Critical and Historical Essays Volume 2
Thomas Babington Macaulay

Part 10 out of 16

constant to nothing but his benefice.

One of the most remarkable passages in the Pilgrim's Progress is
that in which the proceedings against Faithful are described. It
is impossible to doubt that Bunyan intended to satirise the mode
in which state trials were conducted under Charles the Second.
The licence given to the witnesses for the prosecution, the
shameless partiality and ferocious insolence of the judge, the
precipitancy and the blind rancour of the jury, remind us of
those odious mummeries which, from the Restoration to the
Revolution, were merely forms preliminary to hanging, drawing,
and quartering. Lord Hate-good performs the office of counsel for
the prisoners as well as Scroggs himself could have performed it.

"JUDGE. Thou runagate, heretic, and traitor, hast thou heard what
these honest gentlemen have witnessed against thee?

"FAITHFUL. May I speak a few words in my own defence?

"JUDGE. Sirrah, sirrah! thou deservest to live no longer, but to
be slain immediately upon the place; yet, that all men may see
our gentleness towards thee, let us hear what thou, vile
runagate, hast to say."

No person who knows the state trials can be at a loss for
parallel cases. Indeed, write what Bunyan would, the baseness and
cruelty of the lawyers of those times "sinned up to it still,"
and even went beyond it. The imaginary trial of Faithful, before
a jury composed of personified vices, was just and merciful, when
compared with the real trial of Alice Lisle before that tribunal
where all the vices sat in the person of Jeffreys.

The style of Bunyan is delightful to every reader, and invaluable
as a study to every person who wishes to obtain a wide command
over the English language. The vocabulary is the vocabulary of
the common people. There is not an expression, if we except a few
technical terms of theology, which would puzzle the rudest
peasant. We have observed several pages which do not contain a
single word of more than two syllables. Yet no writer has said
more exactly what he meant to say. For magnificence, for pathos,
for vehement exhortation, for subtle disquisition, for every
purpose of the poet, the orator, and the divine, this homely
dialect, the dialect of plain working men, was perfectly
sufficient. There is no book in our literature on which we would
so readily stake the fame of the old unpolluted English language,
no book which shows so well how rich that language is in its own
proper wealth, and how little it has been improved by all that it
has borrowed.

Cowper said, forty or fifty years ago, that he dared not name
John Bunyan in his verse, for fear of moving a sneer. To our
refined forefathers, we suppose, Lord Roscommon's Essay on
Translated Verse, and the Duke of Buckinghamshire's Essay on
Poetry, appeared to be compositions infinitely superior to the
allegory of the preaching tinker. We live in better times; and we
are not afraid to say, that, though there were many clever men in
England during the latter half of the seventeenth century, there
were only two minds which possessed the imaginative faculty in a
very eminent degree. One of those minds produced the Paradise
Lost, the other the Pilgrim's Progress.


(January 1841)

The Dramatic Works of WYCHERLEY, CONGREVE, VANBRUGH, and
FARQUHAR, with Biographical and Critical Notices. By LEIGH HUNT.
8vo. London: 1840.

WE have a kindness for Mr. Leigh Hunt. We form our judgment of
him, indeed, only from events of universal notoriety, from his
own works, and from the works of other writers, who have
generally abused him in the most rancorous manner. But, unless we
are greatly mistaken, he is a very clever, a very honest, and a
very good-natured man. We can clearly discern, together with many
merits, many faults both in his writings and in his conduct. But
we really think that there is hardly a man living whose merits
have been so grudgingly allowed, and whose faults have been so
cruelly expiated.

In some respects Mr. Leigh Hunt is excellently qualified for the
task which he has now undertaken. His style, in spite of its
mannerism, nay, partly by reason of its mannerism, is well-suited
for light, garrulous, desultory ana, half critical, half
biographical. We do not always agree with his literary judgments;
but we find in him what is very rare in our time, the power of
justly appreciating and heartily enjoying good things of very
different kinds. He can adore Shakspeare and Spenser without
denying poetical genius to the author of Alexander's Feast, or
fine observation, rich fancy and exquisite humour to him who
imagined Will Honeycomb and Sir Roger de Coverley. He has paid
particular attention to the history of the English drama, from
the age of Elizabeth down to our own time, and has every right to
be heard with respect on that subject.

The plays to which he now acts as introducer are, with few
exceptions, such as, in the opinion of many very respectable
people, ought not to be reprinted. In this opinion we can by no
means concur. We cannot wish that any work or class of works
which has exercised a great influence on the human mind, and
which illustrates the character of an important epoch in letters,
politics, and morals, should disappear from the world. If we err
in this matter, we err with the gravest men and bodies of men in
the empire, and especially with the Church of England, and with
the great schools of learning which are connected with her. The
whole liberal education of our countrymen is conducted on the
principle, that no book which is valuable, either by reason of
the excellence of its style, or by reason of the light which it
throws on the history, polity, and manners of nations, should be
withheld from the student on account of its impurity. The
Athenian Comedies, in which there are scarcely a hundred lines
together without some passage of which Rochester would have been
ashamed, have been reprinted at the Pitt Press, and the Clarendon
Press, under the direction of Syndics, and delegates appointed by
the Universities, and have been illustrated with notes by
reverend, very reverend, and right reverend commentators. Every
year the most distinguished young men in the kingdom are examined
by bishops and professors of divinity in such works as the
Lysistrata of Aristophanes and the Sixth Satire of Juvenal. There
is certainly something a little ludicrous in the idea of a
conclave of venerable fathers of the Church praising and
rewarding a lad on account of his intimate acquaintance with
writings compared with which the loosest tale in Prior is modest.
But, for our own part, we have no doubt that the greatest
societies which direct the education of the English gentry have
herein judged wisely. It is unquestionable that an extensive
acquaintance with ancient literature enlarges and enriches the
mind. It is unquestionable that a man whose mind has been thus
enlarged and enriched is likely to be far more useful to the
State and to the Church than one who is unskilled or little
skilled, in classical learning. On the other hand, we find it
difficult to believe that, in a world so full of temptation as
this, any gentleman whose life would have been virtuous if he had
not read Aristophanes and Juvenal will be made vicious by reading
them. A man who, exposed to all the influences of such a state of
society as that in which we live, is yet afraid of exposing
himself to the influences of a few Greek or Latin verses, acts,
we think, much like the felon who begged the sheriffs to let him
have an umbrella held over his head from the door of Newgate to
the gallows, because it was a drizzling morning, and he was apt
to take cold.

