Estcourt, Richard

, well known both as an actor and a writer, was born at Tewksbury, in Gloucestershire, in 1668, and received his education at the Latin school of that town; but, having an early inclination for the stage, he stole away from his father’s house at fifteen years of age, and joined a travelling company of comedians then at Worcester, where, for fear of being known, he made his first appearance in woman’s clothes, in the part of Roxana, in Alexander the Great. But this disguise not sufficiently concealing him, he was obliged to make his escape from a pursuit that was made after him; and, under the appearance of a girl, to proceed with great expedition to Chipping Norton. Here, however, being discovered and overtaken by his pursuers, he was brought back to Tewksbury; and his father, in order to prevent such excursions for the future, soon after carried him up to London, and bound him apprentice to an apothecary in Hatton-garden. From this confinement Mr. Chetwood, who probably might have known him, and perhaps had these particulars from his own mouth, tells us that he broke away, and passed two years in England in an itinerant life; though Jacob, and Whincop after him, say that he set up in business, but, not finding it succeed to his liking, quitted it for the stage. Be this, however, as it will, it is certain that he went over to Ireland, where he met with good success on the stage, from whence he, came back to London, and was received in Drury-lane theatre. His first appearance there was in the part of Dominic, the “Spanish Fryar,” in which, although in himself but a very middling actor, he established his character by a close imitation of Leigh, who had been very celebrated in it. And indeed, in this and all his other parts, he was mostly indebted for his applause to his powers of mimicry, in which he was inimitable, and which not only at times afforded him opportunities of appearing a much better actor than he really was, and enabling him to copy very exactly several performers of capital merit, whose manner he remembered and assumed, but also by recommending him to a very numerous acquaintance in | private life, secured him an indulgence for faults in his public profession, that he might otherwise, perhaps, never have been pardoned; among which he was remarkable for the gratification of that “pitiful ambition,” as Shakspeare justly styles it, and for which he condemns the low comedians of his own time, of imagining he could help his author, and for that reason frequently throwing in additions of his own, which the author not only had never intended, but perhaps would have considered as most opposite to his main intention.

Estcourt, however, as a companion, was perfectly entertaining and agreeable; and sir Richard Steele, in the Spectator, where, as well as in the Tatler, he is often mentioned, records him to have been not only a sprightly wit, but a person of easy and natural politeness. His company was extremely courted by every one, and his mimicry so much admired, that persons of the first quality frequently invited him to their entertainments, in order to divert their friends with his drollery; on which occasions he constantly received very handsome presents for his company. Among others, he was a great favourite with the duke of Marlborough; and at the time the famous beef-steak club was erected, which consisted of the chief wits and greatest men in the kingdom, Mr. Estcourt had the office assigned Jiim of their providore; and as a mark of distinction of lhat honour, he used, by way of badge, to wear a small gridiron of gold, hung about his neck with a green silk ribband. He quitted the stage some years before his death, which happened in 1713, when he was interred in the parish of St. Paul’s, Covent-garden, where his brother comedian, Joe Haines, had been buried a few years before. He left behind him two 'dramatic pieces; viz. 1. “Fair Example,” a comedy, 1706, 4to. 2. Prunella," an interlude, 4to. The latter of these was only a ridicule on the absurdity of the Italian operas at that time, in which, not only the unnatural circumstance was indulged, of music and harmony attending on all, even the most agitating passions, but also the very words themselves which were to accompany that music, were written in different languages, according as the performers who were to sing them happened to be Italians or English. 1


Biog. Dramatica. Tatler and Spectator. See Indexes to the 8vo edition with notes, 1806.