« AnteriorContinuar »
eyed urchin, just turned of sixteen, had written | in your first volume, or in this very paper: and some copies of verses, in which discerning the versification throughout is, I believe, such judges could detect the promise of future emi- as nobody can be shocked at. The repeated nence. There was, indeed, as yet nothing very permission you give me of dealing freely with striking or original in the conceptions of the you, will, I hope, excuse what I have done; for, young poet. But he was already skilled in the if I have not spared you when I thought seve art of metrical composition. His diction and rity would do you a kindness, I have not manhis music were not those of the great old mas- gled you where I thought there was no absolute ters, but that which his ablest contemporaries need of amputation." Wycherley continued were labouring to do, he already did best. His to return thanks for all this hacking and hewstyle was not richly poetical, but it was always ing, which was, indeed, of inestimable service neat, compact, and pointed. His verse wanted to his compositions. But by degrees his thanks variety of pause, of swell, and of cadence; but began to sound very like reproaches. In priit never grated on the ear by a harsh turn, or vate he is said to have described Pope as a disappointed it by a feeble close. The youth person who could not cut out a suit, but who was already free of the company of wits, and had some skill in turning old coats. In his was greatly elated at being introduced to the letter to Pope, while he acknowledged that the author of the "Plain Dealer" and the "Country versification of his poems had been greatly Wife." improved, he spoke of the whole art of versification with scorn, and sneered at those who preferred sound to sense. Pope revenged himself for this outbreak of spleen by return of post. He had in his hands a volume of Wy. cherley's rhymes, and he wrote to say that this volume was so full of faults that he could not correct it without completely defacing the manuscript. "I am," he said, “equally afraid of sparing you, and of offending you by too impudent a correction." This was more than flesh and blood could bear: Wycherley reclaimed his papers, in a letter in which resentment shows itself plainly through the thin disguise of civility. Pope, glad to be rid of a troublesome and inglorious task, sent back the deposit; and, by way of a parting courtesy, advised the old man to turn his poetry into prose, and assured him that the public would like his thoughts much better without his versification. Thus ended this memorable correspondence.
Wycherley lived some years after the termi nation of the strange friendship which we have described. The last scene of his life was perhaps, the most scandalous. Ten days before his death, at seventy-five, he married a young girl, merely in order to injure his nephew; an act which proves that neither years, nor adver sity, nor what he called his philosophy, nor either of the religions which he had at different times professed, had taught him the rudiments of morality. He died in December, 1715, and lies in the vault under the church of St. Paul, in Covent-Garden.
It is curious to trace the history of the intercourse which took place between Wycherley and Pope-between the representative of the age that was going out, and the representative of the age that was coming in-between the friend of Rochester and Buckingham, and the friend of Lyttleton and Mansfield. At first the boy was enchanted by the kindness and condescension of his new friend, haunted his door, and followed him about like a spaniel, from coffee-house to coffee-house. Letters full of affection, humility, and fulsome flattery, were interchanged between the friends. But the first ardour of affection could not last. Pope, though at no time scrupulously delicate in his writings, or fastidious as to the morals of his associates, was shocked by the indecency of a rake who, at seventy, was still the representative of the monstrous profligacy of the Restoration. As he grew older, as his mind expanded and his fame rose, he appreciated both himself and Wycherley more justly. He felt a wellfounded contempt for the old gentleman's verses, and was at no great pains to conceal his opinion. Wycherley, on the other hand, though blinded by self-love to the imperfections of what he called his poetry, could not but see that there was an immense difference between young companion's rhymes and his own. He was divided between two feelings. He wished to have the assistance of so skilful a hand to polish his lines; and yet he shrank from the humiliation of being beholden for literary assistance to a lad who might have been his grandson. Pope was willing to give assistance, but was by no means disposed to give assistance and flattery too. He took the trouble to retouch whole reams of feeble, stumbling verses, and inserted many vigorous lines, which the least skilful reader will distinguish in an instant. But he thought that by these services he acquired a right to express himself in terms which would not, under ordinary eircumstances, become a youth when address-lanies in verse and prose was got up for the market. The collection derives all its value from the traces of Pope's hand, which are every where discernible.
