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Bannissons la Melancholie.
equally proper. During his embassy, he sat at grave nor merry. “ Paulo Purganti ;” which the opera by a man, who, in his rapture, accom- has likewise a preface, but of more value than panied with his own voice, the principal singer. the Tale. “Hans Cravel,” not over decent; Prior fell to railing at the performer with all the and “Protogenes and Apelles," an old story, terms of reproach that he could collect, till the mingled, by an affectation not disagreeable, with Frenchman, ceasing from his song, began to ex- modern images. “The young Gentleman in postulate with him for his harsh censure of a man Love” has hardly a just claim to the title of a who was confessedly the ornament of the stage. Tale. I know not whether he be the original "I know all that,” says the ambassador, “mais author of any tale which he has given us. The il chante si haut, que je ne sçaurois vous en adventure of "Hans Cravel” has passed through tendre.”
many successions of merry wits; for it is to be In a gay French company, where every one found in Ariosto’s “Satires,” and is perhaps yet sang a little song or stanza, of which the burden older. But the merit of such stories is the art was, “Bunnissons la Melancholie:” when it of telling them. came to his turn lo sing, after the performance of In his amorous effusions he is less happy; for a young lady that sat next him, he produced they are not dictated by nature or by passion, these extemporary lines:
and have neither gallantry nor tenderness. Mais cette voix, et ces beaux yeux,
They have the coldness of Cowley, without his Font Cupidon trop dangereux;
wit, the dull exercises of a skilful versifier, reEt je suis triste quand je crie,
solved at all adventures to write something
about Chloe, and trying to be amorous by dint Tradition represents him as willing to descend of study. His fictions therefore are mytholofrom the dignity of the poet and statesman to gical. Venus, after the example of the Greek the low delights of mean company. His Chloe Epigram, asks when she was seen naked and probably was sometimes ideal; but the woman bathing. Then Cupid is mistaken; then Cupid with whom he cohabited was a despicable drab* is disarmed; then he loses his darts to Ganyof the lowest species. One of his wenches, per- mede; then Jupiter sends him a summons by haps Chloe, while he was absent from his house, Mercury. Then Chloe goes a hunting, with an stole his plate, and ran away; as was related by ivory quiver graceful at her side ; Diana mistakes a woman who had been his servant. of this her for one of her nymphs, and Cupid laughs at propensity to sordid converse I have seen an ac- the blunder. All this is surely despicable ; and count so seriously ridiculous, that it seems to de- even when he tries to act the lover, without the serve insertion.
help of gods or goddesses, his thoughts are unaf“I have been assured that Prior, after having fecting or remote. He talks not “like a man of spent the evening with Oxford, Bolingbroke, this world.” Pope, and Swift, would go and smoke a pipe, The greatest of all his amorous essays is and drink a bottle of ale, with a common soldier “Henry and Emma ;” a dull and tedious diaand his wife, in Long Acre, before he went to logue, which excites neither esteem for the man, bed; not from any remains of the lowness of his nor tenderness for the woman. The example original, as one said, but, I suppose, that his of Emma, who resolves to follow an outlawed faculties,
murderer wherever fear and guilt shall drive Straind to the height,
him, deserves no imitation; and the experiment In that celestial colloquy sublime,
by which Henry tries the lady's constancy, is Dazzled and spent, sunk down, and sought repair."
such as must end either in infamy to her, or in Poor Prior, why was he so strained, and in disappointment to himself. such want of repair, after a conversation with His Occasional Poems necessarily lost part of men, not, in the opinion of the world, much their value, as their occasions, being less rememwiser than himself ? But such are the conceits bered, raised less emotion. Some of them, of speculatists, who strain their faculties to find however, are preserved by their inherent excelin a mine whai lies upon the surface.
lence, His opinions, so far as the means of judging Namur bas, in some parts, such airiness and
The burlesque of Boileau's Ode on are left us, seem to have been right; but his life levity as will always procure it readers, even was, it seems, irregular, negligent, and sensual. among those who cannot compare it with the Prior has written with great variety; and The poems to the King are now perused only
original. The epistle to Boileau is not so happy. his variety has made him popular. He has tried by young students, who read merely that they all styles, from the grotesque to the solemn, and may learn to write ; and of the “Carmen Secuhas not so failed in any as to incur derision or lare,” I cannot but suspect that I might praise disgrace.
