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(With a Portrait.)
The subject of this biographical sketch, is the son of Mr. William Dowton, forinerly an inn-keeper at Exeter, and still a resident of that city. Our stage hero was born in the year 1766, and as soon as his tender years could admit of his separation from maternal care, he was sent to one of the best seminaries in the neighbourhood, where he continued till he reached the age of sixteen, and was then articled to an architect.
During his apprenticeship, he became a votary to the Thespian art, and occasionally performed in a private theatre, established by the young men of Exeter. The part which ushered him into theatrical notice, was Carlos, in the tragedy of the Revenge, and on the same evening Mr. Davy the composer, now of Covent-Garden theatre, personated Zanga. Jackson, the late celebrated composer, attended on this occasion, and gave his musical aid to the diversion of the night.
The applause of a crowded house having accompanied our hero's first efforts, every succeeding day increased his enthusiasm for the stage, while the duties of his master's office as rapidly became irksome and unpleasant; and before he had served one year of his article, he bade adieu to domestic comforts, and joined a company of strollers at Ashburton, in Devonshire, where he made his debut in his favourite Carlos. So eager was he to appear on the stage, that he gave a new coat off his back, to a brother Thespian, for permission to play the character of Beaufort in the Citizen.
In this situation he continued for a considerable time, and suffered the usual difficulties attendant on a stroller's life. Being, however, nearly starved, reason resumed her seat, and he and a fellow sufferer made up their minds to forsake the Muses, who, they thought, had forsaken them, and return to their respective homes.
Mr. Dowton and his itinerant companion had not long arrived at his father's inn, and partaken of all the comforts a parental roof could afford, before he and his associate forgot their former miseries, and formed a resolution once more to court fame and public favour, however dearly they might purchase them. After much experience in theatrical misfortune, Mr. D. was engaged by Mr. Hughes, the manager of the Weymouth theatre. From this place he returned to his native town, and performed Romeo, Macbeth, and all the first characters in tragedy; he afterwards joined Mrs. Baker's company, in Kent, and married her daughter, by whom he has had two children.
There is a circumstance attending Mr. Dowton's engagement in London, which has been generally mistated in publications relative to the stage, namely, that Mr. Cumberland had recommended him to the notice of the prorietors of Drury Lane theatre: but the fact is simply this: Mr. Dowton, hearing that Mr. Elliston had repeatedly convened great houses to his representation of Sheva, in the comedy of the Jew, he wrote to Mr. Wroughton, then acting manager of Drury Lane theatre, and signified a desire to perform the above part in London, observing, that if Mr. Wroughton wished to make any enquiry with respect to his talents as an actor, he took the liberty to mention Mr. Cumberland, to whom he was no stranger, Mr. Wroughton returned a favourable answer, and Mr. D. came immediately to town, accompanied by Mr. Cumberland, who returned with our hero to Tunbridge Wells, the day after the successful entré which occasioned his engagement at Drury Lane theatre. But previous to this gentleman's engagement in London, Mr. Dimond of Bath, Mr. Colman, and Mr. Harris, had made overtures to him to join their respective corps, and one of these offers would have been accepted by Mr. Dowton, had not the above sudden engagement taken place at Drury Lane.
Mr. Dowton's talents, of which the town formed so favourable an opinion on his first appearance, have been displayed to great advantage in various important characters, both serious and comic, By the force of his own genius, supported by indefatigable assiduity, he has established his reputation as a comedian of the first rank, merit, and consequence on the London boards. Mr. King's retirement has considerably enlarged his sphere of acting, and the public consider themselves fortunate in meeting with so able a successor to that distinguished performer.
THE EXHIBITION OF THE ROYAL ACADEMY, 1804.
Pictores, et ii, qui signa fabricantur, suum quisque opus à vulgo considerari vult, ut,
si quid reprehensum sit a pluribus, id corrigatur. Cicero de of. Lib. 1. C. 41.
REFERring our readers to the introductory observations we have offered upon former occasions of this nature, we proceed to notice the merits and defects of some of the most conspicuous pictures in the present exhibition at Somerset House. It has been our invariable custom to incline rather to praise than censure, and if, in the following brief remarks, our commendation shall be mixed occasionally with some degree of blame, it is our desire, that when our reprehension is just, and then only, the fault, agreeably to the above quotation from Cicero, may be corrected. The exhibition abounds principally with that class of works, in which our country stands, at the present moment, eminently superior; we mean that of
PORTRAITS. 1. Mr. and AIrs. Rolls. W. Owen. The colouring forcible, but heavy; the composition good; the female figure not sufficiently ascertained for the purposes of grace; and the arrangement of the drapery does not (as in such cases it ought) supply the deficiency. Altogether, however, the effect is striking.
5. Sir IV. Blizard. J. OPIE, R. A. In a bold, manly style of painting.
6. Hebe. Sir W. BEECHEY, R. A. Prettily composed, and competently drawn. The attitude graceful; the colouring clear and harmonious; but there is a want of repose in the shadows, and of general strength.
