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

Was descended of a Family of no mean rank in the North of Ireland; we have been informed that his father was dean of Armagh, but we have not met with a proper confirmation of this circumstance; but it is on all hands agreed, that he was the son of a clergyman, and born at London-Derry in that kingdom, in the year 1678, as appears from Sir James Ware’s account of him.  There he received the rudiments of education, and discovered a genius early devoted to the Muses; Before he was ten years of age he gave specimens of his poetry, in which, force of thinking, and elegance of turn and expression are manifest; and if the author, who has wrote Memoirs of his life, may be credited, the following stanza’s were written by him at that age,

  The pliant soul of erring youth,
    Is like soft wax, or moisten’d clay;
  Apt to receive all heavenly truth
    Or yield to tyrant ill the sway.

  Slight folly in your early years,
    At manhood may to virtue rise;
  But he who in his youth appears
    A fool, in age will ne’er be wise.

His parents, it is said, had a numerous family, so could bestow no fortune upon him, further than a genteel education.  When he was qualified for the university, he was, in 1694, sent to Trinity College in Dublin:  here, by the progress he made in his studies, he acquired a considerable reputation, but it does not appear, that he there took his degree of bachelor of arts; for his disposition being volatile and giddy, he soon grew weary of a dull collegiate life; and his own opinion of it, in that sense, he afterwards freely enough displayed in several parts of his comedies, and other writings.  Besides, the expence of it, without any immediate prospect of returns, might be inconsistent with his circumstances.  The polite entertainments of the town more forcibly attracted his attention, especially the diversions of the Theatre, for which, he discovered a violent propension.  When Mr. Ashbury, who then was manager of Dublin Theatre, had recruited his company with the celebrated Mr. Wilks (who had for some seasons engaged with Mr. Christopher Rich at Drury-Lane, from whom his encouragement was not equal to his merit) Farquhar having acquaintance with him, Mr. Wilks, was soon introduced upon the stage by his means, where he did not long continue, nor make any considerable figure.  His person was sufficiently advantageous, he had a ready memory, proper gesture, and just elocution, but then he was unhappy in his voice, which had not power enough to rouse the galleries, or to rant with any success; besides, he was defective in point of assurance, nor could ever enough overcome his natural timidity.  His more excellent talents however might, perhaps, have continued the player at Dublin, and lost the poet at London; but for an accident, which was likely to turn a feigned tragedy into a real one:  The story is this.

Mr. Farquhar was extremely beloved in Ireland; having the advantage of a good person, though his voice was weak; he never met with the least repulse from the audience in any of his performances:  He therefore resolved to continue on the stage till something better should offer, but his resolution was soon broke by an accident.  Being to play the part of Guyomar in Dryden’s Indian Emperor, who kills Vasquez, one of the Spanish generals; and forgetting to exchange his sword for a foil, in the engagement he wounded his brother tragedian, who acted Vasquez, very dangerously; and though it proved not mortal, yet it so shocked the natural tenderness of Mr. Farquhar’s temper, that it put a period to his acting ever after.

Soon after this, Mr. Wilks received from Mr. Rich a proposal of four pounds a week, if he would return to London (such was the extent of the salaries of the best players in that time, which, in our days, is not equal to that of a second rate performer) which he thought proper to accept of; and Mr. Farquhar, who now had no inducement to remain at Dublin, accompanied Mr. Wilks to London, in the year 1696.  Mr. Wilks, who was well acquainted with the humour and abilities of our author, ceased not his solicitation ’till he prevailed upon him to write a play, assuring him, that he was considered by all who knew him in a much brighter light than he had as yet shewn himself, and that he was fitter to exhibit entertaining compositions for the stage, than to echo those of other poets upon it.

But he received still higher encouragement by the patronage of the earl of Orrery, who was a discerner of merit, and saw, that as yet, Mr. Farquhar’s went unrewarded.  His lordship conferred a lieutenant’s commission upon him in his own regiment then in Ireland, which he held several years and, as an officer, he behaved himself without reproach, and gave several instances both of courage and conduct:  Whether he received his commission before or after he obliged the town with his first comedy, we cannot be certain.

In the year 1698, his first Comedy called Love and a Bottle appeared on the stage, and for its sprightly dialogue, and busy scenes was well received by the audience, though Wilks had no part in it.  In 1699 the celebrated Mrs. Anne Oldfield was, partly upon his judgment, and recommendation, admitted on the Theatre.

