THEA: The Haunted Curtain

James Boaden

May 23, 1762-February 16, 1839

Boaden, James
 "James Boaden," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 89: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, Third Series. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Paula R. Backscheider, University of Rochester. The Gale Group, 1989, pp. 25-37.
Nationality:  British; English
Genre(s):  Biographies; Novels; Plays; Comedies (Plays); Melodrama; Theater criticism; Musical works


· Ozmyn and Daraxa, London, King's Theatre, 7 March 1793.
· Fontainville Forest, London, Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, 25 March 1794.
· The Secret Tribunal, London, Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, 3 June 1795.
· The Italian Monk, London, Theatre Royal in the Hay-Market, 15 August 1797.
· Cambro-Britons, London, Theatre Royal in the Hay-Market, 21 July 1798.
· Aurelio and Miranda, London, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 29 December 1798.
· The Voice of Nature, Boaden's translation of Le Jugement de Salomon: Mélodrame en Trois Actes, Mêlé de Chants et de Danse (1802), by Louis Charles Caigniez, London, Theatre Royal in the Hay-Market, 31 July 1802.
· The Maid of Bristol, London, Theatre Royal in the Hay-Market, 24 August 1803.

· Songs and Chorusses, in Ozmyn & Daraxa. A Musical Romance, in Two Acts. First Performed at the King's Theatre, Hay-Market, on Thursday, March 7th, 1793 (London: Printed by C. Lowndes, 1793).
· Fontainville Forest, A Play, in Five Acts, (Founded on the Romance of the Forest,) as performed at the Theatre-Royal, Covent-Garden (London: Printed for Hookham & Carpenter, 1794).
· The Secret Tribunal: A Play. in Five Acts. By James Boaden, Author of Fontainville Forest, as performed at the Theatre-Royal, Covent-Garden (London: Printed by G. Woodfall for T. N. Longman, 1795).
· A Letter to George Steevens, Esq. Containing a Critical Examination of the Papers of Shakespeare; Published by Mr. Samuel Ireland. To Which Are Added, Extracts From Vortigern (London: Printed for Martin & Bain, 1796).
· The Italian Monk, A Play, in Three Acts; Written by James Boaden, Esq.; and first performed at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 1797 (London: Printed for G. G. & J. Robinson, 1797).
· Cambro-Britons, An Historical Play, in Three Acts. First Performed at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, on Saturday, July 21, 1798 (London: Printed for G. G. & J. Robinson, 1798).
· Aurelio and Miranda: A Drama. in Five Acts. With Music. First Acted at the Theatre Royal, Drury-Lane, on Saturday, December 29, 1798 (London: Printed for J. Bell, 1799).
· A Rainy Day, Or Poetical Impressions During a Stay at Brighthelmstone, In the Month of July 1801 (London: Printed for T. Egerton by C. Roworth, 1801).
· The Voice of Nature: A Play, in Three Acts. As Performed at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, Boaden's translation of Le Jugement de Salomon: Mélodrame en Trois Actes, Mêlé de Chants et de Danse, by Louis Charles Caigniez (London: Printed for James Ridgway,1803).
· The Maid of Bristol, A Play, in Three Acts. As Performed at the Theatre Royal in the Haymarket (London: Printed for Longman & Rees, 1803).
· An inquiry Into the Authenticity of Various Pictures and Prints, Which From the Decease of the Poet to Our Own Times Have Been Offered to the Public as Portraits of Shakespeare: Containing a Careful Examination of the Evidence on Which They Claim to be Received; By Which the Pretended Portraits Have Been Rejected, the Genuine Confirmed and Established, Illustrated by Accurate and Finished Engravings, By the Ablest Artists, From Such Originals as Were of Indisputable Authority (London: Printed for Robert Triphook, 1824).
· Memoirs of the Life of John Philip Kemble, Esq., Including a History of the Stage, From the Time of Garrick to the Present Period, 2 volumes (London: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green, 1825).
· Memoirs of Mrs. Siddons. Interspersed With Anecdotes of Authors and Actors, 2 volumes (London: Henry Colburn, 1827).
· The Man of Two Lives. A Narrative Written by Himself (London: Henry Colburn, 1828).
