Actors, Musicians and Theatre Personalities with Scottish Links ~ Charles Mackay 1785 - 1857


Charles Mackay, 1785 - 1857

1.   Charles Mackay. In the Character of Bailie Nicol Jarvie in Rob Roy at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh.  Etching with aquatint on watermarked paper by J. Keith, 255 x 163mm. Published. July 1819 by A. Keith, Aberdeen..  [Image in the public domain.]

Mackay at Perth

Mr. Ryder opened the New Theatre in the close of 1820 and succeeded amazingly, for five years. But success made him ambitious, and, leasing the Caledonian Theatre (formerly Corn's Rooms) of Edinburgh, in opposition to the Theatre Royal, he found it a ruinous speculation from which he never recovered.

The next tenants of the Theatre Royal came in the persons of Jones, and Mackay—the famous Bailie—who performed on the opening night. In the language of our informant, the theatre was 'opened with gas,' thus displacing wax, as wax had previously displaced oil for lighting purposes.

The company of Edinburgh comedians started operations on 22nd August, 1825, with Laugh When You Can and Raising the Wind, titles which bore significant meanings.

As most of the players were Perth favourites, good business was the order of the day, and an additional attraction was the revival of the old 'half-time' arrangements. Among the pieces staged by Jones and Mackay were Mary Stuart (founded on The Abbot) and Waverley, the latter a failure. Jones opened up his second season single-handed in August, 1826, and brought most of the leading performers from the Edinburgh Theatre Royal, including Mrs. Stanley as leading lady and Stanley as his leading comedian.

Terry starred in The Devil and Dr. Faustus, and, for an Englishman, he tried the doubtful experiment of playing the Bailie in Rob Roy, although it is satisfactory to hear that he was 'no' bad for an Englishman.' Cramond Brig proved a favourite, with Pritchard as an ideal James VI.; and Miss Murray, as 'Marion Howe, "scored heavily." The famous Miss Noel, the vocalist, from Drury Lane and Covent Garden, gained high praise in such parts as Rosetta, Rosina, Amcetta, and Diana Vernon.

The Gowrie Conspiracy, a new play of local import, was produced by Jones, who closed a highly successful season on the 7th October with a performance of The School for Scandal, in which he had secured the special services of Mrs. Henry Siddons as Lady Teazle.

At the end of this third season, Jones announced in his valedictory speech that he had relinquished his management for two reasons—the unfavourable period of the season at which only he could visit Perth —and the fact that he could not undertake the financial responsibility of attracting London stars."

A handsome obelisk reared by public subscription commemorates Charles Mackay, of the Theatre Royal [Edinburgh].   Mr. Mackay was a native of Glasgow.   He obtained wide celebrity for his successful personification of Bailie Nicol Jarvie in the drama of " Rob Roy," and for his embodiment of other creations of the author of "Waverley.

He died on the 2nd November, 1857.

[Based on  The History of the Scots Stage by Robb Lawson, 1919.]



Charles Mackay, 1785 - 1857

Charles Mackay from a painting by Sir Daniel MacNee P. R. S. A. (1806-1882), in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.  Illustrated in Sir Walter Scott by J. L. Lockhart.  [Image in the public domain.]

Mackay was a close friend of Sir Walter Scott, who encouraged him in his role as Bailie Bailie Nicol Jarvie.  Scott wrote to correspondents in London, with the view of promoting Mr. Mackay's success in his début on the London boards as Bailie Jarvie.

To Miss Joanna Baillie, Hampstead.

The immediate motive of my writing to you, my dearest friend, is to make Mrs. Agnes and you aware that a Scots performer, called Mackay, is going up to London to play Bailie Nicol Jarvie for a single night at Covent Garden, and to beg you of all dear loves to go and see him; for, taking him in that single character, I am not sure I ever saw anything in my life possessing so much truth and comic effect at the same time: he is completely the personage of the drama, the purse-proud consequential magistrate, humane and irritable in the same moment, and the true Scotsman in every turn of thought and action; his variety of feelings towards Rob Roy, whom he likes, and fears, and despises, and admires, and pities all at once, is exceedingly well expressed. In short, I never saw a part better sustained, certainly; I pray you to collect a party of Scotch friends to see it. I have written to Sotheby to the same purpose, but I doubt whether the exhibition will prove as satisfactory to those who do not know the original from which the resemblance is taken. I observe the English demand (as is natural) broad caricature in the depicting of national peculiarities: they did so as to the Irish till Jack Johnstone taught them better, and at first I should fear Mackay's reality will seem less ludicrous than Liston's humorous extravagances. So let it not be said that a dramatic genius of Scotland wanted the countenance and protection of Joanna Baillie: the Doctor and Mrs. Baillie will be much diverted if they go also, but somebody said to me that they were out of town. The man, I am told, is perfectly respectable in his life and habits, and consequently deserves encouragement every way. There is a great difference betwixt his bailie and all his other performances: one would think the part made for him, and him for the part—and yet I may do the poor fellow injustice, and what we here consider as a falling off may arise from our identifying Mackay so completely with the worthy Glasgow magistrate, that recollections of Nicol Jarvie intrude upon us at every corner, and mar the personification of any other part which he may represent for the time.

