Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Miller, James (1706-1744)

MILLER, JAMES (1706–1744), playwright, son of John Miller, rector of Cornpton Valence and Upcerne in Dorset, was born in 1706. He went to Wadham College, Oxford, in 1726, and was to have been bred to business, but entered holy orders. While at Oxford he wrote a satirical comedy, the 'Humours of Oxford,' by which he made many enemies. Some of the characters were thought to be designed for students and heads of the university. On leaving Oxford he was appointed to the lectureship of Trinity Chapel, Conduit Street, and made preacher of the private chapel, Roehampton, Surrey. The 'Humours of Oxford' had been successfully acted at Drury Lane 9 Jan. 1730, on the recommendation of Mrs. Oldfield (who took the part of Clarinda, with Wilks as Gainlove and Cibber as Ape-all), so he took to dramatic writing to enlarge his income (Genest, Account, iii. 250). But by this occupation Miller offended the bishop from whom he had expectations, and when soon afterwards he published a satirical poem in which a character appeared that was thought to be intended for the bishop, all his hopes of preferment from that quarter were destroyed.

Several of Miller's plays were performed with considerable success, but in 1737 two of the characters in his comedy ‘The Coffee-house’ were supposed to be aimed at Mrs. Yarrow and her daughter, who kept Dick's Coffee-house, between the Temple gates. This offended the residents in the Temple, who went in a body to the theatre to damn the piece. Miller denied the charge, but as the engraver of the frontispiece had sketched that very coffee-house he was not believed, and henceforward the templars ruined every piece which they imagined to be written by Miller. He was now dependent on the church, and his high-church principles did not aid his advancement. A large offer was made him by the agents of the ministry, but in vain. However, in 1743 he was presented by Nicholas Carey to the living of Upcerne, Dorset, which his father had held before him. There he prepared an adaptation of Voltaire's ‘Mahomet,’ which was successfully performed at Drury Lane 25 April 1744. It was not thought to be his, as all his previous plays had been comedies, and the fifth act was, in fact, written by John Hoadly. Miller died on the night of his first benefit, 26 April 1744, at his lodgings in Cheyne Walk. He left a widow and a son and daughter.

The ‘Humours of Oxford’ is the play that is most entirely his own. The plots of the others are generally taken from the French, chiefly from Molière. Miller wrote several political pamphlets against Sir Robert Walpole, one of which, ‘Are these things so?’ attracted considerable attention. A volume of sermons was published after his death by his widow.

His principal plays are:—1. ‘The Humours of Oxford,’ 1730, several editions with a frontispiece drawn by Hogarth. 2. ‘Vanelia: or the Amours of the Great: an opera (in three acts) as it is acted by a private company near St. James's’ [1732]. This vivacious work, containing twenty-one songs of the Beggar's Opera type, is founded on the amour between the Prince of Wales and a lady named Vane. It was never acted, but rapidly went through six editions. 3. ‘The Man of Taste: or the Guardians’ [1735], a successful mélange from Molière, played at Drury Lane, March 1735. This piece must be distinguished from a piece also called ‘The Man of Taste,’ which was published under that title in 1733, being a reissue with a new title of ‘Mister Taste, the Poetical Fop: or the Modes of the Court,’ a comedy [1732]; an insolent attack on Pope, for which Hogarth designed a satirical frontispiece (cf. Nichols, Anecdotes of Hogarth, 1833, p. 176). 4. ‘Universal Passion,’ 1737. 5. ‘The Coffee-house,’ 1737. 6. ‘Art and Nature,’ 1738. 7. ‘The Hospital for Fools,’ 1739. 8. ‘Mahomet the Impostor,’ 1744. 9. ‘Joseph and his Brethren,’ 1744. 10. ‘The Picture, or the Cuckold in Conceit,’ taken from Molière's ‘Cocu Imaginaire,’ 1745. 11. ‘Harlequin Horace’ and other poems. Miller also joined with Henry Baker, F.R.S., in a complete translation of Molière (1739).

[Baker's Biographia Dramatica; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iii. 142; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser., xii. 293; Cibber's Lives; Genest, x. 157; Hutchings's Dorset; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Foster's Alumni Oxonienses; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

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