Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Murphy, Arthur
MURPHY, ARTHUR (1727–1805), author and actor, the son of Richard Murphy, a Dublin merchant, and his wife Jane French, was born 27 Dec. 1727 at Clomquin, Roscommon, the house of his maternal uncle, Arthur French. After the death in 1729 of his father lost at sea Arthur Murphy and his elder brother James [see below] lived with their mother at St. George's Quay, Dublin, until in 1735 the family removed to London. In 1736 he was at Boulogne with his aunt, Mrs. Arthur Plunkett, and was sent in 1738, under the name of Arthur French, to the English College at St. Omer, which he quitted after a residence of six years, returning to his mother in London in July 1744. In August 1747 he was sent by his uncle, Jeffery French, M.P., to serve as clerk with Edmund Harold, a merchant in Cork, where he stayed until April 1749. Shortly afterwards, having offended his uncle by refusing to go to Jamaica, he transferred himself to the banking-house of Ironside & Belchier in Lombard Street, where he stayed until the end of 1751. Frequenting the theatre and the coffee-houses he conceived literary aspirations, made friends with Samuel Foote [q. v.] and others, and on 21 Oct. 1752 published the first number of the 'Gray's Inn Journal,' a weekly periodical on the lines of the 'Spectator' or the 'Rambler,' dealing to some extent with the drama and stage, and giving occasionally essays in the shape of dialogues. This publication, which concluded 12 Oct. 1754, occupies two volumes of his collected works. On the death of his uncle he found himself disappointed of an expected legacy, and being 300l. in debt he took, at Foote's advice, to the stage. On 18 Oct. 1754, as Othello, to the Iago of Ryan and the Desdemona of George Anne Bellamy [q. v.], he made at Covent Garden his first appearance as an actor.' Mrs. Hamilton, the Emilia, spoke a prologue by Murphy in which he said of himself,
He copies no man—of what Shakespeare drew
His humble sense he offers to your view.
This performance was received with favour and repeated on the 19th and 21st, and for the fifth time on 5 Dec. According to Tate Wilkinson, he had good judgment, but wanted powers for great effect. For Mrs. Bellamy's benefit, 18 March 1755, he played Zamor in 'Alzira,' assumably Aaron Hill's adaptation from Voltaire, in which, at Mrs. Bellamy's request, Murphy made some alterations. Young Bevil in the 'Conscious Lovers ' and Archer, both for benefits, followed, and on 4 April, for his own benefit, he appeared as Hamlet. Richard III, Biron in the 'Fatal Marriage,' and Macbeth were given during the season. His first appearance at Drury Lane took place under Garrick, 20 Sept. 1755, as Osmyn in the 'Mourning Bride.' Essex in the 'Earl of Essex,' Bajazet in 'Tamerlane,' Richard III, Barbarossa, and Horatio followed.
