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

VI. The Restoration Drama

§ 20. Farquhar as a Comic Dramatist

George Farquhar appeared too late to feel the parson’s whip. He began his career as Congreve was closing his, and he could look upon the fierce dispute with an eye of contemptuous impartiality. That Collier would have spared him there is no reason to believe, for though in temperament as in art he differed from his contemporaries, he claimed the full licence of his time. A man in whom there was no disguise, he unpacked his heart upon paper. Whatever he knew and saw, all the manifold experiments of his life, he put unrestrainedly into his comedies. Ireland, the recruiting officer, the disbanded soldier, love, the bottle, and the road—these he handled with the freedom and joyousness of one who knew them well. In a word, he broke the bonds of tradition, and declared, when he was truly himself, that gallantry was merely one aim of mankind. Of Congreve it is impossible to deduce anything from his plays. Like all great artists, he is enwrapped in a cloak of aristocratic impersonality. Farquhar, living and breathing without the shackles of art, reveals himself to us in every scene of his plays. Humour and high spirits were always his. He was light-hearted whatever befell him, and, having a natural propensity to ease, knowing, moreover, that he had very little estate, “but what lay under the circumference of his hat,” he expected misfortune and faced it without a murmur.

His love of ease made him impatient of study, and this impatience is discernible in his works. He knew not how to polish his dialogue. If it advanced the action of his piece or gave an additional touch to character he was content. Though he manifestly owed something to Thomas Heywood in his sense of the open air and his treatment of the countryside; though, like the rest of his age, he had read Molière, and could borrow a scene of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme for his Love and a Bottle, it is not by his literary preferences that you judge him. Few comic poets who keep a place in the history of the stage were less truly men of letters than he. For the rules of his craft he cared not a jot. He used, without shame, all the threadbare expedients of the theatre. There is not one of his plays whose plot is not unravelled by disguise. Leanthe, Oriana, and Silvia all masquerade as men. Clincher and Tom Errand in The Constant Couple exchange their clothes. Even the blameless Angelica, in Sir Harry Wildair, not content with being a ghost, must don the finery of Beau Banter. But we let him trick us as he will. We know that he looks upon the world with honest eyes, and sees that therein which escaped the others. And, as for the critics, says he, they may go hang. He spurns the unities, roundly declaring that “the rules of English comedy don’t lie in the compass of Aristotle or his followers, but in the Pit, Box, and Galleries.”