The virtue which the world wants is a healthful virtue, not a
valetudinarian virtue, a virtue which can expose itself to the
risks inseparable from all spirited exertion, not a virtue which
keeps out of the common air for fear of infection, and eschews
the common food as too stimulating. It would be indeed absurd to
attempt to keep men from acquiring those qualifications which fit
them to play their part in life with honour to themselves and
advantage to their country, for the sake of preserving a delicacy
which cannot be preserved, a delicacy which a walk from
Westminster to the Temple is sufficient to destroy.

But we should be justly chargeable with gross inconsistency if,
while we defend the policy which invites the youth of our country
to study such writers as Theocritus and Catullus, we were to set
up a cry against a new edition of the Country Wife or the Wife of
the World. The immoral English writers of the seventeenth century
are indeed much less excusable than those of Greece and Rome. But
the worst English writings of the seventeenth century are decent,
compared with much that has been bequeathed to us by Greece and
Rome. Plato, we have little doubt, was a much better man than Sir
George Etherege. But Plato has written things at which Sir George
Etherege would have shuddered. Buckhurst and Sedley, even in
those wild orgies at the Cock in Bow Street for which they were
pelted by the rabble and fined by the Court of King's Bench,
would never have dared to hold such discourse as passed between
Socrates and Phaedrus on that fine summer day under the plane-
tree, while the fountain warbled at their feet, and the cicadas
chirped overhead. If it be, as we think it is, desirable that an
English gentleman should be well informed touching the government
and the manners of little commonwealths which both in place and
time are far removed from us, whose independence has been more
than two thousand years extinguished, whose language has not been
spoken for ages, and whose ancient magnificence is attested only
by a few broken columns and friezes, much more must it be
desirable that he should be intimately acquainted with the
history of the public mind of his own country, and with the
causes, the nature, and the extent of those revolutions of
opinion and feeling which, during the last two centuries, have
alternately raised and depressed the standard of our national
morality. And knowledge of this sort is to be very sparingly
gleaned from Parliamentary debates, from State papers, and from
the works of grave historians. It must either not be acquired at
all, or it must be acquired by the perusal of the light
literature which has at various periods been fashionable. We are
therefore by no means disposed to condemn this publication,
though we certainly cannot recommend the handsome volume before
us as an appropriate Christmas present for young ladies.

We have said that we think the present publication perfectly
justifiable. But we can by no means agree with Mr. Leigh Hunt,
who seems to hold that there is little or no ground for the
charge of immorality so often brought against the literature of
the Restoration. We do not blame him for not bringing to the
judgment-seat the merciless rigour of Lord Angelo; but we really
think that such flagitious and impudent offenders as those who
are now at the bar deserved at least the gentle rebuke of
Escalus. Mr. Leigh Hunt treats the whole matter a little too much
in the easy style of Lucio; and perhaps his exceeding lenity
disposes us to be somewhat too severe.

And yet it is not easy to be too severe. For in truth this part
of our literature is a disgrace to our language and our national
character. It is clever, indeed, and very entertaining; but it
is, in the most emphatic sense of the words, "earthly, sensual,
devilish." Its indecency, though perpetually such as is condemned
not less by the rules of good taste than by those of morality, is
not, in our opinion, so disgraceful a fault as its singularly
inhuman spirit. We have here Belial, not as when he inspired Ovid
and Ariosto, "graceful and humane," but with the iron eye and
cruel sneer of Mephistopheles. We find ourselves in a world, in
which the ladies are like very profligate, impudent and unfeeling
men, and in which the men are too bad for any place but
Pandaemonium or Norfolk Island. We are surrounded by foreheads of
bronze, hearts like the nether millstone, and tongues set on fire
of hell.

Dryden defended or excused his own offences and those of his
contemporaries by pleading the example of the earlier English
dramatists; and Mr. Leigh Hunt seems to think there is force in
the plea. We altogether differ from this opinion. The crime
charged is not mere coarseness of expression. The terms which are
delicate in one age become gross in the next. The diction of the
English version of the Pentateuch is sometimes such as Addison
would not have ventured to imitate; and Addison, the standard of
moral purity in his own age, used many phrases which are now
proscribed. Whether a thing shall be designated by a plain
noun-substantive or by a circumlocution is mere matter of
Morality is not at all interested in the question. But morality
is deeply interested in this, that what is immoral shall not be
presented to the imagination of the young and susceptible in
constant connection with what is attractive. For every person who
has observed the operation of the law of association in his own
mind and in the minds of others knows that whatever is constantly
presented to the imagination in connection with what is
attractive will itself become attractive. There is undoubtedly a
great deal of indelicate writing in Fletcher and Massinger, and
more than might be wished even in Ben Jonson and Shakspeare, who
are comparatively pure. But it is impossible to trace in their
plays any systematic attempt to associate vice with those things
which men value most and desire most, and virtue with every thing
ridiculous and degrading. And such a systematic attempt we find
in the whole dramatic literature of the generation which followed
the return of Charles the Second. We will take, as an instance of
what we mean, a single subject of the highest importance to the
happiness of mankind, conjugal fidelity. We can at present hardly
call to mind a single English play, written before the civil war,
in which the character of a seducer of married women is
represented in a favourable light. We remember many plays in
which such persons are baffled, exposed, covered with derision,
and insulted by triumphant husbands. Such is the fate of
Falstaff, with all his wit and knowledge of the world. Such is
the fate of Brisac in Fletcher's Elder Brother, and of Ricardo
and Ubaldo in Massinger's Picture. Sometimes, as in the Fatal
Dowry and Love's Cruelty, the outraged honour of families is
repaired by a bloody revenge. If now and then the lover is
represented as an accomplished man, and the husband as a person
of weak or odious character, this only makes the triumph of
female virtue the more signal, as in Johnson's Celia and Mrs.
Fitzdottrel, and in Fletcher's Maria. In general we will venture
to say that the dramatists of the age of Elizabeth and James the
First either treat the breach Of the marriage-vow as a serious
crime, or, if they treat it as matter for laughter, turn the
laugh against the gallant.

On the contrary, during the forty years which followed the
Restoration, the whole body of the dramatists invariably
represent adultery, we do not say as a peccadillo, we do not say
as an error which the violence of passion may excuse, but as the
calling of a fine gentleman, as a grace without which his
character would be imperfect. It is as essential to his breeding
and to his place in society that he should make love to the wives
of his neighbours as that he should know French, or that he
should have a sword at his side. In all this there is no passion,
and scarcely anything that can be called preference. The hero
intrigues just as he wears a wig; because, if he did not, he
would be a queer fellow, a city prig, perhaps a Puritan. All the
agreeable qualities are always given to the gallant. All the
contempt and aversion are the portion of the unfortunate husband.
Take Dryden for example; and compare Woodall with Brainsick, or
Lorenzo with Gomez. Take Wycherley; and compare Horner with
Pinchwife. Take Vanbrugh; and compare Constant with Sir John
Brute. Take Farquhar; and compare Archer with Squire Sullen. Take
Congreve; and compare Bellmour with Fondlewife, Careless with Sir
Paul Plyant, or Scandal with Foresight. In all these cases, and
in many more which might be named, the dramatist evidently does
his best to make the person who commits the injury graceful,
sensible, and spirited, and the person who suffers it a fool, or
a tyrant, or both.

