Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wroughton, Richard

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600648Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 63 — Wroughton, Richard1900John Joseph Knight

WROUGHTON, RICHARD (1748–1822), actor, born in 1748, was bred as a surgeon in Bath, and made occasional appearances on the stage of that city. He came to London, followed by a young milliner who had fallen in love with him, who nursed him through a severe illness, and whom he married. His first appearance was made at Covent Garden on 24 Sept. 1768 as Zaphna in ‘Mahomet,’ and not apparently in Altamont in the ‘Fair Penitent’ (acted on the 12th), as all his biographers say. He was seen during the season as Tressel in ‘Richard III,’ Nerestan in ‘Zara,’ Creon in ‘Medea,’ Altamont, for his benefit, on 4 May 1769, and George Barnwell. He was slow in ripening, and his early performances gave little promise. By dint of sheer hard work he developed, however, into a good actor. During the seventeen years in which he remained at Covent Garden he played the principal parts in comedy and many important characters in tragedy and romantic drama. These included Dick in the ‘Miller of Mansfield,’ Frederick in the ‘Miser,’ Polydore in the ‘Orphan,’ Cyrus, Moneses in ‘Tamerlane,’ Claudio in ‘Measure for Measure,’ Guiderius, Colonel Briton in the ‘Wonder,’ Marcus in ‘Cato,’ Theodosius, Colonel Tamper in ‘Deuce is in him,’ Florizel in ‘Winter's Tale,’ Bonario in ‘Volpone,’ Sebastian in ‘Twelfth Night,’ Buckingham in ‘Henry VIII,’ Bellamy in ‘Suspicious Husband,’ Richmond in ‘Richard III,’ Younger Worthy in ‘Love's Last Shift,’ Lord Hardy in ‘Funeral,’ Poins, Dolabella in ‘All for Love,’ Myrtle in ‘Conscious Lovers.’ In the summers of 1772, 1773, and subsequent years he was in Liverpool, where he played, with other parts, Lear, King John, Henry V, Antony in ‘Love for Love,’ Romeo, Othello, Leontes, and Lord Townly. Back at Covent Garden, he was seen as Flaminius in ‘Herod and Mariamne,’ Shore in ‘Jane Shore,’ Alonzo in the ‘Revenge,’ Phocion in ‘Grecian Daughter,’ Laertes, Pedro in ‘Much Ado about Nothing,’ Oakly in ‘Jealous Wife,’ Juba in ‘Cato,’ Aimwell in ‘Beaux' Stratagem,’ Lord Randolph in ‘Douglas,’ Lovemore in ‘Way to keep him,’ Bassanio, Amphitryon, Castalio in the ‘Orphan,’ Fainall in ‘Way of the World,’ Romeo, Sir George Airy, Henry V, Hotspur, Kitely, Banquo, Ford, Tancred, Archer, Lear, Young Mirabel, Othello, Charles I, Wellborn in ‘New Way to pay Old Debts,’ Jaffier, Proteus in ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona,’ Darnley, Iachimo, Truewit in ‘Silent Woman,’ Colonel Standard, Evander, Plain Dealer, and Apemantus.

Among very many original parts which Wroughton enacted at Covent Garden, only the following call for mention: Prince Henry in ‘Henry II, King of England,’ by Bancroft or Mountfort, on 1 May 1773; Lord Lovemore in Kenrick's ‘Duellist’ on 20 Nov.; Elidurus in Mason's ‘Caractacus’ on 6 Dec. 1776; Earl of Somerset in ‘Sir Thomas Overbury,’ altered from Savage by Woodfall, 1 Feb. 1777; Douglas in Hannah More's ‘Percy,’ 10 Dec. This was one of Wroughton's best parts. About this time he seems to have joined Arnold in the proprietorship of Sadler's Wells, but he sold his share some twelve years later in 1790. He continued at Covent Garden as Orlando in Hannah More's ‘Fatal Falsehood,’ 6 May 1778; Sir George Touchwood in Mrs. Cowley's ‘Belle's Stratagem,’ 22 Feb. 1780; Raymond in Jephson's ‘Count of Narbonne,’ 17 Nov. 1781, and Don Carlos in Mrs. Cowley's ‘Bold Stroke for a Husband,’ 25 Feb. 1783.