On 2 Jan. 1756 Murphy's first farce, the 'Apprentice' (8vo, 1756), was given at Drury Lana. It is in two acts, and derides the ambition to act of the uneducated. A prologue written by Garrick was spoken by Woodward, and an epilogue was given by Mrs. Clive. Woodward obtained much reputation as Dick, a part subsequently played by Bannister and Lewis. Murphy also published anonymously, 8vo, 1756, with the connivance of Garrick, 'The Spouter, or the Triple Revenge,' a two-act farce (not included in his collected works), the characters in which include, under transparent disguises, Garrick, Rich, Theophilus Gibber, Foote, and John Hill. The latter three were satirised with some coarseness under the names of Slender, Squint-eyed Pistol, and Dapperwit. Garrick was called Patent. For Murphy's attack on Foote some justification was afforded. In the summer of 1755 he had conceived a farce, 'The Englishman from Paris,' in avowed continuation of Foote's 'Englishman in Paris,' Proud of his idea, he had incautiously communicated it, with the development of his whole plot, characters, &c., to Foote, who approved it and hastily turned it into 'The Englishman returned from Paris,' which he gave 3 Feb. 1756 at Covent Garden, thus taking the wind out of the sails of Murphy's play, which could not be produced until 3 April (the author's benefit), and was given only once. At the close of this season Murphy, who had lived economically and had made a considerable sum by his ' Apprentice ' and his benefit, retired from the stage the owner of 100l. after his debts had been paid. On 30 March 1757, for Mossop's benefit, was played at Drury Lane the ' Upholsterer, or What News ? ' a two-act farce by Murphy, avowedly taken from the ' Tatler,' but owing more to Fielding's ' Coffee-house Politician.' Superbly acted by Garrick, Yates, Woodward, ; Palmer, Mrs. Olive, and Mrs. Yates, the piece long held possession of the stage. In 1763 Murphy made alterations in it, and in 1807 an additional scene by Joseph Moser [q. v.], printed in the 'European Magazine,' vol. lii., was supplied. It shows a number of meddling tradesmen neglecting their own business to discuss political issues, and is a fairly clever caricature. Meanwhile, in 1757 he applied for admission as a student to the Middle Temple, and was refused by the benchers on the ground that he was an actor. He then began, in opposition to the 'Contest' of Owen Ruffhead, the 'Test,' a weekly paper, in which he supported Henry Fox, afterwards Lord Holland [q. v.], by whom Lord Mansfield was induced to take up the cause of Murphy, and secure his admission at Lincoln's Inn. In opposition to the ' North Briton ' he also edited a weekly paper called 'The Auditor.'
Murphy's first tragedy, 'The Orphan of China,' 8vo, 1759, was produced at Drury Lane 21 April 1759, and played nine times. It was built upon the 'Orpheiin de la Chine' of Voltaire, produced 20 Aug. 1755 at the Theatre Francais. Reshaped by Murphy it was played with indifferent success at Covent Garden, 6 Nov. 1777, and was acted in Dublin so recently as 1810. On 24 Jan. 1759 two pieces by Murphy were produced at Drury Lane. 'The Desert Island,' 8vo, 1760, is a dull dramatic poem in three acts, imitated from Metastasio. 'The Way to keep him,' a comedy, 8vo, 17GO, was played and printed originally in three acts. On 10 Jan. 1761 it was produced in five acts, the characters of Sir Bashful and Lady Constant being added and other changes made. Garrick on both occasions played Lovemore. The piece, which had a considerable success, was reprinted in its enlarged form, 8vo, 1761. It satirises with some cleverness women who after marriage are at no pains to retain their husbands. 'All in the Wrong,' 8vo, 1761, an adaptation of Moliere's 'Cocu Imaginaire,' was brought out by Foote and Murphy in partnership during a summer season at Drury Lane, 15 June 1761. On 2 July 'The Citizen,' 8vo, 1763, printed as a farce but acted as a comedy, and 'The Old Maid,' 8vo, 1761, a comedy, both by Murphy, were played under the same joint-management. The earlier piece owes something to the 'Fausse Agnes ' of Destouches, produced two years earlier in Paris ; the second, a two-act comedy, is indebted to 'L'Etourderie' of Fagan. 'No one's Enemy but his own,' 8vo, 1764, a three-act comedy, subsequently shortened to two acts, given at Drury Lane 9 Jan. 1764, a version of 'L'Indiscret' of Voltaire, was unsuccessful, as was a second piece by Murphy, taken from the 'Guardian,' No. 173, and called at first 'What we must all come to,' 8vo, 1764. This was hissed from the stage before the performance was completed. Revived 30 March 1776 it was successful, and has since been frequently played as 'Three Weeks after Marriage.' ' The Choice,' not printed apparently until 1786, was played at Drury Lane 23 Feb. 1764. 'The School for Guardians,' 8vo, 1767, was given at Covent Garden 10 Jan. 1667. It is founded on three plays of Moliere, ' L'Ecole des Femmes' being principally used, and was subsequently at the same house turned into a three-act opera called ' Love finds the Way.' Murphy's tragedy 'Zenobia,' 8vo, 1768, 1786, was given at Drury Lane 27 Feb. 1768, and is a translation from Crébillon. It was followed, 26 Feb. 1772, at the same theatre by 'The Grecian Daughter,' 8vo, 1772, Murphy's best-known tragedy. 'Alzuma,' 8vo, 1773, a tragedy, 23 Feb. 1773, saw the light at Covent Garden. It is an unsuccessful compilation from many plays. 'News from Parnassus,' a rather sparkling satire on actors, critics, &c., printed only in the collection of Murphy's works, was given at Covent Garden 23 Sept. 1776. 'Know your own Mind,' 8vo, 1778, a rendering of the 'Irresolu' of Destouches, was played for Woodward's benefit at Covent Garden, 10 April 1777. 'The Rival Sisters,' 8vo, 1786, was not acted until 18 March 1793, when for her benefit Mrs. Siddons produced it and played Ariadne. Another tragedy, 'Arminius,' included in the 1786 collection, was not seen on the stage.
