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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Mr. and Mrs. Lee Lewes, at the Edinburgh Theatre


Nearly half a century has elapsed since the above performers were in Edinburgh ; yet they are well remembered by many of the old play-going citizens, who still revert to their early days as the golden age of the Scottish drama. Mr. and Mrs. Lee Lewes, from the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, made their first appearance in this city in 1787; at which period the Theatre was the property, and under the management of Mr. Jackson. On the first night of their engagement, which was limited to four nights, Lee Lewes enacted the part of Sir John Falstaff. The next he appeared in, "Love Makes a Man"—the third, in the "Busy Body"—and on the fourth night, he delivered a comic entertainment, which was announced as follows:—

"MR. LEE LEWES WILL EXHIBIT THE ORIGINAL LECTURE ON HEADS,

Which, with all its whimsical apparatus, he purchased of the late Mr. G. A. Stevens, and lately revived at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, several successive nights, with additions by Mr. Pilon. The whole is a display of upwards of Sixty different Characters of approved Wit and Humour—Satire and Sentiment."

The success of his lecture was such as to induce a repetition on two subsequent evenings; and the public were informed, through the medium of the press, that the lecture—"an admirable piece of satire " —was to be totally withdrawn after Saturday night next [2nd June]. "An entertainment so comic, versatile, and moral," continues the paragraph, "the public have seldom an opportunity of seeing; and we hope, for the honour of taste, its last representation will be crowdedly attended." Thus terminated the first short season of Lee Lewes on the Scottish boards.

Jackson, the patentee, having become bankrupt, Mr. Stephen Kemble came forward, and from the trustees took a lease of the Theatre for one year. This he did at the suggestion of Mr. Jackson, who, according to a private missive, was to have an equal interest in the concern. Mr. Kemble, however, refusing to accept the security produced by Mr. Jackson, retained the sole management in his own hands, and the dispute was only settled towards the close of the season by the decreet-arbitral of the Dean of Faculty.

Amongst the performers engaged by Mr. Kemble were Mr. and Mrs. Lee Lewes, who made their second appearance in Edinburgh on the 28th of February, 1792. To this period the Print refers, the "Road to Ruin" having been performed a few nights after their arrival. la the characters of Goldfinch and Widow Warren, the parties appeared to great advantage ; and it must be confessed that Kay has done them ample justice in the etching. The run of pieces—chiefly comedy— during the season were "The Rivals," "The Belle's Stratagem," "The Maid of the Mill," etc., and a piece called the "Aberdeen Orphan; or, the English Merchant" (Spatter, Mr. Lee Lewes ; Lady Alton, Mrs. Lee Lewes) was repeated several nights, the locality and the title probably forming the chief attraction. When the benefits came on, the following bill of fare was proposed by Mr. Lee Lewes as a banquet for his friends :—

"MR. LEE LEWES

Most respectfully informs the Public that his Benefit will be on Saturday, the 19th instant (May), when the evening's entertainments will be preluded with Comic Sketches, or Nature's Looking-Glass.

The apparatus is entirely new, and consists of Whole-Length Figures, painted in transparency by Mr. Hodgins, of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, and Mr. Dighton, of Saddler's Wells ; and is a selection of the laughable part of an entertainment Mr. Lee Lewes has long been preparing for the public, and which, at a future period, he means to submit to them on a large scale.

Spectum admissi, visum teneatis.

To conclude with a representation of the late King of Prussia and General Zeithen in figures, as large as life, executed at Berlin,

After the prelude will be performed (positively the last time this season)

The Road to Ruin;

To which will be added Tom Thumb the Great.

Tickets to be had of Mr. Lee Lewes, No. 6 Shakspeare Square."

The "Comic Mirror" was repeated on the two subsequent nights. Towards the close of the season, when Mr. John Kemble played for a few nights, Mrs. Lee Lewes appeared in the parts of Lady Macbeth and Lady Randolph.

On the termination of the dispute betwixt Jackson and Kemble by the decreet of the Dean of Faculty—a decision, however, far from satisfactory to either party—Mr. Jackson obtained a settlement with the majority of his creditors, and conceiving himself to have been ill-used by his opponent, contrived, by a negotiation with Mrs. Eston (an actress of considerable celebrity on more accounts than one), to disappoint him of a renewal of his lease. In consequence of this, and aware that he stood pretty high in the estimation of the public, Mr. Kemble resolved on opening a new theatre. With this view, he took the Circus —now the Adelphi Theatre—and at great expense had it altered and fitted up in a neat and commodious manner. The house was accordingly opened on the day announced—the 18th of January, 1793—with the comedy of "The Rivals;" the part of Sir Anthony Absolute by Mr. Lee Lewes. "Every part of the New Theatre," says a paragraph in the Courant, "was filled soon after the opening of the doors; and in few instances do we recollect where the expectations of the public were more amply gratified. The house is fitted up in a style of neatness and simplicity, and possesses a sufficiency of decoration, without approaching to tawdriness. The scenery is by Mr. Naesmith, and it is sufficient to say his reputation (so deservedly high) will not be diminished by the work : the subjects are well chosen, and tastefully executed. The frontispiece is a spirited representation of Apollo in his car, preceded by Aurora. Sheridan's admired comedy of 'The Rivals' was got up with considerable strength, Mr. Lee Lewes and Mr. Woods, in Old and Young Absolute, were excellent; and Mrs. Kemble, in Julia, displayed that plaintive and affecting simplicity which ever marks her performance."

