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Newgate Calendar - JOHN LEE, ESQ.


Who, from the Honourable Post of Captain in the British Army, Degenerated into the Humiliating Employ of a Strolling Player, wherein he Committed Forgery; and for which he was Executed at Tyburn, on the fourth of March, 1784

            THE fate of this unfortunate gentleman calls for our pity. He was bred a soldier, and was captain of a company, when he became fascinated by the lures of a stage actress, and actually fell so deeply into her snare, as to marry her. Among the many females brought up to this scandalous way of life, how very rare is it to find one possessed of worth and modesty. Their morals, with continual examples of profligacy before them, soon become corrupted, for there is not upon earth, a more debauched set of lazy people, than strolling players.

            Captain Lee soon felt the effects of his imprudence. His pay, ample for himself, was very inadequate to the additional expense of such a wife; but the die was cast, he was under the necessity of selling his commission, and when the product was dissipated, to have recourse to the stage. As a player, the captain, now the humble Mr. Lee, commenced a vagabondizing life, strolling from town to town, the mockery of kings, queens, and heroes; and anon, as lovers, substituting the belly's pain, from long want of food, for the pangs inflicted by some cruel fair, the mimic mistress of a pining heart.

            There is no profession that requires so many accomplishments, both of nature and art, as that of an actor; and yet there is none that the idle and dissolute youth, of both sexes, think themselves so well qualified to practise with success. By this fatal error society is deprived of many who might have been useful and happy in the employments for which they were designed, and who became the most contemptible, and at the same time the most wretched vagabonds, that at once injure and disgrace the community. It may, perhaps, prevent some vain, unthinking, dissipated, and ignorant wretches, from increasing the number of these out-casts, to acquaint them that, the life of a stroller is less eligible than that of a sifter of cinders at a shilling a day; that they are dissolute and undone, without virtue, and without friendship, not allied even by that kindness and fidelity which is found among other associates in misfortunes, not excepting even beggars and thieves. Their exhibitions expose them to the derision of mechanics and clowns; their distresses excite not pity, but laughter, and frequently, instead of being treated with tenderness, they are committed to prison. Those who live by chance are always improvident of casual supplies; so it happens, that those people who are frequently without victuals, are yet frequently drunk. When this happens on a night when their performance is to be exhibited, one of the company is obliged to perform two characters, that ought to be on the stage together. Yet, so many are the graces, even in this mimic life, that some of its female votaries have become in reality, the ladies whom erst, in well-glossed petticoats, tinselled all over, spangled with tin, and daubed with foil, they oft had counterfeited. The humble girl who first acted the character of Polly Peachum, in Gay's Beggar's Opera, became Duchess of Bolton; and the Misses Farren and Brunton are now Countesses. Kemble, the meaner offspring of a strolling company, is now announced in the London papers among the men of rank, fashion, and consequence, who regale at each other's overflowing board, while his many old contemporaries are starving on a crown a week and an inch of candle!

            Such was the life this unfortunate officer was reduced to pursue. When, with his wife, he had struggled through many miseries, and had strolled so far as Aberdeen, the Scotch took pity on them, and patronized Mrs. Lee so far as to promote an establishment for her, as governess of a female seminary of education. Thus settled, for a while they left the stage; but Lee's habits of expense and idleness contracted in the army, led him into many expenses which his income could not support. Happily for his partner in misery, she died at Aberdeen, a year or two after being so patronized; and he left the town, to join again the first strolling players he could find.

            This unfortunate man could never rise to any perfection in the mimic art; and his failing, in getting neither applause nor money, to supply the necessaries of life, soured his temper, and rendered him desperate. He had last been with the Portsmouth strollers, and from that town came to London, without a penny in his pocket, and actually starving. Too proud to beg, he boldly went to a tavern, where he had formerly spent large sums, and dined. He then asked the landlord for the loan of a guinea and a half, and as security, he deposited with him a forged bill of exchange on the ordnance office, for which he forfeited his life.


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