1789 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Smith of Covent Garden

John Williams, in "Children of Thespis" Poems by Anthony Pasquin (1789) 2:39-40 &n.



In TOWNLEY, CHARLES SURFACE, and parts such as those,
Where merit exists in deportment and clothes,
The well-bred Comedian gets thro' with great ease,
And sometimes delights us, but always must please.
He proves the full force of Queen Bess's narration,
For his face is a letter of recommendation.
With pleasure, with transport, the audience descry,
The traits of benevolence beam in his eye;
But that's to a Briton superior to art,
'Tis a comment which tacitly honors the heart.
In the high paths of elegance who dare aspire,
To walk as his compeer, or copy his fire!
For Comedy pleasantly singled him out
As Her Gentleman-Usher, when giving a route;
To regulate manners, pretensions, and places,
To model the awkward, and teach them new graces.

But Tragedy — that is a step 'yond his skill,
He may play it from duty, but should not from will.
No varying sounds from his eloquence flow,
To mark the gradations of gladness or woe;
But a tedious monotony hangs on the ear,
Discordant, if loud; and, unmeaning if clear;
Tho' Nature his person has form'd with great pride,
The Grief-waking requisites all are denied:
Let him stick to his mistress, and eager enjoy her,
He may do a vast deal ere his efforts can cloy her....

Mr. WILLIAM SMITH is the son of a wholesale grocer in the city. He received the first rudiments of his education at Eaton School, from whence he was removed to Cambridge University, but had not been long there before he made a trip to Ireland, in company with a young nobleman, which circumstance gave his father so much displeasure, that he refused to see him on his return. Impelled by necessity he turned his thoughts to the stage, and, under the auspices of Mrs. CIBBER, made application to Mr. RICH, who was at that period manager of Covent Garden Theatre; and having, (somewhat like the managers of the present day,) more presumption than judgment, assumed the character of a dramatic censor, with very slender qualifications, and ordered Mr. SMITH to rehearse before him; but the event was inauspicious to the ambition of the stage-stricken Tyro, as RICH flatly told him, that he must get rid of his Latin and Greek as fast as possible, as it would certainly do him more harm than good within the walls of the theatre, and set his mind seriously to learn French, fencing, dancing, and, above all, to ride the great horse. But, notwithstanding this discouragement, Mrs. CIBBER interposed in his behalf, and, in consequence, Mr. SMITH was ushered to the public eye in the winter of 1753, in the character of THEODOSIUS; BARRY played VARANES the same night. Mr. SMITH so far surpassed the expectations of the manager by his performance, that he was immediately engaged at a very considerable salary, and continued his unremitting and successful endeavours to amuse the town until the summer of 1788, when he took his final leave of the public in an occasional epilogue, disgusted with the base arts of some of his competitors, and full of gratitude for the protection of his innumerable friends during a period of thirty-six years. — It should be noted, to the honor of Mr. SMITH, that he has always maintained an upright and estimable character, and is one of those whose conduct has greatly tended to rescue the profession of an actor from that popular odium which has so generally accompanied it by the illiberal part of society.
Mr. SMITH remained upon the stage exactly the same number of years as the immortal ROSCIUS. — GARRICK trod the boards from 1741 to 1776. — SMITH from 1753 to 1788. — His weekly salary was 16.