Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Arne, Thomas Augustine
ARNE, THOMAS AUGUSTINE (1710–1778), musical composer, was the son of Thomas Arne, an upholsterer, who lived in King Street, Covent Garden, where his shop was known as the 'Crown and Cushion,' or, according to some authorities, as the 'Two Crowns and Cushion.' Thomas Arne is said to have been the upholsterer with whom the 'Indian kings' lodged, as chronicled in the 'Spectator,' No. 50, and the 'Tatler,' No. 171, and some biographers have identified him with one Edward Arne, who was the original of the political upholsterer of Nos. 156, 160, and 178 of the 'Tatler,' although it is sufficiently obvious that the latter do not refer to the same individual as is mentioned in the earlier numbers. Thomas Arne was twice married; by his second wife, Anne Wheeler, to whom he was married at the Mercers' Chapel in April 1707, he had Thomas Augustine, who was born 12 March 1710, Susanna Maria (afterwards celebrated as Mrs. Gibber), and other children. Thomas Augustine was educated at Eton, where he does not seem to have distinguished himself otherwise than as a performer on the flute, and on leaving school was placed by his father in a lawyer's office. During this period of his life, the love of music which had characterised his Eton career speedily developed although his passion had to be concealed from his father. He privately took lessons on the violin from Michael Testing, and practised the spinet at night on an instrument he had secretly conveyed to his room, the strings of which he muffled with handkerchiefs. He also devoted himself to the study of harmony and composition, and, disguised in a borrowed livery, used to frequent the opera-house galleries to which servants had free admittance. His musical progress was so marked that he was soon able to lead a chamber band of amateurs, and it was when so engaged that young Arne was one day found by his astonished father. The discovery of his son's musical talents Was at first met with a considerable display of wrath on the part of Thomas Arne, but eventually he had the good sense to recognise that the boy was more fitted for a musician than a lawyer, and after some hesitation to allow him to cultivate the talents which he so decidedly displayed. Not content with cultivating his own abilities, Arne henceforward turned his attention to the dormant faculties of his sister and brother, to the former of whom he gave such instruction in singing as to lead to her appearance on the operatic stage in Lampe's opera 'Amelia 'in March 1732. Encouraged by the success she achieved, he wrote new music for Addison's opera 'Rosamond,' which was produced at the Lincoln's Inn Fields theatre, on 7 March 1733, with Mrs. Barbier, Miss Arne, Mrs. Jones, Miss Chambers, Leveridge, Corfe, and the composer's younger brother in the principal parts, and was played for ten nights successively. His next work was a version of Fielding's 'Tom Thumb,' altered into 'The Opera of Operas,' a musical burlesque, which was produced at the Haymarket, 31 May 1733, and was acted eleven times. In the same year he produced (19 Dec.) at the same theatre a masque, 'Dido and Æneas,' in which both his brother and sister sang. Early in the following year the Arne family were engaged at Drury Lane, Miss Arne and 'young Master Arne' as singers, and the composer in some capacity which is not recorded, though, from the fact of his haying benefits on 29 April and 3 June, he must have already had some recognised post. In April 1734 Susanna Arne married Theophilus Cibber [see Cibber, Mrs.], and in 1736 Arne wrote music for the play of 'Zara,' in which she for the first time appeared as an actress. In the same year Arne married the singer Gecilia Young [see Arne, Gecilia]. On 4 March 1738 Milton's 'Comus,' with additions and alterations by Dr. Dalton, was produced at Drury Lane, the principal parts being performed by Quin, Milward, Cibber jun., Mills, Beard, Mrs. Cibber, Mrs. Clive, and Mrs. Arne. For this performance Arne wrote his well-known and charming music, which still retains the freshness and delicacy of its melody. In this work Arne already shows himself a master of the peculiarly English style which is the great charm of his music; he entered thoroughly into the spirit of Milton's masque, his setting of the words of some of the songs showing a degree of poetical and musical insight which is surprising at the period at which he wrote. Considering the beauty of the music and the strength of the cast, it is surprising to find that 'Comus' was played only about eleven times, though it was subsequently frequently revived at both houses, and has kept the stage almost until the present day. Arne's next works were settings of two masques, Congreve's 'Judgment of Paris,' and Thomson and Mallet's 'Alfred.' Both of these were performed on Friday and Saturday, 1 and 2 Aug. 1740, on a stage erected in the gardens of the house of Frederick, Prince of Wales, at Cliveden, Bucks, at a fête given in commemoration of the accession of George I and in