Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leigh, Anthony
LEIGH, ANTHONY (d. 1692), comedian, described by Downes (Roscius Anglicanus) as 'the famous Mr. Antony Leigh.' was born of a good family in Northamptonshire. He joined the Duke of York's company about 1672, and appeared in that year at the recently opened theatre in Dorset Garden as the original Pacheco in the 'Reformation.' 4to, 1673, a comedy ascribed by Langbaine to Mr. Arrowsmith, a master of arts of Cambridge. Mrs. Leigh, apparently Leigh's wife, is said by Downes to have joined the duke's company two years earlier. At Dorset Garden Leigh played very many original parts of importance. He was in 1674 Polites in 'Herod and Mariamne;' in 1676 Sir Formal in Shadwell's 'Virtuoso,' Old Bellair in Etherege's 'Man of the World,' Fumble in D'Urfey's 'Fond Husband,' Count de Benevent in Ravenscroft's 'Wrangling Lovers,' Tom Essence in Rawlins's 'Tom Essence, or the Modish Wife,' and Zechiel in D'Urfey's 'Madam Fickle;' in 1677 Scapin in Ravenscroft's 'Cheats of Scapin,' Monsieur in the 'French Conjurer,' and Sir Oliver Santlow in the 'Counterfeit Bridegroom,' an alteration of Middleton's 'No Wit, no Help like a Woman's,' ascribed to Mrs. Behn; in 1678 Sir Patient Fancy in Mrs. Behn's play of that name, Malagene in Otway's 'Friendship in Fashion,' Sir Frederick Banter in D'Urfey's 'Squire Oldsapp,' Don Gomez in Leanard's 'Counterfeits,' Ælius in Shadwell's 'Timon of Athens;' in 1679 Pandarus in Dryden's 'Troilus and Cressida,' and Petro in Mrs. Behn's 'Feigned Courtezans;' in 1680 Gripe in Shadwell's 'Woman Captain,' Ascanio Sforza, 'a buffoon cardinal,' in Nat Lee's 'Caesar Borgia,' Dashit in the 'Revenge,' otherwise Marston's 'Dutch Courtezan,' and Paulo in Maidwell's 'Loving Enemies;' in 1681 Sir Jolly Jumble in Otway's 'Soldier's Fortune,' Dominic in Dryden's 'Spanish Fryar,' Teague O'Donelly in Shadwell's 'Lancashire witches,' Sir Anthony Merriwill in Mrs. Behn's 'City Heiress.' and St. Andre [é] in Lee's 'Princess of Cleve;' and in 1682 Antonio in Otway's 'Venice Preserved,' Sir Oliver Oldcut in D'Urfey's 'Royalist,' Guiliom, a chimney-sweeper, in Mrs. Behn's 'False Count,' Dashwell in Ravenscroft's 'London Cuckolds,' and Ballio in Randolph's 'Jealous Lovers.' All these parts were original, though Ballio had been presented before Charles I in Cambridge by the students of Trinity College. The dates given are approximate. Upon the union of the duke's company with the king's in 1682 Leigh did not immediately go to the Theatre Royal. He was in 1683, however, at that theatre the original Bartoline in Crowne's 'City Politics,' and played Bessus in a revival of 'A King and No King.' Here he remained until his death in 1692, creating many characters, of which the most important are: Beaugard's Father in Otway's 'Atheist,' Rogero in Southerne's 'Disappointment,' Sir Paul Squelch in Brome's 'Northern Lass,' Crack in Crowne's 'Sir Courtly Nice,' Trappolin in Tate's 'Duke and No Duke,' Security in Tate's 'Cuckold's Haven,' an alteration of 'Eastward Hoe,' Scaramouch in Mountfort's 'Dr. Faustus,' Sir Feeble Fainwou'd in Mrs. Behn's 'Lucky Chance,' Scaramouch in the same writer's 'Emperor of the Moon,' Sir William Belfond in Shadwell's 'Squire of Alsatia,' Justice Grub in 'Fool's Preferment,' altered by D'Urfey from Fletcher's 'Noble Gentleman,' Lord Stately in Crowne's 'English Friar,' Mustapha in Dryden's 'Don Sebastian,' Mercury in Dryden's 'Amphitryon,' Abbé in Mountfort's 'Sir Anthony Love,' Tope in Shadwell's 'Scowrers,' Sir Thomas Reveller in Mountfort's 'Greenwich Park,' Lady Addleplot in D'Urfey's 'Love for Money,' Van Grin in D'Urfey's 'Marriage-Hater Match'd,' and Major-general Blunt in Shadwell's 'Volunteers.' Genest supposes Leigh to have been the original Aldo in Dryden's 'Limberham.' Leigh died of fever in December 1692, in the same season as Noke or Nokes, and these deaths, combined with the murder of Mountfort the week before, greatly impoverished the company.
Cibber's estimate of Leigh is high. He classifies him, together with Mrs. Leigh, among those principal actors who 'were all original masters in their different stile, and not mere auricular imitators of one another' (Apology, ed. Lowe, i. 98-9). Charles II used to speak of Leigh as his actor (ib. i. 164). Leigh was of middle size, with a clear and an audible voice, and a countenance naturally grave, which lighted up under the possession of a comic idea. So excellent was he in the 'Spanish Fryar' of Dryden, in which Richard Estcourt [q. v.] used to imitate him, that the Earl of Dorset had his portrait painted in this character by Sir Godfrey Kneller. The portrait, which is now in the Garrick Club, is said to be very like, shows a full face, prominent eyes, and a rather heavy chin. He was, says Cibber, of 'the mercurial kind' (ib. i. 145), and without being a strict observer of nature stopped short of extravagance. The 'Spanish Fryer' was his great character, which he 'raised as much above the poet's imagination as the character has sometimes raised other actors above themselves' (ib. i. 146). Coligni in the 'Villain.' Ralph in 'Sir Solomon' by Caryll, Sir Jolly Jumble, and Belfond were his best parts. In his Sir William Belfond, says Cibber, 'Leigh show'd a more spirited variety than I ever saw any actor in any one character come up to. He seemed not to court, but to attack, your applause, and always came off victorious' (ib. 1. 153-4).
Mrs. Leigh, whose christian name appears to have been Elizabeth, was an actress or distinction, with much humour, and ' a very droll way of dressing the pretty foibles of superannuated beauties' (ib. i. 162). Cibber specially praises her modish mother in the 'Chances.' the coquette prude of an aunt in 'Sir Courtly Nice.' and Lady Wishfort in the 'Way of the World.' She disappears after the season of 1706-7. The names Lee and Leigh are used indiscriminately in early records, and the roles of Mrs. Leigh cannot be separated from those of Mrs. Mary Lee, afterwards known as Lady Slingsby. Michael Leigh, the original Daniel in 'Oxonooko.' who also played a few parts towards the close of the seventeenth century, and disappeared in 1698, was probably the son of Anthony Leigh. Francis, known to have been a son, ceased to act in 1719. He was one of the actors who on 14 June 1710 defied the authority of Aaron Hill, the manager for Collier, broke open the doors of Drury Lane, and created a not. He was also one of the many actors who, when the new-built theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields opened under John Rich in 1714, deserted to him (ib. ii. 169).
John Leigh [q. v.] appears to have been of another family.
[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Cibber's Apology, ed. Lowe; Hist, of the Stage ascribed to Betterton; Downes's Roscius Anglicanus; Davies's Dramatic Miscellanies.]