WOBO: Search for words and phrases in the texts here...

Enter either the ID of an entry, or one or more words to find. The first match in each paragraph is shown; click on the line of text to see the full paragraph.

Currently only Chalmers’ Biographical Dictionary is indexed, terms are not stemmed, and diacritical marks are retained.

a celebrated English actor, was born in Tothill-street, Westminster,

, a celebrated English actor, was born in Tothill-street, Westminster, 1635; and, after having left school, is said to have been put apprentice to a bookseller. The particulars, however, relating to the early part of his life, are not ascertained. It is generally thought that he made his first appearance on the stage in 1656, at the opera-house in Charter-house-yard, under the direction of sir William Davenant, and continued to perform here till the restoration, when king Charles grained patents to two companies, the one called the king’s cornpa ly, and the other the duke’s. The former acted at the theatre royal in Drury-lane, and the latter at the theatre in Lincoln’s-Inn-fields. Betterton went over to Paris, at the command of king Charles II. to take a view of the French scenery, and at his return made such improvements as added greatly to the lustre of the English stage. For several years both companies acted with the highest applause, and the taste for dramatic entertainments was never stronger than whilst these two companies played . The two companies were however at length united; though the time of this union is not precisely known, Gildon placing it in 1682, and Cibber in 1684. But however this may be, it was in this united company that Mr. 'Betterton first shone forth with the greatest degree of lustre for, having survived the famous actors upon whose model he had formed himself, he was now at liberty to display his genius in its full extent. His merit as an actor cannot now be very accurately displayed, and much of the following passage from Gibber’s Apology, seems to be mere stage-cant and declamation. Cibber says, “Betterton was an actor, as Shakspeare was an author, both without competitors, formed for the mutual assistance and illustration of each other’s genius! How Shakspeare wrote, all men who have a taste for nature may read and know; but with what higher rapture would he still be read, could they conceive how Betterton played him! Then might they know the one was born alone to speak what the other only knew to write! Pity it is that the momentary beauties, flowing from an harmonious elocution, cannot, like those of poetry, be their own record! that the animated graces of the player can live no longer than the instant breath and motion that present them, or at best can but faintly glimmer through the memory or imperfect attestation of a few surviving spectators! Could how Betterton spoke be as easily known as what he spoke, then might you see the muse of Shakspeare in her triumph, with all her beauties in her best array, rising into real life, and charming her beholders. But alas! since all this is so far out of the reach of description, how shall I shew you Betterton? Should I therefore tell you that all the Othellos, Hamlets, Hotspurs, Macbeths, and Brutuses, you have seen since his time, have fallen short of him, this still would give you no idea of his particular excellence. Let us see then what a particular comparison may do, whether that may yet draw him nearer to you? You have seen a Hamlet perhaps, who, on the first appearance of his father’s spirit, has thrown himself into all the straining vociferation requisite to express rage and fury; and the house has thundered with applause, though the misguided actor was all the while (as Shakspeare terms it) tearing a passion into rags. I am the more bold to offer you this particular instance, because the late Mr. Addison, while I sat by him to see this scene acted, made the same observation asking me, with some surprise, if I thought Hamlet should be in so violent a passion with the ghost, which, though it might have astonished, had not provoked him? For you may observe, that in this beautiful speech, the passion never rises beyond an almost breathless astonishment, or an impatience, limited by a filial reverence, to inquire into the suspected wrongs that may have raised nim from his peaceful tomb and a desire to know what a spirit so seemingly distrest might wish or enjoin a sorrowful son to execute towards his future quiet in the grave. This was the light into which Betterton threw this scene; which he opened with a pause of mute amazement! Then rising slowly to a solemn, trembling voice, he made the ghost equally terrible to the spectator as to himself. And in the descriptive part of the natural emotions which the ghastlyvision gave him, the boldness tit‘ his expostulation was still governed by decency manly, but not braving his voice never rising into that seeming outrage, or wild deli an ce, of what he naturally revered. But, alas to preserve this medium between mouthing, and meaning too little, to keep the attention more pleasingly awake by a ’tempered spirit, than by mere vehemence of voice, is, of all the master strokes of an actor, the most difficult to reach. In. this none have equalled Betterton. He that feels not himself the passion he would raise, will talk to a sleeping audience. But this was” never the fault of Be item n. A farther excellence in him was, that he could vary iiis spirit to the different characters he acted. Those wild impatient starts, that fierce and flashing fire which he threw into Hotspur, never came from the unruffled temper of his Brutus (for I have more than once seen a Brutus as warm as Hotspur): when the Betterton Brutus was provoked in his dispute with Cassius, his spirits flew out of his eyes his steady looks alone supplied that terror which he disdained an intemperance in his voice should rise to. Thus, with a settled dignity of contempt, like an unheeding rock, he repelled upon himself the foam of Cassius; not but in some part of this scene, where he reproaches Cassius, his temper is not under this suppression, but opens into that warmth which becomes a man of virtue; yet this is that hasty spark of anger, which Brutus himself endeavours to excuse. But with whatever strength of nature we see the poet shew at once the philosopher and the hero, yet the image of the actor’s excellence will be still imperfect to you, unless language could put colours in our words to paint the voice with. The most that a Vandyck can arrive at is, to make his portraits of great persons seem to think a Shakspeare goes farther yet, and tells you what his pictures thought; a BetU-rton steps beyond them both, and calls them from the grave to breathe, and be themselves again in feature, speech, and motion, at once united and gratifies at once-your eye, your ear, your understanding. From these various excel lenci s, Betterton had so full a possession of the esteem and regard of his auditors, that, upon his entrance into every scene, he seemed to seize upon the eyes and ears of the giddy and inadvertent. To have talked or looked another way, would have been thought insensibility or ignorance. In all his soliloquies of moment, the strongest intelligence of attitude and aspect drew you into such an impatient gaze and eager expectation, that you almost imbibed the sentiment with your eye,' before the er could reach it."