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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

VII. The Restoration Drama

§ 18. Southerne

Thomas Southerne (or Southern, as his name is spelt in the first editions of all his plays) was of Irish parentage; but he spent his life in London, where his career was in striking contrast to those of most contemporary dramatists, as to both its length and its conduct. He produced two highly successful plays exactly calculated to hit the public taste, and by no means without intrinsic merit. Southerne seems to have possessed considerable personal charm and was a valued friend of several of the most distinguished men of his day. He enjoyed the intimate friendship of Dryden, who wrote prologues and epilogues for several of his plays and who, in 1692, entrusted him with the task of completing the last act of his Cleomenes and revising the whole. Printed at the end of his Works (1774) is a delightful letter addressed to him by Lord Orrery, dated 1733, beginning “My dear Old Man,” which breathes throughout a spirit of the warmest friendship and regard. Southerne’s dedications sufficiently show that these were no isolated instances. Not only was his literary work successful in obtaining for him admiration and regard, but he also reaped from it substantial pecuniary profit.

In his first play, The Loyal Brother (1682), Southerne discloses strong tory sympathies, and the character of Ismael is supposed to convey the inevitable attack on Shaftesbury. The play is taken from a novel called Tachmas, Prince of Persia, translated from the French by P. Porter in 1676.

This was followed by four comedies, for the most part in prose. The Disappointment, or the Mother in Fashion (1684) is (once more) founded on the story of The Curious Impertinent in Don Quixote. Sir Anthony Love, or The Rambling Lady (1691) was “acted with extraordinary applause,” the part of Sir Anthony being “most masterly played” by Mrs. Mountfort. The Wives Excuse, or Cuckolds make themselves (1692) was not so successful, and seems to have given offence in some quarters by its too faithful delineation of polite life. The Maids’ Last Prayer, or Any, rather than Fail (1693) is chiefly notable as containing a song said to have been the earliest acknowledged piece of Congreve’s writing. However, Southerne’s strength did not lie in comedy, though his comic productions are, in general, considerably less gross, and decidedly more witty, than those of most of his contemporaries; and it was not until 1694 that, in The Fatal Marriage, or the Innocent Adultery, he achieved a play worthy of his talent. This popular drama was founded on Mrs. Aphra Behn’s novel The Nun, or The Perjur’d Beauty. Its success was immediate. The Fatal Marriage was frequently acted during the eighteenth century, Garrick, in particular, reviving it, in an abridged version, in 1757.