or censure it by caprice, without danger of His works may be distinctly considered, as com- detection; for who can be supposed to have prising Tales, Love-verses, Occasional Poems, laboured through it? Yet the time has been “Alma” and “Solomon."
when this neglected work was so popular, that it His Tales h ve obtained general approbation, was translated into Latin by no common master. being written with great familiarity and great His poem on the battle of Ramilies is necessprightliness; the language is easy, but seldom sarily tedious by the form of the stanza: an gross, and the numbers smooth, without appear-uniform mass of ten lines thirty-five times reance of care. Of these Tales there are only peated, inconsequential and slightly connected, four. “The Ladle;" which is introduced by a
both the ear and the understanding preface, neither necessary nor pleasing, neither His imitation of Spenser, which consists prin
cipally in I ween and I weet, without exclusion * Spence; and see Gent Mag. vol. Ivii. p. 1039.
of later modes of speech, makes his poem * Richardsoniana.
neither ancient nor modern. His mention of
Mars and Bellona, and his comparison of Marl Unhappily this pernicious failure is that which borough to the eagle that bears the thunder of an author is least able to discover. We are selJupiter, are all puerile and unaffecting; and yet dom tiresome to ourselves; and the act of commore despicable is the long tale told by Lewis position fills and delights the mind with change in his despair of Brute and Troynovante, and of language and succession of images; every the teeth of Cadmus, with his similies of the couplet when produced is new, and novelty is the raven and eagle, and wolf and lion. By the great source of pleasure. Perhaps no man ever help of such easy fictions, and vulgar topics, thought a line superfluous when he first wrote without acquaintance with life, and without it, or contracted his work till his ebullitions of knowledge of art or nature, a poem of any invention had subsided. And even if he should length, cold and lifeless like this, may be easily control his desire of immediate renown, and written on any subject.
keep his work nine years unpublished, he will In his Epilogues to Phædra ard to Lucius he be still the author, and still in danger of deceivis very happily facetious; but in the prologue ing himself: and if he consults his friends, he before the Queen, the pedant has found his way, will probably find men who have more kindness with Minerva, Perseus, and Andromeda. than judgment, or more fear to offend than de
His epigrams and lighter pieces are, like sire to instruct. those of others, sometimes elegant, sometimes The tediousness of this poem proceeds not trifling, and sometimes dull; among the best from the uniformity of the subject, for it is suffiare the “Camelion,” and the epitaph on John ciently diversified, but from the continued tenor and Joan.
of the narration ; in which Solomon relates the Scarcely any one of our poets has written so successive vicissitudes of his own mind, withmuch and translated so little; the version of out the intervention of any other speaker, or the Callimachus is sufficiently licentious; the para- mention of any other agent, unless it be Abra; phrase on St. Paul's Exhortation to Charity is the reader is only to learn what he thought, and eminently beautiful.
to be told that he thought wrong. The event “Alma” is written in professed imitation of of every experiment is foreseen, and therefore “Hudibras," and has at least one accidental the process is not much regarded. resemblance: “Hudibras” wants a plan, because Yet the work is far from deserving to be neit is left imperfect; “Alma” is imperfect, be- glected. He that shall peruse it will be able to cause it seems never to have had a plan. Prior mark many passages to which he may recur for appears not to have proposed to himself any drift instruction or delight; many from which the or design, but to have written the casual dictates poet may learn to write, and the philosopher to of the present moment.
reason. What Horace said, when he imitated Luci If Prior's poetry be generally considered, his lius, might be said of Butler by Prior; his num- praise will be that of correctness and industry, bers were not smooth or neat. Prior excelled rather than of compass, of comprehension, or him in versification: but he was, like Horace, activity of fancy. He never made any effort of inventore minor : he had not Butler's exuberance invention: his greater pieces are only tissues of of matter and variety of illustration. The common thoughts; and his smaller, which conspangles of wit which he could afford he knew sist of light images or single conceits, are not how to polish ; but he wanted the bullion of his always his own. I have traced him among the master. Butler pours out a negligent profusion, French epigrammatists, and have been informed certain of the weight, but careless of the stamp. that he poached for prey among obscure authors. Prior has comparatively little, but with that The “Thief and Cordelier” is, I suppose, genelittle he makes a fine show. “Alma” has rally considered as an original production ; with many admirers, and was the only piece among how much justice this epigram may tell, which Prior's works, of which Pope said that he should was written by Georgius Sabinus, a poet now wish to be the author.