His bride soon after married a Captain Shrimpton, who thus became possessed of a large collection of manuscripts. These were sold to a bookseller. They were so full of erasures and interlineations that no printer could decipher them. It was necessary to call in the aid of a professed critic; and Theobald, the editor of Shakspeare, and the hero of the first Dunciad, was employed to ascertain the true reading. In this way a volume of miscel
ing a man of four times his age. In one letter he tells Wycherley that "the worst pieces are such as, to render them very good, would require almost the entire new writing of them." In another he gives the following account of his corrections: "Though the whole be as fame as a writer rests wholly on his comedies, short again as at first, there is not one thought and chiefly on the last two. Even as a comic mitted but what is a repetition of something writer, he was neither of the best school, nor
Of the moral character of Wycherley it can hardly be necessary for us to say more. His
highest in his school. He was in truth a worse | have been hidden, and, as it might appear, de Congreve. His chief merit, like Congreve, stroyed by an education elaborately bad. But lies in the style of his dialogue. But the wit they are called forth into full energy by a virtuwhich lights up the "Plain Dealer" and the ous passion. Her lover, while he adores her "Country Wife" is pale and flickering, when beauty, is too honest a man to abuse the concompared with the gorgeous blaze which daz- fiding tenderness of a creature so charming zles us almost to blindness in "Love for Love" and inexperienced. Wycherley takes this plot and the "Way of the World." Like Congreve into his hands; and forthwith this sweet and -and, indeed, even more than Congreve- graceful courtship becomes a licentious inWycherley is ready to sacrifice dramatic pro- trigue of the lowest and least sentimental kind, priety to the liveliness of his dialogue. The between an impudent London rake and the poet speaks out of the mouths of all his dunces idiot wife of a country squire. We will not and coxcombs, and makes them describe them- go into details. In truth, Wycherley's indecency selves with a good sense and acuteness which is protected against the critics as a skunk is puts them on a level with the wits and heroes. protected against the hunters. It is safe, be We will give two instances, the first which oc- cause it is too filthy to handle, and too noisome cur to us, from the "Country Wife." There even to approach. are to be found in the world fools who find the society of old friends insipid, and who are always running after new companions. Such a character is a fair subject for comedy. But nothing can be more absurd than to introduce a man of this sort saying to his comrade-"I can deny you nothing; for though I have known thee a great while, never go if I do not love thee as well as a new acquaintance." That town wits, again, have always been rather a heartless class, is true. But none of them, we will answer for it, ever said to a young lady to whom he was making love-" We wits rail and make love often but to show our parts: as we have no affections, so we have no malice."
Wycherley's plays are said to have been the produce of long and patient labour. The epithet of "slow" was early given to him by Rochester, and was frequently repeated. In truth, his mind, unless we are greatly mistaken, was naturally a very meager soil, and was forced only by great labour and outlay to bear fruit, which, after all, was not of the highest flavour. He has scarcely more claim to originality than Terence. It is not too much to say, that there is hardly any thing of the least value in his plays, of which the hint is not to be found elsewhere. The best scenes in the "Gentleman Dancing-Master," were suggested by Calderon's Maestro de Danzar, not by any means one of the happiest comedies of the great Castilian poet. The "Country Wife" is borrowed from the Ecole des Maris and the Ecole des Femmes. The groundwork of the "Plain Dealer" is taken from the Misanthrope of Molière. One whole scene is almost translated from the Critique de l'Ecole des Femmes; Fidelia is Shakspeare's Viola stolen, and marred in the stealing; and the Widow Blackacre, beyond comparison Wycherley's best comic character, is the Countess in Racine's Plaideurs, talking the jargon of English instead of that of French chicane.
