Pope, Alexander (1763-1835) (DNB00)

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POPE, ALEXANDER (1763–1835), actor and painter, was born in Cork in 1763. His father and his elder brother, Somerville Stevens Pope, were miniature-painters, and Alexander was trained as an artist under Francis Robert West in the Dublin Art Schools. He practised for a time at Cork, taking portraits in crayons at a guinea apiece; but, after appearing at a fancy ball in the character of Norval, and subsequently taking part with much applause at private theatricals, he adopted the stage as a profession. He appeared at Cork as Oroonoko with a success which led to his engagement at Covent Garden, where he appeared in the same character on 8 Jan. 1785. On the 19th he played Jaffier in ‘Venice Preserved,’ on 4 Feb. Castalio in the ‘Orphan,’ on the 28th Phocyas in the ‘Siege of Damascus,’ on 7 March Edwin in ‘Matilda,’ on 12 April Horatio in the ‘Fair Penitent,’ and on the 23rd Othello for his benefit. He made an eminently favourable impression, and for many years played the principal tragic parts at the same house. From 1801 to 1803, in which year he returned to Covent Garden, he was at Drury Lane, where he reappeared in 1812, remaining there until his retirement from the stage. He was in 1824 at the Haymarket, and made occasional appearances in the country, especially in Edinburgh, where he was a favourite. During these years he was seen at one or other house in an entire round of parts, chiefly tragic. In Shakespeare alone he played Antonio, Banquo, King Henry in ‘Richard the Third,’ Bassanio, Iachimo, Leontes, Romeo, Hotspur, Wolsey, Richmond, Macduff, Lear, Hamlet, Ford, Posthumus, Tullus Aufidius, Ghost in ‘Hamlet,’ Henry VIII, Polixenes, Macbeth, Proteus, Antipholus of Syracuse, Antonio, Iago, John of Gaunt, King Henry VI, Hubert, Friar Lawrence, Kent, Banished Duke in ‘As you like it,’ and King of France in ‘King John.’ A list of all the pieces in which he was seen would be a simple nomenclature of the plays then in fashion. The principal actors of the Garrick period had with one or two exceptions disappeared, and, except for the Kembles, Pope had at the outset little formidable rivalry to encounter. He married in Dublin, in August 1785, Elizabeth Younge [see Pope, Elizabeth], a lady much his senior.

The first original character assigned Pope at Covent Garden seems to have been St. Preux in Reynolds's unprinted tragedy of ‘Eloisa,’ 23 Dec. 1786; the second was Haswell in Mrs. Inchbald's ‘Such Things are,’ 10 Feb. 1787. At this period Pope was assigned a wider range of parts than was afterwards allotted him, and played Beverley in the ‘Gamester,’ Lord Morelove in the ‘Careless Husband,’ Lord Hardy in the ‘Funeral,’ Lord Townly in the ‘Provoked Husband,’ Young Belmont in the ‘Foundling,’ Young Bevil in the ‘Conscious Lovers,’ and Young Mirabel in the ‘Inconstant.’ On the first production at Covent Garden of ‘A King and no King,’ on 14 Jan. 1788, he played a part, presumably Arbaces. On 8 April he was the original Lord Ormond in ‘Ton, or the Follies of Fashion,’ by Lady Wallace, and on 8 May 1789 Frederic Wayward in Cumberland's ‘School for Widows.’ Pope's salary at the outset had risen from 8l. to 10l. a week, his wife's being twenty. At the end of 1789, on a question of terms, he left Covent Garden, to which he returned after an absence of three years. He played for the first time in Edinburgh on 15 June 1786, as Othello to the Desdemona of his wife. During Pope's absence Mrs. Pope remained at Covent Garden. Pope reappeared as Lord Townly on 21 Sept. 1792; on 1 Dec. he was the first Columbus in Morton's ‘Columbus, or a World Discovered;’ on 29 Jan. 1793 the original Irwin in Mrs. Inchbald's ‘Every one has his Fault;’ and on 18 April Warford in Reynolds's ‘How to grow Rich.’ For his benefit, on 2 May, he made the singular selection of Falkland in the ‘Rivals.’ In 1793–4 Pope confined himself principally to serious parts, making his first essay in ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Lear,’ and playing the original Sir Alexander Seaton in Jerningham's dull tragedy, the ‘Siege of Berwick,’ 13 Nov. 1793; Lamotte in Boaden's ‘Fontainville Forest’ on 25 March 1794, and St. Pol in Pye's ‘Siege of Meaux’ on 19 May. In the ‘Mysteries of the Castle’ of Miles Peter Andrews, 31 Jan. 1795, he was Carlos; in George Watson's ‘England Preserved,’ 21 Feb., the Earl of Pembroke; in Pearce's ‘Windsor Castle,’ 6 April, the Prince of Wales; and in Holcroft's ‘Deserted Daughter,’ 2 May, Mordant. In the last-named piece Pope incurred some obloquy for breaking through tradition, and playing a part with four days' study instead of the four weeks then customary at the house. In Lent Pope, with John Fawcett (1768–1837) [q. v.], Charles Incledon [q. v.], and Joseph George Holman [q. v.], gave readings, accompanied with music, at the Freemasons' Hall. In Cumberland's ‘Days of Yore,’ 13 Jan. 1796, he created the part of Voltimar, and ten days later gave that of Captain Faulkner in Morton's ‘Way to get Married.’ For his benefit he played Sir Giles Overreach. On 10 Jan. 1797 he was the first Charles in Morton's ‘Cure for the Heart Ache,’ and 4 March Sir George Evelyn in Mrs. Inchbald's ‘Wives as they were and Maids as they are.’

