Charles Macklin

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Macklin, Charles, a distinguished actor, was born in the County of Westmeath, probably in 1700. His real name was MacLoughlin, which he changed to Macklin after his arrival in London. His father was a Presbyterian, his mother a Catholic. It is said that at the siege of Derry he had three uncles on the Williamite side, and three on that of the besiegers. He was apprenticed to a saddler, but at fourteen ran away to Dublin, and after some time obtained occupation in Trinity College as a "badgeman." About 1725 he went to London, acted for a time at Lincoln's Inn Theatre, and then joined a strolling company in Wales. He settled in London as an actor in September 1730. In 1735 he was tried at the Old Bailey for having when in a passion unintentionally killed a fellow actor, and he was found guilty of manslaughter. In 1741 he established his reputation in the character of "Shylock," the only one in which he ever excelled. It was largely owing to Macklin's encouragement that the difficulties of Garrick's first years on the stage were smoothed over.

He warmly seconded Garrick's efforts to introduce a more natural style of acting in place of the formal strut and stilted tones theretofore considered essential. It is to be regretted that the good understanding between them did not continue in after life. After a dispute with the manager, and his consequent exclusion from Drury Lane, in 1744, Macklin opened the little theatre of the Haymarket. He afterwards acted in Ireland as one of Thomas Sheridan's company, and was for a time the head of a strolling troop at Chester. In 1753 he took formal leave of the stage, and opened a tavern, coffee-house, and "school of oratory," in the Piazza of Covent Garden, with the expectation of making a rapid fortune. This scheme failed miserably, and he became bankrupt. We next find him present at the laying of the foundation-stone of Crow-street Theatre, Dublin, in 1757. He remained in Dublin for several years, and there brought out his play of The Man of the World, and other pieces.

He continued to act both in England and Ireland until January 1789, when his powers, as might have been expected at his advanced age, began decidedly to fail. During his latter years he lived on a small annuity purchased by his friends. His greatest pleasure continued to be attending the theatre, although his memory was almost entirely gone, and he continually asked: "What is the play; who are the performers?" He died 11th July 1797, aged 97, and was buried in St. Paul's, Covent Garden. Percy Fitzgerald speaks of him as "a strange character, an Irishman of rough humour and ability, a good fives player, and a very promising actor. His appearance was very remarkable; a coarse face, marked not with 'lines,' but what a brother actor with rude wit had called 'cordage.' He was struggling hard to get free of a very pronounced brogue, and having come to the stage with what was to English ears an uncouth name, and to English mouths an almost unpronounceable one, had changed it from McLoughlin to Meeklin, and later Macklin... He was a most striking and remarkable character, and one that stands out very distinctly during the whole course of his long career, which stretched over nearly ninety years. He was quarrelsome, overbearing, even savage; always either in revolt or conflict, full of genius and a spirit that carried him through a hundred misfortunes."

The question of his age, long considered to have extended to 106 years, is pretty well settled by a communication in Notes and Queries, 3rd Series.

Sources

3. Actors, Representative: W. Clark Russell. London,1875.

254. Notes and Queries. London, 1850-'78.
O'Callaghan, John C., see No. 186.

286. Players, Lives of the: John Galt. 2 vols. London, 1831.

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