Thomas d'Urfey - Encyclopedia

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THOMAS D'URFEY (1653-1723), better known as Tom d'Urfey, English song-writer and dramatist, belonged to a Huguenot family settled at Exeter, where he was born in 1653. Honore d'Urfe, the author of Astree, was his uncle. His first play, The Siege of Memphis, or the Ambitious Queen, a bombastic rhymed tragedy, was produced at the Theatre Royal in 1676. He was much more successful with his comedies, which had.. brisk, complicated plots carried out in lively dialogue. He had a light touch for fitting words on current topics to popular airs; moreover, many of his songs were set to music by his friends Dr John Blow, Henry Purcell and Thomas Farmer. Many of these songs were introduced into his plays. Addison in the Guardian (No. 67) relates that he remembered to have seen Charles II. leaning on Tom d'Urfey's shoulder and humming a song with him. Even William III. liked to hear him sing his songs, and as a strong Tory he was sure of the favour of Princess Anne, who is said to have given Tom fifty guineas for a song on the Electress Sophia, the next heir in succession to the crown. "The crown's far too weighty, for shoulders of eighty," said d'Urfey, with an indirect compliment to the princess, "So Providence kept her away, - poor old Dowager Sophy." Pope, in an amusing letter to Henry Cromwell (Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, vi. 9r) describes him as "the only poet of tolerable reputation in this country." In spite of the success of his numerous comedies he was poor in his old age. But his gaiety and invincible good humour had made him friends in the craft, and by the influence of Addison his Fond Husband, or The Plotting Sisters was revived for d'Urfey's benefit at Drury Lane on the 15th of June 1713. This performance, for which Pope wrote a. prologue full of rather faint praise, seems to have eased the poet's difficulties. He died on the 26th of February 1723, and was buried in St James's Church, Piccadilly.

Collections of his songs with the music appeared during his lifetime, the most complete being the1719-1720edition (6 vols.) of Wit and Mirth; or Pills to Purge Melancholy. The best known of the twenty-nine pieces of his which actually found their way to the stage were Love for Money; or The Boarding School (Theatre Royal, 1691), The Marriage-Hater Match'd (1692), and The Comical History of Don Quixote, in three parts (1694, 1694 and 1696), which earned the especial censure of Jeremy Collier. In his burlesque opera, Wonders in the Sun; or the Kingdom of the Birds (1706, music by G. B. Draghi), the actors were dressed as parrots, crows, &c.

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