Reeve, John (1799-1838) (DNB00)

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REEVE, JOHN (1799–1838), actor, son of Thomas Reeve, hosier and common councillor, was born at his father's shop on Ludgate Hill, on 2 Feb. 1799. William Reeve the musical composer, and Alderman Robert Waithman, M.P., were his uncles. At a school at Winchmore Hill, near Enfield, kept by a Mr. Thompson, he had for companion Frederick Yates [q. v.], a sharer with him in some juvenile escapades and consequent suffering. Placed, at the age of fourteen, behind his father's counter, he remained there two years, when, on his father's retirement, he was placed with a firm of wholesale hosiers named Nevill or Neville in Maiden Lane, Wood Street, Cheapside. After staying there three years, he left, in consequence of complaints on the part of neighbours of nocturnal declamations and singing on the leads of the premises. Placed as a clerk in Gosling's Bank, Fleet Street, Reeve subscribed with other clerks 3s. 6d. a week each in order to hire once a fortnight Pym's theatre, Wilson Street, Gray's Inn Road. His first appearance was as the waiter at a gambling house in ‘Town and Country;’ in this he had to speak the monosyllable ‘No,’ for which, in nervousness, he substituted ‘Yes.’ Once, in the off-season at the Haymarket, he played the First Gravedigger to the ‘Hamlet’ of a Mr. Grove, who advertised that he would wager 100l. on playing Hamlet better than any actor, alive or dead. Finding himself condemned to obscure parts by his companions at Pym's theatre, he took the house on his own account for 10l., printed his own bills, and, it is to be supposed, selected his own company. On this occasion he played Othello (his friend George Herbert Bonaparte Rodwell [q. v.], the composer, being Roderigo), and Sylvester Daggerwood (an actor) in a farce so named extracted from the younger Colman's ‘New Hay at the Old Market.’ In the latter character he gave imitations of actors, which met with such success that he repeated ‘Sylvester Daggerwood’ on 8 June 1819 at Drury Lane, for the benefit of Mr. Rodwell, senior, the box-keeper at the theatre, and again the following night for the benefit of Lanza; and then played it for a few nights at the Haymarket. He was now offered an engagement by Arnold at the Lyceum, and he appeared there on 17 July 1819 as Mr. * * * * * in a piece called ‘One, Two, Three, Four, Five by Advertisement.’ In this he played Harry Alias, a lover who, in order to obtain his mistress, personates Dr. Endall (Harley), Sam Dabbs (Munden), Sir Peter Teazle (W. Farren), and Mr. M. (Charles Mathews). He now resigned his situation in the bank, and adopted the stage as his occupation.

At the Lyceum he played, for his benefit, two other characters—Pedrillo and Crack—without winning from the press any recognition except as a mimic. His friend Rodwell, in conjunction with a Mr. Willis Jones, took the Sans-Pareil Theatre in the Strand, and opened it on 18 Oct. 1819 as the Adelphi. Reeve appeared as Squire Rattlepate in Moncrieff's burletta, ‘The Green Dragon, or I've quite forgot,’ and Lord Grizzle in the burlesque of ‘Tom Thumb.’ But feeling himself deficient in experience, he joined the elder Macready's company in Bristol, where, or at Cheltenham, he played Falstaff, Autolycus, and other characters, never subsequently resumed, in the poetical drama.

