He was born in Orange Court, Leicester Fields, London. His father had a shoemaker's shop, and kept riding horses for hire; but having fallen into difficulties was reduced to the status of hawking pedlar. The son accompanied his parents in their travels, and obtained work as a stable boy at Newmarket, where he spent his evenings chiefly in miscellaneous reading and the study of music. Gradually he obtained a knowledge of French, German and Italian.
When his job as stable boy came to an end, he returned to assist his father, who had resumed his trade of shoemaker in London; but after marrying in 1765, he became a teacher in a small school in Liverpool. He failed in an attempt to set up a private school, and became prompter in a Dublin theatre. He acted in various strolling companies until 1778, when he produced The Crisis; or, Love and Famine, at Drury Lane. Duplicity followed in 1781.
Two years later he went to Paris as correspondent of the Morning Herald. Here he attended the performances of Beaumarchais's Mariage de Figaro until he had memorized the whole. The translation of it, with the title The Follies of the Day, was produced at Drury Lane in 1784. The Road to Ruin, his most successful melodrama, was produced in 1792. A revival in 1873 ran for 118 nights.
He was a member of the Society for Constitutional Information, and as a result was, in 1794, indicted of high treason, but was discharged without a trial - Among his novels niay be mentioned Alwyn (1780), an account, largely autobiographical, of a strolling comedian, and Hugh Trevor (1794-1797). He also was the author of Travels from Hamburg through Westphalia, Holland and the Netherlands to Paris, of some volumes of verse and of translations from the French and German.
His Memoirs written by Himself and continued down to the Time of his Death, from his Diary, Notes and other Papers, by William Hazlitt, appeared in 1816, and was reprinted, in a slightly abridged form, in 1852.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.