The only thing original about Wycherleythe only thing which he could furnish from his own mind in inexhaustible abundance-was profligacy. It is curious to observe how every thing that he touched, however pure and noble, took in an instant the colour of his own mind. Compare the Ecole des Femmes with the "Country Wife." Agnes is a simple and amiable girl, whose heart is indeed full of love, but of love sanctioned by honour, morality, and religion Her natural talents are great. They
It is the same with the "Plain Dealer." How careful has Shakspeare been in "Twelfth Night," to preserve the dignity and delicacy of Viola, under her disguise! Even when wearing a page's doublet and hose, she is never mixed up with any transaction which the most fastidious mind could regard as Leaving a stain on her. She is employed by the Duke on an embassy of love to Olivia; but on an embassy of the most honourable kind. Wycherley borrows Viola-and Viola forthwith becomes a pander of the basest sort. But the character of Manly is the best illustration of our meaning. Molière exhibited in his misanthrope a pure and noble mind, which had been sorely vexed by the sight of perfidy and malevolence, disguised under the forms of politeness. As every extreme naturally generates its contrary, Alceste adopts a standard of good and evil directly opposed to that of the society which sur rounds him. Courtesy seems to him a vice; and those stern virtues which are neglected by the fops and coquettes of Paris become too exclusively the objects of his veneration. He is often to blame; he is often ridiculous; but he is always a good man; and the feeling which he inspires is regret that a person so estimable should be so unamiable. Wycherley borrowed Alceste, and turned him-we quote the words of so lenient a critic as Mr. Leigh Hunt-intc "a ferocious sensualist, who believed himself as great a rascal as he thought everybody else." The surliness of Molière's hero is copied and caricatured. But the most nause ous libertinism and the most dastardly fraud are substituted for the purity and integrity of the original. And, to make the whole complete, Wycherley does not seem to have been aware that he was not drawing the portrait of an eminently honest man. So depraved was his moral taste, that, while he firmly believed he was producing a picture of virtue too exalted for the commerce of this world, he was really delineating the greatest rascal that is to be found, even in his own writings.
We pass a very severe censure on Wycherley, when we say that it is a relief to turn from him to Congreve. Congreve's writings, indeed, are by no means pure, nor was he, as far as we are able to judge, a warm-hearted or high-minded man. Yet, in coming to him, we feel that the worst is over-that we are one remove farther from the Restoration-that we are past the Nadir of national taste and morality.
WILLIAM CONGREVE was born in 1670, at Bardsey, in the neighbourhood of Leeds. His father, a younger son of a very ancient Staffordshire family, had distinguished himself among the Cavaliers in the Civil War, was set down after the Restoration for the Order of the Royal Oak, and subsequently settled in Ireland, under the patronage of the Earl of Burlington.
having written a good play, and shame at having done an ungentlemanlike thing-pre tended that he had merely scribbled a few scenes for his own amusement, and affected to yield unwillingly to the importunities of those who pressed him to try his fortune on the stage. The "Old Bachelor" was seen in manuscript by Dryden; one of whose best Iqualities was a hearty and generous admiration for the talents of others. He declared that
Congreve passed his childhood and youth in Ireland. He was sent to school at Kilkenny, he had never seen such a first play; and lent and thence went to the University of Dublin. his services to bring it into a form fit for reHis learning does great honour to his instruct-presentation. Nothing was wanting to the ers. From his writings it appears, not only success of the piece. It was so cast as to bring that he was well acquainted with Latin litera- into play all the comic talent, and to exhibit on ture, but that his knowledge of the Greek poets the boards in one view all the beauty which was such as was not, his time, common even Drury Lane Theatre, then the only theatre in in a college. London, could assemble. The result was a complete triumph; and the author was gratified with rewards more substantial than the applauses of the pit. Montagu, then a Lord of the Treasury, immediately gave him a place, and, in a short time, added the reversion of another place of much greature value, which, however, did not become vacant till many years had elapsed.
