The play-wright George Farquhar was among the besieged at Londonderry; fought for William at the Boyne; took to the boards, whereupon he accidentally killed his opposite in a stage duel at Smock Alley, Dublin; then repaired to London, where his first play, Love and a Bottle, was well received at Drury Lane, and all this before turning of twenty-one.
The precocious Irishman now presents us with The Recruiting Officer, being a comedy on love and war, as well as a portrait of a dubitable profession, in which “a bold step, a rakish toss, a smart cock, and an impudent air,” are said to be the chief constituents of a captain; while “canting, pimping, bullying, swearing, whoring, drinking and a halberd” are solemnly attested as amounting to his sergeant.
By way of confession I should say that some years ago, to escape the consequences of a youthful imprudence, I listed my self for a grenadier in the War of the League of Augsberg, so the frauds perpetrated by Captain Plume and Sergeant Kite in beating up recruits for Queen Anne are nothing new to me. The Drury Lane company presents them here in riotous comic fashion, with that dependable treader Colley Cibber keeping his audience on the grin in the part of Kite. In one knee-slapping scene, he dons the garb of a fortune teller to dupe the innocents of Shrewsbury to forsake their trades and families for an illustrious martial future. Elsewhere he coaxes and flatters, bribes and misleads, to list his men, some of whom, we hope, might return from their campaigns as lucky as Captain Plume, having “lost neither leg, arm, nor nose.”
Plume has one eye on the drum-head and another on the spirited young Silvia, a local heiress too rich for his station. His old friend Mr Worthy similarly pursues Melinda, another lady of fortune, and there is a deal of Elizabethan flim-flam, mistakings and cross-dressing to be endured before the gallants are satisfactorily paired off. The women are more engaging than the men in this part, fully as scoffing and scheming as their opposites deserve. The young Anne Oldfield particularly, in the part of Silvia, carries all before her in a performance that will be the envy of her rivals Barry and Bracegirdle over at Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
Nothing rouses men to battle, nor audiences to applause, like the drum and fife and a good round at song, and I took part heartily myself at some of the old ballads, with a tear in my eye upon recalling the warrior renown of the russet-coated recruit:
We all shall lead more happy lives,
By getting rid of brats and wives,
That scold and brawl both night and day;
Over the hills and far away.
All that are willing to see the comedy call’d The Recruiting Officer, let them repair by six o’clock to the sign of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane and they shall be kindly entertained, excepting there be fire, riot, or raid from the Lord Chamberlain.