1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Colman the Younger

John Taylor Esq., in Records of my Life (1832) 2:380-82.



GEORGE COLMAN the Younger. It is no slight gratification to me that I am able to number this gentleman among my living friends. I have had the pleasure of an uninterrupted intercourse with him for upwards of thirty years. I hardly think that I should show an excess of partiality if I were to consider him as one of the very first dramatic writers of modern times, nor would it appear to me to be rash were I to rank him even with my old friend Sheridan. The characters which the latter has introduced, are, in a great degree, traditional; some of them may be found in Ben Jonson, in Beaumont and Fletcher, in Wycherley, Congreve, and Vanbrugh; but the characters which the junior Colman has represented, are drawn from real life, and diversified with great fertility and admirable humour. His "Heir at Law," "Poor Gentleman," and "John Bull," are excellent comedies. The characters are various , well contrasted, and uniformly discriminated and supported. His "Battle of Hexham," and his "Surrender of Calais," are written in the style and spirit of our ancient dramatic writers, whose works contain a sterling weight of matter of much higher value than what is fashioned for the present day. "The Mountaineers," besides an interesting fable, has a variety of characters, and abounds with passages of great poetical energy: and the same may be said of "The Iron Chest," founded on the interesting and impressive novel of my old friend Godwin.

Here I cannot but pause with regret that the unfavourable reception of this play, on its first representation, should have separated two friends, the author and the late Mr. Kemble, from each other, and induce the former to write his hostile preface. I was present at the first representation of this play, and really think that Kemble exerted himself to the utmost of his power to support it. The fact is, that Kemble was ill at the time, yet that very circumstance gave an increased interest to the character, for Sir Edward is supposed to be sunk into sickness and wasting in languor, and happily suited with the dejection and alarm in which the hero of the piece is supposed to be involved.

Not knowing that Kemble was really indisposed, I attributed his acting to his perfect conception of the nature and situation of the character, and thought his support of it was throughout admirable, and that I had never seen him to more advantage. The play, at first, was certainly too long, and Dodd, though an excellent actor, had too long a part, and rendered it tedious by what my old friend, the late Lord Guildford, would style his "twaddling" manner. But the author revised, corrected, and improved his piece, which has now a right to be stationary with the English stage, and affords good scope for theatrical adventurers. Happily the two friends were again reconciled. Kemble made allowance for the genus "irritabile vatum," and the author properly withdrew and suppressed his vindictive philippic.

I need not mention the humorous poems, farces, &c. &c. which my friend Colman has written, nor his diverting "Random Records," as they must be in the hands of all persons who pretend to taste; but shall conclude with a whimsical compliment that he paid to me in one of his letters, which is now before me.

IMPROMPTU.
Nine Tailors (as the proverb goes)
Make but one man, — though many clothes;
But thou art not, we know, like those,
My Taylor!

No — thou canst make, on Candour's plan,
Two of thyself — (how few that can
The critic and the gentleman,
My Taylor!