Macfarren, George (1788-1843) (DNB00)

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MACFARREN, GEORGE (1788–1843), dramatist and theatrical manager, born in London 5 Sept. 1788, was son ofGeorge Macfarren. He was educated chiefly at Archbishop Tenison's school in Castle Street, Leicester Square, and while there he wrote a tragedy which was privately played by his school-fellows, with the support of Edmund Kean, then a boy of their own age. Macfarren was also something of a musician, and according to his son, Sir G. Macfarren, 'he could sustain either of the parts in a violin quartet,' and 'had he not met with a fashionable teacher of dancing, named Bishop, who offered to make him a gentleman instead of a fiddler, he would have adopted music as his profession' (Musical World, lv. 24, 1877). He was the first teacher of Oury the violinist (Dubourg, The Violin, 1878 ed., p. 217), and while still under twenty years of age he opened a dancing academy of his own. In 1816 he visited Paris, where he had lessons in dancing from the best teachers. His natural bent was, however, towards the stage, and on 28 Sept. 1818 his first publicly performed dramatic work, 'Ah ! what a Pity, or the Dark Knight and the Fair Lady,' was given at the English Opera House (for the benefit of John Pritt Harley) [q. v.]; from this date almost every year witnessed the production of some piece or other from his pen. In February 1831 he took over the management of the theatre in Tottenham Street, which he called the Queen's Theatre, in honour of Queen Adelaide, and here he remained until July of the following year, producing, among numerous other works, a dramatic version of Handel's 'Acis and Galatea,' for which Cipriani Potter wrote additional accompaniments (cf. Banister, Life of G. A. Macfarren, p. 36, 1892). Macfarren seems to have laid special stress upon accuracy of detail and naturalness in staging the plays which he produced. Robert Elliston, successively lessee of Drury Lane, the Olympic, and Surrey theatres, stated that 'no such perfect pictures as he saw at the Queen's Theatre had ever been put on the stage.' Stanfield painted a drop-scene, which he presented to Macfarren as a token of friendship; Winston was acting-manager, and Leitch was ultimately appointed scene-painter. However, the venture did not meet with pecuniary success, and Macfarren left the Queen's on being appointed stage-manager of the Surrey. He afterwards went to the Strand. He was a good amateur draughtsman and painter, a faculty which stood him in good stead in designing theatrical scenes.

In 1834 he visited Milan, where his daughter was studying singing, and there wrote the libretto of an opera, 'Caractacus.' During some years of his life Macfarren was totally blind, but a year before his death he underwent an operation for cataract and recovered his sight. While blind he devoted himself largely to literature, and he first suggested the formation of the Handel Society. In 1841 he became editor and proprietor of the 'Musical World.' He died suddenly on 24 April 1843 in Castle Street, Leicester Square.

Macfarren married, in August 1808, Elizabeth (b. 20 Jan. 1792), daughter of John Jackson, a bookbinder, of Glasgow, who had settled in London. Their eldest son, Sir George Alexander Macfarren, is noticed separately.

The following are the titles of his chief dramatic works, Nos. 1 to 7 being produced at the Royal Coburg Theatre:

  1. 'Winning a Husband,' comedietta, in two acts, written for Mrs. Barrymore, produced in 1819.
  2. 'Guy Fawkes,' drama, in three acts, 1822.
  3. 'Tom and Jerry in France,' comedietta, in two acts, 1823.
  4. 'Edward the Black Prince,' historical drama, in three acts, 1823.
  5. 'George III,' historical drama, in three acts, 1824.
  6. 'The Horatii and Curiatii,' historical drama, in three acts, written for the appearance of Booth (1825) at the Coburg.
  7. 'Sir Peter Pry.'
  8. 'Malvina,' drama, with music by T. S. Cooke, in three acts, 1826.
  9. 'Oberon,' romantic drama, in three acts, 1826.
  10. 'Gil Bias,' drama, in three acts, 1827.
  11. 'Emblematical Tribute on the Marriage of the Queen,' 1840.
  12. 'Don Quixote' (posthumous), opera, in two acts, 1846.

Nos. 8 to 12 produced at Drury Lane.

  1. 'Auld Robin Gray,' domestic drama, in three acts, 1828.
  2. 'The Talisman,' drama, in three acts, 1828.
  3. 'My Old Woman,' farce, 1829.
  4. 'March of Intellect,' farce, written for the infant prodigy Burke, who acted, danced, sang, and played the violin, 1829.

Nos. 13 to 16 produced at the Royal Surrey.

  1. 'The Danish Wife,' drama, in three acts, produced at the Queen's Theatre, 1831.
  2. 'Harlequin Reformer,' Christmas pantomime, at the Surrey, 1831.
  3. 'Innocent Sins,' comedietta, in two acts, at the Strand, 1838.
  4. 'The Devil's Opera,' two acts [see G. A. Macfarren].
  5. 'The Matrimonial Ladder,' comic opera, in two acts, music by Ambroise Thomas, 1839, produced at the Lyceum.
  6. 'Latin, Love, and War,' farce, produced at the Haymarket, 1839.

In addition to these pieces Macfarren wrote very many short poems, which were set to music by E. J. Loder, G. A. and W. C. Macfarren, Henry Smart ('Estelle') and others. There is a small oil portrait of Macfarren by H. Lejeune, R.A., and another by Davison, life size, kit-cat, which is in the possession of Mr. Walter Macfarren.

[Authorities already given, and information most kindly supplied by Mr. Walter Cecil Macfarren.]

R. H. L.