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cover that, while attempting to render an impossible service to the cause of virtue, it has in truth only promoted vice.
For what are the means by which a government can effect its ends? Two only, rewards and punishments;-powerful means, indeed, for influencing the exterior act, but altogether impotent for the purpose of touching the heart. A public functionary who is told that he will be advanced if he is a devout Catholic, and turned out of his place if he is not, will probably go to mass every morning, exclude meat from his table on Fridays, shrive himself regularly, and perhaps let his superiors know that he wears a hair shirt next to his skin. Under a Puritan government, a person who is apprized that piety is essential to thriving in the world, will be strict in the observance of the Sunday, or, as he will call it, Sabbath, and will avoid a theatre as if it were plague-stricken. Such a show of religion as this, the hope of gain and the fear of loss will produce, at a week's notice, in any abundance which a government may require. But under this show, sensuality, ambition, avarice, and hatred retain unimpaired power; and the seeming convert has only added to the vices of a man of the world all the still darker vices which are engendered by the constant practice of dissimulation. The truth cannot be long concealed. The public discovers that the grave persons who are proposed to it as patterns, are more utterly destitute of moral principle and of moral sensibility than avowed libertines. It sees that these Pharisees are further removed from real goodness than publicans and harlots. And, as usual, it rushes to the extreme opposite to that which it quits. It considers a high religious profession as a sure mark of meanness and depravity. On the very first day on which the restraints of fear is taken away, and on which men can venture to say what they feel, a frightful peal of blasphemy and ribaldry proclaims that the short-sighted policy which aims at making a nation of saints has made a nation of scoffers.
same persons who, a few months before, with meek voices and demure looks, had consulted divines about the state of their souls, now surrounded the midnight table, where, amidst the bounding of champagne corks, a drunken prince, enthroned between Dubois and Madame de Parabère, hiccoughed out atheistical arguments and obscene jests. The early part of the reign of Louis the Fourteenth had been a time of license; but the most dissolute men of that generation would have blushed at the orgies of the Regency.
It was the same with our fathers in the time of the Great Civil War. We are by no means unmindful of the great debt which mankind owes to the Puritans of that time, the deliverers of England, the founders of the great American Commonwealths. But in the day of their power they committed one great fault, which left deep and lasting traces in the national character and manners. They mistook the end and overrated the force of government. They determined not merely to protect religion and public morals from insult--an object for which the civil sword, in discreet hands, may be bene ficially employed--but to make the people committed to their rule truly devout. Yet if they had only reflected on events which they had themselves witnessed, and in which they had themselves borne a great part, they would have seen what was likely to be the result of their enterprise. They had lived under a government which, during a long course of years, did all that could be done, by lavish bounty and rigorous punishment, to enforce conformity to the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England. No person suspected of hostility to that church had the smallest chance of obtaining favour at the court of Charles. Avowed dissent was punished by imprison ment, by ignominious exposure, by cruel mutilations, and by ruinous fines. And the event had been, that the Church had fallen, and had, in its fall, dragged down with it a monarchy which had stood six hundred years. The Puritan might have learned, if from nothing else, yet from his own recent victory, that governments which attempt things beyond their reach are likely not merely to fail, but to produce an effect directly the opposite of that which they contemplate as desirable.
All this was overlooked.
It was thus in France about the beginning of the eighteenth century. Louis the Fourteenth in his old age became religious, and determined that his subjects should be religious too-shrugged his shoulders and knitted his brows if he observed at his levee or near his dinner-table any gentleman who neglected the The saints were duties enjoined by the Church--and rewarded to inherit the earth. The theatres were closed. piety with blue ribands, invitations to Marli, The fine arts were placed under absurd regovernments, pensions, and regiments. Forth-straints. Vices which had never before been with Versailles became, in every thing but even misdemeanours were made capital felodress, a convent. The pulpits and confession-nies. And it was solemnly resolved by Parlia als were surrounded by swords and embroidery. ment, "that no person should be employed but The marshals of France were much in prayer; such as the House shall be satisfied of his real and there was hardly one among the dukes godliness." The pious assembly had a Bible and peers who did not carry good little books lying on the table for reference. If they had in his pocket, fast during Lent, and communi- consulted it they might have learned that the cate at Easter. Madame de Maintenon, who wheat and the tares grow together inseparably, had a great share in the blessed work, boasted and must either be spared together, or rooted that devotion had become quite the fashion. up together. To know whether a man was A fashion indeed it was; and like a fashion really godly was impossible. But it was easy it passed away. No sooner had the old king to know whether he had a plain dress, iank been carried to St. Denis, than the whole court hair, no starch in his linen, no gay furniture in unmasked. Every man hastened to indemnify his house; whether he talked through his nose, fumself, by the excess of licentiousness and and showed the whites of his eyes; whether he impudence, for years of mortification. The named his children, Assurance, Tribulation o
Maher-shalal-hash-baz-whether he avoided | events, a person who affected to be better than
his neighbours was sure to be a knave.
