James Quin

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Quin, James, a distinguished actor, was born in London, 24th February 1693, of Irish parents, who almost immediately afterwards returned with him to Ireland. After his father's death in 1710 he was shown to be illegitimate, it being proved that a former husband of his mother was alive after her marriage to his father. He was therefore obliged to shift for himself, and to give up the idea of studying for the Bar. He first appeared on the stage in 1714, at Smock-alley Theatre, Dublin. He had many of the requisites of a good actor — an expressive countenance, speaking eyes, a clear and melodious voice, a retentive memory, a majestic figure; and he was an enthusiastic admirer of Shakspere.

In August 1717 we find him in London at Drury-lane Theatre, where he almost immediately took a leading position. He had the misfortune to kill two fellow-actors — Bowen in a duel in 1717, and Williams in a quarrel growing out of a dispute concerning the pronunciation of the name "Cato," in 1718. On both occasions he was tried and acquitted. He attained the summit of success in 1731, and was considered one of the first British actors until all were eclipsed by Garrick. Quin did not, however, yield the palm without a struggle; and he afterwards became one of Garrick's most ardent admirers. He was a tenderhearted man, befriending Mrs. Bellamy and other aspirants for the stage at the commencement of their career, and forcing upon James Thomson, the poet, when in reduced circumstances, the sum of £100, which he said was a debt due for the pleasure he had experienced in reading his works. Thomson afterwards immortalized him in his "Castle of Indolence": —

"With double force the enlivened scene he wakes
Yet quits not nature's bounds. He knows to keep
Each due decorum: now the heart he shakes,
And now with well urged sense th' enlightened judgment takes."

His standing as an actor gained him admittance to what was considered the best society of the day. A critic has said that "to his various parts in comedy may be added no mean list of dignified characters in tragedy, where sentiment and gravity of action, and not passion, predominated." In after-dinner conversation he was a coarse but capital story-teller, and many of his jokes have survived. Nothing can place in a stronger light the manners of the times than the character of the anecdotes, meant to be funny, which are related of him. He died at Bath, 21st January 1766, aged 72.

Sources

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

110. Dublin, History of the City: John T. Gilbert. 3 vols. Dublin, 1854-'9.

125a. Encyclopaedia, Chambers's. 10 vols. London, 1860-'8.

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

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