Dion Boucicault

Dionysius Lardner "Dion" Boucicault /ˈdˌɒn ˈbsɪˌk/[1] (né Boursiquot; 26 December 1820[2] – 18 September 1890) was an Irish actor and playwright famed for his melodramas. By the later part of the 19th century, Boucicault had become known on both sides of the Atlantic as one of the most successful actor-playwright-managers then in the English-speaking theatre. The New York Times hailed him in his obituary as "the most conspicuous English dramatist of the 19th century."[3]

Dion Boucicault
Dion Boucicault, c. 1862
BornDionysius Lardner Boursiquot
(1820-12-26)26 December 1820
Dublin, Ireland
Died18 September 1890(1890-09-18) (aged 69)
New York City, United States
Resting placeMount Hope Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, United States
OccupationPlaywright, actor
NationalityBritish subject, Anglo-Irish
Notable worksLondon Assurance, The Octoroon, The Colleen Bawn, The Shaughraun
SpouseAnne Guiot (m.1845–d.1845)
Agnes Kelly Robertson (m.1853–d.1916; marriage dissolved 1888)
Josephine Louise Thorndyke (m.1885–1890; his death) (bigamously)
ChildrenDion William Boucicault(1855–76)
Eva Boucicault (1857–1909)
Dionysius George Boucicault Jr. (1859–1929)
Patrice Boucicault (1862 – 1890)
Nina Boucicault (1867–1950)
Aubrey Boucicault (1868–1913)
RelativesDionysius Lardner (putative father)
Anne Darley (mother)
George Darley (uncle)

Life and career

Early life

Boucicault was born Dionysius Lardner Boursiquot in Dublin, where he lived on Gardiner Street. His mother was Anne Darley, sister of the poet and mathematician George Darley. The Darleys were an important Dublin family influential in many fields and related to the Guinnesses by marriage. Anne was married to Samuel Smith Boursiquot, of Huguenot ancestry,[4] but the identity of the boy's father is uncertain. He was probably Dionysius Lardner, a lodger at his mother's house at a time when she was recently separated from her husband,[5] with Lardner later giving Dion Boucicault financial support until about 1840.[6]

In 1828, Lardner was elected as professor of natural philosophy and astronomy at University College, London, a position he held until he resigned in 1831. Anne Boursiquot followed him to London in 1828, taking all but one of her children with her. Consequently, from then on Boucicault attended various schools in and around London, about which there is a good deal of confusion, which has been dealt with by Richard Fawkes in a biography. For about four years, from 1829, he seems to have attended a very small private school in Hampstead kept by a Mr Hessey, then between 1833 and 1835 was at University College School, where he began his friendship with Charles Kenney. He later recalled having boarded in Euston Square with a Rev. Henry Stebbing, a historian. There is then a gap of two years, when Fawkes believes Boucicault may have attended Rowland Hill's Bruce Castle School, as stated in the Dictionary of National Biography. In 1837, he was enrolled at Wyke House, a school at Sion Hill, Brentford, kept by a Dr Alexander Jamieson, where he appeared in a school play, in the part of Rolla in Sheridan's Pizarro, and wrote his own first play, The Old Guard, which was produced some years later.[7] After that, according to some accounts he attended a school in Dublin, before returning to London as an apprentice civil engineer to Lardner.[8]

Work as actor and playwright

Boucicault abandoned his apprenticeship to take up an acting offer in Cheltenham, adopting the stage name of Lee Morton.[9] He joined William Charles Macready and made his first appearance on stage with Benjamin Webster at Bristol. Soon after this he began to write plays, occasionally in conjunction with his acting.

Boucicault's first play, A Legend of the Devil's Dyke, opened in Brighton in 1838. Three years later, he had a big success as a dramatist with London Assurance. First produced at Covent Garden on 4 March 1841, its cast included such well-known actors as Charles Mathews, William Farren, Mrs Nesbitt and Madame Vestris.[10]

Boucicault rapidly followed this with a number of other plays, among the most successful being The Bastile [sic], an "after-piece" (1842), Old Heads and Young Hearts (1844), The School for Scheming (1847), Confidence (1848), and The Knight Arva (1848), all produced at Her Majesty's Theatre.[11] He had further great successes with The Corsican Brothers (1852, for Charles Kean) and Louis XI (1855), both adaptations of French plays.

