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Significant Scots
Joseph Mitchell


MITCHELL, JOSEPH, a dramatist of the eighteenth century, was born about the year 1684. His father, who is described as a stone-cutter, appears to have been in decent circumstances, as he gave his son a liberal education, including a course at one of the Scottish universities, but which of them is not now known. On completing his education, Mitchell repaired to London, with the view of pushing his fortune in that metropolis, and was lucky enough to get into favour with the earl of Stair and Sir Robert Walpole. How he effected this, whether by the force of his talents, or by what other means, is not known; but his hold on the patronage of the latter especially, seems to have been singularly strong, as Sir Hubert almost entirely supported him during his after life. The zeal and gratitude of Mitchell, in return for this benevolence, and which took the shape of literary effusion, sometimes in behalf of, and sometimes complimentary to his patron, became so marked, as to procure for him the title of Sir Robert Walpole’s poet. The reckless and extravagant habits of Mitchell, however, kept him constantly in a state of great pecuniary distress, notwithstanding the liberal patronage of Walpole; and so inveterate were these habits, that a legacy of several thousand pounds, which was left him by an uncle of his wife, scarcely afforded him even a temporary relief.

Although Mitchell’s abilities were of but a very moderate order, he yet ranked amongst his friends many of the most eminent men of his times, particularly Mr Aaron Hill. To this gentleman he on one occasion communicated his distressed condition, and sought assistance from him. Mr Hill was unable to afford him any pecuniary relief, but he generously presented him with both the profits and reputation of a little dramatic piece, entitled Fatal Extravagance; a piece which he seems ingeniously to have adapted at once to relieve and reprove the object of his benevolence. This play was acted and printed in Mr Mitchell’s name, and the profits accruing from it were considerable; but though he accepted the latter, he was candid enough to disclaim the merit of being its author, and took every opportunity of undeceiving the world on this point, and of acknowledging his obligations to Mr Hill.

Of Mitchell, there is little more known. His talents were not of a sufficiently high order to attract much notice while he lived, or to prompt any inquiry after his death. He died on the 6th July, 1738. The following dramatic productions appear under his name, but the last only is really his, and it is not without considerable merit:—Fatal Extravagance, a tragedy, 8vo, 1720; Fatal Extravagance, a tragedy, enlarged, l2mo, 1726; and The Highland Fair, an opera, 8vo, 1731. In 1729, he published, besides, two octavo volumes of miscellaneous poetry.


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