John Gay

The Journal and Letters of Samuel Curwen

Margaret Farrell, who became Margaret Kennedy on her second marriage, as Macheath in 1777, University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection

Source: George Atkinson Ward, The Journal and Letters of Samuel Curwen, an American in England, from 1775 to 1783 (Boston, Little, Brown and company, 1864 [4th ed.]), p. 305

Production: John Gay, The Beggar’s Opera, Covent Garden Theatre, London, 25 September 1780

Text: Sept. 25. At Covent Garden Theatre; performance, “Beggar’s Opera;” parts well played, but great impropriety, not to say indecency, in Mrs. Kennedy’s personating McHeath. Bravery, gallantry, and a fearless disregard of death, the characteristics of that notorious highwayman, which female softness awkwardly imitates. Following entertainment, falsely so called; execrably foolish and childish. I am sorry to arraign even the shilling gallery for want of judgment, in suffering such unmeaning stuff to pass for a farce.

Comments: Samuel Curwen (1715-1802) was an American merchant and justice. As a British loyalist fled America in 1775, having been attacked for not opposing the British military action at Lexington and Concord, and spent ten years in Britain, during which time he became a supporter of the American cause. John Gay‘s ballad opera The Beggar’s Opera was performed at Covent Garden on 25 September 1780 with the contralto Margaret Kennedy, well-known for her performances in male roles, playing Macheath.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Diary of Sylas Neville

Source: Basil Cozens-Hardy (ed.), The Diary of Sylas Neville 1767-1788 (London: Oxford University Press, 1950), pp. 254-255

Production: John Gay, The Beggar’s Opera, Covent Garden, London, 4 October 1776

Text: In the evening went to the Pit at Covent Garden to see the celebrated Miss Catley perform Lucy in the Beggars Opera. She sings well & gives many of the songs uncommon expression, but she is vulgar to a degree even what might be expected from the character & has all the appearance of an impudent battered woman of the Town. Polly by Miss Brown, lately come upon the stage, a sweet pretty girl & I think a good singer. It seems her father is much against her appearing upon the Stage & had her seized this evening just before the play began. This had such an effect upon her that soon after she came on first, before she had spoken three words, she fainted & was obliged to be carried out, but she recovered & did very well.

Comments: Sylas Neville (1741-1840) was an English gentleman of unclear origins, who had studied medicine but spent much of his adult life travelling while being continually short of money. His surviving diary frequently mentions visits to the theatre in London. Miss Catley is Ann Catley (1745-1789). Polly Peachum was played by Ann Brown, later Ann Cargill (1760-1784), whose romantic, short life ended with a shipwreck of the Isles of Scilly.