Gentleman, Francis (1728–84), actor and dramatist, was born 23 October 1728 at York St., Dublin, son of a captain in the British army. A sickly child, he was nursed gradually to health, and at the age of ten was educated at the school of the Rev. Mr Butler at Digges St., Dublin, where he became friends with his future fellow-actors, John Dexter and Henry Mossop (qv). In 1744 he received a commission in his father's regiment and was forced to cut short his education; he saw little action, however. Detesting the military life, he left in 1748, with the rank of lieutenant, and turned to the stage; Thomas Sheridan (qv) at the Smock Alley Theatre gave him a role in ‘Oroonoko’, and he made his début 16 February 1749. Reacquainted with Mossop, he continued in small roles throughout that season till informed that he was heir to £1,500 from an unknown uncle who had died in India. Having fallen out with Mossop, he promptly gave up acting and moved to London, where he lived prodigiously in expectation of his inheritance. His liberality appears to have been matched by his lawyers, who embezzled his money, and Gentleman was obliged to return to theatrical work; he altered Ben Jonson's ‘Sejanus’ and dedicated it to John Boyle (qv), earl of Orrery and Cork. Almost all of his literary attempts were disasters; his play ‘Osman’ (1751) never appeared in print, and was only performed once. He toured in various acting companies, producing two works in 1754: a poem, ‘Narcissa and Eliza’, and a lecture on toleration, Religious and political liberty: an oration. He visited Edinburgh (1758–9), and met James Boswell, who credited him in The life of Samuel Johnson (1791) with telling him about ‘Dictionary Johnson’. In 1760 Gentleman's farce ‘The tobacconist’, based on a play by Jonson, had some success, but no critical acclaim.
Drifting into obscurity in the 1760s, Gentleman published much of his work anonymously. He made a successful return in 1770, with the publication of his greatest work, The dramatic censor, a critique of various contemporary plays. He edited Bell's acting edition of Shakespeare's plays, which was savaged as one of the worst collections of any author. His most famous comedy, ‘The modish wife’, was performed at the Haymarket Theatre on 18 September 1773. Returning to Dublin in 1783, he produced an alteration of Gluck's opera ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’ at the Smock Alley Theatre.
Suffering from a severe rheumatic disorder for the last seven years of his life, he died in customary poverty at George's Lane, Dublin, on 21 December 1784. He married once, but his wife, Ruth, died in 1773. He had at least three children. Though Gentleman was very gifted, his career was blighted by his own casual disregard for his talents and by his self-destructive tendencies; David Garrick called him ‘Gentleman in name only’.