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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Worsdale, James

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WORSDALE, JAMES (1692?−1767), portrait-painter, born about 1692, was the son of a poor colour-grinder. He was engaged as a servant to Sir Godfrey Kneller, and subsequently became his apprentice, but was dismissed for surreptitiously marrying Lady Kneller's niece. In later times he claimed to be a natural son of Sir Godfrey. Though possessed of little artistic ability, Worsdale obtained a considerable amount of patronage as a portrait-painter, and was appointed master-painter to the board of ordnance, his success being due mainly to his amusing conversation and clever singing and acting. His portraits of Princess Louisa, Sir John Ligonier, the Duke of Devonshire, ‘Beau’ Nash, and other persons of mark, were engraved by Brooks, Bockman, and Faber. Worsdale was much associated with the stage, both in London and Dublin, and for a time belonged to a travelling company. In 1753 he acted at Drury Lane the part of Lady Pentweazle in Foote's comedy ‘Taste.’ He was professedly the author of a number of songs, plays, and operas, but these seem to have been chiefly the work of others needy writers whom he exploited. Lætitia Pilkington [q. v.], who was one of these, describes him in her ‘Memoirs’ in extremely uncomplimentary terms; and Vertue asserts that he pushed himself into notoriety solely by his artful ways and ‘shameless mountebank lies.’ Worsdale died on 11 June 1767, and was buried in St. Paul's, Covent Garden. A portrait of him, painted by R. E. Pine, was engraved by Dickinson, with the motto ‘Ridendo dicere verum.’ The dramatic works ascribed to Worsdale are:

  1. ‘A Cure for a Scold,’ a ballad opera or farce taken from the ‘Taming of the Shrew,’ 1735 (acted at Drury Lane 25 Feb. 1735, and at Covent Garden 27 March and 26 April 1750).
  2. ‘The Assembly,’ a farce in which he himself played the part of Lady Scandal.
  3. ‘The Queen of Spain,’ 1744.
  4. ‘The Extravagant Justice.’
  5. ‘Gasconade the Great,’ 1759.

Of these only the first and last were printed.

[Walpole's Anecdotes (Dallaway and Wornum); Vertue's collections in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 23076, f. 37; Memoirs of Lætitia Pilkington, 1748−54; Cooke's Memoirs of Samuel Foote; Baker's Biographia Dramatica; Chaloner Smith's British Mezzotinto Portraits; Genest's Hist. Account, iii. 448.]

F. M. O'D.