George Farquhar, The Beaux-Stratagem (1707)


Source: Gutenberg Project; digital text produced by David Widger probably using Alex. Charles Ewald, ed. & intro., Dramatic Works of George Farquhar, 2 vols. (London: John C. Nimmo 1892) [online].

He was a delightful writer, and one to whom I should sooner recur for relaxation and entertainment and without after-cloying and disgust, than any of the school of which he may be said to have been the last The Beaux-Stratagem reads quite as well as it acts: it has life, movement, wit, humour, sweet nature and sweet temper from beginning to end. —CHARLES COWDEN CLARKE

‘It is surprising,’ says Mr. Percy Fitzgerald, ‘how much English Comedy owes to Irishmen.’ Nearly fifty years ago Calcraft enumerated eighty-seven Irish dramatists in a by no means exhaustive list, including Congreve, Southerne, Steele, Kelly, Macklin, and Farquhar - the really Irish representative amongst the dramatists of the Restoration, the true prototype of Goldsmith and Sheridan. Thoroughly Irish by birth and education, Captain George Farquhar (1677-1707) had delighted the town with a succession of bright, rattling comedies Love and a Bottle (1698), The Constant Couple (1699), Sir Harry Wildair (1701), The Inconstant (1702), The Twin Rivals (1702), The Recruiting Officer (1706). In an unlucky moment, when hard pressed by his debts, he sold out of the army on the strength of a promise by the Duke of Ormond to gain him some preferment, which never came. In his misery and poverty, with a wife and two helpless girls to support, Farquhar was not forsaken by his one true friend, Robert Wilks. Seeking out the dramatist in his wretched garret in St Martin’s Lane, the actor advised him no longer to trust to great men’s promises, but to look only to his pen for support, and urged him to write another play. ‘Write!’ said Farquhar, starting from his chair; ‘is it possible that a man can write with common-sense who is heartless and has not a shilling in his pockets?’ ‘Come, come, George,’ said Wilks, ‘banish melancholy, draw up your drama, and bring your sketch with you to-morrow, for I expect you to dine with me. But as an empty purse may cramp your genius, I desire you to accept my mite; here is twenty guineas.’ Farquhar set to work, and brought the plot of his play to Wilks the next day; the later approved the design, and urged him to proceed without delay. Mostly written in bed, the whole was begun, finished, and acted within six weeks. The author designed to dedicate it to Lord Cadogan, but his lordship, for reasons unknown, declined the honour; he gave the dramatist a handsome present, however. Thus was The Beaux-Stratagem written. Farquhar is said to have felt the approaches of death ere he finished the second act. On the night of the first performance Wilks came to tell him of his great success, but mentioned that Mrs. Oldfield wished that he could have thought of some more legitimate divorce in order to secure the honour of Mrs. Sullen. ‘Oh,’ said Farquhar, ‘I will, if she pleases, solve that immediately, by getting a real divorce; marrying her myself, and giving her my bond that she shall be a widow in less than a fortnight’ Subsequent events practically fulfilled this prediction, for Farquhar died during the run of the play: on the day of his extra benefit, Tuesday, 29th April 1707, the plaudits of the audience resounding in his ears, the destitute, broken-hearted dramatist passed to that bourne where stratagems avail not any longer.

Criticism of The Beaux-Stratagem
Each play that Farquhar produced was an improvement on its predecessors, and all critics have been unanimous in pronouncing The Beaux-Stratagem his best, both in the study and on the stage, of which it retained possession much the longest. Except The Recruiting Officer and The Inconstant, revived at Covent Garden in 1825, and also by Daly in America in 1885, non of Farquhar’s other plays has been put on the stage for upwards of a century. Hallam says: ‘Never has Congreve equalled The Beaux-Stratagem in vivacity, in originality of contrivance, or in clear and rapid development of intrigue’; and Hazlitt considers it ‘sprightly lively, bustling, and full of point and interest: the assumed disguise of Archer and Aimwell is a perpetual amusement to the mind.’ The action - which commences, remarkably briskly, in the evening and ends about midnight the next day - never flags for an instant. The well-contrived plot is original and simple (all Farquhar’s plots are excellent), giving rise to a rapid succession of amusing and sensational incidents; though by no means extravagant or improbable, save possibly the mutual separation of Squire Sullen and his wife in the last scene - the weak point of the whole. Farquhar was a master in stage-effect. Aimwell’s stratagem of passing himself off as the wealthy nobleman, his brother (a device previously adopted by Vanbrugh in The Relapse and subsequently by Sheridan in his Trip to Scarborough), may perhaps be a covert allusion to the romantic story of the dramatist’s own deception by the penniless lady who gave herself out to be possessed of a large fortune, and who thus induced him to marry her.

