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A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and Other Stage Personnel in London: 1660-1800.

A Biographical Dictionary of Actors (hereafter, BDA) is a staggering accomplishment, representing several decades of good, old-fashioned data-collecting (on five-by-eight-inch cards) coupled with consistent, thorough entry writing by three of the most distinguished literary scholars concerned with the Restoration and Georgian periods. Because their volumes appeared in pairs (in 1973, 1975, 1978, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1991, and 1993), reviews have heretofore almost always concerned two volumes. When reviewing the first pair for Notes (31 [1974): 311-12) Neal Zaslaw lauded the "brilliant mustering of primary source material for the London activities" of "virtually everyone connected with pubic entertainment in London during the period in question" (p. 312). When Stoddard Lincoln and David A. Day in turn reviewed volumes 5-6 and 11-12 for Notes (35 [1979]: 886-87 and 48 [1991]: 111-12) they provided further exemplification of Zaslaw's fine point.

The most stunning feature is surely the all-embracing scope of the authors' more than 8,500 "stage [and offstage!] personnel." Some unusual categories for onstage personnel include acrobat, animal trainer, dwarf, equestrian, equilibrist, fireeater, freak, giant, monologist, mountebank, oddity, posture maker, pugilist, reciter, ropedancer, ropeslider, strongman, trained animal, tumbler, and wrestler. Those working offstage include the barber, bill carrier, billsticker, callboy, caber, candlesnuffer, candlewoman, charwoman, concessionaire, constable, cook, dresser, featherman, guard, lampman, messenger, music caller, music porter, numberer, plumber, scene painter, scowrer, sweeper, treasurer, watchman, and wigmaker, as well as the various "keepers": of box, box office, gallery door, hall, house, instrument, lobby, lobby door, office, pit, pit office, and scene. While the onstage performers are known from newspaper advertisements (nearly all of which were located and utilized by the editors of The London Stage, 11 vols. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1960-68), a person working behind the scenes is typically named only in one account book.

Musicians in BDA number about 3,900, and they include virtually every performer who was active in London between 1660 and 1800. Entries even include those at the edges of its time span, that is, those whose career ended about 1660 -- such as William Davenant, Andrea and Nicholas Lanier, and Angelo Notari -- or began about 1800. The latter include John Braham, William Crotch, John Field, and several whose first recorded performance was in spring or summer 1800, such as Miss Crosby, Mr Cuerton, Walter Henry Maddock, and Thomas Trueman. Many known from only one reference are also entered, such as those who were on the waiting list for a place in the King's Musick or Chapel Royal during the Restoration period, all those who sang or played in the Handel commemorations that began in 1784, all those listed in Joseph Doane's A Musical Directory (London, [1794]; reprinted London: Royal College of Music, 1993) and all those known only by pseudonyms, such as Arcangelo Bimolle, Shadrach Twanglyre, or Mynheer Von Poop-Poop Broomstickado ( = Matthew Skeggs?). Although many of the musicians in BDA are not known to have appeared upon the London stage (see, e.g., Isaac Clarke and Michael Lee), the authors have justifiably assumed that public places of entertainment may have occasionally provided income for virtually all of them. The authors' categories include musician, singer, opera performer [ = chorister], ballad singer, whistler, sibilist, instrumentalist, violinist, fiddler, violist, violoncellist, double bass player, bass viol player, flutist, recorder player, piper, fifer, union pipe player, oboist, bassoonist, clarinetist, basset horn player, bagpiper, trumpeter, horn player, trombonist, drummer, kettledrummer, harpsichordist, player on the virginal, organist, pianist, dulcimer player, player on musical glasses, harpist, lutanist, theorbo player, guitarist, mandolin player, jew's harp player, trumpet marine player, bell ringer, handbell ringer, conductor, musical director, opera director, and bandleader. Offstage musicians, who are entered only if they were employees listed in account books or were also performers, include composer, songwriter, music copyist, music engraver, music publisher, music seller, music teacher, instrument maker, mechanical instrument maker, and pianoforte manufacturer. One desideratum for a supplementary volume is an index of personnel according to categories such as those listed in the preceding two paragraphs, as Roger Savage suggested in his review of volumes 9-10 for The Times Literary Supplement, 3 January 1986, 19.

The 3,900 persons for whom music was the principal profession are joined in BDA by 900 actors, actresses, dancers, and other personnel for whom the authors list singing, playing, or composing as a secondary or tertiary activity, and by a couple hundred more, whose entries refer to them singing or playing onstage. Some of those listed primarily as actors are better known today for their composing (Charles Dibdin) or singing: Susanna Maria Cibber (oratorios by Handel), Kitty Clive (ballad operas), John Laguerre (entr'actes), and Michael Kelly (operas, including the Viennese premiere of W. A. Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro). Some performers must have attracted audiences by means of their "extraordinary" attributes: Joseph Boruwlaski was a dwarf who played the guitar and fiddle, Thomas Topham a strongman who sang, Barbara Van Beck a bearded lady who played keyboard instruments, and Le Sieur and Madame Vernet a pair of posturers who played the violin, tambour di bass, and other instruments "to various & astonishing attitudes."

