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other comic writers of antiquity aim only at rendering folly or vice ridiculous, but never exalt their characters into buskin'd pomp or make what Voltaire humorously calls a tradesman's tragedy” (A Comparison between Laughing and Sentimental Comedy). Against the latter remark Cumberland, the last of the sentimentalists, came forth with a strong rejoinder prefacing his next comedy, The Choleric Man (1775).
The Good-Natured Man. This play was written in the years 1766-67. First offered to Garrick, the allpowerful manager of Drury Lane, it was by him held until the patience of the author was exhausted. Angered by the suggestion that he should modify the play in some essential respects, particularly in the treatment of the character of Lofty, Goldsmith with. drew the manuscript and offered it to George Colman, who had lately become one of the patentees of Covent Garden Theatre. The piece was accepted by Colman, and the date of production was finally set at January 29, 1768. Whatever chances of success a new form of play possessed were discounted by the lack of sympathy of the majority of the actors, and especially by the appearance in Garrick's Drury Lane Theatre, six nights before Goldsmith's play, of an unmixed senti mental comedy by Hugh Kelly entitled False Delicacy. This play was received with great applause, and became one of the most popular plays of a decade. When The Good-Natured Man finally appeared it was unable to compete with its sentimental rival, and its success was merely nominal. The work of Shuter as Croaker, and Woodward as Lofty, was highly sat
isfactory, but the play was withdrawn after nine nights Goldsmith, however, made some £500 out of the stage production and the sale of the copyright.
She Stoops to Conquer. Like experiences accompanied the production of Goldsmith's second play. Finished in 1771, this piece remained in the hands of Colman until the needy author was forced to humble remonstrance. Finally, by the influence of Johnson, who practically compelled the acceptance of the play, a day was set for its production. Meanwhile sentimental comedy had received setbacks in the failure of Kelly's second play, A Word to the Wise (1770), and in the increasing ridicule of the writers of prologues and critiques. Though Colman and his actors were again despondent, She Stoops to Conquer won an unqualified success on its first production, March 15, 1773. It remains to this day one of the most popular stock comedies on the English stage.
Contemporary Opinions of the Plays. Posterity has had no discordant voice in the chorus of approbation given to Goldsmith's two comedies. And the first has been almost as highly favored as the second. ✓ While She Stoops to Conquer excels in wit and farcical incident, the earlier play, but little behind in ori. ginality in characterization, is even better in epigram and sparkle of lines. In short, the first is less “ low' than the second. Nor were contemporary judgmenti entirely unfavorable toward these plays. Walpole, whe had never forgiven Goldsmith for his scarcely veiled attack on his father, Sir Robert Walpole, in The
Present State of Polite Learning, is perhaps the most adversely critical. Yet he must admit the merits of She Stoops to Conquer. “Dr. Goldsmith has written a comedy — no, it is the lowest of all farces. It is not the subject I condemn, though very vulgar, but the execution. The drift tends to no moral, no edification of any kind. The situations, however, are well imagined, and make one laugh in spite of the grossness of the dialogue, the forced witticisms, and total improbability of the whole plan and conduct, But what disgusts me most is, that though the characters are very low, and aim at low humor, not one of chem says a sentence that is natural or marks any character at ali."
After reading such a criticism as this, we are glad to see that Samuel Johnson, Goldsmith's friend and the autocrat of the age, was far more favorable. Of The Good-Natured Man he says, “ It is the best
, comedy that has appeared since The Provoked Hus. band”; and of She Stoops to Conquer, “ I know of no comedy for many years that has so much exhilarated an audience ; that has answered so much the great aim of comedy, making an audience merry.
Strange to say, it was the scene in The Good-Natured Man which to modern readers seems most ludicrous, that proved offensive to the finar sensibilities of the eighteenth century. It is said that when it was decided not to expunge the scene of the bailiffs (Act III) from The Good-Natured Man, Colman gave up hope for the piece. And this scene was roundly abused in the coffee-houses and the critical reviews. Even Johnson answered Goldsmith's question concerning a
protégé of his, “ Are you going to make a scholar of him?” with the untender satire, " Aye, sir, scholar enough to write a bailiff scene in a comedy.” Acceding to the popular demand, this scene was retrenched in the second and succeeding performances of the play, but at the instance of friends " who think in a particular way” it was printed in the published edition. Five years later, so much advance had been made against sentimental comedy that "by particular desire' the scene of the bailiffs was returned (May 3, 1773). To this day this scene is the most popular in the play.
Sources of Goldsmith's Plays. In noting the sources of Goldsmith's plays and the resemblances between chem and other plays, French and English, that were accessible to the author, it should always be remembered that Goldsmith was an original genius, and no wealth of sources could provide the particular works left by his hands. These can be explained only by the undoubted genius of the man. On the other hand, we need not ignore the fact that Goldsmith was not in the strict sense an innovator in any line of composition. No English writer has been better able to adapt the work of other men to the purposes of his own art. That Goldsmith was well acquainted with French and English drama, there can be no doubt, and just as he made himself free to take incidents from his life and incorporate them in fiction, and to repeat in several different works a sentence that pleased him, he took his play subjects where he found them and moulded them to artistic form under his own hand.
The title The Good-Natured Man is derived from
a character appearing in Goldsmith's own Life of Richard Nash (1762). Years before, Fielding had written a comedy with this very title, but the play had not been performed at the time Goldsmith wrote, and he was probably not acquainted with it. Comparison is also made between this title and the anonymous French L'Ami de tout le Monde (1673).
The character of the hero of this play can hardly be said to be patterned after Goldsmith himself, yet the author parallels his own distinguishing character. istics in the play, and there is a note of personal philosophy in the words, “ There are some faults so nearly allied to excellence, that we can scarce weed out the vice without eradicating the virtue” (Act I).
Not Honeywood, but Croaker and Lofty are the two most successful characters in this comedy. Goldsmith. has been given credit for originating these characters; this credit we cannot grant him. Goldsmith is said to have admitted to Johnson that he was indebted for his Croaker to Suspirius in the latter’s Rambler (No. 59). Just what a confession of this kind is worth when given under the peculiar duress of Ursa Major is a question. Striking similarity has been found to exist between three of the characters of this play, Croaker, Leontine, and Olivia, and characters in the French comedy, Le Grondeur, by Brueys and Palaprat (1692). That Goldsmith knew this play at the time is extremely probable, but not certain, though it is known that five years later, after the appearance of She Stoops to Conquer he adapted a portion of Sedley's version of it for Shuter under the title The Grumbler.
Lofty is by no means a new figure to the stage of