« PreviousContinue »
THE EDITOR'S PREFACE.
TEORGE LILLO, the author of the Tragedy of The LONDON MERCHANT, or The HISTORY OF GEORGE BARNWELL, was born on the 4th of February 1693, somewhere near Moorfields. His father was a Dutch jeweller, who married an English woman. George was brought up to his father's business, and was his partner in the same trade several years.
In the year 1730, his Opera of Silvia, or the Country Burial, was performed at the Theatre Royal in Lincoln'sInn-Fields. The general tendency of this piece is good, as it is intended to encourage virtue and discourage illicit love. It contains many valuable passages and some good songs; but the incident of the Country Burial is making too light of serious matters, and shocks my feelings. There is also much grossness in the dialogue: But this fault is perhaps rather to be attributed to the time in which he lived than to the author himself. These observations would not have been made but that the piece is preserved in Lillo's Works.
In 1731, he produced George Barnwell; but of this I shall speak more fully hereafter.
In the year 1734, his Tragedy of The Christian Hero, taken from the History of Scanderbeg, King of Epirus, was acted at Drury Lane; this also contains many excellent passages, but the language is sometimes harsh and prosaic.
In 1737, Fatal Curiosity! a Tragedy in three Acts, was performed at the Hay-market Theatre. It is a play of great interest and in general well written; but in many places the sentiments of the bad characters have no antidote to them, and the catastrophe is too horrid for representation. The moral of it is good, Patience under affliction, and a trust in the goodness of Providence. The father who had murdered his son, not knowing him to be so, when he was coming to relieve his distresses, says,
* These particulars of the Life of Lillo are taken principally from Davier's Memoirs of him prefixed to his edition
of Lillo's Works io 2 vols. 12mo. in 1775, a second edition of which was published by Lowades in 1810.
Proud and impatient under our afflictions,
We brought this dreadful ruin on ourselves. This play was altered by Mr. COLMAN (the Elder) and acted at the Haymarket in 1782, and Mr. MACKENZIE (the author of The Man of Feeling, &c.) extended it to five acts, and it was performed at Covent Garden Theatre, under the name of The Shipwreck, or Fatal Curiosity, in the year 1784. He has altered it in some respects for the better, but still the bad sentiments of Old Wilmot and Agnes want their antidote.
In the following year (1738) Lillo produced, at Covent Garden, Marina, a Play in three acts. It is taken from Pericles Prince of Tyre, one of the Plays which it is supposed that Shakspeare revised but did not wholly write. Though called a Play, which is, I believe, generally understood to imply something less deep than a Tragedy, that is, not having any death in it, yet there are two deaths in the second act. The same may be said of this play as of Silvia, that the author evidently appears to have intended to write a moral piece, yet some of the dialogue is so gross, that it would
not be tolerated by an audience in the present day; this was the fault of that time; and it is a proof I trust that the stage is improved in its decency at least, and I think also in its morality.
Lillo died in 1739; but I shall proceed in the list of his works, and return to his own history afterwards.
In 1740 was published Britannia and Batavia, a Masque, written on the marriage of the Prince of Orange with the Princess Royal, a strange mixture of Angels and Allegorical Personages. It does not appear to have been performed.
The Tragedy of Elmerick was shed by Lillo before his death, and left in the care of his friend John Gray,
a bookseller, who was first a dissenting minister, and afterwards admitted into the Church of England, and made Rector of a living at Rippon in Yorkshire. The author had made it his dying request to Mr. Gray that he would dedicate it to Frederick Prince of Wales; and, from Mr. Gray's Dedication prefixed to the Play, we learn that his Royal Highness interested himself in the
of it by honouring the performance with his presence. The Prologue and Epilogue were written by Hammond, the author of the Love Elegies, who was Equerry to the Prince of Wales. This Tragedy, eridently written by an author fond of liberty and justice, yet consists of incidents too gross and too shocking for public representation. That the author's mind was deeply tinctured with religion is also evident; but it was not a religion directed by clear views, it is not the religion of The Bible. Ismena, having been violated by Conrade, says to her husband Elmerick,
Had not religion Withheld my hand, whose law forbids self-murder, (That short and easy cure for sbame and aoguish,) These sorrows ne'er had reached you. The incident of Elmerick, though Regent, taking the punishment of the perpetrator and instrument of his wife's dishonour into his own hands, would not do in real life, and is a great impropriety in the author. In the 5th Act Justice is twice deified and invoked, and Elmerick becomes a Duellist :
Give me to meet this impious Prince in battle;
Wrong'd as I am, without a soldier's shame.
This is t'atope one error by another.
Unerring Power! whose deep and secret counsels
And wise to suffer what you most abhor:
Supreme and absolute of these your ways
Allend at length your high and awful throne, The Tragedy of Arden of Feversham is said to have been written by Lillo before the year 1736; but, being left imperfect, it was finished by Dr. John Hoadley, and was performed at Drury Lane, July 12, 1759; the house being opened for that night only. This Play is of the same class with the other productions of Lillo, being intended to
the evils which attend on infidelity to the marriage vow.
The adulterer and the adulteress are pourtrayed with great force, proceeding from sin to sin, till the end is their imbruing their hands in murder, and that brings on their own destruction: but it is too full of horrors; and the low instruments of murder are too frequently and too prominently exhibited on the stage. 66 The diabolical ministers of vengeance" (says Davies) 66 should be just seen and dismissed; though they may “ be spoken of with propriety, an audience will not
long endure their company.” (p. 37.)
This Play was altered and reduced into 3 Acts by Mr. Holman, and acted for his benefit in 1790. It has not been printed, so that I cannot judge of the value of the alteration.
A few passages may be given from this. Play as specimens.
Arden had married Alicia by the influence of her parents, knowing that he had not her affections. These are his dying reflections:
How have I doated to Idolatry!
Now, upprepar'd, I perish by ber hate, The reflections of Mosby on accomplishing his wicked design are a fine lesson:
Mosby, thou hast thy wish.