1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Byron, Henry James

BYRON, HENRY JAMES (1834–1884), English playwright, son of Henry Byron, at one time British consul at Port-au-Prince, was born in Manchester in January 1834. He entered the Middle Temple as a student in 1858, with the intention of devoting his time to play-writing. He soon ceased to make any pretence of legal study, and joined a provincial company as an actor. In this line he never made any real success; and, though he continued to act for years, chiefly in his own plays, he had neither originality nor charm. Meanwhile he wrote assiduously, and few men have produced so many pieces of so diverse a nature. He was the first editor of the weekly comic paper, Fun, and started the short-lived Comic Trials. His first successes were in burlesque; but in 1865 he joined Miss Marie Wilton (afterwards Lady Bancroft) in the management of the Prince of Wales’s theatre, near Tottenham Court Road. Here several of his pieces, comedies and extravaganzas were produced with success; but, upon his severing the partnership two years later, and starting management on his own account in the provinces, he was financially unfortunate. The commercial success of his life was secured with Our Boys, which was played at the Vaudeville from January 1875 till April 1879—a then unprecedented “run.” The Upper Crust, another of his successes, gave a congenial opportunity to Mr J. L. Toole for one of his inimitably broad character-sketches. During the last few years of his life Byron was in frail health; he died in Clapham on the 11th of April 1884. H. J. Byron was the author of some of the most popular stage pieces of his day. Yet his extravaganzas have no wit but that of violence; his rhyming couplets are without polish, and decorated only by forced and often pointless puns. His sentiment had T. W. Robertson’s insipidity without its freshness, and restored an element of vulgarity which his predecessor had laboured to eradicate from theatrical tradition. He could draw a “Cockney” character with some fidelity, but his dramatis personae were usually mere puppets for the utterance of his jests. Byron was also the author of a novel, Paid in Full (1865), which appeared originally in Temple Bar. In his social relations he had many friends, among whom he was justly popular for geniality and imperturbable good temper.