In his The Vampire (1852), Boucicault made his début as a leading actor, appearing as the vampire Sir Alan Raby. Although the play itself had mixed reviews, Boucicault's characterisation was praised as "a dreadful and weird thing played with immortal genius".[12] In 1854 he wrote Andy Blake; or, The Irish Diamond and also appeared in it, playing the title character.[13]

From 1854 to 1860, Boucicault resided in the United States, where he was always a popular favourite. Boucicault and his actress wife, Agnes Robertson, toured America. He also wrote many successful plays there, acting in most of them. These included the popular Jessie Brown; or, The Relief of Lucknow in 1858.[13]

Work as theatre manager and producer

From around 1855 his business manager and partner in New York was William Stuart, an expatriate Irish MP and adventurer. Together they leased Wallack's Theatre in 1855-1856, and put on a short season at the Washington Theatre in Washington D.C.[14][15]

In the summer of 1859, Boucicault and William Stuart became joint lessees of Burton's New Theatre (originally Tripler's Theatre) on Broadway just below Amity Street. After extensive remodelling, he renamed his new showplace the Winter Garden Theatre.[15] There on 5 December 1859, he premiered his new sensation, the anti-slavery potboiler The Octoroon, in which he also starred. This was the first play to treat seriously the Black American population.[6]

Boucicault fell out with Stuart over money matters, and he went back to England. On his return he produced at the Adelphi Theatre a dramatic adaptation of Gerald Griffin's novel, The Collegians, entitled The Colleen Bawn. This play, one of the most successful of the times, was performed in almost every city of the United Kingdom and the United States. Julius Benedict used it as the basis for his Opera The Lily of Killarney. Although it made its author a handsome fortune, he lost it in the management of various London theatres.[10]

After his return to England, Boucicault was asked by the noted American comedian Joseph Jefferson, who also starred in the production of Octoroon, to rework Jefferson's adaptation of Washington Irving's Rip van Winkle. Their play opened in London in 1865 and on Broadway in 1866.[16]

Boucicault's next marked success was at the Princess's Theatre, London in 1864 with Arrah-na-Pogue in which he played the part of a County Wicklow, Ireland carman. This, and his admirable creation of "Conn"[17] in his play Conn the Shaughraun (first produced at Wallacks Theatre, New York City, in 1874, then at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1875), won him the reputation of being the best "stage Irishman" of his time. His reputation was also mentioned by W. S. Gilbert in the libretto of his 1881 operetta Patience in the line: "The pathos of Paddy, as rendered by Boucicault".

Again in partnership with William Stuart he built the New Park Theatre in 1873–1874.[18][19] However, Boucicault withdrew just before the theatre opened, and Stuart teamed up instead with the actor, playwright and theatre manager Charles Fechter to run the house.[20]

In 1875 Boucicault returned to New York City, where he made his home and for a time his manager was Harry J. Sargent.[21] He wrote the melodrama Contempt of Court (poster, left) in 1879, but he paid occasional visits to London and elsewhere (e.g. Toronto[22]). He made his last appearance in London in his play, The Jilt, in 1885. The Streets of London and After Dark were two of his late successes as a dramatist.

Boucicault was an excellent actor, especially in pathetic parts. His uncanny ability to play these low-status roles earned him the nickname "Little Man Dion" in theatrical circles. His plays are for the most part adaptations, but are often very ingenious in construction. They have had great popularity.

Family life

Boucicault was married three times. He married the much older Anne Guiot at St Mary Lambeth on 9 July 1845. He claimed that she died in a Swiss mountaineering accident later in the same year, though she may in fact have died as late as 1848.[23][24] In 1853, he eloped with Agnes Kelly Robertson (1833–1916) to marry in New York. She was Charles Kean's ward; the juvenile lead in his company[25] and an actress of unusual ability. She would bear Dion six children: Dion William Boucicault (1855–1876); Eva Boucicault (1857–1909); Dion Jr. (1859–1929); Patrice Boucicault (1862–1890); Nina Boucicault (1867–1950); Aubrey (1868–1913);[26] three of whom became distinguished actors in their own right. Patrice became a society singer, marrying George Pitman in 1885 but died in childbirth in 1890.[27] His granddaughter Rene Boucicault (1898–1935), Aubrey's daughter, became an actress and acted in silent films.