Mr. Charles Lamb, indeed, attempted to set up a defence for this
way of writing. The dramatists of the latter part of the
seventeenth century are not, according to him, to be tried by the
standard of morality which exists, and ought to exist in real
life. Their world is a conventional world. Their heroes and
heroines belong, not to England, not to Christendom, but to an
Utopia of gallantry, to a Fairyland, where the Bible and Burn's
justice are unknown, where a prank which on this earth would be
rewarded with the pillory is merely matter for a peal of elvish
laughter. A real Homer, a real Careless, would, it is admitted,
be exceedingly bad men. But to predicate morality or immorality
of the Horner of Wycherley and the Careless of Congreve is as
absurd as it would be to arraign a sleeper for his dreams. "They
belong to the regions of pure comedy, where no cold moral reigns.
When we are among them we are among a chaotic people. We are not
to judge them by our usages. No reverend institutions are
insulted by their proceedings, for they have none among them. No
peace of families is violated, for no family ties exist among
them. There is neither right nor wrong, gratitude or its
opposite, claim or duty, paternity or sonship."

This is, we believe, a fair summary of Mr. Lamb's doctrine. We
are sure that we do not wish to represent him unfairly. For we
admire his genius; we love the kind nature which appears in all
his writings; and we cherish his memory as much as if we had
known him personally. But we must plainly say that his argument,
though ingenious, is altogether sophistical.

Of course we perfectly understand that it is possible for a
writer to create a conventional world in which things forbidden
by the Decalogue and the Statute Book shall be lawful, and yet
that the exhibition may be harmless, or even edifying. For
example, we suppose that the most austere critics would not
accuse Fenelon of impiety and immorality on account of his
Telemachus and his Dialogues of the Dead. In Telemachus and the
Dialogues of the Dead we have a false religion, and consequently
a morality which is in some points incorrect. We have a right and
a wrong differing from the right and the wrong of real life. It
is represented as the first duty of men to pay honour to Jove and
Minerva. Philocles, who employs his leisure in making graven
images of these deities, is extolled for his piety in a way which
contrasts singularly with the expressions of Isaiah on the same
subject. The dead are judged by Minos, and rewarded with lasting
happiness for actions which Fenelon would have been the first to
pronounce splendid sins. The same may be said of Mr. Southey's
Mahommedan and Hindoo heroes and heroines. In Thalaba, to speak
in derogation of the Arabian impostor is blasphemy: to drink wine
is a crime: to perform ablutions and to pay honour to the holy
cities are works of merit. In the Curse of Kehama, Kailyal is
commended for her devotion to the statue of Mariataly, the
goddess of the poor. But certainly no person will accuse Mr.
Southey of having promoted or intended to promote either Islamism
or Brahminism.

It is easy to see why the conventional worlds of Fenelon and Mr.
Southey are unobjectionable. In the first place, they are utterly
unlike the real world in which we live. The state of society, the
laws even of the physical world, are so different from those with
which we are familiar, that we cannot be shocked at finding the
morality also very different. But in truth the morality of these
conventional worlds differs from the morality of the real world
only in points where there is no danger that the real world will
ever go wrong. The generosity and docility of Telemachus, the
fortitude, the modesty, the filial tenderness of Kailyal, are
virtues of all ages and nations. And there was very little danger
that the Dauphin would worship Minerva, or that an English damsel
would dance, with a bucket on her head, before the statue of

The case is widely different with what Mr. Charles Lamb calls the
conventional world of Wycherley and Congreve. Here the garb, the
manners, the topics of conversation are those of the real town
and of the passing day. The hero is in all superficial
accomplishments exactly the fine gentleman whom every youth in
the pit would gladly resemble. The heroine is the fine lady whom
every youth in the pit would gladly marry. The scene is laid in
some place which is as well known to the audience as their own
houses, in St. James's Park, Park, or Hyde Park, or Westminster
Hall. The lawyer bustles about with his bag, between the Common
Pleas and the Exchequer. The Peer calls for his carriage to go to
the House of Lords on a private bill. A hundred little touches
are employed to make the fictitious world appear like the actual
world. And the immorality is of a sort which never can be out of
date, and which all the force of religion, law, and public
opinion united can but imperfectly restrain.

In the name of art, as well as in the name of virtue, we protest
against the principle that the world of pure comedy is one into
which no moral enters. If comedy be an imitation, under whatever
conventions, of real life, how is it possible that it can have no
reference to the great rule which directs life, and to feelings
which are called forth by every incident of life? If what Mr.
Charles Lamb says were correct, the inference would be that these
dramatists did not in the least understand the very first
principles of their craft. Pure landscape-painting into which no
light or shade enters, pure portrait-painting into which no
expression enters, are phrases less at variance with sound
criticism than pure comedy into which no moral enters.

But it is not the fact that the world of these dramatists is a
world into which no moral enters. Morality constantly enters into
that world, a sound morality, and an unsound morality; the sound
morality to be insulted, derided, associated with everything mean
and hateful; the unsound morality to be set off to every
advantage, and inculcated by all methods, direct and indirect. It
is not the fact that none of the inhabitants of this conventional
world feel reverence for sacred institutions and family ties.
Fondlewife, Pinchwife, every person in short of narrow
understanding and disgusting manners, expresses that reverence
strongly. The heroes and heroines, too, have a moral code of
their own, an exceedingly bad one, but not, as Mr. Charles Lamb
seems to think, a code existing only in the imagination of
dramatists. It is, on the contrary, a code actually received and
obeyed by great numbers of people. We need not go to Utopia or
Fairyland to find them. They are near at hand. Every night some
of them cheat at the hells in the Quadrant, and others pace the
Piazza in Covent Garden. Without flying to Nephelococcygia or to
the Court of Queen Mab, we can meet with sharpers, bullies, hard-
hearted impudent debauchees, and women worthy of such paramours.
The morality of the Country Wife and the Old Bachelor is the
morality, not, as Mr. Charles Lamb maintains, of an unreal world,
but of a world which is a great deal too real. It is the
morality, not of a chaotic people, but of low town-rakes, and of
those ladies whom the newspapers call "dashing Cyprians."

And the question is simply this, whether a man of genius who
constantly and systematically endeavours to make this sort of
character attractive, by uniting it with beauty, grace, dignity,
spirit, a high social position, popularity, literature, wit,
taste, knowledge of the world, brilliant success in every
undertaking, does or does not make an ill use of his powers. We
own that we are unable to understand how this question can be
answered in any way but one.

