« PředchozíPokračovat »
That a life of this eminent and much regretted man will be written by some competent author, there can be little doubt. That he himself extended his “Random Records” no further than two volumes, containing the history and anecdotes of the early part of his career, is greatly to be lamented. What is here collected is merely worthy of being called “ Recollections,” and does not assume to itself the character of a piece of biography.
Mr. Colman was the grandson of Francis Colman, Esq. British Resident at the Court of Tuscany at Pisa, who married a sister of the Countess of Bath. George Colman the elder, father of him of whom we write, was born about the year 1733, at Florence, and was placed at an early age at Westminster School, where he very soon distinguished himself by the rapidity of his attainments. In 1748 he went to Christchurch College, Oxford, where he took his Master's degree; and shortly became the friend and associate of Churchill, Bonnell Thornton, Lloyd, and the other principal wits and writers of the day.
Lord Bath was greatly struck by his merit and accomplishments, and induced him to adopt the law as his profession. He accordingly entered at Lincoln's Inn, and was eventually called to the bar. It appears—as it happened afterwards to his son —that the drier pursuits of his vocation were neglected or abandoned in favour of literature and the drama. His first poetical performance was a copy of verses addressed to his cousin, Lord Pulteney. But it was not till 1760 that he produced any dramatic work : in that year he brought out “ Polly Honeycombe,” which met with considerable success.
It is remarkable that, previous to that season, no new comedy had been produced at either theatre for nine years; and equally remarkable that the year 1761 should have brought before the public “ The Jealous Wife,” by Colman, “ The Way to Keep Him," by Murphy, and “ The Married Libertine,” by Macklin.
In the following year Lord Bath died, and left Mr. Colman a very comfortable annuity, but less in value than he had anticipated. In 1767, General Pulteney, Lord Bath's successor, died, and left him a second annuity, which secured him in independence for life. And here it may be proper to notice a subject which George Colman the younger has touched before in his “Random Records,” in which he corrects a hasty and incautious error of the late Margravine of Anspach, committed by her, in her “Memoirs.” Speaking of George Colman the elder, she says,
“ He was a natural son of Lord Bath, Sir James Pulteney ; and his father, perceiving in the son a passion for plays, asked him fairly if he never intended to turn his thoughts to politics, as it was bis desire to see him a minister, which, with his natural
endowments, and the expense and pains he had bestowed on his education, he had reason to imagine, with his interest, he might become. His father desired to know if he would give up the Muses for diplomacy, and plays for politics; as, in that case, he meant to give him his whole fortune. Colman thanked Lord Bath for his kind communication, but candidly said, that he preferred Thalia and Melpomene to ambition of any kind, for the height of his wishes was to become, at some future time, the manager of a theatre. Lord Bath left him fifteen hundred pounds a-year, instead of all his immense wealth."
Mr. Colman, after exposing the strange mistake of calling the Sir William Pulteney, James, goes on to state, that, being the son of his wife's sister, Lord Bath, on the death of Francis Colman (his brother-in-law), which occurred when the elder George was but one year old, took him entirely under his protection, and placed him progressively at Westminster, Oxford, and Lincoln's Inn. In corroboration of the else unquestioned truth of this statement, he refers to the posthumous pamphlets of his highly-gifted parent, and justly takes credit for saving him from imputed illegitimacy, by explaining that his grandmother was exempt from the conjugal frailty of Venus, and his grandfather from the fate of Vulcan.
George Colman the elder suffered severely from the effects of a paralytic affection, which, in the year 1790, produced mental derangement; and, after living in seclusion for four years, he died on the 14th of April 1794, having been during his life a joint proprietor of Covent Garden Theatre, and sole proprietor of the little theatre in the Haymarket.
George Colman the younger became, at Westminster, the school-fellow and associate of the present Archbishop of York, the Marquess of Anglesea, the late Earl of Buckinghamshire, Doctor Robert Willis, Mr. Reynolds, his brother dramatist, the present Earl Somers, and many other persons, who have since, like himself, become distinguished members of society.
The account which Mr. Colman gives of his introduction by his father to Johnson, Goldsmith, and Foote, when a child, is so highly graphic, and so strongly characteristic of the man, that we give an abridgement of it here :
“On the day of my introduction,” says Colman, “ Dr. Johnson was asked to dinner at my father's house in Soho-square, and the erudite savage came a full hour before his time. My father, having dressed himself hastily, took me with him into the drawing-room.
“On our entrance, we found Johnson sitting in a fauteuil of rose-coloured satin. He was dressed in a rusty suit of brown, cloth dittos, with black worsted stockings : his old yellow wig was of formidable dimensions; and the learned head which sustained it rolled about in a seemingly paralytic motion ; but, in the performance of its orbit, it inclined chiefly to one shoulder.
