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Oh! happiest was I iò my humble state:
Ambition, av'rice, lust, That drove me on to murder, now forsake me. · Franklin makes the following exclamation on the discovery of the murderers :
Eternal Providence, to whose bright eye
May suffer in bad fellowship. In the Biographia Dramatica and in Egerton's Theatri. cal Remembrancer mention is made of a Comedy written by Lillo and left in M. S. called The Regulators, but this appears now to be lost.
To return to the account of Lillo: It appears from an assignment of the copy-right of George Barv well to Gray the bookseller, dated Nov. 25, 1735, that Lillo was at that time living at Rotherhithe near London. I thought it not improbable, therefore, that he had died there, as Davies informs us that he ended his life September the 3d, 1739, in the 47th year of his age; but, on making inquiry there, the name of Lillo does not appear in the
Register of Burials, from 1730 to 1740, nor in those for Marriages and Baptisms; so that he was not married there, nor had any children baptized; neither is there any monument to him in the church or church-yard.
Hammond in his Prologue to Elmerick has stated that Lillo died in want and misery:
Deprest by want, afflicted by disease,
Dying he wrote, and dying wish’d to please. But it appears from his Will, that, besides an estate of £60. per annum which he bequeathed to a nephew of the name of Underwood, subject to payments to different persons, he died possessed of several effects by no means iņconsiderable. He had also accumulated by his plays, in the course of seven years, about £800. He had always lived a very temperate life, and was not addicted to any vice or extravagance.
Davies mentions a curious anecdote respecting our author, in the latter part of his life. He determined, either from judgment or humour, to put the sincerity of his friends, who professed a very high regard for him, to a trial. In order to do this he asked one of his intimate acquaintance to lend him a considerable sum of money, and declared that he would give no bond for it, nor 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 for some time; he made the same application to him. 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, that he immediately declared that he was fully satisfied with the love and regard 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.
This incident is quite in the manner of a dramatic author accustomed to plots and contrivances. Such trials
may certainly sometimes be allowable, but Lillo, in his Fatal Curiosity! has shewn that the consequences are sometimes attended with great evil, and they are seldom practised without falsehood on the side of the proposer.
Lillo, though strongly attached to poetry, and to the Drama in particular, seems ever to have kept in mind that it ought to tend to the promotion of virtue, morality and religion. " A love of truth, innocence, and virtue," (says his Biographer) « a firm resignation to the will of “ Providence, and a detestation of vice and falsehood, “ are constantly insisted upon, and strongly inculcated 66 in all the compositions of honest Lillo.” (p. 31.) He was a most valuable and amiable man in his moral con" duct, and in the candour, generosity, and openness of « his temper, resembling the character of Thorowgood “ in his own Barnwell”. (p. 38.) A few months after his death Henry Fielding gave a character of him in
The Champion, in which he says, that “ He had the “ spirit of an old Roman, joined to the innocence of a s primitive Christian; he was content with his little state cs of life, in which his excellent temper of mind gave s him a happiness beyond the power of riches, and it C6 was necessary for his friends to have a sharp insight “ into his want of their services, as well as good incli« nation 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.” (Life by Davies, p. 32.)
In his person he was lusty, but not tall, of a pleasing aspect, though unhappily deprived of the sight of one eye.
The Tragedy of The London MERCHANT, or The History of George BARNWELL, is taken from the old Ballad of George Barnwell, but varies from it in several particulars which tend to make the piece more interesting and more instructive. Davies says that it was offered " to Mr. Theophilus Cibber, manager of a company of «6 comedians then acting at the Theatre in Drury Lane, 65 during the summer season. The author's friends, « though they were well acquainted with the merit of “ Barnwell, could not be without their fears for the “ success of a play, which was formed on a new plan
A history of manners deduced from an old ballad; " and which the witlings of the time called a Newgate “ Tragedy. It is true some of our best dramatic poets, « in their most affecting pieces, had lowered the buskin, “ and fitted it to characters in life inferior to Kings and “ Heroes; yet no writer had ventured to descend so low 66 as to introduce the character of a merchant, or his « clerk, into a tragedy. However the author's attempt “ was fully justified by his success; plain sterling sense, " joined to many happy strokes of nature and passion, “ supplied the imagined deficiencies of art, and more “ tears were shed at the representation of this home-spun « drama, than at all the elaborate imitations of ancient “ fables and ancient manners by the learned moderns,
Mr. Pope, who was present at the first acting of « Barnwell, very candidly observed that Lillo had never « deviated from propriety, except in a few passages in “ which he aimed at a greater elevation of language than
was consistent with character and situation. (See 55 Lillo, in Cibber's Lives, Vol. 1.)
" Barnwell was acted about twenty nights in the hottest " part of the year to crouded houses. The great success of
this play excited the attention of Queen Caroline, who 66 desired to see it in MS. (Gentleman's Magazine, July “ 1731.) A message was dispatched to Drury Lane “ Theatre, and July 2nd 1731, Mr. Wilks waited upon
her Majesty at Hampton Court with the play.”—“ One $6 circumstance which happened the first night that Barn" well was acted, is so singular that it ought not to be « forgotten. Certain witty and facetious persons, who 66 call themselves The Town, bought up thousands of " the ballad of George Barnwell, with an intent to make " a ludicrous comparison between the old song, and the 66 new tragedy; but so forcible and so pathetic were the " scenes of the London Merchant, that these merry “ gentlemen were quite disappointed and ashamed; they " were obliged to throw away their ballads and take out k their handkerchiefs. (Cibber's Life of Lillo.)”-Davies, p. 8, 9.
The author of the Biographia Dramatica says of this play, “ It is written in prose, and although the language “ is consequently not so dignified as that of the buskin “ is usually expected to be, yet it is well adapted to the c6 subject it is written on, and exalted enough to express 6 the sentiments of the characters, which are all thrown
into domestic life. The plot is ingenious, the catas« trophe just, and the conduct of it affecting. And no « lesson surely can be more proper or indeed more « necessary to inculcate among that valuable body of 66 youths, who are trained up to the branches of mer6 cantile business, so eminently estimable in a land of a commerce such as England, and who must necessarily « have large trusts confided to their care, and conse" quently large temptations thrown into the way of their 66 integrity, than the warning them how much greater
strength will be added to these temptations, how 16 almost impossible it will be for them to avoid the snares " of ruin, if they suffer themselves but once to be drawn 16 aside into the paths of the harlot, or permit their eyes 66 once to glance on the allurements of the wanton, " where they will be sure to meet with the most insatiable 66 avarice to cope with on one hand, and an unguarded 66 sensibility proceeding at first from the goodness of their « own hearts, on the other, which will excite the practice 66 of the most abandoned artifices in the first, and render " the last most liable to be imposed on by them, and " plunge headlong into vicé, infamy and ruin. This 6 warning is strongly, loudly given in this play; and 66 indeed I cannot help wishing that the performance of - it was more frequent, or at least that the managers 66 would make it a rule constantly to have it acted once 6 at least in each house during the course of every period 66 of those holidays in which the very youth to whom - this instruction is addressed almost always form a 66 considerable part of the audience." Vol. 2. p 192.
This advice, originally given in the first edition of that work under the title of The Companion to the Play