Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Mountfort, William

MOUNTFORT, WILLIAM (1664?–1692), actor and dramatist, the son of Captain Mountfort, a gentleman of good family in Staffordshire, joined while a youth the Dorset Garden company, carrying out as the boy an original character in Leonard's 'Counterfeits,' licensed 29 Aug. 1678. His name then and for some time subsequently appears as young Mumford. He is next heard of in 1680 as the original Jock the Barber's Boy in the 'Revenge, or a Match at Newgate,' an alteration of Marston's 'Dutch Courtezan,' ascribed to Mrs. Behn. After the union of the two companies in 1682, Mountfort, now, according to Downes, 'grown up to the maturity' of a good actor, was at the Theatre Royal the first Alphonso Corso in the ' Duke of Guise ' of Dryden and Lee. In 1684 he played Nonsense in a revival of Brome's 'Northern Lass,' and Metellus Cimber in 'Julius Caesar,' and was, at Dorset Garden, both houses being under the same management, Heart-well in the first production of Ravenscroft's 'Dame Dobson, or the Cunning Woman.' In 1685 he greatly augmented his reputation by his ' creation ' of the part of Sir Courtly Nice in Crowne's play of the same name, and in 1686 seems to have played with much success Tallboy in Brome's 'Jovial Crew.' By license dated 2 July 1686, he married at St. Giles-in-the-Fields, at the age of twenty-two, Mrs. Susanna Peircivall or Perceval [see Verbruggen, Mrs.], the daughter of an actor who joined the company in 1673 (cf. Chester, Marriage Licenses, ed. Foster, p. 950).

In Mrs. Behn's 'Emperor of the Moon,' acted in 1687, Mountfort was the original Don Charmante, and he also played Pymero in a new adaptation by Tate of Fletcher's 'Island Princess.' To the same year may presumably be assigned the production of Mountfort's tragedy, 'The Injur'd Lovers, or the Ambitious Father,' 4to, 1688. Genest assigns it to 1688, and puts Mountfort's version of Faustus before it. The opening lines of the prologue, spoken by Mountfort, are:

Jo Haynes's Fate is now become my Share,
For I'm a Poet, Marry'd, and a Player,

and subsequently speaks of this play as his first-begotten. His marriage and his appearance as poet may accordingly be supposed to be equally recent. In this he took the part of Dorenalus, a son of the ambitious father, Ghinotto, and in love with the Princess Oryala. It is a turgid piece, in one or two scenes of which the author imitates Marlowe, and, in spite of Mountfort's protestation in his prologue, appears to have been damned. The 'Life and Death of Dr. Faustus, with the Humours of Harlequin and Scaramouch,' London, 1697, was given at Dorset Garden Theatre and Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre by Lee and Jevon. The actor first named died in 1688, so that the time of production is 1688 or before, while the words contained in it, 'My ears are as deaf to good counsel as French dragoons are to mercy,' are held to prove it later than the revocation of the edict of Nantes. Two-thirds of the play are from Marlowe, the poetry and much of the tragedy disappear, while songs and dances are introduced, together with much broadly comic business between Scaramouch, who is a servant of Faust, and Harlequin. In 1688 Mountfort created the part of Young Belfond in Shadwell's 'Squire of Alsatia,' and Lyonel, described as a mad part with songs, in D'Urfey's 'Fool's Preferment, or the Three Dukes of Dunstable.' In 1689 he was the first Wildish in Shadwell's 'Bury Fair,' and Young Wealthy in Carlile's 'Fortune Hunters,' in 1690 King Charles IX in Lee's ' Massacre of Paris,' Don Antonio in Dryden's ' Don Sebastian, King of Portugal,' Ricardo in Joseph Harris's ' Mistakes, or the False Report,' and Silvio in his own ' Successful Strangers,' announced as a tragi-comedy, but in fact a comedy with serious interest, 4to, 1690, founded on a novel by Scarron. It is an improvement on his previous plays, and was well received. The preface to this is quasi-autobiographical, Mountfort saying that he is no scholar, and consequently incapable of stealing from Greek and Latin authors. He complained that the town was as unwilling to encourage a young author as the playhouse a young actor.

The year 1691, the busiest apparently of Mountfort's life, saw him as the original Menaphon in Powell's 'Treacherous Brothers,' Hormidas in Settle's 'Distressed Innocence,' Valentine in Southerne's 'Sir Anthony Love,' Sir William Rant in Shadwell's 'Scowrers,' Bussy d'Ambois in ' Bussy d' Ambois,' altered from Chapman by D'Urfey, Cesario in Powell's 'Alphonso, King of Naples,' and Jack Amorous in D'Urfey 's ' Love for Money, or the Boarding School.' He was also the first Lord Montacute in his own ' King Edward the Third, with the Fall of Mortimer,' 4to, 1691, and Young Reveller in his ' Greenwich Park,' 4to, 1691. Both plays are included in his collected works. The latter, a clever and passably licentious comedy, obtained a great success. The former, revived in 1731, and republished by Wilkes in 1763, with a sarcastic dedication to Bute, is in part historical. Coxeter says that it was written by John Bancroft [q. v.], and given by him to Mountfort. Of this piece, and of 'Henry the Second, King of England, with the Death of Rosamond,' which also, though the dedication is signed William Mountfort, is assigned to Bancroft, the editor or publisher of 'Six Plays written by Mr. Mountfort,' London, 8vo, 1720, says that though ' not wholly composed by him, it is presumed he had at least a share in fitting them for the stage.' In 1692 Mountfort was the original Sir Philip Freewit in D'Urfey's ' Marriage-maker Hatcht,' Asdrubal in Crowne's ' Regulus,' Friendall in Southerne's 'Wives Excuse,' Cleanthes in Dryden's 'Cleomenes.' Mountfort was also seen as Raymond Mountchensey in the 'Merry Devil of Edmonton,' Macduff, Alexander, Castalio, Sparkish, and was excellent in Mrs. Behn's ' Rover.'