· The Life of Mrs. Jordan; Including Original Private Correspondence and Numerous Anecdotes of Her Contemporaries, 2 volumes (London: Edward Bull, 1831).
· Memoirs of Mrs. Inchbald: Including Her Familiar Correspondence With the Most Distinguished Persons of Her Time. To Which Are Added The Massacre, and A Case of Conscience; Now First Published From Her Autograph Copies, 2 volumes (London: Richard Bentley, 1833).
· The Doom of Giallo; Or, The Vision of Judgment, 2 volumes (London: John Macrone, 1835).
· On The Sonnets of Shakespeare. Identifying the Person to Whom They Are Addressed; and Elucidating Several Points in the Poet's History (London: Thomas Rodd, 1837)--an expanded version of two articles Boaden wrote for Gentleman's Magazine (September 1832): 217-221; (October 1832): 308-314; (November 1832): 407.
· The Plays of James Boaden, edited by Steven Cohan (New York & London: Garland, 1980).

· The Oracle; or, Bell's New World [daily newspaper], edited, with contributions, by Boaden, 1789-1798 or later.
· The Private Correspondence of David Garrick With the Most Celebrated Persons of His Time; Now First Published From the Originals, and Illustrated With Notes. And a New Biographical Memoir of Garrick, 2 volumes, edited, with a memoir, by Boaden (London: Henry Colburn & Richard Bentley, 1831, 1832).

James Boaden's lifelong fascination with the theater found its outlet in theatrical criticism, the writing of plays, and in the biography of actors and actresses. His contemporaries valued him for his pamphlets on Shakespeare and for his popular dramas. Boaden's theatrical biographies, produced later in his life, are perhaps his most significant contribution for us today. His plays exploited the current vogue for Gothicism and melodrama, and several of them had a considerable success, in part because of the capable performances of John Philip Kemble, Sarah Siddons, and Dorothy Jordan. However, Boaden was sensitive to the necessities of dramatic presentation, and his manipulation of stage effects certainly contributed to the enthusiastic reception of his plays.
James Boaden was born at White Haven in Cumberland on 23 May 1762, son of William Boaden, a merchant in the Russian trade, but the family moved to London while he was still a child. His early training in a counting house was designed to fit him for a merchant's career, but his inclination was for journalism and the theater. In the introduction to his Memoirs of the Life of John Philip Kemble (1825) Boaden confesses: "In the almost childish season of life, I imbibed that fondness for the stage, which, shall I say, compelled me to attend to it with constancy and passion;--it constituted my sole amusement and principal expense--I studied, as though I had been to make it a profession." In 1789 Boaden became editor for the Oracle; Or, Bell's New World , a daily newspaper reporting military intelligence, news of the royal family, real estate, stocks, sales by auction, births, marriages, deaths, and elopements, as well as art news. In the Oracle, under the pseudonym of Thespis, he offered dramatic criticism and theatrical gossip. Boaden is very reticent about his private life, but it is known that he married and left nine children, one of whom, John Boaden, was a painter.
Boaden's first effort for the stage was Ozmyn and Daraxa, a "musical romance" or opera in two acts. It was premiered as an afterpiece on 7 March 1793, produced by Kemble for the Drury Lane company at the King's Theatre in the Haymarket. In his Memoirs of the Life of John Philip Kemble Boaden mentions that he found the story in the Spanish Rogue and thought it might "afford an opportunity to display the musical science of his young friend Atwood." Most of the songs are set to music composed by Thomas Atwood, but some are by Giovanni Giornovichi, Michael Kelly, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The opera was never published in full, though the Songs and Chorusses (1793) were, and are included in Steven Cohan's edition of The Plays of James Boaden (1980); the manuscript of the entire work is in the Larpent Collection of the Huntington Library. Boaden confides that Richard Brinsley Sheridan told him "that his songs were better written, than any which he had read since The Duenna," Sheridan's great success of 1775. However, Boaden was "so pleased" when Sheridan paid him for the work, that he "kept no copy." This may account for the fact that Ozmyn and Daraxa was never published in full, but it may have been considered too slight a work to be preserved in print. Boaden apparently got one hundred pounds for Oxmyn and Daraxa and, according to Michael Kelly, the work, "a very pretty operatic piece," was "well received."