The style adopted is highly dramatic, the dialogue being natural and flowing; trenchant and sprightly, but not too witty for a truthful reflex of actual conversation. The humour is genial and unforced; there is no smell of the lamp about it, no premeditated effort at dragging in jests, as in Congreve. As typical examples of Farquhar’s vis comica I Would cite the description of Squire Sullen’s home-coming, and his ‘pot of ale’ speech, Aimwell’s speech respecting conduct at church, the scene between Cherry and Archer about the £2,000, and the final separation scene - which affords a curious view of the marriage tie and on which Leigh Hunt has founded an argument for divorce. This play contains several examples of Farquhar’s curious habit of breaking out into a kind of broken blank verse occasionally for a few lines in the more serious passages. Partaking as it does of the elements of both comedy and force, it is the prototype of Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer, which it resembles in many respects. It will be remembered that Miss Hardcastle compares herself to Cherry (Act III.), and young Marlow and Hastings much resemble Archer and Aimwell. Goldsmith was a great admirer of the works of his fellow-countryman, especially The Beaux-Stratagem, and refers to them several times (Citizen of the World, Letter 93; History of England, Letter 16; Vicar of Wakefield, Chap. 18), and in the Literary Magazine for 1758 he drew up a curious poetical scale in which he classes the Restoration dramatists thus:


Unlike Goldsmith, unhappily, Farquhar’s moral tone is not high; sensuality is confounded with love, ribaldry mistaken for wit. The best that can be said of him that he contrasts favourably with his contemporary dramatists; Virtue is not always uninteresting in his pages. He is free from their heartlessness, malignity, and cruelty. The plot of The Beaux-Stratagem is comparatively inoffensive, and the moral of the whole is healthy. Although a wit rather than a thinker, Farquhar in this play shows himself capable of serious feelings. It is remarkable how much Farquhar repeats himself. Hardly an allusion or idea occurs in this play that is not to be found elsewhere in his works. In the Notes I have pointed out many of these coincidences.

The Characters
This play has added several distinct original personages to our stock of comedy characters, and it affords an excellent and lifelike picture of a peculiar and perishing phase of the manners of the time, especially those obtaining in the country house, and the village inn frequented by highwaymen. The sly, rascally landlord, Boniface (who has given his name to the class), is said to have been drawn from life, and his portrait, we are told, was still to be seen at Lichfield in 1775. The inimitable ‘brother Scrub,’ that ‘indispensable appendage to a country gentleman’s kitchen’ (Hazlitt), with his ignorance and shrewd eye to the main chance, is likewise said to have been a well-known personage who survived till 1759, one Thomas Bond, servant to Sir Theophilus Biddulph; others say he died at Salisbury in 1744. Although Farquhar, like Goldsmith, undoubtedly drew his incidents and personages from his own daily associations, there is probably no more truth in these surmises than in the assertion (repeatedly made, though denied in his preface to The Inconstant) that Farquhar depicts himself in his young heroes, his rollicking ‘men about town,’ Roebuck, Mirabel, Wildair, Plume, Archer. Archer (copied by Hoadley in his character of Ranger in The Suspicious Husband) is a decided improvement on his predecessors, and is the best of all Farquhar’s creations; he is assuredly the most brilliant footman that ever was, eminently sociable and, with all his easy, rattling volubility, never forgetful of his self-respect and never indifferent to the wishes or welfare of others. As Hunt has pointed out, the characters of Archer and Aimwell improve as the play progresses; they set out as mere intriguers, but prove in the end true gentlemen. They are sad rogues, no doubt, but they have no bitter cynicism, no meanness; Aimwell refuses to marry Dorinda under any deception. They thoroughly good fellows at bottom, manly, accomplished his spirited, eloquent, generous - the forerunners of Charles Surfor. Marriage retrieves them and turns them into respectable and adoring husbands. Though rattle-brained, much given to gallantry, and somewhat lax in morality, they are not knaves or monsters; they do not inspire disgust. Even the lumpish blockhead, Squire Sullen - according to Macaulay a type of the main strength of the Tory party for half a century after the Revolution - contrasts favourably with his prototype Sir John Brute in Vanbrugh’s Provoked Wife, He is a sodden sot, who always goes to bed drunk, but he is not a demon; he does not beat his wife in public; he observes common decency somewhat. His wife is a witty, attractive, warm-hearted woman, whose faults are transparent; the chief one being that she has made the fatal mistake of marrying for fortune and position instead of for love. There is something pathetic in her position which claims our sympathy. She is well contrasted with her sister-in-law, the sincere, though somewhat weakly drawn, Dorinda; whilst their mother-in-law, Lady Bountiful, famed for her charity, is an amusing and gracious figure, which has often been copied. Cherry, with her honest heart and her quickness of perception, is also a distinct creation. Strange to say, the only badly drawn character is Foigard, the unscrupulous Irish Jesuit priest. Farquhar is fond of introducing an Irishman into each of his plays, but I cannot say that I think he is generally successful; certainly not in this instance. They are mostly broad caricatures, and speak an outlandish jargon, more like Welsh than Irish, supposed to be the Ulster dialect: anything more unlike it would be difficult to conceive. The early conventional stage Irishman, tracing him from Captain. Macmorris in Henry V.,through Ben Jonson’s Irish Masque and New Inn, Dekker’s Bryan, Ford’s Mayor of Cork, Shadwell’s O’Divelly (probably Farquhar’s model for Foigard), is truly a wondrous savage, chiefly distinguished by his use of the expletives ‘Dear Joy!’ and ‘By Creesh!’ This character naturally rendered the play somewhat unpopular in Ireland, and its repulsiveness is unrelieved (as it is in the case of Teague in The Twin Rivals) by a single touch of humour or native comicality. It is an outrage.

