Holman, Joseph George (DNB00)
HOLMAN, JOSEPH GEORGE (1764–1817), actor and dramatist, born in August 1764, was son of John Major Holman of St. Giles's, Middlesex, an ensign and adjutant in the British service, who died when his son was two years of age. He was placed by an uncle at Barwis's school in Soho Square, where amateur acting was in vogue. With a view to the church he matriculated 7 Feb. 1783 at Queen's College, Oxford, but took no degree (Foster, Alumni Oxon. p. 680). On 25 Oct. 1784, at Covent Garden, as Romeo, he made his first appearance on the stage. An occasional address, the opening lines of which were,
From Isis' banks just wing'd his daring flight
A College Soph presents himself to-night,
was spoken by Thomas Hull [q. v.], who played Friar Lawrence. Macbeth, Don Felix in the ‘Wonder,’ Achmet in ‘Barbarossa,’ Richard III, Chamont in the ‘Orphan,’ Hamlet, Hippolitus in ‘Phædra and Hippolitus,’ Morcar in ‘Matilda,’ and Lothario followed in Holman's first season. His performances were attended by fashionable audiences. Remaining at Covent Garden until 1800, he played Hastings, Posthumus, Benedick, Edgar, Timon of Athens, Comus, Florizel in the ‘Winter's Tale,’ Richmond, Orlando, Jaffier, Lord Townley, Jason in ‘Medea,’ Antony in ‘All for Love,’ Alexander the Great, Oroonoko, and many other leading parts in tragedy and comedy. His original characters include Harry Thunder in O'Keeffe's ‘Wild Oats,’ 16 April 1791, Harry Dornton in Holcroft's ‘Road to Ruin,’ 18 Feb. 1792, and many parts in plays by Reynolds, Mrs. Cowley, and other dramatists. At the end of his third season he quitted Covent Garden on a question of terms, and acted in Dublin and in the principal English and Scottish towns, but soon returned to Covent Garden. In the season of 1799–1800 a serious quarrel took place between the proprietors of Covent Garden and eight of the principal actors. A pamphlet entitled ‘A Statement of the Differences subsisting between the Proprietors and Performers of the Theatre Royal Covent Garden. Given in the Correspondence which has passed between them. By John Johnstone, Joseph George Holman, Alexander Pope, Charles Incledon, Jos. S. Munden, John Fawcett, Thomas Knight, Henry Erskine Johnston,’ was published in 1800 in 8vo, and went through several editions. The authorship of this was attributed to Holman. The grievances of the actors, who objected to restrictions on their power of giving orders for admission, and to change in the charges for benefits and the amount of fines for the refusal of a character, were submitted to the Marquis of Salisbury, then lord chamberlain, and shown by him to the king. Lord Salisbury's verdict was hostile to the actors. Some newspaper correspondence and disturbance in theatrical circles followed. Seven actors accepted the decision and remained at Covent Garden. Holman either resigned or was dismissed. He appeared a few times at the Haymarket, where he produced his ‘What a Blunder,’ a comic opera in three acts, a mediocre piece, in which he enacted Count Alphonso d'Esparza. Holman then went to Dublin, where he had sufficient success to take for a time a share with Jones in the management. This, however, after a time he resigned and took to farming. On 31 July 1806 he played in Dublin for his benefit Antony in ‘All for Love,’ to the Ventidius of Cooke. On 22 Aug. 1812, as Jaffier, he reappeared at the Haymarket after eleven years' absence, and played a few parts. In 1798 he married Jane, youngest daughter of the Hon. and Rev. Frederick Hamilton, a direct descendant of the Duke of Hamilton. She died 11 June 1810. No mention of previous nuptials is traceable. When, however, Holman, tempted by the success of Cooke, went to America in 1812, he took with him a daughter, who played in New York Lady Townly in the ‘Provoked Husband’ to his Lord Townly, and supported him throughout his American career. In a letter of introduction he took out he is described as a fellow of Queen's College, but to this description he had no title. In 1813 Holman and Miss Holman played at the Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia. He undertook the management of the Walnut Street Theatre in that city, and failed. He then (1815) managed a theatre in Charleston, went to England for additional performers, married a singer ‘of great talent and distinguished beauty and merit, whom he brought out,’ and died, according to one account, of apoplexy at Rockaway on Long Island, on 24 Aug. 1817, and, according to another, of yellow fever, which also carried off his wife.