It must, indeed, be acknowledged, in justice to the writers of
whom we have spoken thus severely, that they were to a great
extent the creatures of their age, And if it be asked why that
age encouraged immorality which no other age would have
tolerated, we have no hesitation in answering that this, great
depravation of the national taste was the effect of the
prevalence of Puritanism under the Commonwealth.

To punish public outrages on morals and religion is
unquestionably within the competence of rulers. But when a
government, not content with requiring decency, requires
sanctity, it oversteps the bounds which mark its proper
functions. And it may be laid down as a universal rule that a
government which attempts more than it ought will perform less. A
lawgiver who, in order to protect distressed borrowers, limits
the rate of interest, either makes it impossible for the objects
of his care to borrow at all, or places them at the mercy of the
worst class of usurers. A lawgiver who, from tenderness for
labouring men, fixes the hours of their work and the amount of
their wages, is certain to make them far more wretched than he
found them. And so a government which, not content with
repressing scandalous excesses, demands from its subjects fervent
and austere piety, will soon discover 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, reward and punishment; 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 promoted 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 his skin. Under a Puritan government, a person
who is apprised 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 farther 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 restraint of fear is taken away,
and on which men can venture to say what they think, a frightful
peal of blasphemy and ribaldry proclaims that the short-sighted
policy which aimed at making a nation of saints has made a nation
of scoffers.

It was thus in France about the beginning of the eighteenth
century. Lewis the Fourteenth in his old age became religious: he
determined that his subjects should be religious too: he shrugged
his shoulders and knitted his brows if he observed at his levee
or near his dinner-table any gentleman who neglected the duties
enjoined by the Church, and rewarded piety with blue ribands,
invitations to Marli, governments, pensions, and regiments.
Forthwith Versailles became, in everything but dress, a convent.
The pulpits and confessionals were surrounded by swords and
embroidery. The Marshals of France were much in prayer; and there
was hardly one among the Dukes and Peers who did not carry good
little books in his pocket, fast during Lent, and communicate at
Easter. Madame de Maintenon, who had a great share in the blessed
work, boasted that devotion had become quite the fashion. A
fashion indeed it was; and like a fashion it passed away. No
sooner had the old king been carried to St. Denis than the whole
Court unmasked. Every man hastened to indemnify himself, by the
excess of licentiousness and impudence, for years of
mortification. The 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 Parabere, hiccoughed out
atheistical arguments and obscene jests. The early part of the
reign of Lewis the Fourteenth had been a time of licence; 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 American Commonwealths. But in the day of their
power, those men 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 beneficially 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 by 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 imprisonment, 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. The saints were to inherit the earth.
The theatres were closed. The fine arts were placed under absurd
restraints. Vices which had never before been even misdemeanours
were made capital felonies. It was solemnly resolved by
Parliament "that no person shall be employed but such as the
House shall be satisfied of his real godliness." The pious
assembly had a Bible lying on the table for reference. If they
had consulted it they might have learned that the wheat and the
tares grow together inseparably, and must either be spared
together or rooted up together. To know whether a man was really
godly was impossible. But it was easy to know whether he had a
plain dress, lank hair, no starch in his linen, no gay furniture
in his house; whether he talked through his nose, and showed the
whites of his eyes; whether he named his children Assurance,
Tribulation, Mahershalal-hash-baz; whether he avoided 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, even if Richard Cromwell or Henry Cromwell
had been at the head of the administration, there would have been
a great relaxation of manners. Before the Restoration many signs
indicated that a period of licence was at hand. 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 desperate 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.

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
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.

We will now, as far as our limits will permit, pass in review the
writers to whom Mr. Leigh Hunt has introduced us. Of the four,
Wycherley stands, we think, last in literary merit, but first in
order of time, and first, beyond all doubt, in immorality.

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 properly was estimated at six
hundred a year, a fortune which, among the fortunes at that time,
probably ranked as a fortune of two thousand 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 families of
Touraine. The Duke's wife, a daughter of the house of
Rambouillet, was a finished specimen of those talents and
accomplishments for which her race 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 his 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 reason to hope that there would be again a
national Church fit for a gentleman. Wycherley became a member of
Queen's College, Oxford, and abjured the errors of the Church of
Rome. The somewhat equivocal glory of turning, for a short time,
a good-for-nothing Papist into a good-for-nothing Protestant is
ascribed to Bishop Barlow.

Wycherley left Oxford without taking a degree, and entered at the
Temple, where he lived gaily 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 of a litigious client entertaining in a

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 below Tate and Blackmore as Tate and
Blackmore are below Dryden. His only chance for renown would have
been that he might have occupied a niche in a satire, between
Flecknoe and Settle. There was, however, another kind of
composition in which his talents and acquirements qualified him
to succeed; and to that he judiciousily betook himself.

In his old age he used to say that he wrote Love in a Wood at
nineteen, the Gentleman Dancing-Master at twenty-one, the Plain
Dealer at twenty-five, and the Country Wife at one or two and
thirty. We are incredulous, we own, as to the truth of this
story. Nothing that we know of Wycherley leads us to think him
incapable of sacrificing truth to vanity. And his memory in the
decline of his life played him such strange tricks that we might
question the correctness of his assertion without throwing any
imputation on his veracity. It is certain that none of his plays
was acted till 1672, when he gave Love in a Wood to the public.
It seems improbable that he should resolve, on so important an
occasion as that of a first appearance before the world, to run
his chance with a feeble piece, written before his talents were
ripe, before his style was formed, before he had looked abroad
into the world; and this when he had actually in his desk two
highly-finished plays, the fruit of his matured powers. When we
look minutely at the pieces themselves, we find in every part of
them reason to suspect the accuracy of Wycherley's statement. In
the first scene of Love in a Wood, to go no further, we find many
passages which he could not have written when he was nineteen.
There is an allusion to gentlemen's periwigs, which first came
into fashion in 1663; an allusion to guineas, which were first
struck in 1663; an allusion to the vests which Charles ordered to
be worn at Court in 1666; an allusion to the fire of 1666; and
several political allusions which must be assigned to times later
than the year of the Restoration, to times when the Government
and the city were opposed to each other, and when the
Presbyterian ministers had been driven from the parish churches
to the conventicles. But it is needless to dwell on particular
expressions. The whole air and spirit of the piece belong to a
period subsequent to that mentioned by Wycherley. As to the 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 before 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
complaisant husband and her royal keeper, lavished her fondness
on a crowd of paramours of all ranks, from dukes to rope-dancers.
In the time of the commonwealth she commenced her career of
gallantry, and terminated it under Anne, by marrying, when a
great-grandmother, that worthless fop, Beau Fielding. It is not
strange that she should have regarded Wycherley with favour. His
figure was commanding, his countenance strikingly handsome, his
look and deportment full of grace and dignity. He had, as Pope
said long after, "the true nobleman look," the look which seems
to indicate superiority, and a not unbecoming consciousness of
superiority. His hair indeed, as he says in one of his poems,
was prematurely grey. But in that age of periwigs this misfortune
was of little importance. The Duchess admired him, and proceeded
to make love to him, after the fashion of the coarse-minded and
shameless circle to which she belonged. In the Ring, when the
crowd of beauties and fine gentlemen was thickest, she put her
head out of her coach-window, and bawled to him, "Sir, you are a
rascal; you are a villain"; and, if she is not belied, she added
another phrase of abuse which we will not quote, but of which we
may say that it might most justly have been applied to her own
children. Wycherley called on her Grace the next day, and with
great humility begged to know in what way he had been so
unfortunate as to disoblige her. Thus began an intimacy from
which the poet probably expected wealth and honours. Nor were
such expectations unreasonable. A handsome young fellow about the
Court, known by the name of Jack Churchill, was, about the same
time, so lucky as to become the object of a short-lived fancy of
the Duchess. She had presented him with five thousand pounds, the
price, in all probability, of some title or pardon. The prudent
youth had lent the money on high interest and on landed security;
and this judicious investment was the beginning of the most
splendid private fortune in Europe. Wycherley was not so lucky.
The partiality with which the great lady regarded him was indeed
the talk of the whole town; and sixty years later old men who
remembered those days told Voltaire that she often stole from the
Court to her lover's chambers in the Temple, disguised like a
country girl, with a straw hat on her head, pattens on her feet,
and a basket in her hand. The poet was indeed too happy and proud
to be 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 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 he 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

