EDWARD ALLEYN, a celebrated comedian in the reigns of queen Elizabeth and king James, but more justly celebrated as the founder of the college at Dulwich, in Surrey, was born in London, in the parish of St. Botolph without Bishopsgate, Sept. 1, 1566, as appears from a memorandum of his own writing. Dr. Fuller says, that he was bred a stage-player; and that his father would have given him a liberal education, but that he was not turned for a serious course of life. He was, however, a youth of good capacity, of a cheerful temper, and tenacious memory, and in his person of a stately port and aspect; all which advantages are qualifications for, and sometimes incitements to, the theatrical profession. By several authorities we find he must have been on the stage some time before 1592; for at this time he was in high favour with the town, and greatly applauded by the best judges, particularly by Ben Jonson. Haywood, in his prologue to Marlow's Jew of Malta, calls him Proteus for shapes, and Roscius for a tongue. He usually played the capital parts, and was one of the original actors in Shakspeare's plays; in some of Ben Jonson's he was also a principal performer: but what characters he personated in either of these poets, is difficult now to determine. This is owing to the inaccuracy of their editors, who did not print the names of the players opposite to the characters they performed, as the modern custom is, but gave one general list of actors to the whole set of plays, as in the old folio edition of Shakspeare; or divided one from the other, setting the dramatis personae before the plays, and the catalogue of performers after them, as in Jonson's.
It may appear surprising, how one of Mr. Alleyn's profession should be enabled to erect such an edifice as Dulwich college, and liberally endow it for the maintenance of so many persons. But it must be observed that he had some paternal fortune, which, though small, probably laid the foundation of his future affluence; and it is to be presumed that the profits he received from acting, to one of his provident and managing disposition, and one who by his excellence in playing drew after him such crowds of spectators, must have considerably improved his fortune: besides, he was not only an actor, but master of a playhouse, built at his own expence, by which he is said to have amassed considerable wealth. This was the Fortune play-house, near Whitecross street, by Moorfields. There is a tradition in the neighbourhood of this place, that in digging the foundation of this house, there was found a considerable treasure; so that it is probable the whole or greatest part of it might fall to Mr. Alleyn. He was also keeper of the king's wild beasts, or master of the royal bear-garden, which was frequented by vast crowds of spectators: and the profits arising from these sports are said to have amounted to £500 per annum. He was thrice married; and the portions of his two first wives, they leaving him no issue to inherit, probably contributed to this benefaction. Such donations have been frequently thought to proceed more from vanity and ostentation than real charity; but this of Mr. Alleyn has been ascribed to a very singular cause. Mr. Aubrey mentions a tradition, that Mr. Alleyn, playing a daemon with six others, in one of Shakspeare's plays, was, in the midst of the play, surprised by an apparition of the devil, which so worked on his fancy, that he made a vow, which he performed by building Dulwich college. Whatever may be in this story, he began the foundation of this college, under the direction of Inigo Jones, in 1614; and the buildings, gardens, &c. were finished in 1617, in which he is said to have expended about £10,000. After the college was built, he met with some difficulty in obtaining a charter for settling his lands in mortmain; for he proposed to endow it with £800 per annum, for the maintenance of one master, one warden, and four fellows, three whereof were to be clergymen, and the fourth a skilful organist; also six poor men, and as many women, besides twelve poor boys, to be educated till the age of fourteen or sixteen, and then put out to some trade or calling. The obstruction he met with arose from the lord chancellor Bacon, who wished king James to settle part of those lands for the support of two academical lectures; and he wrote a letter to the marquis of Buckingham, dated Aug. 18, 1618, entreating him to use his interest with his majesty for that purpose. Mr. Alleyn's solicitation was, however, at last complied with, and he obtained the royal licence, giving him full power to lay his foundation, by his majesty's letters patent, bearing date the 21st of June, 1619; by virtue whereof he did, in the chapel of the said