The First Performance
The Beaux-Stratagem was first performed on Saturday, 8th March 1707, at the Theatre Royal (or, as it was sometimes called, the Queen’s Theatre), situated in the Haymarket, on the site afterwards occupied by Her Majesty’s Theatre. It ran for ten nights only, owing to benefits. The cast on that occasion was a strong one. Robert Wilks (a brother-Irishman), who performed Archer, was the foremost actor of the day. He was Farquhar’s lifelong friend, and appeared in all his plays, except Love and a Bottle which was produced in London during Wilks’s absence in Dublin. This actor’s most famous part was ‘Sir Harry Wildair’ (The Constant Couple), which our author drew on purpose for him, and which ran for fifty-two nights on its first appearance. Farquhar himself said that when the stage had the misfortune to lose Wilks, ‘Sir Harry Wildair’ might go to the Jubilee! Peg Woffington is said to have been his only rival in this part. Sullen was the last original character undertaken by Verbruggen, a leading actor of the time. It was from Verbruggen’s wife (probably the ‘Mrs. V---’ of Farquhar’s letters) that the famous Mrs. Oldfield received her earliest instructions in acting. The last-named lady was the original Mrs. Sullen. Her connection with Farquhar is very interesting and romantic. She resided with her aunt, Mrs. Voss, who kept the Mitre Tavern in St, James’s Market (between Jeryrm Street, Regent Street, and the Haymarket). One day, when she was aged sixteen, Farquhar, a smart young captain of twenty-two, happened to be dining there, and he overheard her reading Beaumont and Fletcher’s Scornful Lady aloud behind the bar. When Farquhar, much struck by her musical delivery and expression, pressed her to resume her reading, the tall and graceful girl consented with hesitation and bashfulness; although she afterwards confessed, ‘I longed to be at it, and only needed a decent entreaty.’ The dramatist quickly acquainted Sir John Vanbrugh with the jewel he had thus accidentally found, and she obtained through him an engagement at the Theatre Royal as ‘Candiope’ in Dryden’s Secret Love. She soon became the fine lady of the stage, and was the original representative of no less than sixty-five characters. Pope disliked and satirised her severely; on the other hand, Cibber worshipped her. According to some, Farquhar fell violently in love with her, and she is the ‘Penelope’ of his letters; but although she often spoke of the happy hours she spent in his company, there appears to be no foundation for this surmise. Bowen, a low comedian of considerable talent, afterwards accidentally killed by Quin the actor, was Foigard; and Scrub - originally written for Colley Cibber, who, however, preferred Gibbet - was represented by Norris, a capital comic actor, universally known as ‘Jubilee Dicky’ on account of his representation of ‘Dicky’ in The Constant Couple. He had an odd, formal little figure, and a high squeaking voice; if he came into a coffee-house and merely called ‘Waiter!’ everybody present felt inclined to laugh. He had previously appeared in Farquhar’s four principal plays, as also had Mills, who did Aimwell. Cibber tells us that the play was better received at Drury Lane than at the Haymarket, as, owing to the larger size of the latter house, it was difficult to hear.

