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HARPER, JOHN (d. 1742), actor, originally performed at Bartholomew and Southwark fairs. A performance for his benefit at Bullock's booth in Birdcage Alley, consisting of the 'Jew of Venice,' songs and dances, and the drunken man by Harper, is announced in the 'Daily Courant' of 24 Sept. 1719. On 7 Nov. at Lincoln's Inn Fields he was the original Montmorency in Buckingham's 'Henry IV of France,' and during the season of 1719-20 he played Teague in 'The Committee,' and was the first representative among other characters of Grogram (a mercer) in the 'Pretenders,' and Sir Roland Heartfree in Griffin's ' Whig and Tory.' He remained at Lincoln's Inn Fields until 1721, playing among other parts Dr. Caius in the 'Merry Wives of Windsor,' and Ajax in 'Troilus and Cressida.' On 27 Oct. 1721 his name appears as Sir Epicure Mammon in the 'Alchemist' at Drury Lane. Here he remained for eleven years, taking the parts of booby squires, foxhunters, &c., proving himself what Victor calls 'a jolly facetious low comedian.' His good voice was serviceable in ballad opera and farce. Davies, who speaks of him as 'a lusty fat man,' praises the brutal and jolly ignorance of his Sir Harry Gubbins in the 'Tender Husband,' the absurd humour, awkward bashfulness, and good-natured obstinacy of his Sir Wilful Witwould in the 'Way of the World,' and declares his Jobson 'the Cobbler in the 'Devil to Pay, or the Wives Metamorphosed,' of Coffey an admirable second to Miss Clive's inimitable Nell. For some years he was the Falstaff of Drury Lane, and he also played the king in 'King Henry VIII,' and in Banks' 'Virtue Betrayed.' His Falstaff was more popular than that of Quin, and had, according to Victor, a jollity wanting in his rival. Tony Aston says that 'the Falstaff of Betterton wanted the drollery of Harper' (Brief Supplement, p. 4). In Sir Epicure Mammon he failed to please Davies, and his only qualifications for King Henry appear to have been fatness and joviality. Harper was one of the actors who in 1733 seceded from Drury Lane. On account of his 'natural timidity,' according to Davies, he was selected by Highmore, the patentee, in order to test the status of an actor, to be the victim of legal proceedings taken under the Vagrant Act, 12 Queen Anne, and on 12 Nov. 1733 he was committed to Bridewell as a vagabond. On 20 Nov. he came before the chief justice of the king's bench. It was pleaded on his behalf that he paid his debts, was well esteemed by persons of condition, was a freeholder in Surrey, and a householder in Westminster. He was discharged amid acclamations on his own recognisance. On 21 Oct. 1738 Harper's name appears in the Drury Lane bills in his favourite part of Cacafogo in 'Rule a Wife and have a Wife.' Soon afterwards he had a stroke of paralysis. He died on 1 Jan. 1742. A print of Harper as Jobson was published in 1739.

[Works cited; Genest's Account of the English Stage; Colley Gibber's Apology, ed. Lowe; Davies's Dramatic Miscellanies, and Life of Garrick; Gilliland's Dramatic Mirror.]

J. K.