When should one consult BDA instead of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London: Macmillan, 1980)? Primarily when seeking information about the London careers of any stage personnel and all performers, most of whom are not even entered in The New Grove. A detailed chronological narrative for each of them is provided in BDA, and it is often eye-opening. For example, I had researched the London production of Giovanni Bononcini's Camilla (1706-28), yet had not identified the singer Turner as Purbeck Turner until I read the illuminating entry on him in BDA. Citations from manuscript documents, newspaper clippings, and other printed sources of the time -- which are ordinarily excluded from the brusque New Grove -- are often given in toto, and they are fascinating. For example, while working on Bononcini I had combed London newspapers for references to him, yet did not find that of 23 June 1721 until I opened BDA, 2: 208. For sterling examples of valuable citations, see the entries for singers Anna Lodi, Siface, and Catherine Tofts; managers Richard Steele and Owen Mac Swiney; and the proprietor John Vanbrugh.

Because the focus of BDA is on performers, a creator who did not also perform, act, or manage is excluded, which presumably explains the absence of the playwrights Charles Shadwell, William Congreve, John Gay, and Oliver Goldsmith, as well as the composers William Bates, Henry Carey, and Baldassare Galuppi. Creative activities of anyone in BDA receive relatively short shrift, and the extant sources for works are not listed. Since actors typically portrayed far more characters per season than did singers and typically managed or created for many more seasons than did composers, the entries for them are significantly longer. I counted sixty-one actors whose entries consume nine or more pages, the longest of which concern David Garrick (103 pages), Sarah Siddons (66), John Philip Kemble (47), Samuel Foote (36), and Margaret Woffington (30). Only seven musicians take up nine or more pages: Handel (26 pages), Charles Incledon (13), John Braham (12), Gertrud Mara (10), Elizabeth Sheridan (10), Anna Storace (10), and Thomas Augustine Arne (9).

Twenty years ago, after the publication of volume 4, the authors kindly allowed me to work with their card file at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Five years ago, before the publication of volumes 13-16, Philip Highfill permitted me to work once again with this treasure trove, which was then in his office at George Washington University. Since the cards carefully record the manuscript or printed source for each item of information, they provide crucial references for any scholar who wishes to explore the sources. Although the authors originally set out to provide "in most entries ... as much citation as has seemed necessary" (1: ix), scholarly reviewers found far too few citations; see, for example, Robert D. Hume's reviews of the first three pairs of volumes in Eighteenth-Century Studies (8 [1974/75]: 510-17), Philological Quarterly (55 [1976]: 451-54), and Eighteenth-Century Studies (14 [1980/81]: 78-82). In the last review, Hume noted how the authors, in pairs two and three, had "gone a considerable way" toward minimizing "the lack of specific documentation," yet his praise was muted: "they usually manage to give at least a hint toward a source for the kind of specific assertion that a later scholar might want to follow up on." In other words, they do refer to a legal document of 1774 that declares Francis Fleming to be a musician in ordinary to the King (5: 305), but only a five-by-eight-inch card locates this document in the Public Record Office, LC 5/105, page 122. For John Hill, they refer to "one of the manuscripts in the Harleian collection" (7: 310); in this case, no card refers to a Harleian source, but one does refer to Edward F. Rimbault, The Old Cheque-Book or Book of Remembrance of The Chapel Royal from 1561 to 1744 (New York: Da Capo Press, 1966), 211, where Rimbault refers to Harl. MS. 1911. Beginning with volume 9, references are much more often precise; see, for example, the entries for John Lamert, Mr Lewis (fl. 1790), Mr Long (fl. 1714-1720), and John Macgregor.

In his first review, Hume reported that Edward Langhans had informed him that the authors hoped to "make their file of cards publicly available for reference ... at the end of the project." Thanks to the generosity of Jeanne Newlin, Curator of the Harvard Theatre Collection, who helped the authors greatly with every volume of BDA, the immense card file will henceforth be available at Harvard University. In it, scholars will find not only precise references to sources, but also a signature that identifies the author of each entry represented by a "pack of cards," as well as boxes of "additions and corrections" (nearly all of which are for the first half of the alphabet). Since the file is kept in a deposit library, scholars who intend to utilize any part of it must request materials several days in advance of their visit. This valuable file should be made available on microfilm.