His dramatic works consist of:
- ‘Abroad and at Home,’ 8vo, 1796, a comic opera in three acts, originally called ‘The King's Bench,’ but the licenser objected to the title. It is a bright and clever piece, was acted twenty-nine times, twice printed in the same year, and acted frequently in England and America.
- ‘Red Cross Knights,’ in five acts, 8vo, 1799; Haymarket, 21 Aug. 1799. This is taken from Schiller's ‘Robbers,’ a translation of which by Holman was refused by the licenser.
- ‘Votary of Wealth,’ 8vo, 1799; Covent Garden, 12 Jan. 1799; a fairly good comedy.
- ‘What a Blunder,’ 8vo, 1800; Haymarket, 14 Aug. 1800, and Covent Garden, 31 May 1803; a comic opera in three acts.
- ‘Love gives the Alarm,’ a comedy given once at Covent Garden, 23 Feb. 1804, damned and never printed.
Holman's plays are on a par with those of Holcroft and other dramatists of the day. He only acted in one of them.
As an actor he is entitled to a high position. His Lord Townly and his daughter's Lady Townly were pronounced in America ‘the perfection of histrionic art.’ Hazlewood (Secret History of the Green Room, ii. 125) says ‘he has a very elegant figure, and a voice which is powerful without effort.’ In his desire to avoid the deliberate monotony of the Kemble school he was sometimes too rapid. His Chamont is said to be ‘the character,’ his Hamlet is declared ‘thoroughly princely,’ and it is said that ‘no actor of the present times can pretend to speak a prologue with him.’ In ‘Candid and Impartial Strictures on the Performers,’ 1795, he is described as ‘gifted with that divine quality called genius’ (p. 45). The anonymous critic continues: ‘His person is well formed, manly, and elegant; a handsome countenance, and brilliant and sparkling eyes;’ and taxes him with an unpardonable roll from side to side, and says he ‘is always endeavouring to do what the situation does not require should be attempted, and what nature is shocked at when done.’ Lamb describes him as ‘the jolliest person’ of any Hamlet he has seen. Macready writes of him as ‘handsome, but inclined to obesity … vain of his person, but very pleasing in his manners,’ and continues: ‘He was said to have been in his youth very animated, so much so as to be reported on one occasion … to have lost so much of his self-command as to miss his footing and precipitate himself over the footlights into the orchestra. But now the fire was out, and in his acting he was as cold and artificial in his practised tones and movements as an automaton’ (Reminiscences, i. 58). Portraits of Holman as Chamont, as Alexander, and as Douglas, by De Wilde, by Dupont as Edgar, and by Harlowe as Cyrus, are in the Garrick Club. Miss Holman played a few times in England before going to America. Her first appearance in London was made at the Haymarket, 22 Aug. 1811, as Belvidera in ‘Venice Preserved.’ She also played Lady Townly, Calista in the ‘Fair Penitent,’ Angela in the ‘Castle Spectre,’ and Julia in the ‘Rivals.’
[Books cited; Genest's Account of the English Stage; Biographia Dramatica; Oulton's History of London Theatres; Rose's Biographical Dictionary; Thespian Dictionary; O'Keeffe's Recollections; F. Reynolds's Life, where is told the story of his falling into the orchestra; Dunlap's History of the American Stage; Clark Russell's Representative Actors; Gent. Mag. 1817, pt. i. p. 618; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. viii. 486, ix. 10, 72.]