In March 1797 died Pope's first wife, Elizabeth, and on 24 Jan. 1798 he married his second wife, Maria Ann [q. v.], at St. George's, Hanover Square. In the meantime, continuing at Covent Garden, he was, on 11 Jan. 1798, the first Greville in Morton's ‘Secrets worth Knowing;’ in ‘He's much to blame,’ variously assigned to Fenwick and Holcroft, he was, 13 Feb., Delaval. He acted Joseph Surface, and on 30 May 1798 was cast for Hortensio in ‘Disinterested Love,’ altered by Hull from Massinger's ‘Bashful Lover.’ Owing to Pope's illness, his part was read by Henry Erskine Johnston [q. v.] On 11 Oct. 1798 Pope was the first Frederick in ‘Lovers' Vows,’ adapted by Mrs. Inchbald; on 12 Jan. 1799 Leonard in Holman's ‘Votary of Wealth,’ on 16 March Frederick in T. Dibdin's ‘Five Thousand a Year,’ and, 12 April, for his benefit, Henry in the ‘Count of Burgundy,’ translated from Kotzebue by Miss Plumptre, and adapted for the English stage by Pope himself. In Cumberland's adaptation from Kotzebue, ‘A Romance of the Fourteenth Century,’ 16 Jan. 1800, Pope was Albert, and in Morton's ‘Speed the Plough,’ 8 Feb., Sir Philip Blandford. During this season Pope was one of the eight actors who published the statement of their case against the management [see Holman, Joseph George]. Pope continued at Covent Garden during the following season, in which he played for the first time Hastings in ‘Jane Shore,’ and one or two other parts, but was little seen; and the following season transferred his services to Drury Lane, appearing on 25 Jan. 1802 as Othello. He was, 2 March, the first Major Manford in Cumberland's ‘Lovers' Resolutions.’ In Dimond's ‘Hero of the North,’ 19 Feb. 1803, he was the original Gustavus Vasa, and in Allingham's ‘Marriage Promise’ George Howard. He also played the Stranger for the first time. In Allingham's ‘Hearts of Oak,’ 19 Nov. 1803, he was the first Dorland; in Cherry's ‘Soldier's Daughter,’ 7 Feb. 1804, Malfort, jun.; in Cumberland's ‘Sailor's Daughter,’ 7 April, Captain Sentamour. On 18 June 1803 the second Mrs. Pope had died; in 1804 his son, a midshipman, also died. At the close of the season Pope was dismissed by the Drury Lane management, which had secured Master Betty [see Betty, William Henry West]. He had played very little of late, and expressed his intention of retiring and devoting himself to painting. On 3 Feb. 1806, however, he reappeared at Covent Garden as Othello; in Cumberland's ‘Hint to Husbands,’ 8 March 1806, he was the original Heartright; and in Manners's ‘Edgar, or Caledonian Feuds,’ 9 May, the Barno of Glendore. In Cherry's ‘Peter the Great,’ 8 May 1807, he was Count Menzikoff.

