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Eighteenth-Century Studies 34.2 (2001) 207-226

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Family Jewels: George Colman's Inkle and Yarico and Connoisseurship

Nandini Bhattacharya

In 1787, George Colman, Jr.'s play Inkle and Yarico was first produced at the Haymarket theater. The popular story of Inkle and Yarico first appeared in Richard Ligon's True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados (1657), was revived by Richard Steele's Spectator 11 in 1711, and was retold many times thereafter. The composite story of these many versions of Inkle and Yarico is that of a young English merchant named Inkle who voyages to the new world in search of fortune, and is shipwrecked on American shores. Rescued by a woman named Yarico in the American wilderness, he escapes the fury of the other natives and lives concealed by her in a cave. In return for her protection and love, Inkle promises to take Yarico with him to England, but when rescued by a European vessel, he brings her to Barbados and sells her there with her unborn child. In Ligon's story, when Yarico pleads her love and her pregnancy with Inkle, he increases her price because she carries valuable cargo, as one might say. Colman's version of this fantastically popular story presents Inkle as an English city youth, bred in the consideration of his "interest" above all else. He confesses: "Even so my father tutored me; from my infancy, bending my tender mind, like a young sapling, to his will--Interest was the grand prop round which he twined my pliant green affections. . . ." 1 Colman, however, makes two changes to this ending: Yarico is not pregnant, and Inkle does not sell her. In Colman's version, Inkle was escorting his fiancee Narcissa to her father in Jamaica when the shipwreck occurred. The [End Page 207] reason for Inkle's dramatic change of heart is Narcissa's father, the benevolent Sir Christopher Curry, governor of Jamaica. Curry even offers to make Yarico a foster-daughter from compassion at her plight: "I'll cherish her like my own daughter; and pour balm into the heart of a poor, innocent girl, that has been wounded by the artifices of a scoundrel." 2 In the end, Narcissa marries another man she truly loves, and Yarico gets a reformed Inkle.

In the very first shipwreck scene, however, we see the yet avaricious Inkle itemizing aloud the rich resources of the Americas. It is clear at once that such "collection" of property might include humans: "I was thinking, too, if so many natives could be caught, how much they might fetch at the west-indian markets." 3 His servant Trudge fears instead that they themselves might become "collectibles" for the natives of America: "All that enter here [in Yarico's cave] appear to have their skins stript over their ears; and ours will be kept for curiosities--we shall stand here stuffed, for a couple of white wonders." 4 But the threat of becoming souvenirs--ghostly mementos of native consumption--is averted in the text in ways that better accommodate Colman's idea of "collection."

Yarico--first seen as a possible consumer of white collectibles like her compatriots--rapidly becomes a collectible object herself. Her cave, compared to a warehouse in the Adelphi, instantly situates her in London's art world. 5 Later in the play she is likened to a Wedgwood teapot. Trudge describes Yarico thus: "She's a good comely copper. . . . quite dark; but very elegant, like a wedgwood tea-pot." 6 This teapot metaphor for Yarico is especially complex in its provenance. First, comparison with a teapot identifies her with theater actors like Henry Mossop, notorious for the satirized theatrical "teapot" posture. Mossop would stand with an arm crooked on his waist, the other held out in declamation. R. B. Peake, Colman's biographer, wrote: "As an actor, he [Mossop] was accused by the critics of too much mechanism in his action and delivery: his enemies censured the frequent resting of his left hand on the hip, with his right extended, which they ludicrously...


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