little known or read, though once the friend of “Solomon” is the work to which he intrusted Luther and Melancthon : the protection of his name, and which he expect
De Sacerdote Furem consolante. ed succeeding ages to regard with veneration. His affection was natural; it had undoubtedly
Quidam sacrificus furem comitatus euntem
Huc ubi dat sontes carnificina neci, been written with great labour; and who is Ne sie mæstus, ait; summi conviva Tonantis willing to think that he has been labouring in Jam cum cælitibus (si modo credis) eris. vain ? He had infused into it much knowledge
Ille gemens, si vera mihi solatia præbes, and much thought ; had often polished it to ele Hospes apud superos sis meus oro, refert. gance, often dignified it with splendour, and
Sacrificus contra ; mihi non convivia fas est sometimes heightened it to sublimity: he per
Ducere, jejunans hac edo luce nihil. ceived in it many excellencies, and did not dis What he has valuable he owes to his diligence cover that it wanted that without which all and his judgment. His diligence has justly others are of small avail, the power of engaging placed himn among the most correct of the Eng. attention and alluring curiosity.
lish poets ; and he was one of the first that reso Tediousness is the most fåtal of all faults: lutely endeavoured at correctness. He never negligences or errors are single and local, but sacrifices accuracy to haste, nor indulges himself tediousness pervades the whole; other faults are in contemptuous negligence, or impatient idlecensured and forgotten, but the power of tedi- ness: he has no careless lines, or entangled senousness propagates itself. He that is weary the timents: his words are nicely selected, and his first hour, is more weary the second; as bodies thoughts fully expanded. If this part of his forced into motion contrary to their tendency character suffers an abatement, it must be from pass more and more slowly through every suc- the disproportion of his rhymes, which have not cessive interval of space.
always sufficient consonance, and from the ad
mission of broken lines into his “Solomon;" Iblance he has formed his new stanza to that of but perhaps he thought, like Cowley, that his master, these specimens will show; hemistichs ought to be admitted into heroic poetry. He had apparently such rectitude of judgment
She sying fast from Heaven's hated face, as secured him from every thing that approached and from the world that her discover d wide, to the ridiculous or absurd ; but as laws operate Fled to the wasteful wilderness apace, in civil agency not to the excitement of virtue, From living eyes her open shame to hide, but the repression of wickedness, so judgment But that fair crew of knights, and Una fair, in the operations of intellect can hinder faults, Did in that cistle afterwards abide, but not produce excellence. Prior is never low, To rest themselves, and weary puw'rs repair, nor very often sublime. It is said by Longinus Where store they found of all, that dain:ỳ was and rare. of Euripides, that he forces himself sometimes into grandeur by violence of effort, as the lion kindles his fury by the lashes of his own tail. To the close rock the frighted raven fies, Whatever Prior obtains above mediocrity seems Soon as the rising eagle cuts the air: the effort of struggle and of toil. He has
The shaggy wolf unseen and trembling lies, many
When the hoarse roar proclains the lion near. vigorous, but few happy lines; he has every m-starr'd did we our förts and lines forsake, thing by purchase, and nothing by gift; he had To dare our British foes to open fight: no nightly visitations of the muse, no infusions Our conquest we by stratagem should make : of sentiment or felicities of fancy.
Our triumph had been founded in our flight.
