Centlivre, Susannah

, an ingenious dramatic writer, was daughter of Mr. Freeman, a gentleman of Halbeach in Lincolnshire, and was born about the year 1667. Her father had been possessedof an estate of no inconsiderable value but being a dissenter, and having discovered a zealous attachment to the cause of the parliament, was at the restoration under a necessity of flying into Ireland, and his estate was confiscated. Our poetess’s mother was daughter of Mr. Markham, a gentleman of fortune at Lynn Regis in Norfolk, who is represented as having encountered similar misfortunes with those of Mr. Freeman, in consequence of his political principles, which were the same with those of that gentleman, and he also was obliged to take refuge in Ireland. The subject of this article is asserted to have been born in Lincolnshire; but some have conjectured that she was born in, Ireland, which May, not improbably, have been the case, if her birth was so late as 1667. The editor, however, of sir James Ware’s Works does not claim her as an Irish writer. She had the unhappiness to lose her father before she was three years old, and her mother before she had completed her twelfth year. At an early period she | discovered a propensity to poetry, and is said to have written a song before she was seven years old.

Being harshly treated by those to whose care she was committed after the death of her mother, she resolved, whilst very young, to quit the country, and to go up to London to seek her fortune. The circumstances of her life at this period are involved in much obscurity, and the particulars which are related seem somewhat romantic. It is said that she attempted her journey to the capital alone, and on foot, and on her way thither was met by Anthony Hammond, esq. father of the author of the “Love Elegies.” This gentleman, who was then a member of the university of Cambridge, was struck with her youth and beauty, and offered to take her under his protection. Her distress and inexperience inducing her to comply with his proposal, she accompanied him to Cambridge, where, having equipped her in boy’s clothes, he introduced her to his intimates at college, as a relation who was come down to see the university, and to pass some time with him. Under this disguise an amorous intercourse was carried on between them for some months; but at length, being probably apprehensive that the affair would become known in the university, he persuaded her to go to London. He provided her, however, with a considerable sum of money, and recommended her by letter to a lady in town with whom he was acquainted. He assured her at the same time, that he would speedily follow her, and renew their connection. This promise appears not to have been performed: but notwithstanding her unfavourable introduction into life, she was married in her sixteenth year to a nephew of sir Stephen Fox, who did not live more than a twelvemonth after their marriage; but her wit and personal attractions soon procured her another husband, whose name was Carrol, who was an officer in the army, but who was killed in a duel about a year and a half after their marriage, when she became a second time a widow She is represented as having a sincere attachment to Mr. Carrol, and consequently as having felt his loss as a severe affliction.

It was at this period of her life that she commenced dramatic author; to which she was probably in some degree induced by the narrowness of her circumstances. Some of her earlier pieces were published under the name of Carrol. Her first attempt was in tragedy, in a play called “The Perjured Husband,” which was performed at | Drurylane Theatre in 1700, and published in 4to the same year. In 1703, she produced “The Beau’s Duel, or a Soldier for the Ladies, a comedy;” and “Love’s Contrivances,” which is chiefly a translation from Moliere; and the following year another comedy, entitled “The Stolen Heiress, or the Salamanca Doctor outwitted.” In 1705, her comedy of “The Gamester” was acted at Lincoln’sinn-fields, which met with considerable success, and has since been revived at Drury-lane. The plot of this piece “was chiefly borrowed from a French comedy, called” Le Dissipateur." The Prologue was written by Mr. Rowe.

Her attachment to the theatre was so great, that she not only distinguished herself as a writer for it, but also became a performer on it; though she probably did not attain to any great merit as an actress, as she seems never to have played at the theatres of the metropolis. But in 1706, we are told, she performed the part of Alexander the Great, in Lee’s Rival Queens, at Windsor, where the court then was; and in this heroic character, she made so powerful an impression upon the heart of Mr. Joseph Centlivre, yeoman of the mouth, or principal cook to queen Anne, that he soon after married her, and with him she lived happily till her death.

The same year in which she married Mr. Centlivre, she produced the comedies of the “Basset-table,” and “Love at a venture.” The latter was acted by the duke of Grafton’s servants, at the new theatre at Bath. In 1708, her most celebrated performance, “The Busy Body,” was acted at Drury-lane theatre. It met at first with so unfavourable a reception from the players, that for a time they even refused to act in it, and were not prevailed upon to comply till towards the close of the season; and even then Mr. Wilks shewed so much contempt for the part of sir George Airy, as to throw it down on the stage, at the TShearsal, with a declaration, “that no audience would endure such stuff.” But the piece was received with the greatest applause by the audience, and still keeps possession of the stage. In 1711, she brought on at Drury-lane theatre, “Marplot, or the second part of the Busy Body.” This play, though much inferior to the former, met with a favourable reception; and the duke of Portland, to whom it was dedicated, made Mrs. Centlivre a present of forty guineas. Her comedy of “A Bold Stroke for a Wife,” was performed at Lincoln’s-Inn Fields in 1717. She was assisted in this play by Mr. Mottley, who wrote a scene or | two entirely. It was extremely well received, and is still frequently performed, though Mr. Wilks had also entertained a very unfavourable opinion of it. Besides those which have been already mentioned, she also produced several other dramatic pieces, enumerated in the Biographia Dramatica.

Mrs. Centlivre enjoyed, for many years, the intimacy and esteem of some of the most eminent wits of the time, particularly -ir Richard Steele, Mr. Rowe, Dr. Sewell, and Mr. Farquhar. P^ustace Budgell was also of the number of her acquaintance. But she had the misfortune to incur the displeasure of Mr. Pope, who introduced her into the Dunciad, for having written a ballad against his Homer. She died in Spring-garden, Charing-cross, on the first of December, 1723, and was buried at St. Martin’s in the Fields. She possessed a considerable share of beauty, was of a friendly and benevolent disposition, and in conversation was sprightly and entertaining. Her literary acquisitions appear to have been merely the result of her own application; but she is supposed to have understood the French, Dutch, and Spanish languages, and to have had some knowledge of the Latin. An extensive acquaintance with men and manners is exhibited in her dramatic wri tings; but they are sometimes justly censurable for their licentiousness. In 1761, her dramatic works were collected to Tether, and printed in three volumes 12 mo. She was also the author of “several copies of verses on divers subjects and occasions, and many ingenious letters, entitled, Letters of Wit, Politics, and Morality,” which were collected and published by Mr. Boyer. 1


Biog. Brit.—Cibber's Lives.