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in Shropshire, Esq. When he was about fifteen years of age, he was sent to France, where he became a Roman Catholic; hut on his return to England, and being entered a Gentleman-Comiñoner of Queen's College in Oxford, he was reconciled to the Protestant religion. He afterwards entered himself in the Middle Temple; but, making his first appearance in town in the loose reign of Charles II. when wit and gaiety were the favourite distinctious, he soon quitted the dry study of the law, and pursued things more agreeable to his own genius, as well as to the taste of the age. As 'nothing was likely to take better than dramatic performances, especially comedies, he applied himself to this species of writing. On the appearance of his first play, he became acquainted with several of the first-rate wits, and likewise with the Duchess of Cleveland, with whom, according to the secret history of those limes, he was admitted to the last degree of intimacy. Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, had also the highest esteem for him, and, as Master of the Horse to the King, made him one of his Equerries; as Colonel of a regiment, CaptainLieutenant of his own company, resigning to him at the same time his own pay as Captain, with many other advantages. King Charles likewise shewed him signal marks of favour; and once gave him a proof of his esteem, which perhaps never any Sovereign Prince before had given to a private gentleinan. Mr. Wycherly being ill of a fever at his lodyingsin Bow-street, the King did him the honour of a visit. Finding him extremely weakened, and his spirits miserably shattered, he commanded him to take a journeyto the south of France, believing that the air of Montpelier would contribute to restore him, and assured him, at the same time, that he would order hiin 5001. to defray the charges of the journey, Mr. Wycherly accordingly went into France, and, having spent the winter there, returned to England, entirely restored to his former vigour. The King, shortly after his arrival, told him that he had a son, who he was resolved should be educated like the son of a King, and that he could not choose a
more proper man for his governor than Mr. Wycherly; for which service 15001. per annum should be settled upon him.
Mr. Wyeherly, however, such is the uncertain state of all human affairs, lost the favour of the King by the following means :—Immediately after he had received the gracious offer above mentioned, he went down to Tun.
and Lord Townly. He spoke highly of the first, but with the most unqualified applause of the two last, which were perfect models of ease and good breeding. To these testimonies we shall add that of an Irish Barrister, of great eminence, who died about thirty years ago, and who was always considered not more eminent in the walks of his profession than in those of dramatic criticism. From him we have been informed, “ that whatever Wilks did upon the stage, let it be ever so trifling, whether it consisted in putting on his gloves or taking out his watch, lolling on his cane or taking snuff, every movement was marked with such an ease of breeding and manner, every thing told so strongly the involuntary motion of a gentleman, that it was impossible to consider the character he represented in any other light than that of a reality.”
" But what was still more surprising,” said the Gentleman, in relating this arecdote, “ that the person who could thus delight an audience, from the gaiety and sprightliness of his manner, I met the next day in the street hobbling to a hackney-coach, seemingly so enfeebled by age and infirmities, that I could scarcely believe him to be the same man.” Such is the power of illusion, when a great genius feels the importance of character * !”
With Wilks's general talents for tragedy, there were some parts that he was unequal to; and in particular the Ghost in Hamlet. One day, at rehearsal, Booth took the liberty to jest with him upon it. “Why, Bob,” says he, “ I thought last night you wanted to play at fisty-cuffs with me, (Booth played Hamlet to his Ghost,) you bullied me so, who, by the bye, you ought to have revered. I remember, when I acted the Ghost with Betterton, instead of my awing him, he terrified me--but there was a divinity hung round that man!"
To this rebuke, Wilks, feeling its propriety, modestly replied, “ Mr. Betterton and Mr. Booth could always act as they pleased; but, for my part, I must do as well as I can.”
* The above event took place in the year 1729, two years before the death of Wilks, who, as Cibber tells us, “ was much more enfeebled by the constant irritations of his temper than he was by his declining years."
1. or, THE GIFT OF GENIUS. A VISION. As lately, on the mountain's side,
I lay in holy trance; Ethereal spirits I espied
Upon the moonbeams dance. i
Pass'd me flow'd a murmuring strean,
'Neath the boughs of willows weeping; Zephyr courted Luna's beam,
While his gloomy sire was sleeping.
Then I heard a clap of thunder
Break the elements among ; From my lyre escap'd a number,
Such as ne'er adorn'd my song.
O'er my head I view'd a Spirit,
All his features were sublime ; “ Know (he said) thou shalt inherit,
“ Power amid these orbs to climb.”
In his hands a torch he bore,
Swift he flew on wings of fire;.
Thrice he struck my fruitring lyre!
In the shudd'ring spangled skies,
Wild he wav'd the torch afar,
Thrice he smote the polar star!
Then, with an electric shock,
Quick the awful scene he chang’d;
Where th 'ethereal Spirits ran;'d.
« Rise! (he said) Menander rise!
“ Thou hast felt my sov’reign powers “ Mount with me the lofty skies,
“ That beyond the comets tower."