Shadwell, Thomas (DNB00)

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SHADWELL, THOMAS (1642?–1692), dramatist and poet-laureate, was grandson of George Shadwell, and son of John Shadwell of the parish of Broomhill, Norfolk. He claimed descent from the family of Shadwell of Lyndowne, Staffordshire. John Shadwell, who had eleven children, was of the Middle Temple, and lost much of his property at the civil war. He was a justice of the peace for Middlesex, Norfolk, and Suffolk, and after the Restoration was appointed recorder of Galway and receiver there to the Duke of York, and subsequently was attorney-general at Tangier under William O'Brien, second earl of Inchiquin [q. v.] He was buried at Oxburgh, Norfolk, on 2 March 1684 (Blomefield, Norfolk, vi. 197; Oxburgh Register).

Shadwell was born in 1640 or 1642 at Broomhill House in the parish of Weeting (cf. Caius College Register; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. iv. 109). He was educated at home for five years, and afterwards for a year at the school of Bury St. Edmunds. On 17 Dec. 1656 he was admitted a pensioner to Caius College, Cambridge, ‘then aged 14,’ but he left without taking any degree, and entered the Middle Temple. After studying there for some time, he travelled abroad, and on his return turned his attention to literature.

Shadwell's first play, ‘The Sullen Lovers,’ based on Molière's ‘Les Fâcheux,’ was brought out at Lincoln's Inn Fields on 5 May 1668. It was acted twelve days (Shadwell's wife taking the part of the heroine, Emilia), and was revived when the court was at Dover in 1670 (Downes, Roscius Anglicanus, 1708, p. 29). In the preface Shadwell avowed himself a disciple of Ben Jonson, his endeavour being to represent variety of humours, as was the practice of his master. In September 1668 Pepys asked Shadwell to dinner; but when Shadwell's second play, ‘The Royal Shepherdess,’ which was adapted from Fountain's ‘The Rewards of Virtue,’ was produced before a crowded house in February 1669, Pepys said it was ‘the silliest for words and design and everything that ever I saw in my whole life.’ A much better play, ‘The Humourists,’ produced at the Theatre Royal in 1670, is said by Gildon to have met with many enemies on its first appearance. ‘The Miser,’ 1671, is an adaptation from Molière, but contains eight characters not to be found in ‘L'Avare.’ In the preface, Shadwell says that Molière's part in the play had not suffered in his hands: ‘'Tis not barrenness of wit or invention that makes us borrow from the French, but laziness.’ ‘The Miser’ was dedicated to the Earl of Dorset. Nell Gwyn wrote: ‘My Lord of Dorset … drinks ale with Shadwell and Mr. Harris at the Duke's House all day long’ (Notes and Queries, 4th ser. vii. 3).

‘Epsom Wells,’ one of Shadwell's best plays in spite of its coarseness, was acted at Dorset Garden in 1672. Shadwell says, in the dedication to his patron the Duke of Newcastle, that the town was ‘extremely kind to it.’ Sir Charles Sedley wrote a prologue, and, according to Dryden, gave the author help in writing the play. In 1673 Shadwell constructed an opera out of Shakespeare's ‘Tempest,’ with the sub-title of ‘The Enchanted Island,’ which was given at Dorset Garden with much success, and printed in 4to (Downes; cf. Genest, i. 155). In the dedication (to Monmouth) of ‘Psyche,’ produced at Dorset Garden in February 1674, Shadwell alludes to the charge that others wrote the best parts of his plays. This opera, which is in rhymed verse, was based on Molière, and was played for about eight nights. The scenery cost 800l. ‘The Libertine,’ a tragedy with Don Juan as hero, and ‘The Virtuoso’ were brought out in 1676. In the dedication to the former, Shadwell replied to the charge of hasty writing preferred against him by Elkanah Settle [q. v.] in a postscript to ‘Love and Revenge,’ 1675; in ‘The Virtuoso’ he regretted that want of means prevented him devoting his whole time to the leisurely writing of ‘correct’ comedies. In ‘Timon of Athens,’ 1678, Shadwell spoke of the inimitable hand of Shakespeare, but added, ‘Yet I can truly say I have made it into a play.’ ‘The True Widow,’ produced in 1679 or perhaps 1678, and dedicated to Sedley, was not popular, though Shadwell was well satisfied with it. ‘The Woman Captain,’ 1680, was followed by ‘The Lancashire Witches,’ 1681, which was successful in spite of the efforts of a party who said that the character of the chaplain, Smerk, was an insult to the church of England. Much of the play was struck out by the licenser before it was acted, but it was afterwards printed in full (on its coarseness, cf. Spectator, No. 141).

