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By NICHOLAS ROWE
SOPHIE CHANTAL HART, M.A.
PROFESSOR OF RHETORIC AND COMPOSITION IN
BOSTON, U. S. A., AND LONDON
NICHOLAS Rowe was born in the house of his maternal grandfather at Little Barford, Bedfordshire, in 1674. His father, John Rowe, who was a sergeant-at-law of the Middle Temple, published in 1689 Benloe's and Dalison's Reports of the Reign of James II. He lies buried in Temple Church. Nicholas Rowe was first sent to private school at Highgate, but in 1688 had the good fortune to be elected a King's Scholar at Westminster School, then under the sway of the energetic master, Dr. Busby. It was here that Rowe laid his excellent foundation in the classics and strengthened his innate love of poetry. His father, ambitious that the lad should follow his own career of the law, removed Rowe at the age of fifteen to the Inner Temple. In due time Rowe was called to the bar, but in spite of the friendship and commendation of Lord Chief Justice Treby, Rowe was drawn away from legal pursuits by the desire to write. The death of his father in 1692 left him a competency of three hundred pounds a year and enabled him to devote himself to dramatic literature, of which he was always exceedingly fond.
In 1700, at the age of twenty-six, he produced his first play, The Ambitious Stepmother, which was acted with applause by Betterton, Mrs. Bracegirdle, and Mrs. Barry. According to Cibber, Rowe fell in love with Mrs. Bracegirdle, whose efforts largely made the play a success. The action of the play is laid in Persepolis and the characters are Persian, but the plot is taken from the Book of Kings, - the story of Solomon's establishment on the throne. Congreve called it a very good play. It brought Rowe into acquaintance with the important literary men of his day.
In 1702, Rowe's second play, Tamerlane, was produced, the play on which Rowe valued himself most.' It was intended as a compliment to William III, whose moderation of character and virtues it represented under the name of Tamerlane, while the weakness and vileness of Louis XIV were set forth under the
1 T. Cibber, Lives of the Poets, III, 275 (1753).
name of Bajazet. It was long customary in London and Dublin to present this play on the anniversary of William III's birthday, the fifth of November. In Dublin this occasion at the theatre was called Government Night, the Lord Lieutenant presenting the boxes free to all the ladies who could come. These performances were not discontinued until 1815, when the public began to tire of the caricature of monarchs so impossibly amiable as Tamerlane, and so grossly violent as Bajazet. In 1819 there was, however, a revival of the play with Macready as Bajazet and Kemble as Tamerlane. The excessive virtue of Tamerlane is commented on by Gibbon as without foundation in history or legend. It is needless to add that, though recalling a famous theme of Elizabethan drama, the hero bears no resemblance to Marlowe's.
With noticeable rapidity, Rowe brought out The Fair Penitent in 1703 ; his one attempt at comedy, The Biter, in 1704; Ulysses in 1706; and The Royal Convert in 1707. The Biter fell fat, though Rowe himself is reputed to have laughed immoderately during the performance of it. Ulysses is a somewhat involved and Frenchified version of the temptations that beset the virtuous Penelope. The Royal Consort concerns itself with characters in early English history, - with Hengist, Aribert, the Christian maiden Ethelinda, and the jealous Rodogune, — and is even more chillingly remote than Ulysses. Rowe's next play, and best play, Jane Shore (1714), was followed in 1715 by Lady Jane Grey, his last dramatic work. His friend Mr. Smith, of Christ Church, Oxford, had planned a play on this theme. Rowe took the idea from him, and from Mr. Smith's material made one scene for his own third act. This play and the preceding are in dialogue superior to all his other work. At the time of his death, he was contemplating a play on the Rape of Lucretia.
In political preferment, Rowe enjoyed a high measure of success. He was an ardent Whig, and in 1708 served for a short term as Under Secretary to the Duke of Queensberry, the Secretary of State for Scotland. On the accession of George I his fortunes rose rapidly. He was made Poet Laureate in succession to Nahum Tate in 1715. He soon became one of the Surveyors of the Customs for the port of London, and Clerk of the Prince of Wales's Council. When Lord Macclesfield was appointed Lord Chancellor, he in