Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ebsworth, Joseph

EBSWORTH, JOSEPH (1788–1868), dramatist and musician, elder son of Joseph and Isabella Ebsworth, was born at Islington, London, on 10 Oct. 1788, and was early apprenticed to a watch-jeweller named Cornwall. He was so dexterous in minute mechanism that he was afterwards selected to reconstruct the watch of the prince regent. Having a singularly rich baritone voice, he joined the operatic company at Covent Garden immediately after fulfilling his indentures, and early turned to dramatic authorship. He also acted in melodrama, and became secretary to Mr. D. E. Morris, of the Haymarket (T. Dibdin, Reminiscences, ii. 262). On 22 June 1817 he married Mary Emma [q. v.], eldest daughter of Robert Fairbrother, member of the Glovers' Company. He settled in Lambeth, 3 Gray's Walk, where five of his children were born. In 1822 he made his first journey to Scotland. Soon after 1826 he removed his family from London to Edinburgh, where he held an engagement at the Theatre Royal, as actor and prompter, with his lifelong friend, William Henry Murray, brother of Mrs. Henry Siddons. He became gradually established as teacher of music and singing, and accepted the position of leader of the choir at St. Stephen's Church, which caused him to abandon the theatrical profession, but he continued to write and to translate innumerable successful dramas, which found favour in London and the provinces. Many of these were printed, and a few more than once reprinted. No complete list can be given, but the following are the most popular of those in print: 1. ‘Crockery's Misfortunes, or Transmogrifications,’ a burletta, first acted 11 July 1821, at the Royal Coburg Theatre. 2. ‘The Two Prisoners of Lyons, or the Duplicate Keys,’ 1824, probably the earliest English adaptation of ‘Robert Macaire,’ from the French of M. Benjamin's ‘St. Amant and Paulyanthe.’ 3. ‘Adelaide, or the Fatal Seduction,’ three acts, translated from Pixérécourt, performed at the Coburg Theatre. 4. ‘The Rival Valets,’ at the Haymarket, 1825. 5. ‘Ourika, the Orphan of Senegal,’ a petite drama, one act, with songs, music by George Perry of the Haymarket, 1828. 6. ‘Rosalie, or the Bohemian Mother,’ two acts, as performed at the Haymarket, music by George Perry, 8vo, 1828. 7. ‘Rouge et Noir, or Whigs and Widows,’ 8vo, two acts, first acted at the Adelphi, Edinburgh, 7 Aug. 1841. 8. ‘Ups and Downs.’ 9. ‘Marriage Projects.’ 10. ‘The Calabrian Assassin.’ 11. ‘The Bachelor of Duddington.’ 12. ‘Commerce,’ a drama in three acts. 13. ‘The Tempter, or the Gifts of Immortality,’ 1830. 14. ‘The Twenty Thieves.’ 15. ‘Youth's Vagaries.’ 16. ‘Keeping up Appearances.’ 17. ‘Mr. Walker's Trunks.’ 18. ‘The Advocate's Daughter.’ 19. ‘Clemence.’ 20. ‘Saul Braintree.’ 21. ‘Tam o' Shanter, or Auld Alloway's Haunted Kirk’ (before 1824, an early dramatisation of the poem by Burns). 22. ‘The Mayor of Windgap, or the Strange Man of the Inch.’ 23. ‘The Wreck of the Dauntless.’ 24. ‘Ranting Roaring Willie.’ 25. ‘The Pilot's Son.’ 26. ‘Roslin Castle.’ 27. ‘Summer and Winter.’ 28. ‘A Widow to Let.’ 29. ‘The Legatees.’ 30. ‘The Glass Door.’ 31. ‘The Two Prima Donnas.’ 32. ‘Quite Correct.’ 33. ‘The Queen's Visit;’ and a five-act drama entitled ‘The Crusaders,’ produced at the Princess's Theatre by Maddox about 1851, with great splendour of costume and decorations. Of his many songs an authentic manuscript collection remains. In 1828 he opened an ‘English and foreign dramatic library and caricature repository’ at 23 Elm Row, at the head of Leith Walk, Edinburgh, and for fifteen years maintained it successfully as the chief bookseller's shop for periodical literature. Afterwards he resided at 4 Montgomery Street.

His vocal and instrumental concerts at the Hopetoun Rooms, Queen Street, were continued annually from 1830 until within a few weeks of his death. He had known and loved Charles Dibdin, and his own various ‘entertainments’ were framed on the same model. He was for forty years teacher of music, not only to private pupils, but at such public institutions as the Merchant Maidens' Hospital, Watson's, the Normal School, &c., and enjoyed universal esteem. He was an accomplished linguist, not only in living but dead languages, Hebrew, Sanscrit, &c., and left behind him voluminous compilations of Egyptian hieroglyphics, and astrological documents from every available source. He was a good pedestrian and amateur artist. He could draw from memory striking likenesses of every one whom he had known or seen, and his musical compositions were singularly sweet and effective. Prefaced by ‘A Short Introduction to Vocal Music,’ he published several large ‘collections of psalm and hymn tunes, doxologies, sanctuses, dismissions, &c.,’ many composed expressly for St. Stephen's Church, Edinburgh, and for his lifelong friend the Rev. Dr. William Muir [q. v.] As librarian of the Harmonist Society, Edinburgh, he showed rare knowledge of musical literature; his own manuscript and printed collections being unsurpassed in Scotland. He was remarkable for a playful humour and warm affections; had a vast fund of anecdote, theatrical and literary, and an ungrudging hospitality. He was often pressed to write his memoirs, but firmly resisted this request, and when he died his widow faithfully destroyed all his private correspondence. Of his five children born in Scotland all died young except two sons. News of the sudden death in Australia of his son Charles (born 24 Oct. 1833) reached him close on midsummer 1868. The shock of this bereavement virtually caused his own death by an apoplectic seizure, three weeks later, on the fifty-first anniversary of his marriage. He was buried at the Dean cemetery, Edinburgh, at the feet of David Scott, R.S.A. On the following Sunday his own music was played and sung in churches of all denominations in Edinburgh.

[Personal knowledge; obituary notices in the Scotsman, Edinburgh Courant, &c.; H. Robinson's Edinburgh Weekly Review; Era; printed books mentioned above; Ebsworth's manuscripts, some belonging to his daughter, Emilie Marguerite Cowell, others to his eldest surviving son, the writer of this article.]

J. W. E.