Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Professor of Elocution

This old headstone lies flush to the ground in an old section of the South Ridge (not too far from the sandstone sarcophagus of Captain Cortlandt Van Rensselaer and the graves of the Melvilles) and is quite easy to miss.  It marks the grave of John Hanbury Dwyer, one of several 19th century actors buried at the Rural Cemetery.

The darkened marble stone, which originally stood in the Episcopal section of the State Street Burying Grounds, has a lengthy inscription:

In memory of John Hanbury Dwyer
Professor of Elocution
One of the most distinguished actors of his day.
A man of brilliant talent talent and dedication:
An ornament of the British and American stage:
Author of the best Essays on Elocution 
ever published in this country.
Born in Clonnel, County Tipperary, in 1780,
came to America in 1811, died December 14, 1843

He was the son of a colonel in King Louis XVI's Irish Brigade.  As an actor on the British stage, it was said that the mere act of drawing his sword could excite the audience.  He emigrated to the United States where he found continued success and was known for "the elegance of his person, the fascination of his deportment, and that perfect knowledge of the stage business which never suffered the slightest embarrassment."  He often performed at Albany's Pearl Street Theatre (which later became home to the Baptist Church where a sermon by the Reverend Bartholomew T. Welch led to the establishment of the Albany Rural Cemetery).

Professor Dwyer's three-hundred page "Essays on Elocution" was first published 1824 and went through at least a half dozen reprints.  It can be read on Google Books.  Dwyer even sent a copy of his book ("intended for the promotion of the morals, and intellect, of the youth of America) to President James Madison who wrote back:

I have not found it convenient to give the Work a critical examination.  But a Cursory one has satisfied me that its explanations, its precepts, and its exemplifying selections, justly class it with the books useful to the Teachers & pupils, of the branch of Education on which it treats.

No comments:

Post a Comment