When he had completed his academical studies, he was sent to London to study the law, and was entered of the Middle Temple. He troubled himself, however, very little about pleading or conveyancing; and gave himself up to literature and society. Two kinds of ambition early took possession of his mind, and often pulled it in opposite directions. He was conscious of great fertility of thought, and In 1694, Congreve brought out the "Doublepower of ingenious combination. His lively Dealer," a comedy in which all the powers conversation, his polished manners, and his which had produced the "Old Bachelor" show highly respectable connections had obtained themselves, matured by time and improved by for him ready access to the best company. He exercise. But the audience was shocked by longed to be a great writer. He longed to be a the characters of Maskwell and Lady Touchman of fashioa. Either object was within his wood. And, indeed, there is something strangely reach. But could he secure both? Was there revolting in the way in which a group that not something vulgar in letters-something seems to belong to the house of Laius or of inconsistent with the easy apathetic graces of a Pelops, is introduced into the midst of the man of the mode? Was it aristocratical to be Brisks, Froths, Carelesses, and Plyants. The confounded with creatures who lived in the play was unfavourably received. Yet, if the cocklofts of Grub Street, to bargain with pub-praise of distinguished men could compensate lishers, to hurry printers' devils, to squabble an author for the disapprobation of the multiwith managers, to be applauded or hissed by tude, Congreve had no reason to repine. Drypit, boxes, and galleries? Could he forego the den, in one of the most ingenious, magnificent, renown of being the first wit of his age? and pathetic pieces that he ever wrote, extolled Could he attain that renown without sullying the author of the "Double-Dealer" in terms what he valued quite as much-his character which now appear extravagantly hyperbolical. for gentility? The history of his life is Till Congreve came orth-so ran this exqui history of a conflict between these two im- site flattery-the superiority of the poets who pulses. In his youth the desire of literary preceded the civil wars was acknowledged. fame had the mastery; but soon the meaner ambition overpowered the higher, and obtained supreme dominion over his mind.
His first work, a novel of no great value, he published under the assumed name of "Cleophil." His second was the "Old Bachelor," acted in 1693, a play inferior indeed to his other comedies, but, in its own line, inferior to them alone. The plot is equally destitute of interest and of probability. The characters are either not distinguishable, or are distinguished only by peculiarities of the most glaring kind. But the dialogue is resplendent with wit and eloquence-which indeed are so abundant that the fools come in for an ample share
and yet preserves a certain colloquial air, a certain indescribable ease, of which Wycherley had given no example, and which Sheridan in vain attempted to imitate. The author, divided between pride and shame-pride at
• Mr. Leigh Ilunt says 1669. But the Old Style has misled him.
"Theirs was the giant race before the flood." Since the return of the royal house, much art and ability had been exerted, but the old masters had been still unrivalled.
"Our builders were with want of genius curst, The second temple was not like the first.'
At length a writer had arisen who, just emerg ing from boyhood, had surpassed the authors of the "Knight of the Burning Pestic," and the "Silent Woman," and who had only one rival left to contend with.
"Heaven, that but once was prodigal before,
To Shakspeare gave as much, he could not give Bam more."
Some lines near the end of the poem are sin gularly graceful and touching, and sank deep into the heart of Congreve.
"Already am I worn with cares and age,
2 F 2
Be kind to my remains; and, oh, defend
Jeremy Collier was a clergyman of the Church of England, bred at Cambridge. His talents and attainments were such as might have been expected to raise him to the highest honours of his profession. He had an extensive knowledge of books, and yet he had mingled with polite society, and is said not to In 1695 appeared "Love for Love," superior have wanted either grace or vivacity in conboth in wit and in scenic effect to either of the versation. There were few branches of litepreceding plays. It was performed at a new rature to which he had not paid some attention. theatre which Betterton and some other actors, But ecclesiastical antiquity was his favourite disgusted by the treatment which they received study. In religious opinions he belonged to in Drury Lane, just opened in a tennis-court that section of the Church of England which near Lincoln's Inn. Scarcely any comedy lies furthest from Geneva and nearest to Rome. within the memory of the oldest man had been | His notions touching Episcopal government, equally successful. The actors were so elated holy orders, the efficacy of the sacraments, the that they gave Congreve a share in their authority of the Fathers, the guilt of schism, theatre, and he promised, in return, to furnish the importance of vestments, ceremonies, and them with a play every year, if his health solemn days, differed little from those which would permit. Two years passed, however, are now held by Dr. Pusey and Mr. Newman. before he produced the "Mourning Bride;" a Towards the close of his life, indeed, Collier play which, paltry as it is when compared, we took some steps which brought him still nearer do not say with Lear or Macbeth, but with the to Popery-mixed water with the wine in the best dramas of Massinger and Ford, stands Eucharist, made the sign of the cross in convery high among the tragedies of the age in firmation, employed oil in the visitation of the which it was written. To find any thing so sick, and offered up prayers for the dead. His good we must go twelve years back to "Venice politics were of a piece with