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Sterne and Sterneana : The Dupes of Fancy, or Every Man his Hobby a new Farce: in two acts. As performed at the King's Theatre-Royal in the Hay-Market,...

Carey, George Saville 1743-1807

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>On 31 May 1792 <i>The Morning Herald</i> published its review of what appears to be this farce's only recorded performance, which had taken place at the Haymarket Theatre two days earlier. The anonymous reviewer judges 'the piece ... creditable to the talents of the author', who is 'highly distinguished in the regions of whim and humour'. This epithet probably alludes to Carey's well-known imitations of contemporary performers, his <i>Lecture of Mimicry</i> (1776), and his other plays and poems (including the Sternean <i>Nut-Brown Maid</i> of 1770). The reviewer also mentions 'hereditary genius': an allusion perhaps to Carey's celebrated father (the composer and Patriot satirist Henry Carey), and further moderates any praise of Carey's talents by summing up the entertainment as 'a tolerable laugh at the bent of fanciful individuals'.</p><p>The 'fanciful individuals' in question are the farce's three male characters, each of whom speaks often of their particular, Shandean 'hobby-horse'. Tintem's is his plant collection, and like Tristram he insists that he 'can ride' his hobby 'with safety' (12). The farce begins as Tintem is preparing his house to receive the city merchant Grub. Grub's hobby-horse is lepidoptery: one of the examples (along with 'Maggots') Tristram himself gives of hobby-horses in volume one of his <i>Life and Opinions</i>. Tintem hopes to marry his niece to Grub. Miss Tintem, however, loves Willingford, who soon arrives at the house disguised as a ballad-monger, and is helped by the servants to meet his darling while Tintem and Grub tour the garden. During that tour, Grub and Tintem fall out over their particular hobby horses (after all, as Tristram himself remarks, 'a man's hobby-horse is as tender a part as he has about him'), and the young lovers capitalise on the moment to declare their affections. To spite Grub, Tintem immediately approves his niece's marriage; Willingford then declares his own hobby-horse to be love, and Tintem soon echoes the sentiment.</p><p>The safety and perils of one's hobby-horse constitute this farce's connection to Sterne's work, and place it alongside other publications in this collection that evoke the same conceit, like the <i>Political Songster</i>'s admission that 'My hobby-horse and practice for thirty years past have been, to write songs upon the occurrence of remarkable events...'. Yet the hobby-horsical antics of Grub and Tintem seem to have been a problem for the performance of Carey's work: the <i>Morning Review</i> complains that <i>Dupes</i> was 'too long', and the physical comedy (probably Richard Suett's as Grub) 'digusted the audience'. This, and some audience antipathy against Carey, resulted in 'an indifferent reception' for the farce, whose primary object was to raise funds for the actor and singer Charles Dignum in the role of Willingford. Dignum had set Carey's 'William of Allerton Green' and 'Maid of the Rock' to music, and <i>Dupes</i> seems to have been intended as a vehicle for his benefit night performance. Willingford has two songs (one by Carey's father) to show off Dignum's voice, but this was not enough to save the entertainment. The publication of the script, dedicated to the star performer Dora Jordan and with a vague promise of a transfer to Drury Lane, but also, and tellingly, with a bookseller who printed no other theatrical works, may thus have been an attempt to earn some money by a different route.</p><p>James Harriman-Smith</p></p>

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