Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parker, George (1732-1800)

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PARKER, GEORGE (1732–1800), soldier, actor, and lecturer, born in 1732 at Green Street, near Canterbury, was son of a tradesman. After attending the King's School at Canterbury he was 'early admitted,' he says, 'to walk the quarter-deck as a midshipman on board the Falmouth and the Guernsey.' A series of youthful indiscretions in London obliged him to leave the navy, and in or about 1754 to enlist as a common soldier in the 20th regiment of foot, the second battalion of which became in 1758 the 67th regiment, under the command of Wolfe. In his regiment he continued a private, corporal, and sergeant for seven years, was present at the siege of Belleisle, and saw service in Portugal, Gibraltar, and Minorca. At the end of the war he returned home as a supernumerary exciseman. About 1761 his friends placed him in the King's Head inn at Canterbury, where he soon failed. Parker incorrectly asserts that his failure was the result of practising extortion in 1763 on the Due de Nivernois, the French ambassador. But that affair happened at another Canterbury inn, the Red Lion. After a subsequent failure in London, Parker went upon the stage in Ireland, and, in company with Brownlow Ford, a clergyman of convivial habits, strolled over the greater part of the island. On his return to London he played several times at the Haymarket, and was later introduced by Goldsmith to Colman. But on account of his corpulence Colman declined his services. Parker then joined the provincial strolling companies, and was engaged for one season with Digges,then manager of the Edinburgh Theatre. At Edinburgh he married an actress named Heydon, from whom, however, he was soon obliged to part on account of her dissolute life. Returning again to London, he set up as wandering lecturer on elocution, and in this character travelled with varying success through England. His entertainment was called ‘The World, Scientific, Theoretic, and Practical,’ and was interspersed with recitations from popular authors. Occasionally he delivered a dissertation on freemasonry, being a prominent member of the brotherhood. In November 1776 he set out on a visit to France, and lived at Paris for upwards of six months on funds supplied by his father. His resources being exhausted, he left Paris in the middle of July 1777 on foot, and, after much privation and illness, managed to reach Boulogne. Here, supported by a number of casual acquaintances, he lectured and recited with success in the character of the ‘universal traveller.’ On reaching England he made another lecturing tour, which proved unsuccessful. Dr. Johnson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and other distinguished men tried to befriend him. In 1782 he was connected with the school of eloquence at the Lyceum in the Strand. His wit, humour, and knowledge of the world rendered him at one time an indispensable appendage to convivial gatherings of a kind; but in his later days he was so entirely neglected as to be obliged to sell gingerbread-nuts at fairs and race-meetings for a subsistence. He died in Coventry poorhouse in April 1800 (European Mag. 1800, pt. ii. p. 237). In the obituary notices he is described as having been the ‘projector of the plan of police in Dublin.’

Parker wrote: 1. ‘A View of Society and Manners in High and Low Life, being the Adventures … of Mr. George Parker,’ 2 vols. 12mo, London, 1781. As an autobiography the book is untrustworthy; but it abounds in droll incident and shrewd observation. 2. ‘Humorous Sketches, Satyrical Strokes, and Attic Observations,’ 8vo, London (1782). 3. ‘Life's Painter of Variegated Characters in Public and Private Life,’ 8vo, London, 1789, with a curious portrait of Parker; 2nd edit., undated, but supposed to have been issued at Dublin about 1800. A mutilated edition was published as a shilling chapbook at London, also about 1800. Parker's books were liberally subscribed for, and must have brought him handsome sums.

[Gent. Mag. 1800, pt. ii. p. 901; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iv. 168; Forster's Life of Goldsmith, 1880, ii. 109.]

G. G.