Pope married, on 25 June 1807, his third wife, the widow of Francis Wheatley, R.A. [q. v.] [see Pope, Clara Maria]. After visiting Ireland, being robbed in Cork, and narrowly escaping shipwreck, he was, at Covent Garden, the original Count Valdestein in C. Kemble's ‘Wanderer,’ 12 Jan. 1808. After the burning of Covent Garden he played, at the Haymarket Opera House, the original Count Ulric in Reynolds's ‘Exile,’ 10 Nov. 1808. At the smaller house in the Haymarket, to which the company migrated, he played Pierre in ‘Venice Preserved.’ Dismissed from Covent Garden, he was for three years unheard of in London, but played at times in Edinburgh. He returned to the new house at Drury Lane, 28 Nov. 1812, as Lord Townly; and was, 23 Jan. 1813, the original Marquis Valdez in Coleridge's ‘Remorse.’ On 11 April 1811 he had had, at the Opera House, a benefit, which produced him over 700l., Mrs. Siddons playing for the first time Margaret of Anjou in the ‘Earl of Warwick.’ On 6 Jan. 1814 he was Colonel Samoyloii in Brown's ‘Narensky.’ In Henry Siddons's ‘Policy’ he was, 15 Oct., Sir Harry Dorville; in Mrs. Wilmot's ‘Ina,’ 22 April 1815, he was Cenulph, Kean being Egbert; and in T. Dibdin's ‘Charles the Bold,’ 15 June, he was the Governor of Nantz; on 12 Sept. he was Evrard (an old man) in T. Dibdin's ‘Magpie,’ and on 9 May 1816 St. Aldobrand in Maturin's ‘Bertram.’ In ‘Richard, Duke of York,’ compiled from the three parts of ‘King Henry VI,’ he was, 22 Dec. 1817, Cardinal Beaufort. In the ‘Bride of Abydos,’ taken by Dimond from Byron, he played, 5 Feb. 1818, Mirza; and in an alteration of Marlowe's ‘Jew of Malta,’ 24 April, was Farneze. The following season his name does not appear. On 11 Oct. 1819, as Strictland in the ‘Suspicious Husband,’ he made what was called his ‘first appearance for two years.’ He was Prior Aymer, 2 March 1820, in Soanes's ‘Hebrew,’ a version of ‘Ivanhoe.’ During the season he played Minutius to Kean's Virginius in an unprinted drama entitled ‘Virginius.’ His popularity and his powers had diminished; and he was now assigned subordinate parts, such as Zapazaw, an Indian, in ‘Pocahontas,’ 15 Dec.1820. On 18 Nov. 1823 he was Drusus to Macready's Caius Gracchus in Sheridan Knowles's ‘Caius Gracchus,’ and on 5 Jan. 1824 Lord Burleigh in ‘Kenilworth.’ At the Haymarket, 16 July, he was the first Bickerton in Poole's adaptation, ‘Married or Single,’ on 24 Aug. 1825 Ralph Appleton in Lunn's ‘Roses and Thorns,’ and 13 Sept. Witherton in ‘Paul Pry.’ At Drury Lane, 28 Jan. 1826, he was the first Toscar in Macfarren's ‘Malvina.’ On 21 May 1827 he was the original Clotaire in Grattan's ‘Ben Nazir the Saracen.’ This is the last time his name is traced. He was not engaged after the season. In 1828 he applied for a pension from the Covent Garden Fund, to which he had contributed forty-four years. He obtained a grant of 80l. a year, afterwards raised to 100l. On Thursday, 22 March 1835, he died at his house in Store Street, Bedford Square. He was during very many years a mainstay of one or other of the patent theatres, and was in his best day credited with more pathos than any English actor of his time. His Othello and Henry VIII were held in his day unrivalled. His person was strong and well formed, and he had much harmony of feature, but was, in spite of his pathos, deficient in expression. Leigh Hunt says that he had not one requisite of an actor except a good voice. He possessed a mellow voice and a graceful and easy deportment. Towards the close of his career he had sensibly declined in power.

Throughout his life Pope practised miniature painting, and between 1787 and 1821 he exhibited at the Royal Academy fifty-nine miniatures. A portrait by him of Michael Bryan [q. v.], the author of the ‘Dictionary of Painters and Engravers,’ was engraved as a frontispiece to the original quarto edition of that work, and many other portraits by him have been engraved, including those of Henry Grattan, John Boydell, Henry Tresham, Lewis the actor, and Mrs. Crouch. He engraved a mezzotint plate from a picture by himself, entitled ‘Look before you leap.’

Pope was a confirmed gourmand, and spent in good living, and, it is said, in bribing his critics, the handsome property he obtained with his wives. So early as 1811 he had fallen into straits, from which, in spite of the assistance of his brother actors—notably Edmund Kean—he never recovered. Kean, asking Pope to join him in Dublin, and promising him a great benefit, received the answer, ‘I must be at Plymouth at the time; it is exactly the season for mullet.’ He offended people of distinction and influence by his pretensions, refusing to sit with Catalani because she cut a fricandeau with a knife; and ordering expensive luxuries, for which he did not pay, to be sent in to houses to which he was bidden. Many of these stories are probably coloured, if not apocryphal; but there is abundant proof of his gluttonish propensities.

Portraits of Pope by Sharpe as Henry VIII, by Dupont as Hamlet, and by Stewart, are in the Mathews collection of pictures in the Garrick Club. Another, engraved by Clamp, after Richardson, is given in Harding's ‘Shakespeare,’ 1793.

[Manager's Notebook; Genest's Account of the English Stage; Biographia Dramatica; Gilliland's Dramatic Mirror; Clark Russell's Representative Actors; Dramatic Essays by Leigh Hunt, ed. Archer and Lowe; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Pasquin's Artists of Ireland, p. 30; Gent. Mag. 1835, i. 666; Registers of Marriages, St. George's, Hanover Square, ii. 176, 369; and information kindly supplied by F. M. O'Donoghue, esq.]

J. K.