Reeve soon returned to the Adelphi, where he succeeded Watkins Burroughs as Jerry Hawthorn in Moncrieff's adaptation from Pierce Egan's ‘Tom and Jerry, or Life in London.’ This character he made wholly his own. At the close of the season he gave in 1823 at the Adelphi, in association with Wilkinson, an entertainment called ‘Trifles light as Air,’ and spoke or acted a ‘monopolylogue’ called ‘Bachelor's Torments.’ On the departure of Wilkinson he continued the entertainment alone. He imitated Kean successfully in ‘Quadrupeds,’ played in a drama called ‘Killigrew,’ was the first Boroughcliffe in Fitzball's version of the ‘Pilot,’ and played in Egan's ‘Life of an Actor.’ Subsequently he played at the Surrey and the Cobourg, rising high in public estimation. On 17 April 1826, with a salary of 13l. a week, he made as Ralph, a comic servant, in Hoare's ‘Lock and Key,’ what was inaccurately announced as his first appearance at the Haymarket. Caleb Quotem in the ‘Review,’ Old Wiggins, a glutton, in Allingham's ‘Mrs. Wiggins,’ Somno in ‘Sleep Walker,’ Nipperkin in the ‘Rival Soldiers,’ Nehemiah Flam in the ‘Gay Deceivers,’ Scout in the ‘Village Lawyer,’ Crack in the ‘Turnpike Gate,’ Davy in ‘Bon Ton,’ Major Sturgeon in the ‘Mayor of Garratt,’ Ollapod in the ‘Poor Gentleman,’ Sir Solomon Gander in ‘Love and Gout,’ Multiple in ‘Actor of all Work,’ Major Dumpling in the ‘Green Man,’ Maurice Holster, an original part, in ‘Thirteen to the Dozen,’ Buskin in ‘Killing no Murder,’ Peter Smink, an original part, in ‘Peter Smink, or which is the Miller?’ Bob Acres, Dicky Gossip in ‘My Grandmother,’ were acted during the season. He thus established his position in comedy, and was placed in rivalry with Edwin. He opened the Haymarket season on 15 June 1827 with ‘Paul Pry,’ and played, among other characters, Lubin Log in ‘Love, Law, and Physic,’ Midas, Mawworm, Clod in the ‘Young Quaker,’ Pengander in ‘'Twixt the Cup and the Lip,’ and was the first Gabriel Gudgeon in ‘Gudgeons and Sharks,’ and Barnaby Boxem, an undertaker, in ‘You must be buried.’ On 17 June 1828 he reappeared as Figaro, playing during the season Don Ferolo in the ‘Critic,’ Ephraim Smooth in ‘Wild Oats,’ Tony Lumpkin and Sir Peter Pigwinnin, and being the original Peters in ‘The Barber Baron, or the Frankfort Lottery,’ assigned to a dramatist called Thackeray. In 1829 he added to his repertory Pierre in the ‘Rencountre,’ April in ‘Secrets worth Knowing,’ Adam Brock in ‘Charles the Twelfth,’ Sancho in ‘Barataria,’ Cosey in ‘Town and Country,’ and was the first Sadi in Thompson's ‘Nothing Superfluous,’ William Thomson the Second in Caroline Boaden's ‘William Thompson, or which is he?’ and John Bates in ‘Procrastination.’ In 1830, his last season at the Haymarket, he played Grojan in ‘Quite Correct,’ Pedrigo Potts (Liston's part) in ‘John of Paris,’ Lissardo in the ‘Wonder,’ Gregory Gubbins in the ‘Battle of Hexham,’ Apollo Belvi in ‘Killing no Murder,’ and Whimsiculo in the ‘Cabinet,’ and was the original Madrigal Merry-patch in ‘Honest Frauds.’ Quarrelling with the management on a question of terms, he played at the Adelphi, on 21 Oct. 1830, Magog in Buckstone's ‘Wreck Ashore,’ and then went to Covent Garden, where he added nothing to his reputation, and is said, indeed, to have ‘signally failed.’

It was with the Adelphi that Reeve's principal original triumphs were associated. Here he played in a burlesque of ‘Cupid,’ was in January 1833 Sancho Panza in ‘Don Quixote,’ and acted in Hall's ‘Grace Huntley’ and other pieces. After playing two years at the Queen's, he went, in 1835, to America, gaining much money but little reputation. Returning, at a salary of 40l. a week, to the Adelphi, now under the management of Yates, he reappeared there in a piece entitled ‘Novelty;’ it was little more than a framework for his American adventures, particulars of which he sang or declaimed. In 1837 he played Sam Weller in the ‘Peregrinations of Pickwick,’ and was seen in other characters.