In the old drama there had been much that was reprehensible. But whoever compares even the least decorous plays of Fletcher with those contained in the volume before us, will see how much the profligacy which follows a period of overstrained austerity, goes beyond the profligacy which precedes such a period. The nation resembled the demoniac in the New Testament. The Puritans boasted that the unclean spirit was cast out. The house was empty, swept, and garnished, and for a time the expelled tenant wandered through dry places seeking rest and finding none. But the force of the exorcism was spent. The fiend returned to his abode; and returned not alone. He took to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself. They entered in, and dwelt together: and the second possession was worse than the first.
Spring Garden when in town, and abstained from hunting and hawking when in the country-whether he expounded hard scriptures to his troop of dragoons, and talked in a committee of ways and means about seeking the Lord. These were tests which could easily be applied. The misfortune was, that they were tests which proved nothing. Such as they were, they were employed by the dominant party. And the consequence was, that a crowd of impostors, in every walk of life, began to mimic and to caricature what were then regarded as the outward signs of sanctity. The nation was not duped. The restraints of that gloomy time were such as would have been impatiently borne, if imposed by men who were universally believed to be saints. Those restraints became altogether insupportable when they were known to be kept up for the profit of hypocrites. It is quite certain that, even if the Royal Family had never returned We will now, as far as our limits will per -even if Richard Cromwell or Henry Crom-mit, pass in review the writers to whom Mr well had been at the head of the administration Leigh Hunt has introduced us. Of the four -there would have been a great relaxation of Wycherley stands, we think, last in literary manners. Before the Revolution many signs merit, but first in order of time, and first, be indicated that a period of license was at hand. yond all doubt, in immorality. The Restoration crushed for a time the Puritan party, and placed supreme power in the hands of a libertine. The political counter-revolution assisted the moral counter-revolution, and was in turn assisted by it. A period of wild and lesperate dissoluteness followed. Even in remote manor-houses and hamlets the change was in some degree felt; but in London the outbreak of debauchery was appalling. And in London the places most deeply infected were the palace, the quarters inhabited by the aristocracy, and the Inns of Court. It was on the support of these parts of the town that the playhouses depended. The character of the drama became conformed to the character of its patrons. The comic poet was the mouthpiece of the most deeply corrupted part of a corrupted society. And in the plays before us, we find distilled and condensed, the essential spirit of the fashionable world during the Anti-puritan reaction.
WILLIAM WYCHERLEY was born in 1640. He was the son of a Shropshire gentleman of old family, and of what was then accounted a good estate. The property was estimated at 600l. a year, a fortune which, among the fortunes of that time, probably ranked as a fortune of 2000l. a year would rank in our days.
William was an infant when the civil war broke out; and, while he was still in his rudiments, a Presbyterian hierarchy and a republican government were established on the ruins of the ancient church and throne. Old Mr. Wycherley was attached to the royal cause, and was not disposed to intrust the education of his heir to the solemn Puritans who now ruled the universities and public schools. Accordingly, the young gentleman was sent at fifteen to France. He resided some time in the neighbourhood of the Duke of Montausier, chief of one of the noblest races of Tourame. The duke's wife, a daughter of the house of Rambouillet, was a finished specimen of those talents and accomplishments for which her house was celebrated. The young foreigner was introduced to the splendid circle which surrounded the duchess, and there he appears to have learned some good and some evil. In a few years he returned to this country a fine gentleman and a Papist. His conversion, it may safely be affirmed, was the effect, not of any strong impression on his understanding or feelings, but partly of intercourse with an agreeable society in which the Church of Rome was the fashion; and partly of that aversion to Calvinistic austerities, which was then almost universal among young Englishmen of parts and spirit, and which, at one time, seemed likely to make one half of them Catholics, and the other half Atheists.
