Payne, John Howard

Payne, John Howard

(1791–1852) actor, playwright, composer; born in New York City. Enamoured of the stage as a youth, he debuted as an actor in 1809 and enjoyed a string of successes that included being the first American to play Hamlet (1809). He spent the years 1813 to 1832 mainly in England and France where he had only modest success as an actor and playwright; among his many plays and adaptations were some ten collaborations with Washington Irving, such as Charles the Second; or, The Merry Monarch (1824). It was for one of his operettas, Clari (1823), that he wrote the only words (to the music of Henry Rowley Bishop) for which he would be remembered, "Home, Sweet Home." Always fighting off his creditors (he spent a short time in an English debtor's prison), he returned to the U.S.A. and undertook a variety of projects, including a campaign to help the Cherokee. With his theatrical career stalled, friends got him appointed U.S. consul to Tunis from 1842 to 1845, then again in 1851, and he died there the next year.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.