I am here for a couple of days with our Chief-Commissioner, late Willie Adam, and we had yesterday a delightful stroll to Castle-Campbell, the Rumbling Brig, Cauldron Linns, etc. The scenes are most romantic, and I know not by what fatality it has been, that living within a step of them, I never visited any of them before. We had Sir Samuel Shepherd with us, a most delightful person, but with too much English fidgetiness about him for crags and precipices,—perpetually afraid that rocks would give way under his weight which had over-brow'd the torrent for ages, and that good well-rooted trees, moored so as to resist ten thousand tempests, would fall because he grasped one of their branches; he must certainly be a firm believer in the simile of the lover of your native land, who complains,—

"I leant my back unto an aik,
I thought it was a trusty tree,
But first it bow'd and then it brake," etc., etc., etc.[127]

Certes these Southrons lack much the habits of the wood and wilderness,—for here is a man of taste and genius, a fine scholar and a most interesting companion, haunted with fears that would be entertained by no shopkeeper from the Luckenbooths or the Saut Market. A sort of Cockneyism of one kind or another pervades their men of professional habits, whereas every Scotchman, with very few exceptions, holds country exercises of all kinds to be part of his nature, and is ready to become a traveller, or even a soldier on the slightest possible notice. The habits of the moorfowl shooting, salmon-fishing, and so forth, may keep this much up among the gentry, a name which our pride and pedigree extend so much wider than in England; and it is worth notice that these amusements, being cheap and tolerably easy come at by all the petty dunniewassals, have a more general influence on the national character than fox-hunting, which is confined to those who can mount and keep a horse worth at least 100 guineas. But still this hardly explains the general and wide difference betwixt the countries in this particular. Happen how it will, the advantage is much in favor of Scotland: it is true that it contributes to prevent our producing such very accomplished lawyers, divines, or artisans[128] as when the whole mind is bent with undivided attention upon attaining one branch of knowledge,—but it gives a strong and muscular character to the people in general, and saves men from all sorts of causeless fears and flutterings of the heart, which give quite as much misery as if there were real cause for entertaining apprehension. This is not furiously to the purpose of my letter, which, after recommending Monsieur Mackay, was to tell you that we are all well and happy. Sophia is getting stout and pretty, and is one of the wisest and most important little mammas that can be seen anywhere. Her bower is bigged in gude green wood, and we went last Saturday in a body to enjoy it, and to consult about furniture; and we have got the road stopt which led up the hill, so it is now quite solitary and approached through a grove of trees, actual well-grown trees, not Lilliputian forests like those of Abbotsford. The season is dreadfully backward. Our ashes and oaks are not yet in leaf, and will not be, I think, in anything like full foliage this year, such is the rigor of the east winds.—Always, my dear and much respected friend, most affectionately yours,

W. Scott.

Blair-Adam, 11 June, 1821

Note: Joanna Baillie (1762 – 1851) was a Scottish poet and dramatist.   [From the Memoirs of Sir Walter Scott Bart. by John Gibson Lockhart, The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1901. Chapter 52.]



Charles Mackay, 1785 - 1857

Charles Mackay as Bailie Nicol Jarvie in Walter Scott's 'Rob Roy' by John Horsburgh, printed by McQueen (Macqueen), published by Robert Hamilton, published by Hurst, Robinson & Co, after Sir William Allan'  hand-coloured line engraving, published 1825-1826. 381 mm x 265 mm plate size; 410 mm x 294 mm paper size.  original in the National Portrait Gallery, London.  [Copyright expired on the original image.]

To The Lord Montagu etc., etc., London.

Blair-Adam, June 11, 1821.

My dear Lord,—There is a man going up from Edinburgh to play one night at Covent Garden, whom, as having the very unusual power of presenting on the stage a complete Scotsman, I am very desirous you should see. He plays Bailie Nicol Jarvie in Rob Roy, but with a degree of national truth and understanding, which makes the part equal to anything I have ever seen on the stage, and I have seen all the best comedians for these forty years. I wish much, if you continue in town till he comes up, that you would get into some private box and take a look of him. Sincerely, it is a real treat—the English will not enjoy it, for it is not broad enough, or sufficiently caricatured for their apprehensions, but to a Scotsman it is inimitable, and you have the Glasgow Bailie before you, with all his bustling conceit and importance, his real benevolence, and his irritable habits. He will want in London a fellow who, in the character of the Highland turnkey, held the backhand to him admirably well. I know how difficult it is for folks of condition to get to the theatre, but this is worth an exertion,—and, besides, the poor man (who I understand is very respectable in private life) will be, to use an admirable simile (by which one of your father's farmers persuaded the Duke to go to hear his son, a probationer in divinity, preach his first sermon in the town of Ayr), like a cow in a fremd loaning, and glad of Scots countenance.

I am glad the Duke's cold is better—his stomach will not be put to those trials which ours underwent in our youth, when deep drinking was the fashion. I hope he will always be aware, however, that his is not a strong one.

Campbell's Lives of the Admirals is an admirable book, and I would advise your Lordship e'en to redeem your pledge to the Duke on some rainy day. You do not run the risk from the perusal which my poor mother apprehended. She always alleged it sent her eldest son to the navy, and did not see with indifference any of her younger olive branches engaged with Campbell except myself, who stood in no danger of the cockpit or quarterdeck. I would not swear for Lord John though. Your Lordship's tutor was just such a well-meaning person as mine, who used to take from me old Lindsay of Pitscottie, and set me down to get by heart Rollin's infernal list of the Shepherd Kings, whose hard names could have done no good to any one on earth, unless he had wished to raise the devil, and lacked language to conjure with.—Always, my dear Lord, most truly yours,

Walter Scott.

[From the Memoirs of Sir Walter Scott Bart. by John Gibson Lockhart, The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1901. Chapter 52.]



Murray Anecdotes

Top  ~  Mackay's retiral

Top  ~