Sothern, Edward Askew (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

SOTHERN, EDWARD ASKEW (1826–1881), actor, the son of a merchant, colliery proprietor, and shipowner, was born in Liverpool, 1 April 1826. After some experience on the amateur stage he made an appearance in 1849 at the theatre in St. Heliers, Jersey, where, through the influence of friends, he was allowed to play Claude Melnotte in the ‘Lady of Lyons.’ Under the name of Douglas Stuart he became a stock member of the St. Heliers company, playing a large number of characters from Hamlet downwards. In Weymouth in October 1851 he was seen as Claude Melnotte and Sir Charles Coldstream in ‘Used up’ by Charles Kean, who gave him encouragement. For the benefit of Monsieur Gilmer, his Jersey manager, he played at the Birmingham theatre, with which Gilmer was also associated, Frank Friskley in ‘Boots at the Swan,’ the performance resulting in an engagement at thirty shillings a week with the Birmingham company. Reluctant to fulfil an engagement in Liverpool for which he was told off, he accepted an invitation to America, and appeared at the National Theatre, Boston, as Dr. Pangloss in the ‘Heir at Law’ and in a farce called ‘John Dobbs.’ Dismissed for incapacity, he played juvenile parts at the Howard Athenæum in the same city. He is described at that period as ‘tall (for an actor), willowy and lithe, with a clear red-and-white English complexion, bright blue eyes, wavy brown hair,’ and ‘graceful carriage.’ He had been overpraised, however, and was ignorant of his profession, not even knowing how to make up. Discouraged and defeated, he went to New York and played at Barnum's Museum. He then acted in Washington, Baltimore, and other cities, and, after gathering some experience, became a member of Wallack's company, New York. There he remained four years, changing his stage name from Stuart to Sothern. He made a success with the part of Armand Duval in ‘Camille,’ a version of ‘La Dame aux Camélias,’ to the Camille (Marguerite Gautier) of Miss Matilda Heron. Subsequently he joined the company in New York of Miss Laura Keene, and played a large number of parts, chiefly in light comedy, including Charles Surface, Young Marlow, Bob Acres, Dr. Pangloss, Lyttleton Coke in ‘Old Heads and Young Hearts,’ Benedick, Charles Courtley in ‘London Assurance,’ Raphael in the ‘Marble Heart,’ St. Pierre in the ‘Wife,’ and Harry Jaspar in the ‘Bachelor of Hearts.’

On 12 May 1858 was produced at Laura Keene's theatre ‘Our American Cousin’ by Tom Taylor. In this he reluctantly played the then small part of Lord Dundreary, a brainless peer. The character did not at first take. In time, however, he wrote it up, introducing into it any remunerative eccentricity of manner he could study in life. On 11 Nov. 1861, as ‘Mr. Sothern formerly of the Theatre Royal, Birmingham, and from the principal American theatres,’ he made at the Haymarket as Lord Dundreary his first appearance in London. At the Haymarket, in the management of which he soon participated, he remained. His opening experiment proved doubtful. The play was weak and on the whole indifferently acted, and, though Sothern won some recognition, the public was not at first attracted. Buckstone, the manager, was on the point of reviving ‘She stoops to conquer’ when Charles Mathews [q. v.] encouraged him to hold on. Before many weeks were over Lord Dundreary was the talk of London. It ran at the Haymarket for 496 consecutive nights. What was known as the Dundreary whisker came into fashion, as did Dundreary attire generally. A clever caricature at first, the character in later years became very extravagant, without, however, losing its popularity. The part grew eventually into a series of monologues, which were almost entirely of Sothern's own invention. His second rôle in London was that of Captain Howard Leslie in ‘My Aunt's Advice,’ a slight adaptation by himself from the French. On 13 March 1863 he was seen as Captain Walter Maydenblush in the ‘Little Treasure’ to the Gertrude of Miss Ellen Terry, who was erroneously described as then making her début. Turning to account the popularity of the character of Dundreary, he was also seen at a little later date in the burlesque of ‘Dundreary Married and Done for,’ written by H. J. Byron, and in ‘Dundreary a Father.’ In February 1864 he was Bunkum Muller in a piece of extravagance so named. During the slack season he visited various country centres, being seen for the first time in Edinburgh as Lord Dundreary on 25 May 1863, and in Dublin 9 Nov. of the same year. In Dublin his parts included Count Priuli in an Olympic play called ‘Retribution,’ and Sir Hugh de Brass in ‘A Regular Fix.’

