Singers and Musical Personalities ~ George Colman 1762 – 1836

1.  Colman

George Colman 1762 – 1836, known as "the Younger

1.   George Coleman the younger esq. 1762 – 1836, engraved by William Ridley 1764-1838 from an original by Samuel Drummond 1766 - 1844. Published by J. Asperne, London, 1809. Original in the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Colman's first wife was the actress, Clara Morris, to whose brother David Morris, he eventually disposed of his share in the Haymarket theatre. After her death, it was believed that he contracted a secret marriage with Mrs Gibbs (née Logan), for whom many of the leading parts in his plays were written.  His comedies are a curious mixture of genuine comic force and sentimentality. A collection of them was published (1827) in Paris, with a life of the author, by J.W. Lake.

His first play, The Female Dramatist, for which Smollett's Roderick Random supplied the materials, was unanimously condemned, but Two to One (1784) was entirely successful. It was followed by Turk and no Turk (1785), a musical comedy; Inkle and Yarico (1787), an opera; Ways and Means (1788); The Iron Chest (1796), taken from William Godwin's Adventures of Caleb Williams; The Heir at Law (1797), which enriched the stage with one immortal character, 'Dr Pangloss' (borrowed of course from Voltaire's Candide); The Poor Gentleman (1802); John Bull, or an Englishman's Fireside (1803), his most successful piece; and numerous other minor pieces, many of them adapted from the French.

Colman, whose witty conversation made him a favourite, was also the author of a great deal of so-called humorous poetry (mostly coarse, though much of it was popular)--My Night Gown and Slippers (1797), reprinted under the name of Broad Grins, in 1802; and Poetical Vagaries (1812). Some of his writings were published under the assumed name of Arthur Griffinhood of Turnham Green.

After his death, Colman was falsely stated to have been the author of certain pornographic works. The Rodiad, on flagellation, was published by John Camden Hotten in 1871, falsely dated to 1810 and ascribed to Colman; the true author seems to have been Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton.

[Text based on Encyclopedia Britannica]

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2. Colman 2

George Colman 1762 – 1836, known as "the Younger

2.    George Colman the Younger, 1762-1836, mezzotint by Thomas Lupton after painting by John Jackson.  [This image in the public domain.]

George Colman the Younger was the most popular English dramatist at the turn of the nineteenth century. His father before him may well have been the better playwright, but the son was a gifted writer of comedy and farce. Clearly he knew, and catered to, the taste of his time, and his personal popularity was widely acknowledged.

In some sense his best plays were a reflection of himself: solid, honest, a bit too busy or theatrical, and usually disorganised, but full of robust, good humour, and very funny indeed. He wrote his most successful plays exactly as his audiences wanted them: brisk, lighthearted, fast-moving pieces with just enough complication, confusion, and momentary anguish to make their impossibly happy endings all the more enjoyable.

Back home in London, in 1874, after study in Scotland and a brief period in Paris, Colman dutifully entered the Michaelmas term as a law student at Lincoln's Inn. This time the experiment lasted less than a term; following a secret marriage to the actress Catherine Morris, Colman resumed secret work on his true career, writing Turk and No Turk in December of 1784. Neither the clandestine marriage nor the dramatic writing could be revealed to his father immediately; the marriage was not disclosed for four years, while the play was produced in July, 1785.

Though it ran ten nights, Turk and No Turk was not the success Colman might have wished. It pleased its audiences, but only the songs ever saw print in book form; the reviewers refrained from condemning the play, but were more kind than enthusiastic in their praise. A musical comedy in three acts, Turk and No Turk is another tale of crossed love that uncrosses, miraculously, with parental disapproval converting to approval at the end.

[Text based on a Biographical Sketch by Martin Wood, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire]

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3.  Wags of Windsor

George Colman 1762 – 1836, known as "the Younger

3.   John Emery as John Lump in 'The Review' or 'The Wags of Windsor' by Samuel de Wilde.  Oil on canvas, 720 x 560 mm, 18th Century. Original in University of Bristol Theatre Collection.

In June 1789, his father's health having degenerated badly, young Colman took control of the Hay market in mid season with considerable success During that season, he made his managerial debut with two new plays, The Family Party on 11th July and The Battle of Hexham, or Days of Old a month later. The Family Party was a farce of uncertain authorship; Colman may have written it, or revised it, but in any event he offered it anonymously. The second play, however, was undoubtedly his own.

The Battle of Hexham, a historical drama, was something quite new.  The story of Edward the Fourth's defeat of Henry the Sixth and Queen Margaret, and their subsequent escape with the young Prince of Wales, an escape aided by the captain of a band of robbers, was a story well known to Colman's audience. What they did not expect was the addition of music throughout. Colman also embellished the story with a completely fictional subplot concerning domestic fidelity.

The mixture of genres in this play provided a new experience for its audience. Though comic opera had long been a profitable commodity in the licensed theatres, and while nothing would have surprised audiences in the illegitimate ones, the addition of music to the near-tragic drama of The Battle of Hexham offered a new experience to audiences in a Theatre Royal.  Many scholars consider this the first successful example of English melodrama, a form that was to dominate the stage over the next century.

For Colman, personal finances were a major worry. Despite resorting to a partnership at the Haymarket, Colman never did get quite ahead of his creditors. One of them finally caught him with the force of law in 1807, and he was arrested and confined to a debtors' house within the jurisdiction of Kings Bench. Here he remained for more than three years, until he was moved to a similar but more pleasant residence; he was not entirely freed from custody until 1817. Despite this confinement, Colman could receive visitors and occasionally leave the house. It is testimony to his unfailing charm and wit that even as a prisoner he frequently received and accepted invitations to dine out, to spend evenings in drink and conversation. And because he could still manage the theater from where he was detained, his existence there was tolerable.

In 1824 George IV appointed Colman Examiner of Plays, more commonly called Licenser, a post made vacant by the death of John Larpent. In effect this gave him complete authority to censor any plays or parts of plays that he deemed immoral, overly political blasphemous, or otherwise dangerous.

This office provided steady income but nothing else beneficial to George Colman. He could hardly have ended his career with a less fortunate appointment. He became extremely unpopular with critics and playwrights by performing his duties with excessive zeal and moralistic fastidiousness. Even more puzzling were his consistent objections to hints of sexual matters, even such mild transgressions as the use of the word "thigh." Under such strictures, of course, references to immoral sexual conduct, however tastefully made, were automatically forbidden if that conduct were not punished in the manner deserved by such a vice.

He pursued his duties as Licenser nearly to his end, which came at home, quietly, in late October of 1836. He was seventy-four.

[Text based on a Biographical Sketch by Martin Wood, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.  For full text, please follow this LINK]

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Colman Anecdotes

Top ~ Colman's Random Records ~ Colman offends the Critics

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