Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wingfield, Lewis Strange

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1051556Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 62 — Wingfield, Lewis Strange1900John Joseph Knight

WINGFIELD, LEWIS STRANGE (1842–1891), traveller, actor, writer, and painter, third and youngest son of Richard Wingfield, sixth viscount Powerscourt, by his wife, Lady Elizabeth Frances Charlotte, eldest daughter of Robert Jocelyn, second earl of Roden, was born on 25 Feb. 1842, and educated at Eton and Bonn. He was intended for the army, which he relinquished only at the request of his mother, subsequently Marchioness of Londonderry, who knew the delicacy of his constitution and feared the risks of the profession. Of a remarkably adventurous disposition and volatile nature, he engaged in a strange and varied succession of pursuits, few of which were prosecuted long. On 21 Aug. 1865 he was at the Haymarket Theatre Roderigo to the Othello of Ira Aldridge, the Iago of Walter Montgomery, and the Desdemona of Madge Robertson (Mrs. Kendal). He had previously played in burlesque. Besides making many whimsical experiments, such as going to the Derby as a negro minstrel, spending nights in workhouses and pauper lodgings, becoming attendant in a madhouse and in a prison, he travelled in various parts of the east, and was one of the first Englishmen to journey in the interior of China. His first published work was ‘Under the Palms in Algeria and Tunis,’ 1868, 2 vols. During the Franco-German war he went to Paris, where he stayed through the siege, attending the wounded and qualifying as a surgeon. During the siege he communicated by balloon and otherwise with the ‘Times,’ the ‘Daily Telegraph,’ and other newspapers. After returning to London he went back to Paris immediately on hearing of the trouble with the commune, and remained there until its suppression by the Versailles troops. Having taken a house, No. 8 Maida Vale, with a large studio attached, he devoted himself to painting, and became a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy. Between 1869 and 1875 he exhibited four domestic scenes at the Royal Academy, and one at the Suffolk Street Gallery. He arranged during his stay in Paris for a panorama of the siege to be exhibited in London, and forwarded to England designs executed by various French artists. The failure of an American financier brought the scheme to nothing.

After abandoning painting, Wingfield took to designing costumes for the theatres, and was responsible for the dressing of many Shakespearean revivals, including ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at the Lyceum for Miss Mary Anderson, and ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ at the Princess's for Mrs. Langtry. For a time Wingfield contributed theatrical criticisms to the ‘Globe’ newspaper, under the title ‘Whyte Tyghe.’ For Madame Modjeska he adapted Schiller's ‘Mary Stuart,’ produced at the Court on 9 Oct. 1880. He also wrote some unacted dramas. He tempted fortune in many other forms of literature. ‘Slippery Ground,’ a novel in 3 vols., appeared in 1876; ‘Lady Grizzle: an Impression of a momentous Epoch,’ 1878, 3 vols.; ‘My Lords of Strogue: a Chronicle of Ireland from the Convention to the Union,’ 1879, 3 vols.; ‘For Good or Evil’ appeared in ‘Eros; Four Tales,’ vol. i. 1880; ‘In Her Majesty's Keeping,’ 1880, 3 vols.; ‘Gehenna, or Havens of Unrest,’ 1882, 3 vols.; ‘Abigail Rowe: a Chronicle of the Regency,’ 1883, 3 vols.; ‘Notes on Civil Costume in England,’ 1884, 1 vol. 4to; ‘Barbara Philpot: a Study of Manners,’ 1886, 3vols.; ‘Lovely Wang: a Bit of China,’ 1887, 12mo; ‘The Curse of Koshin: a Romance,’ 1888, 8vo; ‘Wanderings of a Globe-trotter in the Far East,’ 1889, 8vo; and ‘The Maid of Honour: a Tale of the Dark Days of France,’ 1891, 3 vols. Some of the foregoing works reached second editions. Wingfield is also responsible for ‘Her English Dress,’ lectures issued by the International Health Exhibition, 1884. In the course of his travels he brought home many curios, the most important being a life-size figure of a mounted Japanese soldier in armour, said to be unique in Europe. Wingfield delighted in military service, and whenever war seemed imminent applied to be attached as war correspondent to the staff, a privilege more than once granted him. After joining the English army in the Soudan in 1884, he was long in hospital in Egypt. From this illness he never quite recovered. He took, for his health, a voyage to Australia, from which he returned, as it seemed, fortified. He died, however, at 14 Montague Place, London (whither he had moved from Mecklenburgh Square), on 12 Nov. 1891, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery. He married, on 16 June 1868, Cecilia Emma, fourth daughter and fifth child of John Wilson Fitzpatrick, first baron Castletown.

In everything but his friendships Wingfield was capricious and unstable, turning from one pursuit to another, and wearying of everything, except writing, so soon as he had mastered its difficulties. His work under the conditions is creditable, and though it was never held to show his best, probably did so. His life was a sustained romance. In appearance he was slim and delicate-looking, and possessed a clear complexion and a thin and feminine but musical voice.

[Personal knowledge and communicated information; Times, 14 Nov. 1891; Athenæum, 21 Nov. 1891; Graves's Dict. of Artists, 1895; Scott and Howard's Blanchard.]

J. K.