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 the
King's ships, sometimes with commissions, and sometimes as
volunteers. Mulgrave, Dorset, Rochester, and many others, left
the playhouses in the Mall for hammocks and salt pork, and,
ignorant as they were of the rudiments of naval service, 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 where the interests or whims of favourites were
concerned, the Government of Charles was deaf to all
remonstrances. 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 was one of the battles between Rupert
and De Ruyter, in 1673.

The point is of no importance; and there cannot be said to be
much 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 be
in the regular course of things, that, when a courtier and an
equerry, he should offer his services. Secondly, his verses
appear to have been written after a drawn battle, like those of
1673, and not 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.]

About the same time, he brought on the stage his second piece,
the Gentleman Dancing-Master. The biographers say 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

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 Dorset, 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 Wells, 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 connection might not
suit well with the King's plans 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 Wycherley
both disrespectful and disingenuous. Other causes probably
assisted to alienate the sovereign from the subject who had
lately 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 to 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.

The death of Lady Drogheda released the 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. Wycherley 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
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
debts, and to settle on the unfortunate poet a pension of two
hundred pounds 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 reconversion, as far
as we know, has never been mentioned by any biographer. We
believe that, if we place it at this time, we do no injustice to
the character either of Wycherley or James.

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 a vicious old boy about town.
Expensive tastes with little money, and licentious appetites with
declining 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 expressions which he had heard over night; and he
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 it 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 versification 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 fashion. Wycherley
was sixty-four. He had long outlived the times when libertinism
was regarded as essential to the character of a wit and a
gentleman. Most of the rising poets, Addison, for example, 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 so 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-eyed
urchin, just turned of sixteen, had written some copies of verses
in which discerning judges could detect the promise of future
eminence. There was, indeed, as yet nothing very striking or
original in the conceptions of the young poet. But he was already
skilled in the art of metrical composition. His diction and his
music were not those of the great old masters; but that which his
ablest contemporaries were labouring to do, he already did best.
His style was not richly poetical; but it was always neat,
compact, and pointed. His verse wanted variety of pause, of
swell, and of cadence, but never grated harshly on the ear, or
disappointed it by a feeble close. The youth was already free of
the company of wits, and was greatly elated at being introduced
to the author of the Plain Dealer and the Country Wife.

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 Lyttelton and Mansfield. At first
the boy was enchanted by the kindness and condescension of so
eminent a writer, 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
the youth grew older, as his mind expanded and his fame rose, he
appreciated both himself and Wycherley more correctly. He felt a
just 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 his 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
circumstances, become one who was addressing 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 short again
as at first, there is not one thought omitted but what is a
repetition of something in your first volume, or in this very
paper; and the versification throughout is, I believe, such as
nobody can be shocked at. The repeated permission you gave me of
dealing freely with you, will, I hope, excuse what I have done;
for, if I had not spared you when I thought severity would do you
a kindness, I have not mangled you where I thought there was no
absolute need of amputation." Wycherley continued to return
thanks for all this hacking and hewing, which was, indeed, of
inestimable service to his compositions. But at last his thanks
began to sound very like reproaches. In private, he is said to
have described Pope as a person who could not cut out a suit, but
who had some skill in turning old coats. In his letters to Pope,
while he acknowledged that the versification of the poems had
been greatly 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 Wycherley'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 termination 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
adversity, 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.

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
miscellanies 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 everywhere discernible.

Of the moral character of Wycherley it can hardly be necessary
for us to say more. His fame as a writer rests wholly on his
comedies, and chiefly on the last two. Even as a comic writer, he
was neither of the best school, nor highest in his school. He was
in truth a worse Congreve. His chief merit, like Congreve's, lies
in the style of his dialogue, but the wit which lights up the
Plain Dealer and the Country Wife is pale and flickering, when
compared with the gorgeous blaze which dazzles us almost to
blindness in Love for Love and the Way of the World. Like
Congreve, and, indeed, even more than Congreve, Wycherley is
ready to sacrifice dramatic propriety to the liveliness of his
dialogue. The poet speaks out of the mouths of all his dunces and
coxcombs, and makes them describe themselves with a good sense
and acuteness which puts them on a level with the wits and
heroes. We will give two instances, the first which occur to us,
from the Country Wife. There are 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 meagre 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 anything 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 Moliere. 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 Wycherley, the only thing which he
could furnish from his own mind in inexhaustible abundance, was
profligacy. It is curious to observe how everything 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 have been hidden, and, as it
might appear, destroyed by an education elaborately bad. But they
are called forth into full energy by a virtuous passion. Her
lover, while he adores her beauty, is too honest a man to abuse
the confiding tenderness of a creature so charming and
inexperienced. Wycherley takes this plot into his hands; and
forthwith this sweet and graceful courtship becomes a licentious
intrigue of the lowest and least sentimental kind, between an
impudent London rake and the idiot wife of a country squire. We
will not go into details. In truth, Wycherley's indecency is
protected against the critics as a skunk is protected against the
hunters. It is safe, because it is too filthy to handle and too
noisome even to approach.

