Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wewitzer, Ralph

WEWITZER, RALPH (1748–1825), comedian, was born of respectable parents on 17 Dec. 1748 in Salisbury Street, Strand, and was apprenticed to a jeweller. He made his first appearance at Covent Garden in May 1773 as Ralph in the ‘Maid of the Mill,’ it is said for the benefit of his sister, Miss Wewitzer (see below). The first time his name can be traced to a part is 21 Nov. 1775, when he was the original Lopez in Sheridan's ‘Duenna.’ During fourteen years he remained at Covent Garden, acquiring gradually a reputation in Frenchmen, Germans, Jews, and old men. Near the outset of his Covent Garden career Wewitzer, who was heavily in debt, went to Dublin, where he acted under Ryder, though his performances cannot be traced. Among his parts at Covent Garden were Filch in the ‘Beggar's Opera,’ Champignon in ‘Reprisal,’ Jerry Sneak in ‘Mayor of Garratt,’ Simon Pure in ‘Bold Stroke for a Wife,’ Dr. Pinch in ‘Comedy of Errors,’ Coromandel (an original part) in Pilon's ‘Liverpool Prize,’ 22 Feb. 1779, Dr. Caius in ‘Merry Wives of Windsor,’ Vandervelt (an original part) in Holcroft's ‘Duplicity’ on 13 Oct. 1781, Cutbeard in ‘Epicœne,’ Basil in ‘Follies of a Day’ on 14 Dec. 1785, Juno in ‘Midas,’ Smuggler in ‘Constant Couple,’ Gardiner in ‘King Henry VIII,’ Frenchman in ‘Lethe,’ Tattle in ‘Love for Love,’ Lord Plausible in ‘Plain Dealer,’ Puritan in ‘Duke and no Duke,’ Grutti in Shirley's ‘Bird in a Cage,’ Razor in ‘Provoked Wife,’ first carrier in the ‘First Part of King Henry IV,’ Sir Philip Modelove in ‘Bold Stroke for a Wife,’ Oldcastle in ‘Intriguing Chambermaid,’ Papillion in the ‘Lyar,’ Rigdum Funnidos in ‘Chrononhotonthologos,’ Tipkin in ‘Tender Husband,’ Medium in ‘Inkle and Yarico,’ and very many parts, chiefly servants or the like, in forgotten comedies of Holcroft, O'Keeffe, Pilon, and others. In ‘Omar, or a Trip round the World,’ by O'Keeffe, with music by Shield, produced at Covent Garden on 20 Dec. 1785, Wewitzer delivered with very great effect a species of ‘state harangue-pomposo’ (O'Keeffe, Recollections, ii. 115), in what purported to be the language of a Polynesian chief.

On 8 July 1780 Wewitzer's name appears at the Haymarket as Fripon in Miles Peter Andrews's comic opera ‘Fire and Water,’ then first produced. At the same house, at which he appeared during many consecutive summers, he was Diana Trapes on 8 Aug. 1781, when the female parts in the ‘Beggar's Opera’ were played by men, and vice versa. In 1785 John Palmer (1742?–1798) [q. v.] built the Royalty Theatre in Wellclose Square, which he opened in 1787. On his failure and imprisonment in 1789 he entrusted the management to Wewitzer, who severed his connection with Covent Garden and sought to make of the place a popular house, such as Sadler's Wells. On the collapse of the speculation he retired with loss of money and reputation. In August 1790 he was at the Haymarket Theatre, where he was seen for two or three summers, and in September 1791 was with the Drury Lane company at the King's Theatre in the Haymarket. Here he was on 20 April 1792 the first Larron, a smuggler, in the ‘Fugitive,’ altered by Richardson from the ‘Coxcomb’ of Beaumont and Fletcher. At Drury Lane he played Gripe in ‘Cheats of Scapin,’ Moses in ‘School for Scandal,’ Sir William Wealthy in Foote's ‘Minor,’ Ephraim Smooth (an original part) in O'Keeffe's ‘Nosegay of Weeds’ on 6 June 1798, Canton in ‘Clandestine Marriage,’ Shadrach in the ‘Young Quaker,’ Elbow in ‘Measure for Measure,’ Abednego in the ‘Jew and the Doctor,’ Abraham (an original character) in Holcroft's ‘Vindictive Man’ on 20 Nov. 1806, and Gibbet in ‘Beaux' Stratagem.’

