1863 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas D'Urfey

George Daniel, "Tom D'Urfey" Love's Last Labour not Lost (1863) 142-46.



What martyr to hypochondriasis has not consulted Thomas ("vulgo Tom!") D'Urfey? whose "Pills to purge Melancholy" relaxed the rigid, frigid muscles of saturnine King William, and cast out the Blue Devils from her querulous Majesty Queen Anne. Who has not enjoyed the Saxon humour of Tory Tom, on whose shoulder the merry monarch leaned familiarly, humming an opera tune? Of whom it was said that many an ambitious parvenu got credit for pretending to have been in his company, and of whom it was sung (in reference to his intimacy with the Duke of Albemarle, son of General Monk, and his own poverty-stricken fortune) that—

He prates like a parrot;
He sups with a Duke,
And he lies in a garret.

His ready wit, lyrical talents, musical voice, high animal spirits, and festive turn, made Tom D'Urfey capital company. At Knowle, the princely seat of the Duke of Dorset, he was a welcome guest, and his peri-wigged portrait smiles cordially upon us in its famous picture gallery. A rare print, entitled, "A Sketch of a Topeing Meeting between a Parson, a Burgher-master's Steward, and a Poet," represents the Poet (Tom) doing the honours of a convivial party in a snuggery at Knowle; and another print, still rarer, exhibits him as Randolph Ruby-face, A.M., Chaplain in ordinary to the Bacchanalian Society of Wine-Bibbers, with "tub ecclesiastic," cushion, bottle, glass, and book before him, holding forth on the virtues of wine. It is to be regretted that this votary of Apollo and the jolly god, who wrote "more odes than Horace, and about twice as many comedies as Terence," should, in his old age, have become poor. But for the interposition of the ever kind and accomplished Addison, this veteran singing-bird might have literally died in a cage. Against the wall on the south-west angle of St. James's Church, Piccadilly, may be seen a stone bearing this curt inscription, — "Tom D'Urfey, died Feb. 26, 1723."

This brief notice of so celebrated a wit is to introduce a piece not printed in his works. Its title is "The English Stage Italianised, &c. Written by Thomas Durfey, Poet Laureat de Jure."

This literary curiosity is a free, facetious satire on the popular rage for Italian sing-song, that the "Beggar's Opera" "scotched," but did not kill. It points out, in a ludicrous vein, the necessity of banishing those "formal fellows," Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Otway, and Congreve; and of turning adrift the abettors and interpreters of their dulness, Wilks, Booth, Colley Cibber, and Oldfield; and of filling up their places with fashionable fiddling, singing, and dancing Signors and Signoras! who, by the "hurly-burly of coaches, the conflagration of torches, the circle of belles, the crowd of beaus, and the ample subscription," prove that the town is entirely their very humble servant!

Now for the argument. Aeneas, the itinerant Prince of Troy, and his father Anchises, are feasted at the Court of Carthage by Queen Dido. To enliven the banquet, Aeneas relates his adventures to Her Majesty; during which, Harlequin purloins some tidbits from the Prince's plate, and for this petty theft is sentenced to be hanged. The Prince, however, procures his pardon. The good looks of Aeneas having "transfixed the soul" of Queen Dido, she falls into love fits, and makes Columbine her confidante.

Aeneas, instead of returning the tender passion of the Queen, proposes to Columbine. Harlequin respectfully informs his Highness that the fair figurante is pre-engaged; whereupon the Prince insinuates into his hand a purse of gold, and then does Harlequin promise, "upon his honour," (!) to pimp for him.

The slighted Dido, dagger in hand, resolves to cry quittance with Columbine. A Cabinet Council is held, Harlequin sitting as Prime Minister, "the Doctor" as War Secretary, and Scaramouch officiating as clerk. It is determined to pursue the fugitive lovers, who have eloped to the seacoast. Harlequin (sub rosa) informs them of their danger; pockets, for the information, another purse; sees them on shipboard, and wishes them bon voyage!

The Queen, on horseback, harangues her brave troops. Harlequin, as Generalissimo, makes a loyal reply, Pantaloon promises to conquer, or perish, and "the Doctor" engages to furnish from the Privy purse the sinews of war. The Generalissimo, "the Doctor," and Pantaloon (the latter had threatened to peach if not permitted to share in the plunder!) cheat the soldiers out of every penny of their pay.

A scout announces the sudden approach of an enemy. The Carthaginian heroes take to their heels, and panic-stricken Pantaloon takes to his!

A second scout informs Her Majesty that the invading fleet is wind-bound, and that the alarm was a false one. Whereupon she "rides about the camp like a fury," and makes Harlequin Lord High Admiral.

Dido, dressed as a shepherdess, runs stark mad, and her maids of honour run stark mad too, "bleating like young lambkins!" Her next frolic is to make Harlequin her hobby-horse. "The Doctor" is now consulted; he prescribes; and the Queen is sane again; but, alas only to hear the sad news that Harlequin, who had nourished a secret passion for his Sovereign, has, in a fit of despondency, suspended himself from the back-stairs' banister! Her Majesty commands that his body shall be brought into the Presence Chamber; which done, she cries over it so pitifully, that "the Doctor," compassionating her distress, by a pharmaceutical process not necessary to be named, brings him to life again; and the Queen, to crown the catastrophe and to spite the false Prince, gives Harlequin her hand, and proclaims him, to the sound of martial music, King of Carthage.