Read JOHN CROWNE of The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) Vol. III, free online book, by Theophilus Cibber, on

Was the son of an independent minister, in that part of North America, which is called Nova Scotia.  The vivacity of his genius made him soon grow impatient of the gloomy education he received in that country; which he therefore quitted in order to seek his fortune in England; but it was his fate, upon his first arrival here, to engage in an employment more formal, if possible, than his American education.  Mr. Dennis, in his Letters, vol. i. , has given us the best account of this poet, and upon his authority the above, and the succeeding circumstances are related.  His necessity, when he first arrived in England, was extremely urgent, and he was obliged to become a gentleman usher to an old independent lady; but he soon grew as weary of that precise office, as he had done before of the discipline of Nova Scotia.  One would imagine that an education, such as this, would be but an indifferent preparative for a man to become a polite author, but such is the irresistable force of genius, that neither this, nor his poverty, which was very deplorable, could suppress his ambition:  aspiring to reputation, and distinction, rather than to fortune and power.  His writings soon made him known to the court and town, yet it was neither to the savour of the court, nor to that of the earl of Rochester, that he was indebted to the nomination the king made of him, for the writing the Masque of Calypso, but to the malice of that noble lord, who designed by that preference to mortify Mr. Dryden.

Upon the breaking out of the two parties, after the pretended discovery of the Popish plot, the favour he was in at court, and the gaiety of his temper, which inclined him to join with the fashion, engaged him to embrace the Tory party.  About that time he wrote the City Politicks, in order to satirize and expose the Whigs:  a comedy not without wit and spirit, and which has obtained the approbation of those of contrary principles, which is the highest evidence of merit; but after it was ready for the stage, he met with great embarrassments in getting it acted.  Bennet lord Arlington (who was then lord chamberlain, was secretly in the cause of the Whigs, who were at that time potent in Parliament, in order to support himself against the power of lord treasurer Danby, who was his declared enemy) used all his authority to suppress it.  One while it was prohibited on account of its being dangerous; another while it was laid aside upon pretence of its being flat and insipid; till Mr. Crowne, at last, was forced to have recourse to the King himself, and engage him to lay his absolute commands on the lord chamberlain to have it no longer delayed.  This command he was pleased to give in his own person, for Charles ii. loved comedy above all other amusements, except one which was both more expensive, and less innocent, and besides, had a very high opinion of Mr. Crowne’s abilities.  While he was thus in favour with the King and court, Mr. Dennis declares, he has more than once heard him say, that though he had a sincere affection for the King, he had yet a mortal hatred to the court.  The promise of a sum of money made him sometimes appear there, to sollicit the payment of it, but as soon as he received the sum, he vanished, and for a long time never approached it.

It was at the latter end of King Charles’s reign, that Mr. Crowne, tired with the fatigue of writing, shocked with the uncertainty of theatrical success, and desirous to shelter himself from the resentment of those numerous enemies he had made, by his City Politics, immediately addressed the King himself, and desired his Majesty to establish him in some office, that might be a security to him for life:  the King answered, he should be provided for; but added, that he would first see another comedy.  Mr. Crowne endeavouring to excuse himself, by telling the King he plotted slowly and awkwardly, his Majesty replied, that he would help him to a plot, and so put in his hand the Spanish Comedy called Non Poder Esser.  Mr. Crowne was obliged immediately to go to work upon it, but after he had written three acts of it, found, to his surprize, that the Spanish play had some time before been translated, and acted and damned, under the title of Tarugo’s Wiles, or the Coffee-House:  yet, supported by the King’s command, he went briskly on, and finished it.

