Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Shuter, Edward

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SHUTER, EDWARD (1728?–1776), actor, was born of obscure parents in Vine Street, St. Giles's, London, in a house occupied by one Merit or Meritt, a chimney-sweep. Such is his own statement, possibly humorous, to which he adds that his father was a chairman, and his mother a vendor of oysters in the winter and cucumbers in the summer. A second and eminently improbable account, more than once copied, declares him to have been the son of a clergyman and by occupation a billiard-marker. All concerning his origin is obscure, and he seems himself to have traded on the lowness of his extraction. It is probable that he was in some general capacity engaged at a vintner's near Covent Garden, and he is said to have obtained some education at the cost of a gentleman whom he aided in recovering a pocket-book left in a coach. Chapman, an actor of Drury Lane, struck with some display of humour, took him as an apprentice, and led him behind the scenes of the theatre, where he became known as ‘Comical Ned.’ After some practice with country companies, and the customary experiences of poverty and privation, over which he subsequently made merry, he played on 8 July 1744 Catesby in ‘Richard III’ at Chapman's theatre, Richmond. On 15 April 1745, for Chapman's benefit, he played at Covent Garden as ‘Master’ Shuter, the Schoolboy in Cibber's ‘Schoolboy,’ with the inaccurate announcement after his name that he had never appeared on the stage before. On 5 June at Drury Lane, for the benefit of Morgan, this performance was repeated. On 25 Aug. he played at Richmond the characters of Donalbane and Cheatley. In June 1746 Garrick, after his return from Ireland, gave six performances at Covent Garden, and ‘Master’ Shuter played on the 13th Osric in ‘Hamlet,’ and on the 27th the Third Witch in ‘Macbeth.’ In 1746–7 he was at Goodman's Fields with what Genest calls ‘an inferior company,’ including Lee, Paget, Mrs. Hallam, and Mrs. Butler. Here he was seen in a round of comic characters, including Trapland in ‘Love for Love,’ Periwinkle in ‘A Bold Stroke for a Wife,’ Mons. le Medicin (sic) in the farce of the ‘Anatomist,’ Prigg in the ‘Royal Merchant,’ Squire Richard in the ‘Provoked Husband,’ Clearaccount in ‘Twin Rivals,’ Abel in ‘Committee,’ Filch in ‘Beggar's Opera,’ the Captain in ‘Othello,’ Syringe in the ‘Relapse,’ Aspin in ‘Woman's a Riddle,’ Rossano in ‘Fair Penitent,’ Fribble in ‘Miss in her Teens;’ and on 5 March 1747 an original part in the ‘Battle of Poitiers, or the English Prince,’ a tragedy by Mrs. Hoper. This frequent change of character involved much arduous work. On 22 April he appeared under Foote at the Haymarket in the ‘Diversions of the Morning,’ and in the autumn obtained a regular engagement under Garrick and Lacy at Drury Lane, at which house he played on 2 Nov. William in ‘As you like it,’ appearing subsequently as Taylor in the ‘Provoked Wife,’ Valet in the ‘Suspicious Husband,’ Trapland, Diego in ‘She would and she would not;’ and on 23 Nov. 1747 an original part in ‘George Dandin,’ an anonymous translation from Molière. At the Haymarket he was in March or April 1749 the original Sir Gregory Gazette in Foote's ‘Knights.’ On 7 Oct. in the ‘Little French Lawyer,’ reduced to a farce, he reappeared at Drury Lane, where he remained until 1753. A full range of comic characters was assigned him, including Lord Froth in the ‘Double Dealer,’ Clincher Jun. in the ‘Constant Couple,’ Sly in ‘Love's Last Shift,’ the Puritan in ‘Duke and no Duke,’ Sir Philip Modelove in ‘A Bold Stroke for a Wife.’ Stephano in Dryden's ‘Tempest,’ Jeremy in ‘Love for Love,’ Caper in ‘Friendship in Fashion,’ Verges, Launcelot in ‘Merchant of Venice,’ Gibbet in the ‘Beaux's Stratagem,’ Flash in ‘Miss in her Teens,’ Kate Matchlock in the ‘Funeral,’ Shallow in ‘Merry Wives of Windsor,’ Corin, and afterwards Adam, in ‘As you like it,’ the Old Man in ‘Lethe,’ Drunken Servant in the ‘Pilgrim,’ Recruit in ‘Recruiting Officer,’ Petulant in the ‘Way of the World,’ Tipkin in ‘Tender Husband,’ Strut in ‘Double Gallant,’ Clown in ‘Twelfth Night,’ Ananias in ‘Alchemist,’ Starved Cook, and afterwards Ramilie, in ‘Miser,’ Petit in ‘Inconstant,’ Sir Albany Odelove in ‘Bayes in Petticoats,’ Lory in ‘Relapse,’ Foresight in ‘Love for Love,’ Daniel in ‘Oroonoko,’ Security in ‘Eastward Ho,’ Master Stephen in ‘Every Man in his Humour,’ Cockade in ‘Man of Taste,’ Squire Badger in ‘Don Quixote in England,’ Lord Sands in ‘Henry VIII,’ Phelim in ‘Double Disappointment,’ Sir Amorous La Foole in ‘Silent Woman,’ Mustapha in ‘Don Sebastian,’ Scrub in ‘Beaux' Stratagem,’ and Fribble in ‘Miss in her Teens.’ His original parts while with Garrick at Drury Lane were a character unnamed in a pantomime called ‘Queen Mab’ on 26 Dec. 1750, Pedro in Edward Moore's ‘Gil Blas’ on 2 Feb. 1751, and Lord Dupe in Foote's ‘Taste’ on 11 Jan. 1752. Abundant opportunities had been afforded him, but, though he gained some consideration, Shuter never rose high in public favour until his performance of Master Stephen in ‘Every Man in his Humour’ on 29 Nov. 1751. Of this Davies says that ‘he entered most naturally into the follies of a young ignorant fellow, who thinks smoking tobacco fashionable, and swearing a strange kind of oath the highest proofs of humour and taste’ (Dram. Misc. iii. 66). The reputation he thus obtained he augmented in Scrub. In 1753 Shuter quitted Drury Lane, never to return, and on 17 Sept. made, as Lovegold in the ‘Miser,’ what is erroneously called ‘his first appearance’ at Covent Garden, with which he was henceforth to be associated, and where, with an occasional visit in the summer to the Haymarket or to Ireland, he remained for the rest of his stage life.

