Isaac Bickerstaff ~ 1733 - 1812    ~  Incidents and Events in a Professional Life

The Maid of the Mill (a negative view.)

The Maid of the Mill, like Pamela, is one of those delusions which frequently destroy the proper subordination of society. The village beauty, whose simplicity and innocence are her native charms, smitten with the reveries of rank and splendour, becomes affected and retired, disdaining her situation and every one about her. So much for the tendency of such pieces.

Dramatic exhibition has ever its force in proportion to the unacquaintance of the spectator with life its raisemblance is more certain and striking to the artless Rustic, than the cultivated inhabitants of a capital. I know no surer steps to corrupt the primitive simplicity of a village remote from the capital, than to introduce a Theatrical company. Romance among unfurnished heads makes dreadful havoc indeed.

The literary merit of this piece (if it have any) is like that of the Novel from which it sprung. For laughter it has no food. Sentiment, insipid sentiment, gives it what colouring it has. As a dramatic exhibition, the pleasure produced must be from its Music.

Either as considering its Dialogue or its Air, we think it much interior to the Author's Love in a Village.

[from the published version of The Maid of the Mill.]


Maid of the Mill
A Scene From 'the Maid Of The Mill' ,1765. by John Inigo Richards (1731-1810).  Oil on canvas 475x635 mm.  Original in the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, USA.  [Image in the Public Domain.]

Preface to Maid from the Mill

There is scarce a language in Europe, in which there is not a play taken from our romance of Pamela: in Italian and French particularly, several writers of the first eminence have chosen it for the subject of different dramas.

The little piece now ventured into the world, owes its origin to the same source: not only the general subject is drawn from Pamela, but almost every circumstance in it.  The reader will almost immediately recoiled the courtship of Parson Williams - the squire's jealousy and behaviour in consequence of it; and the difficulty he had to prevail with himself to marry the girl, notwithstanding his passion for her - the miller is a close copy of Goodman Andrews - Ralph is imagined, from the wild son which he is mentioned to have had - Theodosia, from the young lady of quality, with whom Mr. B. through his sister's persuasion, is said to have been in treaty before his marriage with Pamela - even the gipsies are borrowed from a trifling incident in the latter part of the work.

In prosecuting this plan, which he has varied from the original, as far as he thought convenient, the author has made simplicity his principal aim. His scenes, on account of the music, which could not be perfect without such a mixture, necessarily consist of serious and buffoon. He knows grossness and insipidity lay in his way: whether he has had art enough to avoid stumbling upon them, the candid public are left to determine.

[from the published version of The Maid of the Mill.]


John Braham as 'Lord Aimworth', 1818, by Thomson from a drawing by Foster. steel line engraving 3⅛" x 4⅝".  This version from University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection.   [Image in the public domain]..

Pamela (a source for A Maid of the Mill)

Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded
was a novel by Samuel Richardson, first published in 1740. It tells the story of a maid named Pamela whose master, Mr. B, makes unwanted advances towards her. She rejects him continually, and her virtue is eventually rewarded when he shows his sincerity by proposing an equitable marriage to her.

In the second part of the novel, Pamela attempts to accommodate herself to upper-class society and to build a successful relationship with him. The story was widely mocked at the time for its perceived licentiousness and it inspired Henry Fielding (among many others) to write two parodies: Shamela (1741), about Pamela's true identity; and Joseph Andrews (1742), about Pamela’s brother.)

[from the published version of The Maid of the Mill.]


Bickerstaff Anathematised

'Of this man little is known, and that little, unhappily, is not good.  He is a native of the kingdom of Ireland, and, we believe, went out with Lord Chesterfield as a private Secretary, when his Lordship was Lord Lieutenant.

We find him also an Officer of Marines, but he left the service with imputed infamy from practices at which humanity shudders, and decency hides the head.

It hurts us to pursue the narrative an irreclaimable depravation of appetite rendered him an exile from his country: in some foreign sink of debauchery and wretchedness, he perhaps even yet lingers, a striking monument of the absurdity of that maxim, which teaches, that an author's life may be best known in his Works.

The writings of Bickerstaff are uniformly marked with much purity and simplicity.  Had he lived as he 'wrote, this little book were perfect - there would not then have been one Page which we could wish to blot.'

[from the published version of Maid of the Mill.]


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