Southerne, Thomas (DNB00)
|←Southern, John||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 53
|Southey, Caroline Anne→|
SOUTHERNE, THOMAS (1660–1746), dramatist, son of Francis Southerne, was born in the autumn of 1660 at Oxmantown, near Dublin, and educated at Trinity College, being admitted as a pensioner on 30 March 1676, and graduating M.A. in 1696 (Cat. Dubl. Graduates). In 1678 he was entered of the Middle Temple, London. His earliest play, ‘The Loyal Brother,’ produced in 1682, was intended to compliment the Duke of York, and his tory sympathies manifested themselves in others of his plays, both before and after the revolution. In the course of the reign of James II, Southerne was recommended by Colonel Sarsfield (afterwards Earl of Lucan) [q. v.] to the notice of the young Duke of Berwick, and, after entering as an ensign, in June 1685, the Princess Anne's regiment (now the 8th foot), of which Lord Ferrers was colonel, and which the duke subsequently commanded, he rapidly rose to the command of a company; but his military prospects were ruined by the revolution of 1688 (cf. Preface to The Spartan Dame; Dalton, English Army Lists, ii. 29, 138).
Southerne's career consequently became entirely that of a man of letters. Fortunately for him, not only was the drama the branch of literature in which his talents specially fitted him to become conspicuous, but those talents unmistakably included much business ability. Pope apostrophised him as
sent from heaven to raise
The price of prologues and of plays.
He had apparently assented to Dryden's demand of a fee of ten, instead of the customary one of five, guineas for a prologue to ‘The Loyal Brother’ (cf. Scott, Dryden, ed. Saintsbury, i. 245–6), and he netted 500l. by a single play, ‘The Spartan Dame’ (Genest, iii. 7; cf. Biographia Dramatica, i. 680). He seems to have accomplished this by insisting on the author's right to a share of the second and third night's profits.
Attaching himself to Dryden as the director of the literary, and more especially the dramatic, taste of the age, Southern gained the confidence of the veteran poet to such a degree as to be entrusted by him in 1692 with the revision and completion of his tragedy of ‘Cleomenes’ (1692; ib. p. 304). In 1694, passing from comedy to a mixed species of sentimental drama with an admixture of comic scenes, he achieved his first notable theatrical success with ‘The Fatal Marriage, or the Innocent Adultery,’ followed by the still more conspicuous triumph of ‘Oroonoko, or the Royal Slave’ (1696), on which, together with two other plays, Drury Lane is said to have subsisted for two or three years (Comparison between the Two Stages, cit. ap. Colley Cibber, Apology, ed. R. Lowe, i. 216 n.) None of his subsequent plays were greatly successful, and his last play, the comedy of ‘Money the Mistress,’ produced in 1726, with a prologue ad misericordiam, was fairly damned. In the meantime he had attained to an acknowledged position among poets and playwrights, and this position was strengthened by the kindly interest consistently exhibited by him in the efforts of younger writers. In 1726 Broome described ‘his bays’ as ‘withered by extreme old age,’ but his reputation and pleasant manners still secured him a welcome in both literary and fashionable society. In 1729 Fenton politely remarked that ‘Tom Southerne is still alive, and plays the bawd as formerly for the muses’ (Elwin, Pope, viii. 154). In 1733 Swift reported to Pope ‘our old friend Southerne's visit’ to Dublin. Pope, who paid Southerne a marked compliment as an exponent of ‘the passions’ in his ‘Imitations of Horace’ (bk. ii. ep. i. 1. 86) in 1737, addressed to him in 1742 some pleasant congratulatory verses which allude to his services to the literary profession, to his Irish birth, to his wit, and to his habits of devotion. In his old days Southerne was a regular attendant both at St. Paul's, Covent Garden, near which he lodged, and at Westminster Abbey. Oldys remembered him as ‘a grave and venerable old gentleman,’ and Gray, who met him in 1737, found little or nothing in the ‘agreeable old man’ to disillusion him as to the author of the ‘Fatal Marriage’ and ‘Oroonoko’ (Biographia Dramatica). He died on 22 May 1746. His portrait, painted by J. Worsdale, was engraved by J. Simon.
