Lacy, John (d.1681) (DNB00)


LACY, JOHN (d. 1681), dramatist and comedian, of humble extraction, was born near Doncaster, and came in 1631 to London, where he was apprenticed to John Ogilby [q. v.], translator and dancing-master. Lacy was himself for some time a dancing-master, being, according to the ‘Lives and Characters of the English Dramatic Poets,’ probably by Charles Gildon [q. v.], ‘of a rare shape of body and good complexion.’ Ben Jonson obtained from Lacy Yorkshire words and proverbs for his ‘Tale of a Tub,’ 1633. During the civil war he was a lieutenant and quartermaster under Colonel Charles Gerard, afterwards earl of Macclesfield [q. v.] An original member of the king's company (Killigrew's), he speedily rose to be one of its chief supports, and retained his connection with it until his death. The first part associated with his name is Scruple, a nonconformist, in John Wilson's comedy the ‘Cheats,’ written in 1662, and played about the same time, presumably at Vere Street Theatre. A too vivacious mimicry by Lacy of some well-known nonconformist is supposed to have been the reason why the play was temporarily suppressed. Pepys, who bears constant testimony to the merits of Lacy, saw him, 12 June 1663, as Teague, an original part, in the ‘Committee’ of Sir Robert Howard. He calls it ‘a merry but indifferent play,’ adding ‘only Lacey's part, an Irish footman, is beyond imagination.’ Evelyn bestows similar commendation on Lacy's performance, 27 Nov. 1662. In 1664 Lacy appears to have played Captain Otter in the ‘Silent Woman’ and Ananias in the ‘Alchemist,’ and in 1665 Sir Politick Wouldbe in the ‘Fox,’ all by Ben Jonson.

Before the last date Lacy wrote his best play, ‘The Old Troop, or Monsieur Raggou,’ in which he utilised his experiences during the civil war, giving an animated if exaggerated and farcical description of the repute in which cavalier troopers were held by the country-folk, together with some particulars of the kind of plundering to which the soldiers were addicted. Scott makes use of this piece in ‘Woodstock,’ the twentieth chapter of which contains many references to the habit of eating children, with which, according to Lacy, Samuel Butler, and other writers, ‘Lunsford's horse’ were credited (Woodstock, ii. 36, ed. 1868). In a note to the same volume Scott quotes from the piece what he calls a scene of ‘coarse but humorous comedy,’ which Swift ‘had not, perhaps, forgotten when he recommended the eating of the children of the poor as a mode of relieving the distress of their parents’ (ib. ii. 402). In the epilogue to the ‘Vestal Virgin’ of Sir Robert Howard, acted at the Theatre Royal, 4 Jan. 1665–6, Lacy, who delivered the epilogue, spoke of himself as a poet and threatened to ‘turn Raggou into a tragedy.’ This, with references in the piece to the Dutch war, fixes the date of production as earlier than 1665. Lacy is believed to have been the original Raggou, a French servant. Under the date 31 July 1668 Pepys writes: ‘To the King's house to see the first day of Lacy's “Monsieur Ragou,” now new acted. The king and court all there, and mighty merry; a farce.’ Of neither of these representations is any cast preserved. The play was first published in 1672; a second edition was printed in 1698. Bowen at the Haymarket, 31 July 1707, is the first recorded Raggou and Verbruggen the first Lieutenant. It was further revived at Drury Lane in 1714 and 1717. Langbaine conjectures, not too happily, that it was founded on some French original.

On 27 Dec. 1666, on the resumption of performances after the cessation of the plague, Lacy was Sir Roger in the ‘Scornful Lady’ of Beaumont and Fletcher. ‘Sawny the Scot,’ an execrable adaptation of the ‘Taming of the Shrew,’ of the authorship of which Lacy is accused, was seen by Pepys 9 April 1667. Pepys says it ‘hath some very good pieces in it, but generally is but a mean play, and the best part, Sawny, done by Lucy [Lacy], and hath not half its life, by reason of the words, I suppose, not being understood, at least by me.’ Sawny is a Scotch servant of Petruchio, whose language might well be incomprehensible both sides of the Tweed. He is an inexpressibly coarse, tedious buffoon. The piece was first printed in 4to, 1698, and was reissued in 1708. No cast earlier than that of the revival of 1698 at Drury Lane is extant, when Bullock, Powell, Joe Haines, Mrs. Verbruggen, and Mrs. Cibber enacted the chief parts. It was given at Lincoln's Inn Fields so late as 18 May 1725. To its popularity the profanities to which the ‘Taming of the Shrew’ was frequently submitted on the stage may be largely ascribed. In the same season (1667), according to Pepys, Lacy played a Country Gentleman in ‘Change of Crowns,’ an unprinted piece by Edward Howard, and Jonny (sic) Thump in ‘Love in a Maze,’ otherwise ‘The Changes.’ Concerning the earlier presentation, Pepys, 15 April 1667, says: ‘Lacy did act the Country Gentleman come up to Court, who do abuse the Court with all imaginable wit and plainness about selling of places and doing everything for money.’ So angry was Charles II ‘at the liberty taken by Lacy's part to abuse him to his face’ that he commanded the company should act no more, and committed Lacy to the Porter's Lodge. Mohun obtained forgiveness for the company and for Lacy, but the play remained under censure. After Lacy's release he met Howard, and cursed him because ‘his nonsensical play’ had been the cause of his imprisonment, telling him, moreover, that ‘he was more of a fool than a poet.’ A scuffle followed, and Howard complained to the king, who again silenced the company on 20 April 1667. To 1669 Genest assigns ‘The Dumb Lady, or the Farrier made a Physician.’ This is a miserable and highly indecent piece, far coarser than the originals compounded by Lacy from ‘Le Médecin malgré lui’ and ‘L'Amour Médecin’ of Molière. It was not printed until 1672, and no cast is given, but Lacy, no doubt, played Drench (Sganarelle).