In 1671 Shadwell referred to Dryden, in the preface to ‘The Humourists,’ as his ‘particular friend;’ he joined Crowne and Dryden in an attack on Settle's ‘Empress of Morocco’ in 1674, and in 1679 Dryden contributed a prologue to Shadwell's ‘True Widow.’ But in the preface to his first play (1668) Shadwell had written in opposition to views recently expressed in Dryden's ‘Essay of Dramatic Poesy,’ while in ‘The Virtuoso’ (1676) he sneered at contemporary dramatists, and Dryden must have felt that some of the remarks related to his writings and to ‘Aureng-Zebe’ in particular. There was, however, no open feud until 1682, when Dryden produced his second satire on Shaftesbury, ‘The Medal,’ prefaced by an epistle to the whigs. Shadwell replied with ‘The Medal of John Bayes: a Satire against Folly and Knavery,’ and with a prose ‘Epistle to the Tories,’ in which, as well as in the verse, he grossly libelled his opponent, both as poet and man, calling him an ‘abandoned rascal,’ ‘half wit, half fool.’ Shadwell is supposed also to have been the author of a rather less offensive satire, ‘The Tory Poets,’ 1682, in which Dryden is attacked, in company with Otway and others. Dryden took his revenge in ‘MacFlecknoe, or a Satire on the True Blue Protestant Poet, T. S.,’ published in October 1682, where Shadwell is represented as the literary son and successor of the poetaster Richard Flecknoe [q. v.] In this savage attack it was alleged that Shadwell was void of wit, and ‘never deviates into sense,’ and there were allusions to Shadwell's ‘mountain belly,’ slowness of composition, comparison of himself with Jonson, and the help he obtained from Sedley. A month later Dryden wrote another bitter attack in Nahum Tate's second part of ‘Absalom and Achitophel,’ where, under the name of Og, he described Shadwell as a drunken ‘mass of foul corrupted matter,’ and ridiculed his poverty and his habit of taking opium.

In the following year Shadwell and Thomas Hunt (1627?–1688) [q. v.] attacked Dryden in ‘Some Reflections upon the pretended Parallel in the play called the Duke of Guise,’ 1683, and Dryden retorted in the ‘Vindication of the Duke of Guise,’ in which reference was made especially to Shadwell's drinking habits and to his ignorance of the classics. Shadwell was again attacked in a scarce eulogy on Dryden, ‘The Laurel,’ 1685. It was not until 1687 that Shadwell, in a translation of the ‘Tenth Satire of Juvenal,’ dedicated to Sir Charles Sedley, and written as a counterblast to a translation by Dryden's friend, Henry Higden [q. v.], replied to ‘Mac Flecknoe.’ In this he rather proved his dulness by taking literally Dryden's reference to him as an Irishman. In conclusion he alleged that Dryden, when taxed with the authorship of the satire, ‘denied it with all the execrations he could think of.’ There is, however, abundant proof that Dryden made no secret of the authorship.

After an interval of seven years Shadwell produced one of his best plays, ‘The Squire of Alsatia’ (May 1688), in which the rogues make free use of their cant language. The play ran for thirteen nights, and the author's third night brought him in 130l., ‘16l. more than any other poet ever did.’ The title first proposed seems to have been the ‘Alsatia Bully’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. p. 198, 12th Rep. pt. v. p. 119).

