« AnteriorContinuar »
This, however, is a mere trifle. Imauns, Brahmins, priests of Jupiter, priests of Baal, are all to be held sacred. Dryden is blamed for making the Mufti in "Don Sebast an" talk nonsense. Lee is called to a severe account for his incivility to Tiresias. But the most curious passage is that in which Collier resents some uncivil reflections thrown by Cassandra, in “Cleomenes," on the calf Apis and | his hierophants. The words, "grass-eating, foddered god,"-words which really are much in the style of several passages in the Old Testament, give as much offence to this Christian divine as they could have given to the priests at Memphis.
But, when all these deductions have been made, great merit must be allowed to this work. There is hardly any book of that time from which it would be possible to select spe- It would have been wise in Congreve t cimens of writing so excellent and so various. follow his master's example. He was pre To compare Collier with Pascal would indeed cisely in that situation in which it is madness be absurd. Yet we hardly know where, ex- to attempt a vindication; for his guilt was so cept in the "Provincial Letters," we can find clear, that no address or eloquence could obmirth so harmoniously and beco ly blend- tain an acquittal. On the other hand, there ed with solemnity as in the " View." were, in his case, many extenuating circumIn truth, all the modes of ridicule, m broad stances, which, if he had acknowledged his fun to polished and antithetical sarcasm, were error, and promised amendment, would have at Collier's command. On the other hand, he procured his pardon. The most rigid censor was complete master of the rhetoric of honest could not but make great allowances for the indignation. We scarcely know any volume faults into which so young a man had been which contains so many bursts of that pecu-seduced by evil example, by the luxuriance of Jiar eloquence which comes from the heart, a vigorous fancy, and by the inebriating effect and goes to the heart. Indeed, the spirit of the of popular applause. The esteem, as well as book is truly heroic. In order fairly to appre- the admiration, of the public was still within ciate it, we must remember the situation in the reach. He might easily have effaced all which the writer stood. He was under the memory of his transgressions, and have shared frown of power. His name was already a with Addison the glory of showing that the mark for the invectives of one half of the most brilliant wit may be the ally of virtue. writers of the age; when, in the case of good But in any case, prudence should have re taste, good sense, and good morals, he gave strained him from encourtering Collier. The battle to the other half. Strong as his political non-juror was a man thoroughly fitted by na prejudices were, he seems on this occasion to ture, education, and habit, for polemical dispute. have entirely laid them aside. He has for- Congreve's mind, though one of no common gotten that he was a Jacobite, and remembers fertility and vigour, was of a different class. only that he is a citizen and a Christian. Some No man understood so well the art of polishof his sharpest censures are directed against ing epigrams and repartees into the clearest poetry which had been hailed with delight by effulgence, and setting them tastefully in easy the Tory party, and had inflicted a deep wound and familiar dialogue. In this sort of jewellery on the Whigs. It is really inspiriting to see he attained to a mastery unprecedented and how gallantly the solitary outlaw advances to inimitable. But he was altogether rude in the attack enemies, formidable separately, and it art of controversy, and he had a cause to demight have been thought, irresistible when fend which scarcely any art could have rencombined-distributes his swashing blows dered victorious. right and left among Wycherley, Congreve, and Vanbrugh-treads the wretched D'Urfey down in the dirt beneath his feet-and strikes with all his strength full at the towering crest of Dryden.
weapon, offensive or defensive, of which be was not master. But his conscience smote him; he stood abashed, like the fallen archangel at the rebuke of Zephon,
"And felt how awful goodness is, and saw Virtue in her shape how lovely; saw and pined His loss."
At a later period he mentioned the "Short View" in the preface to his "Fables." He complained, with some asperity, of the harsh ness with which he had been treated, and urged some matters in mitigation. But on the whole, he frankly acknowledged that he had been justly reproved. "If," said he, “Mr. Col lier be my enemy, let him triumph. If he be my friend, as I have given him no personal occasion to be otherwise, he will be glad of my repentance."