honour of the birth of the Princess Augusta. The programme also included 'several scenes out of Mr. Rich's pantomime entertainments' (Gent. Mag. 1740, p. 411). This performance is memorable in the annals of English music, for it was for 'Alfred' that Arne composed 'Rule Britannia,' perhaps the finest national song possessed by any nation, and for which alone, even if he had produced nothing else, Arne would deserve a prominent place amongst musicians of all countries. Shortly after this performance, 'The Judgment of Paris' was given at Drury Lane, though 'Alfred' was not produced in London until 30 March 1745, when it was performed at Drury Lane for Mrs. Arne's benefit. In about 1740 or 1741 Arne (who was then living at Craven Buildings, near Drury Lane) obtained a royal grant assuring to him the copyright of his compositions for four-teen years. After producing several minor pieces at Drury Lane — amongst which is the beautiful music to 'As You Like It' and 'Twelfth Night' — Arne and his wife, towards the end of 1742, went to Dublin, where they remained until the end of 1744, both husband and wife winning fresh laurels as musician and singer. On their return from Ireland, Mrs. Arne was re-engaged at Drury Lane, and Arne was appointed composer to the same theatre, a post there is reason to believe he had occupied before; somewhat later he was appointed leader of the band of the theatre. At this time Arne was living 'next door to the Crown' in Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, but he seems soon to have removed, first to Charles Street, and eventually to the house in the Piazza, Covent Garden, which he occupied until his death. In 1745 Mrs. Arne was engaged at Vauxhall Gardens, while Arne was also commissioned to write songs for the concerts held at the same place. For Vauxhall, Marylebone, and Ranelagh he for many years wrote an immense number of detached songs and duets, many of which, though now forgotten, are well worth revival. In 1746 he wrote songs for a performance of 'The Tempest' at Drury Lane, amongst which is the charming setting of 'Where the Bee sucks,' which, after 'Rule Britanria,' is probably now the best remembered of his compositions. Two years later, on the death of Thomson, Mallet determined to remodel 'Alfred;' in its altered form it was produced at Drury Lane in Feb. 1751, on which occasion three additional stanzas were added to 'Rule Britannia;' these extra verses were said to have been written by Bolingbroke a few days before his death (Davies, Memoirs of Garrick, London, 1808). About this time Mrs. Arne left off singing in public, her place being henceforth taken by the numerous pupils whom Arne brought before the public. As a teacher he enjoyed a great and deserved reputation, one secret of his success being the great importance he attached to the clear enunciation of the words in singing. His most distinguished pupil was Miss Brent, for whom he composed a number of bravura airs, which, being generally written for the display of her remarkable powers of execution, are of less value than the refined and delicate songs he wrote at an earlier period for his wife. For these occasional songs and airs he received twenty guineas for every collection of eight or nine compositions (Add. MS. 28959). On 12 March 1755, he produced his first oratorio, 'Abel;' but neither this nor a svibsequent work, 'Judith' (produced at the chapel of the Lock Hospital, Pimlico, on 29 Feb. 1764) achieved any success, mainly, it is said, owing to the inadequacy of the forces at his disposal for the performances. On 6 July 1759, the university of Oxford conferred upon Arne the degree of doctor of music. The relations of Arne with Garrick at this period seem to have become rather strained. Garrick was no musician, and Arne, whose talent was beginning to suffer from overproduction, had written one or two works for Drury Lane (then under Garrick's management) which had been decided failures. It is therefore not surprising to find that in 1760 Arne transferred his services to the rival house of Covent Garden, where, on 28 Nov. 1760, his 'Thomas and Sally' was played with Beard, Mattocks, and Miss Brent in the chief parts. Arne's next venture was a bold one, but, as the result proved, perfectly successful. Determined to give Miss Brent an exceptional opportunity for the display of her powers, he translated the Abbate Metastasio's 'Artaserse,' setting it to music in the florid and artificial style of the Italian opera of the day. The opera was produced at Covent Garden on 2 Feb. 1762, the parts of Mandane, Arbaces, Artabanes, Artaxerxes, Rimenes and Semira being respectively filled by Miss Brent, Tenducci, Beard, Peretti, Mattocks, and Miss Thomas. The work was immediately successful, and long kept the stage, yet Arne, when it was printed, only received from the publisher the trifling sum of sixty guineas for the copyright. 