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NED SHUTER (d. 1776)

GARRICK pronounced NED SHUTER to be the greatest comic genius he had ever known. He was the original Old Hardcastle and Sir Anthony Absolute, Papillon in "The Liar," and Justice Woodcock in "Love in a Village." Strange to say, he was a follower of Whitefield's, a constant attendant at the Tottenham Court Road Chapel, and divided his time pretty equally between drinking, playing, and praying; when drunk he could scarcely be restrained from going into the fields and preaching upon original sin and regeneration. Tate Wilkinson, who was a hanger-on upon Shuter, relates how he used to accompany him on Sunday mornings at six to the Tottenham Court Road Chapel; at ten to another meeting-house in Long Acre; at eleven back to Whitefield's chapel; at three to some other; and in the evening to Moorfields. He was very liberal to the Whitefieldites, and it is said that Whitefield himself, although a bitter denouncer of all persons and things dramatic, on the occasion of Shuter's benefit recommended the congregation to attend the theater for once, on that night only.

His first appearance was at Covent Garden in 1745, as "The Schoolboy," for the benefit of an actor named Chapman, and he was so young that he was announced in the bills as "Master Shuter," as he was in those of Drury Lane a twelvemonth afterwards. He died November 1st, 1776. His last performance was Falstaff, for his own benefit, in the preceding May; but between the bottle and the tabernacle his faculties were nearly gone. "He was more bewildered in his brain," says Wilkinson, "by wishing to acquire imaginary grace than by all his drinking; like Mawworm he believed he had a call." In his reasonable moments he was a lively, shrewd companion, full of originality, whim, and humor; all he said and did was his own, for it was with difficulty he could read his parts, and he could just sign his name and no more; but he was the delight of all who knew him on or off the stage. John Taylor relates how he and his father dined and passed an evening with him at the "Blue Posts" Tavern in Russell Street, and how all the people in the neighboring boxes could do nothing but listen to his comic stories and bon-mots. Another time they were at some gardens, when the people gathered together in such crowds to hear his humorous sallies, that the waiters could not move about to serve. "No person thought of retiring while Shuter remained, and I remember seeing him in the midst of his friends, as if he were the monarch of merriment." He was equally a favorite with the most distinguished people in the realm. It is related that one night two of the royal princes came behind the scenes to have a chat with him. Their presence was anything but welcome on that occasion, as Shuter desired to study his part. "By Jove," he said suddenly, "the prompter has got my book; I must fetch it. Will your Royal Highness," addressing one of his visitors, "be so obliging as to hold my skull-cap to the fire?" "Oh, certainly, Shuter," replied the Prince. "And perhaps you, your Royal Highness," turning to the other, " will condescend to air my breeches while I am gone?" The second request was as cheerfully complied with as the first. Returning presently with another actor, and peeping through the keyhole, he saw his two visitors still engaged as he had left them, patiently awaiting his return.

This article was originally published in English Actors: From Shakespeare to Macready. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1879.


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