The effect produced by the "Short View" was immense. The nation was on the side of Collier. But it could not be doubted that, in the great host which he had defied, some champion would be found to lift the gauntlet. The general belief was, that Dryden would take the field; and ait the wits anticipated a sharp contest between two well-paired combatants. The great poet had been singled out in the most marked manner. It was well known that he was deeply hurt, that much smaller provo-"Old Bachelor" and "Double Dealer," Concations had formerly roused him to violent greve might pass for as pure a writer as Cow resentment, and that there was no literary per himself; who in poems revised by so
The event was such as might have been foreseen. Congreve's answer was a complete failure. He was angry, obscure, and dull. Even the Green Room and Wills' Coffee-House were compelled to acknowledge, that in wit the parson had a decided advantage over the poet. Not only was Congreve unable to make any show of a case where he was in the wrong, but he succeeded in putting himself completely in the wrong where he was in the right. Collier had taxed him with profaneness for calling a clergyman Mr. Prig, and for introducing a coach man named Jehu, in allusion to the King of Israel, who was known at a distance by his furious driving. Had there been nothing worse in the
austere a censor as John Newton, calls a foxhunting squire Nimrod, and gives to a chaplain the disrespectful name of Smug. Congreve might with good effect have appealed to the public whether it might not be fairly presumed that, when such frivolous charges were made, there were no very serious charges to make. Instead of doing this, he pretended that he meant no allusion to the Bible by the name of Jehu, and no reflection by the name of Prig. Strange that a man of such parts should, in order to defend himself against imputations which nobody could regard as important, tell untruths which it was certain that nobody would believe.
One of the pleas which Congreve set up for himself and his brethren was, that, though they might be guilty of a little levity here and there, they were careful to inculcate a moral, packed close into two or three lines, at the end of every play. Had the fact been as stated it, the defence would be worth very little. For no man acquainted with human nature could think that a sententious couplet would undo all the mischief that five profligate acts had done. But it would have been wise in Congreve to have looked again at his own comedies before he used this argument. Collier did so; and found that the moral of the "Old Bachelor”the grave apophthegm which is to be a set-off against all the libertinism of the piece-is contained in the following triplet:
"What rugged ways attend the noon of life!
Our son declines, and with what anxious strife,
"Love for Love," says Collier, "may have a somewhat better farewell, but it would do a man little service should he remember it to his dying day:"
A new race of wits and poets arose, who generally treated with reverence the great ties which bind society together; and whose very inde cencies were decent when compared with those of the school which flourished during the last forty years of the seventeenth century.
He lived twenty-eight years longer, without adding to the high literary reputation which he had attained. He read much while he retained his eyesight, and now and then wrote a short essay, or an idle tale in verse; but appears never to have planned any considerable work. in 1710 are of little value, and have long been The miscellaneous pieces which he published forgotten.
"The miracle to-day is, that we find A lover true, not that a woman's kind." Collier's reply was severe and triumphant. One of his repartees we will quote, not as a favourable specimen of his manner, but because it was called forth by Congreve's characteristic affectation. The poet spoke of the “Old Bachelor” as a trifle to which he at tached no value, and which had become public by a sort of accident. "I wrote it," he said, "to amuse myself in a slow recovery from a fit of sickness."-" What his disease was," replied Collier, "I am not to inquire: but it must be a very ill one to be worse than the remedy." All that Congreve gained by coming forward His means were for a long time scanty. The on this occasion was, that he completely de- place which he had in possession, barely en prived himself of the excuse which he might abled him to live with comfort. And when with justice have pleaded for his early offences. the Tories came into power, some thought that "Why," asked Collier, "should the man laugh he would lose even this moderate provision. at the mischief of the boy, and make the dis- But Harley, who was by no means disposed to orders of his nonage his own, by an after ap-adopt the exterminating policy of the October probation?" club, and who, with all his faults of under standing and temper, had a sincere kindness for men of genius, reassured the anxious poet by quoting very gracefully and happily the lines of Virgil
The stock of fame which he had acquired by his comedies was sufficient, assisted by the graces of his manner and conversation, to se cure for him a high place in the estimation of the world. During the winter, he lived among the most distinguished and agreeable people in London. His summers were passed at the splendid country-seats of ministers and peers. Literary envy, and political faction, which in that age respected nothing else, respected his repose. He professed to be one of the party of which his patron Montagu, now Lord Halifax, was the head. But he had civil words and small good offices for men of every shade of opinion. And men of every shade of opinion spoke well of him in return.
Congreve was not Collier's only opponent. Vanbrugh, Denis, and Settle took the field. And, from the passage in a contemporary satire, we are inclined to think that among the answers to the "Short View," was one written, or supposed to be written, by Wycherley. The victory remained with Collier. A great and rapid reform in all the departments of our lighter literature was the effect of his labours.
