Academic journal article Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research

Attributions and Misattributions to Edward Phillips, Theatre Writer of the 1730s, with Some Remarks on Thomas Phillips, Theatre Writer of the 1730s

Academic journal article Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research

Attributions and Misattributions to Edward Phillips, Theatre Writer of the 1730s, with Some Remarks on Thomas Phillips, Theatre Writer of the 1730s

Article excerpt

Edward Phillips was one of the generation of young writers, including Henry Fielding, who struggled to make their mark in theatre in the years leading up to the Licensing Act. Little is known of him-the theatrical biographical dictionaries restrict themselves to listing his plays. An even more obscure member of the same generation is Thomas Phillips, another playwright and songwriter. Even someone associated with theatre in their period, the compiler of the Compleat List Of all the English Dramatic Poets, and of All the Plays ever printed in the English Language, to the Present Year M,DCC,XL VII (1747) -almost certainly John Mottley, himself a playwright-seems unfamiliar with these men. He overlooks the existence of Thomas and, departing from his usual format, provides for Edward no biographical information, merely a meagre, incomplete, highly inaccurate calendar of four plays (276). From this unhappy onset, scholarship and bibliography concerning these writers has been plagued with misattributions and omissions. Now, however, it is possible to some extent to distinguish between the two and to name and to reassign some of their works. Though both worked in the same genres-comedies, ballad-operas, masques, song-lyrics-they worked at competing theatres, Edward Phillips almost exclusively for John Rich at Covent Garden, Thomas Phillips always elsewhere for Rich's competitors.

The earliest certain evidence of Edward's activity as a writer is in An Ode on the [King's] Birth-Day [. . .] ByMr. Edward Phillips, Late of Trinity-College, Cambridge (London: for H. Lintott, 1732) (Foxon P251), advertised in Daily Post 4094 (6 Nov. 1732). This Edward Phillips would be the old boy of the Westminster School who had gone up to Trinity, Cambridge, on 1 July 1728 and had become a Scholar there in 1729 (Venn 355). This Edward Phillips (as has always correctly been recognized since the Compleat List} must therefore also be the "Mr P-, the young gentleman of Cambridge," mentioned in the Grub-street Journal as responsible for the Covent Garden afterpiece of 27 April 1733, The Mock Lawyer (LS, also see Table of Ascriptions, fig. 1), whose full surname is given on the published play's title-page, The Mock Lawyer. As it is Acted at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden. Written by Mr. Phillips (London: Printed, and Sold by T. Astley, and at the Theatre in Covent-Garden, 1733). He is later, in 1740, described as a "young Spark, who was just come from Trinity College at Cambridge" by the anonymous author of An Apology For the Life of Mr. T......... C....., Comedian (17), thereby delimiting the Cambridge University young Phillipses to Edward, who was the only Trinity man among them in this period. A letter-writer to the Grub-street Journal 174 (26 Apr. 1733) accused Rich of bad faith with respect to The Mock Lawyer, of having misappropriated for it a manuscript play of James Ralph's (with which Rich had then arranged for another manuscript play by Phillips to be conflated). Subsequent correspondence, clearing up what proves to be a misunderstanding about a complicated situation, incidentally establishes that, even though aspects of the second play and the contributions of a co-reviser had contributed to earlier drafts, the final, performed, version of The Mock Lawyer, now transformed into a ballad opera and shortened to one act, was essentially Phillips's own unaided creation (177 [17 May 1733]). The correspondence makes it clear that it was Rich, as manager of Covent Garden, who governed this process; he commissioned the revision; he dictated the genre. The title, The Mock Lawyer, as the work's "Prologue" confesses, responds to that of The Mock Doctor, the Fielding/Molière hit running at Drury Lane since June 1732 and now being picked up by other theatres ("The Mimick Doctor could your Praises claim; / The Mimick Lawyer do not partial damn"). The new piece's satire echoes that of Rich's old money-spinner by John Gay, The Beggar's Opera-but with touches of legal language and jokes that may indicate the writer's familiarity with the Inns of Court or at least with the young Templars who sometimes formed a playhouse claque. …

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