Murphy retired from the bar in 1788. He had made very considerable sums by his dramas, and had inherited a bequest of West Indian slaves, which he sold for 1,000l., but remained in straitened circumstances, and was appointed by Lord Loughborough a commissioner of bankrupts. At the recommendation of Addington'he was granted a pension of 200l. a year by George III, beginning 5 Jan. 1803. He involved himself in considerable debt, however, in his attempts to publish his translations, and was compelled to sell his residence, the westernmost house in Hammersmith Terrace, and a portion of his library. It is stated that he ate himself out of every tavern from the other end of Temple Bar to the West End. He afterwards lived in Brompton, and was in the habit, when writing, of staying at an hotel at Richmond. It was only in his later years, when his health and mind had begun to fail, that he was free from pecuniary embarrassments. He was a favourite in society, a guest at noble houses, and a man much respected and courted. According to his friend Samuel Rogers, whom he introduced to the Piozzis, Murphy used at one time to walk arm in arm with Lord Loughborough. Rogers, who had bills of his for over 200l., received an assignment of his ' Tacitus ' and other works, and found that they had already been assigned to a bookseller. For this conduct Murphy offered an abject apology. On other occasions the honourable conduct of Murphy is praised. He was in 1784 a member of the Essex Head Club, and Johnson, according to the ' Collectanea ' of Dr. Maxwell, ' very much loved him.' His correspondence with Garrick shows him, however, suspicious and irascible, if soon appeased. Rogers says that when any of his plays encountered opposition he took a walk to cool himself in Covent Garden.
Murphy died 18 June 1805 at his residence, 14 Queen's Row, Knightshridge. He was buried at his own request in Hammersmith Church in a grave he had previously bought for his mother. An epitaph was placed there by his executor and biographer, Jesse Foot [q. v.] He was fairly well built, narrow-shouldered, had an oval face with a fair complexion and full light eyes, and was marked with the small-pox. Two portraits of him appear in the ' Life ' by Foot, and one, painted by Nathaniel Dance, was engraved by W. Ward. Murphy brought on the stage and lived with a Miss Ann Elliot, an uneducated girl of natural abilities, who was his original Maria in the 'Citizen.' He took great interest in her and wrote her biography (1769, 12mo). She died young and left him her money, which he transferred to her relatives.
The comedies of Murphy have not in all cases lost the spirit of the originals from which he took them. Several of them were acted early in the present century. His tragedies are among the worst that have obtained any reputation. 'Zenobia,' however, was played so late as 1815, and the 'Grecian Daughter' many years later. Totally devoid of invention, Murphy invariably took his plots from previous writers. He showed, however, facility and skill in adapting them to English tastes. His collected works appeared in 1786 in 7 vols. 8vo, with a portrait by Cook after Dance. These consist of the plays and the 'Gray's Inn Journal.' Many of his plays figure in Bell's, Inchbald's, and other collections.