Among the more than 1,800 illustrations, I counted about 830 portraits of actors, 360 Of musicians, 310 of other stage personnel, and 310 that depict an object, such as a residence, tombstone, playbill, ticket, promptbook, song sheet, theater plan, machine or set design. The last category includes 188 illustrations placed at the ends of volumes 1-10, where they "stand alone," and about 120 that aptly illustrate text entries. The portraits accord with the authors' original intent, which was to publish 1,400-1,500 likenesses, "at least one picture of each of our subjects for whom a portrait exists," then -- at the end of each entry -- "to attempt to list all original portraits any knowledge of which is now recoverable" (1: xi). Those most copiously represented are the actors Garrick, Siddons, J. P. Kemble, and Woffington, who are each shown in more than ten portraits. Among the musicians, only Incledon, Senesino, and Sheridan are depicted by as many as five, and only Mara, Margaret Martyr, and Rosemond Mountain by four. The most fascinating to observe are those that show actors, in a scene from a play, a group of musicians in performance (e.g., 3: 55; 7: 236 and 245; 9: 153; 13: 229; and 15: 94), caricatures (see, e.g., the musicians in 4: 114; 5: 148 and 237; 7: 76; 9: 406 [ = 15: 117!]; and 13: 130, 251, 252, and 264), and ordinary people (such as the itinerant musicians and the chalybeate-wells organist in 6: 335 and 372). A "finding-list" for portraits in a supplementary volume would be useful, and one of its categories should be "works represented"; for example, scenes from The Beggar's Opera (1728) are shown in various volumes, such as 7: 337; 8: 438; and 15: 218, 219, and 221.

For most dictionaries and encyclopedias the illustrative materials are assembled by the publisher's editorial staff, but for BDA they were scrupulously collected and selected by Kalman Burnim. The only regrettable necessity is that inscriptions, music or anything else found above or below the pictures nearly always had to be eliminated for reasons of space. The material cut is often summarized in captions or in the text entry, but there are many exceptions. Thus, the picture of Mara (10:77, which is not on the list of eleven portraits at the end of the entry!), lacks a reference to its inscription: "che canto in Venezia I'anno 1790 nel Teatro di S. Samuele." The depiction of William Henry Moss as Caleb lacks reference to the song, printed below it, that is not shown (10: 332 and 334). Perhaps the worst reproduction (for which the publisher is presumably responsible) is the caricature of Regina Mingotti in 10: 264; it cuts off one-half of her figure (including her face!) and one-half of "2000 P[elr AN[NU]M" on the right side, one and one-half of the patrons on the left, and two lines of text followed by "Publish'd Oct 8th 1756" at the bottom. I have been able to check these portraits because Burnim has generously given his photographs (from which the reproductions in BDA were made) to the Harvard Theatre Collection, where they -- like the card file -- will be available to scholars who need to view them for details that are unclear in the printed version.

Reviewers have corrected and supplemented various entries, but in view of the marvelous virtues and massive size of BDA, any critique seems "to attack an elephant with a peashooter," as Robert Halsband wrote at the end of his review of volumes 1-6 in Journal of English and Germanic Philology (79 [1980]: 444-46). Also, any reviewer's list pales next to the "over two hundred helpful additions or corrections" to BDA, volumes 1-6, which author Edward Langhans noted when he reviewed Ben Schneider's Index to The London Stage (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1979) in Eighteenth-Century Studies (14 [1980/81]: 72-78). One category that I thought well worth criticizing was the inclusion of "double" entries: for example, the cellists Mareis and Marzi are the same person; the pipers McLane and Neil M'Lean could be the same, so they should be cross-referenced; Nicolino is merely a diminutive for Nicola Haym; the Signora who signed a receipt "Io Cieca" is Francesca [Checa] Boschi; and "Signor N. N." has N[o] N[ame] because he, the third man for the burlettas of 1760-61, had not yet been found. But even such criticism seems somewhat beside the point, for the authors clearly included all such "dubious cases" because they are "scrupulous to a fault: their motto is evidently when in doubt, leave him or her in' -- and rightly so," as Judith Milhous commented in her review of volumes 3-4 in The Eighteenth Century: A Current Bibliography (2 [1979]: 162-65).

Southern Illinois University Press provided a generously large typeface on paper of sturdy stock for BDA. Presumably in order to rein in the number of volumes (twelve were originally foreseen), it did move to thinner paper for volumes 7-10 and to a somewhat smaller typeface for volumes 7-16 (which are, nevertheless, still printed in a significantly larger font than that utilized for The New Grove). In every way, BDA is therefore a theatrical sensation, and it should be in the library of anyone concerned with musicians and other stage personnel ranging in time from Angelo Notari (b. 1566) to John Braham (d. 1856). Reading it is an enthralling experience, and -- as Roger Fiske wrote at the end of his review of volumes 7-8 in Music and Letters (64 [1983]: 104-5) -- "there is nothing else remotely like it."
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Author:Lindgren, Lowell
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1995
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