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House, published in 1764, was, I believe, followed for many years, and George Barnwell was regularly actedduring the Christmas Holidays. If this practice has been remitted of late years, yet the piece has continued a stock play; and though the character of Milwood is in general disliked by female performers of the first cast, yet Mrs. Siddons has not disdained to personate her.*The play is performed by almost every company throughout the kingdom.
In a fragment of a country play-bill, of the Tragedy of GEORGE BARNWELL, which I have now before me, but from what place or company I cannot tell, both the top and the names of the performers below being cut off and only the account of the play preserved, the following curious circumstance is stated:
"A story is recorded, and the fact can be proved by <6 many living witnesses, that a young gentleman of the "city of London, having embezzled part of his master's 66 property, was providentially at a representation of "George Barnwell, at Drury Lane, when that ad"mirable actor, Mr. Ross, personated the character of
George Barnwell; at whose fate he was so struck, that it occasioned his immediate contrition and re"formation. The gentleman so benefited by this ex"cellent tragedy, was not ashamed to acknowledge his "obligations to the play, and the performers; for at every subsequent yearly benefit Mr. Ross received one "hundred pounds with a card to the following effect.
*Mr. Ensor says "Milwood's character is a great effort, and ་་ seems to have exhausted in that respect the powers of the dramatist." (Independent Man, Vol. II. p. 169.) I agree with Mr. Ensor as to the character of Milwood being a great effort, but not as to its having exhausted the powers of the dramatist, Barnwell is well drawn; and so is Thorowgood, it is a part which no performer need disdain to play: Trueman and Maria are also good, and Lucy requires no inconsiderable abilities in the performer to give effect to the account of the interview between G. Barnwell and Milwood when she instigates him to the murder of his Uncle. Though the Uncle appears only in one scene, yet he requires very respectable representative. The characters, when the play is performed, are seldom filled by the best performers, who too often seek for opportunities of display rather than of legitimate and useful acting, which will procure respect and esteem, though it may not draw down thunders of applause.
(6 DEAR SIR, "He who is indebted to your admirable "representation of George Barnwell for more than "life, for his redeemed honour and credit, begs your acceptance of the inclosed; which sum you will receive yearly, so long as you continue in the line of your profession. Happy am I to acknowledge, that the "stage has prevented me from ruin and disgrace. "George Barnwell stopped me in my mad career, and "saved me from an ignominious death.
"I am your grateful friend and servant,
As the authority on which this is stated is not given, I shall produce a fuller, and, probably, a more correct statement of the circumstance from an account of Mr. Ross in The Thespian Dictionary and also in Gilliland's Dramatic Mirror, Vol. 11. p. 958.
"In the year 1752, during the Christmas Holidays, "he played George Barnwell, and Mrs. Pritchard per"sonated Milwood. Soon after, Dr. Barrowby, phy"sician to St. Bartholomew's hospital, was sent for by "a young gentleman in Great St. Helen's, an apprentice "to a merchant of eminence. He found him very ill "with a slow fever, and a heavy hammer pulse, that no "medicine could touch. The nurse told him that he "sighed at times so deeply, that she was sure there was "something on his mind. The Doctor sent every one “out of the room, and told his patient, he was certain "there was a secret distress which lay so heavy on his "spirits, that it would be in vain to order him medicine "unless he would open his mind freely...
I have another fragment of a Country Play-Bill of George Barnwell now before me, without either the name of the place where it was performed or any of the actors' names, but with the date of Oct. 21, 1806, which states, that "The late celebrated Dr. Samuel "Johnson says in his review of it, that he firmly believes this Play "has saved many a youth from an untimely end; and he considers it "highly proper for every youth to see it, for it shews at once the "dreadful consequences of deviating from the path of virtue."
I do not recollect where Johnson has said this, and I cannot find any reference to it either in the Index to the edition of his Works by Murphy, or in that to his Life by Boswell,
"After much solicitation on the part of the Doctor, the youth confessed there was indeed something lay heavy at his heart, but that he would sooner die than "divulge it, as it must be his ruin if it was known. "The Doctor assured him, if he would make him his confidant, he would by every means in his power serve him; that the secret, if he desired it, should remain so to all the world, but to those who might be necessary to relieve him.
