1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Colman

William Clarke and Robert Shelton Mackenzie, in The Georgian Era: Memoirs of the most eminent Persons who have flourished in Great Britain (1832-34) 3:362-63.



GEORGE COLMAN, the son of Thomas Colman, Esq., British resident at the court of the grand duke, was horn at Florence, about the year 1733, and educated at Westminster School, and Christchurch College, Oxford, where he graduated M.A. in 1758. He had previously given a proof of his extraordinary talents, by publishing, during his residence at the university, in conjunction with his school-fellow, Bonnel Thornton, a periodical, called The Connoisseur, which began in January, 1754, and was concluded in September, 1756. On coming to London, he was recommended by his friends to fix upon the law for his profession, and he was received with marked attention by Lord Bath, whose wife was the sister of Mr. Colman's mother. Having entered himself of Lincoln's Inn, he was in due time called to the bar, but soon verified the prediction of Wycherley, that "Apollo and Lyttleton seldom meet in the same brain," by abandoning Westminster Hall for the court of the Muses.

His earliest poetical productions were A Copy of Verses addressed to his Cousin, Lord Pulteney; followed by Odes to Oblivion and Obscurity, inserted in The St. James's Magazine; and, in 1760, his first dramatic piece, Polly Honeycomb, was acted at Drury Lane. In the succeeding year he produced The Jealous Wife; and, about the same time, becoming a proprietor of The St. James's Chronicle, he exerted his prosaic talents in a series of Essays and humorous Sketches; a selection from which was inserted among his prose works, published by himself, in 1787. In 1764, the death of Lord Bath left him in possession of a handsome annuity, which received an increase on the decease of General Pulteney, in 1767. In the previous year he had produced, in conjunction with Garrick, The Clandestine Marriage, and he had also acquired considerable reputation for classical scholarship, by a translation of all the plays of Terence into a sort of English Iambic verse. In 1768, he purchased a share in the property and management of Covent Garden Theatre; but, evincing a disposition to domineer over his partners, Messrs. Powell, Harris, and Rutherford, he, after a severe contest, which was made public, sold his share, and purchased, of Foote, the Haymarket Theatre. This he managed with great spirit and judgment, and brought forward several new performers and pieces of merit, especially in comedy. In 1783, he published a translation of Horace's Art of Poetry, with a commentary prefixed, in which he supported, with much learning, ingenuity, and modesty, an hypothesis, that Horace had written that poem simply with a view of dissuading one of the sons of Piso, who had either written or meditated a poetical work, from giving it to the public. The production added greatly to his reputation as a classic scholar, and the Bishop of Worcester, in speaking of it to Dr. Douglas, the Bishop of Salisbury, said, "Give my compliments to Mr. Colman, and thank him for the handsome manner in which he has treated me, and tell him that I think he is right." In 1790, he was attacked by a paralytic stroke, and shortly afterwards, giving signs of mental derangement, the management of the theatre was vested in his son; and our author was removed to a lunatic asylum at Paddington, where he died, on the 14th of August, 1794. After his death, a pamphlet appeared, entitled Some Particulars of the Life of George Colman, Esq., written by himself, and delivered to his executor, for publication after his decease; in which he refutes a report of his having been the son of the Earl of Bath, and of having lost the favour of that nobleman through his play-house connexion. It appears, however, that General Pulteney had so far departed from the intentions of his predecessor towards Mr. Colman, as to leave him an annuity of 400, instead of the Newport estate, worth several thousands per annum, which the former Lord Bath had, in several wills, actually bequeathed to the subject of our memoir.

Mr. Colman had the reputation of being a witty, pleasant, and ingenious man; agreeable in his manners, and a most facetious and entertaining companion. Both as a scholar and a dramatist he stands high among the writers of his time: it is in the latter character, however, that he will be chiefly remembered, particularly by his share in the Clandestine Marriage, a production which, in point of natural humorous portraiture, is exceeded by no comedy of modern times.