Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Langbaine, Gerard (1656-1692)
LANGBAINE, GERARD, the younger (1656–1692), dramatic biographer and critic, born in the parish of St. Peter-in-the-East, Oxford, on 15 July 1656, was younger son of Gerard Langbaine the elder [q. v.] After attending a school kept by William Wildgoose (M.A. of Brasenose College, Oxford) at Denton, near Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire, he was apprenticed to Nevil Simmons, a bookseller in St. Paul's Churchyard, London; but on the death of his elder brother William in 1672, he was summoned home to Oxford by his widowed mother, and was entered as a gentleman-commoner of University College in the Michaelmas term of the same year. He was of a lively disposition 'a great jockey.' Wood calls him and idled away his time. He married young, apparently settled in London, and ran 'out of a good part of the estate that had descended to him.' But 'being a man of good parts,' he finally changed his mode of life, and retired successively to Wick and Headington, in the neighbourhood of Oxford. He had, in Wood's language, a 'natural and gay geny to dramatic poetry,' and in his retirement he studied dramatic literature, and collected a valuable library. He dabbled in authorship, but at first 'only wrote little things, without his name set to them, which he would never own.' The sole production of this period which is traceable to him is a practical tract entitled 'The Hunter: a Discourse of Horsemanship;' this was printed at Oxford by Leonard Lichfield in 1685, and bound up with Nicholas Cox's 'Gentleman's Recreation.' But it is quite possible that he did work for Francis Kirkman, the London bookseller, who shared his interest in dramatic literature. It was currently reported that Kirkman invited Langbaine to write a continuation of 'The English Rogue,' by Richard Head [q. v.], and that he declined the commission on the ground of the disreputable character of Head's original work. A translation of Chavigny's 'La Galante Hermaphrodite Nouvelle amoureuse,' Amsterdam, 1683, is assigned to him by Wood, who describes it as published in London in octavo in 1687, but no copy is accessible.
In November 1687 appeared a work by Langbaine called 'Momus Triumphans, or the Plagiaries of the English Stage exposed, in a Catalogue of Comedies, Tragedies,' and so forth. Two title-pages are met with, one bearing the name of Nicholas Cox of Oxford as publisher, the other that of Sam Holford of Pall Mall, London. In the preface Langbaine describes himself as a persistent playgoer and an omnivorous reader and collector of plays. He owned, he writes, 980 English plays and masques, besides drolls and interludes. Although he complained of the lack of originality in the construction of plots by English dramatists, he admitted that their plagiarisms were often innocent. A long catalogue of plays follows under the authors' names, alphabetically arranged, and the sources of the plots, which he usually traces to a classical author, are stated in each case in a footnote. A list of the works of anonymous authors precedes a final alphabetical list of titles. In December 1687 the work reappeared as 'A New Catalogue of English Plays,' London, 1688, and with an advertisement stating that Langbaine was not responsible for the title of the earlier edition, or for its uncorrected preface. Five hundred copies, he declared, had already been sold of the work in its spurious shape. For Dryden Langbaine had no regard, and he attributed the derisive title of the pirated edition to Dryden's ingenuity. Dryden, he believed, had heard before its publication that he was to be subjected to severe criticism in the preface to the 'Catalogue.'
Enlarging the scope of his labours, Langbaine in 1691 produced his best-known compilation, 'An Account of the English Dramatic Poets, or some Observations and Remarks on the Lives and Writings of all those that have published either Comedies, Tragedies, Tragicomedies, Pastorals, Masques, Interludes, Farces, or Operas, in the English Tongue,' Oxford, 1691, 8vo. The dedication is addressed to an Oxfordshire neighbour, James Bertie, earl of Abingdon. It is a valuable book of reference, with quaint criticisms, but it is weak in its bibliographical details. Langbaine continued his war on Dryden, and a champion of the poet, writing in a weekly paper called 'The Moderator' on Thursday, 23 June 1692, explained that Dryden could 'not descend so far below himself to cope with Langbaine's porterly language and disingenuity.' Langbaine's continuous efforts to show that the dramatists usually borrowed their plots from classical historians or modern romance-writers have exposed him to needlessly severe censure. Sir Walter Scott writes of 'the malignant assiduity' with which he levelled his charges of plagiarism (Dryden, Works, ed. Scott, ii. 292), and D'Israeli in his 'Calamities Authors' declares that he 'read poetry only to detect .' But Langbaine's methods were scholarly, and betray no malice. A new edition of Langbaine's 'Account,' revised by Charles Gildon [q. v.], appeared in 1699, with the title, 'The Lives and Characters of the English Dramatick Poets. First begun by Mr. Langbaine, and continued down to this time by a careful Hand' (London, 8vo).
Langbaine's work attained increased value from the attention bestowed on it by William Oldys [q.v.], who embellished two copies of the 1691 edition with manuscript annotations, embodying much contemporary gossip. Oldys's first copy passed into the hands of Coxeter, and ultimately to Theophilus Cibber [q. v.], who utilised portions of the manuscript notes in his 'Lives of the Poets,' 1753. A second copy, on which Oldys wrote the date 1727, was once the property of Thomas Birch, but is now in the British Museum (C. 28, g. 1). The manuscript notes are written in this copy between the printed lines. Bishop Percy transcribed Oldys's notes in an interleaved copy bound in four volumes, and added comments of his own. The bishop's copy passed through the hands successively of Monck Mason and Halliwell-Phillipps, gathering new additions on its way, and is now in the British Museum (C. 45 d. 14). Joseph Haslewood, E. V. Utterson, George Steevens, Malone, Isaac Reed, and the Rev. Rogers Ruding also made transcripts of Oldys's notes in their copies of Langbaine, at the same time adding original researches of their own. The British Museum possesses Haslewood's, Utterson's, and Steevens's copies; the Bodleian Library possesses Malone's; other copies of Oldys's notes are in private hands. Sir Egerton Brydges, who once owned Steevens's copy, printed a portion of Oldys's remarks in his memoirs of dramatists in his 'Censura Literaria,' but Oldys's notes have not been printed in their entirety (cf. Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. i. 82–3).
Langbaine was elected yeoman bedel in arts at Oxford on 14 Aug. 1690, 'in consideration of his ingenuity and loss of part of his estate,' and on 19 Jan. 1691 was promoted to the post of esquire bedel of law and architypographus. To Richard Peers's 'Catalogue of [Oxford] Graduates,' 1691, he added an appendix of 'Proceeders in Div., Law, and Phys.' from 14 July 1688, 'where Peers left off,' to 6 Aug. 1690. Langbaine died on 23 June 1692, and was buried at Oxford, in the church of St. Peter-in-the-East. According to Wood, the maiden name of his wife was Greenwood (Wood, Life and Times, ed. Clark, Oxf. Hist. Soc., i. 238). A son William, born at Headington just before his father's death, was M.A. of New College, Oxford (1719), and vicar of Portsmouth from 1739.
[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iv. 364–8; authorities quoted above.]