Vol. 7 No. 1 (Spring 1986)


David Beasley

The Miser Outwitted by Major John Richardson was advertised for sale in Upper Canadian newspapers in 1841 but no copy has been found. David Beasley, who wrote Richardson's biography, describes how he discovered the anonymous playscript in the Manuscripts Room of the British Library and determined by the handwriting that Richardson was the author. He surmises how it came to be produced at the Queens Theatre, Dublin on 10 May 1848. The play, a one-act farce, is a good example of the entertainment enjoyed by our colonial ancestors in the last century. The theme of a Miser tricked into losing his Money is of perennial interest and enjoys a long tradition in the theatre.

Des réclames pour The Miser Outwitted du major John Richardson parurent dans les journaux du Haut-Canada en 1841. Pourtant, aucun exemplaire n'en avait été retrouvé. David Beasley, biographe de Richardson, explique comment il a pu découvrir la pièce, manuscrite et anonyme, dans le Cabinet des Manuscrits de la Bibliothèque national à Londres et comment il a déterminé par son écriture que Richardson en était l'auteur. Il déduit qu'elle aurait été représentée au Queens Theatre à Dublin le 10 mai 1848. Cette pièce, une farce en un acte, est un excellent exemple du genre d'amusements auxquels se délectaient nos ancêtres coloniaux au siècle dernier. Le thème de l'avare triché de son argent est d'un intérêt constant et sa rattache à une longue tradition théâtrale.

Since the early 1970s when Professor Carl Klinck of the University of Western Ontario spotted a notice of Major Richardson's The Miser Outwitted in the Chatham (Upper Canada) Journal for 23 October 1841, scholars of Canadian literature have had their eyes peeled for this work by one of Canada's first novelists. Richardson's 'clever and amusing little production,' which sold for 15 pence, came off his press in Brockville, Upper Canada, now known as Ontario. At the time he was issuing a weekly newspaper of a literary nature, The New Era, which he wrote completely himself. The title of the newspaper expressed Richardson's hopes for the country's future after the Rebellions of 1837 and 1838, after the uniting of Lower and Upper Canadas, and after the introduction of representative government. Richardson already had given encouragement to the initiators of The Literary Garland, a periodical issued from Montreal which had been praised as the best on the Continent. He had published his 'national novel,' The Canadian Brothers, in Montreal on 1840. He was making available to Canadians, in the original edition which he received from England in February 1841, his most popular novel, Wacousta; or, The Prophecy: A Tale of the Canadas. Wacousta had been printed in England in 1832 and sold in pirated, expurgated editions throughout the Americas. One of several writers trying to bring 'polite literature' to the Canadian merchants and farmers, Richardson complained that they were impervious to it. But with the uniting of the two Canadas in 1841, he sensed that Canadians were entering upon exciting times, politically and culturally.

I assumed The Miser Outwitted was a novella until I saw a letter to the Canadian Notes and Queries of July 1980 by Mary Lu MacDonald. She reported seeing it referred to in the Bathurst Courier (Perth, Upper Canada) of November 2, 1841, as a 'spirited farce'. 1

The farce was popular theatre in Richardson's day. As a boy in Amherstburg on Lake Erie, Richardson would have seen the theatricals in Detroit before the War of 1812 cut off communication between the United States and Canada. The British regiments in Canada entertained themselves by staging plays. Richardson, as a lieutenant in the British Army, could have seen some productions when he was convalescing after the War in Kingston and Montreal. When in London, England, in 1815, he fought a duel with a fellow officer in Hyde Park over the young actress, Eliza Vestris, who had captured the hearts of the theatre-going public. Throughout his twenty-three years in Europe Richardson frequented the theatre. In his novel, Ecarté (1829), about gambling life in Paris, he makes passing references to performances which his hero (ultimately himself) had seen. After returning to London from the Carlist War in Spain in 1837, he was inspired by Theodore Hook's one-act farce Jack Brag, to write a novel Jack Brag in Spain, as sequel, which he serialized in his Brockville newspaper, The New Era.

When he returned to Montreal in 1838 as foreign correspondent for The Times of London, he discovered that his novel, Wacousta, had been adapted for the stage beginning with Louisa Medina's version for the Broadway Theatre in New York in 1833. 'At Buffalo as at several places in the United States', he wrote to Lord Durham, newly arrived as Governor-General to the Canadas and later author of the Durham Report on British North America, 'the work has been dramatized and is, I understand, frequently played to crowded houses'. 2

When he moved from Brockville to Kingston about the end of 1842, the new capital of the Canadas, he supported the local theatricals and the touring companies with enthusiasm in his new newspaper, The Canadian Loyalist, & Spirit of 1812. In the issue for 5 October 1843, Richardson admonished his readers for neglecting the theatre. In recommending the production that evening, he revealed his own preferences: ' ... the drama of Doctor Faustus, the scenes, the acting of which we prefer to any other spectacle that has been produced.'

