Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Mossop, Henry

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

MOSSOP, HENRY (1729?–1774?), actor, was son of John Mossop, M.A., of Trinity College, Dublin, who was collated to the prebend of Kilmeen, Tuam, on 10 Aug. 1737, and died in 1759 (Cotton, Fasti Eccles. Hib. iv. 43). As a boy Mossop stayed in Dublin with his uncle, a bookseller, went to a grammar school in Digges Street, and, with a view to entering the church, proceeded to Trinity College. Refused, on a visit to London, engagements on the stage by Garrick, and by Rich of Covent Garden, who both discouraged him from attempting to become an actor, he went, on the introduction of Francis Gentleman [q. v.], to Sheridan, by whom he was engaged for Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, where he appeared, 28 Nov. 1749, as Zanga in the 'Revenge.' Though awkward in manner and unpicturesque in appearance, he displayed an 'astonishing degree of beautiful wildness,' which a pit crowded with his friends and fellow-students warmly recognised. During the season he played Cassius, Polydore in the 'Orphan,' Glo'ster in 'Jane Shore,' and Ribemont in the 'Black Prince,' and in the following season he appeared as Richard III, dressed in white satin, 'puckered.' Hearing that his manager had condemned the dress as coxcombical, he sought him in his dressing-room, and, with the curiously pedantic and staccato delivery he retained until the last, said, 'Mr. She-ri-dan, I hear you said that I dressed Richard like a cox-comb that is an affront. You wear a sword, pull it out of the scabbard I'll draw mine and thrust it into your body.' Sheridan smiled, and the explosion had no result; but Mossop, turbulent, vain, and unmanageable, soon left the theatre for London, where, under Garrick's management, he appeared at Drury Lane as Richard III 26 Sept. 1751. His success in this part, in which he was held only inferior to Garrick, was great. Garrick, not altogether pleased with the reception, applauded the lines of Taswell, an actor, on Mossop and Ross, another débutant :

The Templars they cry Mossop,
The ladies they cry Ross up,
But which is the best is a toss-up.

Garrick, after his wont, gave him every chance, and Mossop during this and the three following seasons played Bajazet, Horatio in the 'Fair Penitent,' Theseus in 'Phædra and Hippolitus,' Orestes, Macbeth, Othello, Wolsey, Pierre, Comus, Dumont, King John, Coriolanus, Duke in 'Measure for Measure,' and other leading parts. He was the original Lewson in the ' Gambler,' 7 Feb. 1753; Perseus in Young's 'Brothers,' 3 March 1753; Ænobarbus in Glover's 'Boadicea,' 1 Dec. 1753; Appius in Crisp's ' Virginius,' 25 Feb. 1754; Phorbas in Whitehead's 'Creusa,' 20 April 1754; and Barbarossa in Brown's ' Barbarossa,' 17 Dec. 1754. Coriolanus and Barbarossa were held his great parts. On revisiting Smock Alley Theatre in 1755-6, on very advantageous terms, he chose Achmet in 'Barbarossa,' for which he was unsuited. On 21 Sept. 1756 he reappeared at Drury Lane as Richard, and played also Maskwell in the 'Double Dealer,' Osmyn in the 'Mourning Bride,' and Cato. In the two following seasons he was seen, among many other parts, as Prospero, Hamlet, Hastings, and sop, and was the original Agis in Home's 'Agis,' 21 Feb. 1758, and Etan in Murphy's 'Orphan of China,' 21 April 1759. Mossop then, having accepted an engagement from Barry and Woodward for Crow Street Theatre, Dublin, quitted London permanently. His own vanity and ill-temper had been played on by Fitzpatrick, a bitter enemy of Garrick and a would-be arbiter of the stage [see Garrick, David], and Mossop came to look upon himself as oppressed and injured. His reception at Crow Street was enthusiastic, and he added to his repertory Ventidius, Iago, and Kitely. Mossop and Barry formed an eminently popular combination. A further engagement was offered, on terms beyond precedent. Mossop declined, however, and announced his intention to open on his own account Smock Alley Theatre, a resolution which he carried out to his own ruin and that of his rival in Crow Street. Backed up by aristocratic patronage Mossop opened his season (17 Nov. 1760), as soon as the period of mourning for the death of George II had passed,with 'Venice Preserved,' Mossop playing Pierre, West Digges Jaffier, and Mrs. Bellamy Belvidera. A wild antagonism was carried on between the two houses, at which the same pieces were frequently played on the same night. During this and the following season Mossop made a fairly successful struggle, engaging Mrs. Fitzhenry, Mrs. Abington, Reddish, King, and Tate Wilkinson, but he owed his temporary escape from ruin to his engagement of an Italian opera company. In 1762-3 the receipts at the two houses were inadequate to the expenses at one. So impoverished was the treasury that actors of both sexes with a nominal salary of 6l1. per week only received 61. in as many months, and were in want of bread. Such money as Mossop received he spent in litigation or lost at the gambling-table, while Barry was arrested for debt on the stage. Mossop held on in a fashion until 1770-1, adding to his characters Zamti in the 'Orphan of China,' Leon in ' Rule a Wife and have a Wife,' Carlos in 'Like Master like Man,' Archer in the ' Stratagem,' Belcour in the 'West Indian,' and very many more characters, including, presumably, Brutus, Timon of Athens, the Old Bachelor, Lord Townly, Chamont, Hotspur, Sempronius, and Marcian. Such successes as he obtained were principally musical, Ann Catley [q. v.] in especial proving a great attraction.