15. Psyche. Sir W. Beechey, R. A. Too great an imitation of the colouring of Baroccio.
16. A Young Man's Head. T. PHILLIPS. In imitation of Titian ;-au extraordinary effort,
17. MIrs. C. Thellusson and Child. T. LAWRENCE, R. A. The best female portrait exhibited by this artist, No. 193 excepted, (Mrs. Siddons.) The head well treated and coloured. The boy's face, by a singular dexterity of composition, occupies the place usually assigned to the head of a full length. The whole is well painted, with strength, effect, and good colour.
31. Mrs. Montague, Lady of Rear Admiral Montague, and her Brother. J. S. Copley, R. A. The defect of this picture is, that the figures are hard and liney. The back ground is admirable.
36. A Lady. J. Northcote, R. A. A very pretty woman, in a sprightly and graceful attitude. The execution worthy of the artist.
37. Himself. B. West, R. A. A portrait of his Majesty, with a bust of the president.
52. Two Young Ludies. J. NORTHCOTE, R. A. The best painting of women ever exhibited by this artist. The expression of female character very good; and the attitude and colouring unaffected.
53. Sir W. Ruwlins. T. CLARK, A. Mr. Clark's portraits are not without merit, but his exertions of this year are unequal to the promise of his former works. We have no intention to seize this. circumstance as an argument to condemn, or even to depress an ingenious artist. Minds of a sensitive cast, more especially if humility form a portion of their composition, are subject to considerable vacillations of power. But in such instances the failure is probably temporary and fluctuating. The person who produced the DoroTHEA of 1802, may, with just confidence, look forward to other moments equally propitious to zeal and industry.
57. Lady F. Ponsonby, as Rebecca. The best of Opie's female portraits this year; combining energy with simplicity. There is a consistency in the whole tone of colouring, the expression of the countenance, and design of the figure, which constitutes the charın of the picture.
67. Lady Hamilton. J.J. MASQUERIER. Looking at the moon. The painter, however, has placed the emblem of chastity sub nube. The object, therefore, of the lady's contemplation seems to have been mist.
101. Portrait. E. EDWARDS, A, Well drawn and well painted.
106. S. Whitbread, Esq. J. OPIE, R. A. A truly fine portrait, possessing every general quality of excellence.
109. Sebastian Grande. S. DRUMMOND. A head of a remarkable character and expression.
110. Mr. Kemble studying a thought, painted in Lawrence's best manner.
121. J. Curtis, Esq. T. LAWRENCE, R. A. Possesses boldness, force, character, and excellent general effect. In point of execution, nothing too high can be said of this portrait.
122. Miss K. Mien, and Mrs. Patterson. W. Owen. We notice, with much satisfaction, this artist's improvement from year to year. The present picture has great force and brightness of colour, and is free from the defects we have before noticed. It claims a place among the first class in the room.
123. T. Holcroft, Esq. J. OPIE, R. A. This is an uncommon · portrait, in a style of remarkable boldness, both as to the delineation of character, and the execution of the pencil. Few other painters have dared to attempt what this artist has here so effectually accomplished.
143. Miss Cholmondeley. J. HOPPNER, R. A. The only portrait Mr. H. exhibits, and it does not discredit his well-known abilities.
144. Earl Spencer. M. A. SHEE, R. A. A spirited head, and a strong likeness.
156. Three Officers of the 12th Light Dragoons, introduced at the Vatican Palace, to the late Pope Pius VI. J. NORTHCOTE, R. A. The representation of an interesting occurrence of the present day. The picture displays great breadth of effect,
165. An old Labourer, belonging to the Rev. C. Barton. H. ASHBY. Belonging !" Surely this must be an error of the press. We are yet to learn that labourers in this country belong to their employers, like negroes to a West India planter.
189. Miss Boughton. W. Owen. Possesses clearness and brilliancy in an eminent degree; and the manner in which the artist has accomplished difficult points in the management of the general effect, renders it highly deserving of praise.
193. Mrs. Siddons. T. LAWRENCE, R. A. A portrait in which the artist seems, with great force of judgment, to have blended the woman and the actress: the whole has a majestic air, and though there are a few trifling defects in the proportion of the figure, it deserves to rank bigh in the class of dignified portrait. This and Nos. 17, 52, 57, 121, and 123, are decidedly the best portraits in the present exhibition,
221. A Lady. H. THOMSON, A. elect. Presents a simplicity and chasteness of colour and expression, seldom observable in the style of the present day. Macte !
246. Duke of Northumberland. T. PHILLIPS. Not prepossessing in its favour at a coup d’æil, but a characteristic likeness, with rich colouring.
272. A Young Man's Head. A study. T. Phillips. In the style of Rembrandt, and shews equal ability with the imitative faculty displayed in the picture we have already noticed, after Titian. (No. 16.)
[To be continued.)