Shirley Strum Kenny (ed.), The Plays of Richard Steele

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Composition and sources

According to local tradition, Steele wrote The Lying Lover while stationed at Landguard Fort, Suffolk, retreating to a farmhouse near Walton or the Queen's Arms in Harwich to write.1 His Dedication to the Duke of Ormonde, scholars agree, was attributable not only to appreciation for past favours but also to his desire to join the Duke's new regiment and thus escape the boredom of Landguard.2

His chief source was Corneille's Le Menteur (1642), derived in turn from Juan Ruiz de Alarcón's La Verdad Sospechosa. Corneille's play had been translated into English, acted at the Theatre Royal at least by 1684 and probably some twenty years earlier,3 and published as The Mistaken Beauty, or the Lyar A Comedy (1685, anonymous). Steele, however, seems to have turned to Corneille rather than to the English translation. It would be unlikely, in fact, that he knew the English version, which had not been performed or republished during his years in and around London; certainly The Lying Lover bears no greater resemblance to it than one might expect from two adaptations of one original.

He carefully followed Le Menteur in the main outline and some of the dialogue of the first three acts, broke from it in all but one of the five scenes of Act IV, and completely departed from the text in the last act, except for the final disposition of the lovers. His alterations are of two kinds. First, he created a number of new characters and situations more broadly humorous than those found in his model. He chose for comic valet not the expected prating servant but rather the young gentleman Latine, fresh from Oxford and full of witticisms, yet wise also in the ways of footmen and abigails; the comic climax of this invention comes in IV. ii, when Latine dazzles maid and mistress alike with his verbal pyrotechnics. Through Latine and genuine servants he ridiculed life below stairs: Lettice weeps copiously pg 104over the romance of Argalus and Parthenia before coolly conducting a real-life romance of her own (iv. ii); the bright cookmaid masters her emotions ('Good Madam, excuse me, I can't touch him.—I have Bowels for him') to give Latine a sound drubbing. The masters and mistresses as well as their servants are given new comic scenes. In one of the funniest passages Steele ever wrote, the two loving cousins Victoria and Penelope blight each other's beauty by applying excessive powder and patches with enthusiastic malice (iii. i). Old Bookwit displays absurd delight at finding his abilities at courtship less rusty than he believed (ii. i); Penelope and Victoria gull Young Bookwit; the girls unwittingly bare their jealousies in hypocritically polite conversations. Finally, Steele introduced the bumbling watch and the gaol-birds Charcole and Storm. In these added comic touches he exceeded Corneille in social commentary, amusement at the idiosyncrasies of the times, and satire on social foibles.

The second innovation shaped the fifth act, which differed so radically and so suddenly from the rest of the play that Steele found cause to defend it on grounds of morality. He claimed to have been affected by Jeremy Collier's Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698):

Mr. Collier had, about the Time wherein this was published, written against the Immorality of the Stage. I was (as far as I durst for fear of witty Men, upon whom he had been too severe) a great Admirer of his Work, and took it into my Head to write a Comedy in the Severity he required. In this Play I made the Spark or Heroe kill a Man in his Drink, and finding himself in Prison the next Morning, I give him the Contrition which he ought to have on that Occasion.1

Act v is a highly emotional condemnation of duelling; there is not one humorous line or one unworthy sentiment. The tone is highly serious, even tragic; the lines are largely blank verse, or what approximates blank verse.

The English comic tradition was strong in Steele, and there are echoes of earlier plays in The Lying Lover, but no startling resemblances. Smith claims that Steele's 'general model' for administering 'a pill to purge the rakishness of a thoughtless young gallant' was Shadwell's The Scowrers (1690),2 but there is no noticeable similarity between the two plays, much less any borrowing. There is an echo from Burnaby's The Ladies Visiting-Day (1701), but this and many other pg 105casual similarities to earlier plays point to a general familiarity with the theatre rather than debts to specific authors.

stage history

The Daily Courant of 29 November 1703 advertised for Wednesday, I December, the premiere of 'a new Comedy never acted before, call'd The Lying Lover, or, The Lady's Friendship. Written by the Author of The Funeral; or, Grief all-Amode'. The advertisement for 1 December, however, announced postponement till the following day, and The Lying Lover opened at the Drury Lane Theatre on Thursday, 2 December. William Croft composed a set of eight act-tunes, probably used for special effects.1 Four new songs, at least three set by Croft, Daniel Purcell, and Richard Leveridge, were introduced. Three were sung in comical circumstances obviously intended to produce hearty laughter: Penelope reads her admirer's lyrics 'To Celia's Spinet', interspersing self-adulatory commentary; Young Bookwit with great flourishes directs his band of musicians in 'Venus has left her Grecian Isles'; and he reels drunkenly as he sings 'Since the Day of poor Man'. A cast of the leading performers of the company, most of whom also played in The Funeral, was assembled. Robert Wilks played Young Bookwit; Colley Cibber, Latine; and the sedate John Mills, Lovemore. Anne Oldfield and Jane Rogers acted Victoria and Penelope.