Mr. Kemble was not long permitted to enjoy his success unmolested. Jackson's trustees insisting on the monopoly granted by the patent-royal, the question was carried before the Court of Session, and defended by Kemble, on the ground that the patent not having passed the Great Seal of Scotland, it was therefore invalid. In the course of the process, an interdict having been obtained from the Lord Ordinary, Lee Lewes created much merriment amongst the audience the following night, when a pantomime was about to be performed, by appearing on the stage with a padlock attached to his mouth, in allusion to the attempt to prevent them from acting the regular drama.

The contest betwixt the rival houses ultimately terminating in favour of the patentees, the New Theatre was closed, and Mr. Kemble consequently involved in very considerable pecuniary loss. An account of this process was given in a very unsatisfactory work, published by Jackson in 1793, entitled "A History of the Scottish Stage," in which, as might be expected, he was by no means sparing of his accusations against Kemble.

From his Memoirs, we learn that Charles Lee Lewes was a native of London, but of Cambrian extraction. ("Memoirs of Charles Lee Lewes, containing Anecdotes, Historical and Biographical, of the English and Scottish Stages during a period of Forty Years. "Written by himself." 4 vols. 12mo, London, 1805.) His lather, who was a classical scholar, was intimate with Dr. Young, author of "Night Thoughts;" and so greatly in favour was the future comedian with the worthy Doctor, that when only five years of age he was often taken to reside with him a few weeks at Welwyn. He was called Lee Lewes, in consequence of Colonel Lee, a son of the Doctor's lady by a former husband, having been his god-father.

Of a lively restless temper, Lee Lewes began his theatrical career at an early age, and after a short probation in the country towns, was engaged at Covent Garden, his fame as a Harlequin having brought him into notice. O'Keeffe, in his Recollections, ascribes his "coming before a London audience " to the interference of Macklin, to whom he was recommended as an excellent Squire Groom for his "Love-a-la-Mode." "Lee Lewes," says O'Keeffe, "afterwards became capital iu what is termed low comedy, though very good in every one of his characters. His peculiar merit was great volubility, with distinct articulation. A septuagenarian remarks that the Comedian's voice was somewhat husky, yet every word he uttered was distinctly heard by the audience. William Lewis also got an engagement at the same theatre, and having made his first appearance in Belcour, in Cumberland's 'West Indian,' and parts of that kind, the two performers were distinguished by the appellation of Lee Lewes and Gentleman, Lewis: the former had too much sense and good humour ever to be offended at this mode of distinction, nor did the latter pride himself in it."

The "Memoirs of Lee Lewes" are extremely barren of detail in relation to himself. With the exception of one or two amusing incidents while a "strolling player," his work is chiefly taken up with sketches of contemporary performers; and a great portion of it is devoted to an account of the rise and progress of the Scottish Stage, in which he is at considerable pains to vindicate the character of Mr. Stephen Kemble, and is not very charitable in his exposure of Mr. Jackson. During the period which elapsed betwixt his first and second visits to Edinburgh, he went out to India; but, disappointed in this hope of bettering his circumstances, he returned to England, after an absence of little more than a year.

Indeed, with all his success in making others laugh, Lee Lewes seems to have entirely failed himself in winning the smiles of Fortune. Out of an engagement for a length of time, his latter years were the reverse of affluent. This he did not attribute so much to a decline of popularity as to the " whim and caprice of managers," and the undue encouragement given to foreign performers.

In a Postscript to his Memoirs, which were published two years subsequent to his decease, his son (the editor) thus describes the latter years of his life :—

"I have to regret the apparently abrupt conclusion of these dramatic memoirs. Indeed, from the result of private correspondence, and the casual information I have been able to obtain, it would but indifferently gratify the reader, were I to record the fortuitous events which clouded the last few remaining years of the author's chequered life. His sensibility had been severely wounded by the contumelious and repulsive behaviour he had experienced from tyrannic managers, and a series of unpropitious circumstances which attended him through the progress of his professional career. His spirits were broken, and his powers evidently on the decline, by a melancholy concomitancy of mental inquietude and bodily suffering, being liable to a periodical attack of an anasarcous complaint, which advanced from his legs to his thighs, and eventually brought the vital parts under its influence. Having taken lodgings at the Middle ton's Head, Saddler's Wells, for the benefit of his health, on the 22d July, 1803, in the sixty-third year of his age, he supped with Mr. Townseud, of Covent Garden Theatre, and some friends, apparently in his usual state of health and spirits; and, on the following morning, was found dead in his bed. He was buried at St. James's Chapel, Pentonville, his funeral being attended by a few of his relatives and friends."

Lee Lewes appeared on the stage for the last time on the 24th of June previous to his demise; when, as he stated to the public, "in consideration of seven years' ill health, and consequent embarrassment, the Proprietor of Coveut Garden Theatre had kindly given him authority to announce a Play and Entertainments." This appeal was responded to in a warm manner. The house was filled to overflowing, and he was loudly and repeatedly applauded. On this occasion he performed Lissardo in the Wonder; and Violante was enacted by Mrs. Jordan.


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