In 1786–7 Wroughton disappeared from the bills, his parts at Covent Garden being assigned to Farren, and on 29 Sept. 1787, as Douglas in ‘Percy,’ he made his first appearance at Drury Lane. For the time being he replaced John Palmer (1742?–1798) [q. v.], but he practically remained at Drury Lane for the rest of his career. He played with the Drury Lane company at the Haymarket in 1792–3 Charles Surface, Clerimont, and other parts, and at Drury Lane enlarged his repertory by many new characters, including the Ghost in ‘Hamlet’ and Hamlet himself, King in ‘Henry IV’ and in ‘Richard III,’ Antonio in ‘Merchant of Venice,’ the Stranger in ‘Douglas,’ Leontes, Jaques, Careless in ‘Double Dealer,’ Jaques, Tullus Aufidius, Macduff, Moody in ‘Country Girl,’ Sciolto, Belarius, Kent and Edgar in ‘Lear,’ Sir Peter Teazle, and Leonato. Most conspicuous among his original characters were Gomez in Bertie Greathead's ‘Regent,’ 1 April 1788; Polycarp in Cumberland's ‘Impostors,’ 26 Jan. 1789; Periander to the Ariadne of Mrs. Siddons in Murphy's ‘Rival Sisters,’ 18 March 1793; Charles Ratcliffe in Cumberland's ‘Jew,’ 8 April 1794; Odoarto Galotti in ‘Emilia Galotti,’ translated by Thompson from Lessing, 28 Oct.; Lord Sensitive in Cumberland's ‘First Love,’ 12 May 1795; Fitzharding in Colman's ‘Iron Chest,’ 12 March 1796; Orasmyn in Miss Lee's ‘Almeyda,’ 20 April, Mandeville in Reynolds's ‘Will,’ 19 April 1797; and Earl Reginald in ‘Monk’ Lewis's ‘Castle Spectre,’ 14 Dec.

In 1798 he retired from the stage and settled in Bath, but in 1800, on the death of John Palmer and the illness of Aikin, in answer to an invitation of the Drury Lane management he came back, and was seen in a new series of parts including: Don Pedro in Godwin's ‘Antonio,’ 13 Dec. 1800; Provost in Sotheby's ‘Julian and Agnes,’ 25 April 1801; Casimir Rubenski in Dimond's ‘Hero of the North,’ 19 Feb. 1803; Maurice in Cobb's ‘Wife of Two Husbands,’ 1 Nov.; Sir Rowland English in Holt's ‘Land we live in,’ 29 Dec. 1804; Balthazar in Tobin's ‘Honeymoon,’ 31 Jan. 1805; Conrad in Theodore Hook's ‘Tekeli,’ 24 Nov. 1806; and Cœlestino in ‘Monk’ Lewis's ‘Venoni,’ 1 Dec. 1808. His return did little good to his reputation, and before he finally quitted the stage he was completely worn out.

On 9 March 1815 Wroughton gave to the stage an alteration of ‘Richard II’ with additions from other plays of Shakespeare, in which he did not act. On 10 July 1815 he acted his old part of Withers in Kenney's ‘World.’ This was his last performance. On 7 Feb. 1822, at the reputed age of seventy-four, he died in Howland Street, London, leaving behind him a widow, and was buried in St. George's, Bloomsbury.

Wroughton was what Michael Kelly calls him, ‘a sterling, sound, and sensible performer.’ His person was bad, he was knock-kneed, his face was round and inexpressive, and his voice was not good. He had, however, an easy and unembarrassed carriage and deportment, was never offensive, and, though he rarely reached greatness, seldom sank into insipidity or dulness. He was always perfect in his parts, indefatigable in industry, and wholly free from affectation. Wroughton was a close friend of Bannister; they were spoken of as Pylades and Orestes.

A portrait of Wroughton by De Wilde, as Sir John Restless in ‘All in the Wrong,’ is in the Mathews collection in the Garrick Club. A mezzo portrait by Robert Laurie after R. Dighton was published in 1779, and there are several portraits in character in Bell's ‘British Theatre.’

[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Theatrical Observer, Dublin, 1822; Boaden's Life of Kemble; Munden's Life of Munden; Gent. Mag. 1822, i. 284; Clark Russell's Representative Actors; Kelly's Reminiscences; Memoirs of Munden; Candid and Impartial Strictures on the Performers belonging to Drury Lane, Covent Garden, and the Haymarket, 1795; Secret History of the Green Room; Thespian Dict.; Era Almanack, various years.]

J. K.