'Artaxerxes' was followed by several works of no great importance, the chief of which were 'Love in a Village,' a successful pasticcia produced in 1762; and a setting, to the original Italian words, of Metastasio's 'Olimpiade,' a work which was produced at the Haymarket in 1764, but was only performed twice. In 1765 Arne was for a short time a member of the Madrigal Society (Records of the Madrigal Soc). In 1769 Garrick, with whom Arne, though never on very good terms, seems to have always kept up some sort of intercourse, commissioned the composer to write music for the ode performed at the Shakespeare jubilee at Stratford-on-Avon. For this setting of Garrick's verses Arne received 63l., and in addition to this a performance of his oratorio 'Judith' at the parish church was somewhat incongruously included in the programme of the festivities in honour of Shakespeare. Arne now remained on tolerably good terms with the managers of both houses, and the record of the rest of his life consists of little more than a chronicle of the production of numerous light operas and incidental music written for different plays. During these years (from 1769 until 1778) he composed and wrote music for the following works: 'The Ladies' Frolic,' 'The Cooper,' 'May Day,' 'The Rose' (said to have been written by 'an Oxford student,' but generally attributed to Arne), 'The Fairy Prince,' 'The Contest of Beauty and Virtue,' 'Phœbe at Court,' 'The Trip to Portsmouth,' and Mason's tragedies of 'Elfrida' and 'Caractacus.' The latter work was published in 1775, with a preface and introduction in which Arne shows a curious insight into the relationship between dramatic poetry and music. He expresses opinions on the subject, the truth of which, though couched in the stilted language of the period, is only beginning to be recognised at the present day. The overture to the same work is a singular attempt at programme music, and the minute directions as to the constitution of the orchestra and manner of performance almost forestall the similar annotations to be found in the works of Hector Berlioz. During the latter years of Arne's life he achieved but few successes. He was fond of writing his own libretti, which were, unfortunately, anything but good, and the failure of his pupils at one opera-house—particularly if another pupil had been successful at the rival house—caused little bickerings which jarred upon his sensitive nature. In August 1775 he wrote to Garrick, complaining of the latter's neglect: 'These unkind prejudices the Doctor can no other wise account for than as arising from an irresistable Apathy,' a statement to which Garrick replied a few days later: 'How can you imagine that I have an in-esistable Apathy to you? I suppose you mean Antipathy, my dear Doctor, by the construction and general turn of your letter—be assur'd as my nature is very little inclined to Apathy, so it is as far from conceiving an Antipathy to you or any genius in this or any other country,' in spite of which polite assurance Garrick wrote in the same year: 'I have read your play and rode your horse, and do not approve of either;' endorsing the pithy note, 'Designed for Dr. Arne, who sold me a horse, a very dull one; and sent me a comic opera, ditto' (Gaemck's Correspondence, Forster Collection). These few glimpses of Arne's personal characteristics hardly carry out the statement of a contemporary that 'his cheerful and even temper made him endure a precarious pittance' (Dibdin, Musical Tour, letter lxv.); yet after his death it seems generally to have been considered that during his lifetime his genius was never sufficiently appreciated, and that as a musical hack, expected to supply music for the ephemeral plays produced at both Covent Garden and Drury Lane, he frittered away the talents which ought to have been devoted to better work. His death took place on 5 March 1778. According to the account of an eye-witness (Joseph Vernon, the singer) he died of a spasmodic complaint (Gent. Mag. vol. xlviii.) in the middle of a conversation on some musical matter, with his last breath trying to sing a passage the meaning of which he was too exhausted to explain. He was buried in St. Paul's, Covent Garden. The best portrait extant of Arne is an oil painting by Zoffany, now in the possession of Henry Littleton, Esq., but there is also an engraving of him after Dunkarton, and another (published 10 May 1782) after an original sketch by Bartolozzi.
A caricature of Rowlandson's, entitled 'A Musical Doctor and his Pupils,' is also probably meant for Arne. Manuscripts of his music are now rarely found, most of them having been destroyed when Covent Garden theatre was burnt in 1808, but the full autograph score of 'Judith' is preserved in the British Museum (Add. MSS. 11515-17).
[Grove's Dictionary of Music, i. 84; Burney's Life of Arne, in Rees's Cyclopædia, vol. ii., 1819, Genest, vols. iii. and iv.; Busby's Concert-room Anecdotes, 1825; Busby's History of Music, 1819, vol. ii.; Registers of Westminster Abbey; Victor's History of the London Theatres, 1761-1771; Parke's Musical Memoirs, vol. i., 1830; the Harmonicon for 1825; Notes and Queries (2nd series), iv. 415, v. 91, 316, 319; and the authorities quoted above.]