Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brome, Richard
BROME, RICHARD (d. 1652?), dramatist, is thought to have died in 1652 (when his last play was published with a dedication from his own hand), and was certainly dead in 1653 (see Alexander Brome 'To the Readers,' Works, i. 2). Nothing, or next to nothing, is known as to the date of his birth. In the prologue to the 'Court Beggar,' acted 1632, he speaks of himself as 'the poet full of age and cares.' His surname, which is punned on by Cokaine ('Weel change our faded Broom to deathless Baies'), and daringly associated by Alexander Brome [q. v.] with Plantagenet (‘’Twas Royall once, but now 'twill be Divine'), furnishes no clue as to his origin. He was no relation either of the dramatist, Alexander Brome who brought out several of his plays ('though not related to thy parts or person'), or of the 'stationer,' Henry Brome, who published others of Richard's dramas. A certain 'St. Br.,' however, is found addressing some verses ' to his ingenious brother, Mr. Richard Brome, upon this witty issue of his brain, "The Northern Lasse."' Probably his birth was as humble as was his condition of life. Alexander Brome, in the lines prefixed by him to the 'Five New Playes' of Richard, which he published in 1669, asserts of him that 'poor he came into th' world and poor went out.' But the surest testimony to his lowliness of origin lies in the fact that in his earlier days he was servant to Ben Jonson, (See Jonson's lines 'To my faithful servant and (by his continued virtue) my loving friend, the author of this work ['The Northern Lass'], Master Richard Brome, 1632,' beginning—
I had you for a senant once, Dick Brome;
and reprinted in Jonson's 'Underwoods.")
Brome must have been in Jonson's service as early as 1614, for he is mentioned by name as the poet's 'man' in the induction to 'Bartholomew Fair' (acted 31 Oct, 1614). At what time between this and 1682 the relation of master and servant was exchanged for that of mutual friendly attachment is unknown. But this latter bond seems to have remained unbroken till Jonson's death, Gifford has shown that something like an attempt to create an hostility on Jonson's part towards his disciple was made by Randolph and others. After the failure of Jonson's 'New Inn,' 1629, the angry poet shook the dust of the stage off his heels in an angry 'Ode [to Himself].' To this several of the younger poets replied from various points of view, among them Randolph in a parody full of homage, which contains these lines
And let these things in plush,
Till they be taught to blush,
Like what they will, and more contented be
With what Brome swept from thee.
And, in a 12mo edition of Jonson's minor poems, published about three years after his death, the 'Ode [to Himself]' was reprinted with certain new readings foisted in ; among the rest, in the lines
There, sweepings do as well
As the best-ordered meal,
the alteration 'Brome's sweepings' was introduced. Gifford states that very shortly after the condemnation of the 'New Inn' Brome had brought out a successful piece, now lost; and it is certain that not long afterwards he produced the very successful 'Northern Lass,' which, as has been seen, Jonson hailed with unstinted praise (see Johnson's Works, ed. Gifford, v. 449). Brome's earliest dramatic attempt, or one of his earliest, was a comedy called 'A Fault in Friendship,' written by him in conjunction with Jonson's eldest son, Benjamin, and acted at the Curtain Theatre in 1623 (Halliwell, 95).
