Murphy, Arthur

, a dramatic and miscellaneous writer, was born at Clooniquin, in the county of Roscommon, in Ireland, Dec. 27, 1727. His father, Richard Murphy, who was a merchant, perished in 1729, in one of his own trading-vessels for Philadelphia, probably in a violent storm, but no intelligence of the ship, or any of its passengers or crew, ever transpired. From this time the care of the subject of the present article devolved upon his mother, who, in 1735, removed, with her children, to London but Arthur was sent, at the age of ten, to the English college at St. Omer’s, where he remained six years and made very extraordinary proficiency in Greek and Latin, a love for which he retained all his life, and particularly improved his acquaintance with the Latin classics. On his return to England, in 1744, he resided with his mother till August 1747, when he was sent to Cork, to an uncle Jeffery French, in whose counting-house he was employed till April 1749. After this his uncle destined him to go to Jamaica to overlook a large estate which he possessed in that island; but his inclination was averse to business of every kind, and he returned to his mother in London, in 1751. Here he either first contracted, or began at least to indulge, his predominant passion for the theatre, although placed in the counting-house of Ironside and Belchier, bankers. In October 1752, he published the first number of “The Gray’s-Inn Journal,” a weekly paper, which he continued for two years, and which served to connect him much with dramatic performers and writers, as well as to make him known to the public as a wit and a critic. On the death of his uncle, he was much disappointed in not finding his name mentioned in his will, and the more so as he had contracted debts, in faith of a good legacy, to the amount of three hundred pounds. In this embarrassed state, by the advice of the celebrated Foote, he went on the stage, and appeared for the first time in the character of Othello. Jn one season, by the help of strict economy, he paid off

1

Cumberland’s Anecdotes of Spanish Painters. Pilkington. Rees’s Cyclopaedia.

| his debts, and had at the end of the year four hundred pounds in his pocket. With this sum he determined to quit the stage, on which, as a performer, notwithstanding the advantages of a fine person, and good judgment, he made no very distinguished figure, and never used to be more offended than when reminded of this part of his career.

He now determined to study the law; but on his first application to the society of the Middle-Temple, he had the mortification to be refused admission, on the ground of his having acted on the stage; but was soon after, in 1757, received as a member of Lincoln’s-Inn. In this year he was engaged in a weekly paper, called “The Test,” undertaken chiefly in favour of Mr. Fox, afterwards lord Holland, which ceased on the overthrow of the administration to which his lordship was attached. This paper was answered by Owen Ruffhead, in the “Contest.” During his study of the law, the stage was, either from inclination or necessity, his resource; and in the beginning of 1758, he produced the farce of “The Upholsterer,” which was very successful; and before the end of the same year he finished “The Orphan of China,” which is founded on a dramatic piece, translated from this Chinese language, in Du Halde’s “History of China.” The muse, as he says, “still keeping possession of him,” he produced, in 1760 the “Desert Island,” a dramatic poem; and his “Way to keep Him,” a comedy of three acts, afterwards enlarged to five acts, the most popular of all his dramatic compositions. This was followed by the comedy of “All in the Wrong,” “The Citizen,” and “The Old Maid;” all of which were successful, and still retain their rank among acting-pieces. Having finished his preparatory law-studies, he was called to the bar in Trinity-Term, 1762. About this time, he engaged again in political controversy, by writing “The Auditor,” a periodical paper, intended to counteract the influence of Wilkes’s “North-Briton;” but in this he was peculiarly unfortunate, neither pleasing the public, nor deriving much support from those on whose behalf he wrote. Wilkes and Churchill, who were associated in politics, contrived to throw a degree of ridicule on Murphy’s labours, which was fatal. Murphy appearing to his antagonists to meddle with subjects which he did not understand, they laid a trap to make him discover his want of geographical knowledge, by sending him a | letter signed “Viator,” boasting of the vast acquisition, by lord Bute’s treaty of peace, of Florida to this country, and representing that country as peculiarly rich in fuel for domestic uses, &c. This Arthur accordingly inserted, with a remark that “he gave it exactly as he received it, in order to throw all the lights in his power upon the solid value of the advantages procured by the late negociation.” Wilkes immediately reprinted this letter in his “North Britain;” and the “Auditor” found it impossible to bear up against the satires levelled at him from all quarters.

In the summer of 1763, Mr. Murphy went his first, the Norfolk, circuit; but with little success; and afterwards appeared occasionally as a pleader in London. The Muse, however, he confesses, “still had hold of him, and occasionally stole him away from ‘ Coke upon Littleton.’” In his law pursuits he continued till 1787, when, to his great astonishment, a junior to him on the Norfolk circuit was appointed king’s counsel. Disappointed at this, he sold his chambers in Lincoln’s-Inn, in July 1788, and retired altogether from the bar. The intermediate time, however, had been filled up by the production of his “Three Weeks after Marriage,” “Zenobia,” “The Grecian Daughter,” and other dramatic pieces, generally acted with great applause, and which are yet on the stock list. After he retired from the bar he bought a house at Hammersmith, and there prepared various publications for the press, among which, in 1786, was an edition of his works collectively, in seven volumes, octavo. In 1792, he appeared as one of the biographers of Dr. Johnson, in “An Essay on his Life and Genius;” but this was a very careless sketch, copied almost verbatim from the account of sir John Hawkins’s Life of Johnson, in the Monthly Review. In the following year he published a translation of Tacitus, in four volumes, quarto, dedicated to the late Edmund Burke. To this work, which is executed in a masterly manner, he added “An Essay on the Life and Genius of Tacitus;” with historical supplements and frequent annotations and comments. Mr. Murphy continued to write to an advanced age, and in 1798 he published his “Arminius,” intended to justify the war then carried on against the ambition of France, and which, with the majority of the nation, he considered as both just and necessary. Through his interest with lord Loughborough, he obtained the office of one of the commissioners of bankrupts, to which, during the last | three years of his life, was added a pension of two hundred pounds a year. In his latter days, after he had published a “Life of Garrick,” a very sensible decay of mental powers became visible. He continued, however, to be occasionally cheered and assisted by a few friends, until his death, at his lodgings at Knightsbridge, June 18, 1805. From his biographer’s account it appears he had perfectly reconciled his mind to the stroke of death: when he had made his will, and given plain and accurate directions respecting his funeral, he said, “I have been preparing for my journey to another region, and now do not care how soon I take my departure.” On the day of his death he frequently repeated the lines of Pope:

"Taught, half by reason, half by mere decay,

To welcome death and calmly pass away."

Besides the works already mentioned and alluded to, Mr. Murphy was author of a translation of Sallust, which has appeared as a posthumous work.

Mr. Murphy, in his better days, was a man of elegant manners, and of a well-informed mind, rich also in anecdotes of the literature of his period, which he related with great humour and accuracy, and there was a time when the company of few men was more courted, or was in itself more entertaining. As a dramatic writer he may be deemed both fortunate and unfortunate fortunate as he established a very high character, and produced more stock pieces than any man of his time; and unfortunate, as the stage detached him from a profession by which he might have attained ease and independence. The consciousness of this had visible effects on his temper in his last years. It was a painful recollection that he had lived to see the companions and familiar friends of his youth advanced to the highest ranks in the state, while he was left to derive a scanty support from talents now in their decay. 1

1 Foot’s Life of Murphy. Biog. Pram.