The gentleman we have selected for the subject of this month's Magazine has been so long within the observation of the public, his writings are so well known, and the applause he has met with has been so general and deserved, that we do not flatter ourselves with having the power to communicate to our readers much novelty concerning him or his works. Posterity, however, who will read his productions with equal satisfaction as the present times, will be obliged to us for recording the following particulars.
George Colman is the fort of Francis Colman, Esq. his Majesty's Resident at the Court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany at Florence, by a sister of the late Countess of Bath. He was born at Florence, and had the honour of having the late King George II. whose name he bears, for his godfather. He received his education at Westminster school, where he very early shewed his poetical talents. The first performance by him is a Copy of Verses addressed to his cousin Lord Pulteney, written the year 1747, while he was at Westminster, and since printed in the St. James's Magazine, a work published by his unfortunate friend Robert Lloyd. At school he had for his companions Mr. Lloyd, Mr. Churchill, Bonnel Thornton, and some others, who have since distinguished themselves in the literary world. From Westminster school he removed to Oxford, and became a student of Christ-Church. It was here, at a very early age, he engaged with his friend, Bonnel Thornton, in publishing The Connoisseur, a periodical paper which appeared once a week, and was continued from January 31, 1754, to September 30, 1756. When the age of the writers of this entertaining paper is considered, the wit and humour, the spirit, the good sense and shrewd observations on life and manners, with which it abounds, wilt excite some degree of wonder, but will at the same time evidently point out the extraordinary talent, which were afterwards to be more fully displayed in The Jealous Wife and The Clandestine Marriage.
The recommendation of his friends, or his choice, but probably the former, induced him to fix upon the Law for his profession; and he accordingly was entered of Lincoln's Inn, and in due season called to the Bar. He attended there a very short time, though, if our recollection does net mislead us, he was seen often enough in the Courts to prevent his abandoning the profession merely for want of encouragement. It is reasonable, however, to suppose, that he felt more pleasure in attending to the Muse than to Briefs and Reports, and it will therefore excite no wonder that he took the earliest opportunity of relinquishing pursuits not congenial to his taste. Apollo and Littleton, says Wycherley, seldom meet in the same brain.
On the 18th of March, 1758, he took the degree of Master of Arts at Oxford, and in the year 1760 his first dramatic piece, Polly Honeycombe, was acted at Drury-Lane, with great success. For several years before, the Comic Muse seemed to have relinquished the stage. Comedy had been produced at either Theatre since the year 1751, when Gil Blas was with difficulty performed nine nights. At length, in the beginning of the year 1761, three different authors were candidates for Public favour in the same walk, almost at the same time, viz. Mr. Murphy, who exhibited The Way to Keep Him; Mr. Macklin, The Married Libertine; and Mr. Colman, The Jealous Wife. The former and latter of these were most successful, and the latter in a much higher degree. Indeed, when the excellent performance of Mess. Garrick, Yates, O'Brien, King, Palmer, Moody, with Mrs. Pritchard, Clive, and Miss Pritchard, are recollected, it would have shewn a remarkable want of taste in the Town not to have followed, as they did, this admirable piece with the greatest eagerness and perseverance.
The mention of The Jealous Wife in Churchill's Rosciad, occasioned Mr. Colman to experience some of the malevolence which that and other of Mr. Churchill's satires gave birth to. Many rude and illiberal attacks issued from the press against all the different combatants, and it is presumed that such of them as are now living would esteem themselves under no obligations to any person who should revive the memory of their forgotten resentments. We shall only therefore observe, that much good writing and much wit and humour were thrown away in this very acrimonious and disgraceful controversy.
We shall not regularly trace the several dramatic pieces of Mr. Colman as they appeared, the greater part being within the most of our readers remembrance. On July 1764, Lord Bath died, and on that event Mr. Colman found himself in circumstances fully sufficient to enable him to follow the bent of his genius. The first publication which he produced, after this period, was a translation of the comedies of Terence, in the execution of which he rescued that author from the hands of as tasteless and ignorant a set of writers as ever disgraced the name of translators. Whoever would with to see the spirit of the ancient bard translated into the English language, must look for it in Mr. Colman's version.
The successor of Lord Bath, General Pulteney, died in 1767, and Mr. Colman again found himself remembered in his Will, by a second annuity, which confirmed the independency of his fortune. He seems, however, to have felt no charms in an idle life; as, in 1767, he united with Messrs. Harris, Rutherforth, and Powell, in the purchase of Theatre, and took upon himself the laborious office of Acting Manager. The differences which arose from this association are too recent to be forgot, and the causes of them perhaps too ridiculous to be recorded. It may, however, in general, be observed, that the appeals to the Public during this controversy, do great credit to the talents, if not the tempers, of each party. As an act of oblivion of former animosities, and a general reconciliation of all parties, soon afterwards took place, we shall not perpetuate the memory of quarrels, now no longer of consequence to the Publick.
After continuing Manager of Covent-Garden Theatre seven years, Mr. Colman sold his share and interest therein to Mr. James Leake, one of his then partners, and, in 1777, purchased of Mr. Foote the Theatre in the Hay-Market. The estimation which the entertainments exhibited under his direction are held in by the Publick, the reputation which the Theatre has acquired, and the continual concourse of the polite world, during the height of summer, sufficiently speak the praises of Mr. Colman's management. Indeed it has been long admitted, that no person, since the death of Mr. Garrick, is so able to superintend the entertainments of the stage as the subject of this account.
To sagacity in discovering the talents of his performers, he joins the inclination and ability to display them with every advantage. To him Mr. Henderson, Miss Farren, Mrs. Bannister, Miss George, Mrs. Wells, and, in some measure, Mr. Edwin, (whose comic powers had been buried a whole season under Mr. Foote's management) besides some others, owe their introduction to a London audience; and the great improvements made by Mr. Palmer, Mr. Parsons, &c. testify the judgment and industry of their director.
Within the last three years Mr. Colman has shewn that his attention to the theatre has not made him entirely neglect his classical studies. He has lately given the public a new translation and commentary on Horace's Art of Poetry, in which he has produced a new system to explain this very difficult Poem. In opposition to Dr. Hurd, he supposes, "that one of the sons of Piso, undoubtedly the elder, had either written or meditated a poetical work, most probably a Tragedy; and that he had, with the knowledge of the family, communicated his piece or intention to Horace; but Horace either disapproving of the work, or doubting of the poetical faculties of the elder Piso, or both, wished to dissuade from all thoughts of publication. With this view he formed the design of writing this epistle, addressing it with a courtliness and delicacy perfectly agreeable to his acknowledged character, indifferently to the whole family, the father and his two sons, Epistola ad Pisones de Arte Poetica." This hypothesis is supported with much learning, ingenuity, and modesty; and if not fully established, is at least as well entitled to applause as that adopted by the Bishop of Worcester.
On the publication of the Horace, the Bishop said to Dr. Douglas, "Give my compliments to C—, and thank him for the handsome manner in which he has treated me, and tell him that I think he is right."
Besides the Dramatic Works of Mr. Colman, and those we have already mentioned, he is the author of a Preface to the last edition of Beaumont and Fletcher, a Dissertation prefixed to Massinger, a series of papers in the St. James's Chronicle under the title of The Genius, and many other fugitive pieces. A report lately prevailed that he intended to collect some of those into volumes; a design the public will be glad to see carried into execution. Mr. Colman also, some years ago, promised to publish the works of his deceased friend Mr. Thornton; a promise he ought to he reminded of, and which we hope he will fulfil.