Now we have mentioned Mrs. Oldfield, we shall present the reader with the following anecdote concerning that celebrated actress, which discovers the true manner of her coming on the stage; the account we have from a person who belonged to Mr. Rich, in a letter he wrote to the editor of Mrs. Oldfield’s Life, in which it is printed in these words;


In your Memoirs of Mrs. Oldfield, it may not be amiss to insert the following facts, on the truth of which you may depend.  Her father, captain Oldfield, not only run out all the military, but the paternal bounds of his fortune, having a pretty estate in houses in Pall-mall.  It was wholly owing to captain Farquhar, that Mrs. Oldfield became an actress, from the following incident; dining one day at her aunt’s, who kept the Mitre Tavern in St. James’s Market, he heard miss Nanny reading a play behind the bar, with so proper an emphasis, and so agreeable turns suitable to each character, that he swore the girl was cut out for the stage, for which she had before always expressed an inclination, being very desirous to try her fortune that way.  Her mother, the next time she saw captain Vanburgh, who had a great respect for the family, told him what was captain Farquhar’s opinion; upon which he desired to know whether in the plays she read, her fancy was most pleased with tragedy or comedy; miss being called in, said comedy, she having at that time gone through all Beaumont and Fletcher’s comedies, and the play she was reading when captain Farquhar dined there, was the Scornful Lady.  Captain Vanburgh, shortly after, recommended her to Mr. Christopher Rich, who took her into the house at the allowance of fifteen shillings a week.  However, her agreeable figure, and sweetness of voice, soon gave her the preference, in the opinion of the whole town, to all our young actresses, and his grace the late duke of Bedford, being pleased to speak, to Mr. Rich in her favour, he instantly raised her allowance to twenty shillings a week; her fame and salary at last rose to her just merit,

  Your humble servant,

  No, 1730.

  Charles TAYLOUR.’

In the beginning of the year 1700, Farquhar brought his Constant Couple, or Trip to the Jubilee, upon the stage, it being then the jubilee year at Rome; but our author drew so gay, and airy a figure in Sir Harry Wildair, so suited to Mr. Wilks’s talents, and so animated by his gesture, and vivacity of spirit, that it is not determined whether the poet or the player received most reputation by it.  Towards the latter end of this year we meet with Mr. Farquhar in Holland, probably upon his military duty, from whence he has given a description in two of his letters dated that year from Brill, and from Leyden, no less true than humorous, as well of those places as the people; and in a third, dated from the Hague he very facetiously relates how merry he was there, at a treat made by the earl of Westmoreland, while, not only himself, but king William, and other of his subjects were detained there by a violent storm, which he has no less humorously described, and has, among his poems, written also an ingenious copy of verses to his mistress on the same subject.  Whether this mistress was the same person he calls his charming Penelope, in several of his love letters addressed to her, we know not, but we have been informed by an old officer in the army, who well knew Mr. Farquhar, that by that name we are to understand Mrs. Oldfield, and that the person meant by Mrs. V in one of them, said to be her bedfellow, was Mrs. Verbruggen the actress, the same who was some years before Mrs. Mountfort, whom Mrs. Oldfield succeeded, (when Mrs. V died some years after in child-bed) with singular commendation, in her principal parts; and from so bright a flame it was no wonder that Farquhar was more than ordinarily heated.  The author of Mrs. Oldfield’s life says, that she has often heard her mention some agreeable hours she spent with captain Farquhar:  As she was a lady of true delicacy, nor meanly prostituted herself to every adorer, it would be highly ungenerous to suppose, that their hours ever passed in criminal freedoms.  And ’tis well known, whatever were her failings, she wronged no man’s wife; nor had an husband to injure.

Mr. Farquhar, encouraged by the success of his last piece, made a continuation of it in 1701, and brought on his Sir Harry Wildair; in which Mrs. Oldfield received as much reputation, and was as greatly admired in her part, as Wilks was in his.

In the next year he published his Miscellanies, or Collection of Poems, Letters, and Essays, already mentioned, and which contain a variety of humorous, and pleasant sallies of fancy:  There is amongst them a copy of verses addressed to his dear Penelope, upon her wearing her Masque the evening before, which was a female fashion in those days, as well at public walks, as among the spectators at the Playhouse.  These verses naturally display his temper and talents, and will afford a very clear idea of them; and therefore we shall here insert them.

