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George Colman the Elder

George Colman (1732 - 14 August 1794) was an English dramatist and essayist, usually called "the Elder," and sometimes "George the First," to distinguish him from his son, George Colman the Younger.

He was born in Florence, where his father was stationed as resident at the court of the grand duke of Tuscany. Colman's father died within a year of his son's birth, and the boy's education was undertaken by William Pulteney, afterwards Lord Bath, whose wife was Mrs Colman's sister. After attending a private school in Marylebone, young George was sent to Westminster School, which he left in due course for Christ Church, Oxford. Here he made the acquaintance of Bonnell Thornton, the parodist, and together they founded The Connoisseur (1754-1756), a periodical which, although it reached its 140th number, "wanted weight," as Johnson said. He left Oxford after taking his degree in 1755, and, having been entered at Lincoln's Inn before his return to London, he was called to the bar in 1757. A friendship formed with David Garrick did not help his career as a barrister, but he continued to practise until the death of Lord Bath, out of respect for his wishes.

Title page of Colman's Terence

In 1760 he produced his first play, Polly Honeycomb, which met with great success. In 1761 The Jealous Wife, a comedy partly founded on Tom Jones, made Colman famous. The death of Lord Bath in 1764 placed him in possession of independent means. In 1765 appeared his metrical translation of the plays of Terence; and in 1766 he produced The Clandestine Marriage, jointly with Garrick, whose refusal to take the part of Lord Ogleby led to a quarrel between the two authors. In the next year he purchased a fourth share in the Covent Garden Theatre, a step which is said to have induced General Pulteney to revoke a will by which he had left Colman large estates. The general, who died in that year, did, however, leave him a considerable annuity.

Colman was acting manager of Covent Garden for seven years, and during that period he produced several "adapted" plays of Shakespeare. In 1768 he was elected to the Literary Club, then nominally consisting of twelve members. In 1774 he sold his share in the great playhouse, which had involved him in much litigation with his partners, to Leake; and three years later he purchased of Samuel Foote, then broken in health and spirits, the little theatre in the Haymarket. He was attacked with paralysis in 1785; in 1789 his brain became affected, and he died on the 14th of August 1794. Besides the works already cited, Colman was author of adaptations of Beaumont and Fletcher's Bonduca, Ben Jonson's Epicoene, Milton's Comus, and of other plays. He also produced an edition of the works of Beaumont and Fletcher (1778), a version of the Ars Poėtica of Horace, an excellent translation from the Mercator of Plautus for Bonnell Thornton's edition (1769-1772), some thirty plays, many parodies and occasional pieces. An incomplete edition of his dramatic works was published in 1777 in four volumes.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.