William Thomas Lewis
William Thomas Lewis (1748?–1811), known as "Gentleman" Lewis, due to his refined acting style, was an English actor. He was said to be "the most complete fop on the stage". In later life he went into theatrical management.
Early days in Ireland
The son of William Lewis, a linendraper on Tower Hill, London, later an actor and manager in Ireland, he was born at Ormskirk, Lancashire, in or about 1748 (there is disagreement about his birth date); he had a Welsh clerical background, and was rumoured to be a great-grandson of Erasmus Lewis. He was brought up in Armagh.
A juvenile actor from very young, Lewis first appeared as "Mr. Lewis" in the playbill when he acted Colonel Briton in Susannah Centlivre's comedy The Wonder. Under Willian Dawson, Lewis appeared (1770–71) at Capel Street Theatre, Dublin. He rapidly became popular in the city. On 19 February 1771 he was Belcour in The West Indian by Richard Cumberland, a part he made his own. On 4 May 1772, at the at Crow Street Theatre, Tate Wilkinson saw him play Romeo to the Juliet of Mrs. Sparks.
On the London stage
On 15 October 1773, in his character of Belcour in The West Indian, Lewis made his first appearance at Covent Garden Theatre, where he was well received. He remained there for the rest of his career, with excursions to Liverpool in the summers of 1776 and 1777, to Birmingham in 1779, and to Dublin in 1806. When in 1782 he became deputy-manager of Covent Garden, he practically restricted himself to comic and familiar parts.
Lewis's farewell to the public took place on 29 May 1809, at the Haymarket Theatre, where the company had moved, after the destruction of Covent Garden by fire. On that occasion he played Roger in The Ghost and the Copper Captain in Rule a Wife and have a Wife. He delivered an address, in which he said that he had been thirty-six years in the service of the public, and could not recall having once fallen under its displeasure. He died on Sunday, 13 January 1811, at his house in Westbourne Place, London.
A member of his first Dublin company, Miss Leeson who was a pupil of Charles Macklin, subsequently became Lewis's wife. They had three sons and two daughters. One son, H. Lewis, appeared at Covent Garden, and played a few parts, with little success. He was then on the Dublin stage.
On 6 June 1803, in partnership with Thomas Knight, Lewis took a lease on the Liverpool Theatre, which after his death came to his son. Before his death he had, again with Knight, also taken the Manchester Theatre.
- "William Thomas Lewis (circa 1746-1812), Actor".
- Lee, Sidney, ed. (1893). "Lewis, William Thomas". Dictionary of National Biography. 33. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- On 26 February 1770 he was Sir Harry Newburgh in Hugh Kelly's False Delicacy. Hastings in The Tragedy of Jane Shore by Nicholas Rowe followed.
- During the season he played Posthumus, Aimwell, Lothario, Florizel in The Winter's Tale, Prince of Wales in the First Part of King Henry IV, Antonio in Don Sebastian, Valentine in Love for Love, Petruchio, Lorenzo in The Spanish Fryar, Carlos in The Revenge, and Campley in The Funeral, besides original parts in new plays.
- Lewis created many characters. He was the first Faulkland in The Rivals, Wyndham in The Man of Reason, Sir Charles Racket in Three Weeks after Marriage, Counsellor Witmore in William Kenrick's The Duellist (20 November 1773), Beverley in George Colman's Man of Business (1774), Arviragus in William Mason's Caractacus, Millamour in Arthur Murphy's Know your own Mind, Doricourt in The Belle's Stratagem, Egerton in Man of the World, Sir Harry Portland in Thomas Holcroft's Duplicity, Beauchamp in Hannah Cowley's Which is the Man? On 17 January 1783 he was the first Younger Loveless in The Capricious Lady, an adaptation of The Scornful Lady; 25 February 1783 Don Julio in Cowley's Bold Stroke for a Husband; 14 December 1784 Almaviva in Follies of a Day (La folle journée); 10 February 1787 Twineall in Elizabeth Inchbald's Such things are; 28 November 1788 Count Valentia in Inchbald's Child of Nature; 16 April 1791 Rover in Wild Oats; 18 February 1792 Goldfinch in the Road to Ruin; 11 February 1801 Frederick in The Poor Gentleman; 5 March 1803 Tom Shuffleton in John Bull; and 5 November 1803 Jeremy Diddler in Raising the Wind. His last original character was Modern in Begone Dull Care by Frederic Reynolds, 9 February 1808.