'Tis ours, by crafi and by surprise to gain : His diction, however, is more his own than of Tis theirs to meet in arms, and battle in the plain. any among the successors of Dryden; he borrows no lucky turns, or commodious modes of By this new structure of his lines he has language from his predecessors. His phrases avoided difficulties ; nor am I sure that he has are original, but they are sometimes harsh : as lost any of the power of pleasing: but he no he inherited no elegances, none has he bequeath- longer imitates Spenser. ed. His expression has every mark of laborious Some of his poems are written without regustudy; the line seldom seems to have been larity of measure ; for, when he commenced formed at once; the words did not come till they poet, he had not recovered from our Pindaric were called, and were then put by constraint infatuation ; but he probably lived to be coninto their places, where they do their duty, but vinced, that the essence of verse is order and do it sullenly; In his greater compositions there consonance. may be found more rigid stateliness than grace His numbers are such as mere diligence may ful dignity:
attain ; they seldom offend the ear, and seldom Of versification he was not negligent; what soothe it; they commonly want airiness, lighthe received from Dryden he did not lose ; nei- ness, and facility: what is smooth is not soft. ther did he increase the difficulty of writing by His verses always roll, but they seldom flow. unnecessary severity, but uses triplets and Alex. A survey of the life and writings of Prior andrines without scruple. In his preface to "So may exemplify a sentence which he doubtless lomon” he proposes some improvements, by ex. understood well, when he read Horace at his tending the sense from one couplet to another, uncle's; "the vessel long retains the scent which with variety of pauses. This he has attempted, it first receives.” In his private relaxation he but without success; his interrupted lines are revived the tavern, and in his amorous pedantry unpleasing, and his sense as less distinct is less he exhibited the college. But on higher occastriking.
sions, and nobler subjects, when habit was overHe has altered the stanza of Spenser, as a powered by the necessity of reflection, he wanthouse is altered by building another in its place ed not wisdom as a statesman, or elegance as a of a different form. With how little resem- | poet.
William Congreve descended from a family | tainly known: if the inscription upon his monuin Staffordshire, of so great antiquity that it ment be true, he was born in 1672. For the claims a place among the few that extend their place, it was said by himself, that he owed his line beyond the Norman Conquest; and was the nativity to England, and by every body else, that son of William Congreve, second son of Richard he was born in Ireland. Southern mentioned Congreve, of Congreve and Stratton. He visit- him, with sharp censure, as a man that meanly ed, once at least, the residence of his ancestors; disowned his native country. The biographers and, I believe, more places than one are still assign his nativity to Bardsa, near Leeds, in own, in groves and gardens, where he is re- Yorkshire, from the account given by himself
, lated to have written his “ Old Bachelor.” as they suppose, to Jacob.
Neither the time nor place of his birth is cer. To doubt whether a man of eminence has told
the truth about his own birth, is, in appearance, Few plays have ever been so beneficial to the to be very deficient in candour ; yet, nobody writer ; for it procured him the patronage of can live long without knowing that falsehoods of Halifax, who immediately made him one of the convenience or vanity, falsehoods from which no commissioners for licensing coaches, and soon evil immediately visible ensues, except the ge- after gave him a place in the Pipe-office, and neral degradation of human testimony, are very another in the Customs of six hundred pounds lightly uttered ; and, once uttered, are sullenly a year. Congreve's conversation must surely supported. Boileau, who desired to be thought have been at least equally pleasing with his a rigorous and steady moralist, having told a writings. petty lie to Louis the Fourteenth, continued it Such a comedy, written at such an age, reafterwards by false dates ; thinking himself ob- quires some consideration. As the lighter speliged in honour, says his admirer, to maintain cies of dramatic poetry professes the imitation what, when he said it, was so well received. of common life, of real manners, and daily in
Wherever Congreve was born, he was edu- cidents, it apparently pre-supposes a familiar cated first at Kilkenny, and afterwards at Dub- knowledge of many characters, and exact oblin, his father having some military employment servation of the passing world; the difficulty that stationed him in Ireland ; but, after having therefore is, to conceive how this knowledge can passed through the usual preparatory studies, as be obtained by a boy. may be reasonably supposed, with great celerity
But if “The Old Bachelor” be more nearly and
success, his father thought it proper to as- examined, it will be found to be one of those sign him a profession by which something might comedies which may be made by a mind vigorbe gotten; and, about the time of the Revolu- ous and acute, and furnished with comic chation, sent him, at the age of sixteen, to study racters by the perusal of other poets, without law in the Middle Temple, where he lived for much actual commerce with mankind. The diaseveral years, but with very little attention to logue is one constant reciprocation of conceits, statutes or reports.
