Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Morton, John Maddison

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MORTON, JOHN MADDISON (1811–1891), dramatist, second son of Thomas Morton (1764?–1838) [q. v.] , was born 3 Jan. 1811 at the Thames-side village of Pangbourne. Between 1817 and 1820 he was educated in France and Germany, and, after being for a short time at school in Islington, went to the well-known school on Clapham Common of Charles Richardson [q.v.] , the lexicographer. Here he remained 1820–7, meeting Charles James Mathews [q.v.] , Julian Young, and many others connected with the stage. Lord John Russell gave him in 1832 a clerkship in Chelsea Hospital, which he resigned in 1840. His first farce, produced in April 1835 at the Queen's Theatre in Tottenham Street, then under the management of Miss Mordaunt, subsequently known as Mrs. Nisbett, was called ‘My First Fit of the Gout.’ It was supported by Mrs. Nisbett, Wrench, and Morris Barnett. Between that time and the close of his life Morton wrote enough plays, chiefly farces, to entitle him to rank among the most prolific of dramatists. With few exceptions these are taken from the French. He showed exceptional facility in suiting French dialogues to English tastes, and many of his pieces enjoyed a marvellous success, and contributed greatly to build up the reputation of actors such as Buckstone, Wright, Harley, the Keeleys, Compton, and others.

To Drury Lane Theatre Morton gave the ‘Attic Story;’ ‘A Thumping Legacy;’ ‘My Wife's come;’ ‘The Alabama,’ and pantomimes on the subjects of William Tell, Valentine and Orson, Gulliver, and St. George and the Dragon. At Covent Garden appeared his ‘Original;’ ‘Chaos is come again;’ ‘Brother Ben;’ ‘Cousin Lambkin;’ ‘Sayings and Doings;’ and the pantomime of ‘Guy, Earl of Warwick.’ Among the pieces sent to the Haymarket were ‘Grimshaw, Bagshaw, and Bradshaw;’ the ‘Two Bonnycastles;’ the ‘Woman I adore;’ ‘A Capital Match;’ ‘Your Life's in Danger;’ ‘To Paris and Back for Five Pounds;’ the ‘Rights and Wrongs of Women;’ ‘Lend me Five Shillings;’ ‘Take Care of Dowb;’ the ‘Irish Tiger;’ ‘Old Honesty;’ the ‘Milliner's Holiday;’ the ‘King and I;’ the ‘Three Cuckoos;’ the ‘Double-bedded Room;’ ‘Fitzsmyth of Fitzsmyth Hall;’ the ‘Trumpeter's Wedding;’ the ‘Garden Party’ (13 Aug. 1877); and ‘Sink or Swim,’ a two-act comedy written in conjunction with his father. The Adelphi produced ‘A most Unwarrantable Intrusion;’ ‘Who stole the Pocket Book?’ ‘Slasher and Crasher;’ ‘My Precious Betsy;’ ‘A Desperate Game;’ ‘Whitebait at Greenwich;’ ‘Waiting for an Omnibus;’ ‘Going to the Derby;’ ‘Aunt Charlotte's Maid;’ ‘Margery Daw;’ ‘Love and Hunger;’ and the ‘Steeple Chase.’ At the Princess's, chiefly under Charles Kean's management, were produced ‘Betsy Baker;’ ‘From Village to Court’ (13 Nov. 1850) ‘Away with Melancholy;’ ‘A Game of Romps;’ ‘the Muleteer of Toledo;’ ‘How Stout you're getting;’ ‘Don't judge by Appearances;’ ‘A Prince for an Hour;’ ‘Sent to the Tower;’ ‘Our Wife;’ ‘Dying for Love;’ ‘Thirty-three next Birthday;’ ‘My Wife's Second Floor;’ ‘Master Jones's Birthday;’ and the pantomimes of ‘Aladdin,’ ‘Blue Beard,’ ‘Miller and his Men,’ and ‘White Cat.’ The Olympic saw ‘All that glitters is not Gold;’ ‘Ticklish Times;’ ‘A Husband to Order;’ ‘A Regular Fix;’ ‘Wooing One's Wife;’ ‘My Wife's Bonnet;’ and the ‘Miser's Treasure,’ 29 April 1878.

Morton's most popular piece, ‘Box and Cox,’ afterwards altered by Mr. F. C. Burnand, and set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan as ‘Cox and Box,’ was produced at the Lyceum 1 Nov. 1847. It is adapted from two French vaudevilles, one entitled ‘Une Chambre à deux lits;’ it has been played many hundreds of times, and translated into German, Dutch, and Russian. The same house had already seen on 24 Feb. 1847, ‘Done on both Sides,’ and the ‘Spitfire;’ and subsequently saw ‘Poor Pillicoddy.’ At Punch's playhouse, afterwards the Strand, he gave ‘A Hopeless Passion;’ ‘John Dobbs;’ ‘Where there's a Will there's a Way;’ ‘Friend Waggles;’ ‘Which of the Two;’ ‘A Little Savage;’ ‘Catch a Weazel.’ The St. James's saw the ‘Pacha of Pimlico;’ ‘He would and she wouldn't;’ ‘Pouter's Wedding;’ ‘Newington Butts;’ and ‘Woodcock's Little Game.’ At the Marylebone was seen a drama entitled the ‘Midnight Watch.’ To the Court he gave, 27 Jan. 1875, ‘Maggie's Situation;’ a comedietta, and to Toole's (his latest production) 7 Dec. 1885, a three-act farce, called ‘Going it.’ The popularity of burlesque diminished the influence of farce, and the altered conditions of playgoing a generation or so ago practically took away Morton's earnings. In 1867 he was giving public readings. On 15 Aug. 1881 he was, on the nomination of the Queen, appointed a brother of the Charterhouse. A benefit at which very many actors assisted was given him at the Hay market on 16 Oct. 1889. Though somewhat soured in later life, Morton was a worthy and a not unamiable man. He was in early life an assiduous fisherman. His dialogue is full of double entente, sometimes, after the fashion of his day, a little coarse. It was generally humorous and telling. He may claim to have fitted to a nicety the best comedians of his day, and to have caused during the productive portion of his career from 1835 to 1865, more laughter than any other dramatist of his epoch. He died at the Charterhouse 19 Dec. 1891, being buried on the 23rd at Kensal Green.

Many of Morton's plays are published in the collections, English and American, of English plays.

[The chief source of information for Morton's early career is the short Memoir in Plays for Home Performance, by the author of Box and Cox, with Biographical Introduction by Clement Scott, 1889, the particulars being supplied by Morton himself. Personal knowledge furnishes a few facts. The Times for 21 and 24 Dec. 1891 ; the Era for 26 Dec. 1891 ; the Era Almanack, various years ; the Sunday Times, various years ; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. iv. 432, v. 144 ; and Scott and Howard's Life of E. L. Blanchard have been consulted. While not aiming at completeness, the list of plays is longer and more accurate than any that has appeared. Inextricable confusion is apparent in previously published lists.]

J. K.