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 pandar of the basest sort. But the
character of Manly is the best illustration of our meaning.
Moliere 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
surrounds 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,--into "a ferocious sensualist, who believed himself
as great a rascal as he thought everybody else." The surliness of
Moliere's hero is copied and caricatured. But the most nauseous
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 that 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
further 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.

Congreve passed his childhood and youth in Ireland. He was sent
to school at Kilkenny, and thence went to the University of
Dublin. His learning does great honour to his instructors. From
his writings it appears, not only that he was well acquainted
with Latin literature, but that his knowledge of the Greek poets
was such as was not, in his time, common even in a college.

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 power of ingenious combination. His
lively conversation, his polished manners, and his highly
respectable connections, had obtained for him ready access to the
best company. He longed to be a great writer. He longed to be a
man of fashion. Either object was within his reach. But could he
secure both? Was there not something vulgar in letters, something
inconsistent with the easy apathetic graces of a man of the mode?
Was it aristocratical to be confounded with creatures who lived
in the cock lofts of Grub Street, to bargain with publishers, to
hurry printers' devils and be hurried by them, to squabble with
managers, to be applauded or hissed by pit, boxes, and galleries?
Could he forego the renown of being the first wit of his age?
Could he attain that renown without sullying what he valued quite
as much, his character for gentility? The history of his life is
the history of a conflict between these two impulses. In his
youth the desire of literary 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 fool comes 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 having written a good play, and shame at having
done an ungentlemanlike thing, pretended 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 qualities was a hearty
and generous admiration for the talents of others. He declared
that he had never read such a first play, and lent his services
to bring it into a form fit for representation. Nothing was
wanted to the success of the piece. It was so cast as to bring
into play all the comic talent, and to exhibit on the boards in
one view all the beauty, which Drury Lane Theatre, then the only
theatre in 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 greater value,
which, however, did not become vacant till many years had

In 1694, Congreve brought out the Double Dealer, a comedy in
which all the powers which had produced the Old Bachelor showed
themselves, matured by time and improved by exercise. But the
audience was shocked by the characters of Maskwell and Lady
Touchwood. And, indeed, there is something strangely revolting in
the way in which a group that seems to belong to the House of
Laius or of Pelops is introduced into the midst of the Brisks,
Froths, Carelesses, and Plyants. The play was unfavourably
received. Yet, if the praise of distinguished men could
compensate an author for the disapprobation of the multitude,
Congreve had no reason to repine. Dryden, in one of the most
ingenious, magnificent, and pathetic pieces that he ever wrote,
extolled the author of the Double Dealer in terms which now
appear extravagantly hyperbolical. Till Congreve came forth,--so
ran this exquisite flattery,--the superiority of the poets who
preceded the civil wars was acknowledged.

"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 emerging from boyhood,
had surpassed the authors of the Knight of the Burning Pestle and
of the Silent Woman, and who had only one rival left to contend

"Heaven, that but once was prodigal before,
To Shakspeare gave as much, she could not give him more."

Some lines near the end of the poem are singularly graceful and
touching, and sank deep into the heart of Congreve.

"Already am I worn with cares and age,
And just abandoning the ungrateful stage
But you, whom every Muse and Grace adorn,
Whom I foresee to better fortune born,
Be kind to my remains; and oh, defend
Against your judgment your departed friend.
Let not the insulting foe my fame pursue,
But guard those laurels which descend to you."

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.

In 1695 appeared Love for Love, superior both in wit and in
scenic effect to either of the preceding plays. It was performed
at a new theatre which Betterton and some other actors, disgusted
by the treatment which they had received in Drury Lane, had just
opened in a tennis-court near Lincoln's Inn. Scarcely any comedy
within the memory of the oldest man had been equally successful.
The actors were so elated that they gave Congreve a share in
their theatre; and he promised in return to furnish them with a
play every year, if his health would permit. Two years passed,
however, before he produced the Mourning Bride, a play which,
paltry as it is when compared, we do not say, with Lear or
Macbeth, but with the best dramas of Massinger and Ford, stands
very high among the tragedies of the age in which it was written.
To find anything so good we must go twelve years back to Venice
Preserved, or six years forward to the Fair Penitent. The noble
passage which Johnson, both in writing and in conversation,
extolled above any other in the English drama, has suffered
greatly in the public estimation from the extravagance of his
praise. Had he contented himself with saying that it was finer
than anything in the tragedies of Dryden, Otway, Lee, Rowe,
Southern, Hughes, and Addison, than anything, in short, that had
been written for the stage since the days of Charles the First,
he would not have been in the wrong.

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

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 demoralising 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 failing 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 theatres. At this conjuncture arose a great reformer whom,
widely as we differ from him in many important points, we can
never mention without respect.

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; yet he had
mingled much with polite society, and is said not to have wanted
either grace or vivacity in conversation.

There were few branches of literature to which he had not paid
some attention. But ecclesiastical antiquity was his favourite
study. In religious opinions he belonged to that section of the
Church of England which lies furthest from Geneva and nearest to
Rome. His notions touching Episcopal government, holy orders, the
efficacy of the sacraments, the authority of the Fathers, the
guilt of schism, the importance of vestments, ceremonies, and
solemn days, differed little from those which are now held by Dr.
Pusey and Mr. Newman. Towards the close of his life, indeed,
Collier took some steps which brought him still nearer to Popery,
mixed water with the wine in the Eucharist, made the sign of the
cross in confirmation, employed oil in the visitation of the
sick, and offered up prayers for the dead. His politics were of a
piece with his divinity. He was a Tory of the highest sort, such
as in the cant of his age was called a Tantivy. Not even the
persecution of the bishops and the spoliation of the universities
could shake his steady loyalty. While the Convention was sitting,
he wrote with vehemence in defence of the fugitive king, and was
in consequence arrested. But his dauntless spirit was not to be
so tamed. He refused to take the oaths, renounced all his
preferments, and, in a succession of pamphlets 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 an 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 they were turned
off, laid his hands on their heads, and by the authority which he
derived from Christ, solemnly absolved them. This scene gave
indescribable scandal. Tories joined with Whigs in blaming the
conduct of the daring priest. Some acts, it was said, which fall
under the definition of treason are such that a good man may, in
troubled times, be led into them even by his virtues. 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 hereafter.
But such was not the case of Collier's penitents. They were
concerned in a plot for waylaying and butchering, in an hour of
security, one who, whether he were or were not their king, was at
all events their fellow-creature. Whether the Jacobite theory
about the rights of governments and the duties of subjects were
or were not well founded, assassination must always be considered
as a great crime. It is condemned even by the maxims of worldly
honour and morality. Much more must it be an object of abhorrence
to the pure Spouse of Christ. The Church cannot surely, without
the saddest and most mournful forebodings, see one of her
children who has been guilty of this great wickedness pass into
eternity without any sign of repentance. That 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.

