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Kay's Originals Vol. 2


260 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. Mr. Kemble resolved on opening a new theatre. With this view, he took the Circus (now the Adelphi Theatre) and at great expense had it altered and fitted up in a neat and commodious manner. The house was accordingly opened on the day announced-the 18th of January 1793-with the comedy of “The Rivals ;” the part of Sir Anthony Ahsolule by Mr. Lee Lewes. “Every part of the New Theatre,” says a paragraph in the Courunt, “ was filled soon after the opening of the doors ; and in few instances do we recollect where the expectations of the public were more amply gratified. The house is fitted up in a style of neatness and simplicity, and possesses a sufficiency of decoration, without approaching to tawdriness, The scenery is by Mr. Naesmith, and it is sufficient to say his reputation (so deservedly high) will not be $minished by the work; the subjects are well chosen, and tastefully executed. The frontispiece is a spirited representation of Apollo in his car, preceded by Aurora. Sheridan’s admired comedy of ‘ The Rivals ’ was got up with considerable strength. Mr. Lee Lewes and Mr, Woods, in Old and Young Absolute, were excellent; and Mrs. Kemble, in Julia, displayed that plaintive and affecting simplicity which ever marks her performance.” Jackson’s trustees insisting on the monopoly granted by the patent-royal, the question was carried before the’court of Session, and defended by Kemble, on the ground that the patent not having passed the great seal of Scotland, it was therefore invalid. In the course of the process, an interdict having been obtained from the Lord Ordinary, Lee Lewes created much merriment amongst the audience the following night, when a pantomime was about to be performed, by appearing on the stage with a padlock attached to his mouth, in allusion to the attempt to prevent them from acting the regular drama. The contest betwixt the rival houses ultimately terminating in favour of the patentees, the New Theatre was closed, and Mr. Kemble consequently involved in very considerable pecuniary loss. An account of this process was given in a very unsatisfactory work published by Jackson in 1793, entitled “A History of the Scottish Stage,” in which, as might be expected, he was by no means sparing of his accusations against Kemble. From Memoirs 1 written by himself, we learn that CHARLELS EE LEWESw as a native of London, but of Cambrian extraction. His father, who was a classical scholar, was intimate with Dr. Young, author of ‘‘ Night Thoughts ; ” and so greatly in favour was the future Comedian with the worthy Doctor, that when only fivo years of age he was often taken to reside with him a few weeks at Mr. Kemble was not long permitted to enjoy his success unmolested. Memoirs of Charlea Lee Lewes, containing Anecdotes, Historical and Biographical, of the English and Scottish Stages, during a period of forty years. Written by himself. 4 vols. 12mo. London, 1805. A short time prior appeared a work, attributed to Lee Lewes, entitled “Comic Sketches, or the Comedian his own Manager. Written and Selected for the Benefit of Actors in England, Ireland, Scotland, and America With a Portrait.” London, 1805. 4s. These were the substance of his “Comic Sketches, or Nature’s Looking-Glass,” delivered in Edinburgh. The volume was accompanied by a spurious biographical account of Lee Lewes, contradicted and denied by his son, the editor of the Memoirs.
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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 261 Welwyn. He was called Lee Lewes, in consequence of Colonel Lee, a son of the Doctor’s lady by a former husband, having been his godfather.. Of a lively, restless temper, Lee Lewes began his theatrical career at an early age, and after a short probation in the country towns, was engaged at Covent Garden, his fame as a harlequin having brought him into notice. O’Keeffe, in his Recollections, ascribes his “ coming before a London audience “ to the interference of Macklin, to whom he was recommended as an excellent Xpuire Groom for his “ Love-a-la-Mode.” “ Lee Lewes,” says O’Keeffe, “ afterwards became capital in what is termed low comedy, though very good in every one of his characters. His peculiar merit was great volubility, with distinct articulation.’ William Lewis also got an engagement at the same theatre, and having made his first appearance in Belcour, in Cumberland‘s ‘West Indian,’ and parts of that kind, the two performers were distinguished by the appellation of Lee Lewes and Gentleman Lewis : the former had two much sense and good humour ever to be offended at this mode of distinction, nor did the latter pride himself in it.’’ The “ Memoirs of Lee Lewes ” are extremely barren of detail in relation to himself. With the exception of one or two amusing incidents while a “strolling player,” his work is chiefly taken up with sketches of contemporary performers; and a great portion of it is devoted to an account of the rise and progress of the Scottish stage, in which he is at considerable pains to vindicate the character of Mr. Stephen Kemble, and is not very charitable in his exposure of Mr. Jackson. During the period which elapsed betwixt his first and second visits to Edinburgh he went out to India ; but, disappointed in his hope of bettering his circumstances, he returned to England after an absence of little more than a year.’ Indeed, with all his success in making others laugh, Lee Lewes seems to have entirely failed himself in winning the smiles of fortune. Out of an engagement for a length of time, his latter years were the reverse of affluent. This he did not attribute so much to a decline of popularity as to the “whim and caprice of managers,” and the undue encouragement given to foreign performers. According to a septuagenarian’s remark, the comedian’s voice was somewhat husky, yet every word he uttered was distinctly heard by the audience. a At a subsequent period he appears to have formed the project of visiting India with a regular company of performers :-“So far back as 1793, Lee Lewes, a comedian of considerable merit, actnally got together a company, including performers of eminence in every department of stage business. His memorial to the Court of Directors underwent considerable discussion, but it was rejected. “he impolicp of throwing all practicable impediments in the way of colonisation-the h dof the almost proverbial libertinism of theatrical persons, whose private lives at that time would not endure a severe scrutiny-and the calculation that, in the usual course of things, many of the Jnlieta and Cordelias would require a temperarp retirement from the stage-the spirit of intrigue that a handsome actress might encourage amongst the younger part of the civil service, not forgetting that occasionally a grave judge or member of council might be found not aul3ciently on his guard against similar lapses : these considerations prevailed over everything urged in favour of the application.” Anglo-India, Social, Moral, and Political. 3 vols. London, 1838. 8vo. VoL i p. 144.
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