“ He deigned not to rise on our entrance ; and we stood before him while he and my father talked. There was soon a pause in the colloquy; and my father, making his advantage of it, took me by the hand, and said, —Dr. Johnson, this is a little Colman.' The doctor bestowed a slight ungracious glance upon me, and, continuing the rotary motion of his head, renewed the previous conversation. Again there was a pause ;-again the anxious father, who had failed in his first effort, seized the opportunity for pushing his progeny, with— This is my son, Dr. Johnson. The great man's contempt for me was now roused to wrath ; and, knitting his brows, he exclaimed in a voice of thunder, 'I see him, sir !' He then fell back in his rosecoloured satin fauteuil, as if giving himself up to meditation ; implying that he would not be further plagued, either with an old fool or a young one.
“ After this rude rebuff from the doctor, I had the additional felicity to be placed next to him at dinner : he was silent over bis meal; but I observed that he was, as Shylock says of Lancelot Gobbo,' a huge feeder ;' and during the display of his voracity, (which was worthy of Bolt Court,) the perspiration fell in copious drops from his visage upon the table-cloth.”
“ Oliver Goldsmith, several years before my luckless presentation to Johnson, proved how doctors differ.' I was only five years old when Goldsmith took me on his knee, while he was drinking coffee, one evening, with my father, and began to play with me; which amiable act I returned with the ingratitude of a peevish brat, by giving him a very smart slap in the face; it must have been a tingler, for it left the marks of my little spiteful paw upon his cheek. This infantile outrage was followed by summary justice; and I was locked up by my indignant father in an adjoining room, to undergo solitary imprisonment in the dark. Here I began to howl and scream most abominably; which was no bad step towards liberation, since those who were not inclined to pity me might be likely to set me free, for the purpose of abating a nuisance.
“At length a generous friend appeared to extricate me from jeopardy, and that generous friend was no other than the man I had so wantonly molested by assault and battery; it was the tender-hearted doctor himself, with a lighted candle in his hand, and a smile upon his countenance, which was still partially red from the effects of my petulance. I sulked and sobbed, and he fondled and soothed ; till I began to brighten. Goldsmith, who, in regard to children, was like the village preacher he has so beautifully described,—for
“Their welfare pleased him, and their cares distressed,' seized the propitious moment of returning good-humour; so he put down the candle,' and began to conjure. He placed three hats, which happened to be in the room, upon the carpet, and a
shilling under each : the shillings, he told me, were England, France, and Spain. • Hey, presto, cockolorum ! cried the doctor,-and, lo! on uncovering the shillings which had been dispersed, each beneath a separate hat, they were all found congregated under one. I was no politician at five years old, and, therefore, might not have wondered at the sudden revolution which brought England, France, and Spain all under one crown; but, as I was also no conjuror, it amazed me beyond measure. Astonishment might have amounted to awe for one who appeared to me gifted with the power of performing miracles, if the good-nature of the man had not obviated my dread of the magician; but, from that time, whenever the doctor came to visit my father,
'I pluck'd his gown, to share the good man's smile;' a game at romps constantly ensued, and we were always cordial friends, and merry play-fellows.
“ Foote's earliest notices of me were far from flattering; but, though they had none of Goldsmith's tenderness, they had none of Johnson's ferocity; and when he accosted me with his usual salutation of • Blow your nose, child !' there was a whimsical manner, and a broad grin upon his features, which always made me laugh.
“His own nose was generally begrimed with snuff; and, if he had never been more facetious than upon the subject of my emunctories, which, by the bye, did not want cleansing, I need not tell the reader, that he would not have been distinguished as a wit ;-he afterwards condescended to pass better jokes upon me.
“The paradoxical celebrity which he maintained upon the stage was very singular; his satirical sketches were scarcely dramas, and he could not be called a good legitimate performer. Yet there is no Shakspeare or Roscius upon record who, like Foote, supported a theatre for a series of years by his own acting, in his own writings, and, for ten years of the time, upon a wooden
The reader, if he have not seen these passages before, will, we are sure, sympathise with us in our regrets that the work from which we extract them, carries us only in its two volumes to the year 1785,-a period at which Colman's fame and reputation had yet to be made.
His first decidedly successful drama was “ Inkle and Yarico :" this at once established his character as an author. Ways and Means," “ The Mountaineers,” and “ The Iron Chest” fóllowed; and in 1798 be published those admirable poems known as “My Night-gown and Slippers.” His greatest literary triumphs were, however, yet to come. “ The Heir at Law” was his first regular comedy; and we doubt very much whether he ever excelled it, or, indeed, if it has been excelled by more than a very few plays in the English language. We know that the