comic drama, 11 Aug. 1828; 'Shakespeare's Festival, or a New Comedy of Errors,' a drama, April 1830, and 'Tobit's Dog,' 30 April 1838. At the Haymarket 'The Peer and the Peasant' was acted 11 Sept. 1832. He became lessee of the City Theatre, Milton Street, in 1833, for which he wrote two pieces, both acted on 4 Nov., 'How to take up a Bill' and 'The Birthday Dinner.' His next successful plays were 'Lestocq, or the Conspirators of St. Petersburg,' 2 March 1835; 'The Jewess, or the Council of Constance,' 30 Nov. 1835; and 'The Parson's Nose,' a comedietta, 1837, all acted at the Victoria Theatre. His sight now began to fail him, but he accepted an engagement with W. J. Hammond at the Strand Theatre, for whom he wrote 'My Aunt the Dowager,' 5 June 1837; 'Sam Weller, or the Pickwickians,' 10 July 1837; and 'Tarnation Strange, or More Jonathans,' 3 Aug. 1838. At Sadler's Wells he produced 'Giselle, or the Phantom Night Dancers,' 23 Aug. 1841; 'Perourou, the Bellows Mender, and the Beauty of Lyons,' 7 Feb. 1842; 'The Scamps of London,' 13 Nov. 1843; and 'The Mistress of the Mill,' a comedietta, 17 Oct. 1849. In 1843 he had become totally blind, but he wrote a series of articles entitled 'Ellistoniana' in the 'New Monthly Magazine.' In 1844, on the presentation of the queen, he became a brother of the Charterhouse. His theatrical reminiscences, under the title of 'Dramatic Feuilletons,' he contributed to the 'Sunday Times' in 1851. He died in the Charterhouse, London, on 3 Dec. 1857.

In addition to writing upwards of 170 dramatic pieces, he was the author of 'Prison Thoughts; Elegy written in the King's Bench in imitation of Gray, by a Collegian,' 1821; 'A New Guide to the Spa of Leamington Priors, to which is added "Historical Notices of Warwick and its Castle,"' 1822, 3rd edition, 1824; 'Excursions to Stratford-upon-Avon, with a Compendious Life of Shakespeare, Account of the Jubilee, and Catalogue of the Shakespeare Relics,' 1824; 'Poems,' 1829; 'Old Booty, a Serio-Comic Sailors' Tale,' 1830; 'The Triumph of Reform, a Comic Poem,' 1832; 'Selections from Dramatic Works,' 3 vols. 1850, containing twenty-four of his own pieces. He likewise edited Richardson's 'New Minor Drama, with Remarks Biographical and Critical,' 4 vols. 1828-30.

[Reynolds's Miscellany, 1853, ix. 28-9, with portrait; Era, 13 Dec. 1857, p. 11; Genest, 1832, viii. 688 et seq.; British Drama, vol. iii. et seq.; Cumberland's Minor Theatre, vol. vii. et seq.; Cumberland's British Theatre, vol. xvi. et seq.; Lacy's Acting Edition of Plays, vol. xxi. et seq.; Notes and Queries, 1876, 5th ser. vi. 160.]

G. C. B.