Crowne, John

, an American, was the son of an independent minister in Nova Scotia*. Being a man of some genius, and impatient of the strict education he received in that country, he resolved upon coming to England to try if he could not make his fortune by his wits. When he first arrived here, his necessities were extremely urgent; and he was obliged to become gentleman usher to an old independent lady; but he soon grew as weary of that office as he was of the discipline of Nova Scotia. He set himself therefore to writing; and presently made himself so known to the court and the town, that he was nominated by Charles II. to write “The Masque of Calisto.” This nomination was procured him by the earl of Rochester, who designed by that preference to mortify Dryden. Upon the breaking out of the two parties, after the pretended discovery of the popish plot, the favour Crowne was in at court induced him to embrace the tory party; about which time he wrote a comedy called the “City Politics,” in order to expose the whigs. The lord chamberlain, Bennet earl of Arlington, though secretly a papist, was unaccountably a friend to the whigs, from his

*

Oldys gives a different account, and represents him as the son of William Crown, who travelled with the earl of Arundel to Vienna, and published “A Relation of the remarkable places and passages observed in his lordship’s travels, &c.1637, 4to; and who, after holding an office in the Heralds’ college, went with his family to one of the plantations, where he died. Perhaps when he went there he took on him the functions of a clergyman.

| hatred to the treasurer lord Darnley. Upon various pretences the play was withheld from the stage; at last Crowne had recourse to the king himself, and by his majesty’s absolute command the play was acted. Though Crowne ever retained a most sincere affection to his royal master, he was honest enough to despise the servilities of a court. He solicited the payment of money promised him, which as soon as he obtained he became remiss in his attendance at St. James’s. The duchess of Portsmouth observed this conduct, and acquainted the king with it. The gay monarch only laughed at the accusation, and perhaps in his mind justified Crowne’s sincerity.

About the latter end of this reign, Crowne, tired out with writing, and desirous of sheltering himself from the resentment of many enemies he had made by his “City Politics,” ventured to address the king himself, for an establishment in some office, that might be a security to him for life. The king answered, “he should be provided for;” but added, “that he would first see another comedy.” Crowne endeavoured to excuse himself by telling the king, that “he plotted slowly and awkwardly.” His majesty replied, that “he would help him to a plot” and put into his hand the Spanish comedy called “Non pued esser,” out of which Crowne took the comedy of “Sir Courtly Nice.” The play was just ready to appear, and Crowne extremely delighted to think that he was going to be made happy the remaining part of his life, by the performance of the king’s promise; when, upon the last day of the rehearsal, he met Underbill the player coming from the house, who informed him of the king’s death. This event ruined Crowne; who had now nothing but his wits to live on for the remaining part of his life. On them, however, he contrived to live at least until 1703, but it is not certain when he died. He was the author of seventeen plays, some of which were acted with great success; of a romance called “Pandion and Amphigeria;” and a burlesque poem called “Dceneids,1692, 4to, partly imitated from Boileau’s “Lutrin,” which last he translated in Dryden’s Miscellany. The editor of the Biographia Dramatica assigns him the third rank in dramatic merit, which seems rather more than his plays will justify. His merit, such as it was, lay in comedy, for his tragedies are wretched. Dryden, who, notwithstanding his high fame, was not wholly free from the jealousy of rivals, and even of such a | rival as Crowne, used to compliment him when any of his plays failed, but was cold to him it he met with success. He used also to say that Crowne had some genius, but then he always added, that “his father and Crowne’s mother were very well acquainted.” For this bit of gossip, related first by Jacob Tonson, we are indebted to Spence’s Anecdotes. Dry den was evidently in good humour when he thus endeavoured to account for Crowne’s genius. 1

1

Cibber’s Lives, vol. III. Malnne’s Dryden, vol. I. p. 128, 500, 501. Biog. Diani. Ct-nsura Literaria, vol. I. Spence’j Anecdotes, msGent. Mag. vol. XV. p. 99. Dennis’s Letters, vol. I. p. 48, 1721. His Dffineid, or the Church Shuttle, is inMr. Nichols’s Collection of Poems, vol. III.