A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Carey, Henry

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CAREY, Henry, a reputed natural son of George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, was a popular composer and dramatist in the first half of the 18th century. His first music-master was a German named Olaus Westeinson Linnert, and he subsequently received instruction from Roseingrave and Geminiani. Although possessed of ready invention as a melodist, yet, his acquaintance with the science of his art being but limited, he had to gain a subsistence chiefly by teaching. In 1715 he wrote and composed the music for the farce of 'The Contrivances; or, More Ways than One,' which was produced at Drury Lane Theatre on August 9 in that year with much success. The character of Arethusa in this piece was long the probationary part for female singers before they ventured on parts of more importance. His next production was a farce called 'Hanging and Marriage; or, The Dead Man's Wedding,' performed March 15, 1722, at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre. In 28 he set to music the songs in Vanbrugh and Cibber's comedy 'The Provoked Husband.' He next wrote the operas of 'Amelia' (the music by Lampe), which was performed at the Haymarket Theatre in the summer of 1732, and 'Teraminta,' which was set to music by John Christopher Smith and produced at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre on Nov. [App. p.579 "Oct."] 20, 1732. Each of these pieces was described as 'a New English Opera after the Italian manner.' On Dec. 2, 32, Carey produced at Drury Lane Theatre a ballad opera called 'Betty; or, The Country Bumpkins,' which met with a cold reception. In 33 he wrote and composed a musical entertainment called 'Cephalus and Procris,' which was produced at Drury Lane Theatre with a pantomime interlude entitled 'Harlequin Volgi.' On Feb. 22, 1734, he produced at the Haymarket Theatre 'The most Tragical Tragedy that ever was Tragedized by any Company of Tragedians, called, Chrononhotonthologos'; a highly humorous burlesque of the bombast and fustian prevalent among some of the dramatists of the day, and especially of their partiality for tautologous expressions. This he also described as his 'Tragedy of half an act.' In 1735 he produced a ballad-opera entitled 'A Wonder; or, the Honest Yorkshireman,' performed by the Covent Garden company at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre for one night only, July 11, 1735, but which, when transferred to the Haymarket and Goodman's Fields Theatres later in the same year under its second title, met with such success that it was soon adopted at the other theatres and long remained a stock piece. On Oct. 26, 1737 Carey's burlesque-opera 'The Dragon of Wantley,' a satire on the Italian opera of the day, the music by Lampe, was produced at Covent Garden Theatre with such signal success that it ran 67 nights during the season. In the next year the author and composer joined in the production of a sequel entitled 'Margery; or, A Worse Plague than the Dragon' (a title afterwards changed to 'The Dragoness'), which was produced at Covent Garden Theatre on Dec. 9, 1738. Although by no means deficient in merit, its success was but partial. In 39, on the breaking out of the war with Spain, Carey wrote and composed a musical interlude called 'Nancy; or, The Parting Lovers,' which was brought out at Drury Lane Theatre and was remarkably successful. It was revived at Covent Garden Theatre, with alterations in 1755 (on the prospect of a war) under the name of 'The Press Gang; or, Love in Low Life,' and frequently brought forward on similar occasions under the title of 'True Blue.' In the latter part of his life Carey collected his principal dramatic pieces and published them in 1743 by subscription in a quarto volume.

In 1720 [App. p.579 "1713"] Carey published a small volume of his poems. This he afterwards enlarged and published by subscription in 29, with the addition of a poem called 'Namby Pamby' (a good-humoured satire on a poem written by Ambrose Phillips on the infant daughter of Lord Carteret), which received the commendations of Pope.

The songs and cantatas written and composed by Carey were very numerous. In 1732 he published 'Six Cantatas,' and in 1739–40 [App. p.579 "1737"], under the title of 'The Musical Century, in One hundred English Ballads on various subjects and occasions, adapted to several characters and incidents in Human Life, and calculated for innocent conversation, mirth and instruction,' issued two folio volumes of songs written and composed by himself, to the first of which his portrait is prefixed. A second edition appeared in 1740, and a third in 43. Of all his compositions, the most popular, and that which will transmit his name to posterity, is his ballad of 'Sally in our Alley,' one of the most striking and original melodies that ever emanated from the brain of a musician. The author's account of its origin is as follows:—'A shoemaker's prentice, making holiday with his sweetheart treated her with a sight of Bedlam, the puppet shows, the flying chairs, and all the elegancies of Moorfields, from whence proceeding to the Farthing Pye House he gave her a collation of buns, cheese-cakes, gammon of bacon, stuffed beef and bottled ale, through all which scenes the author dodged them. Charmed with the simplicity of their courtship, he drew from what he had witnessed this little sketch of nature.' He adds, with pardonable pride, that Addison had more than once expressed his approbation of his production.

Carey died at his house in Great Warner Street, Clerkenwell, on Oct. 4, 1743. It has been generally said that 'he put a period to a life which had been led without reproach, at the advanced age of eighty, by suicide,' and the impulse to the act has been variously assigned to pecuniary embarrassment, domestic unhappiness, and the malevolence of some of his fellow professors. But the manner of his death seems doubtful. In the Daily Post of Oct. 5, 1743, we read 'Yesterday morning Mr. H. Carey, well known to the musical world for his droll compositions, got out of bed from his wife in perfect health and was soon after found dead. He has left six children behind him.' An advertisement in the same newspaper on Nov. 17, 43, announces a performance on that evening at Covent Garden Theatre 'For the Benefit of the Widow and Four small Children of the late Mr. Henry Carey,' in which the widow describes herself as 'left entirely destitute of any provision.' His age at the time of his death was probably much overstated. Sir John Hawkins thus estimates Carey's abilities:—'As a musician Carey seems to have been one of the first of the lowest rank; and as a poet the last of that class of which D'Urfey was the first, with this difference, that in all the songs and poems written by him on wine, love and such kind of subjects, he seems to have manifested an inviolable regard for decency and good manners.'

Carey's posthumous son, George Savile Carey [App. p.575 "1743–1807 (Dict. of Nat. Biog.)"], inherited much of his father's talent. He became an actor, but not succeeding he contrived by giving entertainments of singing, recitation, and imitations, to earn a precarious living for about forty years. In the latter part of his life he claimed for his father the composition of 'God save the King,' and the claim occupied much attention for some time. Indeed it is still as hotly debated as ever, and will probably never be satisfactorily decided. G. S. Carey's daughter, Anne, was the mother of Edmund Kean, the tragedian.

[ W. H. H. ]