At the Revolution Dryden lost the laureateship, and was succeeded by Shadwell, as poet-laureate and historiographer royal. The salary of 300l. a year was sometimes in arrear (ib. 13th Rep. v. 373, 14th Rep. vi. 166). The lord chamberlain, on being asked why he did not give the laureateship to a better poet, is reported to have said, ‘I do not pretend to say how great a poet Shadwell may be, but I am sure he is an honest man.’ Besides some loyal poems Shadwell produced in 1689 the comedy ‘Bury Fair,’ based partly on the Duke of Newcastle's ‘Triumphant Widow’ and Molière's ‘Les Précieuses Ridicules.’ In the dedication to Lord Dorset Shadwell says that it was written during an eight months' illness, and that for nearly ten years his ruin had been designed, and he had been kept from the exercise of a profession which would have afforded him a competent living. After the ‘Amorous Bigot’ in 1690, Shadwell brought out ‘The Scowrers’ (1691), an excellent but coarse comedy, which gives an interesting picture of the times.

Shadwell died suddenly on 19 Nov. 1692, and was buried at Chelsea on the 24th. An article upon him appeared in Peter Motteux's ‘Gentleman's Journal’ for November; and in a funeral sermon, by Dr. Nicholas Brady, printed in 1693, Shadwell is highly praised as a complete gentleman and an unalterable friend, with a deep sense of religion. The report that he died of an overdose of opium is rendered probable by Brady's remark that ‘he never took his dose of opium but he solemnly recommended himself to God by prayer, as if he were then about to resign up his soul.’ Shadwell's will (P. C. C. 231 Fane) is without date, but on 13 Dec. 1692 Ellinor Leigh, wife of Anthony Leigh, of St. Bride's parish, gentleman, made affidavit that she had been present at the execution of the will in 1690. Probate was granted to the widow, Anne, daughter of Thomas Gibbs, late of Norwich, proctor and public notary. Shadwell left rings to the Earl of Dorset, Sir Charles Sedley, William Jephson, and Colonel Edmund Ashton, ‘my most dear friends by whom I have been extremely obliged.’ He wished to be buried in flannel. To his son John he left 5l. for mourning, together with his books, including Hobbes's ‘Works,’ with a warning of ‘some ill opinions’ of Hobbes concerning government. He left his property, including his interest in the Dorset Garden Theatre, to his ‘diligent, careful, and provident’ wife, commending to her the interests of his children, especially his little daughter Anne (afterwards Mrs. Oldfield). Mrs. Shadwell, as we have seen, was an actress; she appeared in Otway's ‘Don Carlos’ in 1676, in ‘Timon of Athens’ in 1678, and was living at Chelsea in 1696.

Estimates of Shadwell's literary powers differ widely. Rochester said that ‘if Shadwell had burnt all he wrote, and printed all he spoke, he would have had more wit and humour than any other poet.’ Elsewhere, Rochester praised ‘Hasty Shadwell and slow Wycherley,’ while Addison, in the ‘Spectator,’ applauds his humour (No. 35). Shadwell depended, like Jonson—whom he vainly tried to imitate—for the amusement of his hearers on the ‘humours’ of his characters; he had little wit, though it is not fair to bracket him, as Dryden did, with Settle. His comedies are useful for the vivid account they give of the life of his time. Although no poet, he was, as Scott says, an acute observer of nature, and he showed considerable skill in invention. He seems to have been naturally coarse, and was grossly indecent without designing to corrupt.

The dates of publication of Shadwell's plays were as follows:

  1. ‘The Sullen Lovers,’ 1668.
  2. ‘The Royal Shepherdess,’ 1669.
  3. ‘The Humourists,’ 1671.
  4. ‘The Miser,’ 1672.
  5. ‘Epsom Wells,’ 1673.
  6. ‘Psyche,’ 1675.
  7. ‘The Virtuoso,’ 1676.
  8. ‘The Libertine,’ 1676.
  9. ‘Timon of Athens,’ 1678.
  10. ‘A True Widow,’ 1679.
  11. ‘The Woman Captain,’ 1680.
  12. ‘The Lancashire Witches,’ 1681.
  13. ‘The Squire of Alsatia,’ 1688.
  14. ‘Bury Fair,’ 1689.
  15. ‘The Amorous Bigot,’ 1690.
  16. ‘The Scowrers,’ 1691.
  17. ‘The Volunteers,’ 1693 (posthumous, with a dedication to the queen, signed by the widow, and a prologue by D'Urfey).

