The Beggar’s Opera

Contained herein, is former Royal Marine Isaac Bickerstaff’s comic opera, The Maid of the Mill. With music by Samuel Arnold, it was well received and often performed at Covent Garden. Later, together with Garrick, Bickerstaff was accused of homosexuality and fled to France, where he later died in penury. A note in this edition’s preface tells us that, “As an officer of the Marines he left the service with imputed infamy, from practices at which humanity shudders and decency hides its head”.

The Beggar’s Opera, John Gay. Published by Robert Urie, Glasgow, 1758. Layton Collection 3288.

  • Based on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, the original idea for The Beggar’s Opera came from Jonathan Swift, who joked about creating a “Newgate Pastoral”. His friend John Gay took up the concept and instead created a satirical opera, based on social inequality, civil liberties, and the elitism of upper-class opera goers, while also lampooning Robert Walpole’s whig administration against some of the era’s notorious criminal elements. J. C. Pepusch and Gay himself wrote the musical accompaniment. It was, and remains, hugely successful.


Back to main resource