or clash of wit, in which nothing flows necessaHis disposition to become an author appeared rily from the occasion, or is dictated by nature. very early, as he very early felt that force of The characters, both of men and women, are imagination, and possessed that copiousness of either fictitious and artificial, as those of Heartsentiment, by which intellectual pleasure can be well and the ladies ; or sy and common, as given. His first performance was a novel, called Wittol, a tame idiot, Bluff, a swaggering cow* Incognita, or Love and Duty reconciled :" it ard, and Fondlewifé, a jealous puritan; and is praised by the biographers, who quote some the catastrophe arises from a mistake not very part of the preface, that is, indeed, for such a probably produced, by marrying a woman in a time of life, uncommonly judicious. I would mask. rather praise it than read it.
Yet this gay comedy, when all these deducHis first dramatic labour was “ The Old Ba- tions are made, will still remain the work of very chelor;" of which he says, in his defence against powerful and fertile faculties ; the dialogue is Collier, " that comedy was written, as several quick and sparkling, the incidents such as seize know, some years before it was acted. When I the attention, and the wit so exuberant, that it wrote it, I had little thoughts of the stage; but "o'er-informs its tenement.” did it to amuse myself in a slow recovery from Next year he gave another specimen of his a fit of sickness. Afterwards, through my in- abilities in "The Double Dealer,” which was discretion, it was seen, and, in some little time not received with equal kindness. He writes to more, it was acted; and I, through the remain- his patron, the Lord Halifax, a dedication, in der of my indiscretion, suffered myself to be which he endeavours to reconcile the reader to drawn into the prosecution of a dificult and that which found few friends among the audithankless study, and to be involved in a perpetual ence. These apologies are always useless : “ de war with knaves and fools."
gustibus non est disputandum;" men may be There seems to be a strange affectation in au- convinced, but they cannot be pleased against thors of appearing to have done every thing by their will. But, though taste is obstinate, it is chance. The Old Bachelor” was written for very variable; nd time often prevails when amusement in the languor of convalescence. arguments have failed. Yet it is apparently composed with great elabo Queen Mary conferred upon both those plays rateness of dialogue, and incessant ambition of the honour of her presence; and when she died, wit. The age of the writer considered, it is, soon after, Congreve testified his gratitude by a indeed, a very wonderful performance: for, despicable effusion of elegiac pastoral; a comwhenever written, it was acted (1693) when he position in which all is unnatural, and yet nothing was not more than twenty-one years old ; and is new. was then recommended by Mr. Dryden, Mr. In another year (1695) his prolific pen proSouthern, and Mr. Mainwaring. Dryden said, duced “Love for Love," a comedy of nearer althat he never had seen such a first play; but liance to life, and exhibiting more real manners they found it deficient in some things requisite than either of the former. The character of to the success of its exhibition, and, by their Foresight was then common. Dryden calculated greater experience, fitted it for the stage. South- nativities; both Cromwell and King William ern used to relate of one comedy, probably of had their lucky days; and Shaftesbury himself
, this, that, when Congreve read it to the players, though he had no religion, was said to regard hę pronounced it so wretchedly, that they had predictions. The Sailor is not accounted very almost rejected it; but they were afterwards so natural, but he is very pleasant. well persuaded of its excellence, that, for half With this play was opened the New Theatre, a year before it was acted, the manager allowed under the direction of Betterton, the tragedian; its Author the privilege of the house.
where he exhibited, two years afterwards, (1687,)
“The Mourning Bride,” a tragedy, so written | answers. Congreve, a very young man, elated as to show him sufficiently qualified for either with success, and impatient of censure, assumkind of dramatic poetry.
ed an air of confidence and security. His chief In this play, of which, when he afterwards artifice of controversy is to retort upon his adrevised it, he reduced the versification to greater versary his own words; he is very angry, and, regularity, there is more bustle than sentiment, hoping to conquer Collier with his own weapons, the plot is busy and intricate, and the events allows himself in the use of every term of contake hold on the attention ; but except a very tumely and contempt: but he has the sword few passages, we are rather amused with noise, without the arm of Scanderbeg; he has his anand perplexed with stratagem, than entertained tagonist's coarseness, but not his strength. Col. with any true delineation of natural characters. lier replied; for contest was his delight; he was This, however, was received with more benevo- not to be frighted from his purpose or his prey. lence than any other of his works, and still con The cause of Congreve was not tenable ; tinues to be acted and applouded.