A play called ‘The Innocent Impostors’ is also referred to Shadwell, but cannot be traced (Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. App. pp. 280–1). Shadwell published also the following occasional verses, in folio form, besides the translation from Juvenal and ‘Medal of John Bayes’ already noticed:

  1. ‘A Lenten Prologue refused by the Players’ (in reply to the ‘Medal’), 1683.
  2. ‘A Congratulatory Poem on His Highness the Prince of Orange's Coming into England,’ 1689.
  3. ‘A Congratulatory Poem to the most Illustrious Queen Mary, upon her arrival into England,’ 1689.
  4. ‘Ode to the King on his Return from Ireland,’ 1690.
  5. ‘Ode on the Anniversary of the King's Birth,’ 1690.
  6. ‘Votum Perenne: a Poem to the King on New Year's Day,’ 1692. Other verses are in Gildon's ‘Poetical Remains of … Mr. Shadwell,’ &c., 1698. A ‘Song for St. Cecilia's Day,’ 1690, is given in Nichols's ‘Select Collection of Poems,’ v. 298–301.

Shadwell's eldest son (afterwards Sir John Shadwell [q. v.]) placed a small white marble monument in the Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey, the inscription upon which is incorrect (cf. Stanley, Westminster Abbey, 1868, p. 278), and in 1720 brought out a collected edition of his father's dramatic works, in four volumes, with a dedication to George I. A portrait by S. Gribelin is prefixed to this edition; an anonymous mezzotint by W. Faithorne, jun., after a painting of Kerseboom's, is also said to represent Shadwell (Noble, Continuation of Granger, 1806, i. 255). George Clint [q. v.] painted a portrait (which now belongs to Mr. J. J. Coleman of Carrow Abbey, Norwich) from Faithorne's engraving; it shows a resemblance in person between Shadwell and his master, Ben Jonson. Clint's painting was engraved by Duvean.

Charles Shadwell (fl. 1710–1720), a younger son of Thomas Shadwell, wrote plays which were published at Dublin in two volumes in 1720. In the dedication of this collection to Lady Newtown, to whom he owed many obligations, Shadwell refers to his father, and says that it was reduced circumstances that led him to be a poet. He seems to have served in the army in Portugal, and in 1710 was supervisor of the excise in Kent. His first piece, ‘The Fair Quaker of Deal’ (1710), was dedicated to his friends in Kent. It was produced at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, with great success; thanks partly to the acting of Miss Santlow as the heroine. The ‘Humours of the Army’ appeared in 1713, with a dedication to Major-general Newton, governor of Londonderry, under whom Shadwell had served in Portugal. Shadwell's other plays, acted at the Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, and printed in 1720, were: (1) ‘Irish Hospitality;’ (2) ‘The Plotting Lovers;’ (3) ‘The Hasty Wedding;’ (4) ‘The Sham Prince;’ (5) ‘Rotherich O'Connor.’

[A short life was prefixed to the collected edition of Shadwell's Works, 1720. See also Biogr. Dramatica; Biogr. Britannica; Genest, vol. i.; Langbaine's Lives; Whincop's Dramatic Lists; Jacob's Poetical Register; Gent. Mag. 1738 p. 235, 1745 p. 99, 1819 ii. 120; Malone's Dryden; Austin and Ralph's Lives of the Poets-Laureate; Dryden's Works, ed. Scott; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 5, 385, viii. 353; Elwin's Pope, iii. 354, iv. 316, 340; Ward's Dramatic Literature, ii. 572–7; Notes and Queries, passim; Faulkner's Chelsea; Hist. MSS. Comm. 6th Rep. pp. 749, 764, 7th Rep. p. 805. Criticism upon Shadwell's writings will be found in the Retrospective Review, xvi. 55–96; Colburn's New Monthly Magazine, new ser. iii. 292, 353; Blackwood's Magazine, ix. 280–2; information kindly supplied by James Hooper, esq., Norwich.]

G. A. A.