William Charles Macready (1793 – 1873) was an English actor and friend of Charles Dickens. He was generally acknowledged to be the greatest Shakespearian actor of the Victorian era, enjoying success both here and in America.
William Charles Macready was born in London on 3 March 1793, the son of a theatre manager. Originally intending to go into a career in law, family debts pushed him at 16 to taking up acting work initially with his fathers company. In 1823, he married Catherine Frances Atkins (d. 1852).
Macready rose to become manager of the Theatre Royal Covent Garden in 1837, although resigned after two years after sustaining financial losses and mixed reviews. He was also manager of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane briefly from 1841 to 1843.
During the 1840’s, Macready largely acted on tours, includng to America, before retiring from the stage in a farewell performance of Macbeth at Drury Lane on 26 February 1851.
Charles Dickens and William Charles Macready.
Dickens, spurred on by Forster, wanted to support Macready’s work as a theatre manager, and he soon conceived the idea of writing a comedy for the manager of the Theatre Royal Covent Garden. It took a year, however, for the project to reach fruition which Dickens presented to Macready in early December 1838. The play Dickens wrote, The Lamplighter was not well received by Macready who promptly rejected it (Dickens would later rewrite the work and include it in a charitable publication to benefit the widow of John Macrone).
Despite the setback, Charles Dickens continued to support Macready in his theatre career including attending two speeches in honour of the actor in March and July 1839 and also able to write few good notices for Macready in the The Examiner, and as a journalist, he gave Macready (by then retired) two good mentions, in his Household Words, and in All the Year Round.
When Nicholas Nickleby was first published in one volume, in October 1839, Dickens dedicated the novel is dedicated to Macready.
Dickens was godfather for Macready’s son Henry and in turn Macready was godfather to Dickens’s first daughter, Kate Macready Dickens, born on 29 October 1839.
After Macreday pulled back from the London theatre scene in the early 1840’s, the two men remained warm friends for life.
William Charles Macready lived at Sherborne House, Dorset between 1850-60. Despite his fame as the leading actor manager of his day he decided at the height of his career, to leave the stage and retire to the country. While at the House, he was visited by friends from London including William Makepeace Thackeray and his closest friend of all, Charles Dickens.
Dickens was a regular at Sherborne House and said to have been a very popular guest with the Macready children due to his superior story telling abilities. The house was the setting for one of his first readings of A Christmas Carol.
In 1860, Macready married his second wife, Cecile Louise Frederica Spencer. In the same year he left Sherborne House and moved to Cheltenham.
William Charles Macready remained in Cheltenham until his death. He died on 27 April 1873.