Boaden's second play, Fontainville Forest, was first produced on 25 March 1794 at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. The story is derived from Ann Radcliffe's novel The Romance of the Forest (1791), but Boaden simplifies it, focusing on the central incidents which transpire "in an Abbey chiefly, and the adjacent parts of the Forest." Among the significant changes is a more sympathetic role for the character of Lamotte. Although he robs the marquis of Montault and is initially prepared to sacrifice Adeline to the marquis' lust, he is forced to it by necessity, and in a soliloquy castigates himself. We observe him distraught and torn by his struggles with his conscience, angry with his wife, Hortensia, and impatient with his son, Louis, who replaces Radcliffe's Theodore as the hero of the tale. The strongest character is that of Adeline, the heroine. She ventures into the secret apartment, convinced "that some mystery / Is wrapt within these chambers," and bravely stiffens her resolve:
How, if I sink with fear?
And so benumb'd, life freeze away in horror?
No matter, powerful impulse drives me onward,
And my soul rises to the coming terror.

She toys with the conventional fears of the Gothic heroine, but she acts with fortitude. Her enterprising courage leads her to the discovery of the dagger and the letter, thus precipitating the resolution of the mystery.
The tremendous success of Fontainville Forest was in part attributable to Boaden's correct assessment of stage business. He broke with the dramatic conventions of the day in introducing a ghost on stage. In doing so he departed from his source, as Radcliffe offers a rational explanation of the ghost and, in effect, undercuts the terror she has earlier created, an approach that Boaden characterizes as "ungenerous in thus playing upon poor timid human nature, and agonizing it with false terrors." Furthermore, Boaden challenges comparison with Shakespeare by insisting on the actual representation of the ghost on stage. Current theatrical practice allowed the retention of such anachronisms in old plays, such as Hamlet (circa 1600-1601), where they were to some extent justified by the outmoded belief in incorporeal visitations, but deplored and virtually proscribed the appearance of spirits in the "enlightened" contemporary drama. But Boaden determined to hazard the attempt and, though many of the critics were offended, the enthusiastic response of the audience fully justified the innovation. Boaden notes in his biography of Kemble that "any great effect in this play depended on the management of the ghost scene." He here introduced a technique that was to become a standard practice: "The great contrivance was, that the spectre should appear through a blueish-gray gauze, so as to remove the too corporeal effect of a 'live actor,' and convert the moving substance into a gliding essence." Boaden also persuaded Thomas Harris, the manager, to alter the traditional stage armor for a costume of "a dark blue grey stuff, made in the shape of armour, and sitting close to the person." The result fully answered the author's expectations:

the whisper of the house, as he was about to enter,--the breathless silence, while he floated along like a shadow ... and the often-renewed plaudits, when the curtain fell, told me that the audience had enjoyed 'That sacred terror, that severe delight,' for which alone it is excusable to overpass the ordinary limits of nature.
Finally, in the epilogue to Fontainville Forest Elizabeth Pope, who had played the role of Adeline, remarks, "Know you not, Shakspeare's petrifying pow'r / Commands alone the horror-giving hour?" and then she rhetorically asks the author of the play: "But Sir ... You mean to sanction then your own pale sprite, / By his 'that did usurp this time of night:' / 'I do, he answered....'" By this allusion to Horatio's words to the ghost in Hamlet, Boaden may have intended not just to "sanction" his own ghost, but to invoke comparison with the great dramatist. When Boaden discusses Fontainville Forest in his Memoirs of the Life of John Philip Kemble he remarks: "nothing ever was more tasteless than the stage exhibition of the Ghost in Hamlet ... the whole of this 'gracious figure' should look as if it was collected from the surrounding air, and ready [sic], when its impression should be made, to melt into 'thin air' again." Boaden prided himself on doing better with his own ghost, at least insofar as stage business was concerned. His complaisance in this regard earned him his nickname of "Billy-the-Go-By Boaden," meaning that he believed he had done better than William Shakespeare. Certainly, the play was successful; it was performed thirteen times in its first season, from 25 March 1794 to 18 June 1794.
