Lillo, George

, a celebrated dramatic writer, was by profession a jeweller, and was born in the neighbourhood of Moorgate in London, Feb. 4, 1693, where he pursued his occupation for many years with the fairest and most unblemished character. He was strongly attached to the | Muses, and seems to have laid it down as a maxim, that the devotion paid to them ought always to tend to the promotion of virtue and mortality. In pursuance of this aim, Lillo was happy in the choice of his subjects, and showed great power of affecting the heart, and of rendering the distresses of common and domestic life equally interesting to the audiences as those of kings and heroes. His “George Barnwell,” “Fatal Curiosity,” and “Arden of Feversham,” are all planned on common and well-known stories; yet they have perhaps more frequently drawn tears from an audience than more pompous tragedies, particularly the first of them. Nor was his management of his subjects less happy than his choice of them. If there is any fault to be objected to his style, it is that sometimes he affects an elevation rather above the simplicity of his subject, and the supposed rank of his characters; but tragedy seldom admits an adherence to the language of common life, and sometimes it is found that even the most humble characters in real life, when under peculiar circumstances of distress, or the influence of any violent passion, will employ an aptness of expression and power of language, not only greatly superior to themselves, but even to the general language and conversation of persons of much higher rank in life, and of minds more cultivated.

In the prologue to “Elmerick,” which was not acted till after the author’s death, it is said, that, when he wrote that play, he “was depressed by want,” and afflicteJ by disease; but in the former particular there appears to be evidently a mistake, as he died possessed of an estate of 60l. a year, besides other effects to a considerable value. The late editor of his works (Mr. T. Davies) in two volumes, 1775, 12mo, relates the following story, which, however, we cannot think adapted to convey any favourable impression of the person of whom it is told: “Towards the latter part of his life, Mr. Lillo, whether from judgment or humour, determined to put the sincerity of his friends, who professed a very high regard for him, to a trial. In order to carry on this design, he put in practice an odd kind of stratagem: ha asked one of his intimate acquaintance to lend him a considerable sum of money, and for this he declared he would give no bond, rior any other security, except a note of hand; the person to whom he applied, not liking the terms, civilly refused him. Soon after, Lillo met his nephew, Mr. Underwood^ | with whom he had been at variance some time. He put the same question to him, desiring him to lend him money upon the same terms. His nephew, either from a sagacious apprehension of his uncle’s real intention, or from generosity of spirit, immediately offered to comply with his request. Lillo was so well pleased with this ready compliance of Mr. Underwood, that he immediately declared that he was fully satisfied with the love and regard that his nephew bore him; he was convinced that his friendship was entirely disinterested; and assured him, that he should reap the benefit such generous behaviour deserved. In consequence of this promise, he bequeathed him the bulk of his fortune.” The same writer says, that Lillo in his person was lusty, but not tall; of a pleasing aspect, though unhappily deprived of the sight of one eye.

Lillo died Sept. 3, 1739, in the forty -seventh year of his age; and, a few months after his death, Henry Fielding printed the following character of him in “The Champion:” “He had a perfect knowledge of human nature, though his contempt of all base means of application, which are the necessary steps to great acquaintance, restrained his conversation within narrow bounds. He had the spirit of an old Roman, joined to the innocence of a primitive Christian: he was content with his little state of life, in which his excellent temper of mind gave him an happiness beyond the power of riches; and it was necessary for his friends to have a sharp insight into his want of their services, as well as good inclination or abilities to serve him. In short, he was one of the best of men, and those who knew him best will most regret his loss.1

1 Life prefixed to his Works. Biog. Draaa. Gibber’s Lives, rel. V.