J. Sheridan Knowles

Life
1784-1862 [James Sheridan Knowles]; b. Cork, 12 May; son of lexicographer James Knowles, and first cousin [var. 2nd DIL] to R. B. Sheridan; to London, 1793; studied medicine there and grad. Aberdeen; army; joined Cherry’s touring company; played with Edmund Kean, who later requested Virginius (1820), also Brian Boroimhe or The maid of Erin (1811) and Caius Gracchus (1815), both premiered in Belfast; William Tell (1825); opened school for further income in Belfast, where he was a founding member of the Belfast Historical Society, and later in Glasgow; most pop. verse playwright of his generation; abandoned theatre and became a Baptist preacher in 1844; 20 plays incl. Hunch-back (1832; revivals & 9 edns.); The Wife (1833), for which Charles Lamb wrote the prologue and eppilogue; The Lovechase (1837); two novels, George Lovell (1896) and Fortescue (1847); avoided preaching against the stage; civil list pension of 200 in 1848; most popular verse playwright of his generation; d. Torquay 30 Nov. [var. 1 Dec.]; there is a portrait by Daniel Maclise. CAB ODNB PI JMC NCBE DIB DIW DIL OCEL RAF SUTH OCIL

[ top ]

Works
Poems, The Welsh Harper (1796), a ballad; A Collection of Poems on Various Subjects (Waterford: John Bull 1810), 8, 72pp.; The Senate, or The Social Villagers of Kentish Town, a canto, ‘Selim’ (London 1817); poems in Athenaeum, 1832-34. Miscellaneous Prose, The Elocutionist, a collection of Pieces in Prose and Verse, peculiarly adapted to display the art of reading, in the most comprehensive sense of the term (Belfast: Sims & McIntyre &c. 1831; 7th enl. ed.), xxxvi, 384pp.; The Magdalen and Other Tales (London 1832); Fortescue, a novel (London: priv. 1846_, 178pp.; George Lovell, a novel (London: E Moxon 1847), 3 vols. [I: 238pp.; II: 304pp.; III: 320pp.]; The Rock of Rome, or The Arch Heresy (London: T. C. Newby 1849), vii, 280pp; The Idol Demolished by Its Own Priest, an answer to Cardinal Wiseman’s Letters on Trans-Substantiation (Edinburgh: Adam & Charles Buck 1851), 308pp.; The Gospel Attributed to Matthew is the Record of the Whole Original Apostlehood (London 1856); Lectures on Dramatic Literature delivered by J. S. Knowles during the years 1820-1850 (London: priv. for J. McHenry 1873), 228pp.; Lectures in Oration, Gesture and Poetry (id., ibid., 1873), 243pp.; Lecture on Macbeth (London 1875); Sheridan Knowles’ conception and Mr Irving’s Performance of Macbeth (London: Effingham Wilson 1876), 19pp.

Collected Editions, Select Works of J. S. Knowles, prose tales and four plays, with memoir (Boston 1833-34), and Leslie H. Meeks, ed., Selected Works of James Sheridan Knowles and the Theatre of his time (Bloomington, Principa 1933)[?centenary reprint]; Select Dramatic Works of J. S. Knowles, four plays with a memoir, by R. Shelton Mackenzie (Baltimore 1835); The Dramatic works of J. S. Knowles, four plays with a memoir by R Shelton Mackenzie (Calcutta: W. Rushton 1838) [IV, Virginius; The Beggars; William Tell; the Hunchback; The Wife; The Love Chase; The Daughter], Do. (3 vols., London 1841-43); The Dramatic Works of J. S. Knowles, in 2 vols. (London: Routledge & Co. 1856) [I: Caius Gracchus, Virginius; William Tell; Alfred the Great; The Hunchback; The Wife; The Beggar; The Daughter] (448pp.); II: The Love Chase; Woman’s Wit; The Maid of Mariendorpt; Love; John of Procida; Old Maids; the Rose of Arragon; The Secretary (457pp.)]; Miscellaneous Dramatic Works and Poems (London: priv 1873-74); Various Dramatic Works of J. S. Knowles, now first collected (London: priv. for James McHenry 1874 [I, Hersilia; Vaccination; The Storm; Leo; Brian Boroihme; A Masque; The Bridal; Alexina. II, The Duke of London; Unpublished extracts and scenes from var. plays; Guillaume Tell, i.e., French translation by Marc Monnier (274pp.)]; Tales and Novelettes collected (London: Priv. for J. McHenry 1874), 331pp.; The Dramatic Works (Lon/NY 1883-92). NOTE slight variations from Kavanagh on play dates and additional publication dates in single copies and in VDW; also title var. in Brian Borome [sic] or The Maid of Erin, drama in 3 acts (Belfast 2.3.1812; NY 1828 Dicks 670; Lacy CIX, etc.; VDW, Vol. I. RAF remarks: ‘one of the rare playwrights of talent of the period, an engaging character ..’; friendship with Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, Coleridge and Lamb. Joined a touring company after several jobs, met Kean and Macready, who persuaded him to write for theatre ... prodigious success ..’. His non-dramatic works include The Elocutionist (Belfast; 7th ed. 1831); novels [as infra], and anti-Catholic pamphlets incl.; The Rock of Rome, or the Arch Heresy (1849), The Idol Demolished by its own Priest, an answer to Cardinal Wiseman ... on Transsubstantiation (1851).