his divinity. He Preserved" or six years forward to the "Fair was a Tory of the highest sort, such as in the Penitent." The noble passage which Johnson, cant of that age was called a Tantivy. Not in writing and in conversation, extolled above even the tyranny of James, not even the perany other in the English drama, has suffered secution of the bishops and the spoliation of greatly in the public estimation from the ex- the universities, could shake that steady loy travagance of his praise. Had he contented alty. While the Convention was sitting, Colhimself with saying that it was finer than any lier wrote with vehemence in defence of the thing in the tragedies of Dryden, Otway, Lee, fugitive king, and was in consequence arrested. Rowe, Southern, Hughes, and Addison-than But his dauntless spirit was not to be so tamed. any thing, in short, that had been written for He refused to take the oaths, renounced all his the stage since the time of Charles the First-preferments, and, in a succession of pamphlets he would not have been in the wrong. written with much violence and with some ability, attempted to excite the nation against its new masters. In 1692, he was again arrested on suspicion of having been concerned in a treasonable plot. So unbending were his principles that his friends could hardly persuade him to let them bail him; and he afterwards expressed his remorse for having been induced thus to acknowledge, by implication, the authority of a usurping government. He was soon in trouble again. Sir John Friend and Sir William Parkins were tried and convicted of high treason for planning the murder of King William. Collier administered spiritual consolation to them, attended them to Tyburn, and just before their execution laid his hands on their heads, and by the authority which he derived from Christ, solemnly ab solved them. This scene gave indescribable scandal. Tories joined with Whigs in blaming the conduct of the daring priest. There are, it was said, some acts which fall under the definition of treason into which a good man may, in troubled times, be led even by his vir tues. It may be necessary for the protection of society to punish such a man. But even in punishing him we consider him as legally rather than morally guilty, and hope that his honest error, though it cannot be pardoned here, will not be counted to him for sin here.
The crowd, as usual, gradually came over to the opinion of the men of note; and the "Double-Dealer" was before long quite as much admired, though perhaps never so much liked as the "Old Bachelor."
The success of the "Mourning Bride" was even greater than that of "Love for Love." Congreve was now allowed to be the first tragic, as well as the first comic dramatist of his time; and all this at twenty-seven. We believe that no English writer, except Lord Byron, has, at so early an age, stood so high in the estimation of his contemporaries.
many important points, we can never mention without respect.
At this time took place an event which deserves, in our opinion, a very different sort of notice from that which has been bestowed on it by Mr. Leigh Hunt. The nation had now nearly recovered from the demoralizing effect of the Puritan austerity. The gloomy follies of the reign of the Saints were but faintly remembered. The evils produced by profaneness and debauchery were recent and glaring. The court, since the Revolution, had ceased to patronise licentiousness. Mary was strictly pious; and the vices of the cold, stern, and silent William, were not obtruded on the public eye. Discountenanced by the government, and falling in the favour of the people, the profligacy of the Restoration still maintained its ground in some parts of society. Its strongholds were the places where men of wit and fashion congregated, and above all, the theaAt this conjuncture arose a great reformer, whom, widely as we differ from him in
after. But such was not the case of Collier's | to wink at the excesses of a body of zealous penitents. They were concerned in a plot for and able allies, who covered Roundheads and waylaying and butchering, in an hour of secu- Presbyterians with ridicule. If a Whig raised rity, one who, whether he were or were not his voice against the impiety and licentioustheir king, was at all events their fellow-crea-ness of the fashionable writers, his mouth was ture. Whether the Jacobite theory about the instantly stopped by the retort-You are one rights of governments, and the duties of sub- of those who groan at a light quotation from jects, were or were not well founded, assassi- Scripture, and raise estates out of the plunder nation must always be considered as a great of the Church,-who shudder at a double encrime. It is condemned even by the maxims tendre, and chop off the heads of kings. A of worldly honour and morality. Much more Baxter, a Burnet, even a Tillotson, would have must it be an object of abhorrence to the pure done little to purify our literature. But when Spouse of Christ. The Church cannot surely, a man, fanatical in the cause of Episcopacy, without the saddest and most mournful fore- and actually under outlawry for his attachbodings, see one of her children who has been ment to hereditary right, came forward as the guilty of this great wickedness, pass into eter- champion of decency, the battle was already nity without any sign of repentance. That half won. these traitors had given any sign of repentance was not alleged. It might be that they had privately declared their contrition; and, if so, the minister of religion might be justified in privately assuring them of the Divine forgiveness. But a public remission ought to have been preceded by a public atonement. The regret of these men, if expressed at all, had been expressed in secret. The hands of Collier had been laid on them in the presence of thousands. The inference which his enemies drew from his conduct was, that he did not consider the conspiracy against the life of William as sinful. But this inference he very vehemently, and, we doubt not, very sincerely denied.
