Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Arne, Michael

ARNE, MICHAEL (1741?–1786), musician, the son of Dr. Arne, was born either in 1740 or 1741. His father wished to make him; a singer, and his aunt, Mrs. Gibber, brought him on the stage when very young, in the part of the page in Otway's tragedy, 'The Orphan,' but giving evidence of more talent as an instrumentalist than a vocalist he henceforth came before the public principally as a performer on the harpsichord, in which capacity he played at a concert when he was only eleven. His performance of Scarlatti's Lessons and his facility in executing double shakes are noted by his contemporaries. His first published composition was a volume of English songs, 'by Master Arne,' and after producing several similar collections, in 1763 he wrote music for 'The Fairy Tale' and 'Hymen' (performed at Drury Lane). In the following year Michael Arne, in collaboration with Jonathan Battishill, set the opera of 'Almena,' which was produced at Drury Lane 6 Nov. 1764, and was played six times. At this time he was living at 14 Crown Court, Russell Street, Covent Garden. On 20 March 1765 he was elected a member of the Madrigal Society, but in the following year his membership ceased. He was re-elected on 16 Dec. 1767 (Records of Madrigal Soc). On 5 Nov. 1766, he married Miss Elizabeth "Wright, who sang in her husband's next work, 'Cymon,' a spectacular drama, written by Garrick, which was successfully produced at Drury Lane 2 Jan. 1767. He was now living 'at Mr. O'Keeffe's, at the Golden Unicorn, near Hanover Street, Long Acre,' but about this time, according to some accounts during a visit to Dublin, he became engrossed in the pursuit of alchemy, and built a laboratory at Chelsea in order to carry on his attempts to discover the philosopher's stone. Ruined and bankrupt, he was before long forced to return to music. In 1770 he was living 'at Mr. Doron's, facing the Vine, near Vauxhall.' He published several volumes of songs, which were sung at Vauxhall Gardens, Where his first wife supported him by singing until her death (which occurred before 1775), and he also supplied music for several dramas. In 1779 he obtained an engagement at Dublin, but in 1784 he was once more in London, and died at South Lambeth, 14 Jan. 1786, leaving his second wife in a state of great destitution. Burney (in 'Rees's Cyclopædia') says of Michael Arne that 'he was always in debt, and often in prison; he sung his first wife to death, and starved the second, leaving her in absolute beggary.'

[Grove's Dictionary, i. 83; Rees's Cyclopædia, vol. ii., 1819; British Museum Catalogue; Dibdin's Musical Tour, 1788; European Magazine, i vols. vi. and ix.; Garrick's Correspondence in Forster Bequest at South Kensington Museum; Kelly's Reminiscences, 1826.]

W. B. S.