Orpheus of Highwaymen



  • A nickname given to the English playwright John Gay (1685 - 1732)on account of his Beggar's Opera (1728). Moralists had long arguedfor the suppression of this work, on the grounds that it encouraged crimeby presenting the highwayman, Macheath, as a courteous and sympatheticfigure. Others argued that the play had at least some beneficial effects:
    I have been told of an ingenious observation of Mr Gibbon,that The Beggar's Opera may, perhaps, have sometimes increasedthe number of highwaymen: but that it has had a beneficial effectin refining that class of men, making them less ferocious, more polite, - in short, more like gentlemen."
    James Boswell: Life of Samuel Johnson(1791)
    The legendary Greek poet, Orpheus, was supposedly able to tame wildbeasts through the power of his art.