His connection with Jonson made Brome what he was. Frequent allusion to it is made by other writers (see Shirley's and John Hall's lines on the 'Jovial Crew,' and 'C. G.'s' on the 'Antipodes'), and Brome himself refers to it with pride (see prologue to the 'City Wit'), and speaks with reverence of Jonson himself (see, besides the lines in memory of Fletcher, those to the Earl of Newcastle on his play called 'The Variety,' prefixed to the 'Weeding of the Covent Garden'). But, if we may judge chiefly from the commendatory verses accompanying several of his plays, Brome was likewise on good terms with other more or less eminent dramatists. Among the verses prefixed to the works of Beaumont and Fletcher is a lengthy copy by Brome, in which he describes himself as having known Fletcher
in his strength ; even then, when he
That was the master of his art and me,
Most knowing Jonson (proud to call him son),
declared himself surpassed by the younger writer (Dyce, Beaumont and Fletcher, 8vo, i. lxiii-lxv). Thomas Dekker, notwithstanding his quarrel with Jonson, addresses verses 'to my sonne Broom and his Lasse ;' John Ford, on the occasion of the same play, writes as 'the author's very friend ;' Shirley praises the 'Jovial Crew,' characteristically insisting that something besides university learning goes to the making of a good play. Of the younger dramatic writers Sir Aston Cokaine (see his præludium to Mr. Richard Brome's 'Five New Playes,' 1653), John Tatham (verses on the 'Jovial Crew'), Robert Chamberlain (on the 'Antipodes'), and T[homas] S[hadwell] (To Alexander Brome on Richard Brome's 'Five New Playes,' 1659) do honour to him or to his memory. Nor, to judge from the dedications of his plays, was he without patrons ; to the celebrated Earl (afterwards Duke) of Newcastle, whom he complimented on his play called 'The Variety,' he dedicated the 'Sparagus Garden;' to the Earl of Hertford (afterwards Duke of Somerset, who succeeded Newcastle as governor to the Prince of Wales) the 'Antipodes ;' and other plays to the learned Thomas Stanley and a gentleman of the name of Richard Holford. Evidently, however, he courted the applause of the general public rather than the favour of particular individuals, and had too genuine a dislike of dilettantism in play-writing to be a hanger-on upon great people who dabbled in the art like Newcastle or loved a book above all exercises like Hertford. Among the theatres for which he wrote were the Globe and Blackfriars (the king's company), and the Cockpit in Drury Lane and Salisbury Court in Fleet Street (the queen's players). For William Beeston, who, about the time of the production of Brome's 'Antipodes' at Salisbury Court, began to play with a company of boys at the Cockpit, Brome seems to have had a special regard (see the envoi at the end of the 'Antipodes,' and the curious passage in the epilogue to the 'Court Beggar,' which we cannot, with Mr. J. A. Symonds, interpret as referring to Jonson ; cf. Collier, Annals of the Stage, new edition, ii. 16 seq.. and iii. 138-9).
Of Richard Brome's personal character we learn hardly more than what is implied in Jonson's praise. Alexander Brome, in his 'Verses to the Stationer' on the 'Five New Playes' (1653), informs us that Richard was a devout believer. This will not be thought unreconcilable with his hatred of Scotch presbyterians (see the 'Court Beggar') and of puritans in general (see 'Covent Garden weeded'). He appears to have acquired a certain amount of learning, for he makes some show of classical knowledge (see the 'Court Beggar '), and perhaps knew a little German. In the 'Novella' a leading incident is borrowed from an Italian novelist, or his French translator (see Collier's note to J. Killigrew's 'Parson's Wedding' in Dodsley's Old English Plays, ed. W. C. Hazlitt, xiv. 480). But, at least after his great master had 'made him free o' the trade,' his powers seem to have been completely absorbed by his profession as a playwright. As to this profession or craft he had, as Jonson wrote,
learn'd it well and for it serv'd his time,
A prentiship, which few do now adayes ;