After Drury Lane was burned down he went with the company to the English Opera House (Lyceum), where he was on 30 Sept. 1811 the first La Fosse in Moore's ‘M.P., or the Blue Stocking.’ On the reopening night of Drury Lane (10 Oct. 1812) he was one of the gravediggers in ‘Hamlet.’ Soon after this time his name, which had been infrequently seen on the bills, disappeared. He drew during his later years a pension of 65l. from the Covent Garden fund, and died in extreme poverty at lodgings in Wild Passage, Drury Lane, on 1 Jan. 1825, his body being removed by his landlady, to whom he was in debt, from the expensive coffin supplied by his sister.

A good actor in secondary parts, Wewitzer won the approval of good judges, but never rose to the front rank. He was a French scholar, and left behind him the reputation of an intelligent companion and a wit. The witticisms that survive do not appeal very directly to the present generation. He had a share in arranging the marriage of Harriot Mellon [q. v.], subsequently Duchess of St. Albans, with Mr. Coutts, and was for a short time of her household. A pamphlet, the title of which begins ‘Mr. Percy Wyndham's Strictures on an Impostor’ (see Lowe, Bibliographical Account of Theatrical Literature, p. 237), is written in Wewitzer's interest, and taxes the duchess with falsehood and ingratitude.

Wewitzer contributed to the Haymarket the ‘Gnome,’ a pantomime (unprinted), acted in 1788, and to Covent Garden the ‘Magic Cavern,’ a pantomime, 27 Dec. 1784; 1785, 8vo. To Wewitzer are also assigned the ‘Pedigree of King George III, lineally deduced from King Egbert,’ 1812, 8vo; the ‘School for Wits, a Choice Collection of Bons Mots, Anecdotes, and other Poetical Jeux d'Esprit,’ 1815, 12mo; ‘Dramatic Reminiscences, by Ralph Wewitzer, Comedian,’ 12mo—no copy known with a title-page; ‘Theatrical Pocket-book, or brief Dramatic Chronology,’ London, 1814, 12mo; and ‘A brief Dramatic Chronology of Actors, &c., to which is added a Miscellaneous Appendix,’ London, 1817, 12mo—a compilation of no authority or merit.

A portrait, by Dewilde, of Wewitzer as Dr. Caius in the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ is in the Mathews collection at the Garrick Club, with a rhyming quotation from Anthony Pasquin:

    His Caius and clowns we may see and admire,
    And his Bellair, like glass, is engendered by fire.
    Frenchmen are free from unpleasant grimace,
    And his Jews you would swear were all born in Duke's Place.

A portrait, by Wageman, in the same character, accompanies his memoir in the sixth volume of Oxberry's ‘Dramatic Biography.’

Miss Wewitzer (fl. 1772–1789) made her appearance on 4 Nov. 1772 at Covent Garden as Daphne in ‘Daphne and Chloe,’ and played several parts of no great importance. Genest announces her first appearance as Elmira in Dibdin's ‘Seraglio,’ 14 Nov. 1776. She seems to have played at Covent Garden or in Dublin until 1789, when she quitted the stage. Subsequently—after 1808—she is said to have become the second wife of James Cuffe, lord Tyrawley. She was dead when Lord Tyrawley died on 15 June 1821 (Gent. Mag. 1821, ii. 88; cf. G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage, vii. 443).

[No full or quite trustworthy life of Wewitzer is accessible. The nearest approach may be found in Oxberry's Dramatic Biography (vol. vi.), and in a notice of death in the Roscius, the first number of which appeared on 4 Jan. 1825. Genest's Account of the English Stage; Baker, Reed and Jones's Biographia Dramatica; Thespian Magazine and Literary Repositor; Thespian Dictionary; Gilliland's Dramatic Mirror; Clark Russell's Representative Actors; New Monthly Magazine; Georgian Era; Notes and Queries, 9th ser. i. 168, 252, 373; Secret Memoirs of the Green Room; Authentic Memoirs of the Green Room; Boaden's Life of Mrs. Jordan have, in addition to works cited, been consulted.]

J. K.