Lacy was on 7 Dec. 1671 the original Bayes of the ‘Rehearsal,’ the prologue to which says that if the burlesque exercises the desired effect Lacy will boast that he had reformed the stage. At Lincoln's Inn, whither, after the destruction of the Theatre Royal, Killigrew's company migrated, Lacy was the original Alderman Gripe in Wycherley's ‘Love in a Wood, or St. James's Park,’ and in 1675, at the new theatre in Drury Lane, was the original Intrigo in Sir Francis Fane's ‘Love in the Dark, or the Man of Business.’ His editors doubtfully assert that he also played the French Dancing-Mistress in a play so named. Genest says that he probably acted Bobadil, and was the original Frenchlove in the ‘English Mounseer,’ by the Hon. James Howard, 1666; Pinguister in ‘All Mistaken, or the Mad Couple,’ by the same author, 1667; Tartuffe in ‘Tartuffe, or the French Puritan,’ adapted from Molière by Matthew Medbourne [q. v.], 1670; French Valet in ‘Mock Duellist, or the French Valet,’ by P. B., 1675, and the English Lawyer in the play of that name adapted by Ravenscroft from the Latin play of ‘Ignoramus.’ He also played Falstaff, in which, according to Davies, he succeeded Cartwright, and in ‘Variety,’ by the Duke of Newcastle. Lacy died on 17 Sept. 1681, in Drury Lane, two doors off Lord Anglesey's house, and near Cradle Alley, and was buried the Monday following ‘in the farther churchyard’ of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields. On 19 Oct. 1681, 20l. was ordered to be paid by Edward Griffin, esq., treasurer of the chamber, to John Lacy, assignee of Charles Killigrew, master of the revels, for two plays acted before his majesty in February and March 1678–9 (see Akerman, Secret Service Money, Camd. Soc., p. 34). Lacy gave lessons to Nell Gwynn, and is said to have been one of her lovers.

After Lacy's death appeared, in 1684, at Dorset Garden Theatre, a comedy, entitled ‘Sir Hercules Buffoon, or the Poetical Squire,’ which was published in the same year. A prologue by D'Urfey describing Lacy as the author and an epilogue by Joe Haines [q. v.] were spoken by the latter. Genest speaks of the play disparagingly.

Lacy was praised in his own day. His dancing seems to have been his chief attraction until age disabled him. Downes commends his acting of Scruple in the ‘Cheats,’ Jonny Thump, Teague, and Bayes. Pepys seldom mentions him without praise, and describes, under date 19 Jan. 1668–9, the dances which he introduced between the acts of ‘Horace,’ ‘a silly tragedy.’ Langbaine says that Lacy ‘performed all parts that he undertook to a miracle, insomuch that I am apt to believe that as this age never had, so the next never will have his equal, at least not his superior.’ Lacy, says Langbaine, was so approved by Charles II that the king caused his picture to be drawn in three several figures in the same table, viz. that of Teague in the ‘Committee,’ Mr. Scruple in the ‘Cheats,’ and M. Galliard in the ‘Variety;’ the picture is still at Windsor Castle. A copy was sold in 1819. A second, or the same, painted by M. Wright (1675), is in the Garrick Club.

[A not too trustworthy Life of Lacy is prefixed to the edition of his plays by Maidment and Logan. See also Aubrey's Letters by Eminent Persons, 1813. Pepys's Diary, Langbaine's Lives (which is far too favourable to Lacy), Downes's Roscius Anglicanus, Genest's Account of the Stage, and the Biographia Dramatica are the principal sources of information. Wheatley and Cunningham's London Past and Present; the History of the Stage assigned to Betterton; Davies's Dramatic Miscellanies, vol. i.; Wilkes's (Derrick's) General View of the Stage, &c., have also been consulted.]

J. K.