Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Talbot, Montague

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TALBOT, MONTAGUE (1774–1831), actor and manager, the youngest son of Captain George Talbot, of the Irish branch of the Talbots, was born in 1774 at Boston in America, whither his mother had accompanied his father in or about 1774. His great-grandfather fell at the battle of the Boyne; many other members of his family died on service in India or America; and his father, when returning home in 1782, was lost in the Grosvenor East Indiaman off the coast of Kaffraria. After receiving an education in Exeter Montague became a student of law, and is said to have ‘entered at the Temple.’ He made the acquaintance of William Henry Ireland [see Ireland, Samuel], the Shakespeare forger, whose secret he surprised, conniving at it, and incurring suspicion of participation. After taking part in private theatricals at the margravine of Anspach's and elsewhere, he appeared, it is said, at Covent Garden, in performances, not now to be traced, of Young Norval in ‘Douglas.’ Emboldened by his success, he adopted the stage as a profession, forfeiting in so doing a fortune willed him by his uncle, Dr. Geech. In Dublin he appeared under the name of Montague as Orestes at the Crow Street Theatre, and from about 1792 to 1795 presented under that name leading youthful parts in tragedy and comedy, the best being George Barnwell and Cheveril. Though not too popular with his fellows, he was in Dublin a social and in some respects an artistic success. In September 1795, in company with Charles Mathews [q. v.], his friend in youth, and subsequently his enemy, he embarked for England, via Cork, for the purpose of seeing the first production of Ireland's ‘Vortigern.’ The journey was rough, and after some uncomfortable experiences he landed in Wales, where at Swansea he played Othello, Penruddock in the ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ and probably Doricourt and Charles Surface. He seems, after visiting London, to have returned to Swansea, but was again in Dublin on 8 Jan. 1796. In August 1798 Talbot (as Montague) left Dublin for Liverpool, where the townspeople, though ‘accustomed to the visits of first-rate London performers,’ esteemed him very highly. Here he played with Charles Mayne Young [q. v.], whose style he is believed to have influenced. On 27 April 1799, under his own name of Talbot, he made his first recorded appearance at Drury Lane as young Mirabel in the ‘Inconstant,’ and played during the season at least one other part. In the following season he was seen as Charles Surface, Sir Charles Racket in ‘Three Weeks after Marriage,’ and Roderigo in ‘Othello,’ and was on 28 April 1800 the original Rezenvelt in Joanna Baillie's ‘De Montfort,’ and on 10 May the original Algernon in Hoare's ‘Indiscretion.’ He then returned to Dublin, where he resumed the lead in comedy, playing also parts such as Tullus Aufidius in ‘Coriolanus,’ and Lysimachus in the ‘Rival Queens, or Alexander the Great,’ and sometimes venturing upon Romeo or Lothario. The author of ‘Familiar Epistles’ on the Irish stage, presumably John Wilson Croker [q. v.], speaks of him in 1804 as the head of the Dublin company, as the possessor of ‘a trifling air and girlish form’ and a ‘baby face,’ disqualifying him from competing in tragedy with John Philip Kemble, whose equal in taste and whose superior in feeling he is said to be. Talbot is said also to reign in ‘comedy supreme,’ the stages of Drury Lane, Covent Garden, and the Haymarket possessing no actor who

    Can paint the rakish Charles so well,
    Give so much life to Mirabel,
    Or show for light and airy sport
    So exquisite a Doricourt.

Ranger, Rover, Rolando in the ‘Honeymoon,’ the Duke's Servant in ‘High Life below Stairs,’ Monsieur Morbleu in ‘Monsieur Tonson,’ and Lord Ogleby were numbered among his best assumptions.

Between 1809 and 1821 Talbot was manager of the Belfast, Newry, and Londonderry theatres, at which houses he played the leading parts. His management was spirited, and raised the north Ireland stage to a position higher than it previously held. He recognised the talent of Miss O'Neill two years before her appearance in London, and stimulated the powers of James Sheridan Knowles [q. v.], an actor in his company. For him Knowles adapted ‘Brian Boroihme, or the Maid of Erin,’ long popular in Ireland. ‘Caius Gracchus,’ by Knowles, is ordinarily supposed to have been given for the first time by Macready on 18 Nov. 1823 at Drury Lane. It had some time previously been played by Talbot in Belfast.

