Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Russell, Samuel Thomas

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RUSSELL, SAMUEL THOMAS (1769?–1845), actor, the son of Samuel Russell, a country actor, was born in London in 1769, or, according to another account, in 1766. As a child he acted juvenile parts in the country, and in 1782 at the ‘Royal Circus and Equestrian Philharmonic’ opened by Charles Dibdin [q. v.] and Charles Hughes on the spot subsequently occupied by the Surrey Theatre. He was one of the youthful performers, and, it is reported, spoke an opening address. About 1790 he was playing leading business with a ‘sharing company’ at Eastbourne. In Dover he married the daughter of Mate, a printer, as well as an actor and manager and proprietor of the theatre. At Margate, where he acted, his father was a member of the company, and was famous for his Jerry Sneak in Foote's ‘Mayor of Garratt,’ the traditions of which he had inherited from Weston, the original exponent. The attention of the Prince of Wales was drawn by Captain Charles Morris [q. v.] in 1795 to this impersonation. On the recommendation of the prince, Russell's father was engaged by King for Drury Lane. The son, however, was, through a trick, as is said, engaged instead. Russell appeared accordingly at Drury Lane, on 21 Sept. 1795, as Charles Surface in the ‘School for Scandal’ and Fribble in ‘Miss in her Teens.’ The performance is unchronicled by Genest, whose first mention of Russell is on 6 Oct. as Humphrey Grizzle, Fawcett's part, in Prince Hoare's ‘Three and the Deuce.’ Though disapproving of Russell's Charles Surface, the prince commended his Fribble. Russell made a success, 17 May 1796, in an original part unnamed in an anonymous farce called ‘Alive and Merry,’ unprinted. On 2 June he took, jointly with Robert Palmer [see under Palmer, John, (1742?–1798)], a benefit. The pieces were ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Follies of a Day.’ What Russell played is unknown. These were his only recorded appearances at this time. During the summer months he took the Richmond Theatre, at which he played leading business, and he also acted as a star in the country. On 19 April 1797 he was, at Drury Lane, the first Robert in Reynolds's ‘Will.’ He also played Valentia in the ‘Child of Nature.’ Tattle in ‘Love for Love’ was assigned him, 28 Nov., and on 6 June 1798 he was the original Jeremy Jumps in O'Keeffe's unprinted ‘Nosegay of Weeds, or Old Servants in New Places,’ and the original Diaphanous in the ‘Ugly Club,’ a dramatic caricature taken from No. 17 of the ‘Spectator,’ and announced as by Edmund Spenser the younger. Lord Trinket in the ‘Jealous Wife’ and Saville in ‘Will and no Will’ were given the following season, and he was, 3 May 1799, the original Sir Charles Careless in ‘First Faults,’ claimed by Miss de Camps.

