Fawcett, John (1768-1837) (DNB00)

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FAWCETT, JOHN (1768–1837), actor and dramatist, born 29 Aug. 1768, was the son of an actor, also John Fawcett, who came from High Wycombe; was a pupil of Dr. Arne; appeared at Drury Lane 23 Sept. 1760 as Filch in the ‘Beggar's Opera;’ subsequently played minor parts at that theatre, at Covent Garden, and in Dublin; and died in October 1793. When eight years old young Fawcett attracted the attention of Garrick, then on the point of quitting the stage, and conceived a hope of becoming an actor. To check this idea his father bound the boy, who had entered St. Paul's School 6 Feb. 1776, apprentice to a linendraper in the city. When eighteen years of age Fawcett ran away to Margate, and under the name of Foote appeared as Courtall in the ‘Belle's Stratagem.’ Thence he went under his own name to Tunbridge. Recommended by Cumberland he joined Tate Wilkinson's company, appearing at York as Young Norval 24 May 1787. For some time he played Romeo, Oroonoko, and similar parts. Tate Wilkinson, however, perceiving that tragedy was not his forte, with some difficulty induced him to essay Jemmy Jumps in O'Keeffe's musical farce ‘The Farmer.’ Fawcett's success in this was so great that he elected thenceforward to play low comedy. After the death of Mills, the comedian, in 1788, Fawcett married Mrs. Mills, formerly a Miss Moore, an indifferent actress, who, under the name of Mrs. Mills, had played Imogen at Drury Lane 18 Feb. 1783, and who died in August 1797. Fawcett, who had risen in Yorkshire to the pinnacle of reputation, was engaged for Covent Garden, where he appeared 21 Sept. 1791, playing Caleb in ‘He would be a Soldier.’ Ruttekin in ‘Robin Hood,’ Jerry Sneak in Foote's ‘Mayor of Garratt,’ and other characters followed. On 8 July 1794, as Young Pranks in the ‘London Hermit’ of O'Keeffe, he made his first appearance at the Haymarket, where he played, 12 Aug., with success Edwin's great part of Lingo. He then renewed his engagement at Covent Garden. In conjunction with Holman, Pope, and Incledon, he gave at the Freemasons' Hall on the Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent 1795 an entertainment of reading and music. On 14 March 1796, in the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor,’ he played, for Pope's benefit, Falstaff, in which he was held to eclipse all his contemporaries except Cooke. As Sir Pertinax Macsycophant he made a decided failure 16 May 1797. Playing at Covent Garden during the regular season he went until 1802 in the summer to the Haymarket, of which house Colman, in 1799, appointed him stage-manager. About this period Colman, with a special view to Fawcett, began to write the pieces in which the actor's reputation was firmly established. The first of these was the ‘Heir-at-Law,’ Haymarket, 15 July 1797, in which, as Dr. Pangloss, Fawcett carried away the town. Subsequently came the ‘Poor Gentleman,’ Covent Garden, 11 Feb. 1801, in which he was Ollapod; ‘John Bull,’ Covent Garden, 5 March 1803, in which he was Job Thornberry; and ‘Who wants a Guinea?’ Covent Garden, 18 April 1805, in which he was Solomon Gundy. He was also, at the Haymarket, 6 July 1798, the original Caleb Quotem in ‘Throw Physic to the Dogs,’ and repeated the character in the ‘Review, or the Wags of Windsor,’ Haymarket, 2 Sept. 1800, into which Colman introduced it. In 1800 Fawcett took part with John Johnstone, Holman, Pope, Incledon, Munden, Thomas Knight, and H. E. Johnston, in publishing a statement of the differences subsisting between the proprietors and performers of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. This consists of the correspondence with regard to alterations made by Harris in the privileges allowed the actors. The case was referred to the lord chamberlain, who decided against the actors. In 1806 Fawcett, who had quitted the Haymarket in 1802, reappeared during the summer in that theatre, which he permanently quitted in 1808. His connection with Covent Garden lasted from his first appearance in 1791 to his retirement from the stage in 1830. That comparatively few of the characters which he ‘created’ are now remembered is the fault of the dramatists of the day. In