Talbot married at Derry in October 1800, and two months later was first seen in Belfast. His wife's local position in Limerick seems to have induced him to undertake in 1817 the management of the Limerick Theatre, a speculation, like others of the kind, not too successful. On 5 July 1812 Talbot made, as Ranger in the ‘Suspicious Husband,’ his first appearance at the Haymarket, where he played Duke Aranza in the ‘Honeymoon’ and other parts. Early in December 1821 Talbot, who between 1814 and the close of his career went almost annually to Crow Street, played in Dublin Puff, Lovemore in the ‘Way to keep him,’ Dominie Sampson, Wilding in the ‘Liar,’ Prince Henry in the ‘First Part of King Henry IV,’ Manuel, an original part in ‘Ramiro’—a piece by a scholar of the university, to which he spoke a prologue by the author—and many other characters. So great a favourite with the public did he become that the audience refused to have anybody in his parts. Cries of ‘Talbot!’ when Charles Mathews was acting were the cause of that actor's refusing to revisit Dublin. Riots from this cause were of frequent occurrence. So late as 1826 did they continue; the management, for some reason now not easily understood, seeking to avoid engaging him. After a lingering illness, Talbot died at Belfast on 26 April 1831 (‘aged 58’), and was buried in Friars Bush cemetery. By his wife (whose maiden name was Bindon and who had a certain local reputation as an actress at her native town of Limerick and at Cork), he left five children; two of the sons took service in South American republics.

Critics, as a rule, do not speak well of Talbot's acting. Genest, the critic of the ‘Monthly Mirror,’ and the editor of the ‘Dublin Theatrical Observer’ alike treat him as of second-class merit. Talbot, moreover, was unable to maintain his position on the London stage. Against these opinions must be placed the praise of Croker, and the fact that his popularity extended over a great part of Ireland. For this his social gifts may be held to some extent responsible. The author of ‘A Few Reflections occasioned by the Perusal of a Work entitled “Familiar Epistle to Frederick J——, Esq.”’ (a very scarce book, published in Dublin, 1804), contrasts Talbot's excellences and faults. For the former, ‘Mr. “Talbot” plays with judgment and ease to himself. In the lively parts of genteel comedy his mien is most gentlemanly; his manners cheerful and sprightly; his elocution distinct and correct; his action—very well. Faults: rants a little too violently—“Tears a passion (but not ‘to rags’), of'ner trips o'er, than walks the stage—sometimes giggles, and gives his arms too much liberty.’ His best characters were Edgar in ‘Lear,’ and old men, such as Lusignan, Wolsey, and Job Thornberry. He took off his hat and drew his sword with much style, and was unsurpassed as Lothario. He was a prominent freemason, and two benefits at Newry were attended by local masons in their regalia.

Talbot translated ‘Le Babillard’ of Boissy, a comedy produced at the Comédie Française on 16 June 1725, into a piece called ‘Myself in the Plural Singular,’ given at Belfast on 11 March 1817, subsequently played by him at Crow Street Theatre, Dublin (December 1817). In this he, as Captain Allclack, had all the speaking, but was surrounded by mute characters. He also wrote a sequel to ‘Monsieur Tonson,’ called ‘Morbleu Restored,’ and produced it for his benefit in Dublin on 18 May 1822.

A portrait of Talbot as Young Mirabel accompanies his life in Walker's ‘Hibernian Magazine.’ A watercolour drawing of Talbot, as Monsieur Morbleu, by Samuel Lover, is now in the possession of Mr. W. J. Lawrence of Comber, co. Down.

[Much difficulty attends the effort to obtain continuous or trustworthy particulars concerning Talbot's life. To Mr. Lawrence, who has in preparation a History of the Belfast Stage, the writer is indebted for some facts. The remainder of the information supplied has been gleaned from Genest's Account of the English Stage; The Confessions of William Henry Ireland; The Theatrical Observer, Dublin, 1821–6; Cole's Life of Charles Kean; Monthly Mirror, various years; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. x. 168, and 8th ser. x. passim; Mathews's Life of Mathews; Croker's Familiar Epistles; Donaldson's Recollections of an Actor; History of the Theatre Royal, Dublin, 1870; Thespian Dict.]

J. K.