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

This gentleman was bred a lawyer, and was a member of the society at New Inn.  His genius led him to make several attempts in dramatic poetry, in which he had various success; but even when he met with the greatest encouragement, he was very sensible of his error, in quitting the profitable practice of the law, to pursue the entertainments of the stage, but he was fired with a thirst of fame which reconciled to his mind the many uneasy sensations, to which the precarious success of his plays, and the indigence of his profession naturally exposed him:  Mr. Banks no doubt has gained one part of his design by commencing poet, namely, that of being remembered after death, which Pope somewhere calls the poor estate of wits:  For this gentleman has here a place amongst the poets, while nine tenths of the lawyers of his time, now sleep with their fathers secure in oblivion, and of whom we can only say, they lived, and died.

Mr. Banks’s genius was wholly turned for tragedy; his language is certainly unpoetical, and his numbers unharmonious; but he seems not to have been ignorant of the dramatic art:  For in all his plays he has very forcibly rouzed the passions, kept the scene busy, and never suffered his characters to languish.

In the year 1684 Mr. Banks offered a tragedy to the stage called the Island Queens, or the Death of Mary Queen of Scots, which, it seems, was rejected, whether from its want of merit, or motives of a political kind, we cannot now determine, but Mr. Banks thought proper then to publish it.  In the year 1706, he obtained the favour of Queen Anne to command it to be acted at the Theatre-Royal, which was done with success, for it is really a very moving tragedy.  It has been often revived, and performed at the Theatres, with no inconsiderable applause.

His dramatic works are,

1.  The Rival Kings, or the Loves of Oroondates and Statira, a Tragedy, acted at the Theatre-Royal 1677.  This play is dedicated to the Lady Catherine Herbert, and is chiefly formed on the Romance of Cassandra.

2.  The Destruction of Troy, a Tragedy, acted 1679.  This play met with but indifferent success.

3.  Virtue Betrayed, or Anna Bullen, a Tragedy, acted 1682.  This play has been often acted with applause.

4.  The Earl of Essex, or the Unhappy Favourite, acted 1682, with the most general applause.  Mr. Dryden wrote the Prologue, and Epilogue.  It will be naturally expected, that, having mentioned the earl of Essex by Banks, we should say something of a Tragedy which has appeared this year on the Theatre at Covent-Garden, of the same name.  We cannot but acknowledge, that Mr. Jones has improved the story, and heightened the incident in the last act, which renders the whole more moving; after the scene of parting between Essex, and Southampton, which is very affecting, Rutland’s distress upon the melancholy occasion of parting from her husband, is melting to the last degree.  It is in this scene Mr. Barry excells all his cotemporaries in tragedy; he there shews his power over our passions, and bids the heart bleed, in every accent of anguish.  After Essex is carried out to execution, Mr. Jones introduces the queen at the tower, which has a very happy effect, and her manner of behaving on that occasion, makes her appear more amiable than ever she did in any play on the same subject.  Mr. Jones in his language (in this piece) does not affect being very poetical; nor is his verification always mellifluent, as in his other writings; but it is well adapted for speaking:  The design is well conducted, the story rises regularly, the business is not suspended, and the characters are well sustained.

5.  The Island Queens, a Tragedy, of which we have already given some account; the name of it was afterwards changed to the Albion Queens.

6.  The Innocent Usurper, or the Death of Lady Jane Gray, a Tragedy, printed 1694.  It was prohibited the stage, on account of some groundless insinuations, that it reflected upon the government.  This play, in Banks’s own opinion, is inferior to none of his former.  Mr. Rowe has written likewise a Tragedy on this subject, which is a stock play at both houses; it is as much superior to that of our author, as the genius of the former was greater than that of the latter.

7.  Cyrus the Great, a Tragedy.  This play was at first rejected, but it afterwards got upon the stage, and was acted with great success; the plot is taken from Scudery’s Romance of the Grand Cyrus.

We cannot ascertain the year in which Banks died.  He seems to have been a man of parts; his characteristic fault as a writer, was aiming at the sublime, which seldom failed to degenerate into the bombast; fire he had, but no judgment to manage it; he was negligent of his poetry, neither has he sufficiently marked, and distinguished his characters; he was generally happy in the choice of his fables, and he has found a way of drawing tears, which many a superior poet has tried in vain.