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Bartley, George (DNB00)


BARTLEY, GEORGE (1782?–1858), comedian, was born in Bath presumably in or about 1782. His father was box-keeper at the Bath theatre. Opportunity was accordingly afforded him, while still a youth, of acquiring some stage experience, and appearing in such characters, ordinarily assigned to women, as the page in Cross's musical drama, ‘The Purse.’ After an interregnum, during which, according to one authority, he was apprenticed to the cook at the once famous Bath hostelry, the York House Hotel, and, according to a second, was placed ‘in the counting-house of a large mercantile concern’ (Biography of the British Stage, 1834), Bartley appeared at Cheltenham in the summer of 1800 as Orlando in ‘As you like it.’ He is said to have reappeared in Bath before joining a travelling company. The course of his wanderings brought him to Guernsey, where he contracted his first marriage, his wife being a member of the company, named Stanton (?), by whom he was nursed through an illness. To the influence of Mrs. Jordan, who in 1802 saw him in Margate, Bartley was indebted for his engagement by Sheridan at Drury Lane. His first appearance in London is said to have taken place on 11 Dec. 1802. It was most probably, as he himself states, a week later. His opening character was Orlando. Genest makes no mention of him before 20 Sept. 1803, when he is described as playing Colloony in ‘The Irishman in Distress,’ a forgotten farce of the elder Macready. Oulton, however, in his ‘History of the Theatres of London,’ states that on 19 Jan. 1803, Barrymore, while playing Polydore in the ‘Orphan,’ was seized with serious illness and resigned the character to Bartley. During some five years Bartley seems to have been principally employed in what is technically called understudy, replacing Bannister, who then took serious characters, and occasionally attempting the rôles vacated in consequence of the departure of Charles Kemble. Dissatisfied with his remuneration, he quitted London and played in the country. In 1809–11 he managed unsuccessfully the Glasgow theatre. Subsequently he acted with increasing reputation as a comedian in Manchester, Liverpool, and other towns. In 1814 he married his second wife, Sarah Smith, a tragic actress, by whose reputation his own has been overshadowed. On 13 Oct. of the same year, Mrs. Bartley [q. v.] played Ophelia at Drury Lane, and on 12 April following Bartley reappeared at the same house as Falstaff, which was thenceforward his favourite character. A trip of Mr. and Mrs. Bartley to America, which followed in 1818, proved highly successful. Upon his return Bartley accepted a winter engagement at Covent Garden, and played during the summer under Samuel James Arnold [q. v.] at the Lyceum. During Lent, Bartley was in the habit of giving a series of discourses on astronomy at the Lyceum. He also lectured on poetry. In 1829, when the management of Covent Garden collapsed, Bartley headed the actors who came forward with a proposal, which was accepted, to furnish funds and recommence performances. He became accordingly, in 1829–30, stage manager of the theatre, the season at which, owing to the appearance of Miss Fanny Kemble, was highly remunerative. During successive ownerships by Laporte, Bunn, Macready, and Madame Vestris, he retained this post. The loss, in 1843, of his son, who was at Exeter College, Oxford, led to Bartley's retirement from the stage. His only remaining child, a daughter, died shortly afterwards, and Mrs. Bartley, in 1850, followed her children. In the year last mentioned Bartley played Falstaff at Windsor Castle in the performance arranged by Charles Kean. He then appeared for a few nights at the Princess's, taking his farewell benefit on 18 Dec. 1852, on which occasion, in his address to the public, he said: ‘This night, ladies and gentlemen, fifty years ago, this very night, the night of the week, and the date of the month, I had the honour to appear in London, and to make my bow before your sires and grandsires.’ This seems to dispose of the statement generally accepted that his first appearance took place on 11 Dec. 1802. On Saturday, 17 July 1858, Bartley had an attack of paralysis, to which, five days later, 22 July, he succumbed. Bartley was especially successful in playing comic old men, bluff uncles, and the like. He failed, however, to obtain the highest honour of his art. He was many years treasurer of the Covent Garden Theatrical Fund. He died in Woburn Square, and is said to be buried in the churchyard of St. Mary's, Oxford.

[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Dalton's History of the Theatres of London; Gilliland's Dramatic Mirror; Macready's Reminiscences; Biography of the British Stage; Era newspaper, 25 July 1858.]

J. K.