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

Was born in the county of Devon, and was first bred to the law; but we have not heard from what family he was descended, nor in what year he was born.  He has written upwards of thirty plays, with various success, but had a genius better turned to a ballad, and little irregular odes, than for dramatic poetry.  He soon forsook the profession of the law, and threw himself upon the public, by writing for the stage. That D’Urfey was a man of some abilities, and, enjoyed the esteem and friendship of men of the greatest parts in his time, appears from the favourable testimony of the author of the Guardian:  And as the design of this work is to collect, and throw into one view, whatever may be found concerning any poet of eminence in various books, and literary records, we shall make no scruple of transcribing what that ingenious writer has humorously said concerning our author.

In Num.  Vol.  I. speaking of the advantages of laughing, he thus mentions D’Urfey.  ’A judicious author, some years since published a collection of Sonnets, which he very successfully called Laugh and be Fat; or Pills to purge Melancholy:  I cannot sufficiently admire the facetious title of these volumes, and must censure the world of ingratitude, while they are so negligent in rewarding the jocose labours of my friend Mr. D’Urfey, who was so large a contributor to this Treatise, and to whose humorous productions, so many rural squires in the remotest parts of this island are obliged, for the dignity and state which corpulency gives them.  It is my opinion, that the above pills would be extremely proper to be taken with Asses milk, and might contribute towards the renewing and restoring decayed lungs.’

Num.  He thus speaks of his old friend. ’It has been remarked, by curious observers, that poets are generally long lived, and run beyond the usual age of man, if not cut off by some accident, or excess, as Anacreon, in the midst of a very merry old age, was choaked with a grape stone.  The same redundancy of spirits that produces the poetical flame, keeps up the vital warmth, and administers uncommon fuel to life.  I question not but several instances will occur to my reader’s memory, from Homer down to Mr. Dryden; I shall only take notice of two who have excelled in Lyrics, the one an antient, the other a modern.  The first gained an immortal reputation by celebrating several jockeys in the Olympic Games; the last has signalized himself on the same occasion, by the Ode that begins with To horse brave boys, to New-market, to horse.  The reader will by this time know, that the two poets I have mentioned are Pindar, and Mr. D’Urfey.  The former of these is long since laid in his urn, after having many years together endeared himself to all Greece, by his tuneful compositions.  Our countryman is still living, and in a blooming old age, that still promises many musical productions; for if I am not mistaken our British Swan will sing to the last.  The best judges, who have perused his last Song on the moderate Man, do not discover any decay in his parts; but think it deserves a place among the finest of those works, with which he obliged the world in his more early years.

’I am led into this subject, by a visit which I lately received from my good old friend and cotemporary.  As we both flourished together in king Charles the IId’s reign, we diverted ourselves with the remembrance of several particulars that pass’d in the world, before the greatest part of my readers were born; and could not but smile to think how insensibly we were grown into a couple of venerable old gentlemen.  Tom observed to me, that after having written more Odes than Horace, and about four times as many Comedies as Terence; he was reduced to great difficulties, by the importunities of a set of men, who of late years had furnished him with the accommodations of life, and would not, as we say, be paid with a song.  In order to extricate my old friend, I immediately sent for the three directors of the Play-house, and desired they would in their turn, do a good office for a man, who in Shakespear’s phrase, often filled their mouths; I mean with pleasantry and popular conceits.  They very generously listened to my proposal, and agreed to act the Plotting Sisters (a very taking play of my old friends composing) on the 15th of next month, for the benefit of the author.

’My kindness to the agreeable Mr. D’Urfey, will be imperfect, if, after having engaged the players in his favour, I do not get the town to come into it.  I must therefore heartily recommend to all the young ladies my disciples, the case of my old friend, who has often made their grand-mothers merry; and whose Sonnets have perhaps lulled asleep many a present toast, when she lay in her cradle.  The gentleman I am speaking of, has laid obligations on so many of his countrymen, that I hope they will think this but a just return to the good service of a veteran Poet.

