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THOMAS SOUTHERNE (1659-1746)

The following biography is reprinted from A Complete Manual of English Literature. Thomas B. Shaw. New York: Sheldon & Company, 1867.

Thomas Southerne (1659-1746) was born at Dublin, but passed the greater part of his life in England. He studied the Law in the Temple, but quitted that profession for the army: it is known that he served as a captain in one of the corps employed in the suppression of the unfortunate Duke of Monmouth's rebellion, and in all probability was present at the battle of Sedgemoor. The close of his life was tranquil and surrounded with competence. Southerne was the author of ten plays, the most conspicuous of which are the tragedies of Isabella, or the Fatal Marriage, and the pathetic drama of Oroonoko. The latter is founded upon the true adventures of an African prince; the subject is said to have been given to Southerne by Aphra Behn, who, being the daughter of a governor of Surinam, where the events took place, was personally acquainted both with the incidents and the individuals which form the groundwork of the story. The sufferings of the generous and unhappy African, torn by the slave-trade from his country and his home, and his love for Imoinda, furnish good materials to the pathetic genius of Southerne, who was the first English author to hold up to execration the cruelties of that infernal traffic that so long remained a stain upon our country. The distress of Isabella is also carried to a high degree of intensity, and tenderness and pathos may be asserted to be the primary characteristics of Southerne's dramatic genius.

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