Mountfort was on intimate terms with Judge Jeffreys, with whom he was in the habit of staying. At an entertainment of the lord mayor and court of aldermen in 1685 Jeffreys called for Mountfort, an excellent mimic, to plead a feigned cause, in which he imitated well-known lawyers. Mountfort is said in the year previous to the fall of Jefreys to have abandoned the stage for a while to live with the judge. There is only one year, however, 1686, subsequent to 1684, in which he did not take some original character in London. On 9 Dec. 1692 Mountfort was stabbed in Howard Street, Strand, before his own door, in the back by Captain Richard Hill, a known ruffler and cutthroat, and died on the following day. Hill had pestered Mrs. Bracegirdle [q. v.], and had attributed her coldness to her affection for Mountfort. Attended by his friend Lord Mohun [see Mohun, Charles, fifth Baron], he accordingly laid wait for the actor. A warning sent from Mrs. Bracegirdle through Mrs. Mountfort failed to reach Mountfort, who returning home was held in conversation by Mohun, while Hill, coming behind, struck him a heavy blow on the head with his left hand and, before time was given him to draw, ran him through with the right. Hill escaped, and Lord Mohun was tried, 31 Jan. 1692-3, and acquitted, fourteen lords finding him guilty and sixty-nine innocent. Mountfort was buried in St. Clement. Danes. Bellchambers, in his edition of Colley Cibber's 'Apology,' maintains that Mountfort was slain in a fair duel with Hill.

Cibber bestows on Mountfort warm praise, says that he was tall, well-made, fair, and of agreeable aspect ; that his voice was clear, full, and melodious, adding that in tragedy he was the most affecting lover within his (Gibber's) memory. Mountfort filled the stage by surpassing those near him in true masterly touches, had particular talent in the delivery of repartee, and was credited with remarkable variety, being, it is said, especially distinguished in fine gentlemen. Among the parts singled out for highest praise are Alexander, in which 'we saw the great, the tender, the penitent, the despairing, the transported, and the amiable in the highest perfection,' Sparkish, and Sir Courtly Nice. Of the last two parts, which descended to him, Cibber says : ; If I myself had any success in either of these characters, I must pay the debt I owe to his memory in confessing the advantages I received . . . from his acting them.' Wilks also owned to Chetwood that Mountfort was the only actor on whom he modelled himself. Mountfort wrote many prologues and epilogues (cf. Poems on Affairs of State, 1703, i. 238). By his wife, subsequently Mrs. Verbrugen, he had two daughters, one of whom, Susanna, is first heard of, though she had acted before, at Lincoln's Inn Fields, 26 June 1704, playing, as Miss Mountfort, Damaris in Betterton's 'Amorous "Widow.' On 16 Oct. 1704 Mrs. Mountfort, which name she subsequently bore, played Betty Frisque in Crowne's ' Country Wit,' and, 14 June 1705, made, as Betty in 'Sir Solomon Single,' her first appearance at Drury Lane, where she remained, playing, among other characters, Estifania, Ophelia, Aspatia in the 'Maid's Tragedy,' Florimel in 'Marriage à la Mode,' and Elvira in the 'Spanish Fryar.' She was the original Rose in Farquhar's 'Recruiting Officer,' and Flora in Johnson's 'Country Lasses.' She is not heard of subsequently to 1718, and is said, in the edition of her father's plays, to have lately quitted the stage. She lived with Barton Booth [q. v.], who quitted her on account, it is said, of her misconduct. After this, misfortune, including loss of intellect, befell her. She is said to have once eluded her attendants, gone to Drury Lane dressed as Ophelia on a night for which 'Hamlet' was announced, to have bidden herself until the mad scene, and then, rushing on the stage before the official representative of Ophelia, to have performed the scene to the amazement of performers and audience.

[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Colley Cibber's Apology, ed. Lowe; Biog. Dram.; Memoir prefixed to edition of Mountfort's plays; Life of Barton Booth by Theophilus Cibber. In Cibber's Lives of the Poets, iii. 40–7, appears the account generally received of Mountfort's death. Galt's Lives of the Players, Doran's Their Majesties' Servants, and Notes and Queries, 1st ser. ii. 516, 5th ser. viii. 231, have also been consulted.]

J. K.