’I myself, remember king Charles the IId. leaning on Tom D’Urfey’s shoulder more than once, and humming over a song with him.  It is certain, that monarch was not a little supported, by joy to great Cæsar; which gave the Whigs such a blow, as they were not able to recover that whole reign.  My friend afterwards attacked Popery, with the same success, having exposed Beliarmine, and Portocarero, more than once, in short satirical compositions, which have been in every body’s mouth.  He made use of Italian Tunes and Sonato’s, for promoting the Protestant interest; and turned a considerable part of the Pope’s music against himself.  In short, he has obliged the court with political Sonnets; the country with Dialogues, and Pastorals; the city with Descriptions of a lord Mayor’s Feast; not to mention his little Ode upon Stool-Ball; with many others of the like nature.

’Should the very individuals he has celebrated, make their appearance together, they would be sufficient to fill the play-house.  Pretty Peg of Windsor, Gilian of Croydon; with Dolly and Molly; and Tommy and Johny; with many others to be met with in the musical Miscellanies, would make a great benefit.

’As my friend, after the manner of the old Lyrics, accompanies his works with his own voice; he has been the delight of the most polite companies and conversions, from the beginning of king Charles the IId’s reign, to our own times:  Many an honest gentleman has got a reputation in his country, by pretending to have been in company with Tom D’Urfey.

’I might here mention several other merits in my friend, as his enriching our language with a multitude of rhimes, and bringing words together, that without his good offices, would never have been acquainted with one another, so long as it had been a tongue; but I must not omit that my old friend angled for a trout, the best of any man in England.

’After what I have said, and much more that I might say, on this subject, I question not but the world will think that my old friend ought not to pass the remainder of his life in a cage, like a singing bird; but enjoy all that Pindaric liberty, which is suitable to a man of his genius.  He has made the world merry, and I hope they will make him easy, as long as he stays amongst us.  This I will take upon me to say, they cannot do a kindness, to a more diverting companion, or a more chearful, honest, good-natur’d man.’

The same author, Num. puts his readers in mind when D’Urfey’s benefit came on, of some other circumstances favourable to him.  ’The Plotting Sisters, says he, is this day to be acted for the benefit of the author, my old friend Mr. D’Urfey.  This comedy was honoured with the presence of King Charles ii. three of the first five nights.  My friend has in this work shewn himself a master, and made not only the characters of the play, but also the furniture of the house contribute to the main design.  He has made excellent use of a table with a carpet, and the key of a closet; with these two implements, which would perhaps have been over-looked by an ordinary writer, he contrives the most natural perplexities (allowing only the use of these houshold goods in poetry) that ever were represented on a stage.  He also made good advantage of the knowledge of the stage itself; for in the nick of being surprized, the lovers are let down, and escape at a trap door.  In a word, any who have the curiosity to observe what pleased in the last generation, and does not go to a comedy with a resolution to be grave, will find this evening ample food for mirth.  Johnson, who understands what he does as well as any man, exposes the impertinence of an old fellow who has lost his senses, still pursuing pleasures with great mastery.  The ingenious Mr. Pinkethman is a bashful rake, and is sheepish, without having modesty with great success.  Mr. Bullock succeeds Nokes in the part of Bubble, and, in my opinion, is not much below him, for he does excellently that kind of folly we call absurdity, which is the very contrary of wit; but next to that is, of all things, properest to excite mirth.  What is foolish is the object of pity, but absurdity often proceeds from an opinion of sufficiency, and consequently is an honest occasion for laughter.  These characters in this play, cannot but make it a very pleasant entertainment, and the decorations of singing and dancing, will more than repay the good-nature of those, who make an honest man a visit of two merry hours, to make his following year unpainful.’

These are the testimonies of friendship and esteem, which this great author has given in favour of D’Urfey, and however his genius may be turned for the Sing-song, or Ballad, which is certainly the lowest species of poetry, yet that man cannot be termed contemptible, who was thus loved, and, though in jocular terms, praised by Mr. Addison.

There are few, or no particulars relating to the life of this poet preserved.  He was attached to the Tory interest, and in the latter part of Queen Anne’s reign frequently had the honour of diverting her with witty catches, and songs of humour suited to the spirit of the times.  He died, according to Mr. Coxeter, February 26, 1723, in a good old age, and was buried in the Church-yard of St. James’s, Westminster.  His dramatic works are,

1.  The Siege of Memphis, or the Ambitious Queen; a Tragedy acted at the Theatre-royal, printed in quarto 1676.  Mr. Langbain says that this play is full of bombast and fustian, and observes, ’That there goes more to the making a poet, than copying verses, or tagging rhimes, and recommends to the modern poetasters, the following lines from a Prologue to a Play called the Atheist.’

