MATHEWS, CHARLES (1776-1835), English actor, was born in London on the 28th of June 1776. His father was " a serious bookseller," who also officiated as minister in one of Lady Huntingdon's chapels. Mathews was educated at Merchant Taylors' School. His love for the stage was formed in his boyhood, when he was apprentice to his father, and the latter in 1794 unwillingly permitted him to enter on a theatrical engagement in Dublin. For several years Mathews had not only to content himself with thankless parts at a low salary, but in May 1803 he made his first London appearance at the Haymarket as Jabel in Cumberland's The Jew and as Lingo in The Agreeable Surprise. From this time his professional career was an uninterrupted triumph. He had a wonderful gift of mimicry, and could completely disguise his personality without the smallest change of dress. The versatility and originality of his powers were admirably displayed in his " At Homes," begun in the Lyceum theatre in 1818, which, according to Leigh Hunt, " for the richness and variety of his humour, were as good as half a dozen plays distilled." Off the stage his simple and kind-hearted disposition won him affection and esteem. In 1822 Mathews visited America, his observation on his experiences there forming for the reader a most entertaining portion of his biography. From infancy his health had been uncertain, and the toils of his profession gradually undermined it. In 1834 he paid a second visit to America. His last appearance in New York was on the nth of February 1835, when he played Samuel Coddle in Married Life and Andrew Steward in The Lone House. He died at Plymouth on the 28th of June 1835. In 1797 he had married Eliza Kirkham Strong (d. 1802), and in 1803 Anne Jackson, an actress, the author of the popular and diverting Memoirs, by Mrs Mathews (4 vols., 1838-1839).
His son CHARLES JAMES MATHEWS (1803-1878), who was born at Liverpool on the 26th of December 1803, became even better known as an actor. After attending Merchant Taylors' School he was articled as pupil to an architect, and continued for some years nominally to follow this profession. His first public appearance on the stage was made on the 7th of December 1835, at the Olympic, London, as George Rattleton in his own play The Humpbacked Lover, and as Tim Topple the Tiger in Leman Rode's Old and Young Stager. In 1838 he married Madame Vestris, then lessee of the Olympic, but neither his management of this theatre, nor subsequently of Covent Garden, nor of the Lyceum, resulted in pecuniary success, although the introduction of scenery more realistic and careful in detail than had hitherto been employed was due to his enterprise. In the year of his marriage he visited America, but without receiving a very cordial welcome. As an actor he held in England an unrivalled place in his peculiar vein of light eccentric comedy. The easy grace of his manner, and the imperturbable solemnity with which he perpetrated his absurdities, never failed to charm and amuse; his humour was never broad, but always measured and restrained. It was as the leading character in such plays as the Game of Speculation, My Awful Dad, Cool as a Cucumber, Patter versus Clatter, and Little Toddlekins, that he specially excelled. In 1856 Mme Vestris died, and in the following year Mathews again visited the United States, where in 1858 he married Mrs A. H. Davenport. In 1861 they gave a series of " At Homes " at the Haymarket theatre, which were almost as popular as had been those of the elder Mathews. Charles James Mathews was one of the few English actors who played in French successfully, his appearance in Paris in 1863 in a French version of Cool as a Cucumber, written by himself, being received with great approbation. He also played there again in 1865 as Sir Charles Coldcream in the original play L'Homme blase ( English version by Boucicault, Used up). After reaching his sixty-sixth year, Mathews set out on a tour round the world, in which was included a third visit to America, and on his return in 1872 he continued to act without interruption till within a few weeks of his death on the 24th of June 1878. He made his last appearance in New York at Wallack's theatre on the 7th of June 1872, in H. J. Byron's Not such a Fool as he Looks. His last appearance in London was at the Opera Comique on the 2nd of June 1877, in The Liar and The Cosy Couple. At Stalybridge he gave his last performance on the 8th of June 1878, when he played Adonis Evergreen in his own comedy My Awful Dad.
See the Life of Charles James Mathews, edited by Charles Dickens (2 vols., 1879); H. G. Paine in Actors and Actresses of Great Britain and the United States (New York, 1886).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)