1823 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Colman the Younger

Anonymous, "George Colman the Younger" La Belle Assemblee NS 28 (December 1823) 261-62.



Colman has, perhaps, seldom been justly appreciated; for the grossness which pervades many of his poetical pieces has thrown a shade over their beauties, as the existence of an eruptive volcano lessens the value of the vineyards in its neighbourhood. That Colman is the best dramatist of the present day cannot be disputed; nor can we convince ourselves that, since Congreve, his equal has appeared. Sheridan, whose fame rests upon two plays, was a wit; Colman is a humorist; and each of them has thrown his characteristic into his productions. In the School for Scandal, all the characters speak one language; they are all epigrammatic; and their speeches are all piquant and antithetical. This may be very delightful, for the brilliant ebullitions of fancy always excite pleasure; but it is very unnatural. Oppose to this the system of Colman. That writer, from the sterility of a dogged, obstinate old menial, extracts the richest traits of humour; and, where mere physical mirth is desired, Humphrey Dobbins alone might be backed against the entire play of the School for Scandal; for, be it remembered, the screen scene of that piece produces mirth upon the stage only from the pantomimic exertions of the actors: in the closet it occasions many mixed emotions, in which laughter has no share.

The essentials of a great dramatist consist not only in a knowledge, but in a close adherence to and delineation of human nature. Sheridan knew the world: Colman depicts it. Sheridan threw the veil of elegance over his pictures: Colman sends forth the canvass fresh from his hands — rough, perhaps, but natural. Sheridan produced three characters new to the stage: Sir Lucius O'Trigger, Joseph Surface, and Falkland. In each of these he pourtrayed a something foreign to what other dramatists had delineated. Let us turn to Colman's original characters. Where can one find an Ollapod, a Panglos, a Dobbins, a Job Thornberry, a Dennis, or a Yarico? And yet the heart instantly recognizes them as beings in which the world itself abounds.