Later Stage History
Originally brought out under the title The Stratagem only, which it retained in the playbills till 1787 (though printed with ‘Beaux’), this play continued to be very popular with the stage down to the dawn of the present century; and many great actors and actresses appeared from time to time in its characters; In 1721 Quin acted in Lincoln’s Inn Fields as Squire Sullen. The part of Mrs. Sullen has been undertaken by Mrs. Pritchard (1740 and 1761), Peg Woffington (1742, along with Garrick as Archer for the first time, and Macklin as Scrub), Mrs. Abington (1774, 1785, 1798), Mrs. Barry (1778), Miss Farren (1779), Mrs. Jordan (1802), Mrs. C. Kemble (1810), Mrs. Davison (1818), and Miss Chester (1823, for Dibdin’s benefit, with Liston as Scrub). Garrick’s repeated performances of Archer, in light blue and silver livery, were supremely good, more particularly in the scenes with Cherry, the picture scene with Mrs. Sullen, and when he delivers Lady Howd’ye’s message. He generally acted with Weston, an inimitable Scrub; but at O’Brien’s benefit at Drury Lane, 10th April 1761, Garrick himself played Scrub to O’Brien’s Archer. On one occasion Garrick had refused Weston a loan of money, and Weston not appearing at the greenroom, Garrick came forward before the curtain and announced that he would himself play Scrub, as Weston was ill. Weston, who was in the gallery with a sham bailiff, shouted out, ‘I am here, but the bailiff won’t let me come’ whereupon the audience insisted on Garrick’s paying the loan and relieving the debtor so as to enable him to play Scrub! Other famous Scrubs were Shutes (1774), Quick (1778, 1785, 1798), Bannister, junior (1802, will C. Kemble as Aimwell), Dowton (1802), Liston (1810), Johnstone (1821), and Keeley (1828, with C. Kemble as Arches and Miss Foote as Cherry; it ran for twelve nights at Covenl Garden). Goldsmith is said to have expressed a desire to art this part. On the occasion of Mrs. Abington’s benefit (Covenl Garden, November 19, 1785), she took the part of Scrub for that night only, for a wager, it is said. Ladies were desired to send their servants to retain seats by four o’clock, and the pit and boxes were laid together. She disgraced herself, acting the part with her hair dressed for ‘Lady Racket’ in the afterpiece (_Three Hours After Marriage). In April 1823 another female impersonator of this part appeared - not very successfully - in Miss Clara Fisher, with Farren as Archer. This was in Dublin (Hawkins’ Street), where the play was frequently performed about 1821-1823. It was also the piece chosen for the re-opening of Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, in 1759, when Mrs. Abington made her first appearance on the Irish stage as Mrs. Sullen.

Miss Pope (1774), Mrs. Martyn (1785, 1798), and Mrs. Gibbs (1819) were the principal exponents of Cherry. In 1819 Emery did Gibbet.

About 1810 the play was performed at the Royal Circus under Elliston as a ballet d’action, in order to evade the Patent Act. Otherwise, neither this play nor any other of Farquhar’s seems ever to have been ‘adapted’ for the modern stage. In the present half-century The Beaux-Stratagem has been but seldom performed. It was acted in London in 1856. In February 1878 Mr. Phelps gave it extremely well in the Annexe Theatre at the Westminster Aquarium. Lastly, William Farren, as Archer, revived it at the Imperial Theatre, on Monday, 22nd September 1879, with great success, a new Prologue (spoken by Mrs. Stirling) being written for the occasion. There were several matinees given in succession. The cast included Mr. Kyrle Bellew as Gibbet; Mr. Lionel Brough as Scrub; Miss Marie Litton as Mrs. Sullen; Mrs. Stirling - one of her last appearances - as Lady Bountiful; Dorinda, Miss Meyrick; Cherry, Miss Carlotta Addison; Gipsy, Miss Passinger; Aimwell, Mr. Edgar; Sir Charles Freeman, Mr. Denny; Sullen, Mr. Ryder; Foigard, Mr. Bannister; Boniface, Mr. Everill; Hounslow, Mr. Bunch; Bagshot, Mr. Leitch. The Epilogue for this occasion was written by Mr. Clement Scott. I know not if the play has been acted since that date.