But the Restoration came. The universities were again in loyal hands; and there was rea son to hope that there would be again a na tional church fit for a gentleman. Wycherley became a member of Queen's College, Oxford.
The Puritan had affected formality; the comic poet laughed at decorum. The Puritan had frowned at innocent diversions; the comic poet took under his patronage the most flagitious excesses. The Puritan had canted; the comic poet blasphemed. The Puritan had made an affair of gallantry felony, without benefit of clergy; the comic poet represented it as an honourable distinction. The Puritan spoke with disdain of the low standard of popular morality; his life was regulated by a far more rigid code; his virtue was sustained by motives unknown to men of the world. Unhappily it had been amply proved in many cases, and might well be suspected in many more, that these high pretensions were unfounded. Accordingly, the fashionable circles, and the comic poets who were the spokesmen of those circles, took up the notion that all professions of piety and integrity were to be construed by the rule of contrary; that it might well be doubted whether there was such a thing as virtue in the world; but that, at all
and abjured the errors of the Church of Rome. The somewhat equivocal glory of turning, for a short time, a very good-for-nothing Papist inte a very good-for-nothing Protestant is ascribed to Bishop Barlow.
Wycherley left Oxford without taking a degree, and entered at the Temple, where he lived gayly for some years, observing the humours of the town, enjoying its pleasures, and picking up just as much law as was necessary to make the character of a pettifogging attorney or a litigious client entertaining in a comedy.
"Plain Dealer," which is said to have been written when he was twenty-five, it contains one scene unquestionably written after 1675, several which are later than 1668, and scarcely a line which can have been composed be fore the end of 1666.
Whatever may have been the age at which Wycherley composed his plays, it is certain that he did not bring them before the public till he was upwards of thirty. In 1672, “Love in a Wood" was acted with more success than it deserved, and this event produced a great change in the fortunes of the author. The Duchess of Cleveland cast her eyes upon him, and was pleased with his appearance. This abandoned woman, not content with her complacent husband and her royal keeper, lavished
From an early age he had been in the habit of amusing himself by writing. Some wretched lines of his on the Restoration are still extant. Had he devoted himself to the making of verses, he would have been nearly as far her fondness on a crowd of paramours of all below Tate and Blackmore as Tate and Black-ranks, from dukes to rope-dancers. In the more are below Dryden. His only chance for time of the commonwealth she commenced her renown would have been, that he might have career of gallantry, and terminated it under occupied a niche, in a satire, between Fleck- Anne, by marrying, when a great-grandmother, noe and Settle. There was, however, another that worthless fop, Beau Fielding. It is not kind of composition in which his talents and strange that she should have regarded Wy. acquirements qualified him to succeed; and to cherley with favour. His figure was com that he judiciously betook himself. manding, his countenance strikingly handsome, In his old age he used to say, that he wrote his look and deportment full of grace and dig "Love in a Wood" at nineteen, the "Gen-nity. He had, as Pope said long after, "the tleman Dancing-Master" at twenty-one, the true nobleman look," the look which seems to "Plain Dealer" at twenty-five, and the "Coun- indicate superiority, and a not unbecoming try Wife" at one or two-and-thirty. We are consciousness of superiority. His hair, inincredulous, we own, as to the truth of this deed, as he says in one of his poems, was prestory. Nothing that we know of Wycherley maturely gray. But in that age of periwigs leads us to think him incapable of sacrificing this misfortune was of little importance. The truth to vanity. And his memory in the de- duchess admired him, and proceeded to make cline of his life played him such strange tricks, love to him after the fashion of the coarsethat we might question the correctness of his minded and shameless circle to which she be assertion, without throwing any imputation on longed. In the Ring, when the crowd of beau his veracity. It is certain that none of his ties and fine gentlemen was thickest, she put plays were acted till 1672, when he gave "Love her head