Reed, Joseph (1723-1787) (DNB00)

REED, JOSEPH (1723–1787), dramatist, born at Stockton, Durham, in March 1723, was second son of John Reed, a presbyterian ropemaker. After a very scanty education he succeeded to his father's business, which he practised with success through life. His leisure he devoted to a study of English literature, and he developed literary aspirations; but he always regarded himself as an amateur, and, when he began to publish, often described himself on his title-pages as ‘a halter-maker.’ In August 1744 there appeared in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ a poem by Reed, ‘in imitation of the Scottish dialect, on the death of Mr. Pope.’ In 1745 he printed, at Newcastle, a farce called ‘The Superannuated Gallant’ (12mo; Baker). In 1747 he visited London with a view apparently to gaining an entrance into theatrical society. Ten years later he removed his business and family to Sun-tavern Fields, Stepney, London, and on 6 July 1758 Theophilus Cibber produced, at Covent Garden, a burlesque tragedy by Reed, in five acts, called ‘Madrigal and Trulletta.’ It was humorously planned, but far too long (Genest, iv. 528), and Reed foolishly blamed Cibber for its want of success. Smollett denounced it, when published, in the ‘Critical Review,’ and Reed replied to his critic in a pungent pamphlet called ‘A Sop in the Pan for a Physical Critick,’ 1759. Somewhat more successful was a boisterous and indelicate farce, entitled ‘The Register Office,’ which was produced at Drury Lane on 23 April 1761. Two of the best characters, Lady Wrinkle and Mrs. Snarewell, were suppressed by the stage censor, but the unexpurgated piece was published, and in an advertisement at the close Reed pointed out that the manuscript had been submitted to Foote in August 1758, and that Foote had stolen his Mrs. Cole in the ‘Minor’ from the Mrs. Snarewell of the ‘Register Office.’ When the farce was revived at Drury Lane on 12 Feb. 1768, Reed supplied a new character, Mrs. Doggerel. The play long held the stage, and was included in John Bell's, Cawthorn's, Mrs. Inchbald's, and other familiar collections. Reed next essayed a tragedy on the subject of Dido, and obtained an introduction to Dr. Johnson, with a view to submitting his labours to him. ‘I never did the man an injury,’ Dr. Johnson afterwards lamented, ‘yet he would read his tragedy to me.’ ‘Dido’ was acted at Drury Lane for Holland's benefit on 28 March 1767, with a prologue, written by Garrick and spoken by King, in which humorous reference was made to Reed's trade in halters. In 1787 Reed, in ‘The Retort Courteous, or a Candid Appeal,’ attacked Thomas Linley, the manager of Drury Lane, for declining to revive it. It was performed at Drury Lane, under the title of ‘The Queen of Carthage,’ for Palmer's benefit on 28 April 1797, when Mrs. Siddons played the heroine. Reed's friend, Joseph Ritson, prepared it for the press in 1792; but, although it was at once printed, it was not announced for publication till 1808. Before the day of publication arrived, however, all the copies were burnt in the fire at Nichols's printing-office, and it was never reprinted. Meanwhile, on 14 Jan. 1769, ‘Tom Jones,’ a comic opera, adapted by Reed from Fielding's novel, was produced at Covent Garden, with Shuter as Western and Mattocks as the hero; it was repeated thirteen times (Genest, v. 240–1). In 1772 Reed, in the ‘Morning Chronicle,’ defended Garrick—despite a pending quarrel between them—from the dastardly libels of Dr. William Kenrick, who had just issued his scandalous ‘Love in the Suds.’ Reed wrote under the pseudonym of ‘Benedict,’ and Kenrick reprinted his letters in the fifth edition of his pamphlet. Reed's last acted play was ‘The Impostors, or a Cure for Credulity,’ which he adapted from ‘Gil Blas,’ and brought out at Covent Garden, for Woodward's benefit, on 17 March 1776. Reed died on 15 Aug. 1787, aged 64, at his residence in Sun-tavern Fields, and was buried at Bunhill Fields. He married, in 1750, Sarah, daughter of John Watson, a flax-dresser of Stockton, and three children survived him. The eldest, John Watson Reed, was an attorney of Ely Place, Holborn, with antiquarian tastes; he died on 31 Jan. 1790.

Like other self-educated men, Reed formed an unwarrantably high opinion of his own literary achievements. But he had a caustic wit, and wrote with much energy. Joseph Ritson respected his talents, and designed a full collection of his works, which was never accomplished. Besides the publications already enumerated, Reed issued:

  1. ‘A British Philippic inscribed to the Earl of Granville,’ 1756, 4to.
  2. ‘The Tradesman's Companion, or Tables of Averdupois Weight,’ 1762, 12mo.
  3. ‘An Epitaph on the … Earl of Chatham,’ 1784.
  4. ‘St. Peter's Lodge, a Serio-comic Legendary Tale in Hudibrastic Verse,’ 1786, dedicated to the Prince of Wales.
  5. ‘A Rope's End for Hempen Monopolists, or a Dialogue between a Broker, a Ropemaker, and the Ghost of Jonas Hanway, Esq. In which are represented the pernicious effects of the rise in the price of hemp. By a Halter-maker at the service of all monopolists,’ 1786; an attack on those who were seeking to make a ‘corner’ in hemp.

In 1761 Reed contributed to the ‘Monitor,’ a periodical issued in support of the Earl of Bute's administration; and in 1764 he sent to the ‘Universal Museum’ an amusing autobiography.

[Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, ix. 116–18; Chalmers's Biogr. Dict.; Universal Museum, 1764; Baker's Biogr. Dram.; Gent. Mag. 1787, ii. 745; Genest's Account of the Stage; Brit. Mus. Cat., which mentions very few of his works.]

S. L.