Irish playwright George Farquhar was born at Londonderry in Ireland in 1678, and in his personal as well as his literary character he exemplifies the merits and the defects of his nation. He received some education at college, but at the early age of eighteen embraced the profession of an actor. Having accidentally wounded one of his comrades in a fencing-match, he quitted the stage and served for some time in the army, in the Earl of Orrery's regiment. His military experience enabled him to give very lively and faithful representations of gay, rattling officers, and furnished him with materials for one of his pleasantest comedies. His dramatic productions, which were mostly written after his return to his original profession, are more numerous than those of his predecessors, and consist of seven plays: Love and a Bottle, The Constant Couple, The Inconstant, The Stage Coach, The Twin Rivals, The Recruiting Officer, and The Beaux' Stratagem. These were produced in rapid succession, for the literary career of poor Farquhar was compressed into a short space of time--between 1698, when the first of the above pieces was acted, and the author's early death on April 29, 1707. The end of this brief course, which terminated at the age of thirty, was clouded by ill health and poverty; for Farquhar was induced to marry a lady who gave out, contrary to truth, that she was possessed of some fortune.
The works of Farquhar are a faithful reflection of his gay, loving, vivacious character; and it appears that down to his early death, not only did they go on increasing in joyous animation, but exhibit a constantly augmenting skill and ingenuity in construction, his last works being incomparably his best. In Farquhar's pieces we are delighted with the overflow of high animal spirits, generally accompanied, as in nature, by a certain frankness and generosity. We readily pardon the peccadillos of his personages, as we attribute their escapades less to innate depravity than to the heat of blood and the effervescence of youth. His heroes often engage in deceptions and tricks, but there is no trace of the deep and deliberate rascality which we see in Wycherley's intrigues, or of the thorough scoundrelism of Vanbrugh's sharpers. The Beaux' Stratagem is decidedly the best constructed of our author's plays; and the expedient of the two embarrassed gentlemen, who come down into the country disguised as a master and his servant, though not perhaps very probable, is extremely well conducted and furnishes a series of lively and amusing adventures. The contrast between Archer and Aimwell and Dick Amlet and Brass in Vanbrugh's Confederacy, shows a higher moral tone in Farquhar, as compared with his predecessor; and the numerous characters with whom they are brought in contact--Boniface the landlord, Cherry, Squire Sullen, and the inimitable Scrub, not to mention Gibbet the highwayman, and Father Foigard the Irish-French Jesuit--are drawn with never-failing vivacity. Passages, expressions, nay, sometimes whole scenes, may be found among the dramas of Farquhar, stamped with that rich humor and oddity which engrave them on the memory. Thus Boniface's laudation of his ale, "as the saying is," Squire Sullen's inimitable conversation with Scrub:
SULLEN: What day of the week is it?
SCRUB: Sunday, sir.
SULLEN: Sunday? Then bring me a dram!
And Scrub's suspicious "I am sure they were talking of me, for they laughed consumedly!"--such traits prove that Farquhar possessed a true comic genius. The scenes in The Recruiting Officer, where Sergeant Kite inveigles the two clowns to enlist, and those in which Captain Plume figures, are also of high merit. In those plays upon which I have not thought it necessary to insist, as The Constant Couple and The Inconstant, the reader will not fail to find scenes worked up to a great brilliancy of comic effect; as, for example, the admirable interview between Sir Harry Wildair and Lady Lurewell, when the envious coquette endeavors to make him jealous of his wife, and he drives her almost to madness by dilating on his conjugal happiness. Throughout Farquhar's plays the predominant quality is gay geniality, which more than compensates for his less elaborate brilliance in sparkling repartee. He seems always to write for his heart; and therefore, though we shall in vain seek in his dramas for a very high standard of morality, his writings are free from that inhuman tone of blackguard heartlessness which disgraces the comic literature of the time.