Farquhar, George

, an ingenious comic writer, was the son of a clergyman in Ireland, and born at Londonderry in 1678, where he received the rudiments of education, and discovered a genius early devoted to the muses. When he was very young, he gave specimens of his poetry; and discovered a force of thinking, and turn of expression, much beyond his years. His parents, having a numerous issue, could bestow on him no other fortune than a liberal education therefore, when he was qualified for the university, he was sent in 1694 to Trinitycollege, in Dublin. He made great progress in his studies, and acquired a considerable reputation: but his gay and volatile disposition could not long relish the gravity and retirement of a college life, and therefore, soon quitting it, he betook himself to the diversions of the stage, and got admitted into the company of the Dublin theatre. He had the advantage of a good person, and was well received as an actor, though his voice was somewhat weak: for which reason he resolved to continue on the stage, till something better should offer. But his resolution was soon broken by an accident: being to play the part of Guyomar, who kills Vasquez, in Dryden’s “Indian Emperor,” and forgetting to exchange his sword for a foil, in the engagement he wounded his brother tragedian, who represented Vasquez, very dangerously; and though the wound did not prove mortal, yet he was so shocked at it, that he determined never more to appear on the stage.

Soon after this, having now no inducement to remain at Dublin, he went to London, where, in 1696, the | celebrated actor Wilks prevailed upon him to write a play, and, knowing his humour and abilities, assured him, that he was considered by all as fitter to furnish compositions for the stage, than to act those of other writers. Another encouragement, which suffered him to exercise his genius at leisure, he owed to the earl of Orrery, a patron as well as a master of letters, who conferred a lieutenant’s commission upon him in his own regiment in Ireland, which Farquhar held several years, and gave several proofs both of courage and conduct. In 1698, his first comedy, called “Love in a Bottle,” appeared on the stage; and for its sprightly dialogue and busy scenes, was well received by the audience. In 1700 he produced his “Constant Couple, or, Trip to the Jubilee,” it being then the jubilee year at Rome, when persons of all countries flocked thither, for pardons or amusements. In the character of sir Harry Wildair, our author drew so gay and airy a character, so suited to Wilks’s talents, and so animated by his gesture and vivacity of spirit, that the player gained almost as much reputation as the poet. Towards the end of this year, Farquhar was in Holland, probably upon his military duty: and he has given a very facetious description of those places and people, in two of his letters, dated from the Brill and from Leyden: in a third, dated from the Hague, he very humourously relates how merry he was there, at a treat made by the earl of Westmoreland; while not only himself, but king William, and others of his subjects, were detained there by a violent storm. There is also among his poems, an ingenious copy of verses to his mistress upon the same subject. This mistress is supposed to have been Mrs. Oldfield, whom he first recommended to the stage. In 1701 he was a spectator, if not a mourner, at Dryden’s, funeral; for the description he has given of it in one of his letters, affords little indication of sorrow.

Encouraged by the great success of his last play, he wrote a continuation of it, in 1701, called, “Sir Harry Wildair, or, The Sequel of the Trip to the Jubilee:” in which Mrs. Oldfield obtained as much reputation, and was as greatly admired in her part, as Wiiks was m his. In 1702 he published his “Miscellanies, or, collection of poems, letters, and essays,” which contain a variety of humourous and pleasant sallies of fancy. It* is said, that some of the letters were published from copies returned to bun. at his request, by Mrs. Oldfield, | There is at the end of them, “A discourse upon Comedy, in reference to the English stage;” and in one of the letters, ‘ The Picture,“containing a description and character of himself, from which we learn that he was very ingenuous, very good-natured, and very thoughtless. In 1703 he brought out another lively comedy called” The Inconstant, or, the way to win him:" but the fashion now turning towards Italian and French operas, this comedy, although not inferior, was received more coldly than the former. Farquhar was married this year, and, as was at first reported, to a great fortune; which indeed he expected, but was miserably disappointed. The lady had fallen in love with him, and so violent was her passion, that she resolved to have him at any rate: and as she knew he was too much dissipated to fall in love, or to think of matrimony, unless advantage was annexed to it, she first caused a report to be spread of her being a great fortune, and then had him persuaded that she was in love with him. He married her: and though he found himself deceived, his circumstances embarrassed, and his family increasing, he never once upbraided her for the imposition, but behaved to her with all the delicacy and tenderness of an indulgent husband.

Very early in 1704, a farce called “The Stage-coach,” in the composition of which he was jointly concerned with another, made its first appearance, and was well received. His next comedy, named “The Twin-Rivals,” was played in 1705; and in 1706, his comedy, called “The Recruiting Officer.” ’ He dedicated this “to all friends round the Wrekin,” a noted hill near Shrewsbury, where he had been to recruit for his company; and where, from his observations on country life, the manner in which Serjeants inveigle clowns to enlist, and the loose behaviour of the officers towards the milk-maids and country girls, he collected matter sufficient to form a comedy which still holds its place on the stage. His last comedy was “The Beaux Stratagem,” of which he did not live to enjoy the full success. The characters in this play were all said to have been taken from originals then living in or near the city of Litchfield; and the last of them, Thomas Bond, a servant in the family of sir Theophilus Biddulph, died in 1759. He was the Scrub. This perhaps of all his pieces has remained longest, and is oftenest acted on the stage. Towards the close of his short life, he was unhappily oppressed some debts; and this obliged him to make application | to a courtier, who had formerly made him many profession* of friendship. His pretended patron advised him to convert his commission into the money he wanted, and pledged his honour that in a short time he would provide him another. This circumstance appearing favourable, and unable to bear the thoughts of want, he sold his commission: but when he renewed his application, and represented his distressed situation, his noble patron had forgot his promise, or rather, perhaps, had never the least intention to fulfil it. This distracting disappointment so preyed upon his mind, as to occasion his death, April, 1707, before he was thirty years of age. Soon after, the following letter to Mr. Wilks was found among his papers: “Dear Bob, I have not any thing to leave thee to perpetuate my memory but two helpless girls look upon them sometimes, and think of him that was to the last moment of his life, thine, George Farquhan” This recommendation, which resembled the celebrated testament of Eudamidas, was duly regarded by Wilks; and when the girls became of an age to be put out into the world in business, he procured a benefit for each of them, to supply the necessary resources.

The success of Farquhar’s comedies is said, in general, far to have exceeded his own expectations; and of his merits as a writer, various opinions have been entertained. It may be allowed, however, that he was usually happy in the choice of his subjects, and adorned them with a great variety of characters and incidents that his style is pure and unaffected his wit natural and flowing and his plots generally well contrived. Licentiousness has been justly objectecl to his comedies, which was the vice of the times. Pope used to call him a farce-writer; but his productions were so pleasing, that many years ago his works had gone through eight editions; and to this day his comedies keep their rank upon the stage.

Of his family, his wife died in circumstances of the utmost indigence: one of his daughters was married' to an inferior tradesman, and died soon after. The other in 1764 was living, in indigent circumstances, without any knowledge of refinement in sentiments or expences; she seemed to take no pride in her father’s fame, and was in every respect fitted to her humble station. 1

1 Bio. Brit. B5o. Dram, Gibber’s Lives, Spence’s Anecdotes ms.
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