he was content to be called a playmaker, instead of author or poet (see prologue to the 'Damoiselle') ; on the other hand he had a genuine, unsophisticated love of a good play and a good player (see a capital passage in the 'Antipodes,' i. 5), and was so ready to encourage anything making for theatrical success, that he could not even bring himself to disapprove of effective 'gag' (see ib. ii.1). Delighting in his line of work, but neither able, nor as a rule willing, to go beyond it, Brome exhibits a characteristic mixture of self-consciousness and modesty (see the prologues to the 'Northern Lass' and the 'Queen's Exchange'). He lays claim to 'venting none but his own' (epilogue to the 'Court Beggar') ; he merely pretends to mirth and sense, and aims only to gain laughter ; so that those who look for more must go among the classicising 'poet-bounces' (prologue to the 'Novella') ; what he has to show is a slight piece of mirth ; 'yet such were writ by our great masters of the stage and wit,' before 'the new strayne of wit' and gaudy decorations came into fashion (prologue to the 'Court Beggar'). 'Opinion' is a thing which he cannot court (prologue to the 'Antipodes') ; yet at another time he is ready to take the judgment of the public (epilogue to the 'English Moor'), and can appeal to his 'wonted modesty' (prologue to the 'Sparagus Garden'). All this need not be taken very literally, more especially in one whose ideas were not always quite large enough for the spacious phrases of Ben Jonson. But (and this is the interesting feature in Brome) he was really a conscientious workman who achieved such success as fell to his lot by genuine devotion to his task. Most certainly he was not a poet, though on one occasion he bursts forth into a praise of poetry which has unmistakable fire and distantly recalls a famous passage in Spenser ('Sparagus Garden,' iii. 5). Nor can he even be called an original writer. To Jonson he owes his general conception of comedy, his notion of 'humorous' characters (such as Sir Arthur Mendicant in the 'Court Beggar,' 'Master Widgine, a Cockney Gentleman,' in the 'Northern Lass,' the pedant Sarpego and the female characters in the 'City Wit,' Crossewill in 'Covent Garden weeded,' Garrula and Geron with his 'whilome' citations in the 'Love-sick Court'), and his profuse display of out-of-the-way learning or knowledge (see the vagabond's argot in the 'Jovial Crew,' the military terms in 'Covent Garden weeded,' v. 3, and the enumeration of dances in the 'New Academy,' iii. 2). He naturally here and there refers to favourite Jonsonian characters (to Justice Adam Overdo in 'Covent Garden weeded,' i. 1, and to 'Subtle and his lungs' in the 'Sparagus Garden,' ii. 2). It would be unfair to say that he owes anything of much importance to any other writer, unless it be to Massinger, who may have influenced his graver efforts (e.g. in the 'Love-sick Court' and the 'Queen and Concubine'). With Thomas Heywood he was associated in the authorship of the 'Late Lancashire Witches,' printed 1634, and written in connection with a trial for witchcraft held in 1633 in the forest of Pendle in Lancashire, already notorious for witchcraft (see the play in Heywood's Dramatic Works (1874), vol. iv. ; and cf. Ward's English Dramatic Literature, ii. 121-3), and perhaps of other dramas. He twice alludes to Robert Greene, but not as a dramatist. Among the plays of Shakespeare (who is mentioned with others by name in the 'Antipodes,' i. 5), 'A Winter's Tale' and 'Henry VIII,' perhaps also 'King Lear,' contributed hints for the 'Queen and Concubine ;' and 'King Lear' and 'Macbeth' for the 'Queen's Exchange.' The 'Two Noble Kinsmen' cannot have been out of Brome's mind when he wrote the 'Lovesick Court,' which has a romantic, monarchical flavour and contains some curious allusions to the politics of the period preceding the civil war ; while the 'Beggar's Bush' of Fletcher is most likely to have suggested the notion of the 'Jovial Crew, or the Merry Beggars.' (To the 'Knight of the Burning Pestle' Brome refers in the 'Sparagus Garden,' iii. 2.) He is at times an effective constructor of plots, but this he owed to long experience and to excessive pains (see the 'Love-sick Court,' the 'New Academy,' and more especially the 'Queen and Concubine' and the 'Queen's Exchange').
