1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lillo, George
Lillo, George (1693–1739), English dramatist, son of a Dutch jeweller, was born in London on the 4th of February 1693. He was brought up to his father's trade and was for many years a partner in the business. His first piece, Silvia, or the Country Burial, was a ballad opera produced at Lincoln's Inn Fields in November 1730. On the 22nd of June 1731 his domestic tragedy, The Merchant, renamed later The London Merchant, or the History of George Barnwell, was produced by Theophilus Cibber and his company at Drury Lane. The piece is written in prose, which is not free from passages which are really blank verse, and is founded on "An excellent ballad of George Barnwell, an apprentice of London who . . . thrice robbed his master, and murdered his uncle in Ludlow." In breaking through the tradition that the characters of every tragedy must necessarily be drawn from people of high rank and fortune he went back to the Elizabethan domestic drama of passion of which the Yorkshire Tragedy is a type. The obtrusively moral purpose of this play places it in the same literary category as the novels of Richardson. Scoffing critics called it, with reason, a "Newgate tragedy," but it proved extremely popular on the stage. It was regularly acted for, many years at holiday seasons for the moral benefit of the apprentices. The last act contained a scene, generally omitted on the London stage, in which the gallows actually figured. In 1734 Lillo celebrated the marriage of the Princess Anne with William IV. of Orange in Britannia and Batavia, a masque. A second tragedy, The Christian Hero, was produced at Drury Lane on the 13th of January 1735. It is based on the story of Scanderbeg, the Albanian Chieftain, a life of whom is printed with the play. Thomas Whincop (d. 1730) wrote a piece on the same subject, printed posthumously in 1747. Both Lillo and William Havard, who also wrote a dramatic version of the story, were accused of plagiarizing Whincop's Scanderbeg. Another murder-drama, Fatal Curiosity, in which an old couple murder an unknown guest, who proves to be their own son, was based on a tragedy at Bohelland Farm near Penryn in 1618. It was produced by Henry Fielding at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket in 1736, but with small success. In the next year Fielding tacked it on to his own Historical Register for 1736, and it was received more kindly. It was revised by George Colman the elder in 1782, by Henry Mackenzie in 1784, &c. Lillo also wrote an adaptation of the Shakespearean play of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, with the title Marina (Covent Garden, August 1st, 1738); and a tragedy, Elmerick, or Justice Triumphant (produced posthumously, Drury Lane, February 23rd, 1740). The statement made in the prologue to this play that Lillo died in poverty seems unfounded. His death took place on the 3rd of September 1739. He left an unfinished version of Arden of Feversham, which was completed by Dr John Hoadly and produced in 1759. Lillo's reputation proved short-lived. He has nevertheless a certain cosmopolitan importance, for the influence of George Barnwell can be traced in the sentimental drama of both France and Germany.