After some hesitation Sothern settled on ‘David Garrick,’ an adaptation by T. W. Robertson of ‘Sullivan,’ for his next appeal to the London public, 30 April 1864. In this he played David Garrick, which was, next to Dundreary, his best part. In the country he acted in ‘Used up,’ and on 19 Dec. was seen at the Theatre Royal, Liverpool, as Frank Jocelyn in Watts Phillips's ‘Woman in Mauve,’ in which he appeared at the Haymarket on 18 March 1865. On 24 May he was the Hon. Sam Slingsby in Oxenford's ‘Brother Sam.’ Frank Annerley, in Westland Marston's ‘Favourite of Fortune,’ was seen in Glasgow in March 1866 and at the Haymarket on 2 April. In November he played in Edinburgh and Glasgow as Claude Melnotte, a rôle which he never assumed in London. On 27 Dec. he was Vivian in Tom Taylor's ‘Lesson for Life,’ previously seen in Manchester, and on 29 April 1867 was Robert Devlin in ‘A Wild Goose Chase,’ adapted by Boucicault from General Sir Edward (then Major) Hamley's ‘Lady Lee's Widowhood.’ This year he visited Paris and made an unsuccessful appearance as Lord Dundreary. Albert Bressange in ‘A Wife well won,’ adapted by Falconer from ‘L'Homme à Trois Culottes’ of Paul de Kock, was given at the Haymarket on 30 Dec., and was a failure. It was succeeded, 14 March, by ‘A Hero of Romance,’ an adaptation by Westland Marston of Octave Feuillet's ‘Roman d'un Jeune Homme Pauvre.’ In this piece Sothern played the Marquis Victor de Tourville. Next came, 8 Jan. 1869, ‘Home,’ T. W. Robertson's adaptation of Emile Augier's ‘L'Aventurière,’ in which Sothern was Colonel John White, and in which, as usual, he introduced much ‘gag’ of his own. In Birmingham he played Sir Simon Simple in a piece by H. J. Byron so named, and subsequently called ‘Not such a Fool as he looks.’ Robertson's ‘Birth’ also was given in the country. As Charles Mulcraft in ‘Barwise's Book,’ by H. T. Craven, he enacted a villain. He was also seen in London as Sir Hugh de Brass. ‘A Three-penny Bit,’ a three-act comedy by Maddison Morton and A. W. Young, seen in the country, was reduced to one act on production in London, and called ‘Not if I know it,’ Sothern playing Augustus Thrillington. On 13 May 1871 he was Charles Chuckles in Byron's ‘English Gentleman, or the Squire's Last Shilling.’ Byron had previously played the part in Bristol. None of these late pieces were wholly successful.

After 1874 Sothern disappeared from London for three years, spending most of the time in America. His reappearance at the Haymarket took place on 11 May 1878 as Fitzaltamont in the ‘Crushed Tragedian.’ This character in a piece by Byron, first called the ‘Prompter's Box,’ had been more than once played by the author. Sothern made a great success with it in the United States, and was perplexed to find it received with indifference in London. It had been accepted the previous night in Birmingham. Sidney Spoonbill in Byron's ‘Hornet's Nest,’ 17 June, which had previously been seen in America, was the last novelty in which he was seen. He reappeared as Lord Dundreary, and in other characters, and made for benefits some curious experiments, playing once an act of ‘Othello’ in the United States. Among other parts in which he was seen in America are Puff, Felix Featherley in Coynes's ‘Everybody's Friend,’ Raphael in the ‘Marble Heart,’ the Kenchin Cove in the ‘Flowers of the Forest,’ and Box in ‘Box and Cox.’ He had many schemes for plays, some of which have been carried out by his son.

Sothern was always burning to play serious parts, and as often mistrusting himself. In one case he bought for a term of years from Westland Marston a play of serious interest. The term having expired, he made a second, and contemplated, if he did not carry out, a third purchase. His powers in serious drama were slight. They were seen at their best as David Garrick, but his memory survives in eccentric comedy, and principally in Lord Dundreary and Brother Sam. Westland Marston credits him with earnestness in sarcasm, but holds him heavy in serious delivery. In his own special vein as a humourist he had no rival, being a ‘complete master of all that is most irresistible in the unexpected.’ He was a confirmed wag, and innumerable stories are told concerning the tricks he played on his friends, and also on strangers. Those who knew him best hesitated to accept his statements. When he travelled in America with a nobleman of highest rank, his mention of his companion's title elicited not seldom a grin of incredulity. His jokes had often at least as much impertinence as drollery. His high animal spirits and his tendency to practical joking led him to take an active share in unmasking the pretensions of professors of so-called spiritualism. So remarkable were the feats he accomplished that he was himself claimed as a medium. Sothern was a bold and brilliant rider and a keen huntsman. He kept a fine stable, and was ready to oblige his aristocratic friends by selling them the horses which he rode in brilliant style. His house, the Cedars, Wright's Lane, Kensington, was a fashionable resort. In 1880 Sothern, though still indomitable in energy, was seriously unwell. He died after months of suffering on 21 Jan. 1881, at the house he then occupied in Vere Street, Cavendish Square. He was buried on the 27th, at his own wish, in Southampton cemetery.

An oil-painting of Sothern is in the Garrick Club. Portraits of him abound in the illustrated papers. A likeness of him as Dundreary, from a photograph by Sarony, is in Joseph Jefferson's ‘Autobiograhy.’ A likeness in private clothes, which accompanies Mr. Pemberton's ‘Life of Sothern,’ is not wholly satisfactory. An engraving of a painting of him as Lord Dundreary is in the same volume.

His son, Lytton Edward Sothern (1856–1887), born 27 June 1856, appeared at Drury Lane for a benefit on 24 July 1872 as Captain Vernon in ‘Our American Cousin,’ and made his first professional appearance in 1874 at the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, as Veaudoré in Selby's adaptation, ‘The Marble Heart.’ He played light comedy in that house for a year, accompanied his father on a trip through the United States, played for a season in Birmingham, and was in 1875 Bertie Thompson in a revival at the Haymarket of ‘Home.’ He subsequently played in Australia in his father's characters, Dundreary, and David Garrick; was at the Royalty and the Criterion in London, gave considerable promise, and died 4 March 1887. Another son, E. H. Sothern, played with Mr. John S. Clarke at the Strand, on 18 Nov. 1882, Henry Morland in the ‘Heir at Law,’ and has since been seen in America in his father's characters. A daughter, Eva, also made a brief appearance on the stage.

[Personal knowledge; Memoir by T. Edgar Pemberton, 1889, Pascoe's Dramatic List; Scott and Howard's Life of E. L. Blanchard; Westland Marston's Recollections of our Recent Actors; Dibdin's Edinburgh Stage; History of the Theatre Royal, Dublin; Morley's Journal of a London Playgoer; Autobiography of Joseph Jefferson; Men of the Reign.]

J. K.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.255
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
269 ii 6f.e. Sothern, Edward A.: for White,’ read Mauve,’
271 i 32 for Jefferson in read Jefferson;