1764 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Nathaniel Lee

David Erskine Baker, in Companion to the Play-House (1764) 2:Sig. U2v.



Nathaniel Lee, a very eminent dramatic Poet of the last Century, was the Son of a Clergyman, who gave him a liberal Education. — He received his first Rudiments of Learning at Westminster School, from whence he went to Trinity College, Cambridge. — Coming to London, however, his Inclination promoted him to appear on the Theatre; but he was not more successful in representing the Thoughts of other Men, than many a Genius besides, who have been equally unfortunate in treading the Stage, although they knew so well how to write for it. He produced eleven Tragedies, all of which contain a very great Portion of true Poetic Enthusiasm. — Now, if ever any felt the Passion of Love more truly; nor could any one describe it with more Tenderness. — Addison commends his Genius highly; observing that none of our English Poets had a happier Turn for Tragedy, although his natural Fire and unbridled Impetuosity hurried him beyond all bounds of Probability, and sometimes were quite out of Nature. The Truth is, the poet's Imagination ran away with his Reason; so that at length he became quite crazy: and grew so bad, that his Friends were obliged to confine him in Bedlam; where he made that famous witty Reply to a Coxcomb Scribbler, who had the Cruelty to jeer him with his Misfortune, by observing that it was an easy Thing to write like a Madman; — No, said Lee, it is not an easy Thing to write like a Madman; but it is very easy to write like a Fool.

Lee had the good Fortune to recover the Use of his Reason so far as to be discharged from his melancholy Confinement; but he did not long survive his Enlargement: dying at the age of thirty-four. Cibber, in his Lives of the Poets, says he perished unfortunately in a Night Ramble, in London Streets; and other Writers mention the same Thing; and probably this was the End of poor Nat. Lee! — His dramatic Pieces are,

1. Nero, Emperor of Rome.

2. Sophonisba, or Hannibal's Overthrow.

3. The Rival Queens, or Alexander the Great.

4. Mithridates, King of Pontus.

5. Theodosius, or the Force of Love.

6. Caesar Borgia.

7. Lucius Junius Brutus (Cibber deems this the best of his Tragedies.)

8. Constantine the Great.

9. The Princess of Cleve.

10. The Massacre at Paris.

11. Gloriana, or the Court of Augustus.

Besides the above Tragedies, Lee was concerned with Dryden in writing the Duke of Guise, and that other excellent Tragedy entitled Oedipus. — He also revived Shakespear's King Lear, in which he made some Alterations, and brought it on the Stage in 1681. — His Theodosius and Alexander the Great are Stock-Plays, and to this Day are often acted with great Applause. — Mr. Barry has been particularly fortunate in the Character of the Macedonian Hero.