In 1767-8 the retirement of Barry left Mossop without a competitor. He took possession immediately of both theatres, appearing as Richard at Crow Street 7 Dec. 1767. In the summer of 1769 he visited Cork. A third theatre in Capel Street, Dublin, was opened in 1776 by Dawson, Mahon, and Wilkes. Under Mossop's management tragedy had been acted at Crow Street, and comedy, rope-dancing, &c., at Smock Alley. In 1770 Mossop resigned Crow Street. Large sums of money had been taken and lost, the company had received mere driblets of money, and Mossop, though the idol of Dublin, found himself at times playing with a strong company to less than 51. Under the weight of troubles, vexations, and debt he broke down in health, and solicited public generosity for a benefit 17 April 1771, at which he was unable to appear. Proceeding to London in search of recruits, he was arrested for debt by one of his company, and lodged in the King's Bench, which he only quitted as a bankrupt. Benefit followed benefit at Smock Alley, and earnest appeals were made to the Dublin world to rescue one of the 'best theatrical performers now living.' No permanent relief was obtained. On recovering his liberty he, with customary churlishness and vanity, refused to apply to Garrick, saying that Garrick knew he was in London, thereby implying that application should come from him. All chance of help from Garrick was destroyed by the publication in 1772 of 'A Letter to David Garrick on his Conduct,' written by the Rev. David Williams for the purpose of forcing an engagement from that actor. Negotiations were opened with Covent Garden, but Mrs. Barry refused to act with Mossop. A year's tour on the continent was undertaken with a friend named Smith. From this Mossop returned emaciated and depressed, and with inadequate command of his faculties, and he died in the Strand 18 Nov. 1773, or, according to the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' on 27 Dec. 1774, at Chelsea, in great poverty (4½ s. only being in his possession), and, as was said, of a broken heart. An offer by Garrick to pay for his funeral was refused by Mossop's maternal uncle, a bencher of the Inner Temple. While in management he had borrowed money from Garrick, who proved against his estate for 200l.

A portrait of Mossop as Bajazet is mentioned by Bromley ; he was of middle size, fairly well formed, with an expressive face and an eye of much fire. He had a voice deep and loud, not very capable of tenderness, but useful in rhetorical passages. A born actor, he was unaware of his own limitations, and, though without a superior in a part such as the Duke in 'Measure for Measure,' thrust himself into parts, such as Archer and Belcour, for which he had very slight qualifications. In amenability to flattery Garrick even could not surpass him, and his most grievous errors were due to listening to interested advisers. Mossop wasted his time in fashionable society, and lost in gambling the money he should have paid to his company. The 'Dramatic Censor ' pronounces his Sempronius and Marcian unsurpassed, Churchill taxes him with 'studied impropriety of speech.' His syllables are said to have 'fallen from him like minute-guns,' while the nick-name of the 'teapot actor' referred to his favourite attitude, with one arm on his hip and the other extended. Hitchcock, a somewhat prejudiced judge, declares him admirable in many heroic characters Macbeth, Hotspur, King John, Ventidius, Cato, &c. Victor (Works, i. 158) describes Mossop as an actor of some promise, but an imitator of Quin.

[The best account of Mossop's life is given in the Theatrical Recorder, Dublin, 1821, and following years. Hitchcock's Historical View of the Irish Stage supplies an elaborate account of his management, which is condensed in Genest's Account of the English Stage. The Garrick Correspondence; Davies's Life of Garrick; Fitzgerald's Life of Garrick; Victor's Works; Dibdin's Hist. of the Stage, v. 205; the Preface to the Modish Wife, by F. Gentleman; Theatrical Review; Churchill's Rosciad; Lee Lewes's Memoirs; O'Keeffe's Memoirs; Bernard's Retrospections; Doran's Annals of the Stage, ed. Lowe, ii. 353; and Tate Wilkinson's Memoirs supply anecdotes and references. The following pamphlets deal with Mossop: ‘A Letter to David Garrick on opening the Theatre, 1769,’ should be 1759; ‘An Attack on Mossop by Edward Purdon,’ for which a public apology had to be made; ‘An Estimate of the Theatrical Merits of the Two Tragedians at Crow Street (Mossop and Barry),’ 1760; ‘Zanga Triumph,’ by Charles McLoughlin, 1762.]

J. K.