GEORGE COLMAN, the son of Thomas Colman, Esq. British Resident at the Court of the Duke of Tuscany, and of a sister of the Countess of Bath, was born at Florence about 1733. He was educated at Westminster school, and elected to Christ Church College, Oxford, in 1751. It was during his residence at this University that, in concert with Mr. Thornton, he commenced the Connoisseur, which, though published in London, was printed at Oxford. Having taken his degree of M. A. in 1758, he removed to the metropolis; and being intended for the legal profession, he entered at Lincoln's Inn, and was afterwards called to the bar.
It was not long, however, before he deserted the law for the more alluring pursuit of literary fame; the drama was his favourite branch; and, in 1760, he attracted the attention of the public by his Polly Honeycombe; which was received with such applause, that, from this period. he became a most assiduous and successful writer for the stage. The Jealous Wife, represented in 1761, and The Clandestine Marriage in 1766, fixed his reputation, as a dramatic author, on the firmest foundation; indeed, in humour, character, and plot, he has not been excelled in modern days. In 1777, he published, in four volumes, crown 8vo. the best of his dramatic works; the first volume containing The Jealous Wife, and The Clandestine Marriage; the second The English Merchant, a Comedy; The Man of Business, a Comedy; and Man and Wife, or the Shakspeare Jubilee, a Comedy; the third Philaster, a Tragedy, altered from Beaumont and Fletcher, King Lear from Shakspeare, and Epicene, or the Silent Woman, from Ben Jonson; and the fourth, Polly Honeycombe, The Musical Lady, The Deuce is in Him, and The Oxonian in Town, Farces; The Portrait, a Burletta; The Fairy Prince, a Masque; an Occasional Prelude; The Spleen, or Islington Spa, an After-piece; and New Brooms, a Prelude.
This fertility in dramatic composition neither originated from narrow circumstances, nor did it preclude his attention to classical studies. On the death of Lord Bath, in 1764, he entered on the enjoyment of a handsome annuity, which, in 1767, the decease of General Pulteney considerably increased; and in 1768, he held a share in the property of Covent-garden theatre. The year 1765 produced his Translation of the Comedies of Terence into familiar blank verse, 4to. a work of acknowledged excellence, and which acquired him much credit as a scholar and a critic.
Having had some differences with his brother proprietors of Covent-garden Theatre, he gave up his portion of the concern, and soon after purchased the Haymarket Theatre of Foote. Thus unshackled, he gave every encouragement to genius by a liberal patronage both of poets and actors, contributing himself very frequently, by original and altered pieces, to the amusement of the town.
To his celebrity as a classical scholar, he added greatly in 1783 by a poetical version of Horace's Art of Poetry, with a Commentary and Critical Notes. His scheme of the scope and origin of the poem, which he brings forward in opposition to the system of Dr. Hurd, is conducted with such skill and appearance of truth, as to have drawn from the Bishop of Worcester the confession that he thought Mr. Colman was right. The translation, both with regard to style and fidelity, is superior to any hitherto published.
In 1787 Mr. Colman collected his miscellaneous productions into three volumes, crown octavo, under the title of Prose on several occasions; accompanied with some Pieces in Verse. This is an interesting work, which, besides his Version of Horace and various poems, prefaces, &c. contains also several periodical papers, occasionally published in the St. James's Chronicle and other newspapers, and which we shall have an opportunity of noticing hereafter.
Mr. Colman died in August 1794, aged sixty-one, having, for the last four years of his life been greatly debilitated, both in body and mind, from the consequences of a paralytic stroke. He was succeeded in the management of the theatre by his son.