Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Oulton, Walley Chamberlain

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OULTON, WALLEY CHAMBERLAIN (1770?–1820?), a native of Dublin, was educated there in a private school. While a schoolboy he achieved some reputation as a writer of farces and musical extravaganzas, and many of his dramatic essays were performed at the Dublin theatres in Smock Alley, Crow Street, Capel Street, and Fishamble Street. Most of these pieces were published. In 1784 there appeared the 'Haunted Castle,' the 'Happy Disguise, and the 'New Wonder;' in 1785 the 'Madhouse,' 'New Way to keep a Wife at Home,' 'Poor Maria,' the 'Recruiting Manager,' and 'Curiosity.' The 'Haunted Castle' and the 'Madhouse' are said to have held the stage for some years. About 1786 Oulton left Dublin while still a youth, to try his fortunes in London. Palmer, the lessee of the Royalty Theatre in Welldose Square, accepted the offer of his services, and in 1787 he produced Oulton's 'Hobson's Choice, or Thespis in Distress,' a satire on contemporary theatrical enterprise. Its boldness excited the resentment of the managers of the patent-houses, who were engaged in a fierce struggle with Palmer. But Oulton induced a lady of his acquaintance to offer in her name his next piece, 'As it should be,' to George Colman the younger of the Haymarket, where it was produced on 3 June 1789. The piece was published anonymously, but Colman soon discovered its author, and gave Oulton much encouragement. On 7 July 1792 he produced a trifle by Oulton, called ' All in Good Humour' (London, 1792, 8vo); there followed at the same house 'Irish Tar,' a musical piece, 24 Aug. 1797; 'The Sixty-third Letter,' a musical farce, 28 July 1802; 'The Sleep-walker, or which is the Lady P' 15 June 1812; and 'My Land-lady's Gown,' 10 Aug. 1816. Meanwhile, at Covent Garden, Oulton secured the production of two similar pieces, 'Perseverance,' 2 June 1789, and ' Botheration,' on 2 May 1798. Baker credits him with the choruses in Sheridan's 'Pizarro,' which was produced in 1799. Oulton was well acquainted with the work of Kotzebue on which Sheridan's play is based, and produced in 1800 a volume called 'The Beauties of Kotzebue.' In 1798 he provided two pantomimes, 'Pyramus and Thisbe' and the 'Two Apprentices,' for the Birmingham theatre. His latest connection with the stage was on 27 Feb. 1817, when his farce 'Frighten'd to Death' was produced at Drury Lane.

Oulton devoted much attention to other departments of literature. Between 2 Jan. and 26 Feb. 1787 he produced a tri-weekly sheet, called 'The Busybody,' on the model of 'The Spectator;' but at the twenty-fifth number the venture ceased. The whole was issued in two volumes in 1789 as 'The Busybody: a Collection of Periodical Essays, Moral, Whimsical, Comic, and Sentimental, by Mr. Oulton, Author of several Fugitive Pieces,' London, 12mo. In 1795 he published, under the pseudonym of 'George Home, D.D.,' two tracts attaching the pretensions of Richard Brothers [q. v.], the prophet, and of his disciple, Nathaniel Brassey Halhed [q. v.] The first was entitled 'Sound Argument, dictated by Common-sense' (Oxford, 1795, 8vo); the second, 'Occasional Remarks addressed to N. B. Halhed, Esq.' (London, 1796, 8vo). But Oulton showed less judgment in vindicating the authenticity of 'Vortigern,' the tragedy which Samuel Ireland [q. v.] claimed in 1796 to have rescued from overlooked manuscripts by Shakespeare. He issued an anonymous pamphlet, 'Vortigern under Consideration' (1796), in Ireland's behalf. More useful work was a series of compilations dealing with recent theatrical history. The earliest was 'The History of the Theatres of London from 1771 to 1795,' which appeared in 1796 in two volumes, in continuation of Victor's 'History.' For R. Barker, the theatrical publisher, he prepared in 1802, mainly ' from the manuscripts of Mr. Henderson,' 'Barker's Continuation of Egerton's Theatrical Remembrancer … from 1787 to 1801.' Finally he produced 'A History of the Theatres of London from 1795 to 1817,' London, 3 vols. 1818. The strictly chronological arrangement of the pieces described under the headings of the various London playhouses and the absence of any general index impair the value of Oulton's labours for purposes of reference.

Others of Oulton's publications were:

  1. 'Shakespeare's Poems,' with a memoir, 1804.
  2. 'The Traveller's Guide, or an English Itinerary,' a gazetteer with sixty-six maps or views, London, 1805, 2 vols.
  3. 'S. Gessner's Death of Abel,' a translation, London, 1811.
  4. 'The Beauties of Anne Seward,' 1813.
  5. 'Authentic and Impartial Memoirs of her late Majesty Charlotte, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland … assisted by eminent literary Characters,' 1819.
  6. 'Picture of Margate and its Vicinity, with a Map and Twenty Views,' 1820.

After the last date Oulton disappears.

[Baker's Biogr. Dramatica, 1812; Biogr. Dict. of Living Authors, 1816; Genest's Hist. Account of the Stage; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Halkett and Laing's Dict. of Pseudonymous Literature; R. W. Lowe's English Theatrical Lit.]

S. L.