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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

XII. The Georgian Drama

§ 14. George Colman the Younger: Inkle and Yarico

George Colman, son of the dramatist and theatre-manager of the same name, displayed more ingenuity in giving a romantic atmosphere to his conventional ideas. He had already produced two musical comedies at the Hay before, in 1787, he made his name at that theatre with Inkle and Yarico. Inkle, the respectable, city-bred youth, is conveying his betrothed Narcissa back to her father, the wealthy governor of Barbadoes. On the voyage, he and his comic attendant Trudge are accidentally left on an island where they are saved from cannibals by two native women, with whom they severally fall in love. Eventually, they reach Barbadoes, accompanied by their savage preservers. Inkle is now faced with the alternative of losing his profitable match with Narcissa or of abandoning the faithful Yarico, and, to guide him in this ethical problem, he has only the maxims of Threadneedle street. Thus the play teaches that a sound commercial training, which commands respect in London town, may lamentably fail its adept in the larger and more varied world outside, and, in the last two acts, Inkle is amply humiliated because of his signal ingratitude to his benefactress. To inculcate this lesson, Colman had worked one of Addison’s Spectators into a pleasing opera, not without touches of romantic imagination. Yarico’s appeal to Inkle—

  • Come, come, let’s go. I always feared these cities. Let’s fly and seek the woods; and there we’ll wander hand in hand together. No care shall vex us then. We’ll let the day glide by in idleness; and you shall sit in the shade and watch the sunbeams playing on the brook, while I sing the song that pleases you—
  • almost suggests Paul et Virginie, and must have sounded like music from a strange world to an English eighteenth century audience. Most of Colman’s operas develop even more fanciful situations, though he softened their improbability by placing his scenes in wild and romantic periods such as the wars of the Roses, the Hundred Years’ war, and the Moorish wars in Spain, or in an old English mansion of the time of Charles I. In every case, the chief characters have the sentimental gentility which spectators admired and they are attended by servants whose uncouth manners and doglike fidelity do duty for humour. Such poverty of inspiration became only too apparent when Colman discarded picturesque settings and produced plays of modern life. The Heir at Law (1797) presents, indeed, in Pangloss, the stage pedant, compounded of servility, avarice and scholasticism, a character worthy of old comedy, and John Bull, in Job thornberry, a sentimental type which, nevertheless, still lives. Colman’s other attempts at comedy are not worth disinterring.