The Miseries of Human Life

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The Miseries of Human Life is the title of that occurs both for a famous book of satirical dialogues written by James Beresford (1806) and a farce performed (and possibly written/translated) by the actor/manager Benjamin Webster (1845).

The book appears to have been the inspiration for both a French play and the English play.

Also found as The Miseries of Human Life!

The original book of dialogues (1806)

The Miseries of Human Life is a series of twelve humorous dialogues between two old curmudgeons, the book details the “petty outrages, minor humiliations, and tiny discomforts that make up everyday human existence.” Written in 1806 by James Beresford (1764–1840), it was first published in one volume as The Miseries of Human Life, or, The Groans of Samuel Sensitive and Timothy Testy. With a few supplementary sighs from Mrs Testy. by W. Miller in 1806- with a frontispiece by William Henry Pyne (1769–1843). It was then expanded with nine more dialogues and published in a two-volume edition in 1907. It became a minor classic in the satirical literature of the day. Apparently the public loved it, so dozens of editions were published, while printmakers rushed to illustrate their own versions of life’s miseries.

In 1846 an illustrated French publication called Les Petites Misères de la Vie Humaine by "Old Nick" (pseudonym of Émile Daurand Forgues, 1813-1883) and J.J. Grandville (1803-1847), was published in Paris by H. Fournier.

Translations and adaptations

On 8 July, 1843 a vaudeville in one act called Les Petites Misères de la Vie Humaine by Clairville (i.e. Louis-François-Marie Nicolaïe, 1811–1879)[1], was performed for the first time at the Théatre du Vaudeville in Paris. Published by Dondey-Dupré in Paris in 1843. Also later in Boston by S.R. Urbino and in New York by F.W. Christern 1865. (Also referred to simply as Les Petites Misères in some cases.)

In 1845 a "new farce" called The Miseries of Human Life apparently opened at the Haymarket Theatre, London, written (translated from the French?) and performed by Benjamin Nottingham Webster (1797–1882)[2] in the role of "Ally Croaker". The play is said by The Athenaeum (December, 1845)[3] to have been advertised as "a translation from the French", but they point out that "...both the subject and title are of English origin". The leading characters of the work are a the pessimistic "Mr Ally Croaker" and the cheerful "Mr Mildmay". The French version in question is apparently vaudeville called Les Petites Misères, according to The Spectator (Volume 18, 1845)[4].

The text of the one-act farce - attributed to all the performers, i.e. Benjamin Webster, W S Johnson, William Harries Tilbury, Anne Humby and Mr Clayton - was published in London by the National Acting Drama Office in 1845 and later by H. Roorbach in New York.

It is probably this version that was later performed under the titles of The Croaker, or The Miseries of Human Life and The Croaker, or The Business of Human Life.

South African performances

1859: A play called The Croaker, or The Miseries of Human Life (no author given) was performed by Charles Fraser and company in the Cape Town Theatre on 26 September. Also performed were The Momentous Question (Fitzball), act one of Richelieu (Lytton) and songs sung by F. Vernon and Miss Yates.

1860: A play called The Croaker, or The Business of Human Life (no author given) was performed by Charles Fraser and his "Thespian Company" in a tent in Simon's Town on 15 April. Also performed were A Wonderful Woman (d'Ennery), and songs sung as intermezzo. (The used title here is perhaps an error by Bosman, or by his typist/setter working from his handwritten maunuscript, rather than a mistake by Fraser or a new text. This hypothesis is supported by the entry in the index to the 1980 volume, which gives the title rather tentatively as "The Crooker, or The Miseries (Business) of Human Life (?)".)


The Miseries of Human Life, article on the Princeton University Art Museum website[5]

Facsimile version of the original French text of Les Petites Misères de la Vie Humaine (1843), The Internet Archive[6]

John Joseph Knight, "Webster, Benjamin Nottingham", Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 60[7]

Facsimile version of the first edition of the book of dialogues, 1806, The Internet Archive[8]

The Athenaeum (December, 1845): p. 1180, Google E-book[9]

The Spectator, Volume 18, F.C. Westley, 1845: p. 1138, Google E-book[10]

Sacramento Daily Union (Number 2720, 15 December 1859)[11]

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 125, 128.

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