Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pix, Mary

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PIX, Mrs. MARY (1666–1720?), dramatist, born in 1666 at Nettlebed in Oxfordshire, was daughter of the Rev. Roger Griffith, vicar of that place. Her mother, whose maiden name was Lucy Berriman, claimed descent from the ‘very considerable family of the Wallis's.’ In the dedication of ‘The Spanish Wives’ Mrs. Pix speaks of meeting Colonel Tipping ‘at Soundess,’ or Soundness. This house, which was close to Nettlebed, was the property of John Wallis, eldest son of the mathematician. Mary Griffith's father died before 1684, and on 24 July in that year she married in London, at St. Saviour's, Benetfink, George Pix (b. 1660), a merchant tailor of St. Augustine's parish. His family was connected with Hawkhurst, Kent. By him she had one child, who was buried at Hawkhurst in 1690.

It was in 1696, in which year Colley Cibber, Mrs. Manley, Catharine Cockburn (Mrs. Trotter), and Lord Lansdowne also made their débuts, that Mrs. Pix first came into public notice. She produced at Dorset Garden, and then printed, a blank-verse tragedy of ‘Ibrahim, the Thirteenth Emperor of the Turks.’ When it was too late, she discovered that she should have written ‘Ibrahim the Twelfth.’ This play she dedicated to the Hon. Richard Minchall of Bourton, a neighbour of her country days. In the same year (1696) Mary Pix published a novel, ‘The Inhuman Cardinal,’ and a farce, ‘The Spanish Wives,’ which had enjoyed a very considerable success at Dorset Garden.

From this point she devoted herself to dramatic authorship with more activity than had been shown before her time by any woman except Mrs. Afra Behn [q. v.] In 1697 she produced at Little Lincoln's Inn Fields, and then published, a comedy of ‘The Innocent Mistress.’ This play, which was very successful, shows the influence of Congreve upon the author, and is the most readable of her productions. The prologue and epilogue were written by Peter Anthony Motteux [q. v.] It was followed the next year by ‘The Deceiver Deceived,’ a comedy which failed, and which involved the poetess in a quarrel. She accused George Powell [q. v.], the actor, of having seen the manuscript of her play, and of having stolen from it in his ‘Imposture Defeated.’ On 8 Sept. 1698 an anonymous ‘Letter to Mr. Congreve’ was published in the interests of Powell, from which it would seem that Congreve had by this time taken Mary Pix under his protection, with Mrs. Trotter, and was to be seen ‘very gravely with his hat over his eyes … together with the two she-things called Poetesses’ (see GOSSE, Life of Congreve, pp. 123–5). Her next play was a tragedy of ‘Queen Catharine,’ brought out at Lincoln's Inn, and published in 1698. Mrs. Trotter wrote the epilogue. In her own prologue Mary Pix pays a warm tribute to Shakespeare. ‘The False Friend’ followed, at the same house, in 1699; the title of this comedy was borrowed three years later by Vanbrugh.

Hitherto Mary Pix had been careful to put her name on her title-pages or dedications; but the comedy of ‘The Beau Defeated’—undated, but published in 1700—though anonymous, is certainly hers. In 1701 she produced a tragedy of ‘The Double Distress.’ Two more plays have been attributed to Mary Pix by Downes. One of these is ‘The Conquest of Spain,’ an adaptation from Rowley's ‘All's lost by Lust,’ which was brought out at the Queen's theatre in the Haymarket, ran for six nights, and was printed anonymously in 1705 (DOWNE, Roscius Anglicanus, p. 48). Finally, the comedy of the ‘Adventures in Madrid’ was acted at the same house with Mrs. Bracegirdle in the cast, and printed anonymously and without date. It has been attributed by the historians of the drama to 1709; but a copy in the possession of the present writer has a manuscript note of date of publication ‘10 August 1706.’

Nearly all our personal impression of Mary Pix is obtained from a dramatic satire entitled ‘The Female Wits; or, the Triumvirate of Poets.’ This was acted at Drury Lane Theatre about 1697, but apparently not printed until 1704, after the death of the author, Mr. W. M. It was directed at the three women who had just come forward as competitors for dramatic honours—Mrs. Pix, Mrs. Manley, and Mrs. Trotter [see Cockburn, Catharine]. Mrs. Pix, who is described as ‘a fat Female Author, a good, sociable, well-natur'd Companion, that will not suffer Martyrdom rather than take off three Bumpers in a Hand,’ was travestied by Mrs. Powell under the name of ‘Mrs. Wellfed.’

The style of Mrs. Pix confirms the statements of her contemporaries that though, as she says in the dedication of the ‘Spanish Wives,’ she had had an inclination to poetry from childhood, she was without learning of any sort. She is described as ‘foolish and open-hearted,’ and as being ‘big enough to be the Mother of the Muses.’ Her fatness and her love of good wine were matters of notoriety. Her comedies, though coarse, are far more decent than those of Mrs. Behn, and her comic bustle of dialogue is sometimes entertaining. Her tragedies are intolerable. She had not the most superficial idea of the way in which blank verse should be written, pompous prose, broken irregularly into lengths, being her ideal of versification.

The writings of Mary Pix were not collected in her own age, nor have they been reprinted since. Several of them have become exceedingly rare. An anonymous tragedy, ‘The Czar of Muscovy,’ published in 1702, a week after her play of ‘The Double Distress,’ has found its way into lists of her writings, but there is no evidence identifying it with her in any way. She was, however, the author of ‘Violenta, or the Rewards of Virtue, turn'd from Bocacce into Verse,’ 1704.

[Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica, 2nd ser. v. 110–3; Vicar-General's Marriage Licences (Harl. Soc.), 1679–87, p. 173; Baker's Biogr. Dramatica; Doran's Annals of the English Stage, i. 243; Mrs. Pix's works; Genest's Hist. Account of the Stage.]

E. G.