Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ryan, Lacy

RYAN, LACY (1694?–1760), actor, the son of a tailor, of descent presumedly Irish, was born in the parish of St. Margaret, Westminster, about 1694. He was intended for the law, educated at St. Paul's School, and sent into the office of his godfather, one Lacy, a solicitor. This occupation he abandoned, and on 1 July 1710 he played at Greenwich, under William Pinkethman [q. v.], Rosencrantz in ‘Hamlet.’ He must have previously appeared at the Haymarket, since Betterton, who saw him as Seyton in ‘Macbeth’ (28 Nov. 1709?), and who died on 4 May 1710, is said to have commended him while chiding Downes the prompter for sending on a child in a full-bottomed wig to sustain a man's part. On 3 Jan. 1711 Ryan played at Drury Lane Lorenzo in the ‘Jew of Venice,’ Lord Lansdowne's alteration of the ‘Merchant of Venice.’ Granius in ‘Caius Marius’ followed on 17 March 1711, and on 17 Aug. he was the original Young Gentleman in Settle's ‘City Ramble, or a Playhouse Wedding.’ On 12 Nov. he was the first Valentine in the ‘Wife's Relief, or the Husband's Cure,’ an alteration by Charles Johnson of Shirley's ‘Gamester.’ In the ‘Humours of the Army’ of Charles Shadwell he was on 29 Jan. 1713 the original Ensign Standard. On the recommendation of Steele, he was assigned the part of Marcus in the original production of ‘Cato’ on 14 April, and on 12 May he was the first Astrolabe in Gay's ‘Wife of Bath.’ At Drury Lane he was on 5 Jan. 1714 the original Arcas in Charles Johnson's ‘Victim,’ played Ferdinand in the ‘Tempest,’ Sir Andrew Tipstaff in the ‘Puritan, or the Widow of Watling Street,’ Loveday in ‘London Cuckolds,’ and Lovewell in the ‘Gamester;’ he was on 20 April 1715 the original Sussex in Rowe's ‘Lady Jane Gray,’ played Laertes, Vincent in the ‘Jovial Crew,’ Edgworth in ‘Bartholomew Fair,’ Richmond in ‘Richard III,’ Frederick in the ‘Rover,’ Prince of Tanais in ‘Tamerlane,’ Bonario in ‘Volpone,’ Cassio, Lucius in ‘Titus Andronicus,’ Sir William Rant in the ‘Scourers,’ Bertram in the ‘Spanish Friar,’ Clerimont in the ‘Little French Lawyer;’ was on 17 Dec. 1716 the first Learchus in Mrs. Centlivre's ‘Cruel Gift,’ on 25 Feb. 1717 the first Osmyn in Charles Johnson's ‘Sultaness,’ and on 11 April the first Vortimer in Mrs. Manley's ‘Lucius, the first Christian King of Britain.’ In the autumn of 1717 he was acting in the booth of Bullock and Leigh at Southwark Fair. In the following summer, while eating his supper at the Sun tavern, Ryan was assaulted by a notorious tippler and bully named Kelly, whom in self-defence he ran through with his sword and killed, fortunately without serious consequence to himself (20 June 1718). On 1 March 1718 he had made, as Cassius in ‘Julius Cæsar,’ his first appearance at Lincoln's Inn Fields, where he remained about fourteen years. Quite interminable would be a list of the parts he played at this house, where he shared with Quin the lead in tragedy and comedy. Among them may be mentioned Torrismond in the ‘Spanish Friar,’ Careless in the ‘Double Dealer,’ Lysimachus in the ‘Rival Queens,’ Portius in ‘Cato,’ Courtwell in ‘Woman's a Riddle,’ Banquo, Essex, Hamlet, Richard II, Iago, Oroonoko, Edgar, Ford, Troilus, Benedick, Hotspur, Castalio, Moneses, Archer, Sir George Airy, Hippolitus, Macduff, Mardonius in ‘King and No King,’ Loveless in ‘Love's Last Shift,’ Captain Plume, Julius Cæsar, Buckingham in ‘Henry VIII,’ Amintor in the ‘Maid's Tragedy,’ Sir Harry Wildair, the Copper Captain, and Lord Townly. Among very many original parts, Howard in Sewell's ‘Sir Walter Raleigh,’ 16 Jan. 1719, and Flaminius in Fenton's ‘Mariamne,’ 22 Feb. 1723, alone need be mentioned.

