Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ryder, Thomas (1735-1790)

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RYDER, THOMAS (1735–1790), actor, son of a printer named Darley, by some supposed to have been an Irishman, is believed to have been born in Nottingham in 1735, and brought up to his father's occupation, which he quitted for the stage. After some practice in the country, notably in York, he appeared on 7 Dec. 1757 at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, then under the management of Thomas Sheridan [q. v.], playing Captain Plume in Farquhar's ‘Recruiting Officer’ to the Captain Brazen of Foote. He sprang into immediate favour. Hitchcock, the historian of the Irish stage, says: ‘Mr. Ryder, whose merit, even at this early period, was universally acknowledged, proved of infinite service to the cause. As few ever deserved public favour more, so have none enjoyed it longer than this excellent comedian’ (Irish Stage, ii. 23). After the failure of Sheridan, Ryder remained under his successor, Brown, supporting Mrs. Abington as Sir Harry in ‘High Life below Stairs’ and in other parts. Under Henry Mossop [q. v.] he played at the same house in 1764 Tressel in ‘King Richard III,’ Scapin, Lord Aimworth in ‘Maid of the Mill,’ and Rimenes in the opera of ‘Artaxerxes.’ During five years Ryder then conducted a company through Kilkenny, Waterford, Sligo, Galway, Derry, and Belfast, reopening at Smock Alley Theatre as Sir John Restless in ‘All in the Wrong,’ and temporarily bringing back prosperity to the management. Lionel in the opera so named, Cymon in a dramatic romance so named, and attributed to Garrick, and the Copper Captain followed. During the slack season Ryder performed at Ranelagh Gardens (Dublin). He had married before the season of 1771–2, when Mrs. Ryder was seen as Clementina, Constance in ‘King John,’ Lady Macbeth, and other characters. She is said by Hitchcock to have been the original Grecian Daughter in Ireland.

In the autumn of 1772, Mossop having retired ruined, Ryder stepped into the management of Smock Alley Theatre, and opened in September with ‘She would and she would not,’ in which he played for the first time Trappanti. He was then declared to be the most general actor living for tragedy, comedy, opera, and farce.

Ryder remained in management in Dublin with varying success, though generally, like most Irish managers, with a downward tendency, until 1782. A prize in a lottery helped him at the outset. When a formidable opposition began at the Fishamble Street Theatre, he encountered it by causing to be taken down in shorthand the words of the ‘Duenna,’ which his opponents were mounting at great expense, producing it with the title of the ‘Governess,’ and himself playing Isaac, renamed Enoch. A prosecution ensued, but was unsuccessful. He now, spurred on by his wife, launched out into great expense, keeping horses, carriages, and a country house, as well as a town house, costing him 4,000l., and known as ‘Ryder's Folly.’ This he sold unfinished for 600l. He also started as printer, editing, after the fashion of Garrick, the plays in which he appeared, printing them and publishing a tri-weekly theatrical paper. After trying in vain to manage both houses, Crow Street and Smock Alley, and engaging at high terms actors such as the Barrys, Sheridan, Foote, Henderson, Dodd, Palmer, Reddish, and Mrs. Abington, he yielded up Crow Street to Daly, to whose better fortune he succumbed, resigning management in 1782, and becoming a member of Daly's company.

On 25 Oct. 1787, at Covent Garden as Sir John Brute in the ‘Provoked Wife,’ he made his first appearance in England. His début was not a conspicuous success. He had been overpuffed, and Edwin, a better actor than he, held possession of many of his best parts. During his first season he repeated, however, many favourite characters, and was seen as Sir John Restless, Scapin, Ben in ‘Love for Love,’ Falstaff in ‘First Part of Henry IV,’ and ‘Merry Wives of Windsor,’ Crispin in the ‘Anatomist,’ Lissardo in the ‘Wonder,’ Colonel Feignwell in ‘A Bold Stroke for a Wife,’ Hob in ‘Hob in the Well,’ Trim in the ‘Funeral,’ Tom in the ‘Conscious Lovers,’ Lady Pentweazle in ‘Lady Pentweazle in Town,’ General Savage in the ‘School for Wives,’ Drunken Colonel in the ‘Intriguing Chambermaid,’ Captain Ironside in the ‘Brothers,’ Sir Harry's Servant in ‘High Life below Stairs,’ Lovegold in the ‘Miser,’ and played an original part, unnamed, in ‘Bonds without Judgment,’ attributed to Topham, and Sebastian in Mrs. Inchbald's ‘Midnight Hour,’ on 22 May 1787. These parts indicate to some extent what must have been his Dublin répertoire, where, however, he also played Richard III, Scrub, Macheath, Wolsey, Pierre, and other parts. At Covent Garden, with one summer visit to the Haymarket, he remained until his death. He was seen as Iago, Duretête in the ‘Inconstant,’ Heartwell in the ‘Old Bachelor,’ Bailiff in the ‘Good-natured Man,’ Shylock, Beau Clincher, Peachum, Don Jerome in the ‘Duenna,’ Lopez in ‘Lovers' Quarrels,’ Old Hardcastle, Major Benbow in the ‘Flitch of Bacon,’ Leon, Sir Tunbelly Clumsy in the ‘Man of Quality,’ Darby in the ‘Poor Soldier,’ with other characters; and at the Haymarket, where he made as Shylock his first appearance on 22 June 1790, as Sidney, an original character in a farce called ‘Try Again,’ Don Lopez, an original part in Scawen's two-act opera, ‘New Spain, or Love in Mexico,’ and the Marquis de Champlain (also original) in O'Keeffe's ‘Basket Maker.’ The principal original parts he played at Covent Garden were Carty in O'Keeffe's ‘Tantarara Rogues All’ on 1 March 1768, Duke Murcia in Mrs. Inchbald's ‘Child of Nature’ on 28 Nov., and Hector in O'Keeffe's ‘Pharo Table,’ on 4 April 1789.

On 19 Nov. 1790 he played Old Groveby in the ‘Maid of the Oaks.’ A week later (26 Nov. 1790) he died at Sandymount, Dublin, and was buried in the churchyard of Drumcondra. Portraits of Ryder, painted by Martin (afterwards Sir Martin) Archer Shee and S. Harding, were engraved respectively by J. Ford and W. Gardiner (Bromley).

Ryder was a diligent and versatile actor, seen at his best in low comedy, in which, however, he had in England to sustain formidable rivalry. Two daughters were for a short time on the stage at Covent Garden, appearing respectively, Miss Ryder as Estifania and Miss R. Ryder as Leonora to their father's Leon in ‘Rule a Wife and have a Wife,’ on 16 April 1790. Ryder's son, who was in the army, was killed in 1796 in a duel. Ryder was responsible for two plays: ‘Like Master Like Man,’ a farce, 12mo, Dublin, 1770; this is simply a reduction to two acts of Vanbrugh's ‘Mistake,’ itself derived from ‘Le Dépit Amoureux,’ and was doubtless played in Dublin and brought over to England by Reddish, who played it at Drury Lane on 12 April 1768; it was revived at Drury Lane on 30 March 1773. His second piece, ‘Such Things have been,’ a two-act comedy taken from Jackman's ‘Man of Parts,’ was played by Ryder for his benefit at Covent Garden on 31 March 1789, and was printed.

[Hitchcock's Irish Stage; Genest's Account of the English Stage; The Thespian Dictionary; Gilliland's Dramatic Mirror, the account in which is copied into the Biographia Dramatica; Wilkinson's Memoirs and Wandering Patentee; Georgian Era, and History of the Dublin Stage, 1870.]

J. K.