  ’Rhimsters get wit, e’re ye pretend to shew it,
  Nor think a game at Crambo makes a poet.’

2.  Madam Fickle, or the Witty False One; acted at the duke of York’s Theatre, printed in quarto, 1677, dedicated to the duke of Ormond.  This play is compiled from several other Comedies; the scene is laid in Covent-Garden.

3.  Trick for Trick, or the Debauched Hypocrite; a Comedy acted at the Theatre-Royal 1678:  This is the only one of Fletcher’s plays, called Monsieur Thomas revived.

4.  The Fool turn’d Critic; acted at the Theatre-Royal, 1678.  Several of the characters of this play are borrowed; as Old-wine-love, Trim and Small-wit, seem to be taken from Senio Asotus, and Ballio, in Randolph’s Jealous Lovers.

5.  Fond Husband, or the Plotting Sisters, a Comedy.  Of this we have already given some account, in the words of Mr. Addison.

6.  Squire Old-Sap, or the Night-Adventures; a Comedy; acted at the duke’s Theatre, printed in quarto, 1679.  Several incidents in this play are taken from Francion’s Comic.  Hist.  Boccace’s Novels, les Contes de M. de la Fontaine.

7.  The Virtuous Wife, or Good-Luck at last; a Comedy acted at the duke’s Theatre 1680.  Several hints are taken from the Town, Marriage A-la-mode, &c. the Scene Chelsea.

8.  Sir Barnaby Whig, or no Wit like a Woman’s; a Comedy acted at the Theatre-Royal 1681.  Dedicated to the right honourable George Earl of Berkley.  The plot of this play is taken from a Play of Marmion’s, called the Fine Companion; and part from the Double Cuckold, a Novel, written by M. St. Evremond.  Scene London.

9.  The Royalist, a Comedy; acted at the Duke’s Theatre 1682.  This play, which is collected chiefly from novels, succeeded on the stage; printed in 4t.

10.  The Injured Princess, or the Fatal Wager; a Tragi-Comedy; acted at the Theatre-Royal 1682.  The foundation of this play is taken from Shakespear’s Cymbeline.

11.  A Common-wealth of Women, a Tragi-Comedy; acted at the Theatre Royal 1686, dedicated to Christopher Duke of Albemarle.  This play is chiefly borrowed from Fletcher’s Sea Voyage.  The scene is in Covent Garden.

12.  The Banditti, or a Lady’s Distress; a Comedy; acted at the Theatre-Royal 1688.  This play met with great opposition during the performance, which was disturbed by the Catcalls.  This occasioned the author to take his revenge upon the town, by dedicating it to a certain Knight, under the title of Sir Critic Cat-call.  The chief plot of this play is founded on a Romance written by Don Francisco de las Coveras, called Don Fenise, translated into English in 8vo.  See the History of Don Antonio, b. iv. .  The design of Don Diego’s turning Banditti, and joining with them to rob his supposed father, resembles that of Pipperollo in Shirley’s play called the Sisters.  Scene Madrid.

13.  A Fool’s Preferment, or the Three Dukes of Dunstable; a Comedy; acted at the Queen’s Theatre in Dorset-Garden 1688, dedicated to Charles Lord Morpeth, in as familiar a way as if the Author was a man of Quality.  The whole play is little more than a transcript of Fletcher’s Noble Gentlemen, except one scene, which is taken from a Novel called The Humours of Basset.  Scene the Court, in the time of Henry iv.  The songs in this play were all composed by the celebrated Musician Mr. Henry Purcell.

14.  Bussy D’Amboise, or the Husband’s Revenge; a Tragedy; acted at the Theatre-Royal, 4t, addressed to Edward Earl of Carlisle.  This is a play of Mr. Chapman’s revis’d, and the character of Tamyra, Mr. D’Urfey tells us, he has altered for the better.  The scene Paris.

15.  Love for Money, or the Boarding School; a Comedy; acted at the Theatre-Royal 1691, dedicated to Charles Lord Viscount Lansdown, Count of the Sacred Roman Empire, &c.  This play met with opposition in the first day’s representation, but afterwards succeeded pretty well.  The scene Chelsea.