whatever glosses he might use for the defence or But whatever objections may be made either palliation of single passages, the general tenor lo bis comic or tragic excellence, they are lost at and tendency of his plays must always be cononce in the blaze of admiration, when it re- demned. It is acknowledged, with universal membered that he had produced these four plays conviction, that the perusal of his works will before he had passed his twenty-fifth year; be. make no man better; and that their ultimate fore other men, even such as are some time to effect is to represent pleasure in alliance with shine in eminence, have passed their probation vice, and to relax those obligations by which life of literature, or presume to hope for any other ought to be regulated. notice than such as is bestowed on diligence and The stage found other advocates, and the disinquiry.. Among all the efforts of early genius, pute was protracted through ten years; but at which literary history records, I doubt whether last comedy grew more modest, and Collier any one can be produced that more surpasses the lived to see the reward of his labour in the recommon limits of nature than the plays of Con- formation of the theatre. greve.
Of the powers by which this important vicAbout this time began the long continued con- tory was achieved, a quotation from “Love for troversy between Collier and the poets. In the Love," and the remark upon it, may afford a reign of Charles the First, the puritans had raised specimen : a violent clamour against the drama, which they Sir Samps. Sampson's a very good name; for considered as an entertainment not lawful to your Sampsons were very strong dogs from the Christians, an opinion held by them in common beginning. with the church of Rome; and Prynne publish Angel. Have a care-If you remember, the ed “Histrio-Mastix,” a huge volume, in which strongest Sampson of your name pulled an old stage-plays were censured. The outrages and house over his head at last. crimes of the puritans brought afterwards their “Here you have the Sacred History burwhole system of doctrine into disrepute, and lesqued, and Sampson once more brought into from the Restoration the poets and players were the house of Dagon, to make sport for the Philisleft at quiet; for to have molested them would tines!" have had the appearance of tendency to puri Congreve's last play was “The Way of the tanical malignity
World;" which, though as he hints in his dediThis danger, however, was worn away by cation, it was written with great labour and time; and Collier, a fierce and implacable non- much thought, was received with so little favour, juror, knew that an attack upon the theatre that, being in a high degree offended and diswould never make him suspected for a puritan; gusted, he resolved to commit his quiet and his he therefore (1698) published “ A short View of fame no more to the caprices of an audience. the Immorality and Profaneness of the English From this time his life ceased to the public; he Stage,” I believe with no other motive than re- lived for himself and for his friends, and among ligious zeal and honest indignation. He was his friends was able to name every man of his formed for a controvertist; with sufficient learn- time whom wit and elegance had raised to repuing; with diction vehement and pointed, though tation: it may be, therefore, reasonably supoften vulgar and incorrect; with unconquerable posed, that his manners were polite and his conpertinacity; with wit in the highest degree keen versation pleasing. and sarcastic; and with all those powers exalt He seems not to have taken much pleasure in ed and invigorated by just confidence in his writing, as he contributed nothing to the “Spec.
tator," and only one paper to the “Tatler," Thus qualified, and thus incited, he walked though published by men with whom he might out to battle, and assailed at once most of the be supposed willing to associate ; and though he living writers, from Dryden to D'Urfey. His lived many years after the publication of his onset was violent; those passages, which, while Miscellaneous Poems, yet he added nothing to they stood single, had passed with little notice, them, but lived on in literary indolence; engage when they were accumulated and exposed to ed in no controversy, contending with no rival, gether, excited horror ; the wise and the pious neither soliciting flattery by public commendacaught the alarm ; and the nation wondered why tions, nor provoking enmity by malignant critiit had so long suffered irreligion and licentious- cism, but passing his time among the great and ness to be openly taught at the public charge. splendid, in the placid enjoyment of his fame
Nothing now remained for the poets but to and fortune. resist or fly. Dryden's conscience, or his pru Having owed his fortune to Halifax, he condence, angry as he was, withheld him from the tinued always of his patron's party, but, as it conflict : Congreve and Vanbrugh attempted seems, without violence or acrimony; and his