1823 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Alleyn

Anonymous, "Memoirs of Edward Alleyn" The Minerva [New York] 2 (20 December 1823) 293.



Edward Alleyn, the celebrated comedian, in the reigns of Elizabeth and James the First, was born in London on the first of September, 1566, of respectable parents. He was the contemporary of Shakspeare, and was an original actor in some of his inimitable plays. He was in the most intimate habits with our immortal poet, as well as with Ben Jonson. They used frequently to spend their evenings together at the Globe, in company with a few other congenial spirits. A letter from one of the club is still preserved, which contains scurious ancedote, and shows the estimation in which Alleyn was held by his contemporaries. I shall give an extract, without adhering to the orthography: — "I never longed for thy company more than last night; we were all very merry at the Globe, when Ned Alleyn did not scruple to affirm pleasantly to thy friend Will (Shakspeare,) that he had stolen his speech about the quality of an actor's excellency in Hamlet, his tragedy, from conversations manifold which had passed between them, and opinions given by Alleyn, touching the subject. Shakspeare did not take the talk in good sort: but Jonson put an end to the strife, with wittingly remarking: 'This affair needeth no contention; you stole it from Ned, no doubt; do not marvel; have you not seen him act times out of number?'" Alleyn was indeed the Garrick of his day: and is equally celebrated with that famous actor, for versatile genius, corporal agilily, lively temper, and fluent elocution. They also resembled each other in another respect, in which they differ from most of their professional brethren, — I mean, "prudent economy." Playing seems to have been no bad trade in Alleyn's time; for he left a large fortune, which he devoted chiefly to charitable uses. It must, however, be remembered, that Alleyn was the proprietor of a theatre as well as an actor, and that he had the direction of another "fashionable" amusement in those days, viz. The King's Beer Garden, which is said to have produced to him a clear profit of £500 a year; a pretty decisive proof, that we do not exceed our ancestors, so far as might be imagined, either in folly or extravagance. Alleyn, overflowing with riches, and satiated with public fame, prepared to close the scene with some eclat. For this purpose, he founded an hospital at Dulwich in Surrey. This building was executed after a plan by the celebrated Inigo Jones, who is one of the witnesses to the deed of settlement; it is commonly known by the name of Dulwich College; the institution still continues to flourish. Alleyn expended about £10,000 on the building, and that it might be suitably supported, be appropriated lands to the amount of £800 a year, for the maintenance of one master, one warden, and four fellows. The master and warden were always to be of the name of Alleyn or Allen. Six poor men, and as many women, were to be supported in this hospital; besides twelve poor boys, who were to be educated in good literature, till the age of fourteen or sixteen; and then put out to honest trades and callings. Alleyn was only forty-eight years of age when he made this endowment, and he took care to see it carried into effect under his own eye. But what is still more extraordinary, after the hospital was completed, he was so pleased with the institution that he resolved to be himself one of the first pensioners. Accordingly during the remainder of his life, he conformed strictly to the rules of the house, and appeared perfectly satisfied with the allowance which his bounty had made for the indigent. Along with this apparent mortification, he still displayed a laudable attention to his temporal interest; and either for his own gratification, or with a view to the public good, he continued, even after his establishment in the hospital, to draw considerable profits as manager of the theatre. Besides Dulwich College he founded several alms-houses in London and Southwark, with competent provision. This singular character died 25th November, 1626, and is buried in the Chapel of his own College at Dulwich.