Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Calvert, Charles Alexander

CALVERT, CHARLES ALEXANDER (1828–1879), actor, was born in London on 28 Feb. 1828, and educated at King's College School. On leaving it he spent some time in the office of a London solicitor and in a mercer's business in St. Paul's Churchyard; but before long he was drawn to the stage, having derived a first impulse towards it from the plays of Shakespeare produced at Sadler's Wells Theatre by Phelps, from whom Calvert afterwards modestly declared that he had learnt all his art. He first entered into an engagement as an actor in 1852, at Weymouth Theatre, under the management of Sothern, the famous Lord Dundreary of later days. Then he played leading parts at Southampton and in South Wales, till about 1855 he joined the company of Messrs. Shepherd and Creswick at the Surrey Theatre in London, where he played leading youthful parts of a ‘legitimate’ type. A year after his arrival in London he married Adelaide Ellen Biddles, who, as Mrs. Calvert, attained to a good position on the stage. They had several children, of whom five (three sons and two daughters) have followed their parents' profession. In 1859 Calvert became stage-manager and principal actor in the Theatre Royal, Manchester. In this town he was to make his name; but it was not till 1864 that as manager of the newly built Prince's Theatre he began the series of Shakespearean ‘revivals’ which were the chief efforts of his professional life. Convinced that Shakespeare could be ‘made to pay,’ he consistently produced the plays which he presented with elaborate attention to scenery, costume, and every other element of stage effect. Moreover, he aimed in these matters at historical correctness, thereby earning the recognition of J. R. Planché, the real originator of a reform on the merits of which the Kemble family were divided. The Shakespearean plays ‘revived’ by Calvert were the following: ‘The Tempest’ (1864), with which the Prince's Theatre opened, and which proved a signal success; ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ (1866); ‘The Winter's Tale’ (1869); ‘Richard III’ (1870); ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ with Arthur Sullivan's music (1871); ‘Henry V’ (1872); ‘Twelfth Night’ (1873); ‘The Second Part of Henry IV’ (1874). From a draft in his handwriting it appears to have been his intention, had his connection with the Prince's Theatre continued, to crown the series by an arrangement of the three parts of Henry VI together with Richard III in three plays, under the title of ‘The Houses of York and Lancaster.’ During his management he produced, after a less elaborate fashion, some other Shakespearean plays, as well as Byron's ‘Manfred’ (1867), and other dramas. He generally had a good ‘stock’ company, in which several actors and actresses of mark received their training; and he showed a commendable freedom from pettiness in occasionally associating with himself on his own stage London actors of great reputation and popularity. Financially the prosperity of the speculation with which he was associated seems to have varied; in 1868 the Prince's Theatre passed into the hands of a company, for which it was rebuilt as the prettiest theatre in England; afterwards he had for a short time a proprietary interest in it; in 1875 his connection with it ceased altogether. Shortly before this Calvert had visited New York, where he produced Henry V with very great success. After quitting the Prince's Theatre he produced, at the Theatre Royal, Manchester, in 1877, ‘Henry VIII.’ He and his accomplished coadjutor, Mr. Alfred Darbyshire, regarded the stage directions forming part of the text of this play as justifying their views about the stage setting of such plays. Calvert's acting edition of Henry VIII has accordingly an interest of its own. He also brought out with great splendour Byron's ‘Sardanapalus’ at Liverpool and at the Theatre Royal, Manchester, and superintended a ‘replica’ at Booth's Theatre in New York. His last years were migratory, and spent at the head of a travelling company which appeared in Manchester and at other places. In 1871 he had been much interested in the scheme for establishing a subsidised ‘Shakespeare Memorial Theatre’ in London, which came to nothing. His last years must have brought him much disappointment and little rest. Towards the end the state of his health, which had given way four years previously, disquieted his friends, and ultimately he sought retirement at Hammersmith, where he died on 12 June 1879. The genuine admiration felt for him at Manchester had been shown on the occasion of his first departure for New York by a public banquet (4 Jan. 1875). His funeral at Brooklands cemetery, near Sale in Cheshire, was made the occasion of a popular demonstration. Later in the year (1 and 2 Oct.) friendship commemorated his worth in a performance of ‘As you like it’ at Manchester for the benefit of his family. Calvert was a true enthusiast, whose career, ‘provincial’ as it was in its principal portion, has an enduring interest for the history of the English stage. As an actor he was, in the opinion of some, best fitted for the so-called domestic drama; but his ambition took a higher flight, and, though his physical advantages were few, his intelligence and reading, together with a certain breadth and strength of style, qualified him even for heroic parts such as Brutus and Henry V. His elocution was excellent, and his declamation at times masterly. He was a careful student of Shakespeare, and his acting editions of nearly all the Shakespearean plays mentioned above form a pleasing memorial of his zeal and his good sense. Personally he was much respected as well as liked, and his private correspondence shows him to have thought with courage, but without immodesty, on the highest of themes.

[Private information and personal knowledge.]

A. W. W.