Reynolds, Frederic (1764-1841) (DNB00)


REYNOLDS, FREDERIC (1764–1841), dramatist, born in Lime Street, London, 1 Nov. 1764, was the grandson of an opulent merchant at Trowbridge, and the son of a whig attorney who acted for Chatham, Wilkes, and many other prominent politicians. His mother was the daughter of a rich city merchant named West. For many years his father's business was very prosperous, but about 1787 he was involved in financial difficulties. When about six years old the boy was sent to a boarding-school at Walthamstow, and on 22 Jan. 1776 he was admitted at Westminster school (Barker and Stenning, West. School Reg. p. 193). On 12 Jan. 1782 he was entered at the Middle Temple, but he soon abandoned the law for playwriting. His first piece, ‘Werter,’ was founded on Goethe's novel, and was produced at the Bath Theatre on 25 Nov. 1785, and at Covent Garden Theatre, London, for Miss Brunton's benefit, on 14 March 1786. In later years it was often reproduced on the stage, and it was printed both in London and Dublin, the play being cut down about 1795 from five to three acts (Genest, English Stage, vi. 397, 418–19). ‘Eloisa,’ his second drama, was produced at Covent Garden in December 1786 (ib. vi. 441–2). Reynolds now abandoned tragedy for comedy, and his first comedy, ‘The Dramatist,’ submitted to the public at the benefit of Mrs. Wells, 15 May 1789 (Baker, Biogr. Dramatica), was received with great applause. It was performed before George III at Covent Garden on his first visit to the theatre after his illness, 18 Oct. 1789. During his literary career Reynolds composed nearly one hundred tragedies and comedies, many of which were printed, and about twenty of them obtained temporary popularity; he wrote two pieces in conjunction with Miles Peter Andrews [q. v.] His play, ‘The Caravan, or the Driver and his Dog,’ was performed at Drury Lane, with the introduction of a live dog that was trained to save a child from drowning by leaping from a rock and plunging into real water. It is still remembered through a jest of Sheridan, who burst into the greenroom, when the success of the play was established, with the shout of inquiry, ‘Where is he, my guardian angel?’ The answer was made, ‘The author has just retired,’ but Sheridan replied, ‘Pooh! I mean the dog-actor, author and preserver of Drury Lane Theatre.’

From 1814 to 1822 Reynolds was permanently engaged at Covent Garden Theatre as ‘thinker’ for the management, and after the lapse of a year he discharged the same duties for Elliston at Drury Lane. In 1831 appeared a novel by him, ‘A Playwright's Adventures,’ published as the first volume of the ‘Dramatic Annual.’ His last work was the pantomime produced at the Adelphi Theatre, London, at Christmas 1840. He died on 16 April 1841. He married, on 16 March 1799, Miss Mansel, a young lady from South Wales, who had taken to the stage and was then engaged at the Covent Garden Theatre. His eldest son, Frederic Mansel Reynolds [q. v.], is separately noticed.

Reynolds's plays were slight, and are described as having been ‘aimed at the modes and follies of the moment.’ Byron, in ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,’ refers to the degradation of the drama:

    While Reynolds vents his ‘dammes, poohs, and zounds’
    And common-place and common sense confounds.

Reynolds brought out in 1826, in two autobiographical volumes, ‘The Life and Times of Frederic Reynolds, written by himself’ (second edit. 1827). The adventures of his earlier life are narrated with spirit. The frontispiece is his portrait, drawn by G. H. Harlow in 1841, and engraved by H. Meyer (Lowe, English Theatrical Lit. p. 277). His portrait was also painted by Raphael Smith, and engraved by George T. Doo, 1826. A third engraving of him was made by Ridley, from a miniature by W. Nash.

[Athenæum, 24 April 1841, p. 324; Gent. Mag. 1799, i. 251; Mathias's Pursuits of Lit. p. 79; Gifford's Baviad and Mæviad.]

W. P. C.