The first edition was published in a small quarto (78 pages) by Bernard Lintott, ‘at the Cross-Keys next Nando’s Coffeehouse in Fleet Street’ between the two Temple gates. The British Museum Catalogue dates it 1707 (the copy in my possession, however, bears no date), but it is supposed not to have been published till 1710, three years after Farquhar’s decease; whence some have erroneously dated his death in that year. Lintott, on January 27, 1707, had paid the dramatist L30. in advance for this play, double what he usually gave for a play. The same publisher issued the first complete edition of Farquhar’s plays in an octavo volume, dedicated to John Eyre, with a quaint illustration prefixed to each play (we reproduce that prefixed to The Beaux-Stratagem), introducing all the characters of the play, and a frontispiece representing Farquhar being presented to Apollo by Ben Jonson. The general title-page is undated, but the title-pages of the various plays bear the date 1711, and all bear Lintott’s name (sometimes alone, sometimes with others) save Sir Harry Wildair, which is said to be printed by James Knapton. Some say this volume did not appear till 1714. In 1760 Rivington published an edition of Farquhar which appears to be slightly ‘bowdlerised.’ At least two complete editions of his works were published in Dublin; one, described as the seventh, in two volumes small octavo, by Risk and Smith, in 1743 (including a memoir, and Love and Business), in which the title-pages of the various plays bear different dates, ranging from 1727 to 1741, The Beaux-Stratagem being described as the twelfth edition, and dated 1739; the other, charmingly printed by Ewing in three 16mo volumes, dated 1775, with a vignette portrait and other illustrations, and containing a life by Thomas Wilkes. An Edinburgh edition of The Beaux-Stratagem, with life, appeared in 1768, and an edition in German in 1782 by J. Leonhardi, under the title Die Stutzerlist. Separate editions of the play also appeared in 1748, 1778, and 1824 (New York), and it is included in all the various collections of English plays, such as Bell’s, Oxberry’s, Inchbald’s, Dibdin’s, Cumberland’s, etc., and in the collected editions of Farquhar’s works dated 1718, 1728, 1736, 1742, 1760, and 1772. The principal modern editions of Farquhar are Leigh Hunt’s (along with Wycherley, Vanbrugh, and Congreve), and Ewald’s (1892), in two volumes large octavo.

The reader may find some faults in this play, which my illness prevented the amending of; but there is great amends made in the representation, which cannot be matched, no more than the friendly and indefatigable care of Mr. Wilks, to whom I chiefly owe the success of the play. —GEORGE FARQUHAR.

Dramatis Personae
[With names of the original actors and actresses.]
Scene: Lichfield.

Prologue - Spoken by Mr. Wilks
WHEN strife disturbs, or sloth corrupts an age, Keen satire is the business of the stage. When the Plain-Dealer writ, he lash’d those crimes, Which then infested most - the modish times: But now, when faction sleeps, and sloth is fled, And all our youth in active fields are bred; When through Great Britain’s fair extensive round, The trumps of fame, the notes of UNION sound; When Anna’s sceptre points the laws their course, And her example gives her precepts force: [10] There scarce is room for satire; all our lays Must be, or songs of triumph, or of praise. But as in grounds best cultivated, tares And poppies rise among the golden ears; Our product so, fit for the field or school, Must mix with nature’s favourite plant - a fool: A weed that has to twenty summers ran, Shoots up in stalk, and vegetates to man. Simpling our author goes from field to field, And culls such fools as many diversion yield {20] And, thanks to Nature, there’s no want of those, For rain or shine, the thriving coxcomb grows. Follies to-night we show ne’er lash’d before, Yet such as nature shows you every hour; Nor can the pictures give a just offence, For fools are made for jests to men of sense.

[ previous ]
[ top ]
[ next ]