The Secret Tribunal opened on 3 June 1795, at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. Boaden's play, which is derived from Hermann von Unna (1788) by Benedikte Naubert, introduced the institution of the Secret Tribunal or Inquisition to Gothic fiction in English. The device was later employed by such writers as Ann Radcliffe in The Italian (1797), Mathew Gregory Lewis in The Monk (1795), and by Charles Robert Maturin in Melmoth the Wanderer (1820).
In The Secret Tribunal Herman, nephew of the duke of Wirtenberg, is in love with Ida, who is pursued by Ratibor, the duke's brother. Ratibor hopes to have the duke assassinated, to poison his sister-in-law, to assume the duke's position, and to marry Ida. Going to meet the duke, Herman rescues him from Ratibor's assassins, but in the scuffle drops his sword and picks up one of theirs. He is later found with the incriminating bloody sword, accused of attacking the duke, his uncle, who is too readily credulous. Herman's trial is turned over to the authority of Ratibor. The duke's wife dies, and Ida is accused of administering poison. She is to be tried at midnight by the secret tribunal in a subterranean vault. Herman, whose innocence is indicated when an incriminating letter from Ratibor is found, attends the tribunal in disguise; and a series of revelations restores the lovers to one another and to the duke's favor. Unlike most Gothic heroes, Herman is instrumental in opposing the villain but only at the end of the play.
Despite its pervasive influence on later fictions and drama in the Gothic mode, The Secret Tribunal was not notably successful itself. It was performed only three times in its first season, and three times in the next year.
It was in The Oracle that in February and April of 1795 Boaden wrote a series of puffs concerning the Shakespeare papers being shown by Samuel Ireland, and supposedly found by his son William Henry Ireland, that involved Boaden in the controversy over the great Shakespeare forgery. Initially impressed like so many others, Boaden enthused (16 February 1795), "the conviction produced upon our mind, is such as to make all scepticism ridiculous, and when we follow the sentiments of Dr. Joseph Warton, we have no fear of our critical orthodoxy." Others were less sure, and the Morning Herald repudiated the find as early as 17 February. Boaden visited Samuel Ireland's house twice to inspect the manuscripts, and on 23 April reiterated his faith: "The Shakesperiana, which have been so luckily discovered, are now considered as genuine by all but those who illiberally refuse to be convinced by inspection." The controversy swelled as young William Henry Ireland continued to produce more "Shakesperean" manuscripts to please his credulous father. But the number of dissentient voices grew, and Boaden reversed his position, influenced perhaps by his friend the Shakespearean scholar George Steevens. On 11 January 1796 he published A Letter to George Steevens, Esq. Containing a Critical Examination of the Papers of Shakespeare; Published by Mr. Samuel Ireland. To Which Are Added, Extracts From Vortigern, by James Boaden, Esq. In this work he was among the first to repudiate in print the spurious hoax, pointing out chronological inconsistencies in some of the documents and criticizing the sentiments and the orthography of others. He writes:
my doubts were accumulated from the reflection in my closet upon circumstances recorded; examining those facts scrupulously by the light of history; and applying to things the rule of chronology, and to persons the records of biography. I found myself speedily entangled in perplexities, and at war with known events.
Boaden concludes that he had "allowed myself to aid the cause of deception." Commenting on Samuel Ireland's preface to his edition of the so-called Shakespeare manuscripts, Boaden goes beyond refutation to exclaim, "I could scarcely believe the evidence of the sense, that presented criticism so despicably shallow, and assertion so miserably fallacious." Of the manuscript of Lear supposedly discovered among the other Shakespeare forgeries Boaden concludes, "that its interpolations are not in the manner of Shakespeare--and that its orthography bears the character of no period of English Literature, except indeed that when the forgeries of Chatterton were offered to the public." In short, the whole collection of Shakespeariana was an imposture. As a result of his repudiation, Boaden was roundly attacked by Samuel Ireland and his supporters in such works as John Wyatt's A Comparative Review of the Opinions of Mr. James Boaden ... relative to the Shakspeare MSS (1796), and by Walley C. Oulton in Vortigern Under Consideration; With General Remarks on Mr. James Boaden's Letter to George Steevens, Esq. (1796).