In 1812 he was stage manager at the Surrey under Robert William Elliston [q. v.], and he subsequently discharged the same functions at the Olympic, playing ‘all lines from Jerry Sneak and Peter Pastoral to Rover and Joseph Surface.’ On 23 Aug. 1814 he was, at the Haymarket, the first Sheers in Jameson's ‘Love and Gout.’ On 25 July 1815 he was at the same house the first Pap in Barrett's ‘My Wife! What Wife?’ and on 5 Aug. the first Lord Killcare in Jameson's ‘Living in London.’ He played also Plethora in Morton's ‘Secrets worth knowing.’ Still at the Haymarket, he was, 22 July 1816, the first Rattletrap in Jameson's unprinted ‘Exit by Mistake;’ Timothy Button, 10 Aug., in Oulton's ‘My Landlady's Gown;’ on 18 July 1818 Lord Liquorish in Jameson's ‘Nine Points of the Law;’ and, 15 Aug., Fungus in the ‘Green Man,’ adapted from the French by Richard Jones (1779–1851) [q. v.] He also played Archer in the ‘Beaux' Stratagem.’ At Drury Lane, 11 Feb. 1819, he was the original Brisk in Parry's ‘High Notions;’ on 3 May, Arthur Wildfire in Moncrieff's ‘Wanted a Wife.’ He also played the Copper Captain in ‘Rule a Wife and have a Wife.’ Back at the Haymarket, he played, 31 July, Peter Pastoral in ‘Teazing made Easy,’ and was the first Bob in ‘I'm Puzzled,’ and, 28 Aug., Wadd in ‘Pigeons and Crows.’ In the autumn of 1819 he was appointed by Elliston stage-manager at Drury Lane, and played Jack Meggott in the ‘Suspicious Husband;’ was 1 Dec. the first Sir Marmaduke Metaphor in ‘Disagreeable Surprise,’ an anonymous adaptation from Beaumont and Fletcher; played Lovel in ‘High Life below Stairs,’ and Forge, an original part, in ‘Shakespeare versus Harlequin,’ 8 April 1820, and Dominie Sampson in ‘Guy Mannering.’ He was, 15 Jan. 1820, the original Don Hectorio in ‘Gallantry, or Adventures in Madrid,’ attributed to Oulton. He played, 19 Feb., Leopold in the ‘Siege of Belgrade’ for the first appearance of Madame Vestris on the English stage. In Jameson's ‘Wild Goose Chase,’ Drury Lane, 21 Nov., he was Captain Flank. Mercutio was allotted him the following season, with Motley in the ‘Castle Spectre,’ and Tom Shuffleton in ‘John Bull.’ From this time his name, never frequent in the London bills, disappears from them. During eight or ten years he managed the Brighton Theatre. In 1837 and 1838 he was stage-manager at the Haymarket, and in the latter year became, under Bunn, stage-manager for a second period at Drury Lane. In 1840 he played at Her Majesty's his great part of Jerry Sneak to Dowton's Major Sturgeon. At the Haymarket he took a benefit in 1842. Russell was supposed to be a well-to-do man. The proceeds of his benefit were, however, swallowed up in the defalcations of a dishonest broker, and he was reduced to poverty. He died at Gravesend, in the house of a daughter, 25 Feb. 1845, at the reputed age of seventy-nine. He was twice married, and left three daughters.

Russell's great part was Jerry Sneak; he was unsurpassed in the Copper Captain, and excellent in Paul Pry, Billy Lackaday, Sparkish, Rover, and Young Rapid, in some of which characters he was a formidable rival to Richard Jones. In parts such as Doricourt and Belcour he never rose above mediocrity. Mrs. Mathews speaks of him as the prince of hoaxers, and tells amusing stories of the tricks he used to play on his friend and associate, William Dowton [q. v.]

A portrait by De Wilde of Russell as Jerry Sneak, with Mrs. Harlowe as Mrs. Sneak, and Dowton as Major Sturgeon, and a second of him, also by De Wilde, as Jerry Sneak, are in the Mathews collection in the Garrick Club. An engraved portrait of him after Wageman, in the same character, accompanies the memoir in Oxberry's ‘Dramatic Biography.’ Another actor, J. Russell from York and from Edinburgh, appeared in London at the Haymarket, 15 July 1818, as Doctor Ollapod, in the ‘Poor Gentleman,’ and played, among other parts, Dandie Dinmont and Shylock. He was a good actor, and his appearance at the same house with Russell caused some confusion. While at Edinburgh he visited Sir Walter Scott and sat for his portrait as Clown in ‘Twelfth Night,’ in a picture for some years on the walls at Abbotsford.

[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Oxberry's Dramatic Biography, i. 97, new ser. ii. 37; Gent. Mag. 1845, i. 446; Theatrical Inquisitor, various years; Georgian Era; Dramatic and Musical Review, various years; Clark Russell's Representative Actors; Dibdin's Reminiscences, 1837, passim; Mrs. Mathews's Tea-Table Talk, 1857.]

J. K.