out of her coach-window, and bawled in a Wood" to the public. It seems improba- to him-" Sir, you are a rascal; you are a vilble that he should resolve on so important an lain;" and, if she be not belied, added another occasion as that of a first appearance before phrase of abuse which we will not quote, but the world, to run his chance with a feeble of which we may say that it might most justly piece, written before his talents were ripe, be- have been applied to her own children. Wyfore his style was formed, before he had looked cherley called on her grace the next day, and abroad into the world; and this when he had with great humility begged to know in what actually in his desk two highly-finished plays, way he had been so unfortunate as to disoblige the fruit of his matured powers. When we her. Thus began an intimacy from which the look minutely at the pieces themselves, we poet probably expected wealth and honours. find in every part of them reason to suspect Nor were such expectations unreasonable. A the accuracy of Wycherley's statement. In handsome young fellow about the court, known the first scene of "Love in a Wood," to go no by the name of Jack Churchill, was about the Further, we find many passages which he same time so lucky as to become the object of a could not have written when he was nineteen. short-lived fancy of the duchess. She had pre. There is an allusion to gentlemen's periwigs, sented him with 45007., the price, in all probawhich first came into fashion in 1663; an allu- bility, of some title or some pardon. The pru Sion to guineas, which were first struck in dent youth had lent the money on high interest 1663; an allusion to the vests which Charles and on landed security, and this judicious inordered to be worn at court in 1666; an allu- vestment was the beginning of the most splen sion to the fire of 1666; several allusions to did private fortune in Europe. Wycherley was political and ecclesiastical affairs which must not so lucky. The partiality with which the be assigned to times later than the year of the great lady regarded him was, indeed, the talk Restoration to times when the government of the whole town; and, sixty years later, old and the city were opposed to each other, and men who remembered those days told Voltaire when the Presbyterian ministers had been that she often stole from the court to her lover's driven from the parish churches to the con- chambers in the Temple, disguised like a counventicles. But it is needless to dwell on par- try girl, with a straw hat on her head, pattens ticular expressions. The whole air and spirit on her feet, and a basket in her hand. The of the piece belong to a period subsequent to poet was indeed too happy and proud to be that mentioned by Wycherley. As to the discreet. He dedicated to the duchess the play
which had led to their acquaintance, and in the dedication expressed himself in terms which could not but confirm the reports which had gone abroad. But at Whitehall such an affair was regarded in no serious light. The lady was not afraid to bring Wycherley to court, and to introduce him to a splendid society, with which, as far as appears, he had never before mixed. The easy king, who allowed to his mistresses the same liberty which he claimed for himself, was pleased with the conversation and manners of his new rival.
So high did Wycherley stand in the royal favour, that once, when he was confined by a fever to his lodgings in Bow-street, Charles, who, with all his faults, was certainly a man of a social and affable disposition, called on him, sat by his bed, advised him to try change of air, and gave him a handsome sum of money to defray the expense of the journey. Buckingham, then master of the horse, and one of that infamous ministry known by the name of the Cabal, had been one of the duchess's innumerable paramours. He at first showed some symptoms of jealousy, but soon, after his fashion, veered round from anger to fondness, and gave Wycherley a commission in his own regiment, and a place in the royal household.
It would be unjust to Wycherley's memory not to mention here the only good action, as far as we know, of his whole life. He is said to have made great exertions to obtain the patronage of Buckingham for the illustrious author of "Hudibras," who was now sinking into an obscure grave, neglected by a nation proud of his genius, and by a court which he had served too well. His grace consented to see poor Butler, and an appointment was made. But unhappily two pretty women passed by; the volatile duke ran after them; the opportunity was lost, and could never be regained.
