Cartoon portraits and biographical sketches of men of the day/Benjamin Webster


This veteran actor had earned a great reputation many years ago. His name will go down to future generations of playgoers as that of one who was a master of the art of embodying on the stage every variety of character. No man has played with success in a greater number of characters than the proprietor of the Adelphi.

Benjamin Webster is descended from a good Yorkshire family, though the city of Bath was his birthplace. He made his first appearance on the stage of life on the 3d of September 1800. He was educated for the navy, and a commission was procured for him by the late Duchess of York; but he never entered the service. The navy has been the loser and the stage the gainer by the circumstance. He was fond of music, and made that his first profession. While fulfilling an engagement in the orchestra of the theatre at Warwick, he first threw down the fiddlestick, and put on the mask and tights of a harlequin—a character different from those with which in after years he pleased the public. But his real début as an actor took place in the same theatre, in the character of Thessalus in 'Alexander the Great.' He succeeded, and resolved to devote himself for the future to the stage. His career after this was that of most young actors. He travelled from town to town, playing all sorts of parts at all sorts of theatres—a training which proved most beneficial. After various adventures in England and Ireland, he turned up in London, where he played trifling parts at several houses. At length, in 1825, 'Measure for Measure' was being performed at Drury Lane, with a strong cast, and Harley had the part of Pompey the clown. The popular comedian was suddenly taken ill. At three or four hours' notice, Benjamin Webster took his place, delighted the audience, pleased the manager, and filled the press with his praises. From this time his name was made. He had plenty of good offers; and in 1829 he opened at the Haymarket, in 'Lodgings for Single Gentlemen.' When Morris, the
The Governor"


lessee, retired, Mr. Webster took his place, and for sixteen years was lessee of that house. At the end of that time Mr. Buckstone took it, and Mr. Webster devoted himself exclusively to the Adelphi.

In 1858 he rebuilt that theatre, an old and inconvenient house, and raised in its stead one of the most complete and well-constructed houses in London. The Haymarket owes its position to his energy and liberality. He spent 2000l. a-year on English authors at a time when, as now, there was a cry that everything worth seeing was cribbed from the French. Knowles, Bulwer, and Jerrold supplied him with plays; and Macready, Phelps, Wallack, Warde, Farren, Reeve, Buckstone, Charles Mathews, Power, Helen Faucit, Mrs. Glover, Mrs. Warner, and Mrs. Stirling, illustrated them. Not least in this list of 'all the talents' was Benjamin Webster himself. It has been said of him, that 'his motley assumptions remind us of a crowd of Hogarth's. In looking back over all the years of his career, the mass is overpowering. Though each face is individual old age and youth, fops and vulgarians, Cockneys and countrymen, misers and gamblers, blacklegs and priests; Welshmen, Scotchmen, and Dutchmen; negroes, Jesuits, and Jews—their habiliments would form the wardrobe of a theatre.' Perhaps his greatest impersonation, out of all the characters he assumed, was that of Robert Landry, in the 'Dead Heart.' This was a wonderful delineation of character; and the scene in which Robert recovers his memory, after many years' incarceration in the Bastille, is as fine a piece of acting as ever was seen on the English stage. Old playgoers, too, will recall with delight his George Darville, his Richard Pride, and his Tartuffe. In all his characters, he entered heart and soul into the author's meaning, and the spectator was lost in the reality of the scene.

One other feature of Mr. Webster's career deserves notice; it is his connection with the Royal Dramatic College. This valuable institution he has from the first assisted with his purse and his labour, and has always done all he could to help it on to its present usefulness to decayed members of the profession.

Mr. Webster's very long connection with the stage has caused him to be looked upon as a sort of Nestor among actors; his friends, private and professional, looking up to him as 'the Governor.'