The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 23. She Stoops to Conquer
At this date, the worries and vexations which had accompanied the production of The Good-Natur’d Man had been more or less forgotten by its author; and, as they faded, Goldsmith’s old dreams of theatrical distinction returned. The sentimental snake, moreover, was not even scotched; and “genteel comedy”—that “mawkish drab of spurious breed,” as the opportunist Garrick came eventually to style it—had still its supporters: witness The West Indian of Cumberland, which had just been produced. Falling back on an earlier experience of his youth, the mistaking of squire Featherston’s house for an inn, Goldsmith set to work on a new comedy; and, after much rueful wandering in the lanes of Hendon and Edgware, “studying jests with the most tragical countenance,” Tony Lumpkin and his mother, Mr. Hardcastle and his daughter, were gradually brought into being, “to be tried in the manager’s fire.” The ordeal was to the full as severe as before. Colman accepted the play, and then delayed to produce it. His tardiness embarrassed the author so much that, at last, in despair, he transferred the piece to Garrick. But, here, Johnson interposed, and, though he could not induce Colman to believe in it, by the exercise “of a kind of force,” prevailed on him to bring it out. Finally, after it had been read to “the Club,” in January, 1773, under its first title The Old House, a New Inn, and, assisted to some extent by Foote’s clever anti-sentimental puppet-show Piety in Pattens; or, the Handsome Housemaid, it was produced at Covent garden on 15 March, 1773, as She Stoops to Conquer; or, the Mistakes of a Night. When on the boards, supported by the suffrages of the author’s friends, and enthusiastically welcomed by the public, the play easily triumphed over a caballing manager and a lukewarm company, and, thus, one of the best modern comedies was at once lifted to an eminence from which it has never since been deposed. It brought the author four or five hundred pounds, and would have brought him more by its sale in book form, had he not, in a moment of depression, handed over the copyright to Newbery, in discharge of a debt. But he inscribed the play to Johnson, in one of those dedications which, more, perhaps, than elsewhere, vindicate his claim to the praise of having touched nothing that he did not adorn.