Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Farquhar, George

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FARQUHAR, GEORGE (1678–1707), dramatist, born at Londonderry in 1678, is said to have been the son of a dean of Armagh, or of a poor clergyman with a living of 150l. a year and seven children. There was no dean of Armagh of the name. A John Farquhar was prebendary of Raphoe between 1667 and 1679, and may possibly have been his father. He was educated at Londonderry, and on 17 July 1694 was entered as a sizar in Trinity College, Dublin. The lives are all vague, but he probably preferred the theatre to the lecture-room. A story is told that he was expelled because, on being set to write an exercise upon the miracle of walking on the water, he made a profane jest about ‘a man who is born to be hanged.’ It is stated by his most authoritative biographer (Thomas Wilkes) that he left college, in 1695, on account of the death of his patron, Bishop Wiseman of Dromore, and became corrector of the press. In any case he took to the Dublin stage and appeared as Othello. He is said to have acted well, though his voice was thin and he suffered from ‘stage fright.’ While performing Guyomar in Dryden's ‘Indian Emperor’ he accidentally stabbed a fellow-actor. The man's life was endangered, and Farquhar was so shocked that he gave up acting. Wilkes, whose acquaintance he had made in Dublin, advised him to write a comedy, and gave him ten guineas, with which he went to London, apparently, in 1697 or 1698, in which year Wilkes himself returned to England. His first play, ‘Love and a Bottle,’ was produced at Drury Lane in 1699 and well received. In 1699, while dining at the Mitre Tavern, in St. James's Market, he heard Anne Oldfield, niece of the hostess, then aged 16, read the ‘Scornful Lady’ ‘behind the bar.’ Farquhar's admiration of her performance was reported to Vanbrugh, by whom she was introduced to Rich and engaged as an actress (Egerton, Mem. of Anne Oldfield, p. 77). She was afterwards intimate with Farquhar, and is said to be the ‘Penelope’ of his letters. In 1700 Farquhar produced the ‘Constant Couple.’ It is founded upon the ‘Adventures of Covent Garden,’ in imitation of Scarron's ‘City Romance’ published in 1699. Leigh Hunt points out that this was written by Farquhar himself, and contains a poem, ‘The Lover's Night,’ afterwards published in his ‘Miscellanies.’ The ‘Constant Couple’ is said to have been acted fifty-three times in London and twenty-three in Dublin. Malone lowers the first number to eighteen or twenty. He adds that Farquhar had three benefits. The great success led to the production of ‘Sir Harry Wildair,’ a weaker continuation. In 1702 he published ‘Love and Business; in a collection of occasionary verse and epistolary prose; not hitherto published. A Discourse likewise upon Comedy, in reference to the English stage.’ The same year, according to Wilkes, the Earl of Orrery gave him a lieutenant's commission. Other accounts place this earlier. He was in Holland, as appears from his letters, in 1700, and, it is generally suggested, on military duty. He was occasionally on service in the country. The ‘Recruiting Officer’ is dedicated to ‘all friends round the Wrekin.’ A letter to Bishop Percy, bound up in Haslewood's copy of Jacob's ‘Poetical Register’ in the British Museum, mentions an old lady who in 1763 remembered to have met him in a recruiting party at Shrewsbury. About 1703 Farquhar married. The story is that a lady fell in love with him, and won him for her husband by professing to be an heiress. It is further stated that upon discovering the trick he never upbraided her, and always treated her with the utmost kindness. In 1704 he visited Dublin and appeared as Sir Harry Wildair at his own benefit. He failed as an actor, but cleared 100l. He continued to produce plays, the most successful being the ‘Recruiting Officer,’ which was performed in 1706, and his ‘last and best,’ ‘The Beaux' Stratagem,’ in 1707. In the dedication of the ‘Recruiting Officer’ he calls the Duke of Ormonde his ‘general’ and the Earl of Orrery his ‘colonel.’ He was in difficulties, and the Duke of Ormonde advised him, it is said, to sell his commission in order to pay his debts, promising to give him a captaincy. He acted upon the advice, but the duke failed to fulfil his promise or made delays. Farquhar felt the blow so keenly that he sickened and died in April 1707. It is added that he wrote his last play in six weeks during a ‘settled illness.’ A letter to his friend Wilkes was found among his papers: ‘Dear Bob,—I have not anything to leave thee to perpetuate my memory but two helpless girls. Look upon them sometimes, and think of him that was, to the last moment of his life, thine, George Farquhar.’ Wilkes is said to have acknowledged the claim, and to have procured a benefit for each of the daughters when they were of age to be ‘put out into the world.’ The widow, however, died in great poverty; one of the daughters married a poor tradesman and died soon after; the other was living in poverty, uneducated and ignorant of her father's fame, in 1764. Leigh Hunt says, it does not appear on what authority, that she was a ‘maidservant.’ Edmund Chaloner, to whom Farquhar dedicated his ‘Miscellanies,’ is said to have procured a pension of 20l. for the daughters. A poem called ‘Barcelona,’ upon Lord Peterborough's capture of the town, is mentioned in the ‘Biographia Britannica,’ and the dedication by ‘Margaret Farquhar,’ the widow, is quoted. There is no copy in the British Museum.

Farquhar describes himself in the ‘Miscellanies,’ insisting chiefly upon his easy-going and diffident temperament, and asserting that he is habitually melancholy, ‘very splenetic, and yet very amorous.’ Such self-portraiture is not very trustworthy. As he appears in his work he is the most attractive, as he is the last, of the school generally associated with Congreve: full of real gaiety, and a gentleman in spite of recklessness and an affectation of the fashionable tone of morals. Without the keen wit or the sardonic force of his rivals, he has more genuine high spirits and good nature. The military scenes in the ‘Recruiting Officer’ are all interesting sketches from life. His comedies are: 1. ‘Love and a Bottle,’ 1699. 2. ‘A Constant Couple,’ end of 1699. 3. ‘Sir Harry Wildair,’ 1701 (published in May 1701). 4. ‘The Inconstant, or the Way to win him,’ 1702. 5. ‘The Twin Rivals,’ 17 Dec. 1702. 6. ‘The Stage Coach,’ farce in one act (with Motteux), 2 Feb. 1704. 7. ‘The Recruiting Officer,’ 8 April 1706. 8. ‘The Beaux' Stratagem,’ 8 March 1707.

[Vague and unsatisfactory lives of Farquhar were prefixed to editions of his works in 1728, 1742, and 1772; a more satisfactory life by Thomas Wilkes (a relation of the actor, see Garrick's Corr. ii. 171–2) to the Dublin edition of 1775; see also Memoirs of Wilkes, by Daniel O'Bryan, 1732, and Life of Wilkes (published by Curll), 1733; Chetwood's History of the Stage (1749), pp. 148–51; Jacob's Poetical Register, i. 98, ii. 294; Egerton's Memoirs of Mrs. Oldfield (1731), pp. 69, 77; Biog. Brit.; Leigh Hunt's life prefixed to Works of Wycherley, Congreve, Farquhar, and Vanbrugh; Genest's History of the Stage; Cibber's Lives of the Poets, iii. 124–137; Ware's Writers of Ireland.]

L. S.