This controversy probably prevented Con greve from fulfilling the engagements into which he had entered with the actors. It was not till 1700 that he produced the "Way of the World," the most deeply meditated, and the most brilliantly written, of all his works. It wants, perhaps, the constant movement, the effervescence of animal spirits, which we find in "Love for Love." But the hysterical rants of Lady Wishfort, the meeting of Witwould and his brother, the country knight's courtship and his subsequent revel, and above all, the chase and surrender of Milamant, are superior to any thing that is to he found in the whole range of English comedy from the ivil War downwards. It is quite inexplicable to us that this play should have failed on the stage. Yet so it was; and the author, already sore with the wounds which Collier had inflicted, was galled past endurance by this new stroke. He resolved never more to expose himself to the rudeness of a tasteless audience, and took leave of the theatre forever.
"Non obtusa adeo gestamus pectora Pœni,
Nec tam aversus equos Tyriâ sol jungit ab urbe."
The indulgence with which Congreve wa treated by the Tories, was not purchased by
any concession on his part which could justly | neither the ministers nor the leaders of the op offend the Whigs. It was his rare good-fortune position could be offended. to share the triumph of his friends without having shared their proscription. When the house of Hanover came to the throne, his fortunes began to flourish. The reversion to which he had been nominated twenty years before, fell in. He was made a secretary to the island of Jamaica; and his whole income amounted to 1200l. a year-a fortune which, for a single man, was, in that age, not only easy, but splendid. He continued, however, to practise the frugality which he had learned when he could scarcely spare, as Swift tells us, a shilling to pay the chairman who carried him to Lord Halifax's. Though he had nobody to save for, he laid up at least as much as he spent.
The singular affectation which had from the first been characteristic of Congreve, grew stronger and stronger as he advanced in life. At last it became disagreeable to him to hear his own comedies praised. Voltaire, whose soul was burned up by the raging desire for literary renown, was half puzzled, half disgusted by what he saw, during his visit to England, of this extraordinary whim. Congreve disclaimed the character of a poet-declared that his plays were trifles produced in an idle hour, and begged that Voltaire would consider him merely as a gentleman. “If you had been merely a gentleman," said Voltaire, "I should not have come to see you."
The infirmities of age came early upon him. His habits had been intemperate; he suffered much from gout; and when confined to his chamber, had no longer the solace of literature. Blindness, the most cruel misfortune that can befall the lonely student, made his books useless to him. He was thrown on society for all his amusement, and, in society, his good breeding and vivacity made him always welcome.
By the rising men of letters he was considered not as a rival, but as a classic. He had left their arena; he never measured his strength with them; and he was always loud in applause of their exertions. They could, therefore, entertain no jealousy of him; and thought no more of detracting from his fame 'han of carping at the great men who had been lying a hundred years in Poet's Corner. Even the inmates of Grub Street, even the heroes of the Dunciad, were for once just to living merit. There can be no stronger illustration of the estimation in which Congreve was held, than the fact that Pope's Iliad, a work which appeared with more splendid auspices than any other in our language, was dedicated to him. There was not a duke in the kingdom who would not have been proud of such a compliment. Dr. Johnson expresses great admiration for the independence of spirit which Pope showed on this occasion, and some surprise at his choice. "He passed over peers and statesmen to inscribe his 'Iliad' to Congreve, with a magnanimity of which the praise had been complete, had his friend's virtue been equal to his wit. Why he was chosen for so great an honour, it is not now possible to know." It is certainly impossible to know; yet, we think, it is possible to guess. The translation of the "Iliad" had been zealously befriended by men of al! political opinions. The poet who at an early age had been raised to affluence by the emulous libe- sixty years old, who was still older in appearrality of Whigs and Tories, could not with pro-ance and in constitution, who was confined to priety inscribe to a chief of either party, a his chair by gout, and was unable to read from work which had been munificently patronised blindness. by both. It was necessary to find some person who was at once eminent and neutral. It was herefore necessary to pass over peers and statesmen. Congreve had a high name in letters. He had a high name in aristocratic circles. He lived on terms of civility with aen of all parties. By a courtesy paid him