16.  The Richmond Heiress, or a Woman once in the Right; a Comedy, acted at the Theatre-Royal 1693.

17.  The Marriage-Hater Matched, a Comedy; acted at the Theatre-Royal 1693, addressed to James Duke of Ormond.  Mr. Charles Gildon, in an epistle prefixed to the play, tells us, that this is much the best of our author’s performances.  Mr. Dogget was first taken notice of as an excellent actor, from the admirable performance of his part in this play.  Scene the Park, near Kensington.

18.  The Comical History of Don Quixot, Part the First; acted at the Queen’s Theatre in Dorset-Garden 1694, dedicated to the Duchess of Ormond.  This play was acted with great applause; it is wholly taken from the Spanish Romance of that name.  Scene Mancha in Spain.

19.  The Comical History of Don Quixot, Part the Second; acted at the Queen’s Theatre 1694, dedicated by an Epistle, in heroic Verse, to Charles Earl of Dorset and Middlesex, &c.  This play was likewise acted with applause.

20.  Don Quixot, Part the Third, with the Marriage of Mary the Buxom, 1669; this met with no success.

21.  The Intrigues at Versailles, or A Jilt in all Humours; a Comedy; acted at the Theatre-Royal in Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields 1697, dedicated to Sir Charles Sedley the Elder, Bart. and to his much honoured Friend Sir Charles Sedley, his Son.  Scene Versailles.  The author complains of the want of success in this play, when he asserts, the town had applauded some pieces of his of less merit.  He has borrowed very liberally from a play of Mrs. Behn’s called The Amorous Jilt.

22.  Cynthia and Endymion, or The Lover of the Deities, a Dramatic Opera; acted at the Theatre-Royal 1697, dedicated to Henry Earl of Romney; this was acted with applause; and the author tells us, that King William’s Queen Mary intended to have it represented at Court.  ’There are many lines (says Jacob) in this play, above the genius which generally appears in the other works of this author; but he has perverted the characters of Ovid, in making Daphne, the chaste favourite of Diana, a whore, and a jilt; and fair Syrene to lose her reputation, in the unknown ignominy of an envious, mercenary, infamous woman.’  Scene Ionia.

23.  The Campaigners, or The Pleasant Adventures at Brussels; a Comedy; with a familiar Preface upon a late Reformer of the Stage, ending with a Satirical Fable of the Dog, and the Otter, 1698.  This play is dedicated to Thomas Lord Wharton, and part of it is borrowed from a Novel called Female Falsehood.  Scene Brussel.  Massanello, or a Fisherman Prince, in two Parts; acted at the Theatre in Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields 1700.

25.  The Modern Prophets, or New Wit for a Husband; a Comedy.

26.  The Old Mode and the New, or Country Miss with her Furbelo; a Comedy.  Scene Coventry.

27.  Wonders in the Sun, or The Kingdom of Birds; a Comic Opera; performed at the Queen’s Theatre in the Hay-Market.

28.  Bath, or The Western Lass; a Comedy; dedicated to John Duke of Argyle.

29.  The Two Queens of Brentford, or Bays no Poetaster; a Musical Farce, or Comical Opera; being the Sequel of the Rehearsal, written by the Duke of Buckingham; it has five Acts.  Scene Inside of the Playhouse.

30.  The Grecian Heroine, or The Fate of Tyranny; a Tragedy; written 1718.  Scene Corinth.

31.  Ariadne, or The Triumph of Bacchus; the Scene Naxos, an Island in the Archipelago.  These last were published with a Collection of Poems 1721.

These are the dramatic performances of D’Urfey, by which his incessant labours for the stage are to be seen; though not one of his numerous issue is now in possession of it.  He was author of many poems, and songs, which we need not here enumerate.  Mr. Coxeter takes particular notice of a piece of his called Gloriana, a Funeral Pindarique Poem to the memory of Queen Mary, 4t.

The Trophies, or Augusta’s Glory; a triumphant Ode, made in honour of the City, and upon the Trophies taken from the French at the Battle of Ramillies, May 25, 1706, by the Duke of Marlborough, and fixed in Guildhall, London, dedicated to the Lord Mayor, and Court of Aldermen and Sheriffs, and also to the President. and Court of Managers for the united Trade to the East Indies.