new hospital at Dulwich, called "The College of God's Gift," on the 13th of September following, publicly read, and published, a quadripartite writing in parchment, whereby he created and established the said college; he then subscribed it with his name, and fixed his seal to several parts thereof in presence of several honourable persons, and ordered copies of the writings to four different parishes. Those honourable persons were Francis lord Verulam lord chancellor; Thomas earl of Arundel, earl marshal of England; sir Edward Cecil, second son to the earl of Exeter; sir John Howard, high sheriff of Sussex and Surrey; sir Edward Bowyer, of Camberwell; sir Thomas Grymes of Peckliam; sir John Bodley, of Stretham; sir John Tonstal, of Carshalton; and divers other persons of great worth and respect. The parishes in which the said writings were deposited, were St. Botolph's without Bishops-ate, St. Giles's without Cripplegate, St. Saviour's in Southwark, and the parish of Camberwell in Surrey. The contents or heads of the said statutes, or quadripartite writings, containing the laws and rules of this foundation, are as follow: 1. A recital of king James's letters patent. 2. Recital of the founder's deed quadripartite. 3. Ordination of the master, warden, &c. 4. Ordination of the assistant members, &c. 5. The master and warden to be unmarried, and always to be of the name of Alleyn or Allen. 6. The master and warden to be twenty-one years of age at least. 7. Of what degree the fellows to be. 8. Of what degree the poor brothers and sisters to be. 9. Of what condition the poor scholars are to be. 10. Of what parishes the assistants are to he. 11. From what parishes the poor are to be chosen, and the members of this college. 12. The form of their election. 13. The warden to supply when the master's place is void. 14. The election of the warden. 15. The warden to he bound by recognizance. 16. The warden to provide a dinner for the college upon his election. 17. The form of admitting the fellows. 18. The manner of electing the scholars. 19. Election of the poor of Camberwell. 20. The master and warden's oath. 21. The fellow's oath. 22. The poor brother's and sister's oath. 23. The assistant's oath. 24. The pronunciation of admission. 25. The master's office. 26. The warden's office. 27. The fellow's office. 28. The poor brother's and sister's office. 29. That of the matron of the poor scholars. 30. The porter's office. 31. The office of the thirty members. 32. Of residence. 33. Orders of the poor and their goods. 31. Of obedience. 35. Orders for the chapel and burial. 36. Orders for the school and scholars, and putting them forth apprentices. 37. Order of diet. 38. The scholars' surplices and coats. 39. Time for viewing expences. 40. Public audit and private sitting days. 41. Audit and sitting chamber. 42. Of lodgings. 43. Orders for the lands and woods. 44. Allowance to the master and warden of diet for one man a piece, with the number and wages of the college servants. 45. Disposition and division of the revenues. 46. Disposition of the rent of the Blue-house. 47. The poor to be admitted out of other places, in case of deficiency in the parishes prescribed. 48. The disposition of forfeitures. 49. The statutes to be read over four several times in the year. 50. The dispositions of certain tenements in St Saviour's parish, Southwark.
He was himself the first master of his college, so that, to make use of the words of Mr. Haywood, one of his contemporaries, "he was so mingled with humility and charity, that he became his own pensioner, humbly submitting himself to that proportion of diet and clothes which he had bestowed on others." We have no reason to think he ever repented of this distribution of his substance; but on the contrary, that he was entirely satisfied, as appears from the following memorial in his own writing, found amongst his papers: "May 26, 1620, My wife and I acknowledged the fine at the common pleas bar, of all our lands to the college: blessed be God that he hath given us life to do it." His wife died in 1623; and about two years afterwards he married Constance Kinchtoe, who survived him, and received remarkable proofs of his affection, if at least we may judge of it by his will, wherein he left her considerable property. He died Nov. 25, 1626, in the sixty-first year of his age; and was buried in the chapel of his new college, where there is a tomb-stone over his grave, with an inscription. His original diary is still preserved.
* Biog. Brit. originally written by Mr. Oldys; but many additional particulars may be seen in Lysons's Environs of London, vol. I. and Malone's History of the Stage, prefixed to his, and to Johnson and Steevens's edition of Shakspeare.