The following is a list of Southerne's plays, all of which, except where otherwise mentioned, were produced at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane: 1. ‘The Loyal Brother, or the Persian Prince’ (1682). This play, which is in blank verse intermixed with comic prose, is founded on a novel entitled ‘Tachmas, Prince of Persia.’ Dryden wrote both prologue and epilogue. The action is intended to convey a reflection upon the whigs, the character of the villain, Ismael, being supposed to be aimed at Shaftesbury. There is a trace of Southerne's pathetic power in the character of Semanthe, beloved both by the Sophy Soliman and his loyal brother. 2. ‘The Disappointment, or the Mother in Fashion’ (1684), a play of intrigue in the Spanish style, partly founded on the story of ‘The Curious Impertinent’ in ‘Don Quixote,’ in blank verse and prose. The prologue to this unpleasant play is again by Dryden; Colonel (afterwards General) Sackville contributed songs to this and others of Southerne's pieces. 3. ‘Sir Antony Love, or the Rambling Lady’ (1691). This comedy, which, owing to the acting of Mrs. Mountford, was very successful, is the grossest of Southerne's productions, though his assertion in the dedication, that his satire had a moral intention, is not unworthy of credit. 4. ‘The Wives Excuse, or Cuckolds make themselves’ (1692). This comedy, though unsuccessful, was praised by Dryden in a set of lines in which he tells Southerne:
Those who blame thy tale, commend thy wit:
So Terence plotted, but so Terence writ.
As a picture of contemporary manners, including a fashionable ‘music-meeting,’ it is extremely amusing. 5. ‘The Maid's Last Prayer, or any rather than fail’ (1692), is a comedy in the same style as the preceding; the song contributed by Congreve to the last act is supposed to have been his first acknowledged production. 6. ‘The Fatal Marriage, or the Innocent Adultery’ (1694), owing to its pathetic plot, which is founded on Mrs. Behn's novel of ‘The Nun, or the Fair Vow-breaker,’ and to the acting of Mrs. Barry in the character of Isabella, the innocent bigamist, achieved an extraordinary success. The play held the stage through the earlier half of the eighteenth century. In 1757 it was revived by Garrick, who omitted, as ‘immoral,’ the comic scenes including the outrageous scene borrowed from Fletcher's ‘Night-Walker.’ Its pathos is stagey without being hollow, and in the speeches of Isabella there is a relic of Elizabethan intensity. 7. ‘Oroonoko, or the Royal Slave’ (1696), was likewise frequently performed both in its original form and as altered in 1759 by Hawkesworth, who removed the comic scenes by which, as he says, the author had ‘stain'd his sacred page.’ The last performance noted by Genest was in 1829. The original performer of ‘the unpolished hero’ was ‘Jack’ Verbruggen (see Colley Cibber, Apology, ed. Lowe, ii. 311). Mrs. Behn's ‘History of the Royal Slave,’ on which the play was based, was itself founded on fact; and the sentiment of both story and play was creditable to an age unfamiliar with philanthropic efforts on behalf of the negro race. 8. ‘The Fate of Capua,’ acted at Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1700, though a fine historical tragedy, well constructed and carried out, failed to hit the taste of the town. 9. ‘The Spartan Dame’ Southerne commenced, at the request of the Duke of Berwick, in 1684, but he laid it aside as dangerous in subject. Even when he produced it in 1719 he omitted four hundred lines as likely to give offence. The tragedy, which is founded on Plutarch's ‘Life of Ægis,’ has some fine passages, but is inferior to its predecessor. Southerne sold the complete printed copy for 120l., and is said to have altogether made 500l. by the play. 10. ‘Money the Mistress,’ acted at Drury Lane in 1726, was unsuccessful, and though the plot, taken from the Countess Dunois or d'Anois' ‘The Lady's Travels into Spain,’ is not devoid of interest, its complicated story and the character of its heroine (a kind of potential Becky Sharp) are alike unsuited to dramatic presentment; moreover, the scene in which the action takes place (Tangier) had long become unfamiliar to the English public. In the prologue the author is introduced to the public as ‘the poets' Nestor,’
Great Otway's peer, and greater Dryden's friend.