Benjamin Lumley was both an author and a theatre manager. In the theatre and opera world he is chiefly remembered for his highly regarded productions at Her Majesty's Theatre, London, which he ran as Theatre Manager from 1842 until 1852.
Lumley was the son of Louis Levy, a merchant of Canadian extraction who had died in London around 1831. Lumley initially trained as a solicitor and was employed as such by the Herne Bay Packet Company. While studying for his Bar exams he met and was taken on by Pierre-François Laporte (d.1841) manager of Her Majesty's Theatre to undertake legal and financial business transactions on his behalf. On the latter's death Lumley took over the running of the theatre. He prospered, breaking the monopoly of Italian singers and musicians and bringing ballet to the theatre. He was a prominent figure in society, entertaining royalty and the aristocracy at his Fulham house The Chancellors. His name featured heavily in the society pages of The Times. In 1846 the gratitude felt by his friends and supporters acquired a physical presence in the form of the grand silver testimonial offered here. Lumley records its presentation in his memoirs Reminiscences of the Opera, Twenty Years Director of Her Majesty's Theatre, London, 1864, p. 197.
'As well to mark the satisfaction of the old supporters of Her Majesty's Theatre with their season's entertainment, as to signify their appreciation of the director's past conduct in general, a magnificent testimonial was presented to me towards the close of the season of 1847. It was inscribed with these words: "In record of the zeal, judgment and liberality, evinced in the management of Her Majesty's Theatre, this testimonial is presented to B. Lumley, Esq., by his friends and subscribers.'
Lumley's social connections are clearly shown by the illustrious role call of the good and the great who subscribed to the piece.
'A comprehensive subscription list was appended to the gift, including the names of several foreign ambassadors to this Court (that of one of my staunchest friends, Baron de B , at their head), followed by the signatures of the Dukes of Wellington, Bedford, Cleveland, Devonshire, Leinster, and Somerset; the Marquises of Lansdowne, Clanricarde, Donegal, Granby, and Huntley; the Earls of Lonsdale, Harrington, Kenmare, Bective, and Pembroke ; with a host of others, titled and untitled, including that of the Prince Louis Napoleon.' B. Lumley, op. cit., p. 197.
However, even his well connected friends and many supporters would not be enough to take him through the turbulent years that were to follow. The Tesimonial would remind him of the professional and social heights to which risen.
'This handsome piece of plate was to me a great source of pride and solace amidst all my trials and anxieties, as it showed the esteem and favour with which I was regarded by opera-goers at this crisis of my fortunes. Letters poured in upon me on every side, and from the noblest in the land, in assurance of support. Even anonymous good wishes were conveyed to me, to cheer and encourage me on my way.'
By opposing the system, which made much of the stars of the time, and by challenging the established monopoly enjoyed by many of the musicians he made a number of enemies; not least of these was his lead conductor Michael Costa. Costa left the theatre in 1847 taking with him more that half the much admired orchestra to the newly establish Royal Italian Opera House at Covent Garden. Audiences declined dramatically and he no longer enjoyed the acclaim of the critics. Lumley was briefly saved by the hard won engagement of Jenny Lind (1820-1887), "the Swedish Nightingale", perhaps the greatest soprano of the 19th century. Unfortunately her retirement in 1849 led to a decline in Lumley's fortunes once more. In 1851, following a disastrous season in both London and Paris, where he had taken the Théâtre Italien, Lumley lost over £14,400. He fled to Paris to escape his creditors and the theatre remained closed until 1856.
Lord Ward, later Earl of Dudley, backed Lumley and enabled him to return in 1856, taking advantage of the fire which had closed Covent Garden. Success was to prove elusive once more and Lumley was forced to give up the lease in 1858. He returned to the law and writing his memoires. He died unmarried at his Kensington House in 1875.