The Lives and Characters of the English Dramatick Poets/Thomas Southern
A Gentleman now living, who, as I have been inform’d, made his first Application to the Law; but quitted those rougher Studies for the more pleasing Entertainment of the Muses; and after the writing of two Plays, with no ill Success, at least with very good Judges, mov’d by his active Temper, he left, for some Years, the calmer retreat of Poetry for the War; till, in the Year 1690. he presented the Town with that diverting Comedy of Sir Anthony Love, and Six more, but of all in their order:
The Disappointment; or, The Mother in Fashion; acted at the Theatre Royal, 1684. 4 to. and dedicated to the o Honourable, James, Earl of Ossery (the present Duke of Ormond). The Curious Impertinent of the incomparable History of Don Quixot, seems to have given our Author an Hint of the Plot.
The Loyal Brother; or, The Persian Prince; a Tragedy, acted at the Theatre Royal, by their Majesties Servants, 1682. 4 to. and dedicated to his Grace, the Duke of Richmond. This was his first Play, and is built on the Novel of Tachmas, Prince of Persia, 8 vo.
The Fatal Marriage; or, The Innocent Adultery; a Play, acted at the Theatre Royal, by their Majesties Servants, 1694. 4 to. and dedicated to Anthony Hammond, of Somersham Place, Esq; In the Dedication our Author owns his taking a hint of the Tragical part of this Play, from a Novel of Mrs. Behn’s, call’d, The Nun; or, The Fair Vow-breaker. This Play was receiv’d with vast Applause, and is yet acted with Success; the Distress of the Story being extreamly moving, and the Passions very well touch’d by the Author; tho’ had he made Villeroy and Biron Friends, it wou’d have something heighten’d the Distress. In the Comical part, the Hint of Fernando being persuaded to believe that he had been dead, buried, and in Purgatory, seems to be owing to The Little Thief of Fletcher.
The Maids Last Prayer; or, Any thing rather than Fail; a Comedy, acted at the Theatre Royal, by their Majesties Servants, 1693. 4 to. and dedicated to the Honourable, Mr. Charles Boyl.
Oroonoko, a Tragedy, acted at the Theatre Royal, by his Majesty’s Servants, 1696. 4 to. and dedicated to his Grace, William, Duke of Devonshire, &c. in which the Author makes this ingenuous Acknowledgement, which few Poets have formerly done; viz. ‘I stand engaged to Mrs. Behn for the occasion of a most passionate Distress in my last Play, (which was The Innocent Adultry) and in a Conscience that I had not made her a sufficient Acknowledgment, I have run farther into her Debt, with a Design to oblige me to be Honest, and that every one may find me out for Ingratitude, when I don’t say all that’s fit for me upon that Subject: she had a great Command of the Stage, and I have often wonder’d that she should bury her Favourite Hero in a Novel, when she might have reviv’d him in the Scene.’ I have quoted this, because ’tis very uncommon with Authors to speak well of those they borrow from in their Writings, for I have known a great Man perpetually rail at the French Authors, and yet contradict his Reflections on them, by filling his Writings with their Wit and Designs; and I have so often experienc’d this Particular, among the Writers of our Age, that when I hear any of them condemn, either our Ancient or Modern Authors, I conclude, he has been robbing there, and would deter us from finding out his Theft. But as to this Play of Oroonoko, you find our Poet has allow’d the Plot of it Mrs. Behn’s; for on that Prince she has compos’d the best of her Novels: and as it must be confess’d that the Play had not its mighty Success without an innate Excellence; so in my Opinion, the necessary regularities a Dramatick Poet is obliged to observe, has left many Beauties in the Novel, which our Author cou’d not transfer to his Poem. As Mrs. Barrey did the Poet all the Justice so admirable an Actress, when she most exerts her self, could do, in the Innocent Adultery; so Mr. Verbruggen, in the Part of Oroonoko, by doing the Author Right, got himself the Reputation of one of the best Actors of his time.
Sir Anthony Love; or, The Rambling Lady; a Comedy, 4 to. 1690. acted at the Theatre Royal by their Majesties Servants; and dedicated to Tho. Skipwith, Esq; (now Sir Thomas). This Play met with extraordinary Success.
The Wives excuse; or, Cuckolds make themselves; a Comedy, acted at the Theatre Royal, by their Servants, 1692. 4 to. This Play it seems did not take as well as was expected, but is usher’d into print by a Copy of Verses of his Friend, Mr. Dryden; in which he justly reflects on the depraved Taste of the Age, especially in these Two Lines, on the Fault of those Poets, who debauch the Palate of the Audience.
Farre in it self is of a nasty Scent;
''But the Gain smells not of the Excrement.
For if there be not so intricate a Plot, there is certainly a gaity of Conversation, and Purity of Language, which few of our Poets observe.