On the opening of the new house in Covent Garden, on 7 Dec. 1732, by the Lincoln's Inn Fields company, Ryan took part as Mirabell in the performance of the ‘Way of the World.’ At this house he continued during the remainder of his career. On 15 March 1735 Ryan was shot through the jaw and robbed by a footpad in Great Queen Street. On the 17th, when his name was in the bill for Loveless, he wrote to the ‘Daily Post’ expressing his fear that he would never be able to appear again, and apologising for not being able to appeal in person to his patrons at his benefit on the 20th. The benefit was, however, a great success. The Prince of Wales sent ten guineas, and there was a crowded house, for which, on the 22nd, in the same paper, Ryan returned thanks. His upper jaw was principally injured. He reappeared on 25 April as the original Bellair in Popple's ‘Double Deceit, or a Cure for Jealousy.’ On 7 Feb. 1760, as Eumenes in the ‘Siege of Damascus,’ he was seen for what seems to have been the last time. On 1 March he advertised that he had been for some time much indisposed, and had postponed his benefit until 14 April, in the hope of being able to pay his personal attendance on his friends. For that benefit ‘Comus’ and the ‘Cheats of Scapin’ were played. It does not appear that he took part in either piece, and on 15 Aug. 1760, at his house in Crown Court, Westminster, or, according to another account, in Bath, he died.

After his first success as Marcus in Addison's ‘Cato,’ Ryan enjoyed for nearly thirty years a claim rarely disputed to the lovers in tragedy and the fine gentlemen in comedy. Above the middle height, easy rather than graceful in action and deportment, and awkward in the management of his head, he appeared at times extravagantly ridiculous in characters such as Phocyas or Sir George Airy, yet for a long time he was highly esteemed. His parts were very numerous. His most important original part was Falconbridge in Cibber's ‘Papal Tyranny in the Reign of King John,’ 15 Feb. 1745. His best performances were as Edgar in ‘Lear,’ Ford, Dumont, Iago, Mosca in ‘Volpone,’ Cassius, Frankly in the ‘Suspicious Husband,’ Moneses, and Jaffier. In the fourth act of ‘Macbeth’ he was excellent as Macduff. His mad scene in ‘Orestes’ won high commendation, and in his last act as Lord Townly he triumphed, though he had to encounter the formidable rivalry of Barry. He was too old when he played Alonzo in the ‘Revenge,’ but showed power in the scenes of jealousy and distraction, and his Captain Plume, one of his latest assumptions, displayed much spirit. Without ever getting quite into the first rank, he approached very near it, and was one of the most genuinely useful actors of the day.

Ryan, whose voice had a drawling, croaking accent, due to the injury to his jaw, by which his features, naturally handsome, were also damaged, was one of the actors whom Garrick, in his early and saucy mimicries, derided on the stage. In subsequent years Garrick went to see Ryan for the purpose of laughing at his ungraceful and ill-dressed figure in ‘Richard III,’ but found unexpected excellence in his performance, by which he modified and improved his own impersonation. Quin's friendship with Ryan was constant, and was creditable to both actors [see Quin, James].

[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Dibdin's English Stage; Davies's Life of Garrick and Dramatic Miscellanies; Tate Wilkinson's Memoirs and Wandering Patentee; Theatrical Examiner, 1757; Doran's Stage Annals, ed. Lowe; Life of Garrick, 1894; Thespian Dictionary; Georgian Era; Clark Russell's Representative Actors; Dramatic Censor.]

J. K.