Read WILLIAM MOUNTFORD of The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) Vol. III, free online book, by Theophilus Cibber, on

This gentleman, who was very much distinguished as a player, was born in the year 1659, but of what family we have no account, farther than that they were of Staffordshire; the extraordinary circumstances of Mr. Mountford’s death, have drawn more attention upon him, than he might otherwise have had; and though he was not very considerable as a poet, yet he was of great eminence as an actor.  Mr. Cibber, in his Apology for his own Life, has mentioned him with the greatest respect, and drawn his character with strong touches of admiration.  After having delineated the theatrical excellences of Kynaston, Sandford, &c. he thus speaks of Mountford.  ’Of person he was tall, well made, fair, and of an agreeable aspect, his voice clear, full, and melodious; in tragedy he was the most affecting lover within my memory; his addresses had a resistless recommendation from the very tone of his voice, which gave his words such softness, that as Dryden says,

   ’Like flakes of feather’d snow,
  ’They melted as they fell.

All this he particularly verified in that scene of Alexander, where the hero throws himself at the feet of Statira for pardon of his past infidelities.  There we saw the great, the tender, the penitent, the despairing, the transported, and the amiable, in the highest perfection.  In comedy he gave the truest life to what we call the fine gentleman; his spirit shone the brighter for being polished by decency.  In scenes of gaiety he never broke into the regard that was due to the presence of equal, or superior characters, tho’ inferior actors played them; he filled the stage, not by elbowing and crossing it before others, or disconcerting their action, but by surpassing them in true and masterly touches of nature; he never laughed at his own jest, unless the point of his raillery upon another required it; he had a particular talent in giving life to bons mots and repartees; the wit of the poet seemed always to come from him extempore, and sharpened into more wit from his brilliant manner of delivering it; he had himself a good share of it, or what is equal to it, so lively a pleasantness of humour, that when either of these fell into his hands upon the stage, he wantoned with them to the highest delight of his auditors.  The agreeable was so natural to him, that even in that dissolute character of the Rover, he seemed to wash off the guilt from vice, and gave it charms and merit; for though it may be a reproach to the poet to draw such characters, not only unpunished, but rewarded, the actor may still be allowed his due praise in his excellent performance; and this was a distinction which, when this comedy was acted at Whitehall, King William’s Queen Mary was pleased to make in favour of Mountford, notwithstanding her disapprobation of the play; which was heightened by the consideration of its having been written by a lady, viz.  Mrs. Behn, from whom more modesty might have been expected.

’He had, besides all this, a variety in his genius, which few capital actors have shewn, or perhaps have thought it any addition of their merit to arrive at; he could entirely change himself, could at once throw off the man of sense, for the brisk, vain, rude, lively coxcomb, the false, flashy pretender to wit, and the dupe of his own sufficiency; of this he gave a delightful instance, in the character of Sparkish, in Wycherley’s Country Wife:  in that of Sir Courtly Nice, by Crown, his excellence was still greater; there his whole man, voice, mien, and gesture, was no longer Mountford, but another person; there, the insipid, soft civility, the elegant and formal mien, the drawling delicacy of voice, the stately flatness of his address, and the empty eminence of his attitudes, were so nicely observed, that had he not been an entire matter of nature, had he not kept his judgment, as it were a centinel upon himself, not to admit the least likeness of what he used to be, to enter into any part of his performance, he could not possibly have so compleatly finished it.’

Mr. Cibber further observes, that if, some years after the death of Mountford, he himself had any success in those parts, he acknowledges the advantages he had received from the just idea, and strong impressions from Mountford’s acting them.’  ’Had he been remembered (says he) when I first attempted them, my defects would have been more easily discovered, and consequently my favourable reception in them must have been very much, and justly abated.  If it could be remembered, how much he had the advantage of me in voice and person, I could not here be suspected of an affected modesty, or overvaluing his excellence; for he sung a clear, counter-tenor, and had a melodious, warbling throat, which could not but set off the last scene of Sir Courtly with uncommon happiness, which I, alas! could only struggle through, with the faint excuses, and real confidence of a fine singer, under the imperfection of a feigned, and screaming treble, which, at least, could only shew you. what I would have done, had nature been more favourable to me.’

This is the amiable representation which Mr. Cibber makes of his old favourite, and whose judgment in theatrical excellences has been ever indisputed.  But this finished performer did not live to reap the advantages which would have arisen from the great figure he made upon the stage.

He fell in the 33d year of his age, by the hand of an assassin, who cowardly murdered him, and slid from justice.  As we imagine it will not be unpleasing to the reader to be made acquainted with the most material circumstances relating to that affair, we mail here insert them, as they appear on the trial of lord Mohun, who was arraigned for that murder, and acquitted by his peers.  Lord Mohun, it is well known, was a man of loose morals, a rancorous spirit, and, in short, reflected no honour on his titles.  It is a true observation, that the temper and disposition of a man may be more accurately known by the company he keeps, than by any other means of reading the human heart:  Lord Mohun had contracted a great intimacy with one captain Hill, a man of scandalous morals, and despicable life, and was so fond of this fellow, whom, it seems, nature had wonderfully formed to be a cut throat, that he entered into his schemes, and became a party in promoting his most criminal pleasures.

