Thomas Holcroft

Thomas Holcroft

Thomas Holcroft (December 10, 1745 - March 23, 1809) was an English dramatist and miscellaneous writer.

Early life

He was born in Orange Court, Leicester Fields, London. His father had a shoemaker's shop, and kept riding horses for hire; but having fallen into difficulties was reduced to the status of hawking peddler. The son accompanied his parents in their travels, and obtained work as a stable boy at Newmarket, where he spent his evenings chiefly in miscellaneous reading and the study of music. Gradually he obtained a knowledge of French, German and Italian.

When his job as stable boy came to an end, he returned to assist his father, who had resumed his trade of shoemaker in London; but after marrying his cousin, the half-sister of Maj. Charles Marsack of Caversham Park, in 1765, he became a teacher in a small school in Liverpool. He failed in an attempt to set up a private school, and became prompter in a Dublin theatre. He acted in various strolling companies until 1778, when he produced "The Crisis; or, Love and Famine", at Drury Lane. "Duplicity" followed in 1781.

Literary and political career

Two years later he went to Paris as correspondent of the Morning Herald. Here he attended the performances of Beaumarchais's "Mariage de Figaro" until he had memorized the whole. The translation of it, with the title "The Follies of the Day", was produced at Drury Lane in 1784. "The Road to Ruin", his most successful play, was produced in 1792. A revival in 1873 ran for 118 nights.

Among his novels may be mentioned "Alwyn" (1780), an account, largely autobiographical, of a strolling comedian, "Anna St. Ives" (the first British Jacobin novel, published in 1792), and "Hugh Trevor" (1794-1797). He also was the author of "Travels from Hamburg through Westphalia, Holland and the Netherlands to Paris", of some volumes of verse and of translations from the French and German. One of these was "Letters Between Frederic II and M. DE Voltaire (1789).

His "Memoirs written by Himself and continued down to the Time of his Death, from his Diary, Notes and other Papers", by William Hazlitt, appeared in 1816, and was reprinted, in a slightly abridged form, in 1852.

Sympathetic to the early ideals of the French Revolution, Holcroft assisted in the publication of the first part of Thomas Paine's "The Rights of Man" in 1791, and joined the Society for Constitutional Information (SCI) in 1792, and was appointed a member of a liaison committee to work with the LCS in early 1794. As a result of his activism, in the fall of 1794 Holcroft was indicted for high treason and held in Newgate Prison whilst three other treason trials proceeded. In early December 1794, Holcroft was discharged without trial after those cases, against London Corresponding Society secretary Thomas Hardy, and SCI figure John Horne Tooke, resulted in acquittals.

As one of what Secretary of War William Windham called "acquitted felons," Holcroft's post-arrest reputation meant that his plays achieved little success after 1795, although he was instrumental in bringing melodrama to Britain at the end of the decade with his "Deaf and Dumb" (1801) and "A Tale of Mystery" (1802). [For more on Holcroft's activities in the SCI, and the connections between his theatrical and political dissent, see David S. Karr, " [ Thoughts That Flash like Lightning": Thomas Holcroft, Radical Theater, and the Production of Meaning in 1790s London," "Journal of British Studies"] 40 (July 2001): 324-56.] Despite a modicum of success with A Tale of Mystery, the remainder of the decade was marked by unsuccessful attempts to return to the public eye. He died in 1809, not long after a deathbed reconciliation with his closest friend from the 1790s (but lately estranged), William Godwin. His daughter Fanny Holcroft (1780-1844), wrote the noted Romantic anti-slavery poem, [ "The Negro"] (1797).

Notes and references

External links


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  • HOLCROFT, THOMAS —    journalist and political novelist, born in London; began life as an actor; wrote Road to Ruin ; was charged with treason, but acquitted; left Memoirs (1744 1809) …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

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