Of his plays some may be described as comedies of actual life, moulded in the main on the example of Jonson ; others as romantic comedies, in which the interest chiefly depends on the incidents of the action. The two species are, however, anything but strictly kept asunder, just as the rough verse in which the latter kind is chiefly written is intermingled in the comedies of life with prose in varying proportions, or altogether dropped. Of these comedies of actual life the best example is perhaps the 'Jovial Crew' (of which a good criticism will be found in an article on Brome's plays by Mr. J. A. Symonds in the 'Academy,' 21 March 1874). This clever picture of a queer section of society, with a breath of country air (not maybe of the very purest sort) blowing through it, was the latest of Brome's dramas, having 'the luck to tumble last of all in the epidemicall ruin of the scene' (see Dedication). It has also had the luck to enjoy a long life on the stage, having been revived after the Restoration (see Pepys's Diary, s.d. 27 Aug. 1661) and again in 1731 as an 'opera' (probably in consequence of the popularity enjoyed by the 'Beggar's Opera,' produced 1728), and performed as late as 1791 (Genest). The most successful, however, of Brome's plays seems to have been the 'Northern Lass,' which was one of his earliest productions, and had before its publication been 'often acted, with good applause, at the Globe and Blackfriars.' It contains a pathetic character (Constance) whose northern dialect seems, in the opinion of the public, to have imparted to her love-lorn insanity an original flavour which it is difficult to discover either in the character or in the scheme of the action. It seems to have been revived after the Restoration (see Genest, i. 422). A play of more real cleverness and more essentially in the Jonsonian manner (it was very probably suggested by Jonson's masque, the 'World in the Moon,' 1620) was the 'Antipodes.' The 'play within the play,' on which the main interest of this piece turns, is an amusing extravaganza exhibiting the world upside down ; and the comedy derives an exceptional literary interest from the remarks on the theatre occurring in it. The 'Sparagus Garden,' produced in 1635, seems likewise to have been exceptionally popular (if we are to suppose it to be referred to as 'Tom Hoyden o' Taunton Dean' in the epilogue to the 'Court Beggar,' but Halliwell (249) seems to think this a separate play) ; here it need only be mentioned as an example of the consistent and unredeemed grossness of Brome's 'mirth,' and (inasmuch as the play has an air of truthfulness about it) as one among many indications of the fact that in point of morals there was not much to choose between the London world of Charles II's reign and that of his father's. Finally, the 'Weeding of Covent Garden, or the Middlesex Justice of Peace,' a picture of manners on the 'Bartholomew Fair' model, is worth noticing as a direct attempt at promoting a definite social reform, which appears to have been remarkably successful (see 'An other Prologue,' prefixed to the play). Among the romantic comedies the 'Lovesick Court' and the 'Queen and Concubine' are most worthy of mention; in the last-named Jeffrey is a good fool. In the following list of Brome's plays dates are given as far as ascertainable, but no attempt is made to establish a chronological sequence: 1. 'A Mad Couple well matched ;' comedy in prose. Perhaps the same as 'A Mad Couple well met,' mentioned in a list of plays belonging to the Cockpit company in 1639 (Halliwell). According to Genest (i. 207) this comedy was reproduced in 1677, as 'revised' by Mrs. Aphra Behn. (See also Pepys's Diary, s. d. 20 Sept. and 28 Dec. 1667.) 2. 'The Novella ;' romantic comedy in verse. Acted at Blackfriars, 1632. 3. 'The Court Beggar;' comedy in verse and prose. Acted at the Cockpit, 1632. If the epilogue following this was the original epilogue, this play was written after the 'Antipodes' and the 'Sparagus Garden.' 4. 'The City Wit, or the Woman wears the Breeches ;' comedy, mainly in prose. 5. 'The Damoiselle, or the New Ordinary ;' comedy, mainly in verse. Halliwell thinks this was one of the author's earliest productions. The above were published in one 8vo volume, by the care of Alexander Brome, in 1653, under the title of 'Five New Playes by Richard Brome.' 