Weston, Thomas (1737-1776) (DNB00)

WESTON, THOMAS (1737–1776), actor, was son of Thomas Weston, a cook to George II. He obtained a place under his father as turnbroach, but, on account of indolence and riotous conduct, was discharged and sent to sea as a midshipman on board the Warspite (74 guns). Finding the life on shipboard wholly distasteful, he is reported to have escaped by means of a stratagem and to have joined a theatrical company playing in the environs of London. After incurring the customary and, as it appears, inevitable experiences of poverty and hardship of the strolling comedian, he found his way to Bartholomew Fair, probably about 1759, and acted at a booth kept by Shuter and Yates, his future associates. He is first traced in London on 28 Sept. 1759, when, for the benefit of Charlotte Charke [q. v.] at the Haymarket, he played Sir Francis Gripe in the ‘Busybody.’ This same autumn he married a milliner in the Haymarket, whom he brought on to the stage, where she made some slight name as an actress. The following year, under Foote, at the same house, he was Dick in the ‘Minor.’ In the autumn of 1760 he was a member of the Smock Alley company, Dublin, where he made his first appearance as Fondlewife in the ‘Old Bachelor,’ and was received with favour as the Lying Valet, Cymon in ‘Damon and Phillida,’ Old Man in ‘Lethe,’ Daniel in the ‘Conscious Lovers,’ Clown in ‘Measure for Measure,’ Old Woman in ‘Rule a Wife and have a Wife,’ and other parts. At this time even he showed the peculiar naïveté and simplicity for which he became subsequently renowned.

After parting from his wife by mutual consent, Weston appeared at Drury Lane in the summer of 1761, under the management of Foote and Murphy, in several original parts: Brush in Murphy's ‘All in the Wrong’ on 15 June, Dapper in Murphy's ‘Citizen’ on 2 July, and Doctor in Thomas Bentley's ‘Wishes, or Harlequin's Mouth opened,’ on the 27th. This last piece, founded, it is said, on ‘Les Trois Souhaits’ of La Fontaine, had been rehearsed by the company at Lord Melcombe's villa, subsequently Brandenburgh House. Under the regular management at Drury Lane he was seen as Polonius to the Hamlet of Garrick on 14 Oct., and subsequently as Jeremy in ‘Love for Love,’ Butler in the ‘Drummer,’ Charino in ‘Love makes a Man,’ and Shallow in ‘Merry Wives of Windsor.’

In July 1763, at the Haymarket, he achieved the greatest success hitherto attained in the part of Jerry Sneak, a henpecked husband, written expressly for him by Foote, in the latter's ‘Mayor of Garratt.’ Back at Drury Lane, he played Foresight in ‘Love for Love,’ Abel Drugger in the ‘Alchemist,’ Maiden in ‘Tunbridge Walks,’ Nicodemus Somebody in the ‘Stage Coach,’ and Sharp in the ‘Lying Valet.’ At the Haymarket in 1764 he was the first Rust, an antiquary, in Foote's ‘Patron.’ During the two following years his name is not found in London bills.

On 23 Oct. 1766 he reappeared at Drury Lane as the Sexton in ‘Much Ado about Nothing,’ and he played during the season Tester in the ‘Suspicious Husband,’ a part unnamed in the ‘Rehearsal,’ the Maid in ‘Rule a Wife and have a Wife,’ Old Man in ‘Lethe,’ and Feeble in the ‘Second Part of King Henry IV.’ He was, presumably, the first Jackides in the ‘Tailors’ at the Haymarket on 2 July 1767, played Filch in the ‘Beggar's Opera,’ the Schoolboy in the piece so named, and one of the pupils on Foote's revival of his ‘Orators.’ Foote, having recovered from the loss of his leg, continued his management of the Haymarket, at which house Weston was the original Dr. Last in Foote's ‘Devil upon Two Sticks’ on 30 May 1768, the same character in Bickerstaffe's ‘Dr. Last in his Chariot’ on 31 Aug. 1769, Jack in Foote's ‘Lame Lover’ on 27 Aug. 1770, Billy Button in Foote's ‘Maid of Bath’ on 26 June 1771, and Abel Drugger in Francis Gentleman's ‘Tobacconist’ on 22 July. In 1770 he is said to have accompanied Foote to Edinburgh, and to have appeared there as Launcelot Gobbo. In the autumn of 1771 he was with Tate Wilkinson in York, where he was seen in ‘Sir Harry Sycamore,’ as well as such favourite parts as Scrub, Jerry Sneak, Jerry Blackacre, Dr. Last, and Abel Drugger. Back at the Haymarket, he was Twig in the ‘Cooper’ in June 1772, Putty (a glazier) and Janus in Foote's ‘Nabob’ on 29 June, Ninny in Gentleman's ‘Cupid's Revenge’ in July of the same year, Butler in Foote's ‘Piety in Pattens’ on 15 Feb. 1773, Pillage in Foote's ‘Bankrupt’ on 21 July, Buck in the ‘Trip to Portsmouth’ on 11 Aug., Dan Drugger in Gentleman's ‘Pantheonites’ on 3 Sept., Toby in Foote's ‘Cozeners’ in July 1774, and Robin in Dibdin's ‘Waterman’ on 17 Aug. He was thus, it is seen, a mainstay of Foote in that actor's management of the Haymarket. Other parts that he played at this house included Papillion in the ‘Lyar,’ Tim in the ‘Knights,’ Richard III (a droll experiment made for his benefit on 30 Sept. 1774), Vamp in the ‘Author,’ Diana Trapes in the ‘Beggar's Opera,’ and Mrs. Cole in the ‘Minor.’

