Beggars Bush: A Perambulation through the Disciplines of History, Geography, Archaeology, Literature, Philology, Natural History, Botany, Biography & Beggary

Samuel Taylor Coleridge Beggars Bush 1815

It is fairly well known that the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge liked the play by Fletcher and Massinger (though then regarded as by Beaumont & Fletcher). In Table Talk (17 February 1833) he was recorded as saying ”In the romantic drama Beaumont and Fletcher are almost supreme. Their plays are in general most truly delightful. I could read the Beggar’s Bush from morning to night. How sylvan and sunshiny it is!” However, he expressed reservations about their plots, which he described as “wholly inartificial” and lamented that no “gentleman and scholar can he found to edit these beautiful plays!”

What less known is that he had attempted a revision of the play himself. On 7 October 1815, he wrote to Daniel Stuart, the owner and editor of the Morning Post, that he had been re-writing Shakespeare’s Richard II, and Beaumont and Fletcher’s Pilgrim and Beggars Bush, but had “unwisely mentioned this to and some others connected with the two theatres” and now heard these three plays were about to be produced. He said that he had the greatest hopes of Beggars Bush, and thought he could have it ready for the stage in two weeks. He asked Stuart to see the Drury Lane management to find out about the production that had been announced, presumably in the hope they would not forestall his version.

Coleridge’s fears were realised. Douglas Kinnaird’s The Merchant of Bruges was first performed on 7th December 1815 at Drury Lane. I was a minor re-write compared with Coleridge’s, who said he had only retained half the characters and dialogue. Coleridge also claimed that he had greatly expanded one part, presumably Jacqueline, for Mrs Edmund Kean (Mary Chambers) to perform. Kinnaird’s version was reasonably successful. There appears to be no other record of Coleridge’s version.

We do know which of Coleridge’s wide circle of literary acquaintances he had mentioned his version to, or whether Kinnaird’s version was merely a coincidence. Although William Godwin was a correspondent, and connected with the theatre there is nothing in diary to show that he was prompted to re-read the Play until after Kinnaird’s version was staged. A more likely “culprit” is Lord Byron; the two poets corresponded from Easter 1815, and Coleridge sent Byron a manuscript of Cristabel. Byron had in 1812 contacted the management at Drury Lane about Coleridge’s play Remorse. Kinnaird was Byron’s banker, as well as a fellow Trustee of Drury Lane, and Byron saw Kinnaird’s production. Kinnaird had no reputation as a writer and it is his only dramatic work. He was abrasive and later unpopular at Drury Lane. Byron and Kinnaird were very close in this period, although there is no record of anything about the play in their surviving correspondence.


Specimens of the table talk of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1836)

Letters from the Lake poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Robert Southey, to Daniel Stuart, editor of the Morning post and the Courier, 1800-1838. Printed for private circulation (1889) p.242

Campbell, James Campbell, The poetical works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (London, 1905)

Byron’s correspondence with Douglas Kinnaird – Part 1, 1814-1821

Edited by Peter Cochran

Posted: September 3rd, 2011 | Filed under: Writers, Speculations, The Play | Tags: , , | No Comments »

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