Born in August 1764, Joseph George Holman was the son of Major John Holman, who died when his son was only two. His uncle sent the boy to school and intended him for the clergy, but the lad had been attracted to school theatricals at Soho Academy. He very likely had other stage experience, for at the age of twenty he made his debut at Covent Garden Theatre, playing Romeo to Elizabeth Younge’s elderly Juliet on 25 October 1784. Holman then went on to appear as Macbeth, Richard III, Chamont in “The Orphan” (G0303), Hamlet, and Lothario in “The Fair Penitent” – to name a few of his characters. It was a remarkable first season, and the critic writing for the “Public Advertiser”, sounding quite modern, predicted that the ‘easy and natural performance of Holman … will prove a fatal blow to the cause of the Attitudinarians and Face-makers; to those who think dramatic excellence consists in … finding out meanings that were never meant … [and] in stretching out their fingers like monkies dying in convulsions … ‘ Alas, it was not to be. Though Holman had a popular following at Covent Garden, Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin, Drury Lane (briefly), the Haymarket, Liverpool and other provincial theatres, he developed the very bad habits his early critics had praised him for avoiding. Again and again over the years he was cautioned to restrain his energetic, ranting style and posturing.
Yet critics often described him as having a genteel person, an elegance and intelligence that promised much. At Covent Garden he was encouraged by a good salary – £12 weekly by 1791-92 plus good receipts at his benefits, and he was a useful actor with a wide range of roles in his head. He gained experience in management and in theatre life in America, wrote some forgettable plays, had three wives (the first by common law) and died at the age of 53 in August 1817 at Rockaway, Long Island, New York. (BDA) [EAL]