Voices from the 18th Century: Matthew Skeggs “playing upon a broom-stick”



The mezzotint of Matthew Skeggs playing a broomstick is the most unusual portrait I’ve ever seen from the 18th Century. Entitled “Skeggs, In the Character of Seignor Bumbasto,” the engraving is a legitimate depiction as any from the period.

In his Anecdotes of 1808, Edward Edwards gives us a little background on Skeggs and the unusual instrument. His commentary refers to the original painting by Thomas King on which the mezzotint above (by Richard Houston) is based.

Skeggs, for some time kept a public-house [the Hoop and Bunch of Grapes in St Albans Street], and was one of those with who, and others, formed a club, calling themseleves Choice Spirits; and, to support their claim to this title, they practiced some silly buffooneries; but this college of witlings has been long forgotten. About the same time in which this society existed, there was a burlesque entertainment exhibited at the little theatre in the Haymarket, called “Mother Midnight’s Oratorio,” in which Skeggs bore a part as musical performer, by playing upon a broom-stick, his voice, which was tolerably good, supplying the tones of the instrument.

(Quote taken from A biographical dictionary of actors, actresses, musicians, dancers, managers & other stage personnel in London, 1660-1800, volume 14, SIU Press)

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