’The arguments you made use of last night for keeping on your masque, I endeavoured to defeat with reason, but that proving ineffectual, I’ll try the force of rhyme, and send you the heads of our chat, in a poetical dialogue between You and I.’


  Thus images are veil’d which you adore;
  Your ignorance does raise your zeal the more.


  All image worship for false zeal is held;
  False idols ought indeed to be conceal’d.


  Thus oracles of old were still receiv’d;
  The more ambiguous, still the more believ’d.


  But oracles of old were seldom true,
  The devil was in them, sure he’s not in you.


  Thus mask’d in mysteries does the godhead stand: 
  The more obscure, the greater his command.


  The Godhead’s hidden power would soon be past,
  Did we not hope to see his face at last.


You are my slave already sir, you know, To Shew more charms, would but increase your woe, I scorn an insult to a conquer’d foe.


I am your slave, ’tis true, but still you see, All slaves by nature struggle to be free; But if you would secure the stubborn prize, Add to your wit, the setters of your eyes; Then pleas’d with thraldom, would I kiss my chain And ne’er think more of liberty again.

It is said, some of the letters of which we have been speaking, were published from the copies returned him at his request, by Mrs. Oldfield, and that she delighted to read them many years after they were printed, as she also did the judicious essay at the end of them, which is called a Discourse upon Comedy, in Reference to the English Stage; but what gives a yet more natural and lively representation of our author still, is one among those letters, which he calls the Picture, containing a description and character of himself, which we should not now omit transcribing, if his works were not in every body’s hands.

In 1703 came out another Comedy, entitled the Inconstant, or the Way to Win Him, which had sufficient merit to have procured equal success to the rest; but for the inundation of Italian, French, and other farcical interruptions, which, through the interest of some, and the depraved taste of others, broke in upon the stage like a torrent, and swept down before thorn all taste for competitions of a more intrinsic excellence.  These foreign monsters obtained partisans amongst our own countrymen, in opposition to English humour, genuine wit, and the sublime efforts of genius, and substituted in their room the airy entertainments of dancing and singing, which conveyed no instruction, awakened no generous passion, nor filled the breast with any thing great or manly.  Such was the prevalence of these airy nothings, that our author’s comedy was neglected for them, and the tragedy of Phaedra slid Hippolitus, which for poetry is equal to any in our tongue, (and though Mr. Addison wrote the prologue, and Prior the epilogue) was suffered to languish, while multitudes flocked to hear the warblings of foreign eunuchs, whose highest excellence, as Young expresses it, was,

  ‘Nonsense well tun’d with sweet stupidity.’

Very early in the year 1704, a farce:  called the Stage Coach, in the composition whereof he was jointly concerned with another, made its first appearance in print, and it has always given satisfaction.

Mr. Farquhar had now been about a twelve-month married, and it was at first reported, to a great fortune; which indeed he expected, but was miserably disappointed.  The lady had fallen in love with him, and so violent was her passion, that she resolved to have him at any rate; and as she knew Farquhar was too much dissipated in life to fall in love, or to think of matrimony unless advantage was annexed to it, she fell upon the stratagem of giving herself out for a great fortune, and then took an opportunity of letting our poet know that she was in love with him.  Vanity and interest both uniting to persuade Farquhar to marry, he did not long delay it, and, to his immortal honour let it be spoken, though he found himself deceived, his circumstances embarrassed, and his family growing upon him, he never once upbraided her for the cheat, but behaved to her with, all the delicacy, and tenderness of an indulgent husband.

His next comedy named the Twin-Rivals, was played in 1705.

Our poet was possessed of his commission in the army when the Spanish expedition was made under the conduct of the earl of Peterborough, tho’ it seems he did not keep it long after, and tho’ he was not embarked in that service, or present at the defeat of the French forces, and the conquest of Barcelona; yet from some military friends in that engagement, he received such distinct relations of it in their epistolary correspondency, that he wrote a poem upon the subject, in which he has made the earl his hero.  Two or three years after it was written, the impression of it was dedicated by the author’s widow to the same nobleman, in which are some fulsome strains of panegyric, which perhaps her necessity excited her to use, from a view of enhancing her interest by flattery, which if excusable at all, is certainly so in a woman left destitute with a family, as she was.