The second Dutch war, the most disgraceful war in the whole history of England, was now raging. It was not in that age considered as by any means necessary that a naval officer should receive a professional education. Young men of rank, who were hardly able to keep their feet in a breeze, served on board of the king's ships, sometimes with commissions and sometimes as volunteers. Mulgrave, Dorset, Rochester, and many others, left the playhouses and the Mall for hammocks and salt pork; and, ignorant as they were of the rudiments of naval science, showed, at least on the day of battle, the courage which is seldom wanting in an English gentleman. All good judges of maritime affairs complained that under this system the ships were grossly mismanaged, and that the tarpaulins contracted the vices, without acquiring the graces, of the court. But on this subject, as on every other, the government of Charles was deaf to all remonstrances where the interests or whims of favourites were concerned. Wycherley did not choose to be out of the fashion. He embarked, was present at a battle, and celebrated it on his return in a copy of verses too bad for the bellman."
* Mr. Leigh Hunt supposes that the battle at which Wycherley was present was that which the Duke of York gained over Opdam, in 1665. We believe that it
About the same time he brought on the stage his second piece, the "Gentleman Dancing Master." The biographer says nothing, as far as we remember, about the fate of this play. There is, however, reason to believe, that, though certainly far superior to "Love in a Wood," it was not equally successful. It was first tried at the west end of the town, and, as the poet confessed, "would scarce do there." It was then performed in Salisbury Court, but, as it should seem, with no better event. For, in the prologue to the "Country Wife," Wycherley described himself as "the late so baffled scribbler."
In 1675, the “Country Wife" was performed with brilliant success, which, in a literary point of view, was not wholly unmerited. For, though one of the most profligate and heartless of human compositions, it is the elaborate production of a mind, not indeed rich, original, or imaginative, but ingenious, observant, quick to seize hints, and patient of the toil of polishing.
The "Plain Dealer," equally immoral and equally well written, appeared in 1677. At first this piece pleased the people less than the critics; but after a time its unquestionable merits, and the zealous support of Lord Dor set, whose influence in literary and fashionable society was unbounded, established it in the public favour.
The fortune of Wycherley was now in the zenith, and began to decline. A long life was still before him. But it was destined to be filled with nothing but shame and wretchedness, domestic dissensions, literary failures, and pecuniary embarrassments.
The king, who was looking about for an accomplished man to conduct the education of his natural son, the young Duke of Richmond, at length fixed on Wycherley. The poet, exulting in his good luck, went down to amuse himself at Tunbridge; looked into a bookseller's shop on the Pantiles, and to his great delight, heard a handsome woman ask for the "Plain Dealer," which had just been published. He made acquaintance with the lady, who proved to be the Countess of Drogheda, a gay young widow, with an ample jointure. She was charmed with his person and his wit; and, after a short flirtation, agreed to become his wife. Wycherley seems to have been apprehensive that this connexion might not suit well with the king's plan respecting the Duke of Richmond. He accordingly prevailed on the lady to consent to a private marriage. All came out. Charles thought the conduct of
was one of the battles between Rupert and De Ruyter,
The point is of no importance; and there can scarcely be said to be any evidence either way. We offer, however, to Mr. Leigh Hunt's consideration three arguments-of no great weight certainly-yet such as ought, we think, to prevail in the absence of better First, it is not very likely that a young Templar, quite unknown in the world-and Wycherley was such in 1665-should have quitted his chambers to go to sea. On the other hand, it would have been in the regular course of things that, when a courtier and an equerry, he should offer written after a drawn battle, like those of 1673, and not his services. Secondly, his verses appear to have been after a complete victory like that of 1665 Thirdly, in the epilogue to the "Gentleman Dancing-Master," written in 1673, he says that "all gentlemen must pack to sea;" an expression which makes it probable that he did not himself mean to stay behind.
Wycherley both disrespectful and disinge- that, if we place it at this time, we do no in nuous. Other causes probably assisted to justice to the character either of Wycherley of alienate the sovereign from the subject who James. nad been so highly favoured. Buckingham was now in opposition, and had been committed to the Tower; not, as Mr. Leigh Hunt supposes, on a charge of treason, but by an order of the House of Lords for some expressions which he had used in debate. Wycherley wrote some bad lines in praise of his imprisoned patron, which, if they came to the knowledge of the king, would certainly have made his majesty very angry. The favour of the court was completely withdrawn from the poet. An amiable woman, with a large fortune, might indeed have been an ample compensation for the loss. But Lady Drogheda was ill-tempered, imperious, and extravagantly jealous. She had herself been a maid of honour at Whitehall. She well knew in what estimation conjugal fidelity was held among the fine gentlemen there; and watched her town husband as assiduously as Mr. Pinchwife watched his country wife. The unfortunate wit was, indeed, allowed to meet his friends at a tavern opposite his own house. But on such occasions the windows were always open, in order that her ladyship, who was posted on the other side of the street, might be satisfied that no woman was of the party.
