Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Shirley, William (fl.1739-1780)

SHIRLEY, WILLIAM (fl. 1739–1780), dramatist, was a merchant who for many years was engaged in business in Portugal. In 1753 he had a violent dispute with the English consul at Lisbon, which resulted in his being ordered by the Portuguese government to quit the country within five days. From that time he resided in London, though he occasionally went abroad, and even revisited Portugal, where he narrowly escaped with his life in the great earthquake of 1755. He was esteemed an authority on affairs of trade and international commerce. He wrote several letters in the ‘Daily Gazetteer,’ signed ‘Lusitanicus,’ on the relations of Portugal and Great Britain, and was the author of some observations on the currency, printed in Sir William Browne's ‘Proposal on our Coin’ (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. iii. 328); and of ‘Observations on a Pamphlet lately published concerning a Portuguese Conspiracy,’ London, 1759, 8vo.

Shirley devoted some of his leisure to lighter literary work, and wrote many plays; but his dramatic talent was small. His earliest play was a tragedy called ‘The Parricide,’ which appeared at Covent Garden on 17 Jan. 1739. A preconcerted riot on the first night assured its failure. After another fiasco, he wrote ‘Edward the Black Prince,’ which appeared at Drury Lane on 6 Jan. 1750; Garrick took the part of Edward, but Barry, in that of Lord Ribemont, a French nobleman, gained for the piece what measure of success it attained. Shirley soon after quarrelled with Garrick, and revenged himself in 1758 by printing a pamphlet entitled ‘Brief Remarks on the original and present State of the Drama,’ with a humorous dialogue called ‘Hecate's Prophecy,’ in which Garrick was castigated under the name of Roscius.

He also published: 1. ‘King Pepin's Campaign,’ a burlesque opera, London, 1755, 8vo; acted at Drury Lane on 15 April 1745. 2. ‘Electra,’ a tragedy, London, 1765, 4to; prohibited by the lord chamberlain. 3. ‘The Birth of Hercules,’ a masque, London, 1765, 4to. The following plays by him were not printed: 1. ‘The Roman Sacrifice,’ a tragedy, acted at Drury Lane on 18 Dec. 1777. 2. ‘The Roman Victim,’ a tragedy. 3. ‘Alcibiades,’ a tragedy. 4. ‘Henry II,’ in two parts, historical tragedies. 5. ‘The Fall of Carthage,’ historical tragedy. 6. ‘All Mistaken,’ a comedy. 7. ‘The Good Englishman,’ a burlesque opera. 8. ‘Fashionable Friendship,’ a burlesque opera. 9. ‘The Shepherd's Courtship,’ a musical pastoral.

[Author's Works; Baker's Biogr. Dram. i. 668; Davies's Memoirs of Garrick, i. 277; Genest's Hist. of the Stage, iii. iv. v. vi. x. passim; Daily Advertiser, 1759, No. 5445.]

E. I. C.