Congreve was not a man of warm affections. Domestic ties he had none; and in the temporary connections which he formed with a suc cession of beauties from the green-room, his heart does not appear to have been at all interested. Of all his attachments, that to Mrs. Bracegirdle lasted the longest, and was the most celebrated. This charming actress, who was, during many years, the idol of all Lon don; whose face caused the fatal broil in which Mountfort fell, and for which Lord Mohun was tried by the Peers; and to whom the Earl of Scarsdale was said to have made honourable addresses, had conducted herself, in very trying circumstances, with extraordi nary discretion. Congreve at length became her confidential friend. They constantly rode out together, and dined together. Some people said that she was his mistress, and others that she would soon be his wife. He was at last drawn away from her by the influence of a wealthier and haughtier beauty. Henrietta, daughter of the great Marlborough, and wife of the Earl of Godolphin, had, on her father's death, succeeded to his dukedom, and to the greater part of his immense property. Her husband was an insignificant man, of whom Lord Chesterfield said, that he came to the House of Peers only to sleep, and that he might as well sleep on the right as on the left of the woolsack. Between the duchess and Congreve sprung up a most eccentric friendship. He had a seat every day at her table, and assisted in the direction of her concerts. That malignant old hag, the Dowager Duchess Sarah, who had quarrelled with her daughter, as she had quarrelled with everybody else, affected to suspect that there was something wrong. But the world in general appears to have thought that a great lady might, without any imputation on her character, pay attention to a man of eminent genius, who was nearly
In the summer of 1728, Congreve was or dered to try the Bath waters. During his excursion he was overturned in his chariot, and received some severe internal injury, from which he never recovered. He came back to London in a dangerous state, complained constantly of a pain in his side, and con
tinued to sink, till, in the following January, that is a bold word) the ugliest and most absurd he expired. of the buildings at Stowe.
We have said that Wycherley was a worse Congreve. There was, indeed, a remarkable analogy between the writings and lives of these two men. Both were gentlemen liberally eduBoth led town lives, and knew human nature only as it appears between Hyde Park and the Tower. Both were men of wit. Neither had much imagination. Both at an early age produced lively and profligate comedies. Both retired from the field while still in early manhood, and owed to their youthful achieve ments in literature the consideration which they enjoyed in later life. Both, after they had ceased to write for the stage, published volumes of miscellanies, which did little credit either to their talents or their morals. Both, during their declining years, hung loose upon society; and both, in their last moments, made eccentric and unjustifiable dispositions respecting their estates.
He left 10,000l. saved out of the emoluments of his lucrative places. Johnson says that this money ought to have gone to the Congreve family, which was then in great distress. Doctor Young and Mr. Leigh Hunt, two gen-cated. tlemen who seldom agree with each other, but with whom, on this occasion, we are happy to agree, think that it ought to have gone to Mrs. Bracegirdle. Congreve bequeathed 200l. to Mrs. Bracegirdle, and an equal sum to a certain Mrs. Jellat; but the bulk of his accumulations went to the Duchess of Marlborough, in whose immense wealth such a legacy was as a drop in the bucket. It might have raised the fallen fortunes of a Staffordshire squire it might have enabled a retired actress to enjoy every comfort, and, in her sense, every luxury-but it was not sufficient to defray the duchess's establishment for two months.
The great lady buried her friend with a pomp seldom seen at the funerals of poets. The corpse lay in state under the ancient roof of the Jerusalem Chamber, and was interred in Westminster Abbey. The pall was borne by the Duke of Bridgewater, Lord Cobham, the Earl of Wilmington, who had been Speaker, and who was afterwards First Lord of the Treasury, and other men of high consideration. Her grace laid out her friend's bequest in a superb diamond necklace, which she wore in honour of him; and, if report is to be believed, showed her regard in ways much more extraordinary. It is said that she had a statue of him in ivory, which moved by clockwork, and was placed daily at her table; that she had a wax doll made in imitation of him, and that the|tion; Wycherley forgotten or despised. Con feet of this doll were regularly blistered and greve's will was absurd and capricious; but anointed by the doctors, as poor Congreve's Wycherley's last actions appeared to have feet had been when he suffered from the gout. been prompted by obdurate malignity. A monument was erected to the poet in Westminster Abbey, with an inscription written by the duchess; and Lord Cobham honoured him with a cenotaphy, which seems to us (though
Here, at least for the present, we must stop. Vanbrugh and Farquhar are not men to be hastily dismissed, and we have not left our selves space to do them justice.
But in every point Congreve maintained his superiority to Wycherley. Wycherley had wit; but the wit of Congreve far outshines that of every comic writer, except Sheridan, who has arisen within the last two centuries. Congreve had not, in a large measure, the poetical facul ty, but, compared with Wycherley, he might be called a great poet. Wycherley had some knowledge of books, but Congreve was a man of real learning. Congreve's offences against decorum, though highly culpable, were not so gross as those of Wycherley; nor did Congreve, like Wycherley, exhibit to the world the deplo rable spectacle of a licentious dotage. Congreve died in the enjoyment of high considera
THE LATE LORD HOLLAND."
