Read MR. SUETT of The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb‚ Volume 2, free online book, by Charles Lamb, on

O for a “slip-shod muse,” to celebrate in numbers, loose and shambling as himself, the merits and the person of Mr. Richard Suett, comedian!

Richard, or rather Dicky Suett ­for so in his lifetime he was best pleased to be called, and time hath ratified the appellation ­lieth buried on the north side of the cemetery of Holy Paul, to whose service his nonage and tender years were set apart and dedicated.  There are who do yet remember him at that period ­his pipe clear and harmonious.  He would often speak of his chorister days, when he was “cherub Dicky.”

What clipped his wings, or made it expedient that he should exchange the holy for the profane state; whether he had lost his good voice (his best recommendation to that office), like Sir John, “with hallooing and singing of anthems;” or whether he was adjudged to lack something, even in those early years, of the gravity indispensable to an occupation which professeth to “commerce with the skies” ­I could never rightly learn; but we find him, after the probation of a twelvemonth or so, reverting to a secular condition, and become one of us.

I think he was not altogether of that timber, out of which cathedral seats and sounding boards are hewed.  But if a glad heart ­kind and therefore glad ­be any part of sanctity, then might the robe of Motley, with which he invested himself with so much humility after his deprivation, and which he wore so long with so much blameless satisfaction to himself and to the public, be accepted for a surplice ­his white stole, and albe.

The first fruits of his secularization was an engagement upon the boards of Old Drury, at which theatre he commenced, as I have been told, with adopting the manner of Parsons in old men’s characters.  At the period in which most of us knew him, he was no more an imitator than he was in any true sense himself imitable.

He was the Robin Good-Fellow of the stage.  He came in to trouble all things with a welcome perplexity, himself no whit troubled for the matter.  He was known, like Puck, by his note ­Ha!  Ha!  Ha! ­sometimes deepening to Ho!  Ho!  Ho! with an irresistible accession, derived perhaps remotely from his ecclesiastical education, foreign to his prototype, of ­O La! Thousands of hearts yet respond to the chuckling O La! of Dicky Suett, brought back to their remembrance by the faithful transcript of his friend Mathews’s mimicry.  The “force of nature could no further go.”  He drolled upon the stock of these two syllables richer than the cuckoo.

Care, that troubles all the world, was forgotten in his composition.  Had he had but two grains (nay, half a grain) of it, he could never have supported himself upon those two spider’s strings, which served him (in the latter part of his unmixed existence) as legs.  A doubt or a scruple must have made him totter, a sigh have puffed him down; the weight of a frown had staggered him, a wrinkle made him lose his balance.  But on he went, scrambling upon those airy stilts of his, with Robin Good-Fellow, “thorough brake, thorough briar,” reckless of a scratched face or a torn doublet.

Shakspeare foresaw him, when he framed his fools and jesters.  They have all the true Suett stamp, a loose 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.

Jack Bannister and he had the fortune to be more of personal favourites with the town than any actors before or after.  The difference, I take it, was this: ­Jack was more beloved for his sweet, good-natured, moral, pretensions.  Dicky was more liked for his sweet, good-natured, no pretensions at all.  Your whole conscience stirred with Bannister’s performance of Walter in the Children in the Wood ­how dearly beautiful it was! ­but Dicky seemed like a thing, as Shakspeare says of Love, too young to know what conscience is.  He put us into Vesta’s days.  Evil fled before him ­not as from Jack, as from an antagonist, ­but because it could not touch him, any more than a cannon-ball a fly.  He was delivered from the burthen of that death; and, when Death came himself, not in metaphor, to fetch Dicky, it is recorded of him by Robert Palmer, who kindly watched his exit, that he received the last stroke, neither varying his accustomed tranquillity, nor tune, with the simple exclamation, worthy to have been recorded in his epitaph ­O La! ­O La!  Bobby!