Not long after, old Mr. Wycherley died; and his son, now past the middle of life, came to the family estate. Still, however, he was not at his ease. His embarrassments were great his property was strictly tied up; and he was on very bad terms with the heir-at-law. He appears to have led, during a long course of years, that most wretched life, the life of an old boy about town. Expensive tastes with little money, and licentious appetites with de clining vigour, were the just penance for his early irregularities. A severe illness had produced a singular effect on his intellect. His memory played him pranks stranger than almost any that are to be found in the history of that strange faculty. It seemed to be at once preternaturally strong and preternaturally weak. If a book was read to him before he went to bed, he would wake the next morning with his mind full of the thoughts and expres sions which he had heard over night; and be would write them down, without in the least suspecting that they were not his own. In his verses the same ideas, and even the same words came over and over again several times in a short composition. His fine person bore the marks of age, sickness, and sorrow; and he mourned for his departed beauty with an effeminate regret. He could not look without a sigh at the portrait which Lely had painted of him when he was only twenty-eight; and often murmured, Quantum mutatus ab illo. He was still nervously anxious about his literary reputation; and, not content with the fame which he still possessed as a dramatist, was determined to be renowned as a satirist and an amatory poet.
In 1704, after twenty-seven years of silence, he again appeared as an author. He put forth a large folio of miscellaneous verses, which, we believe, has never been reprinted. Some of these pieces had probably circulated through the town in manuscript; for, before the volume appeared, the critics at the coffee-houses very confidently predicted that would be utterly worthless; and were, in consequence, bitterly reviled by the poet in an ill-written, foolish, and egotistical preface. The book amply vindicated the most unfavourable prophecies that had been hazarded. The style and versifica tion are beneath criticism; the morals are those of Rochester. For Rochester, indeed, there was some excuse. When his offences against decorum were committed, he was a very young man, misled by a prevailing fash ion. Wycherley was sixty-four. He had long outlived the times when libertinism was re garded as essential to the character of a wit and a gentleman. Most of the rising poets, like Addison, John Philips, and Rowe, were studious of decency. We can hardly conceive any thing more miserable than the figure which the ribald old man makes in the midst of sa many sober and well-conducted youths.
In the very year in which this bulky volume of obscene doggerel was published, Wycherley formed an acquaintance of a very singular kind. A little, pale, crooked sickly, bright.
The death of Lady Drogheda released the unfortunate poet from this distress; but a series of disasters, in rapid succession, broke down his health, his spirits, and his fortune. His wife meant to leave him a good property, and left him only a lawsuit. His father could not or would not assist him. He was at length thrown into the Fleet, and languished there during seven years, utterly forgotten, as it should seem, by the gay and lively circle of which he had been a distinguished ornament. In the extremity of his distress he implored the publisher who had been enriched by the sale of his works, to lend him twenty pounds, and was refused. His comedies, however, still kept possession of the stage, and drew great audiences, which troubled themselves little about the situation of the author. At length James the Second, who had now succeeded to the throne, happened to go to the theatre on an evening when the "Plain Dealer" was acted. He was pleased by the performance, and touched by the fate of the writer, whom he probably remembered as one of the gayest and handsomest of his brother's courtiers. The king determined to pay Wycherley's debts, and to settle on the unfortunate poet a pension of 2004. a year. This munificence, on the part of a prince who was little in the habit of rewarding literary merit, and whose whole soul was devoted to the interests of his church, raises in us a surmise which Mr. Leigh Hunt will, we fear, pronounce very uncharitable. We cannot help suspecting that it was at this time that Wycherley returned to the communion of the Church of Rome. That he did return to the communion of the Church
of Rome is certain. The date of his re-conversion, as far as we know, has never been mentioned by any biographer. We believe