Honor & Opes, or The British Merchant’s Glory; a Poem Congratulatory, on the happy Decision, and Conclusion of all Difficulties between the Old and New Company in the Trade to the East Indies.  As a specimen of his poetry take the following lines.

Verses Congratulatory, to the Honourable William Bromley, Esq; on his being chosen Speaker of this present Parliament.

  As when Hyperion with victorious light
  Expels invading Pow’rs of gloomy night,
  And vernal nature youthful dress’d and gay,
  Salutes the radiant power that forms the day;
  The mounting Lark exalts her joyful note,
  And strains with harmony her warbling throat: 
  So now my muse that hopes to see the day,
  When cloudy faction, that do’s Britain sway,
  Shall be o’ercome by reason’s dazling ray;
  Applauding senates for their prudent choice,
  The will of Heaven by the Peoples voice,
  First greets you Sir, then gladly do’s prepare,
  In tuneful verse, your welcome to the chair. 
    Awful th’ assembly is, august the Queen,
  In whose each day of life are wonders seen: 
  The nation too, this greatest of all years,
  Who watch to see blest turns in their affairs,
  Slighting the tempest on the Gallic shore,
  Hope from the senate much, but from you more: 
  Whose happy temper judgment cultivates,
  And forms so fit to aid our three estates. 
    The change of ministry late ordered here,
  Was fated sure for this auspicious year;
  That you predestin’d at a glorious hour,
  To be chief judge of legislative power,
  Might by your skill that Royal right asserts,
  Like Heaven, reconcile the jarring parts. 
    Nor shines your influence, Sir, here alone,
  The Church must your unequall’d prudence own,
  Firm to support the cause, but rough to none. 
  Eusebia’s sons, in laws divine possest,
  Can learn from you how truth should be exprest;
  Whether in modest terms, like balm, to heal;
  Or raving notions, falsly counted zeal. 
  Our holy writ no rule like that allows,
  No people an enrag’d apostle chose,
  Nor taught Our Saviour, or St. Paul, like those. 
  Reason was mild, and calmly did proceed,
  Which harsh might fail to make transgressors heed;
  This saint your rhet’ric best knows how to prove,
  Whose gracious method can inform, and move;
  Direct the elders that such errors make,
  And shew both how to preach, and how to speak. 
    Oh! sacred gift! in public matters great,
  But in religious tracts divinely sweet;
  Since to this grace they only have pretence
  Whose happy learning join with a caelestial sense. 
    That Sir, you share both these, the muse forgive,
  If I presume to write what all believe,
  Your candour too, and charming courtesy,
  Rever’d by them is justly so by me,
  Let me not then offend your modesty,
  If now my genius to a height I raise,
  Such parts, and such humanity to praise. 
    This ancient Baginton can witness well,
  And the rich library before it fell;
  The precious hours amongst wise authors past,
  Your Soul with their unvalued wealth possest;
  And well may he to heights of knowledge come,
  Who that Panthaeon always kept at home. 
    Thus once, Sir, you were blest, and sure the fiend
  That first entail’d a curse on human-kind,
  And afterwards contriv’d this fatal cross,
  Design’d the public, by your private loss. 
    Oh! who had seen that love to learning bore,
  The matchless authors of the days of yore;
  The fathers, prelates, poets, books where arts
  Renown’d explain’d the men of rarest parts,
  Shrink up their shrivell’d bindings, lose their names,
  And yield immortal worth to temporary flames,
  That would not sigh to see the ruins there,
  Or wish to quench ’em with a flowing tear. 
    But as in story, where we wonders view,
  As there were flames, there was a Phoenix too;
  An excellence from the burnt pile did rise,
  That still aton’d for past calamities;
  So my prophetic genius in its height,
  Viewing your merit, Sir, foretels your fate. 
  Your valiant ancestors, that bravely fought,
  And from the foe the Royal standard got;
  Which nobly now adorn your houshold coat,
  Denotes the former grandeur of your race;
  Your present worth fits you for present grace. 
    The Sovereign must esteem what all admire,
  Bromley and Baginton shall both raise higher,
  Fate oft contrives magnificence by fire.