From this time a higher class of parts was assigned him, and his name appears during his first season to characters such as Trim in the ‘Funeral,’ Trappanti in ‘She would and she would not,’ Sir Wilful Witwou'd in the ‘Way of the World,’ Touchstone, Brass in ‘Confederacy,’ Corbaccio in ‘Volpone,’ Old Mirabel in ‘Inconstant,’ the Lying Valet, Autolicus in the ‘Sheep Shearing’ (Macnamara Morgan's adaptation of the ‘Winter's Tale’), Richard III (a surprising experiment), Fluellin, and Slender. From innumerable parts subsequently played may be chosen as representative First Gravedigger in ‘Hamlet,’ Ben in ‘Love for Love,’ Falstaff, Mercutio, Bayes, Fondlewife, Lady Pentweazle in ‘Taste,’ Beau Clincher, the Humorous Lieutenant, Petruchio, Teague in ‘Committee,’ Marplot, Sir John Brute, Major Oakly, Polonius, Gardiner in ‘Henry VIII,’ Obediah Prim, Shylock, and Dogberry. His original parts were numerous, and included the best old men of Sheridan and Goldsmith. In the summers of 1761 and 1763 he was in Ireland, where, however, he seems to have played no new part. The following are the chief parts in which he was seen at Covent Garden: Papillion in Foote's ‘Liar’ on 12 Jan. 1762, Justice Woodcock in Bickerstaffe's ‘Love in a Village’ on 8 Dec., Sir Philip Figure in Murphy's ‘No one's Enemy but his own’ on 9 Jan. 1764, Drugget in ‘What we must all come to’ (same date), Sir Harry Sycamore in ‘Maid of the Mill’ on 31 Jan. 1765, Sir Antony Withers in Cumberland's ‘Summer's Tale’ on 6 Dec., Mr. Belmont in Mrs. Griffiths's ‘Double Mistake’ on 9 Jan. 1766, Oldcastle in ‘School for Guardians’ on 10 Jan. 1767, and Guzman in Thomas Hull's ‘Perplexities’ on 31 Jan. At the Haymarket, where in June 1765 he had played Gruel and Mrs. Loveit in Foote's ‘Commissary,’ he was on 2 July the first Abrahamides in the mock tragedy the ‘Tailors.’ At the famous first performance of the ‘Good-natured Man’ at Covent Garden on 29 Jan. 1768 he was the original Croaker. On 25 Feb. he was Colonel Oldboy in ‘Lionel and Clarissa;’ on 14 Jan. 1769 he was the first Western in Joseph Reed's adaptation ‘Tom Jones,’ and on 7 Oct. Cross in Colman's ‘Man and Wife;’ on 9 Feb. 1772 Governor Anderson in ‘Wife in the Right,’ by Mrs. Griffiths. In ‘She stoops to conquer’ on 15 March 1773 Shuter was the original Hardcastle; in Kenrick's ‘Duellist’ on 20 Oct. he was Sir Solomon Bauble, and in Colman's ‘Man of Business’ on 31 Jan. 1774 Golding. On 2 Dec., in Kelly's ‘Romance of an Hour,’ he was Sir Hector Strangeways. On 17 Jan. 1775 he played his last and greatest original part, Sir Anthony Absolute in the ‘Rivals.’ On 10 May 1776, for his benefit, he made what appears to have been his last appearance as Falstaff in the ‘First Part of King Henry IV.’ The season closed on 1 June, and on 1 Nov. following Shuter died. He was buried in St. Paul's, Covent Garden.

