The Writing Life of Hugh Kelly: Politics, Journalism, and Theater in Late-Eighteenth-Century London

By Robert R. Bataille | Go to book overview

10
The General Evening Post, Kelly as Barrister, and The School for Wives

William Watt felt that "Hugh Kelly was not in an enviable position in 1773. He had a growing family to support, and he could no longer depend on the steady income of his position on the Public Ledger (238-39). 1 I would argue, on the other hand, that Kelly was facing perhaps his annus mirabilis, that 1773 was to be the apex of his career; during the year, he was not only called to the bar to begin what must be considered a legal career of reasonable though brief success but was also to see produced before the year's end The School for Wives, arguably his best and certainly his most popular play. His economic situation at the start of 1773 could not have been as bleak as Watt felt because Kelly was laboring for the General Evening Post in what the internal evidence suggests was a steady fashion; the salary for this journalistic work must have compensated for the loss of the Ledger's editorship. He was, moreover, still collecting his two-hundred-pound pension from Lord North. Finally, as the accounts of his attendance at masquerades attests, even his social life seemed pleasantly full.

The evidence of his continuing to write for the General Evening Post is strong. 2 I begin with the paper's review (4-6 Feb.) of Garrick's production of The Merchant of Venice. It is devoted almost entirely to an analysis of the weaknesses of the trial scene. The critique focuses on the trial's legal aspects, examining it from a lawyer's viewpoint. The reviewer praises the actors, especially Thomas King, whom the writer calls a better Shylock than Charles Macklin, famous for that role. He also lauds Mrs. Abington in her role as Portia: "Portia never had a better representative than Mrs. Abington." I have already noted Kelly's partiality for King and Abington, but the key indicator of Kelly's authorship is undoubtedly the legal analysis itself. To be called to the bar on 22 May, Kelly was understandably examining the play from the perspective of his new professional knowledge.

-114-

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