Murphy edited in 1762 an edition in 12 vols. of the 'Works' of Henry Fielding, with a life, giving facts with very slight attention to chronological sequence. In 1801 he issued in 2 vols. a 'Life of David Garrick,' which is clumsy and ill-digested and largely occupied with his own relations, seldom too amiable, to Garrick. It was abridged and translated into French. He published an 'Essay on the Life and Genius of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.,' 8vo, 1792, and collected materials for a life of Foote. He translated 'Tacitus' in 4 vols. 4to, 1793, described as an 'elegant but too paraphrastic version ; 'Sallust, 8vo, 1807; Vaniere's 'The Bees,' from the 14th Book of the ' Praedium Rusticum,' and Vida's ' Game of Chess.' Other works by him are : ' A Letter to Mons. de Voltaire on the "Desert Island," by Arthur Murphy,' London, 1760, 8vo ; ' The Examiner [originally called ' The Expostulation '] : a Satire by Arthur Murphy,' London, 1761, 4to, directed against Lloyd, Churchill, &c., an answer to ' The Murphiad, a Mock-heroic Poem,' London, 1761, 4to ; the 'Meretriciad,' and other satires ; an 'Ode to the Naiads of Fleet Ditch, by Arthur Murphy,' London, 1761, 4to, a furious attack on Churchill, who in his ' Apology ' had derided Murphy and his ' Desert Island ; ' ' Beauties of Magazines, consisting of Essays by ... Murphy,' 12mo, 1772 ; ' Anecdotes by Murphy,' added to Boswell's 'Johnson,' 1835, 8vo ; ' A Letter from a Right Honourable Personage, translated into Verse by A. Murphy,' 4to, 1761 ; ' A Letter from the anonymous Author of the "Letters Versified" to the anonymous Writer of the "Monitor,"' 4to, 1761 ; ' Seventeen Hundred and Ninety-One : an Imitation of the 13th Satire of Juvenal,' 1791, 4to.
'A Letter from Mons. de Voltaire to the Author of the "Orphan of China," ' London, 8vo, was published in 1759.
The actor's elder brother, James Murphy (1725-1759), dramatic writer, was born on St. George's Quay, Dublin, in September 1725, and was educated at Westminster School. He studied law in the Middle Temple, and was called to the bar. He soon adopted the surname of French, from his uncle Jeffery French, M.P. for Milbourne Port, and was generally known as James Murphy French. When his brother started the 'Gray's Inn Journal' he joined him, and wrote for it occasionally. He made the acquaintance of Samuel Foote and David Garrick, and wrote two plays, ' The Brothers,' a comedy adapted from Terence's 'Adelphi,' and a farce entitled ' The Conjuror, or the Enchanted Garden,' neither of which was apparently printed or performed, but a correspondence respecting them is given in Foot's life of Arthur Murphy. He wrote fugitive verse of a passable kind, and some specimens will be found in his brother's biography. In 1758 he went to Jamaica, where his uncle owned some property, intending to practise his profession there, but he died soon after his arrival at Kingston on 5 Jan. 1759 (Foot, Life of Arthur Murphy, p. 114). The manuscripts of his two plays were sold at the sale of Arthur Murphy's library.
[The principal source of information is the biography by Foot (4to, 18 11), founded on papers, including portions of an autobiography, left by Murphy. The Garrick Correspondence overflows with letters from him. His stage career is extracted from Genest, who gives a summary of his performances. See also Nichols's Anecdotes; Boswell's Johnson, ed. Hill; Dibdin's Hist. of the Stage; Davies's Dramatic Miscellanies and Life of Garrick; Cumberland's Memoirs; Rogers's Table Talk; Georgian Era; Clark Russell's Representative Actors; Chalmers's Biog. Dict.; Baker's Biographia Dramatica.]