Between 11 July and 8 October 1885, Boucicault toured Australia, where his brother Arthur lived.[28] Towards the end of this tour, he suddenly left Agnes to marry Josephine Louise Thorndyke (c. 1864–1956), a young actress, on 9 September 1885, in Sydney.[28] This aroused scandal on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, as his marriage to Agnes was not finally dissolved until 21 June 1888, by reason of "bigamy with adultery." The rights to many of his plays were later sold to finance alimony payments to his second wife.[29]

Boucicault died in 1890 in New York City, and was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Hastings, Westchester County, New York.[30][31]

Selected works

See also



  1. 1980 radio drama of "Shaughraun".
  2. Or 1822
  3. "Dion Boucicault", The New York Times, 19 September 1890
  4. 'Dion Boucicault: Irish Identity on Stage' p. 5, Deirdre McFeely, 2012 Cambridge University Press.
  5. 'The career of Dion Boucicault' Chapter 1, Walsh Townsend, 1915, ISBN 1-4325-5070-5
  6. Boylan, Henry (1998). A Dictionary of Irish Biography, 3rd Edition. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan. p. 31. ISBN 0-7171-2945-4.
  7. Richard Fawkes, Dion Boucicault (Ardent Media, 2011), pp. 23–25
  8. Peter Thomson, "Biographical Record" in Plays by Dion Boucicault (CUP Archive, 1984), pp. 15–18
  9. Hartnoll, Phyllis (1968). A concise history of the theatre. New York: Harry N. Abrams. p. 192. ISBN 9780684135212.
  10. Chisholm 1911.
  11. Victoria Web accessed 1 June 2007
  12. David J. Skal (2001) Vampires: Encounters With The Undead: 47-8
  13. Stedman, Jane W. "General Utility: Victorian Author-Actors from Knowles to Pinero", Educational Theatre Journal, Vol. 24, No. 3, October 1972, pp. 289–301, Johns Hopkins University Press
  14. "Death of William Stuart", New-York Tribune, December 29, 1886:5, col. 5. Online at Library of Congress.
  15. “Death of William Stuart”, The New York Times, December 29, 1886.
  16. Jefferson, Joseph; Boucicault, Dion (1895). Rip Van Winkle (Introduction). Dodd, Mead and Company. pp. 401–403. Retrieved 23 May 2017.
  17. Clapp, John Bouvé; Edgett, Edwin Francis (1902). "The Shaughraun". Plays of the Present. NY: The Dunlap Society. pp. 247–249.
  18. "The New Park Theatre". New York Times. 28 September 1873.
  19. "The New Park Theatre". New York Times. 30 March 1874.
  20. Watermeier 2015, p. 48.
  21. "The Shaughraun". The Cincinnati Enquirer, Page 8. 29 December 1876. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
  22. "Music and Drama". The Week : a Canadian journal of politics, literature, science and arts. 1 (11): 176. 14 February 1884. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  23. Anne Guiot Calthrop Boucicault Collection {University of Kent} accessed 5 January 2009
  24. As indicated by the ADoB article on his son.
  25. Boucicault, Dionysius George (Dot) (1859–1929) (Australian Dictionary of Biography) accessed 5 January 2009
  26. Aubrey Boucicault at the Internet Broadway Database accessed 6 January 2009
  27. The Late Patrice Boucicault San Francisco Morning Call, 16 Nov 1890 - accessed 16 Feb 2015
  28. Josephine Louise Thorndyke Boucicault Calthrop Boucicault Collection {University of Kent} accessed 5 January 2009
  29. Agnes Robertson Boucicault (1833–1916) Calthrop Boucicault Collection {University of Kent} accessed 5 January 2009
  30. Letter from Josephine Cheney – formerly Boucicault (NY Times) accessed 5 January 2009.
  31. Boucicault is buried in Section 43, Lot 1, near the top of the hill; his monument is a flat tablet of granite with a cast bronze marker giving his name and his life dates in Roman numerals.
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