The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/She Stoops to Conquer
SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER. Though he was thoroughly a child of his time, it was Goldsmith's peculiar genius that he went to life for his influences rather than to books. The central feature of ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ has some resemblances with Farquhar's ‘The Beaux' Stratagem,’ but its veritable source was undoubtedly an episode in the youthful career of Oliver himself.
If in the theatre Goldsmith seems to have been more of a reformer than elsewhere the reason is not far to seek. The refinements of that sentimental comedy which in his day controlled the stage were repugnant to him as an instinctive artist. Before his playwriting days Goldsmith had ridiculed “genteel comedy” and in the “low” passages of ‘The Good-Natured Man’ had resolutely entered the lists against it. ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ is the author's second and more successful play. Less artificial than the comedy of manners, to which general class it belongs, it has more of Fielding in it than of Congreve. No one but Goldsmith could have given such a view of a country house. And even the London characters are freshly viewed. Their city manners are crossed with the forthrightness of nature. Raillery and repartee dwindle in importance before character and atmosphere. The difference between Goldsmith and Sheridan was that the former knew life whereas the latter knew only the stage. Squire Hardcastle is drawn without a stroke of over-elaboration. Less sportive than Tony he digs as deeply into the memory; but Tony and his mother linger as something more than caricatures. Kate Hardcastle is as much a product of observation as Millamant of ‘The Way of the World’ is a product of thought and Maria of ‘The School for Scandal’ is a product of the stage. It is the veritableness of the atmosphere of the play that saves it from, what the plot would make it, sheer farce. Goldsmith was not fortunate in his relationships with Colman and Garrick, the two monopolists of the theatre of his day. Yet upon its performance by Colman at Covent Garden Theatre, 15 March 1773, ‘She Stoops to Conquer,’ “succeeded prodigiously” (Walpole). It holds the stage in frequent revivals to this day. Editions: Masson, D., Globe edition (1869); Dobson, A., ed., Belles Lettres Series (1905); Temple Dramatists (1900); Everyman's Library (Vol. 415). Consult Forster, ‘Life and Adventures of Oliver Goldsmith’ (1848); Dobson, A., ‘Memoir’ (1899); ‘Cambridge History of English Literature.’