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BETH NAL GREEN.
A MUSICAL AFTER-PIECE.
FIRST ACTED AT THE
THEATRE-ROYAL in DRURY-LANE,
IN THE YEAR 1739.
THE EDITOR'S PREFACE.
LTHOUGH THE BLIND BEGGAR OF BETINAL GREEN was not announced in the Editor's PROPOSALS, yet he trusts there can be no objection to his introducing it in this volume, as there is room for it, and as the piece has merit; and it completes the number of Dodsley's Afterpieces which are admissible on the stage. It is no small degree of praise to him, that, of five After-Pieces which he brought upon the stage, four of them are worthy of preservation. The fifth, The Triumph of Peace, I have never seen; and, whatever might be its merit when first produced, it is mentioned as, in its nature, merely temporary
The Ballad on which this is founded is in the second volume of Percy's Reliques, under the title of The Beggar's Daughter of Bednall Green, written in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The story is briefly this.
A blind Beggar lives on Bethnal Green with his wife and daughter Bessy, who has many admirers of her beauty, but she is despised by the parents of her suitors, on account of her being a Beggar's daughter. Bessy in sorrow gains her parents' consent to leave them, and obtains a place at the Queen's Arms at Rumford. Here she makes every one her friend by her conduct, and has in particular four suitors, a knight, a gentleman, a mer chant, and her master's son, who all make great offers and professions of love. She says she will be guided in her choice by her father; and, on her declaring that he is the blind Beggar of Bethnal-Green, the knight abides by his choice, while the other three declare off from the match. His kinsmen, however, object to the match; and, on their stating this to the Beggar, he challenges them to drop gold with them for her portion, which offer being accepted, he produces three thousand pounds and upwards, which, as might be expected, reconciles them to the marriage, which, accordingly, takes place. This is the First Part, or Fit, as it is called.
The Second Part gives an account of the celebration of the nuptials, at which many of the first nobles and gentry of the land are present. At this the blind Beggar is introduced as a Musician or Minstrel; when, accompanying himself on a lute, he sings a Ballad, giving an account of his daughter and her fortune, and asserting the greatness of her birth. On the company laughing at this idea, he begins a Ballad respecting Sir Simon de Montfort, the great earl of Leicester, who was the chief of the Barons' who opposed Henry the IJ[d., and who was killed at the decisive battle of Evesham, in Worcestershire, fought August the 4th, 1265, where his eldest son Henry fell by his side.*
This Ballad then suppases a young lady, a knight's daughter, to go to the field of battle to search for her father, and there she finds this young man, Henry de Montfort, who had received a blow which had deprived him of sight, but not dead. Moved by pity, she led him away and took care of him, and in time consented to marry him; but, lest his foes should pursue him to ruin, they determined to conceal their condition under the garb of Beggars, and live in a small house on Bethnal Green. The fruit of this marriage is "Bessy.
The reader will perceive that it is merely the outline of this story which Dodsley has adopted for his drama. The 'mother is omitted, the suitors are different, the daughter is not bestowed upon the one of superior rank, and the circumstances of the Beggar's telling his story and declaring who he is, are also different. Dodsley makes the Beggar to be Sir Simon Montford himself, and the reason for his disguise is, that he had killed an earl of Essex in a duel, in consequence of having upbraided him for cowardice in battle, when the earl gave him the lie, and on that Sir Simon had challenged him.
* See Percy's Reliques, Vol. II. p. 163, and Hume's History of England, Vol. II. ch, xii, p. 215.
Dodsley's Drama is certainly the more simple story of the two, and simplicity was Dodsley's forte; but the other is better calculated for stage effect, and more in the taste of the present day. Dodsley's piece, however, is, I think, interesting, and has much merit; many of the sentiments are good, and the songs are much superior to those commonly introduced into such pieces. The music to them I never heard; but, if it be not good, the songs are worthy of having new music composed to them.
Dodsley had introduced a character, John Sly, who, I suppose, from his being called Friend Sly, and from other phrases, was intended for one of the Society of Friends or Quukers. He has evil designs upon Bessy, and is going to assist Lord Ranby in carrying her off. This character I have omitted, partly for the same reasons which I have assigned in my Preface to The Provok'd Husband (See Vol. II. p. 13.) against Cibber's character of The Non-Juror and Bickerstaff's of The Methodist, and partly because in the reign of Henry the II[d. there were no Quakers, that sect (I use not the term in an invidious sense) having been founded by George Fox, in the reign of Charles the Second, in the year 1664. Perhaps the Author might design him for a Puritan, the origin of which sect may be ascribed to the reign of Queen Elizabeth. But, whatever might be the author's desigi, the character would be considered now as a Quaker; and the Quakers, as a body of men, whatever unworthy individuals they may have amongst them, I consider as particularly respectable and moral, and I should be sorry that the stage should foster any illiberal prejudices against them.
The other alterations which I have made, are not numerous. In the Vignette in the frontispiece to the edition printed in 1741, and in that in Dodsley's Trifles, the