Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tobin, John

TOBIN, JOHN (1770–1804), dramatist, author of ‘The Honey Moon,’ born at Salisbury on 28 Jan. 1770, was the son of James Tobin, a merchant, and his wife, born Webbe, the daughter of a rich West India sugar planter. George Tobin [q. v.] was his elder brother. Another brother, James Webbe Tobin, an acquaintance of Lamb and Coleridge, was greatly respected at Nevis, where he died on 30 Oct. 1814 (St. Christopher Gazette, 4 Nov. 1814). About 1775 the father set out with his wife to Nevis in the West Indies. The children were left behind, and John was placed for a while under the care of Dr. Richard Mant, the father of the bishop, at Southampton. After the American war, James Tobin having returned to England and settled at Redland, near Bristol, John was sent to Bristol grammar school under Dr. Lee. In 1787 he left Bristol to be articled to a solicitor in Lincoln's Inn, and, some ten years later, upon his employer's death without a successor, he took over the practice in partnership with three other clerks in the office. Dissensions arose, and the arrangement broke down after causing much anxiety to Tobin, who eventually entered a new firm.

From 1789 Tobin had devoted all his spare time and energy to dramatic composition. His talent was essentially imitative, but he imitated now Sheridan, now the Elizabethans, and now Gay or Foote, with remarkable taste and ingenuity. Superior, however, as was his work to the leaden and mechanical dramas produced at the close of the last century, Tobin approached the managers no fewer than thirteen times with different pieces without success. One of them, ‘The Faro Table,’ was provisionally accepted by Sheridan, but rejected ‘upon consideration.’ The manager of Drury Lane dallied in a similar manner with his picturesque drama ‘The Curfew.’ In 1800 his ‘School for Authors,’ which afterwards achieved a striking success, was rejected, and it was not until April 1803 that he had the satisfaction (due to the good opinion of Munden) of seeing a piece of his own on the boards, an early and insignificant farce, ‘All's Fair in Love,’ which was speedily forgotten. In 1804, having submitted his fourteenth production, a romantic play in blank verse called ‘The Honey Moon,’ to the management at Drury Lane (it had failed to win acceptance at Covent Garden), he left his rooms near the Temple and the neighbourhood of the theatres with philosophic resignation, and went to recruit his health in Cornwall. He came to the conclusion that editing Shakespeare would be a less arduous occupation than combating the obduracy of managers, and he began collecting materials. He was almost delirious with joy on hearing that ‘The Honey Moon’ had been accepted; but in the meantime alarming symptoms of consumption had manifested themselves. He was told that to save his life he must winter in the West Indies. He set sail accordingly on 7 Dec. 1804, but died the first day out. The ship put back, and he was buried in the little churchyard of Cove, near Cork, where the remains of Charles Wolfe, author of the ‘Burial of Sir John Moore,’ were laid nineteen years later (for epitaph see Gent. Mag. 1815, i. 178). Tobin was unmarried.

‘The Honey Moon’ was given at Drury Lane on 31 Jan. 1805, with Elliston and Bannister in the leading rôles, and proved a decided success. It remained a favourite on the English stage for twenty years. But its merits are comparative only, the author having the same mistaken idea as Charles Lamb, that the drama of Shakespeare and Fletcher was a thing for laborious imitation after the lapse of two centuries. Hazlitt thought the plot owed much to the ‘Taming of the Shrew;’ Genest detected reminiscences of Massinger and other Elizabethans. Tobin really excelled at light comedies and stage lyrics. After his premature death, his rejected pieces of past years were eagerly sought after by the managers.

Tobin's works, all posthumous, were: 1. ‘The Honey Moon: a comedy’ (five acts, mainly verse), London, 1805, 8vo; New York, 1807; frequently reprinted, translated by Charles Nodier as ‘La Lune de Miel’ in ‘Chefs d'œuvre des Théâtres Étrangers,’ 1822. 2. ‘The Curfew: a play’ (in five acts, prose and verse), London, 1807, 8vo; 7th edit. 1807. It was produced at Drury Lane on 19 Feb. 1807, and would have run longer than twenty nights but for Sheridan's anxiety to avoid the obligation of a benefit for Tobin's relatives (see Genest, viii. 35–8, where a good abstract is given). 3. ‘The School for Authors: a comedy’ (in three acts, prose), London, 1808, 8vo. Based on ‘The Connoisseur,’ one of Marmontel's tales, this amusing and well-constructed little play owes something to ‘The Patron’ of Foote, and a little perhaps also to ‘The Critic.’ Happy, if not original, the part of Diaper, the sensitive author, afforded a triumph to Munden when he created the rôle at Covent Garden on 5 Dec. 1808. 4. ‘The Faro Table; or the Guardians: a comedy,’ London, 1816, 8vo. This was given at Drury Lane on 5 Nov. 1816, or nearly twenty years after it had been written, when the manners it satirises were already passing away; it was not a success. Several of Tobin's unpublished dramas were published in one volume in 1820; among them ‘The Gypsy of Madrid,’ after the ‘Gitanilla’ of De Solis (Ticknor, Spanish Lit. 1863, p. 430 n.), ‘The Indians,’ and two light operas, ‘Yours or Mine’ and ‘The Fisherman.’ Among other pieces by him, apparently no longer extant, are mentioned ‘The Reconciliation,’ ‘The Undertaker,’ and ‘Attraction.’

[Memoirs of John Tobin, author of ‘The Honey Moon,’ with a Selection from his Unpublished Writings, by Miss [Elizabeth Ogilvy] Benger, London, 1820, 8vo; English Cyclopædia, Biography; Baker's Biographia Dramatica; Genest's Hist. of the English Stage; Era Almanack, 1874; Memoirs of J. S. Munden, 1844, p. 139; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. i. 248, 314; Hazlitt's Lectures on Dramatic Literature, 1821, p. 316; Lamb's Letters, 1888, i. 205, 231, 293; Blackwood's Magazine, ix. 285; Allibone's Dict. of English Literature.]

T. S.