It was in Vortigern Under Consideration that Oulton applied to Boaden the nickname of "Billy the Go-By," suggesting that Boaden believed that he had in his own work surpassed "Billy," that is, William Shakespeare. But this sobriquet was first used by the satirist Peter Pindar (John Wolcot?) in The Cap ... (1795). He quotes Boaden as having often said, "That if HARRIS gave him proper encouragement he had no doubt but in a short time he should give BILLY (Shakespeare) the go by." The date of The Cap would indicate that it was in connection with Fontainville Forest (1794) that Boaden made this claim. The story as told by Samuel Jones Arnold (1774-1852), son of Dr. Samuel Arnold, is noted by Richard Brinsley Peake in his Memoirs of the Colman Family (1841). Arnold recalls:
The play I have alluded to [The Italian Monk] had a ghost in it, and Mrs. Gibbs looked and acted like an angel. It was of this very play that Mr. Boaden was said to have said, he had given Billy, (meaning William Shakespeare) the go-by....
However, Peake quotes Arnold as linking the story to Boaden's play of The Italian Monk, which was not produced until 1797, too late for the genesis of the story, and anyway it was in Cambro-Britons (1798), not in The Italian Monk, that Boaden for the second time used a ghost.
Appended to Boaden's Letter to George Steevens are Extracts From Vortigern which, Boaden reminds his readers, had "appeared in a diurnal publication," that is, The Oracle. They are part of a widespread campaign to discredit the spurious play of Vortigern, written by William Henry Ireland, which was about to be produced as Shakespeare's play at Drury Lane on 2 April 1796. Kemble, who suspected the authenticity of the work, had proposed staging it on April first! The "Extracts" are not of William Henry Ireland's composition, however, but are Boaden's own parody. They are offered, Boaden asserts, "as faint attempts to imitate the inimitable, because, if the play of VORTIGERN, announced for representation, should, in a trifling degree resemble the great Poet, such partial resemblance may be here shewn not to be decisive of the question of ORIGINALITY." By thus implicitly claiming in print to be able to write pseudo-Shakespearean verse himself, Boaden must have reinforced the impression that he saw himself as the rival of Shakespeare. Taken together, his epilogue to Fontainville Forest and these Extracts From Vortigern sufficiently account for his nickname of Billy-the-Go-By.
The Italian Monk premiered at the Theatre Royal in the Hay-Market on 15 August 1797, with "new Musick, Scenery, Dresses, and Decorations. The Overture and Musick by Dr [Samuel] Arnold. The Scenery by Marinari, Rooker, &c." The story is derived from Ann Radcliffe's novel The Italian but with one major revision. Radcliffe's villain, Schedoni, commits suicide at the end of the novel and dies unrepentant; Boaden allows him a change of heart. In the play Schedoni plots to separate Vivaldi and Ellena, hoping thereby to consolidate his power with Vivaldi's mother, the marchioness. He has Ellena taken to a convent, where she is to be forced to take the vows and retire from the world. When Vivaldi rescues her and tries to marry her, the ceremony is interrupted, Vivaldi is denounced to the Inquisition, and Ellena is carried off to be killed. Later Schedoni, in the act of plunging a dagger into her breast, recognizes a picture she wears around her neck and realizes she is his daughter. Boaden had used a similar device in Fontainville Forest , where the marquis, snatching a picture of her mother from Adeline's neck, realizes that she is his niece. From this moment Schedoni labors to undo his elaborate stratagems, to rescue Vivaldi from the hands of the Inquisition, and to further the union of the lovers. In the play Schedoni, himself brought before the Inquisition and accused of having murdered his wife, Ellena's mother, is unexpectedly reunited with her; it is revealed that she has spent the intervening years in a convent (shades of Shakespeare's Winter's Tale, 1611). The monk is allowed a complete renovation of character, and the audience a happy ending to the play.
Boaden records that Palmer, who played the Monk, "said that he could not quit London without in a particular manner thanking me for the part of Schedoni." The Italian Monk enjoyed a considerable success, being played twelve times in its first season.
