Arthur Murphy

Murphy, Arthur, actor and dramatic author, was born near Elphin, County of Roscommon, 27th December 1730.[40] Early in 1736 he was sent to an aunt residing at Boulogne, by whom he was placed at St. Omer's. He was there known as "Arthur French," it being necessary for Irish boys to assume false names to avoid the penalties incurred by being educated abroad, while at the same time education at home was forbidden unless at Protestant schools. He passed with credit through the full course of study, and in 1744 returned to his relatives, then settled in London. He applied himself to law for a time; served in a merchant's office in Cork for two years, and then in the banking house of Alderman Ironside, London. After this he turned his attention to literature, and for two years edited the Gray's Inn Journal. He then attempted the stage, but was not successful. At last he hit upon his vein in dramatic authorship.

The Apprentice, a farce, brought him in nearly £800, and enabled him to pay his debts and complete his legal studies, but in consequence of his connexion with the stage, the Benchers refused to admit him to the Bar, until Lord Mansfield used his good offices. Murphy's mature life was passed as a barrister, a dramatic author, and a classical translator, and in all walks alike he may be said to have distinguished himself. He was never married.

Towards the close of his life he fell into poor circumstances, from which he was rescued by receiving the appointment of Commissioner of Bankrupts, and a Civil List pension of £200 per annum. He was also bequeathed some property in the West Indies. Arthur Murphy died at his lodgings, Knights-bridge, London, 18th June 1805, aged 74, attended to the last by his landlady and her Irish servant girl, who were both devoted to him. He is described as having been "Tall and graceful:.. his face oval, and marked a little with small-pox, his nose aquiline; his eyes light and full; his complexion fair; and his voice deep and sonorous; he rarely laughed loud, but his smile was uncommonly gracious."

Of his plays, one tragedy, three comedies, and three farces have retained their hold of the stage to the present day. "Murphy," says Macaulay, "was supposed to understand the temper of the wit of his time as well as any man." Hazlitt writes of him: "Murphy's plays of All in the Wrong, and Know your own Mind, are admirably written — with sense, spirit, and conception of character, but without any great effect of the humorous, or that truth of feeling which distinguishes the boundary between the absurdities of natural character and the gratuitous fictions of the poet's pen." Yet Moore said "he was a dull man in spite of his comedies, which act well, but read most ponderously." Chancellor Kent remarks: "His translation [of Tacitus] wants the compression of the original, and is too periphrastic... [It is] distinguished for elegance, and strength, and dignity, and gives the sense of the original with fidelity."


16. Authors, Dictionary of British and American: S. Austin Allibone. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1859-'71.

40. Biographical Division of English Cyclopaedia, with Supplement: Charles Knight, 7 vols. London, 1856-'72.

116. Dublin University Magazine (45). Dublin, 1833-'77.

248. Murphy, Arthur, Life: Jesse Foot. London, 1811.