At Drury Lane, meanwhile, he was seen as Daniel in ‘Conscious Lovers,’ Scrub in ‘Beaux' Stratagem,’ Jerry Blackacre in the ‘Plain Dealer,’ and Lucianus in ‘Hamlet.’ On 17 Nov. 1768 he was the original Mawworm in the ‘Hypocrite,’ acting it inimitably, and stamping on it a character it retained with successive exponents. Subsequently he was Roger (an original part) in the ‘Institution of the Garter’ on 28 Oct. 1771, Gardener in the ‘Drummer,’ Master Stephen in ‘Every Man in his Humour,’ Clincher, jun., in the ‘Constant Couple,’ Thomas (an original part) in Garrick's ‘Irish Widow’ on 23 Oct. 1772, Servant (an original part) in the ‘Duel’ on 8 Nov., and Flash in ‘Miss in her Teens.’ In the season 1773–4 he was the first Binnacle in the ‘Fair Quaker, or the Humours of the Navy,’ on 9 Nov. 1773, Torrington (a barrister) in Kelly's ‘School for Wives’ on 11 Dec., Tycho in Garrick's ‘Christmas Tale’ on 27 Dec., and a character unnamed in the ‘Swindlers’ on 25 April 1774. He played Lory in the ‘Man of Quality’ and Justice Woodcock in ‘Love in a Village,’ imitated Hippisley's Drunken Man, and for his benefit, by way of parodying addresses delivered on the backs of asses, announced himself to speak Judge Tycho's sentence ‘riding on a rhinoceros.’ On 17 Sept., the opening night of the following season, he was King in a prelude called the ‘Meeting of the Company, or Bayes' Art of Acting;’ was the original Hurry in Burgoyne's ‘Maid of the Oaks’ on 5 Nov., Jack Nightshade in Cumberland's ‘Choleric Man’ on 19 Dec., and Spy in Bates's ‘Rival Candidates’ on 1 Feb. 1775. He was a Recruit in the ‘Recruiting Officer,’ and for his benefit gave an interlude called ‘Weston's Return from the Universities of Parnassus.’ In his last season he was the original Dozey, a parish clerk, in Garrick's ‘May Day, or the Little Gipsy,’ on 28 Oct. 1775. This was his last part and, so far as can be proved, his last performance. On 18 Jan. 1776 he died of habitual drunkenness. The third volume of ‘Dramatic Table Talk’ prints a mock will which Weston is credited with having made a few weeks before his death. In this, the ill-nature of which is at least as conspicuous as its wit, he leaves to Foote, from whom he derived it, all his consequence; to Garrick his money, ‘as there is nothing on earth he is so very fond of;’ to Reddish a grain of honesty, which is a rarity he must value; to Mr. Yeates (sic) all his spirit; to Mrs. Yeates (sic) his humility; to Shuter his example; to Brereton, a small portion of modesty; to Jacobs his shoes, for which he has long waited, and so on.

In his line Weston was one of the most genuine comedians our stage has known. He was an artist, moreover, and rarely offended, as did other impersonators of clowns, in speaking ‘more than is set down for them.’ Davies couples him with Benjamin Johnson [q. v.] as the only men who, in ‘all the parts they represented, absolutely forgot themselves.’ When their superiors in ‘the art of colouring and high finishing’ laughed at some casual blunder of an actor or impropriety in the scene, these men were so truly absorbed in character that they never lost sight of it. Weston's performance of Abel Drugger by its simplicity, Davies holds, almost exceeded the fine art of Garrick. Garrick, one of whose greatest comic parts it was, on seeing Weston in it, declared it one of the finest pieces of acting he ever witnessed, and presented Weston on his benefit with 20l. When Weston played Scrub, Garrick (as Archer) found it difficult to keep his countenance. As Daniel in the ‘Conscious Lovers,’ Weston is said to have been droll beyond the conception of those who had not seen him. His by-play was marvellous, and his breaking the phial in Abel Drugger; his returning for his shoes after his medical examination in Dr. Last; and his hurrying up with his wife's night-clothes on the well-known sound of ‘Jerry! Jerry! Where are you, Jerry?’ in the ‘Mayor of Garratt,’ are said to have shown excellence ‘that one might despair of ever seeing again.’ Hurry was another part in which he was unequalled, throwing the audience into fits of mirth without moving a muscle of his features. He left no successor in his indefinable simplicity. Dibdin says that the French know nothing of such actors as Shuter and Weston.

Weston earned considerable salaries for his day, but was always in debt, and frequently obliged to sleep in the theatre for fear of bailiffs. He was careless in money matters, a quality sometimes imputed to him for generosity. His disorders led to his being often out of employment.

A portrait, by Zoffany, of Weston as Billy Button in the ‘Maid of Bath’ is in the Mathews collection in the Garrick Club. A second, by De Loutherbourg, as Tycho in Garrick's ‘Christmas Tale’ was engraved by Phillips. A picture of Foote and Weston as the President and Dr. Last in the ‘Devil on Two Sticks’ was painted by Zoffany and engraved by Finlayson. A portrait by Dod, in the character of Scrub, was published in 1780.

[Memoirs of that celebrated comedian T[homas] W[eston], London, 1776, 8vo; Genest's Account of the English Stage; Oulton's History of the Theatres of London; Theatrical Biography, 1772; Hitchcock's Irish Stage; Tate Wilkinson's Wandering Patentee; Gilliland's Dramatic Mirror; Thespian Dictionary; Clark Russell's Representative Actors; Georgian Era; Davies's Dramatic Miscellanies; Dramatic Table Talk; Smith's Cat. Engraved Portraits; Marshall's Cat. Engraved Portraits.]

J. K.