1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas D'Urfey

William Clarke and Robert Shelton Mackenzie, in The Georgian Era: Memoirs of the most eminent Persons who have flourished in Great Britain (1832-34) 3:507-08.



THOMAS D'URFEY, the son of a French refugee, was born about the year 1650. He was bred to the law, but soon forsook that profession, and passed the remainder of his life as an author, being distinguished for the humour and variety of his writings. Both as a dramatist and poet he obtained some fame in his time; but his reputation has scarcely survived him in the former character; for, although he produced no less than thirty-one plays upon the stage, they are all now banished from the boards. He appears, also, to have survived the benefit of what emolument his performances may have produced him, which induced Addison to draw the attention of the public towards him, in the sixty-seventh number of The Guardian, in a paper advertising his distresses, and a play about to be performed for his benefit. "I myself," says Addison, "remember King Charles the Second's leaning on Tom D'Urfey's shoulder, more than once, and humming over a song with him. It is certain, that monarch was not a little supported, by Joy to Great Caesar; which gave the Whigs such a blow, as they were not able to recover that whole reign. My friend afterwards attacked popery, with the same success, having exposed Bellarmine, and Portocarero, more than once, in short, satirical compositions, which have been in every body's mouth. He made use of Italian tunes and sonatas for promoting the protestant interest; and turned a considerable part of the pope's music against himself. In short, he has obliged the court with political sonnets; the country, with dialogues and pastorals; the city, with descriptions of a lord mayor's feast; not to mention his little Ode upon Stool-ball, with many others of the like nature." In this miscellaneous kind of authorship, he continued to employ himself, with his usual spirit and humour, until his death, which took place on the 26th of February, 1723. His best dramatic performances, of which a list will be found in Cibber's Lives of the Poets, are The Plotting Sisters, and Cynthia and Endymion; and it is probable that many of his plays would still have kept possession of the stage, but for the licentiousness, so common to that age, which pervades them. As a poet, his reputation is preserved by a collection of sonnets, published, in six volumes, duodecimo, under the title of Laugh and be Fat, or Pills to purge Melancholy; of which Addison says, in a humorous panegyric upon the author, "It is my opinion that the above pills would be extremely proper to be taken with asses' milk, and might contribute towards the renewing and restoring decayed lungs."