Cambro-Britons was first performed at the Theatre Royal in the Hay-Market, on Saturday, 21 July 1798. It is a historical drama set in thirteenth-century Wales. Some of the incidental songs were written by George Colman the Younger, with new music by Dr. Samuel Arnold. The reigning Welsh prince, Llewellyn, is being attacked on the flanks of Mount Snowdon by vastly superior forces under the command of the English King Edward. Llewellyn's brother, Prince David, has defected to the English side, and Llewellyn's betrothed, Elinor, has been captured by the English. Prince David endeavors to woo Elinor for himself, and when Llewellyn contrives to meet her at the shrine of his mother in an abbey at Chester the two brothers come to blows. Here, for the second time, Boaden introduces a ghost on stage. The spirit of their mother rises from her tomb to forbid the violence, thus effecting a reconciliation between her sons. As the brothers kneel to embrace each other, a chorus of spirits comments, "Dear is the incense that repentance flings." The ghost offers her blessings, as her "funeral dress falls off; drapery of a fine cerulean colour gradually unfolds itself; her figure seems glorified; and through the opening window she is drawn, as it were, into the air, while music, as of immortal spirits, attends her progress." Once again, Boaden's handling of a ghost is a source of pride to him and delight to his contemporary audiences. Subsequently, Llewellyn contrives to hold off the invading English army, and an honorable peace is secured.
Significantly, throughout the play the Welsh are referred to as "Britons," and characterized as bravely opposing a superior hostile force. In his preface to the published play Boaden emphasizes his patriotic motives in writing Cambro-Britons, as a topical reference to the state of war currently existing between England and France. This play was well received. It was performed twelve times between 21 July and 23 August 1798.
Aurelio and Miranda was first acted at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, on 29 December 1798, with music by Michael Kelly. Based on Lewis's notorious novel The Monk, this play greatly simplifies the plot and significantly alters the characterization. The play was originally called The Monk, but the title and the names of the principal characters are changed in the manuscript, presumably because the Examiner of Plays objected. Boaden uses the central incidents surrounding the monk Aurelio (Ambrosio in Lewis's work), who is tempted by discovering that a young novice in his monastery is actually a woman in disguise; the sub-plot involves Agnes, the reluctant nun, and Don Raymond, her lover. Whereas the powerful climax of the novel involves Ambrosio's torment and the probable damnation of this hypocritically pious villain, Boaden redraws the characters of Aurelio and Miranda so that, although tempted and lustful, he is withheld from the actual realization of his illicit passion by Miranda's virtue. In so doing, Boaden sought to avert some of the censure that was anticipated in bringing a tale of such recent notoriety to the stage, but the strategy did not answer. The public and the critics continued to reprehend the choice of subject, while simultaneously they were disappointed with the altered ending. In the play, Miranda holds Aurelio off until he is released from his clerical vows upon discovering that he is actually of noble birth, whereupon he virtuously offers to marry her. The violence and incest of Lewis's tale is omitted, and the play moves from the temptations of Aurelio by Miranda's beauty to the contrived and incredible conclusion. The monk's lust for his sister, Antonia, so prominent a feature of the novel, is omitted, as is the death of Agnes's child in the vaults beneath the convent, with all the repellent details of its putrefaction. The audience, anticipating the Gothic horrors of Boaden's source, led to expect them from the initial presentation in the first three acts, were simply disappointed in the denouement.
Boaden reports that "a storm of indignation was excited, that so immoral a work as the Monk should be resorted to for the purposes of an exhibition, however moral its tendency." Perhaps in this instance Kemble's dramatic sense did a disservice to the play, as his representation of the Monk was considered far too elevated. Still, the play survived for six performances in its first season.
The Voice of Nature premiered at the Theatre Royal in the Hay-Market on 31 July 1802. It was derived from Louis Charles Caigniez's Le Jugement de Salomon (1802), itself based on the judgment of Solomon incident in 1 Kings 3: 16-28. As the play opens, Lilla has come to observe the meeting of King Alphonso with his betrothed, the Princess Clorinda. In reality she hopes to see again Prince Rinaldo, who had been her lover in the past and was the father of her child. Rinaldo is about to get married, to Alzira, because she claims that the four-year-old child she is raising is her son by him. Lilla sees Alzira and the child and feels drawn to the boy.