6. 'The English Moor, or the Mock Marriage ;' comedy, mainly in verse ; 'often acted with general applause by his majesty's servants.' According to Halliwell, a manuscript copy of this play is in the library of Lichfield Cathedral. 7. 'The Love-sick Court, or the Ambitious Politique ;' romantic comedy in verse. 8. 'The Weeding of the Covent Garden, or the Middlesex Justice of Peace ;' 'a facetious comedy,' mainly in prose. 9. 'The New Academy, or the New Exchange ;' comedy, mainly in verse. 10. 'The Queen and Concubine ;' romantic comedy, mainly in verse. The above were likewise published in one 8vo volume, by the care of Alexander Brome, in 1659, under the same title as the 1653 volume. 11. 'The Northern Lass;' comedy, mostly in prose. First printed, 4to, 1632 ; reprinted, 4to, 1684, with a new prologue by J. Haynes, and an epilogue ; and again, 4to, 1706, new songs being added, of which the music was composed by Daniel Purcell (Halliwell). 12. 'The Sparagus Garden ;' comedy, mainly in prose. Acted, 1635, by the Company of Revels at Salisbury Court; first printed, 4to, 1640. 13. 'The Antipodes ;' comedy in verse. Acted, 1638, by the queen's majesty's servants at Salisbury Court ; first printed, 4to, 1640. It was revived in 1661 (Pepys). 14. 'A Jovial Crew, or the Merry Beggars ;' comedy, mainly in prose, with verse. Acted, 1641, at the Cockpit ; first printed, 4to, 1652, with a dedication to Thomas Stanley from the author ; reprinted, 1684, 1686. It will be found in vol. x. of the 2nd edition (1780) of Dodsley's 'Old Plays,' Of the 'comic opera' an edition of 1760 is extant, and there are doubtless others. 15. 'The Queen's Exchange ;' romantic comedy, mainly in verse, with numerous rhymes. Acted at Blackfriars ; first printed, 4to, 1657; afterwards printed, 4to, 1661, under the title of 'The Royal Exchange.' Of all these fifteen plays a reprint in 3 vols. 8vo was published in 1873, which piously preserves, together with the old spelling, all the misprints and the monstrous arrangement of the 'verse.' Prefixed to vol. i. is a portrait authenticated by Alexander Brome, and canopied by the laureate's wreath, which the modest playwright expressly deprecated (see the prologue to the 'Damoiselle'). 16 (?). 'Tom Hoyden o' Taunton Dean,' if a distinct comedy or farce, was produced before the epilogue to the 'Court Beggar' was written (v. ante). The three following plays were entered in Richard Brome's name on the books of the Stationers' Company at the dates appended (see Halliwell) 17. 'Christianetta,' 4 Aug. 1640; probably not printed. 18. 'The Jewish Gentleman,' 4 Aug. 1640 ; not printed. 19. 'The Love-sick Maid, or the Honour of Young Ladies,' 9 Sept. 1653. Acted at court, 1629 ; not printed. 20 (?). 'Wit in a Madness.' This play was entered on the Stationers' books 19 March 1639, together with the 'Sparagus Garden' and the 'Antipodes,' and was probably by the same author (Halliwell) ; not printed (?). As already seen, Brome wrote together with Benjamin Jonson the younger a comedy called : 21. 'A Fault in Friendship,' mentioned by Sir Henry Herbert, s. d. 2 Oct. 1623 (Halliwell). With Thomas Heywood he wrote : 22. 'The Lancashire Witches ' (v. ante, and compare as to the date of the production of this play Collier's note to Field's 'A Woman is a Weathercock' (v. 2) in 'Five Old Playes,' 1833. 23. 'The Life and Death of Sir Martin Skink, with the Wars of the Low Countries ;' entered on the Stationers' books 8 April 1654, but not printed. 24. 'The Apprentice's Prize ;' entered 8 April 1654, but not printed (Halliwell).
Besides his plays and the very commonplace lyrics contained in them, Brome wrote a song (printed with 'Covent Garden weeded') ; a very long-drawn epigram or piece of occasional verse upon Suckling's 'Aglaura,' printed in folio (ib.) ; some complimentary lines to the Earl of Newcastle (ib.) ; and some lines in memory of Fletcher, already mentioned (published in the folio of Beaumont and Fletcher, 1647).[Halliwell's Dictionary of Old English Plays (1860) ; Biographia Dramatica (1812), i. 68-9 ; Dodsley's Collection of Old Plays, 2nd edition (1780), x. 321-3 ; Genest's Account of the English Stage (1832), x. 34-47; Ward's History of English Dramatic Literature (1875), ii. 337-42 ; the 1873 reprint of Brome's Dramatic Works in 3 vols. has been occasionally cited above as Works.]