In 1706 a comedy called the Recruiting Officer was acted at the theatre-royal.  He dedicates to all friends round the Wrekin, a noted hill near Shrewsbury, where he had been to recruit for his company; and where, from his observations on country-life, the manner that serjeants inveigle clowns to enlist, and the behaviour of the officers towards the milk-maids and country-wenches, whom they seldom fail of debauching, he collected matter sufficient to build a comedy upon, and in which he was successful:  Even now that comedy fails not to bring full houses, especially when the parts of Captain Plume, Captain Brazen, Sylvia, and Serjeant Kite are properly disposed of.

His last play was the Beaux Stratagem, of which he did not live to enjoy the full success.

Of this pleasing author’s untimely end, we can give but a melancholy account.

He was oppressed with some debts which obliged him to make application to a certain noble courtier, who had given him formerly many professions of friendship.  He could not bear the thought that his wife and family would want, and in this perplexity was ready to embrace any expedient for their relief.  His pretended patron persuaded him to convert his commission into the money he wanted, and pledged his honour, that in a very short time he would provide him another.  This circumstance appeared favourable, and the easy bard accordingly sold his commission; but when he renewed his application to the nobleman, and represented his needy situation, the latter had forgot his promise, or rather, perhaps, had never resolved to fulfil it.

This distracting disappointment so preyed upon the mind of Mr. Farquhar, who saw nothing but beggary and want before him, that by a sure, tho’ not sudden declension of nature, it carried him off this worldly theatre, while his last play was acting in the height of success at that of Drury-lane; and tho’ the audience bestowed the loudest applauses upon the performance, yet they could scarce forbear mingling tears with their mirth for the approaching loss of its author, which happened in the latter end of April 1707, before he was thirty years of age.

Thus having attended our entertaining dramatist o’er the contracted stage of his short life, thro’ the various characters he performed in it, of the player, the lover, and the husband, the soldier, the critic, and the poet, to his final catastrophe, it is here time to close the scene.  However, we shall take the liberty to subjoin a short character of his works, and some farther observations on his genius.

It would be injurious to the memory of Wilks not to take notice here, of his generous behaviour towards the two daughters of his deceased friend.  He proposed to his brother managers, (who readily came into it) to give each of them a benefit, to apprentice them to mantua-makers; which is an instance amongst many others that might be produced, of the great worth of that excellent comedian.

The general character which has been given of Mr. Farquhar’s comedies is, ’That the success of the most of them far exceeded the author’s expectations; that he was particularly happy in the choice of his subjects, which he took care to adorn with a variety of characters and incidents; his style is pure and unaffected, his wit natural and flowing, and his plots generally well contrived.  He lashed the vices of the age, tho’ with a merciful hand; for his muse was good-natured, not abounding over-much with gall, tho’ he has been blamed for it by the critics:  It has been objected to him, that he was too hasty in his productions; but by such only who are admirers of stiff and elaborate performances, since with a person of a sprightly fancy, those things are often best, that are struck off in a heat.  It is thought that in all his heroes, he generally sketched out his own character, of a young, gay, rakish spark, blessed with parts and abilities.  His works are loose, tho’ not so grossly libertine, as some other wits of his time, and leave not so pernicious impressions on the imagination as other figures of the like kind more strongly stampt by indelicate and heavier hands.’

He seems to have been a man of a genius rather sprightly than great, rather flow’ry than solid; his comedies are diverting, because his characters are natural, and such as we frequently meet with; but he has used no art in drawing them, nor does there appear any force of thinking in his performances, or any deep penetration into nature; but rather a superficial view, pleasant enough to the eye, though capable of leaving no great impression on the mind.  He drew his observations chiefly from those he conversed with, and has seldom given any additional heightening, or indelible marks to his characters; which was the peculiar excellence of Shakespear, Johnson, and Congreve.

Had he lived to have gained a more general knowledge of life, or had his circumstances not been straitened, and so prevented his mingling with persons of rank, we might have seen his plays embellished with more finished characters, and with a more polished dialogue.

He had certainly a lively imagination, but then it was capable of no great compass; he had wit, but it was of no peculiar a sort, as not to gain ground upon consideration; and it is certainly true, that his comedies in general owe their success full as much to the player, as to any thing intrinsically excellent in themselves.

If he was not a man of the highest genius, he seems to have had excellent moral qualities, of which his behaviour to his wife and tenderness to his children are proofs, and deserved a better fate than to die oppressed with want, and under the calamitous apprehensions of leaving his family destitute:  While Farquhar will ever be remembered with pleasure by people of taste, the name of the courtier who thus inhumanly ruined him, will be for ever dedicated to infamy.