Mr. Crowne, who had once before obliged the commonwealth of taste, with a very agreeable comedy in his City Politics, yet, in Sir Courtly Nice went far beyond it, and very much surpassed himself; for though there is something in the part of Crack, which borders upon farce, the Spanish author alone must answer for that:  for Mr. Crowne could not omit the part of Crack, that is, of Tarugo, and the Spanish farce depending upon it, without a downright affront to the King, who had given him the play for his ground-work.  All that is of English growth in Sir Courtly Nice is admirable; for though it has neither the fine designing of Ben Johnson, nor the masculine satire of Wycherley, nor the grace, delicacy, and courtly air of Etherege, yet is the dialogue lively and spirited, attractively diversified, and adapted to the several characters.  Four of these characters are entirely new, yet general and important, drawn truly, and graphically and artfully opposed to each other, Surly to Sir Courtly, and Hot-head to Testimony:  those extremes of behaviour, the one of which is the grievance, and the other the plague of society and conversation; excessive ceremony on the one side, and on the other rudeness, and brutality are finely exposed in Surly and Sir Courtly:  those divisions and animosities in the two great parties of England, which have so long disturbed the public quiet, and undermined the general interest, are happily represented and ridiculed in Testimony and Hot-head.  Mr. Dennis, speaking of this comedy, says, ’that though he has more than twenty times read it, yet it still grows upon him, and he delivers it as his opinion, that the greatest comic poet, who ever lived in any age, might have been proud to have been the author of it.’

The play was now just ready to appear to the world.  Every one that had seen it rehearsed, was highly pleased with it.  All who had heard of it conceived great expectations, and Mr. Crowne was delighted with the flattering hope of being made happy for the remaining part of his life, by the performance of the King’s promise:  But upon the very last day of the rehearsal, he met Underhill coming from the playhouse, as he himself was going towards it, upon which the poet reprimanding the player for neglecting so considerable a part as he had in the comedy, and on a day of so much consequence, as the very last of the rehearsal.  Oh Lord, says Underhill, we are all undone! how! says Crowne, is the Playhouse on fire? the whole nation, replies the player, will quickly be so, for the King is dead; at the hearing of which dismal words, the author was thrown almost into distraction; for he who the moment before was ravished with the thought of the pleasure he was about to give the King, and the favours which he was afterwards to receive from him, this moment found, to his unspeakable sorrow, that his Royal patron was gone for ever, and with him all his hopes.  The King indeed revived from this apoplectic fit, but three days after died, and Mr. Crowne by his death was replunged into the deepest melancholly.

Thus far Mr. Dennis has traced the life of Crowne; in the same letter he promises a further account of him upon another occasion, which, it seems, never occurred, for we have not been able to find that he has any where else mentioned our author.

The King’s death having put a period to Mr. Crowne’s expectations of court-favour (for the reign of his successor was too much hurried with party designs, to admit of any leisure to reward poetical merit, though the Prince himself, with all his errors about him, was a man of taste, and had a very quick discernment of the power of genius) he, no doubt, had recourse to writing plays again for bread, and supporting himself the best way he could by his wits, the most unpleasing, and precarious manner of life, to which any man can be exposed.  We cannot be absolutely certain when Mr. Crowne died; Mr. Coxeter in his notes says, he was alive in the year 1703, and as he must then have been much advanced in years, in all probability he did not long survive it.  He is the author of 17 Plays.

1.  Juliana, or the Princess of Poland, a Tragi-Comedy; acted at the duke of York’s theatre 1671, dedicated to the earl of Orrery.

2.  Andromache, a Tragedy; acted at the duke’s theatre in Covent Garden, 1675.  This play was only a translation of M. Racine, by a young gentleman, chiefly in prose, and published by Mr. Crown.  It was brought upon the stage, but without success.

3.  Calisto, or the Chaste Nymph, a masque, 1675; written by command of the queen, and oftentimes performed at court by persons of quality.  It is founded on a story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, li.

4.  The Country Wit, a Comedy; acted at the duke’s theatre 1675.  This play contains a good deal of low humour; and was approved by king Charles the IId.

5.  The Destruction of Jerusalem, by Titus Vespasian, in two parts, acted 1677; addressed to the duchess of Portsmouth.  These Tragedies met with extravagant applause, which excited the envy of lord Rochester so much, that on this account he commenced an enemy to the bard he before had so much befriended.