The comedy ran six nights, closing on 8 December with an author's benefit; the satisfactory initial run, however, must be attributed to excitement over a new comedy by the author of the popular Funeral rather than to any intrinsic merit. The play then disappeared from the stage for almost forty-three years; in the spring of 1746 a revival ran for four nights, and then again Steele's only stage failure vanished from the repertoire, this time permanently.

reputation and influence

Oddly enough, the comedy even vanished from the minds of those most intimately connected with it or at least became hazy, for, from earliest references, a few years after the run, Steele and others either neglected it or confused its chronology. In the legal tussle between Steele and the manager Christopher Rich over the unfinished Election of Gotham, The Lying Lover received no notice; in printed pg 106accounts, from 1718 on, it was listed as Steele's third play, produced after The Tender Husband.1 Only the newspaper advertisements provide a reliable first-hand account of its date. The two other early comedies were linked in people's minds and were twice published together in editions which did not include The Lying Lover, although the latter was sometimes bound with them. Except for reprints, indeed, the comedy was completely forgotten, edged into obscurity by the apathy of everyone including its author. Steele said it was 'damn'd for its Piety',2 a view perhaps justified to some extent, but the play was, after all, an inferior work.

Uninteresting as The Lying Lover might seem, it was a part of the canon. It was therefore occasionally published for inclusion in the collections of Steele's works that were purchased by Englishmen throughout the century. At least thirteen editions appeared in London, Dublin, and Glasgow by 1776; copies were often bound with his other plays and sold under various title-pages.

One such collection rested in the library of Henry Fielding.3 There are many touches in his works reminiscent of Steele; for example, the garnish scene in Amelia, Book I, Chapter iii, recalls IV. iv of The Lying Lover. Smith points out that 'the coquette-taming in The Lying Lover is closely imitated by Fielding in Love in Several Masques',4 a comedy first staged in 1728. Indeed v. xii, xiii of Fielding's comedy are strikingly similar to The Lying Lover, v. iii. Wisemore comes to Lady Matchless, the widow he loves, disguised, as is Steele's Lovemore, 'in a Serjeant's Gown, his Hat over his Ears'. Enter Malvil, claiming he has slain Wisemore in a duel, and Lady Matchless, who has shied away from a second marriage, reveals her true feelings for her suitor. When he discovers himself, they are reunited in highly emotional speeches. Although Fielding did not specifically paraphrase Steele, the two actions bear such a strong resemblance that, in light of other literary connections, there can be little doubt that The Lying Lover influenced the scene.

Samuel Foote in 1762 produced The Lyar; but he acknowledged as source Lope de Vega, whom he mistakenly believed to be the author of the Spanish version. Later commentators have doubted his word. John Genest believed he had never seen the original but did know Steele: 'whether he had seen the Lying Lover or not, let any body pg 107judge!'1 A. W. Ward and Aitken continued the tradition that Foote borrowed from Steele. Examination of The Lyar, however, shows no incontrovertible debt; Foote may have worked from Le Menteur or even The Mistaken Beauty, because there are no instances of his having borrowed from Steele's many alterations rather than the translated passages.2

the text

Four editions of The Lying Lover: Or, The Ladies Friendship appeared in London during Steele's lifetime and a fifth three years after his death. A Dublin edition was published in 1725.

Bernard Lintott first published it on 26 January 1704, almost two months after the run opened. According to John Nichols, Lintott paid £21. 10s. for the rights.3 It was the only play by Steele first issued under Lintott's imprint. Steele wrote some of the preliminary material within nine days before publication, for he mentioned a royal proclamation of 17 January in the Preface.

The text is relatively free from the verbal tangles that marred the first edition of The Funeral. The collational formula is [A]4 a4 B–I4. Printing is regular and apparently unhurried; the work seems to have been distributed evenly between two presses. According to running-title evidence, two skeletons were used for sheets B, C, E, G, and I; the inner formes were imposed in one skeleton, the outer formes in another. Two more skeletons were used with equal regularity for the inner and outer formes of sheets D, F, and H. The preliminary sheets, [A] and a, were probably printed on the second press, but no running-title evidence exists.

