Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Murray, William Henry

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MURRAY, WILLIAM HENRY (1790–1852), actor and manager, son of Charles Murray [q. v.], was born in 1790 at Bath, where as an infant he appeared as Puck, probably on 11 March 1794, when, for his father's benefit, 'A Midsummer-Night's Dream' was played, with his sister as Titania. This sister, Maria, subsequently married Joseph Leathley Cowell [q. v.], and was mother of Samuel Houghton Cowell [q. v.] Another sister married Henry Siddons [q. v.] William accompanied his father to London, and played various small parts at Covent Garden under the Kemble management, beginning in 1803-4. To Charles Farley, the stage-manager at Covent Garden, Murray afterwards stated that he owed his training in stage management and the manipulation of theatrical spectacle. On 20 Nov. 1809 (not the 10th as in his own account) he made his first appearance in Edinburgh, with which he was subsequently associated for forty-two years. His brother-in-law, Henry Siddons, had secured the royal letters patent, and leaving the theatre in Shakspere Square, Edinburgh, had fitted up as a playhouse the Circus in Leith Walk. There until 1811 Murray filled many small parts, at first, according to his own confession, with very little success. His first part was Count Cassel in 'Lovers' Vows,' 20 Nov. 1809, and on 29 Nov. he was Sanguine in Dimond's 'Foundling of the Forest.' On 8 Jan. 1810 he produced, as stage-manager, the 'Tempest.' Murray was the original Red Murdoch, 15 Jan. 1811, in Eyres's dramatisation of the 'Lady of the Lake,' a part he resigned when on 18 March the play was replaced by the 'Knight of Snowdoun,' Morton's adaptation of the same poem. Murray had now removed with the company to the theatre in Shakspere Square. On 12 April 1815 Henry Siddons died, and Murray, on behalf of the widow, his sister, and her children, entered on the management, then in a crippled condition, beginning, according to a statement he put forth, with a debt of 3,100l., and a weekly expenditure of 230l. From the first he displayed much energy, and a summer engagement of Miss O'Neill was a great success. On the opening of the season 1815-16 Mrs. Siddons, who had retired, reappeared. On 6 Jan. Murray played Sebastian to his sister's Viola in 'Twelfth Night.' Engagements of Kemble and Charles Mathews followed, and were succeeded by the appearance of Kean. Murray's own parts, which were subordinate, included Osric and Dirk Hatterick in the production, 25 Feb. 1817, of Terry's adaptation of 'Guy Mannering,' the first of the Waverley dramas given in Edinburgh. Murray played, on the last night of Kemble's appearance in Edinburgh, Rosse to Kemble's Macbeth, and, for his own benefit, Tony Lumpkin. After taking his company to Glasgow he enacted the Manager in the 'Actor of All Work' and Charles in the 'Jealous Wife.' Yates and many good actors had been seen, but the fortunes of the house continued to decline until 15 Feb. 1819, when 'Rob Roy MacGregor, or Auld Langsyne,' was produced, and proved the greatest and most enduring success probably ever known in Scotland. Murray was Captain Thornton. The great feature in the cast was the Bailie Nicol Jarvie of Mackay, then a recent acquisition to the theatre. Scott, through the Ballantynes, under the signature 'Jedediah Cleishbotham,' sent Mackay a letter of thanks and advice. The piece ran forty-one consecutive nights, and even yet, when revived, draws well. Murray was then seen as Flutter in the 'Belle's Stratagem,' Horatio, one of the Dromios, and other parts. He also directed the pantomime, and showed ability as a pantomimist. In the 'Heart of Midlothian' (February 1820), another success, Murray was Black Frank and his wife Effie Deans. In the production of the 'Antiquary' (December 1820), Murray was Jonathan Oldbuck, and was Craigengelt in the 'Bride of Lammermoor' (May 1822). On the famous visit of George IV to the Edinburgh Theatre, 27 Aug. 1822, he resumed his part of Captain Thornton. Murray was George Heriot in the 'Fortunes of Nigel,' and Lance Outram in 'Peveril of the Peak.' He was Wamba in a version of 'Ivanhoe' compiled by himself, and produced 24 Nov. 1823, and the Laird of Balmawhapple in a version of 'Waverley' (May 1824). In Planche's adaptation of ' St. Ronan's Well ' Murray was Peregrine Touchwood. He played Figaro in the 'Barber of Seville,' was Old Adam of Teviot in the ' Rose of Ettrick Dale,' Joshua Geddes in a version of 'Redgauntlet' attributed to himself, Sir Kenneth of Scotland in the 'Talisman,' and Roland in 'Mary Stuart,' his own adaptation of the ' Abbot.' In the season of 1825-6 he played Zabouc in Abou Hassan, and made a great hit as Paul Pry (November 1825). In 'Woodstock, or the Cavalier,' 17 June 1826, Murray was Colonel Everard. His farce 'No,' produced 10 Feb. 1827, had much success, and was followed, 25 June, by his drama of 'Gilderoy.' In 'Charles Edward, or the Last of the Stuarts,' he was Lieutenant Standard. In Planche's 'Charles XII' he played Liston's part of Adam Brock (6 Feb. 1829). A piece of unpardonable sharp practice in obtaining a manuscript copy of this piece is commented on by Planché in 'Recollections and Reflections,' i. 148, and led to the passing of the first Dramatic Authors' Act. Scott's 'House of Aspen' was produced on 17 Dec. 1829. On the expiration of the patent of H. Siddons the theatre became the property of Mrs. Siddons, who had paid up the purchase-money, 42,000l. In course of a dispute with the 'Edinburgh Dramatic Review' it came out that Murray's salary had been 46l. a week, with 100l. annually for his expenses as manager.