more than one case, however, Fawcett saved a piece which was given up for lost. This was specially true with regard to ‘Five Miles Off,’ by Dibdin, Haymarket, 9 July 1806, in which his representation of Kalendar, a character who only appears in the second act, resuscitated a piece apparently dead. Among his later ‘creations’ the part of Rolamo in Howard Payne's ‘Clari, the Maid of Milan,’ 8 May 1823, is noteworthy as revealing a serious aspect of Fawcett's talents. He was also the original Bartholo to the Figaro of Liston in the ‘Barber of Seville,’ 13 Oct. 1818. In September 1829 Fawcett was superseded in the management of Covent Garden. Greatly chagrined he announced his intention of quitting the stage. A benefit was arranged for the actor, and on 30 May 1830, as Captain Copp, his original character, in ‘Charles the Second,’ by Howard Payne, he took, after speaking an address, his farewell of the public of a theatre of which during thirty-nine years he had been a main prop. With a salary of 100l. a year allowed him as treasurer and trustee of the Covent Garden Theatrical Fund he retired to a cottage at Botley, near Southampton. He was mainly instrumental in bringing about the erection of a church in his immediate neighbourhood, of which he was churchwarden. Dying of a mortification caused by a hurt to his foot in walking, he was the first person buried in the church. About 1806 he married his second wife, Miss Gaudry, an actress, who after her marriage retired from the stage and became wardrobe-keeper at Covent Garden. By her he left two sons, one of whom became a clergyman, and one daughter. His name stands to some dramatic pieces, among which are ‘Obi, or Three-fingered Jack,’ a highly successful pantomime, Haymarket, 5 July 1800, in which C. Kemble was Obi and Emery Quashee; ‘Perouse,’ a pantomime-drama derived from Kotzebue's play on the same subject, 28 Feb. 1801; the ‘Brazen Mask,’ written with Dibdin, Covent Garden, 1802; the ‘Fairies' Revel,’ acted by children at the Haymarket, 1802; the ‘Enchanted Island,’ a ballet, founded on the ‘Tempest,’ Haymarket, 20 June 1804; the ‘Secret Mine,’ written in conjunction with T. Dibdin, a spectacular melodrama, Covent Garden, 24 April 1812. In connection with this piece Dibdin reflects on the probity of Fawcett, who, he says, paid him nothing for his share. Generally speaking, however, Fawcett was greatly respected. His share in promoting the Covent Garden Theatrical Fund, suggested by Mallocke and instituted by Hull, was to his credit. From 1808 to his death in 1837 he was treasurer and trustee of the institution. His services on its behalf were constant and received full recognition. His speeches at the festivals are described by Talfourd as among the best specimens of their class ever heard in this country. George IV once apologised to Fawcett for having, through ignorance, gone to Drury Lane on a night appointed at Covent Garden for his benefit. Fawcett was brusque in exterior and address. Talfourd says that in representations of bluff honesty and rude manly feeling he had no equal (New Monthly Mag. May 1830). Leigh Hunt describes him as having ‘singular harshness and rapidity of utterance and a general confidence of manner,’ and knows, with the exception of Munden, no actor ‘who can procure so much applause for characters and speeches intrinsically wretched.’ In ‘attempts at gentlemanly vivacity he becomes awkward and vulgar.’ He declares him an excellent comic singer (Critical Essays on the Performers of the London Theatres, pp. 87–93). Cole, ‘Life and Times of Charles Kean,’ i. 190, speaks of his Lord Ogleby, his Sir Peter Teazle, and his Touchstone as excellent, and laughs at his want of erudition. The gallery now in the Garrick Club has portraits of Fawcett by De Wilde as Caleb Quotem, Whimsiculo in the ‘Cabinet,’ Job Thornberry in ‘John Bull,’ and Servitz in the ‘Exile,’ and a scene from ‘Charles the Second’ by Clint, with Charles Kemble as Charles II and Fawcett as Captain Copp.

[Books cited; ‘The Manager's Note-book,’ contributed to New Monthly Mag.; Genest's Account of the English Stage; Baker, Reed, and Jones's Biog. Dram. 1824; Tate Wilkinson's Wandering Patentee; Gilliland's Dramatic Mirror; Thespian Dict. 1805.]

J. K.