From an early date Reeve had been given to excess in drinking, and was consequently not seldom imperfect in his part. This may account for the paucity of the original characters assigned him at the Haymarket and Covent Garden. It is said that during his American tour he was not once perfect in any stock comedy, and that he offended his audiences by telling them that they were ‘jolly good fellows,’ that he ‘loved them heartily,’ and so forth. During 1836 he was to have played at the Surrey the principal part in a drama called ‘The Skeleton Witness.’ At the final rehearsal he knew no word of his part, and at night he sent a note of apology. In answer to the demonstrations of the audience, Davidge, the manager, came forward and described the trick that had been played him by an actor to whom he was paying 30l. a week. Reeve's latest appearance in 1837 was at the Surrey, with a portion of the Adelphi company. In a performance of a part he had chosen in a new drama, called ‘The Wandering Tribe,’ he was conspicuously imperfect. Returning from the theatre after the second representation, he broke a blood-vessel. A fatal illness ensued, and although his reappearance at the Adelphi was promised in October, he died at his house, 46 Brompton Row, on 24 Jan. 1838, and was buried in Brompton churchyard. Reeves was twice married. By his first wife, a Miss Aylett, daughter of an upholsterer in Finsbury, and a dancer in Macready's company, whom he married at Bristol in 1820, he left a son John, a burlesque actor; she died at his birth in 1822 at Swansea. By his second wife he had two daughters.

Concerning the merits of Reeve very different opinions are recorded. Hazlitt says that he was disappointed with Reeve's imitations, which were not so good as those of Mathews. His biographer, Douglas Bannister, who is at no pains to disguise his ill opinion of Reeve in most respects, says he was a farceur, and that only. He founded his style on that of Oxberry, and, though more accomplished and endowed with greater natural advantages, was far inferior. ‘Oxberry was an able expositor of Massinger and Ben Jonson. Reeve's greatest efforts were Marmaduke Magog and Abrahamides in “The Tailors.” He was a first-rate droll, but very far from a first-rate actor.’ Oxberry speaks of his mutable physiognomy, dashing exterior, and determination to excite good-humour. No actor since George Frederick Cooke [q. v.] called so often on the indulgence of the audience. He pretended to play parts which he had not even read, yet, when he broke down, a nod or a wink of the eye would secure acquittal. He took his audience into his confidence, assuming with a chuckle, ‘You know I am fond of my glass and will excuse it.’ Peake and Buckstone knew his weakness, and supplied him with short sentences, bywords, and opportunities for by-play, instead of speeches, which he could not learn. He was a great favourite with the public, and, in spite of their knowledge of his infirmities, managers were compelled to engage him. Reeve was five feet ten inches in height, dark in complexion, and had great flexibility of feature and limb. Though a bulky man, he walked and danced with the appearance of great lightness. His singing voice was a baritone with a sweet falsetto.

A portrait of Reeve, by Wageman, accompanies his biography; a second, as Sylvester Daggerwood, is in Oxberry's ‘Dramatic Biography’ (vol. vii.); a third, as Jerry Hawthorn, is in the second series of Oxberry (vol. i.); a fourth, as Bill Mattack, in Sterling Coyne's farce, ‘The Queer Subject,’ accompanies the published version of that piece, which was dedicated to Reeve; Reeve played Bill Mattack at the Adelphi in November 1836.

[The chief source of information concerning Reeve is Douglas Bannister's Life, no date (1838), which is extremely rare. Memoirs appear in Oxberry's Dramatic Biography (vii. 159), and second series (i. 181), in the Idler, and Breakfast Table Companion (vol. i.), 1838, and in Webster's Acting National Drama (vol. i.). No list of his characters has been published. That given is made up from Genest's Account of the English Stage, the works mentioned, and various volumes of Cumberland's Plays. Hazlitt's Dramatic Essays, the Theatrical Inquisitor (various years), Wheatley and Cunningham's London Past and Present, Baker's London Stage, and Stirling's Old Drury Lane have also been consulted.]

J. K.