Garrick is reported to have pronounced Shuter the greatest comic genius he had ever seen, and in his best parts, such as the Miser, Falstaff, Grub, Justice Woodcock, and Master Stephen, he was almost beyond praise. Charles Dibdin says of his Corbaccio that acting never went beyond it, and that nothing on earth could surpass his Midas. The writer of ‘Theatrical Biography’ (1772), who was intimate with him, speaks of him as greatly indebted to nature, and continues: ‘With strong features, a peculiar turn of countenance and natural passion for humour, he has the happiness of disposing and altering the muscles of his face into a variety of laughable shapes, which, though they may border on grimace, are, however, on the whole irresistible’ (ii. 43). On the other hand he was unequal and very indolent. He often left out portions of his part, and Churchill taxed him with reckless ‘gagging.’ Though his voice lacked variety, it was capable of very comic inflection, and he had a happy knack in singing. In his late years he was not a shadow of himself. He became a devoted follower of Whitefield, and a liberal contributor to the ‘Tabernacle.’ He also took to the bottle and to gambling. To his efforts after ‘grace’ rather than to his drinking Tate Wilkinson attributes his decadence.

Shuter had the reputation of a wit, and often said things beyond the reach of his companions. At the same time he could only just write an ‘order’ to the theatre, and could with difficulty read his part. Many stories survive concerning him. When asked to be comical in mixed company, he said ‘Egad, I forgot my fool's dress. I'll go and fetch it,’ leaving the company, never to return. Chidden for having holes in his stockings, he said he would rather have twenty holes than one darn, adding ‘A hole is the accident of a day, but a darn is premeditated poverty.’ Travelling in the north of England, he found a pistol held to his head with a demand for his money or his life. ‘Money!’ said Shuter with an idiotic shrug; ‘oh Lud, sir! they never trust me with any, for Nuncle here,’ pointing to a stranger counterfeiting sleep, ‘always pays for me, turnpikes and all, your honour.’ Cursing the wag, the highwayman awoke the pretended slumberer, taking every shilling he had in his pocket, while Shuter lost nothing.

His portrait as Scapin is in the Mathews collection in the Garrick Club; another portrait by Zoffany was engraved by Finlayson.

[Books cited; Genest's Account of the English Stage; Doran's Annals of the Stage, ed. Lowe; Davies's Dramatick Miscellanies; Clark Russell's Representative Actors; Dibdin's History of the Stage; Boaden's Memoirs of Mrs. Siddons, and Life of Mrs. Jordan; O'Keeffe's Recollections; Garrick Correspondence; Dramatic Mirror; Thespian Dict.; Georgian Era; ‘The Dramatic History of Master Edward, Miss Ann, Mr. Llwhuddwhydd, and others, the extraordinaries of these times. Collected from Zaphaniel's original papers, illustrated with copper-plates, London, 1743’ [should be 1763], 12mo, a scarce work by G. A. Stevens [q. v.], in feeble imitation of Sterne's style, was aimed particularly at Shuter and Nancy Dawson; it was several times reprinted (Brit. Mus. Cat. 1785 and 1786).]

J. K.