Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Beard, John (1716?-1791)

BEARD, JOHN (1716?–1791), actor and vocalist, was bred in the king's chapel, and was one of the singers in the Duke of Chandos's chapel at Cannon. His musical training was received under Bernard Gates, and his reputation as a singer was gained in the representations given by Handel at Covent Garden Theatre of 'Acis and Galatea, 'Atalanta,' and other works. The favour of the public was, however, won by the delivery of Galliard's hunting song, 'With early horn.' Beard's first appearance as an actor took place at Drury Lane 30 Aug. 1737, the opening night of the season 1737-8, as Sir John Loverule in 'The Devil to pay,' a ballad opera extracted by Charles Coffey from 'The Devil of a Wife' of Thomas Jevons. On 8 Jan. 1738-9 Beard espoused Lady Henrietta Herbert, only daughter of James, first earl of Waldegrave, and widow of Lord Edward Herbert, the second son of William, second marquis of Powis. After these nuptials, concerning which, curiously enough, no mention is found in peerages of authority, Beard retired for a while from the stage, to which he returned in 1743-4. His married happiness, which is said to have been exceptional, was interrupted, 31 May 1753, by the death of his wife, to whom Beard erected a handsome monument in St. Pancras church. She died in her thirty-seventh year. Six years later he married Charlotte, daughter of Rich, the manager of Covent Garden Theatre, who survived him and died in 1818 at the great age of 92. Beard's reappearance is said to have taken place at Drury Lane about 1743. He is first distinctly traced at Covent Garden on 23 Dec. 1743, when he played Macheath in Gay's 'Beggars' Opera' to the Polly Peachum of Mrs. Clive. Macheath remained a favourite character with him. Beard stayed at Covent Garden for some years. On 19 June 1758 he is heard of at Drury Lane, playing Macheath to the Polly of Miss Macklin. On 10 Oct. 1759 he returned to Covent Garden, in which he had since his marriage a species of interest, and reappeared as Macheath. Polly was now played by Miss Brent, whose performance of the part was sufficiently popular to give new life to Gay's opera, and obtain for it a run, all but unbroken, of thirty-seven nights. After the death of Rich, his father-in-law, 26 Nov. 1761, Beard, who through his wife became a shareholder in the theatre, undertook its management. Shortly after assuming the control, February 1763, he resisted with determination an attempt on the part of rioters, who had been successful with Garrick at Drury Lane, to force him to grant admission at half-price at the close of the third act of each performance. Certain ringleaders were brought before the lord chief justice. After undergoing a serious loss by the destruction of property and the subsequent closing of the theatre, Beard was compelled to submit. On 23 May 1767, in his original character of Hawthorne in Bickerstaff's opera, 'Love in a Village,' he retired from the stage, for which loss of hearing had disqualified him. His death took place 5 Feb. 1791 at Hampton, in Middlesex, to which place he had betaken himself upon his retirement. He is buried in the vault of Hampton church. Beard enjoyed great and deserved popularity. Charles Dibdin says that he considers him, 'taken altogether, as the best English singer' and states that 'his voice was sound, male, powerful, and extensive. His tones were natural, and he had flexibility enough to execute any passages however difficult' (Complete History of the Stage, v. 363). His praise is, however, established by the fact that Handel composed expressly for Beard some of his greatest tenor parts, as in 'Israel in Egypt,' 'Messiah,' 'Judas Maccabæus,' and 'Jephthah.' Churchill celebrates him, and Davies, who states that Beard excelled greatly in recitation (Misc. iii. 375), speaks of him as the jolly president of the Beefsteak Club (iii. 167). His moral and social qualities are indeed a theme of general commendation.

[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Dibdin's Complete History of the Stage; Grove's Dictionary of Musicians; Bellamy's Apology; Gilliland's Dramatic Mirror; Thespian Dictionary; Gent. Mag. for 1791.]

J. K.