The storm raged. The bishops put forth a solemn censure Of the
absolution. The Attorney-General brought the matter before the
Court of King's Bench. Collier had now made up his mind not to
give bail for his appearance before any court which derived its
authority from the usurper. He accordingly absconded and was
outlawed. He survived these events about thirty years. The
prosecution was not pressed; and he was soon suffered to resume
his literary pursuits in quiet. At a later period, many attempts
were made to shake his perverse integrity by offers of wealth and
dignity, but in vain. When he died towards the end of the reign
of George the First, he still under the ban of the law.

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 exciting
disputes, 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 a reaction against the Puritan
strictness. Profligacy was, like the oak-leaf of the twenty-ninth
of May, the badge of a cavalier and a High Churchman. Decency was
associated with conventicles and calves' heads. Grave prelates
were too much disposed to wink at the excesses of a body of
zealous and able allies who covered Roundheads and Presbyterians
with ridicule. If a Whig raised his voice against the impiety and
licentiousness of the fashionable writers, his mouth was
instantly stopped by the retort: You are one of those who groan
at a light quotation from Scripture, and raise estates out of the
plunder of the Church, who shudder at a double entendre, and chop
off the heads of kings. A Baxter, a Burnet, even a Tillotson,
would have done little to purify our literature. But when a man
fanatical in the cause of episcopacy and actually under outlawry
for his attachment to hereditary right, came forward as the
champion of decency, the battle was already half won.

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 Christ Church 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
sins against decency that he was certain to weaken instead of
strengthening his case, by introducing into his charge against
them any matter about which there could be the smallest dispute.
He was, however, so injudicious as to place among the outrageous
offences which he justly arraigned, some things which are really
quite innocent, and some slight instances of levity which, though
not perhaps strictly correct, could easily be paralleled from the
works of writers who had rendered great services to morality and
religion. Thus he blames Congreve, the number and gravity of
whose real transgressions made it quite unnecessary to tax him
with any that were not 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 contemptuous expressions respecting 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 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 is more surprising, to Dissenting preachers.
This, however, is a mere trifle. Imaums, Brahmins, priests of
Jupiter, priests of Baal, are all to be held sacred. Dryden is
blamed for making the Mufti in Don Sebastian 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 Dryden's 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 of

But, when all 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 specimens of writing so
excellent and so various. To compare Collier with Pascal would
indeed be absurd. Yet we hardly know where, except in the
Provincial Letters, we can find mirth so harmoniously and
becomingly blended with solemnity as in the Short View, In truth,
all the modes of ridicule, from broad fun to polished and
antithetical sarcasm, were at Collier's command. On the other
hand, he was complete master of the rhetoric of honest
We scarcely know any volume which contains so many bursts
of that peculiar eloquence which comes from the heart and goes
to the heart. Indeed the spirit of the book is truly heroic.
In order fairly to appreciate it, we must remember the
situation in which the writer stood. He was under the frown
of power. His name was already a mark for the invectives of
one half of the writers of the age, when, in the cause of
good taste, good sense, and good morals, he gave battle
to the other half. Strong as his political prejudices were, he
seems on this occasion to have entirely laid them aside. He has
forgotten that he is a Jacobite, and remembers only that he is a
citizen and a Christian. Some of his sharpest censures are
directed against poetry which had been hailed with delight by the
Tory party, and had inflicted a deep wound on the Whigs. It is
inspiriting to see how gallantly the solitary outlaw advances to
attack enemies, formidable separately, and, it might have been
thought, irresistible when combined, distributes his swashing
blows 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

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 all 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 provocations had formerly roused him to
violent resentment, and that there was no literary weapon,
offensive or defensive, of which he 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 harshness
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. Collier 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

It would have been wise in Congreve to follow his master's
example. He was precisely in that situation in which it is
madness to attempt a vindication; for his guilt was so clear,
that no address or eloquence could obtain an acquittal. On the
other hand, there were in his case many extenuating circumstances
which, if he had acknowledged his error and promised amendment,
would have procured his pardon. The most rigid censor could not
but make great allowances for the faults into which so young a
man had been seduced by evil example, by the luxuriance of a
vigorous fancy, and by the inebriating effect of popular
applause. The esteem, as well as the admiration, of the public
was still within his reach. He might easily have effaced all
memory of his transgressions, and have shared with Addison the
glory of showing that the most brilliant wit may be the ally of
virtue. But, in any case, prudence should have restrained him
from encountering Collier. The nonjuror was a man thoroughly
fitted by nature, education, and habit, for polemical dispute.
Congreve's mind, though a mind of no common fertility and vigour,
was of a different class. No man understood so well the art of
polishing epigrams and repartees into the clearest effulgence,
and setting them neatly in easy and familiar dialogue. In this
sort of jewellery he attained to a mastery unprecedented and
inimitable. But he was altogether rude in the art of
controversy; and he had a cause to defend which scarcely any art
could have rendered victorious.

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 Will's Coffee-House were compelled to acknowledge
that in wit, as well as in argument, 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 coachman 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 Old
Bachelor and Double Dealer, Congreve might pass for as pure a
writer as Cowper himself, who, in poems revised by so austere a
censor as John Newton, calls a fox-hunting 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

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 he 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

"What rugged ways attend the noon of life!
Our sun declines, and with what anxious strife,
What pain, we tug that galling load--a wife."

"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":

"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 attached 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 on this occasion, was
that he completely deprived himself of the excuse which he might
with justice have pleaded for his early offences. "Why," asked
Collier, "should the man laugh at the mischief of the boy, and
make the disorders of his nonage his own, by an after

Congreve was not Collier's only opponent. Vanbrugh, Dennis, and
Settle took the field. And from a 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 almost all the departments of our lighter literature
was the effect of his labours. A new race of wits and poets
arose, who generally treated with reverence the great ties which
bind society together, and whose very indecencies were decent
when compared with those of the school which flourished during
the last forty years of the seventeenth century.

This controversy probably prevented Congreve 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 Millamant, are
superior to anything that is to be found in the whole range of
English comedy from the civil 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 again to expose himself to the
rudeness of a tasteless audience, and took leave of the theatre
for ever.

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
put an idle tale into verse; but he appears never to have planned
any considerable work. The miscellaneous pieces which he
published in 1710 are of little value, and have long been

The stock of fame which he had acquired by his comedies was
sufficient, assisted by the graces of his manner and
conversation, to secure 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.