6.  The Ambitious Statesman, or the Royal Favourite, a Tragedy; acted at the theatre-royal 1679.  This play had but indifferent success, though esteemed by the author one of the best he ever wrote.

7.  Charles the VIIIth King of France, or the Invasion of Naples by the French; this play is written in heroic verse.

8.  Henry the VIth, the first part, with the murther of Humphrey duke of Gloucester; acted 1681, dedicated to Sir Charles Sedley.  This play was at first acted with applause; but at length, the Romish faction opposed it, and by their interest at court got it suppressed.  Part of this play was borrowed from Shakespear’s Henry the VIth.

9.  Henry the VIth, the second part; or the Miseries of Civil War; a Tragedy, acted 1680.

10.  Thyestes, a Tragedy; acted at the theatre-royal 1681.  The plot from Seneca’s Thyestes.

11.  City Politics, a Comedy, 1683; of this already we have given some account.

12.  Sir Courtly Nice, or It Cannot be; dedicated to the duke of Ormond, of which we have given an account in the author’s life.

13.  Darius King of Persia, a Tragedy; acted in 1688.  For the plot, see Quint.  Curt. li, 4, and 5.

14.  The English Fryar, or the Town Sparks, a Comedy; printed in quarto 1690, dedicated to William earl of Devonshire.  This play had not the success of the other pieces of the same author.

15.  Regulus, a Tragedy; acted at the theatre-royal 1694.  The design of this play is noble; the example of Regulus being the most celebrated for honour, and constancy of any of the Romans.  There is a play of this name, written by Mr. Havard, a comedian now belonging to the theatre-royal in Drury-lane.

16.  The Married Beaux, or the Curious Impertinent, a Comedy; acted at the theatre-royal, 1694, dedicated to the marquis of Normanby.  To this play the author has prefixed a preface in vindication of himself, from the aspersions cast on him by some persons, as to his morals.  The story is taken from Don Quixot.

17.  Caligula, Emperor of Rome, a Tragedy; acted at the theatre-royal, 1698.

Our author’s other works are, Pandion and Amphigenia, or the coy Lady of Thessalia; adorned with sculptures, printed in octavo, 1665.

Daeneids, or the noble Labours of the great Dean of Notre-Dame in Paris, for the erecting in his choir, a Throne for his Glory; and the eclipsing the pride of an imperious usurping Chanter, an heroic poem, in four Canto’s; printed in quarto 1692.  It is a burlesque Poem, and is chiefly taken from Boileau’s Lutrin.

We shall shew Mr. Crown’s versification, by quoting a speech which he puts into the mouth of an Angel, in the Destruction of Jerusalem.  The Angel is represented as descending over the altar prophesying the fall of that august city.

  Stay, stay, your flight, fond men, Heaven does despise
  All your vain incense, prayers, and sacrifice. 
  Now is arriv’d Jerusalem’s fatal hour,
  When she and sacrifice must be no more: 
  Long against Heav’n had’st thou, rebellious town,
  Thy public trumpets of defiance blown;
  Didst open wars against thy Lord maintain,
  And all his messengers of peace have slain: 
  And now the hour of his revenge is come,
  Thy weeks are finish’d, and thy slumb’ring doom,
  Which long has laid in the divine decree,
  Is now arous’d from his dull lethargy;
  His army’s rais’d, and his commission seal’d,
  His order’s given, and cannot be repeal’d: 
  And now thy people, temple, altars all
  Must in one total dissolution fall. 
  Heav’n will in sad procession walk the round,
  And level all thy buildings with the ground. 
  And from the soil enrich’d with human blood,
  Shall grass spring up, where palaces have stood,
  Where beasts shall seed; and a revenge obtain
  For all the thousands at thy altars slain. 
  And this once blessed house, where Angels came
  To bathe their airy wings in holy flame,
  Like a swift vision or a flash of light,
  All wrapt in fire shall vanish in thy sight;
  And thrown aside amongst the common store,
  Sink down in time’s abyss, and rise no more.