Refusing an offer to act at Covent Garden, Murray remained at Edinburgh, and secured the lease not only of the Theatre Royal, but also, in conjunction with Yates, of the playhouse in Leith Walk which had been known during the previous ten years as the Pantheon and latterly as the Caledonian, but was now renamed the Adelphi. The partnership with Yates lasted only one year. The Theatre Royal opened for the first time under Murray's direct management 17 Nov. 1830, with the ' Honeymoon,' in which Murray played Jaques. Among other parts in which Murray was seen were Modus in the 'Hunchback,' Sir Benjamin Backbite, Bob Acres, Caliban, Falstaff, Figaro, and Dick Luckless in the 'Highland Widow,' taken from Scott's 'Chronicles of the Canongate.' A version of Harrison Ainsworth's 'Jack Sheppard' is attributed to Murray, who appeared in it as Hogarth. Newman Noggs in 'Nicholas Nickleby' and Bumble in 'Oliver Twist' belong to this period. For his benefit, 29 May 1843, he played Shylock. On 2 Nov. 1844 Murray had to deplore the death of his sister, Mrs. H. Siddons, long a mainstay of the theatre. His management of both the Theatre Royal and the Adelphi had been an unbroken success. On 17 July 1845, at the Adelphi, he played Goldthumb in 'Time Works wonders,' and 31 July Caudle in 'Mr. and Mrs. Caudle.' Caleb Plummer in the 'Cricket on the Hearth' followed at the other house. Cox in 'Box and Cox' was another favourite part.

In 1848, through age, he resigned his function of stage manager. He still played some new parts, including Christopher Sly. On 22 Oct. 1851, at the Adelphi, Murray, as Sir Anthony Absolute, made, for his benefit, his last appearance on the Edinburgh stage. He was said to be in bad health, and so tired of his profession as to have destroyed his diary and all books connected with his stage life, and to have given away his stage wardrobe. He acted, however, more than once subsequently in Aberdeen and Dundee. He retired with a competency to live in St. Andrews, and returning from a party at Professor Playfair's, 5 May 1852, he was taken ill, and shortly afterwards died. Murray was twice married. His first wife was a Miss Dyke, sister of Mrs. Thomas Moore ; the second a Miss Gray, a member of his company. She survived until 1888. He left several children. More than one daughter played occasionally at the Theatre Royal, and a son, Henry Murray, in middle life became an actor.

An excellent actor in juvenile parts where no deep emotion or pathos had to be displayed, Murray was good also in comedy, and in what are known as 'character' parts he excelled. He wrote many dramas intended to serve a temporary purpose, and without literary aim. 'Diamond cut Diamond,' an interlude, from 'How to die for Love,' a translation from Kotzebue ; 'Cramond Brig,' assigned by error to Lockhart, and depreciated by Scott ; 'Mary Stuart,' 'Gilderoy,' and a burlesque of 'Romeo and Juliet,' were among his successes. His management was judicious and resolute, but did not escape the charge of being penurious ; his relations with dramatists were not always satisfactory, or even creditable ; and he suffered in later years from depression, uncertain temper, and an unreasonable fear of bankruptcy. About 1819 he helped to found the Edinburgh Theatrical Fund, and became a director. A special feature in Murray's management was the addresses he spoke at the beginning and close of a season, and on other occasions. These are both in verse and prose, are well written, effective, and not wanting in humour. A collection of them was published in 1851, and is now scarce. He was in the main a worthy man, staid, formal, and a trifle pedantic. Scott often makes friendly reference to him, and records how, in 'High Life below Stairs' (2 March 1827), Murray, answering the question 'Who wrote Shakespeare?' after one had answered Ben Jonson and another Finis, said 'No, it is Sir Walter Scott ; he confessed it at a public meeting the other day.'

A portrait of Murray by his friend, Sir William Allan, P.R.S.A., is in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

[Private information, in part kindly forwarded by James C. Dibdin, esq. ; Dibdin's Annals of the Edinburgh Stage ; Genest's Account of the English Stage ; the Farewell and Occasional Addresses delivered by W. H. Murray, Esq., Edinburgh, 1851 ; The Theatre, Edinburgh, 1851-2; Theatrical Inquisitor, vol. iv. London, 1814 ; Lockhart's Life of Scott ; Journal of Sir Walter Scott ; Memoirs of Charles Mathews, by Mrs. Mathews ; Tallis's Dramatic Magazine.]

J. K.