It is very possible that his one-act farce, The Miser Outwitted, was performed by the company of Kingston Amateurs in 1841 before Richardson published it. The members of the company distinguished themselves that year by their production of The Golden Farmer, A Roland for an Oliver, and the farce Perfection, into which they had worked Madame Vestris' popular song 'Rory O'More'. Charles Dickens met the company in the following year, May 1842, when visiting Kingston. The local enthusiasm for the theatre was so infectious that Dickens was induced to play some stage roles for the first time in his life when he arrived in Montreal at the end of the month.

Convinced, therefore, that The Miser Outwitted was a play, I spoke with Miss Enid Foster, librarian at the British Theatre Association at Fitzroy Square in London. She went to a shelf and found it listed in volume 4 of The History of English Drama by Allardyce Nicoll, as authored anonymously and kept in the Lord Chamberlain's collection in the Manuscript Room of the British Library. Prepared to be disappointed, I walked the short distance quickly and found the play in manuscript and lacking a title-page. I requested Richardson's letter to Prime Minister Robert Peel, which I knew was in the Manuscript Room, and carefully compared the handwriting in the letter to the writing in the playscript. The writings were by the same man.

The Lord Chamberlain had three play examiners, one of whom at the time was John Mitchel Kemble, remembered today as the preserver and translator of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic manuscripts, son of the great actor, Charles Kemble, whom he succeeded as Examiner of Plays, and brother of actress Fanny Kemble, whose published journal on her life in the United States was widely read for its candor. On the back of the second page of the manuscript, Kemble signed 'John M. Kemble Exm L.' The same hand wrote the following on the back of the first page on which Dramatis Personae were listed: 'The Miser Outwitted: a Farce in one act delivered May the 3rd to be produced at the Queens Theatre on Wednesday May 10 1848.'tric4_2table1.pdf">

Excerpt from John Richardson manuscript, Act I sc 2 opening showing notation of missing pages

Above this was scrawled

Figure 1

and below, it was signed C. Hames with the scrawl

Figure 2.

Presumably it was copyrighted by C. Hames, whoever he may have been.

Thus the mystery begins.

Let us place the principals. Major Richardson was in Montreal, Canada in May 1848. He had just published his memoirs of his life in Canada, Eight Years in Canada and The Guards in Canada, and abandoned his newspaper of several months standing, The Weekly Expositor: or, Reformer of Public Abuses and Railway and Mining Intelligencer. Charles M. Kemble lived in London and travelled often to Dublin in pursuit of his Celtic studies.3 The Lord Chamberlain was charged by the Licensing Act of 1737 with the duty of passing judgment on all stage plays in Great Britain for their suitability for public showing. His office came to be regarded as an onerous censor, and, in 1843, the Theatres Act repealed his power to suppress plays, although it maintained his power to withhold or withdraw a theatre's license.4 The only Queen's Theatre of note in 1848 was in Dublin, Ireland. It opened on 5 October 1844, seated almost two thousand and was probably the last theatre to devote the whole of its floor space to the pit. It employed a stock company, had a frequent change of bill and was used mainly for melodrama. C. Hames, who copyrighted the play, may have been the company manager. According to the Lord Chamberlain's office, copyright applied only to England and Wales. Thus Hames thought enough of the play to want it protected in England.

As for the possibility that the play was copyrighted in Canada, the Lord Chamberlain's Act requiring colonials to deposit their published and unpublished works in Britain was in force until 1885, but was ineffective. Moreover, Richardson would probably have sent a published copy of the play.

Why did the manuscript come into Kemble's possession when the play was in printed form? How was the manuscript carried from Montreal to Dublin, if, indeed, it was copyrighted there?

We may fashion two or three scenarios in order to find an answer. Richardson's politically revealing memoirs infuriated his powerful enemies, the 4th Seigneur de Bleury and Francis Hincks, a prominent Radical politician. His muck-raking newspaper also embarrassed the coalition government of Radicals and Tories and helped to topple it.

1) Richardson's living quarters could have been searched (as they had been in earlier years in Montreal)5 by government agents for evidence as to his informants on government corruption. One of these agents may have taken the playscript, removed the title-page and its authorship and sold it to the Queens Theatre, Dublin.

2) Or, Charles Dickens was given a prompt-copy of the play when in Kingston in 1842, which he inadvertently took away with him, and, coming across years later, gave it to Kemble for production at a suitable theatre.

3) Or, Richardson, in desperate need of money (which was his usual state) sent the manuscript to his old friend from his days in Paris, Justin Brenan, who lived in Dublin, and asked him to submit it anonymously to the Queens Theatre.

4) Or, Fanny Kemble, at Richardson's request, took the manuscript with her when she returned to England in 1846 and, touring the British Isles, left it at the Queens Theatre when she played in Dublin in 1847 or left it with her brother, with whom she was close. I have come across no evidence of friendship between Richardson and Fanny Kemble, although she was the kind of spirited 'modern' woman whom Richardson admired. There is, however, a tenuous connection mentioned in the Literary Garland of May 1849, 6 in an article reporting on Richardson's new novel, Hardscrabble, which he was intending to read in public on three evenings that month. The idea of giving a lecture was an 'old one', continued the article, but it had been 'recommended recently by Fanny Kemble and one or two others'. It sounds as if the recommendation was made personally to Richardson. The 'one or two others' could have referred to his old friend from his early days in London, Charles Nicholas Bochsa, the harpist, and Anna Bishop, the singer, who toured Montreal in the summer of 1848 and may have encouraged Richardson to migrate with his manuscripts to New York City. If he did give Fanny the playscript, however, why did he not provide her with the published version? and why was the title-page missing? These questions appear to deny the Kemble connection.