Prompt Books: Brian Boroimhe: The King of Munster: Prompt Book, Lafayette Theatre, NY (17 March 1870), in Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library [TS 2084.25]

[ top ]

References
Mícheál Ó hAodha , Theatre in Ireland (1974); Knowles joined Cherry’s company and played in Waterford with Edmund Kean; Kean later requested his successful tragedy Virginius, also Caius Gracchus, and William Tell. Between 1820 and 1835, Knowles was a most prolific playwright and accomplished actor, recalled affectionately in reminiscences of Lamb and Hazlitt. After an illness, he retired ... to become Baptist minister and launch attacks on Catholics and the stage. (p.12).

Peter Kavanagh, The Irish Theatre (1946), James Sheridan Knowles 1784-1862; Chevalier de Grillon (1798), now lost; fragments, Hersilia; A Spanish Play; Vaccination, and The Storm [see Miscellaneous Dramatic Works and Poems (1873); also Poems [printed in Waterford, 1810]; Leo; or, The Maid of Erin (Covent Garden, 20 April 1837), printed Belfast 1811; Dicks 670; Caius Gracchus (Belfast 13 Dec. 1815); Virginius or the Liberation of Rome (Covent Garden 17 May 1820), printed (Glasgow 1820); The Fatal Dowry, adapt. from Massinger (Drury Lane, 5 Jan 1825) printed 1825; William Tell (Drury Lane, 11 May 1825) printed 1825; The Beggar’s Daughter of Bethnal Green (Drury Lane, 22 Nov. 1828) printed 1828; Alfred the Great or The Patriot King (Drury Lane, 28 April 1831) printed 1831; The Hunchback (Covent Garden, 5 April 1832) printed 1832; The Vision of the Bard [Masque in honour of Scott] (Edinburgh, 1 Oct. 1832) printed 1832; The Wife: A Tale of Mantua (Covent Garden, 24 April 1833) printed 1833; The Beggar of Bethnal Green, comedy (Vic. 1838), being a revision of The Beggar’s Daughter &c; The Bridal, trag. adapt. Beaumont and Fletcher’s Maid’s Tragedy (Haymarket Th., 26 June 1837), printed 1837; The Love Chase, com. (Haymarket, 9 Oct. 1837) printed 1837; Woman’s Wit or Love’s Disguises, a drama (Covent Garden, 23 May 1838), printed 1838; The Maid of Mariendorpt (Haymarket, 9 Oct. 1838) printed 1838; Love (Covent Garden, 4 Nov. 1839), printed 1840; John of Procida; or, The Bridals of Messina, trag. (Covent Garden, 19 Aug. 1840) printed 1840, also played as The Bridals of Messina; Old Maids, com. (Covent Garden, 12 Oct. 1841) printed 1841; The Rose of Aragon, trag. (Haymarket Th., 4 June 1842) printed 1842; The Secretary, drama (Drury Lane, 24 Apr. 1843) 1843; The Rock of Rome (1849); True unto Death, drama (1866); The Duke of London, unacted, undated, MS, based on Fletcher’s The Noble Gentleman. Kavanagh remarks that Hazlitt considered Knowles ‘the best tragic writer of the age’ (‘Spirit of the Age’, in Works); the character of Virginius was one of Macready’s most popular roles; The Hunchback, a drama of intrigue and romance, a tremendous success; Brian Boroihme a revision of O’Meara’s play, tells of the rescue of the daughter of Brian from Tormagnus by Prince O’Donohue. Occasionally introduced the domestic note. [Compare dates of performance with RAF, supra]