The second edition, dated 1712, was advertised in the Spectator, no. 187, on 4 October 1711. While most extant copies have the imprint 'Printed for Bernard Lintott at the Cross Keys between the Two Temple-Gates in Fleetstreet. mdccxii.', a copy at the University of Texas reads 'Printed for Bernard Lintott at the Middle-Temple-Gate in Fleet-Street. mdccxii.' The most plausible pg 108explanation for the two states is that the compositor followed the copy-text, the first edition, without changing the imprint to match Lintott's intervening change of address.1 The error was caught and the correction made during the run. This duodecimo was often bound with the 1712 edition of The Funeral; and The Tender Husband: Comedies, and a title-page was printed for the combined volumes.

The second edition was printed with some care. Obvious errors were corrected; a few words were added or changed to render passages more graceful; necessary stage directions were added. However, there are no corrections that suggest the hand of Steele. His concern with the second edition of The Funeral had been dictated by his role as public reformer; there was no need to curb the youthful enthusiasms of the characters in his second play, for he had done that as he had written the play.

Nor do the other editions printed within his lifetime show evidence that he revised them. The third, copied from the second, bears the imprint 'Printed for William Mears at the Lamb without Temple Bar. 1717.' The fourth, for which the third was copy-text, appeared in the Dramatick Works of 1723. Although the title-pages of The Funeral and The Tender Husband in this collection read 'Printed for J. Tonson', the title-page of The Lying Lover, bound last in the volume, reads 'Printed for B. Lintot'. In 1725 an edition was printed by Stephen Powell for George Risk in Dublin. This 16mo printing used the 1723 edition as copy-text. No more were published until the fifth edition in 1732, 'Printed for Bernard Lintot; and sold by Henry Lintot.'2

I use the first edition as copy-text. Since a few corrections made in the second, for example an occasional addition of the stage direction 'Aside', obviously reflect the intentions of Steele although he did not make them, I incorporate them in this edition. However, other 'improvements', such as the addition of an article to smooth a phrase pg 109('out of the College' for 'out of College'), have not been included, since Steele's intentions are by no means clear.

I have collated the following copies: first edition, University of Texas (two copies), Folger, Yale, Library of Congress; second edition, Folger; third edition, Folger; fourth edition, Folger; fifth edition, Folger; Dublin, 1725, 110


1 Winton, pp. 68–9. Gentleman's Magazine, lx (1790), Part ii, 993.

2 Winton, pp. 70–1. Correspondence, p. 447, n. 1.

3 Van Lennep, pp. 17, 124, 333. Pepys in his diary of 1667 refers to The Mistaken Beauty as an old play.

1 Apology, in Tracts and Pamphlets, pp. 311–12.

2 Smith, p. 202.

1 Verse, p. 82.

1 Aitken, i. 92.

2 Apology, in Tracts and Pamphlets, p. 312.

3 Austin Dobson, Eighteenth Century Vignettes, Third Series (New York, 1896), p. 173.

4 Smith, p. 220, n. 37.

1 Genest, iv. 649.

2 For a different view of the ancestry and influence of The Lying Lover see Dorothea Frances Canfield, Corneille and Racine in England (New York, 1966), pp. 119–27.

3 Nichols provides a list of 'copies when purchased' from a notebook of the Lintotts, including '1703–4, June 11, Lying Lovers [sic] £21. 10s. od.' 'June' is undoubtedly a misreading for 'Jan.' (John Nichols, Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century, 9 vols. (London, 1812–16), viii. 301.)

1 Henry R. Plomer gives Lintott's address as the Middle Temple Gate in 1701–4 and the Cross Keys after 1709 (A Dictionary of the Printers and Booksellers … From 1668 to 1725 (Oxford, 1922), pp. 189–90).

2 D. F. Foxon identified a piracy of the fifth, possibly published by William Feales, recognizable by the following details: on the title-page l. 3 reads 'OR THE' and the penultimate line, 'overagainst'; the edition lacks press figures; also, the signatures vary from those of Tonson ('A Piracy of Steele's The Lying Lover', The Library, Fifth Series, x (1955), 127–9). In the British Museum Richard A. Christophers found a collection of plays published by Feales containing the piracy with a cancel title-page bearing the imprint 'London: Printed for W. Feales, at Rowe's-Head, over-against St. Clement's Church in the Strand. M.DCC.XXXVI.' Christophers suggested in a letter to me that the cancellation 'seems to pass the guilt even more positively on to Feales than Mr. Foxon first suggested'.

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