As the plot unfolds we learn that her son had been stolen soon after birth and replaced with a dead child, while Alzira's sickly baby became suddenly healthy. The proofs that Lilla can offer to assert her claim are inconclusive and the decision is vital, because Prince Rinaldo will wed the mother of the child. The judgment is finally relegated to King Alphonso, who, like Solomon, ascertains the true mother by her response when the child is threatened, "Seize that infant, let him die, and be his remains divided between these women." The play is considerably less Gothic than Boaden's earlier successes, except in this climactic scene where Alphonso, Boaden's Solomon figure, orders the death and dismemberment of the boy. This scene was severely criticized as unfit for dramatic representation, in part because the disputed infant is not a baby, but a child able to comprehend the situation, and Alphonso appears cruel rather than wise.
The Maid of Bristol was first performed at the Theatre Royal in the Hay-Market on Wednesday, 24 August 1803. It is a simple tale of thwarted love. Stella has traveled to Bristol from her native Austria in order to meet her betrothed, Baron Lindorf, who has been fighting on behalf of the English in America. He is returning, wounded, from the war. When the two finally meet, he tells Stella they never can be wed, and she discovers that he has been falsely informed that she had married in his absence, and so he has contracted a loveless marriage himself. Stella's distress is such that she wanders into the fields, finding shelter under a shed, where she determines to live the life of a hermit. It is this aspect of the play which is supposed to have been suggested by a little-known work, A Narrative of Facts: supposed to throw Light on the History of the Bristol-Stranger; Known by the Name of the Maid of the Hay-Stack, translated by George Henry Glasse (1785). Some humor is introduced in the characters of two sailors, Oakum and Ben Block, and some rustic dialogue is delivered by the foolish countryman Jacob Clod. The simple conflict is resolved when Lindorf's wife dies on her way to meet him, but Stella is hesitant: "Oh, Lindorf! various emotions crowd in upon my soul! Do not imagine me insensible of the blessing I have so ardently desir'd--But this is a solemn moment...." The play was, understandably, not one of Boaden's great successes.
Two further works attest to Boaden's continuing interest in Shakespeare. In 1824 he published An Inquiry Into the Authenticity of Various Pictures and Prints, Which From the Decease of the Poet to Our Own Times Have Been Offered to the Public as Portraits of Shakespeare. In this work he reproduces "accurate and finished engravings" to facilitate his arguments. Here he discourses knowledgeably on his material, doing pioneer work in an endeavor to establish the probable likeness of the Bard. The care with which Boaden conducts his argument and the quality of the engravings make this an important study. For the first time readers were enabled to compare the different likenesses and portraits of Shakespeare, brought together in one work. In two articles Shakespeare in the Gentleman's Magazine (1832) Boaden identifies the "W. H." of the sonnet sequence as William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, an identification accepted by subsequent critics. The argument was somewhat expanded and republished as On The Sonnets of Shakespeare (1837). Boaden's several publications on Shakespeare, as much as his other writings, established his reputation as an important literary figure for his contemporaries.
Boaden wrote two novels in the course of his productive life, The Man of Two Lives (1828) and The Doom of Giallo; Or, The Vision of Judgment (1835). Of these two novels, the first has the interesting theme of reincarnation or the transmigration of souls: the hero has the chance to atone in a second life for some of the injustices he committed in a former existence. Edward Sydenham is conscious, almost from birth, of his identity with Frederic Werner, a native of Frankfurt: "I am the man now writing his present history, and am equally sure that I was that other being whose life I also record, because I know it to have been mine." In the course of the history, the narrator discourses on musicians contemporary with himself--Henry Purcell, Christoph Willibald Glück, George Frideric Handel and Thomas Augustine Arne, painters such as Henry Fuseli and Sir Joshua Reynolds, and poets such as William Cowper, William Shakespeare and John Milton. Speculations of an occult nature occur concerning the Rosicrucian philosophy and the plurality of worlds; one interesting character, who seems able to know what is passing in Sydenham's mind, turns out to be no other than Mesmer, the practitioner of a primitive psychology. We witness Sydenham's association in Germany with Francina and Leonora--the woman who had virtuously loved Frederic Werner and the beautiful opera singer who had caused him to embitter Francina's life. At first Sydenham seems as fascinated with both these women as Frederic could have been, but eventually he finds his mate in Sophia, a younger woman, who is his contemporary.
