Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 47.djvu/323

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vehemently attacked; cf. Langbaine, p. 465). In his edition of Shakespeare Steevens furnished some specimens of Ravenscroft's embellishments (Biographica Dramatica, iii. 241). Genest (i. 232–6) agrees in condemning the additions, but approves of some of the alterations.

Ravenscroft was fully himself again in the outrageous farce which, under the title of ‘The London Cuckolds’ (first acted at Dorset Garden in 1682, and printed in the following year), delighted the public in a long series of representations, which it ultimately became customary to give regularly on Lord Mayor's Day (see Tatler, No. 8). In 1751 Garrick had the courage to lay it aside at Drury Lane, and it was discontinued at Covent Garden from 9 Nov. 1754, when George II had ordered the ‘Provoked Husband’ in its stead. Having been revived in a reduced shape in 1782 (for Quick's benefit), it was finally banished from the stage, of which, in Dibdin's opinion, it had constituted ‘the greatest disgrace’ (History of the Stage, iv. 204; see, per contra, Genest's liberal judgment, i. 365–6). The piece is laughable, and although its principal situations are, as Langbaine duly points out, borrowed from at least half a dozen sources, it possesses the merits of rapidity and perspicuity. In 1683 there followed the comedy of ‘Dame Dobson, or the Cunning Woman’ (printed in 1684), which in the prologue Ravenscroft calls his ‘Recantation’ play, professing to have made it ‘dull and civil’ of set purpose. It failed, although its French original had been successful; the farcical use made in it of the tradition of Friar Bacon's Brazen Head has survived on the stage. The epilogue is directed against the whigs of the city.

After an interval of several years, Ravenscroft brought out at the Theatre Royal in 1694 a comedy called ‘The Canterbury Guests, or the Bargain Broken’ (printed in 1695), which he had furbished up with some scenes from earlier pieces of his own, and which appears to have deservedly ‘met with only a very indifferent success’ (Biographia Dramatica, ii. 80; cf. Genest, ii. 517–8). On the other hand, his comedy, or farce, of ‘The Anatomist, or the Sham Doctor,’ was greatly applauded at Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1697 (printed in the same year, and again in 1722), there being incorporated with it a musical masque or ‘opera, as the world goes now;’ prologue written by Motteux, and called ‘The Loves of Mars and Venus.’ The farce itself, which is briskly written, was revised in 1743, having been compressed into two acts, and the doctor having been turned into a French ‘Monsieur le Médecin,’ in which assumption Blakes was considered inimitable (Genest, iv. 59; Whincop, p. 279). In this shape it was repeatedly reproduced, for the last time apparently in 1801. In the same year, 1697, Ravenscroft's tragedy, ‘The Italian Husband’ (printed 1698), was performed at Lincoln's Inn Fields. It is said in the ‘Biographia Dramatica’ to be founded upon a horrible tale in a collection by Thomas Wright of Peterhouse, ‘The Glory of God's Revenge against Murther and Adultery’ (1685).

To Ravenscroft has also been ascribed the authorship of ‘Tom Essence, or the Modish Wife’ (acted at Dorset Garden in 1676 and printed in 1677), but this comedy is not altogether in his manner, and is with greater probability attributed to Thomas Rawlins [q. v.]

Genest (ii. 122) perhaps goes rather far in saying that Ravenscroft's ‘merit as a dramatic writer has been vastly underrated;’ but he certainly had few if any superiors among his contemporaries in farce, and in general possessed, together with much skill in construction, an unusual fluency and ease as a writer of dialogue. His quarrel with Dryden, which he coolly treated as an ordinary disagreement between ‘two of a trade,’ has obtained for him a greater posthumous notoriety than might otherwise have fallen to his lot, but has also caused him to be designated a ‘miserable scribbler’ by Dryden's editor, Sir Walter Scott (see Introductory Note to ‘The Assignation,’ Scott, Dryden, revised by Saintsbury, iv. 367). Ravenscroft was assuredly not one of the ‘great wits,’ who (as he says in the Prologue to ‘Scaramouch’) ‘oft'ner write to please themselves than the public.’ He borrowed so freely that Laingbaine's stricture that ‘this rickety poet (though of so many years) cannot go without others assistance,’ and Dibdin's opinion that Ravenscroft's plays are ‘a series of thefts from beginning to end,’ are not easy to controvert. Yet, to a certain extent (though far less than Dryden), he redeemed his character as a plagiary by his skill and cleverness in adaptation.

[The life of Ravenscroft in vol. iii. of the Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland, purporting to be by Mr. [Theophilus] Cibber, and other hands, contains no biographical data. See also Thomas Whincop's List of Dramatic Authors, &c., 1747, pp. 278–9; Genest's Account of the English Stage, 1832, vols. i. and ii.; Langbaine's Account of the English Dramatic Poets, 1691; Dibdin's History of the Stage,