An answer may be found in the text. The manuscript which may have been written in a hurry (often dashes are substituted for semi-colons and periods), has 46 pages numbered by Richardson. Page 13 appears to have been page 2 of the first draft. Richardson renumbered the following 13 pages up to page 26. Thus, it appears, he rewrote the beginning scenes of the play. In so doing he eliminated two pages from the text, which Kemble duly noted at the top of page 8 as 'pages 6 & 7 wanting'. The change gives the play a more dramatic opening. Rosa and Tom Strapper are seen plotting to get money from her uncle, the miser, called Sniggers. In the original draft the audience was introduced to the miser before the two young people came on the scene. Richardson may have disowned the printed version which could have reflected the original draft. Pages 27 to 30 are not renumbered, but pages 31 to 46 were originally numbered pages 5 to 20. Thus Richardson rewrote the middle section as well. Such a major overhauling argues against the supposition that he published the play before correcting it.

It is possible, therefore, that Richardson made the alterations as soon as he had witnessed the rehearsal of his first draft. In this case the printed version would have reflected this manuscript revision. This conjecture returns us to our first hypothesis - that either a government agent or a thief hired by de Bleury or Hincks stole the manuscript along with other writings from Richardson's residence in Montreal in the hope that it was incriminating evidence. Finding it was a play, the thief unloaded it in Dublin in 1848. Kemble wrote that it was 'delivered' (to him) on May 3rd to be approved before its first performance on May 10. The play, therefore, came from the management of the Queens Theatre whose players were given sufficient time to rehearse it.

How it was received, we do not know. Perhaps a diarist of the day will be found to have remarked on it, or an account in a Dublin newspaper of its performance may yet be found. It is hard to imagine its having a great success in Ireland. The characters are stock types with Irish stage accents, which, although amusing in provincial societies, must have seemed jéjune to Dubliners.

The theme of a miser being tricked out of his money has a long tradition in the theatre. Audiences of all ages are interested in the relationship between a rich man and his money. Richardson has great fun with it. He also enjoys punning which doubtless greatly amused Victorians. He moves the action along quickly, and the dialogue he gives his characters brings out their personalities. It is possible it was written when he was a young man living in England.7 He was interested in the Irish character then. His early novel, Frascati's; or, Scenes in Paris (1830), depicting Irishmen as gambling dupes in Paris, was written as a light-hearted satire and displays the wit of the Sheridan comedies which appear to have influenced him. Indeed, when in Brockville he was embroiled in a ridiculous affair of honour with an army officer whom he likened to the hypocritical coward, Joseph Surface, in Sheridan's The School for Scandal. 8 He must have thought in his middle age that the play was worth preserving and published it perhaps with the hope that the military regiments in Canada would add it to their repertory of amusements.

We publish it today because it was written by Canada's most colorful literary man whose novels are major achievements and because it is an example of the entertainment our ancestors enjoyed in a period of simple pleasures, sometimes called 'innocent', and thus may be regarded as an important contribution to Canadian theatrical history.



David Beasley

1 She did not imply that it was a play but inferred that the editor regarded it as farcical and therefore typical of Richardson's reputed character among some of his contemporaries
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2 ALS J. RICHARDSON to Lord Durham, July 3, 1838, Lambton Papers, Box 22(29). The promptbook of one of these dramatizations I encountered in the collection of the New York Public Library in the course of research for my biography of Richardson and later sent it to James Reaney, who printed it in Halloween: Black Moss (Coatsworth, Ontario, Spring 1976) Ser. 2, no. 1: 'Wacousta or The Curse; A Romantic Military Drama in 3 Acts ... by R. Jones'. In the following number, Ser. 2, no. 2, I discuss the provenance of the play. Reaney also adapted the novel to the stage in 1978
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3 Kemble died in Dublin on March 26 1857 while collecting specimens of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon antiquities for the Art Treasures Exhibition at Manchester
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4 The Theatres Act of 1968 vested theatre licensing in local authorities and abolished theatrical censorship in England, whence the Lord Chamberlain's collection of plays came to the Manuscripts Room of the British Library
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5 De Bleury's henchman Murdoch Morison rifled through Richardson's papers when Richardson was away in 1838 as narrated in my biography of Richardson, The Canadian Don Quixote Erin, Ontario: Porcupine's Quill, 1978, p 113
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6 p 240
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7 RICHARDSON republished several of his earlier works at this time, including his poem Tecumseh (1828) and his narrative Recollections of the West Indies (1830) in his newspaper The New Era
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8 See Major Richardson's Reply to Colonel Williams' Gasconade (Brockville: 1840)
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