Boaden's five theatrical biographies remain an invaluable source of information about styles of acting, methods of production and staging, theaters, and audiences of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The Memoirs of the Life of John Philip Kemble is introduced by a "History of the Stage, from the Time of Garrick to the Present Period," in which Boaden discusses theatrical practice under such various managers as Garrick, Sheridan, and Tom King, and the performance of such players as Samuel Reddish, Spranger Barry, and Sarah Siddons. The life of Kemble is traced from his birth and early schooling to the advent of his acting career. It is interspersed with incidental descriptions of the numerous theaters at which Kemble appeared in England and Ireland and with anecdotes of his associates. Boaden's keen interest in staging, costume, setting, and stage business is everywhere apparent, and he interpolates comments and criticisms on writers and on individual plays. In this, the first of his biographies, which concerns the life of his friend Kemble, Boaden seeks "to record his progress in the art which he professed; and also to display his personal character, as it unfolded itself during an intimacy of near thirty years." But total frankness is not the author's intent, as he confesses, "On some few, a very few points, in the exercise of, I hope, a sound discretion, I have ventured to baffle the search of the malignant." In later biographies Boaden was less discrete. Boaden's own plays and his concepts of staging and production are discussed wherever appropriate in the context.
In the introduction to his Memoirs of Mrs. Siddons (1827), the author states his intention to record the evanescent details of stage performances. He quotes Colley Cibber's lament in An Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber (1740):
Pity it is that the momentary beauties flowing from an harmonious elocution cannot, like those of poetry, be their own record! That the animated graces of the player can live no longer than the instant breath and motion that presents them; or, at best, can but imperfectly glimmer through the memory or imperfect attestation of a few surviving spectators.
But Boaden determines to attempt such a record:
we shall always communicate by our touch some of the electric fire which we have received. It is, therefore, gratitude to the actor and duty to the public to perpetuate the character of excellence, and afford models for imitation to future artists.
In his Life of Mrs. Jordan (1831), together with an account of her career and her experiences in the theater, Boaden is pleased to allude to her long-standing liaison with Prince William Henry, duke of Clarence, later King William IV, and to the ten children she had by him. Boaden also seeks to elucidate the complexities of her involvement with Richard Ford. In this biography he departs very far from his earlier practice of leaving the private lives of his subjects in obscurity. But Boaden seeks here to stifle the criticism of Mrs. Jordan's moral character and to reassert the greatness of her dramatic achievement.
With his edition of The Private Correspondence of David Garrick (1831, 1832) Boaden includes a biographical memoir of more than sixty pages that is of a kind with his other theatrical biographies. Drawing upon the copious detail of the correspondence, he fashions a fascinating account of Garrick's acting and managerial experience, and of his private life.
In preparing his Memoirs of Mrs. Inchbald (1833), Boaden had access to Elizabeth Inchbald's autograph journals, and to her collection of correspondence. He details her acting career, her interaction with friends and managers, as well as her achievements in fictional and dramatic writing. Boaden is able to praise her in both public and private life.
James Boaden's achievements form a significant contribution to our knowledge and understanding of the theater in this period. His essays in The Oracle record contemporary responses to dramatic productions and constitute a gauge of their popular reception. Boaden's plays are keenly attuned to the taste of the day, and he broke new ground in his exploitation of Gothic themes and melodramatic devices. His writings on Shakespeare added their weight to the ongoing revaluation of the poet's place as the greatest of English dramatists even as Boaden sought to extend our knowledge of the Bard's life and works. In his biographical memoirs Boaden performed an invaluable service in recording for posterity those evanescent details of production and performance that alone allow us to comprehend the theatrical practices of an earlier age. In each of the genres in which Boaden wrote, he earned the respect of his contemporaries and merits our grateful approbation.

Papers:  The manuscripts of seven of Boaden's plays are in the Larpent Collection at the Huntington Library. These are Ozmyn and Daraxa (LA 970), Fontainville Forest (LA 1014), The Secret Tribunal (LA 1085), Cambro-Britons (LA 1222), Aurelio [and Miranda] (the manuscript bears the title The Monk, crossed out, with Aurelio added above) (LA 1232), The Voice of Nature (LA 1355), and The Maid of Bristol (LA 1388).


  • About this Essay:  Temple J. Maynard, Simon Fraser University Source Database:  Dictionary of Literary Biography