[Edinburgh REVIEW FOR JULY, 1841.]
MANY reasons make it impossible for us to lay before our readers, at the present moment, complete view of the character and public career of the late Lord Holland. But we feel that we have already deferred too long the duty of paying some tribute to his memory. We feel that it is more becoming to bring, without further delay, an offering, though intrinsically of little value, than to leave his tomb longer without some token of our reverence and love. We shall say very little of the book which lies on our table. And yet it is a book which, even if it had been the work of a less distinguished man, or had appeared under circumstances less interesting, would have well repaid an attentive perusal. It is valuable, both as a record of principles and as a model of composition. We find in it all the great maxims which, during more than forty years, guided Lord Holland's public conduct, and the chief reasons on which those maxims rest, condensed into the smallest possible space, and set forth with admirable perspicuity, dignity, and precision. To his opinions on Foreign Policy we, for the most part, cordially assent; but, now and then, we are inclined to think them imprudently generous. We could not have signed the protest against the detention of Napoleon. The protest respecting the course which England pursued at the Congress of Verona, though it contains much that is excellent, contains also positions which, we are inclined to think, Lord Holland would, at a later period, have admitted to be unsound. But to all his doctrines on Constitutional Questions we give our hearty approbation; and we firmly believe that no British government has ever deviated from that line of internal policy which he has traced, without detriment to the public.
It was not, however, of this little book, valua ble and interesting as it is, but of the author, that we meant to speak; and we will try to do so with calmness and impartiality.
In order fully to appreciate the character of Lord Holland, it is necessary to go far back into the history of his family; for he had inherited something more than a coronet and an estate. To the house of which he was the head belongs one distinction, which we believe to be without a parallel in our annals. During more than a century, there has never been a time at which a Fox has not stood in a prominent station among public men. Scarcely had the checkered career of the first Lord Holland closed, when his son, Charles, rose to the head of the Opposition, and to the first rank among English debaters. And before Charles was borne to Westminster Abbey, a third Fox had already become one of the most conspicuous politicians in the kingdom.
It is impossible not to be struck by the strong family likeness which, in spite of diversities arising from education and position, appears in these three distinguished persons. In their faces and figures there was a resemblance, such as is common enough in novels, where "We are," says he, "well aware that the one picture is good for ten generations, but privileges of the people, the rights of free dis- such as in real life is seldom found. The ample cussion, and the spirit and letter of our popular person, the massy and thoughtful forehead, the institutions, must render-and they are intend-large eyebrows, the full cheek and lip; the ex
pression, so singularly compounded of sense, humour, courage, openness, a strong will and a sweet temper, were common to all. But the features of the founder of the house, as the
We will give, as a specimen of this little volume, a single passage, in which a chief article of the political creed of the Whigs is stated and explained with singular clearness, force, and brevity. Our readers will remember that, in 1825, the Catholic Association agitated for emancipation with most formidable effect. The Tories acted after their kind. Instead of removing the grievance, they tried to put down the agitation, and brought in a law, apparently sharp and stringent, but, in truth, utterly impotent, for restraining the right of petition. Lord Holland's protest on that occasion is excellent.
ed to render-the continuance of an extensive grievance, and of the dissatisfaction consequent thereupon, dangerous to the tranquillity of the country, and ultimately subversive of the au thority of the state. Experience and theory alike forbid us to deny that effect of a free con stitution; a sense of justice and a love of liberty equally deter us from lamenting it. But we have always been taught to look for the reme dy of such disorders in the redress of the griev ances which justify them, and in the removal of the dissatisfaction from which they flow; not in restraints on ancient privileges, not in inroads on the right of public discussion, nor in violations of the principles of a free government. If, therefore, the legal method of seeking redress, which has been resorted to by persons labouring under grievous disabilities, be fraught with immediate or remote danger to the state, we draw from that circumstance a conclusion long since foretold by great author ity-namely, that the British constitution and large exclusions cannot subsist together; that the constitution must destroy them, or they will destroy the constitution."
The Opinions of Lord Holland, as recorded in the Journals of the House of Lords, from 1797 to 1841. Colcted and edited by D. C. MOYLAN, of Lincoln's Inn, Barrister-at-Law. 8vo London. 1841.