This murderer had long entertained a passion for Mrs. Bracegirdle, so well known, as an excellent actress, and who died not many years ago, that it would be superfluous to give a particular account of her; his passion was rejected with disdain by Mrs. Bracegirdle, who did not think such a heart as his worth possessing.  The contempt with which she used captain Hill fired his resentment; he valued himself for being a gentleman, and an officer in the army, and thought he had a right, at the first onset, to triumph over the heart of an actress; but in this he found himself miserably mistaken:  Hill, who could not bear the contempt shewn him by Mrs. Bracegirdle, conceived that her aversion must proceed from having previously engaged her heart to some more favoured lover; and though Mr. Mountford was a married man, he became jealous of him, probably, from no other reason, than the respect with which he observed Mr. Mountford treat her, and their frequently playing together in the same scene.  Confirmed in this suspicion, he resolved to be revenged on Mountford, and as he could not possess Mrs. Bracegirdle by gentle means, he determined to have recourse to violence, and hired some ruffians to assist him in carrying her off.  His chief accomplice in this scheme was lord Mohun, to whom he communicated his intention, and who concurred with him in it.  They appointed an evening for that purpose, hired a number of soldiers, and a coach, and went to the playhouse in order to find Mrs. Bracegirdle, but she having no part in the play of that night, did not come to the house.  They then got intelligence that she was gone with her mother to sup at one Mrs. Page’s in Drury-Lane; thither they went, and fixed their post, in expectation of Mrs. Bracegirdle’s coming out, when they intended to have executed their scheme against her.  She at last came out, accompanied with her mother and Mr. Page:  the two adventurers made a sign to their hired bravo’s, who laid their hands on Mrs. Bracegirdle:  but her mother, who threw her arms round her waist, preventing them from thrusting her immediately into the coach, and Mr. Page gaining time to call assistance, their attempt was frustrated, and Mrs. Bracegirdle, her mother, and Mr. Page, were safely conveyed to her own house in Howard-street in the Strand.  Lord Mohnn and Hill, enraged at this disappointment, resolved, since they were unsuccessful in one part of their design, they would yet attempt another; and that night vowed revenge against Mr. Mountford.

They went to the street where Mr. Mountford lived, and there lay in wait for him:  Old Mrs. Bracegirdle and another gentlewoman who had heard them vow revenge against Mr. Mountford, sent to his house, to desire his wife to let him know his danger, and to warn him not to come home that night, but unluckily no messenger Mrs. Mountford sent was able to find him:  Captain Hill and lord Mohun paraded in the streets with their swords drawn; and when the watch made enquiry into the cause of this, lord Mohun answered, that he was a peer of the realm, and dared them to touch him at their peril; the night-officers being intimidated at this threat, left them unmolested, and went their rounds.  Towards midnight Mr. Mountford going home to his own house was saluted in a very friendly manner, by lord Mohun; and as his lordship seemed to carry no marks of resentment in his behaviour, he used the freedom to ask him, how he came there at that time of night? to which his lordship replied, by asking if he had not heard the affair of the woman?  Mountford asked what woman? to which he answered Mrs. Bracegirdle; I hope, says he, my lord, you do not encourage Mr. Hill in his attempt upon Mrs. Bracegirdle; which however is no concern of mine; when he uttered these words, Hill, behind his back, gave him some desperate blows on his head, and before Mr. Mountford had time to draw, and stand on his defence, he basely run him thro’ the body, and made his escape; the alarm of murder being given, the constable seized lord Mohun, who upon hearing that Hill had escaped expressed great satisfaction, and said he did not care if he were hanged for him:  When the evidences were examined at Hicks’s-Hall, one Mr. Bencroft, who attended Mr. Mountford, swore that Mr. Mountford declared to him as a dying man, that while he was talking to lord Mohun, Hill struck him, with his left hand, and with his right hand run him thro’ the body, before he had time to draw his sword.

Thus fell the unfortunate Mountford by the hand of an assassin, without having given him any provocation; save that which his own jealousy had raised, and which could not reasonably be imputed to Mountford as a crime.

Lord Mohun, as we have already observed, was tried, and acquitted by his peers; as it did not appear, that he immediately assisted Hill, in perpetrating the murder, or that they had concerted it before; for tho’ they were heard to vow revenge against Mountford, the word murther was never mentioned.  It seems abundantly clear, that lord Mohun, however, if not active, was yet accessary to the murther; and had his crime been high treason, half the evidence which appeared against him, might have been sufficient to cost him his head.  This nobleman himself was killed at last in a duel with the duke of Hamilton.

Mr. Mountford, besides his extraordinary talents as an actor, is author of the following dramatic pieces.

1.  The Injured Lovers, or the Ambitious Father, a Tragedy, acted at the Theatre-Royal 1688, dedicated to James earl of Arran, son to the duke of Hamilton.

2.  The Successful Strangers, a Tragi-Comedy, acted at the Theatre-Royal 1690; dedicated to lord Wharton.  The plot is taken from the Rival Brothers, in Scarron’s Novels.

3.  Greenwich-Park, a Comedy, acted at the Theatre-Royal 1691; dedicated to Algernon earl of Essex.

Besides these, he turned the Life and Death of Dr. Faustus into a Farce, with the Humours of Harlequin and Scaramouch, acted at the queen’s theatre in Dorset-Garden, and revived at the Theatre in Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields 1697.

Mr. Mountford has written many Prologues and Epilogues, scattered in Dryden’s Miscellanies; and likewise several Songs.  He seems to have had a sprightly genius, and possessed a pleasing gaiety of humour. He was killed in the year 1692; and was buried in St. Clement Danes.