His means were for a long time scanty. The place which he had in
possession barely enabled him to live with comfort. And, when the
Tories came into power, some thought that he would lose even this
moderate provision. But Harley, who was by no means disposed to
adopt the exterminating policy of the October club, and who, with
all his faults of understanding and temper, had a sincere
kindness for men of genius, reassured the anxious poet by quoting
very gracefully and happily the lines of Virgil,

"Non obtusa adeo gestamus pectora Poeni,
Nec tam aversus equos Tyria Sol jungit ab urbe."

The indulgence with which Congreve was treated by the Tories was
not purchased by any concession on his part which could justly
offend the Whigs. It was his rare good fortune to share the
triumph of his friends without having shared their proscription.
When the House of Hanover came to the throne, he partook largely
of the prosperity of those with whom he was connected. The
reversion to which he had been nominated twenty years before fell
in. He was made secretary to the island of Jamaica; and his whole
income amounted to twelve hundred 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 scarce 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 infirmities of age came early upon him. His habits had been
intemperate; he suffered much from gout; and, when confined to
his chamber, he 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 than of carping
at the great men who had been lying a hundred years in Poets'
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 the English 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. "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 all political opinions. The poet
who, at an early age, had been raised to affluence by the emulous
liberality of Whigs and Tories, could not with propriety inscribe
to a chief of either party a work which had been munificently
patronised by both. It was necessary to find some person who was
at once eminent and neutral. It was therefore 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 men of all parties. By a courtesy paid to him,
neither the Ministers nor the leaders of the Opposition could be

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 and 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."

Congreve was not a man of warm affections. Domestic ties he had
none; and in the temporary connections which he formed with a
succession of beauties from the green-room his heart does not
appear to have been 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 London, 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 extraordinary 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 Countess 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 sprang 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 beldame, the Dowager Duchess
Sarah, who had quarrelled with her daughter as she had quarrelled
with every body 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 marked attention to a man of eminent genius who was near
sixty years old, who was still older in appearance and in
constitution, who was confined to his chair by gout, and who was
unable to read from blindness.

In the summer of 1728, Congreve was ordered 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 continued to
sink, till in the following January he expired.

He left ten thousand pounds, 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 gentlemen 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 two hundred pounds 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 hardly sufficient to
defray the Duchess's establishment for three 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 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 a statue of him in ivory, which moved by
clockwork, was placed daily at her table, and that she had a wax
doll made in imitation of him, and that the feet of the doll were
regularly blistered and anointed by the doctors, as poor
Congreve's feet had been when he suffered from the gout. A
monument was erected to the poet in Westminster Abbey, with an
inscription written by the Duchess; and Lord Cobham, honoured him
with a cenotaph, which seems to us, though that is a bold word,
the ugliest and most absurd 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 educated. Both 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 achievements in literature
whatever consideration 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
to their morals. Both, during their declining years, hung loose
upon society; and both, in their last moments, made eccentric and
unjustifiable dispositions of their estates.

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
within the last two centuries. Congreve had not, in,
a large measure, the poetical faculty; 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 deplorable spectacle of a
licentious dotage. Congreve died in the enjoyment of high
consideration; Wycherley forgotten or despised. Congreve's will
was absurd and capricious; but Wycherley's last actions appear to
have been prompted by obdurate malignity.

Here, at least for the present, we must stop. Vanbrugh and
Farquhar are not men to be hastily dismissed, and we have not
left ourselves space to do them justice.


(July 1843)

The Life of Joseph Addison. BY LUCY AIKIN. 2 vols. 8vo. London:

SOME reviewers are of opinion that a lady who dares to publish a
book renounces by that act the franchises appertaining to her
sex, and can claim no exemption from the utmost rigour of
critical procedure. From that opinion we dissent. We admit,
indeed, that in a country which boasts of many female writers,
eminently qualified by their talents and acquirements to
influence the public mind, it would be of most pernicious
consequence that inaccurate history or unsound philosophy should
be suffered to pass uncensured, merely because the offender
chanced to be a lady. But we conceive that, on such occasions, a
critic would do well to imitate the courteous Knight who found
himself compelled by duty to keep the lists against Bradamante.
He, we are told, defended successfully the cause of which he was
the champion; but, before the fight began, exchanged Balisarda
for a less deadly sword, of which he carefully blunted the point
and edge. [Orlando Furioso, xiv. 68.]

Nor are the immunities of sex the only immunities which Miss
Aikin may rightfully plead. Several of her works, and especially
the very pleasing Memoirs of the Reign of James the First have
fully entitled her to the privileges enjoyed by good writers. One
of those privileges we hold to be this, that such writers, when,
either from the unlucky choice of a subject, or from the
indolence too often produced by success, they happen to fail,
shall not be subjected to the severe discipline which it is
sometimes necessary to inflict upon dunces and impostors, but
shall merely be reminded by a gentle touch, like that which the
Laputan flapper roused his dreaming lord, that it is high time to

Our readers will probably infer from what we have said that Miss
Aikin's book has disappointed us. The truth is, that she is not
well acquainted with her subject. No person who is not familiar
with the political and literary history of England during the
reigns of William the Third, of Anne, and of George the First,
can possibly write a good life of Addison.

Now, we mean no reproach to Miss Aikin, and many will think that
we pay her a compliment, when we say that her studies have taken
a different direction. She is better acquainted with Shakspeare
and Raleigh, than with Congreve and Prior; and is far more at
home among the ruffs and peaked beards of Theobalds than among
the Steenkirks and flowing periwigs which surrounded Queen Anne's
tea-table at Hampton. She seems to have written about the
Elizabethan age, because she had read much about it; she seems,
on the other hand, to have read a little about the age of
Addison, because she had determined to write about it. The
consequence is that she has had to describe men and things
without having either a correct or a vivid idea of them, and that
she has often fallen into errors of a very serious kind. The
reputation which Miss Aikin has justly earned stands so high, and
the charm of Addison's letters is so great, that a second edition
of this work may probably be required. If so, we hope that every
paragraph will be revised, and that every date and fact about
which there can be the smallest doubt will be carefully verified.

To Addison himself we are bound by a sentiment as much like
affection as any sentiment can be which is inspired by one who
has been sleeping a hundred and twenty years in Westminster
Abbey. We trust, however, that this feeling will not betray us
into that abject idolatry which we have often had occasion to
reprehend in others, and which seldom fails to make both the
idolater and the idol ridiculous. A man of genius and virtue is
but a man. All his powers cannot be equally developed; nor can we
expect from him perfect self-knowledge. We need not, therefore,
hesitate to admit that Addison has left us some compositions
which do not rise above mediocrity, some heroic poems hardly
equal to Parnell's, some criticism as superficial as Dr. Blair's,
and a tragedy not very much better than Dr. Johnson's. It is
praise enough to say of a writer that, in a high department of
literature, in which many eminent writers have distinguished
themselves, he has had no equal; and this may with strict justice


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