I am delighted to have a guest post from Pauline Suett Barbieri about her ancestor Richard Suett.
Richard Suett was affectionately known during his stage career as ‘Dicky’ after the success of his role as ‘Dicky Gossip’ in Hoare’s play at Drury Lane, My Grandmother in 1793. A star at that theatre for 25 years, he was a favourite of George III and Charles Lamb who lovingly recorded him in Essays of Elia (1822). ‘Shakespeare foresaw him,’ Lamb wrote, ‘when he framed his fools and jesters. They all have the true Suett stamp, a loose and shambling gait, a slippery tongue, this last – the ready midwife to a without-pain-delivered jest; in words, light as air, venting truths deep as the centre; with idlest rhymes tagging conceit when busiest, singing with Lear in the Tempest or Sir Toby at the buttery hatch.’
Born in Chelsea in 1755, Dicky’s father was John Suett, a butcher with a most suitable name. However, he had another job, utterly dissimilar – that of guide to St. Paul’s Cathedral. They are both buried under the big tree close to the north wall of St. Paul’s Churchyard.
The first performance by Richard Suett for which a notice has been found occurred on June 22, 1771, when he sang at the Grotto Gardens in a musical by Bates called The Gamester. He also made appearances in Ranelagh Gardens (the daring excursion in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and Marylebone Gardens. He then took the part of Cupid in the premiere of Hook’s comic opera, Dido, in Foote’s Haymarket. For his first appearance in Hull in 1771, he sang ‘Chloe’s my myrtle and Jenny’s my rose’. His first appearance in Drury Lane was in 1780 as Ralph in The Maid of the Mill.
A story is told that William Parsons (1736-1795), being unwell, could not play his part of alderman Uniform in Miles Peter Andrew’s Dissipation, which had been commanded by the King. On being told of this fact, George III himself said that Suett would be able to play it. This Suett did with so much success that he became the understudy to Parsons, whose delicate health furnished him with many opportunities.
Richard married the dancer, Louisa West (1754-1832) at St. Michael Le Belfry in York. Louisa belonged to a family of London performers and appeared on the Drury Lane playbills with Giuseppe Grimaldi, her teacher. She also danced at the Haymarket and Covent Garden. After her marriage, she gave up the stage and had two sons. Both sons took to the stage. The eldest, Theophilus, was a singer and actor who made his first appearance at the Haymarket when he sang Hadyn’s ‘My mother bids me bind my hair’. That night his father ‘Dicky’ acted Amalekite in Zorinsk and Antonio in The Follies of the Day. On a later occasion, John, his other son made his first appearance as Prince of Wales in Richard III.
The celebrated actor Richard Kemble, discussing Suett’s death said, ‘Pendruddock has lost a powerful ally in Suett. I have acted the part with many Weazels and good ones too, but none of them could work up my passions to the pitch Suett did. He had a comical, impertinent way of thrusting his head into my face, which called forth all my irritable sensations.’
Dictionary of National Biography
Genest’s Account of the English Stage.
A Biographical Dictionary of Actors
London 1660-1800 P- Highfill. Burnam Langhams
Haymarket, Theatre of Perfections W. Macqueen Pope