In 1698, Collier published his "Short View of the Profaneness and Immorality of the English Stage," a book which threw the whole literary world into commotion, but which is now much less read than it deserves. The faults of the work, indeed, are neither few nor small. The dissertations on the Greek and Latin Drama do not at all help the argument; and, whatever may have been thought of them by the generation which fancied that Christchurch had refuted Bentley, are such as in the present day, a scholar of very humble pretensions may venture to pronounce boyish, or rather babyish. The censures are not sufficiently discriminating. The authors whom Collier accused had been guilty of such gross The storm raged. The bishops put forth a sins against decency, that he was certain to Bolemn censure of the absolution. The At- weaken, instead of strengthening his case, by torney-General brought the matter before the introducing into his charge against them any Court of King's Bench. Collier had now matter about which there could be the smallest made up his mind not to give bail for his ap-dispute. He was, however, so injudicious as pearance before any court which derived its to place among the outrageous offences, which authority from the usurper. He accordingly he justly arraigned, some things which are absconded, and was outlawed. He survived really quite innocent; and some slight inthese events about thirty years. The prose- stances of levity, which, though not perhaps cution was not pressed, and he was soon suf- strictly correct, would easily be paralleled fered to resume his literary pursuits in quiet. from the works of writers who had rendered At a later period, many attempts were made to great services to morality and religion. Thus shake his perverse integrity by offers of wealth he blames Congreve, the number and gravity and dignity, but in vain. When he died, to- of whose real transgressions made it quite wards the end of the reign of George I., he was unnecessary to tax him with any that were not still under the ban of the law. real, for using the words "martyr" and "inspiration" in a light sense; as if an archbishop might not say that a speech was inspired by claret, or that an alderman was a martyr to the gout. Sometimes, again, Collier does not sufficiently distinguish between the dramatist and the persons of the drama. Thus he blames Vanbrugh for putting into Lord Foppington's mouth some raillery on the Church service; though it is obvious that Vanbrugh could not better express reverence than by making Lord Foppington express contempt. There is also throughout the "Short View" too strong a display of professional feeling. Collier is not content with claiming for his order an immunity from insult and indiscriminate scurrility; he will not allow that, in any case, any word or act of a divine can be a proper subject for ridicule. Nor does he confine this benefit of clergy to the ministers of the Established Church; he extends the privilege to Catholic priests, and, what in him head. Grave prelates were too much disposed is more surprising, to Dissenting prearners.
We shall not be suspected of regarding either the politics or the theology of Collier with partiality; but we believe him to have been as honest and courageous a man as ever lived. We will go further, and say that, though passionate and often wrong-headed, he was a singularly fair controversialist-candid, generous, too high-spirited to take mean advantages even in the most excitin utes, and pure from all taint of personal malevolence. It must also be admitted that his opinions on ecclesiastical and political affairs, though in themselves absurd and pernicious, eminently qualified him to be the reformer of our lighter literature. The libertinism of the press and of the stage, was, as we have said, the effect of the reaction against the Puritan strictness. Profligacy was, like the oak leaf on the twenty-ninth of May, the badge of a Cavalier and a High Churchman. Decency was associated with conventicles and calves'