Robert Hogan, ed., Dictionary of Irish Literature (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1979), cites the early editor, R. Shelton MacKenzie [?1835; or after death of JSK]: ‘the public had to learn that a genius like that of Knowles, soars, as on eagle pinions, taking a higher flight at each effort it makes ... His body may be resolved to dust, but his name will be immortal. He is inferior only to Shakespeare.’ Also Allardyce Nicoll, ‘If only Knowles could have escaped from melodrama on the one hand and from Elizabethanism on the other he might have done something notable on the stage. As it is, many of his plays are glorified tales of black evil and white innocence’. Died 1 Dec. Bibl., Leslie H. Meeks, ed., Selected Works of James Sheridan Knowles and the Theatre of his time (Bloomington, Principa 1933).

Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington: University of America 1904); gives extract, “Death of Virginius”. NOTE Saintsbury’s short notice to the effect that his best-remembered things are Hunch-Back and Love Chase [sic], that he had ‘no literary genius, and not a very strong literary talent, so that his works, useful on the boards, are lumber on the shelves.’ (Short History of English Literature, 1922 edn., p.721 ftn.)

Dictionary of National Biography: 1784-1862; son of lexicographer, James Knowles; Caius Gracchus (Belfast 1815); Virginius (Covent Gdn. 1820); comedy, The Hunchback (Covent Gdn. 1832); The Love Chase (1837); visited USA, 1834; verses, adaptations, novels, and lectures on oratory. See also Irish Book Lover 2. NOTE, Brian Boroimhe, play by [?]Samuel Sheridan Knowles, after another by Daniel O’Meara .

D. J. O’Donoghue, The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical Dictionary (Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co 1912); lists extensive dramatic works incl. Brian Boroimhe, or the Maid of Erin (1872), dramatic in verse; Various Dramatic Works of JSK, 2 vols. (London 1874). Also cited extensively in Stephen Brown, S.J., Guide to Books on Ireland (Dublin: Talbot 1912).

Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English, The Romantic Period, 1789-1850 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1980), Vol. 2, lists The Welsh Harper (1796), a ballad; A Collection of Poems on Various Subjects (Waterford: John Bull 1810), 8, 72pp.; The Senate, or The Social Villagers of Kentish Town, a canto, ‘Selim’ (London 1817); poems in Athenaeum, 1832-34. Miscellaneous Prose, The Elocutionist, a collection of Pieces in Prose and Verse, peculiarly adapted to display the art of reading, in the most comprehensive sense of the term (Belfast: Sims & McIntyre &c. 1831; 7th enl. ed.), xxxvi, 384pp.; The Magdalen and Other Tales (London 1832); Fortescue, a novel (London: priv. 1846_, 178pp.; George Lovell, a novel (London: E Moxon 1847), 3 vols. [I: 238pp.; II: 304pp.; III: 320pp.]; The Rock of Rome, or The Arch Heresy (London: T. C. Newby 1849), vii, 280pp; The Idol Demolished by Its Own Priest, an answer to Cardinal Wiseman’s Letters on Trans-Substantiation (Edinburgh: Adam & Charles Buck 1851), 308pp.; The Gospel Attributed to Matthew is the Record of the Whole Original Apostlehood (London 1856); Lectures on Dramatic Literature delivered by J. S. Knowles during the years 1820-1850 (London: priv. for J. McHenry 1873), 228pp.; Lectures in Oration, Gesture and Poetry (id., ibid., 1873), 243pp.; Lecture on Macbeth (London 1875); Sheridan Knowles’ conception and Mr Irving’s Performance of Macbeth (London: Effingham Wilson 1876), 19pp. Collected, Select works of JS Knowles, prose tales and four plays, with memoir (Boston 1833-34); Select Dramatic Works of J. S. Knowles, four plays with a memoir, by R. Shelton Mackenzie (Baltimore 1835); The Dramatic works of J. S. Knowles, four plays with a memoir by R. Shelton Mackenzie (Calcutta: W. Rushton 1838) [IV, Virginius; The Beggars; William Tell; the Hunchback; The Wife; The Love Chase; The Daughter], Do. (3 vols., London 1841-43); The Dramatic Works of J. S. Knowles, in 2 vols. (London: Routledge & Co. 1856) [I: Caius Gracchus, Virginius; William Tell; Alfred the Great; The Hunchback; The Wife; The Beggar; The Daughter] (448pp.); II: The Love Chase; Woman’s Wit; The Maid of Mariendorpt; Love; John of Procida; Old Maids; the Rose of Arragon; The Secretary (457pp.)]; Miscellaneous Dramatic Works and Poems (London: priv 1873-74); Various Dramatic Works of J. S. Knowles, now first collected (London: priv. for James McHenry 1874 [I, Hersilia; Vaccination; The Storm; Leo; Brian Boroihme; A Masque; The Bridal; Alexina. II, The Duke of London; Unpublished extracts and scenes from var. plays; Guillaume Tell, i.e., French translation by Marc Monnier (274pp.)]; Tales and Novelettes collected (London: Priv. for J. McHenry 1874), 331pp.; The Dramatic Works (Lon/NY 1883-92). Note slight variations from Kavanagh on play dates and additional publication dates in single copies and in VDW; also title var. in Brian Borome [sic] or The Maid of Erin, drama in 3 acts (Belfast 2.3.1812; NY 1828 Dicks 670; Lacy CIX, etc.; VDW, Vol. I. RAF remarks: ‘one of the rare playwrights of talent of the period, an engaging character ..’; friendship with Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, Coleridge and Lamb. Joined a touring company after several jobs, met Kean and Macready, who persuaded him to write for theatre ... prodigious success ..’. His non-dramatic works include The Elocutionist (Belfast; 7th ed. 1831); novels [as infra], and anti-Catholic pamphlets incl.; The Rock of Rome, or the Arch Heresy (1849), The Idol Demolished by its own Priest, an answer to Cardinal Wiseman ... on Transsubstantiation (1851).

W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (IAP 1976; 1984), list of Irish classical plays incls. J. S. Knowles, Caius Gracchus (1815) and Virginius (1820), and also that the subject of Caius Gracchus was also attempted by J. J. Proby.

Margaret Drabble , ed., Oxford Companion of English Literature (OUP: 1985); 1784-1862; dramatist, after various careers (army, medicine, and teaching [in Belfast, RAI); Virginius (Covent Gdn. 1820), Caius Gracchus (Belfast 1815, London 1823); William Tell (1825); The Hunchback (1832); The Wife, prologue and epilogue by Charles Lamb (1833); The Love Chase (1837); called The most successful dramatist of his day in Edinburgh Review, 1833; called the ‘first tragic writer of his time’ by Hazlitt who addressed many letters to him (Liber Amoris, 1823).

Oxford Literary Guide to Britain and Ireland cites “The Welsh Harper”, ballad; connected with Cork.

John Sutherland, The Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction (Longmans 1988; rep. 1989), notes two novels, George Lovell (1846), the adventures of a jeweller’s son, and Fortescue (1847), a fashionable novel dedicated to his ‘highly respected relative’ Caroline Norton. Inferior to his plays and considered too ‘earnest’. BL 2.

Belfast Public Library holds Brian Boroimhe, or Maid of Erin (n.d.); Daughter (1837); Debate by 12 Students ... Belfast Academical Inst. (1815); Dramatic Works (1859); The Elocutionist (1841, 1846, 1859); The Magdalen, and other tales (1832). No holdings in UUC LIB.

[ top ]

Notes
Portrait by Daniel Maclise, printed in Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English, The Romantic Period, 1789-1850, Vol. 1 (1980).

Belfast Historical Society: for an account of the Belfast Historical Society, see under Earl [Hugh McCalmont] Cairns [supra].

[ top ]