Sue Young Histories

Charles James Mathews 1803 – 1878

January 09, 2009

Charles James Mathews 1803 – 1878 was a British actor. A son of the actor Charles Mathews, he became even better known than his father in the same profession.

Charles James Mathews was married to Lucia Elizabeth Vestris, and he was a friend of the Countess of Blessington, Charles Dickens, William Gell, Theodore Edward Hook, George Henry Lewes, Richard Robert Madden, Frederick Hervey Foster Quin.

Charles James Mathews wrote:

Out of the many distinguished people it was my good fortune to be associated with, there were three who were my especial favourites, and with whom I kept up constant companionship

  • the ever genial Dr. Quin who, up to this day, more than fifty years (but what are fifty years to either of us !) has preserved his faculty of imparting cheerfulness to all his friends by his inexhaustible flow of fun and good humour, while by his skill and science he has alleviated their bodily sufferings; the witty, lively Richard Robert Madden, at that time as full of animal spirits as of mental acquirements, and who was my fidus Achates upon all occasions; and dear old, kind, gay William Gell, who while wheeling himself about the room in his chair, for he was unable to walk a step without help, alternately kept his friends on the broad grin with his whimsical sallies and droll anecdotes, and instructed them from the stores of his wonderful archaeological knowledge and practical experience, always as pleased and ready to impart his instructive information as they were to receive it at one moment playing on a rough Greek double flute to his dog (who was an accomplished singer)…

Charles James Mathews was born in Liverpool. After attending Merchant Taylors’ School, Crosby, 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 7 December 1835, at the Olympic Theatre in 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 Lucia Elizabeth Vestris, then lessee of the Olympic, but neither his management of this theatre, nor subsequently of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, nor of the Lyceum Theatre, resulted in pecuniary success, although the introduction of the innovation of scenery more realistic and careful in detail than had hitherto been employed in the theatre was due to his enterprise.

In the year of his marriage he visitedAmerica 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 especially excelled.

In 1856, Lucia Elizabeth Vestris died, and in the following year Mathews again visited America, 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 blasé (English version by Dionysius Lardner Boucicault, Used upDionysius Lardner Boucicault had also been commissioned by Mathews to write London Assurance).

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.

He made his last appearance in New York at Wallack’s theatre on 7 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 2 June 1877, in The Liar and The Cosy Couple. At Stalybridge he gave his last performance on 8 June 1878, when he played Adonis Evergreen in his own comedy My Awful Dad.

Of interest:

T L Mathews was a Physician at the Manchester Homeopathic Hospital,


Any views or advice in this site should not be taken as a substitute for medical advice or treatment, especially if you know you have a specific health complaint