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O'BRIEN, WILLIAM (d. 1815), actor and dramatist, the son of a fencing master, was distantly connected with the O'Briens, viscounts Clare, and appears, though this is not certain, in early life to have shared the ostracism of his family, who were warm adherents of the Stuarts [see O'Brien, Daniel, first Viscount Clare; O'Brien, Charles, sixth Viscount Clare]. After losing Woodward, Garrick, who had, it must be supposed, seen O'Brien act in Ireland, engaged him for Drury Lane, where he appeared on 3 Oct. 1758 as Brazen in the 'Recruiting Officer.' Lucio in `Measure for Measure,' Polydore in the `Orphan,' Jack Meggot, the Fine Gentleman, in `Lethe,' Brisk in the `Double Dealer,' Witwoud Tom in `Conscious Lovers,' Laertes, Lord Foppington in the 'Careless Husband,' were among the parts he took in his first season, in which also he was the original Felix in the `Rout,' and Young Clackit in Garrick's `Guardian.' On 31 Oct. 1759 he was the first Lovel in `High Life below Stairs.' Subsequently he played an original part in `Marriage a la Mode,' and added to his repertory Witling in the `Refusal,' Campley in the `Funeral,' Fribble in `Miss in her Teens,' Slender in the `Merry Wives of Windsor,' Numps in the `Tender Husband,' and Lord George Brilliant in the `Lady's Last Stake.' On 31 Jan. 1761 he was the original Edgar in `Edgar and Emmeline,' in which he was excellent. Later he played Lord Trinket in the `Jealous Wife,' and Archer in the 'Beaux' Stratagem.' Beverley in `All in the Wrong,' Wilding in the `Citizen,' Clerimont in the `Old Maid,' Marplot in the `Busybody,' Guiderius in 'Oymbeline,' Sir Harry Wildair in the `Constant Couple,' Clodio in `Love makes a Man,' and Felix in the `Wonder,' followed in the succeeding season, in which, on 10 Feb. 1762, he was the original Belmour in Whitehead's `School for Lovers.' In 1762-3 he was Valentine in `Two Gentlemen of Verona,' the first Sir Harry Flutter in Mrs. Sheridan's `Discovery,' Lothario in the `Fair Penitent,' and Master Johnny in the 'Schoolboy.' In 1763-4 he played Tattle in `Love for Love,' Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Colonel Tamper, an original part in Colman's `Deuce is in him,' Prince of Wales in `King Henry IV,' pt. i., Ranger in the `Suspicious Husband,' Benedick, Maiden in 'Tunridge Walks,' Lovemore in the `Way to keep him,' and Squire Richard in the `Provoked Husband.' This, 3 April 1764, is the last part to which his name appears. Like Woodward, O'Brien was harlequin. After his marriage, in 1764, at which time he had a cottage at Dunstable, he retired from the stage. In the `Dialogue in the Shades' Mrs. Cibber says to Mrs. Woffington: `The only performers of any eminence that have made their appearance since your departure are O'Brien and Powell. The first was a very promising comedian in Woodward's walk, and was much caressed by the nobility; but this apparent good fortune was his ruin, for having married a young lady of family without her relations' knowledge, he was obliged to transport himself to America, where he is now doing penance for his redemption' (Genest, v. 49-50). The `Dramatic Censor' speaks of him as the best Mercutio after Woodward. He probably played the part during an engagement he fulfilled at the Crow Street Theatre, Dublin, in the summer of 1763.

After he ceased to be an actor he wrote for Covent Garden `Cross Purposes,' 8vo, 1772, an adaptation in two acts of Lafont's `Trois Frères Rivaux,' and `The Duel,' 8vo, 1773, an adaptation of `Le Philosophe sans le savoir' of Sedaine. The latter piece had less success than it merited; the former was more than once repeated, having been given in Bath so late as 1821.

Meanwhile O'Brien had settled for a while in America, where he appears to have held an appointment under Sir Henry Moore, governor of the province of New York. On Sir Henry's death in 1769 he went to Quebec. In May 1768 he was gazetted secretary and provost-master-general of the islands of Bermuda. By the interest of Lord Ilchester, O'Brien was subsequently appointed receiver-general of Dorset. He died at Stinsford House on 2 Sept. 1815, and was buried in Stinsford Church, where there are monuments to him and his wife. O'Brien had a good and gentlemanly bearing, easy manners, grace, and elegance, and in the conduct of the sword was unapproached. Horace Walpole wrote: ‘Cibber and O'Brien were what Garrick could never reach—coxcombs and men of fashion’ (Letters, ed. Cunningham, iv. 226). Upon retiring, he sought to hide the fact that he had been on the stage.

O'Brien married, 7 April 1764, at St. Paul's Church, Covent Garden, without her father's knowledge, Lady Susan Sarah Louisa (1744–1827), eldest daughter of Stephen Fox-Strangways, first earl of Ilchester, and niece of Henry Fox, first lord Holland [q. v.] Walpole mentions a rumour that they were to be transported to the Ohio and granted forty thousand acres of land (ib. pp. 226, 262, 284). Lady Susan O'Brien died on 9 Aug. 1827, aged 83, and was buried with her husband (Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 567).

[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Tate Wilkinson's Memoirs; Davies's Life of Garrick. Tate Wilkinson and Davies, though referring to him, do not mention his name. Doran's Annals of the English Stage, ed. Lowe; Victor's Hist. of the Theatres; Biographia Dramatica; Gent. Mag. 1815, pt. ii. p. 285; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. v. 72, 152, 279; Walpole's Letters, ed. Cunningham, passim; Lichtenstein's Holland House, ii. passim. The marriage certificate of O'Brien and Lady Susan or Susanna Fox-Strangways has been consulted.]

J. K.