May 23, 1762-February
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.
Biographies; Novels; Plays; Comedies (Plays); Melodrama; Theater criticism;
BY THE AUTHOR:
and Daraxa, London, King's Theatre, 7 March 1793.
Forest, London, Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, 25 March 1794.
Secret Tribunal, London, Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, 3 June 1795.
Italian Monk, London, Theatre Royal in the Hay-Market, 15 August 1797.
London, Theatre Royal in the Hay-Market, 21 July 1798.
and Miranda, London, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 29 December 1798.
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.
Maid of Bristol, London, Theatre Royal in the Hay-Market, 24 August 1803.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
Maid of Bristol, A Play, in Three Acts. As Performed at the Theatre Royal
in the Haymarket (London: Printed for Longman & Rees, 1803).
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).
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).
of Mrs. Siddons. Interspersed With Anecdotes of Authors and Actors, 2 volumes
(London: Henry Colburn, 1827).
Man of Two Lives. A Narrative Written by Himself (London: Henry Colburn,
Life of Mrs. Jordan; Including Original Private Correspondence and Numerous
Anecdotes of Her Contemporaries, 2 volumes (London: Edward Bull, 1831).
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
Doom of Giallo; Or, The Vision of Judgment, 2 volumes (London: John Macrone,
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
Plays of James Boaden, edited by Steven Cohan (New York & London: Garland,
Oracle; or, Bell's New World [daily newspaper], edited, with contributions,
by Boaden, 1789-1798 or later.
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,
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
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.
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."
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
if I sink with fear?
And so benumb'd,
life freeze away in horror?
powerful impulse drives me onward,
And my soul
rises to the coming terror.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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):
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeremy F. Bagster-Collins,
George Colman The Younger, 1762-1836 (New York: King's Crown Press, 1946).
Introduction to The Plays of James Boaden (New York & London: Garland,
The Great Shakespeare Forgery ... (London: Heinemann, 1966).
Mr. Ireland's Vindication of His Conduct, Respecting the Publication of
the Supposed Shakspeare MSS. Being a Preface or Introduction to a Reply
to the Critical Labors of Mr. Malone, in His "Enquiry into the Authenticity
of Certain Papers, &c. &c." (London: Published by Mr. Faulder &
Mr. Robson, 1796).
Ireland, An Authentic Account of the Shaksperian Manuscripts, &c. (London:
Printed for J. Debrett, 1796).
John Mair, The
Fourth Forger: William Ireland and the Shakespeare Papers (London: Cobden-Sanderson,
An Inquiry Into the Authenticity of Certain Miscellaneous Papers and Legal
Instruments, Published Dec. 24, 1795 and Attributed to Shakspeare, Queen
Elizabeth, and Henry, Earl of Southampton ... (London: Printed by H. Baldwin
for T. Cadell, Jun. and W. Davies, 1796; republished, London: Frank Cass,
[W. C. Oulton],
Vortigern Under Consideration; With General Remarks on Mr. James Boaden's
Letter to George Steevens, Esq.Relative to the Manuscripts, Drawings, Seals,
&c. Ascribed to Shakespeare, and In the Possession of Samuel Ireland,
Esq. (London: Printed for H. Lowndes, 1796).
Peake, Memoirs of the Colman Family ... , 2 volumes (London: Richard Bentley,
1841; reprinted, New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc. 1972).
Louis F. Peck,
A Life of Matthew G. Lewis (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
Peter Pindar [John
Wolcot?], The Cap. A Satiric Poem. Including Most of the Dramatic Writers
of the Present Day (London: Printed for the Author, 1795).
The Gothic Quest: A History of the Gothic Novel (London: Fortune Press,
"The Stage Adventures of Some Gothic Novels," PMLA, 43 (June 1928): 476-486.
A Comparative Review of the Opinions of Mr. James Boaden (Editor of the
Oracle), in February, March, and April, 1795, and of James Boaden, Esq.
(author of Fontainville Forest, and of A Letter to George Steevens, Esq.)
in February, 1796, relative to the Shakespeare MSS ... (London: Printed
for G. Sael, 1796).
Essay: Temple J. Maynard, Simon Fraser University
Dictionary of Literary Biography
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.