"After much conversation, he told the Doctor he was "the second son of a gentleman of good fortune in "Hertfordshire; that he had made an improper ac
quaintance with the kept mistress of a Captain of an "Indiaman, then abroad; that he was within a year of
the expiration of his apprenticeship; that he had been "entrusted with cash, drafts, and notes, with which "he had made free, to the amount of £200; that going "two or three nights before to Drury Lane theatre, to 66 see Ross and Mrs. Pritchard in their characters of "George Barnwell and Milwood, he was so forcibly
struck, that he had not enjoyed a moment's peace "since, and wished to die, to avoid the shame he saw "hanging over him.
"The Doctor asked where his father was. He replied, "that he expected him there every minute, as he was "sent for by his master upon his being taken ill. The
Doctor desired the young gentleman to make himself "perfectly easy, as he would undertake his father should "make all right; and to get his patient in a promising CC way, assured him if his father made the least hesitation, "he should have the money from him.
"The father soon arrived: the Doctor took him into
another room, and after explaining the whole cause of "his son's illness, begged him to save the honour of his (6 family, and the life of his son. The father, with tears "in his eyes, gave him a thousand thanks; said he "would step to his banker, and bring the money. "While the father was gone, Dr. Barrowby went to his "patient, and told him every thing would be settled in a few minutes to his satisfaction.
"On the return of his father, every thing was happily "settled. The young man immediately recovered, and "lived to be a very eminent merchant.
"Dr. Barrowby never divulged his name, but the 66 story he often mentioned in the green-room of Drury "Lane theatre; and after telling it one night when "Mr. Ross was standing by, he said to him, You "have done some good in your profession, more, per"haps, than many a clergyman who preached last "Sunday;" for the patient told him that the play had "raised such horror and contrition in his soul, that he "would, if it should please God to raise a friend to "extricate him out of his distress, dedicate the rest of "his life to religion and virtue.
"Though Ross never knew his name, nor saw him "to his knowledge, he received for nine or ten years at "his benefit, a note sealed up with ten guineas, and "these words: "A tribute of gratitude from one who 66 was highly obliged, and saved from ruin, by seeing "Mr. Ross's performance of Barnwell."
DAVIES, in his Dramatic Miscellanies, (Vol. 111. p. 64.) briefly mentions this story, and says, it has been told me with such proofs of authenticity that I cannot "disbelieve it."
Mr. GILPIN, in his Dialogues on the Amusements of Clergymen, which are supposed to take place between Dr. Stillingfleet, afterwards Bishop of Worcester, and Dr. Frampton, then curate of Wroxal in Warwickshire, makes Dr. S. 66 say I should wish to turn the play-house "into a mode of amusing instruction; and to suffer no "theatrical performance, which did not eminently con"duce to this end. Young men, for instance, are apt "to be led away by vicious pleasures; and to supply "their profligacy, are often carried from one degree of "wickedness to another. A play on such a subject* "might perhaps deter many a young man in the be"ginning of his career. Or a good effect might be pro"duced by placing some virtue in opposition to its con66 trary vice; as contrasts generally have more force, than 66 simple exhibitions." p. 119.
To this passage a note is annexed "There was afterwards a play formed on this very plan, intitled George Barnwell; the moral of which is good, though the execution is far from being faultless."
As Mr. Gilpin has not specified what he conceives to be the faults of the play, it is impossible to guess precisely what they are; but I hope that in the alterations which have now been made in it nothing material has been over-looked.
Among those excellent little Tracts, the Cheap Repository, there is one entitled The Cheapside Apprentice, or the History of Mr. Francis H * * * *. Whether this is taken from some more recent and true story, as the initial with the four asterisks would seem to imply, I do not know, or whether it takes its origin from this play. It differs from it, certainly, in many particulars, though the general outline is the same. The apprentice, however, suffers, not for murder, but for forgery, which is perhaps the great crime of the present day with dissipated young men in that line of life. The Tract forms an excellent companion to this play.
The copy from which this play is printed is one Printed by J. Roach, Russel-court, Drury-lane, in 1808, which has been compared with the copy in Davies's Edition of Lillo's Works, see p. 167. Note.
Clare Hall, Aug, 14, 1811.