Richard Brinsley Peake Biography

Richard Brinsley Peake (1792-1847)

Richard Brinsley Peake was the son of Richard Peake, who was employed for some forty years in the treasury office of Drury Lane Theatre in London. He was born on 19 February 1792 and his name, which echoes that of the famous dramatist Richard Brinsley Sheridan, reflects his family's close ties to the theatre community. He was articled to the well-known engraver James Heath, with whom he remained from 1809 to 1817, by which time he was ready to commit himself to writing for the stage. His first play seems to have been a dramatic sketch, The Bridge that Carries Us Safe Over, which was staged at the English Opera House in 1817. Over a long and productive career he wrote over forty works in a variety of forms, including burlesques, farces (with and without music), comedies of manners, melodramatic romances, musical romances, at least one "operatic romance," and a work called The Meltonians, which is described as "a perfectly illegitimate drama and extravaganza."

A prolific writer, Peake also wrote the text for an 1816 collection of pictures called French Characteristic Costumes, an annals of Cockney sports called Snobson's "Seasons" (1838), a three-volume account of "Cartouche, the Celebrated French Robber" (1844), and his most important non-dramatic work, the Memoirs of the Colman Family (1841), which details the lives of the theatre family of that name. For the final ten years of his life Peake also served as Treasurer at the Lyceum Theatre in London. Despite all these varied activities, when he died on 4 October 1847 he left his large family in precarious financial circumstances.

When Presumption first appeared in 1823, a contemporary reviewer had these decidedly ambivalent comments about Peake and his play:

This gentleman has a very extensive knowledge of what is called the public taste, that is, he can tell when to introduce a pun, or how to dress up an old joke, so as to make the audience laugh for the twentieth time. Possessing this wonderful faculty in a most miraculous manner, he has produced several pieces of the lighter kind, which have been well received. A pun with him was like liquor to the sot,—"meat, drink, washing, and lodging;" but genius will play strange vagaries, so Mr. Peake, supposing supernatural horrors would flow as readily from his creative fancy as wit and humour, turned away from the laughter loving Thalia, to woo her woe-stricken sister;—but oh! the fate of "vaulting ambition," for, after all the efforts of Messrs. Treasurer, Composer,—Scene-painter, Carpenter, &c. the mis-begotten imp of their creation, "Presumption," with difficulty sustains its vitality. (Mirror n.s. 1 [1823]: 12)