Estcourt, Richard (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

ESTCOURT, RICHARD (1668–1719), actor and dramatist, was born in 1668, according to an account derived by Chetwood, the historian of the Irish stage, from Bowman the actor, at Tewkesbury, and received his education at the Latin (grammar) school in that town. In the fifteenth year of his age he stole away from home with a country company, and at Worcester played Roxana in 'Alexander the Great.' He escaped in feminine disguise from pursuit, but after some curious adventures was captured at Chipping Norton by his father. Apprenticed to an apothecary in Hatton Garden, London, according to Chetwood, he again broke loose, and, after two years of itinerant life in England, arrived in Ireland. To the last statement must be opposed that of the 'Poetical Register' of Giles Jacob (i. 94), followed in the 'List of Dramatic Poets' appended to 'Scanderbeg,' which says that after completing his term of apprenticeship he set up in trade as an apothecary, and not meeting with encouragement joined a company of players in Dublin. The latter statement is borne out by Steele, who, in the 'Tatler,' Tuesday, 7 Feb. 1709, says of Estcourt, 'He was formerly my apothecary.' At the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin Estcourt played for some years. The only parts mentioned in connection with his name in the scanty annals of the early Irish stage are Wheedle in the 'Comical Revenge, or Love in a Tub,' Sir Joslin Jolly in 'She would if she could,' and Old Bellair in the 'Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter,' all by Etherege. The date of these performances is near 1695. On 18 Oct. 1704, as Dominick in the 'Spanish Fryar' of Dryden, he made at Drury Lane, then under the management of Rich, his first appearance on the English stage. In this part he imitated Antony Leigh. Ned Blunt in the 'Rover,' Crack in 'Sir Courtly Nice,' Captain Bluff in the 'Old Bachelor,' Gravedigger in 'Hamlet,' Baves in the 'Rehearsal,' Falstaff in 'Henry IV, Pt. I.,' and other important characters in comedy were played during his first season. He was the original Pounce (23 April 1705) in Steele's 'Tender Husband,' Captain Hearty in the 'Basset Table' of Mrs. Carroll (Centlivre), Sergeant Kite in the 'Recruiting Officer' of Farquhar, and Sir Francis Gripe in the 'Busybody ' of Mrs. Centlivre. He also 'created' one or two parts in plays now wholly forgotten. For the part of Sergeant Kite he was specially selected by Farquhar. Downes, with characteristic utterance, says of him: 'Mr. Estcourt, Histrio Natus; he has the honour (nature enduing him with an easy, free, unaffected mode of elocution) in comedy always to lætificate his audience, especially quality (witness Sergeant Kyte). He's not excellent only in that, but a superlative mimick' (Roscius Anglicanus, p. 51). On 12 June 1712 he acted, at Drury Lane, Palmer in the 'Comical Revenge of' Etherege. This was hie last performance. The 'Spectator' for l Jan. 1711–12 contains an advertisement from him that he should 'that day open the Bumper Tavern in James Street, Covent Garden, and that his wines would be sold wholesale and retail with the utmost fidelity by his old servant Trusty Antony [probably Anthony Aston [q. v.] ], who had so often adorned both the theatres in England and Ireland' (Genest). He died in August 1712 (not, as the 'Biographia Dramatica' says, in 1713), and was buried near Joseph Haynes in the churchyard of St. Paul's, Covent Garden. No. 468 of the 'Spectator,' 27 Aug. 1712, which Steele devotes wholly to Estcourt (or Eastcourt), is conclusive as to the date of his death. Steele speaks of him as having 'an exquisite discerning of what was defective in any object,' and being 'no less skilful in the knowledge of beauty.' Those who knew him well could 'repeat more well-turned compliments, as well as smart repartees, of Mr. Eastcourt's than of any other man in England.' Estcourt's story-telling is highly commended, and the actor is likened to Yorick. After paying a tribute to the manner in which, when wished, be could, among 'men of the most delicate taste,' usurp the conversation the whole night, Steele concludes: 'I wish it were any honour to the pleasant creature's memory that my eyes are too much suffused to let me go on.' Steele had also praised him in the 'Spectator,' No. 390, 5 May 1712. Colley Cibber, while owning that he was a marvellous mimic, declares him to have been 'upon the whole a languid, unaffecting actor.' Estcourt had, he says, upon the margin of the written part of Falstaff, which he acted, 'his own notes and observations upon almost every speech of it, describing the true spirit of the humour, and with what tone of voice, look, and gesture each of them ought to be delivered' (Apology, pp. 107–8). In execution, however, he failed to carry out his ideas. Davies attributes the utterances of Cibber to jealousy, pointing out that, while Estcourt played Bayes, Cibber had to content himself with the secondary character of Prince Volscius. The charge has been often repeated; but Steele's praise has an apologetic tone, and it is probable that Estcourt's social success and his intellectual insight were in advance of his expository gifts. Estcourt was admitted to the friendship of many eminent men, including the Duke of Marlborough. Secretary Craggs took Estcourt to see Sir Godfrey Kneller, who was delighted with his imitations of Somers, Halifax, Godolphin, &c. At a given signal Estcourt mimicked Kneller, 'who cried out immediately, "Nay, there you are out, man! By G__, that is not me!"' Addison and Parnell were among the friends of Estcourt. The latter commemorated him in a bacchanalian poem beginning,

Gay Bacchus, liking Estcourt's wine,
A noble meal bespoke us.

Steele also describes Estcourt under the name of Tom Mirror (see Tatler, 6 Aug. 1709). Estcourt was constituted providore (provetidore?) of the Beefsteak Club, which entitled him to wear a small golden gridiron hung round his neck by a green ribbon. His worst fault seems to have been a great license in what is now known as gagging. Chetwood says 'he entertained the audience with a variety of little catches and flights of humour that pleased all but his critics.' His 'Fair Example, or the Modish Citizens,' was produced at Drury Lane 10 April 1703, before Estcourt joined the company. In the preface to this Estcourt says that the play and the 'Confederacy' of Vanbrugh were both taken from the same French piece, viz. the 'Modish Citizens,' by D'Ancour. This is obviously 'Les Bourgeouises à la Mode' of Dancourt and Sainctyon, acted at the Théatre Français 15 Nov. 1692. 'Prunella,' an interlude, 4to, no date, Drury Lane, 12 Feb. 1708, was introduced by Estcourt, as Bayes, into the 'Rehearsal,' between two acts of which it was played. It burlesques the Italian operas then in vogue, pieces in which the words were in Italian and English to suit the respective performers. In 'Prunella' Mrs. Tofts is courted by Nicolini, neither understanding a word the other says. It is a dull production.

[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Chetwood's General History of the Stage; Baker, Reed, and Jones's Biographia Dramatica; Hitchcock's Historical View of the Irish Stage; Cibber's Apology. ed. Bellchambers; Davies's Dramatic Miscellanies; Tatler and Spectator, passim; Giles Jacob's Poetical Register, 1723 : List of English Dramatic Poets appended to Whincop's Scandarbeg, 1747; Downes's Roscius Anglicanus, 1708; Hippolyte Lucas's Histoire du Théatre Français, 1863.]

J. K.