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ceived by that noble gentleman with so much candour and generosity, as neither my son nor I could deserve from him. Then the play was no longer in my power; the patron demanding it in his own right, it was delivered to him : and he was farther pleased, during my sickness, to put it into that method in which you find it; the loose scenes digested into order, and knit into a tale.
As it is, I think it may pass amongst the rest of our new plays : I know but two authors, and they are both my friends, * who have done better since the Revolution. This I dare venture to maintain, that the taste of the age is wretchedly depraved in all sorts of poetry; nothing almost but what is abominably bad can please. The young hounds, who ought to come behind, now lead the pack; but they miserably mistake the scent. Their poets, worthy of such an audience, know not how to distinguish their characters; the manners are all alike inconsistent, and interfering with each other. There is scarce a man or woman of God's making in all their farces, yet they raise an unnatural sort of laughter, the common effect of buffoonery; and the rabble, which takes this for wit, will endure no better, because it is above their understanding. This account I take from the best judges; for I thank God, I have had the grace hitherto to avoid the seeing or reading of their gallimaufries. But it is the latter end of a century, and I hope the next will begin better.
This play, I dare assure the reader, is none of those ; it may want beauties, but the faults are neither
gross, nor many. Perfection in any art is
Probably, Southerne and Congreve.
not suddenly obtained: the author of this, to his misfortune, left his country at a time when he was to have learned the language. The story he has treated, was an accident which happened at Rome, though he has transferred the scene to England, If it shall please God to restore him to me, I may perhaps inform him better of the rules of writing; and if I am not partial, he has already shewn that a genius is not wanting to him. All that I can reasonably fear is, that the perpetual good success of ill plays may make him endeavour to please by writing worse, and by accommodating himself to the wretched capacity and liking of the present audience, from which heaven defend any of my progeny! A poet, indeed, must live by the many; but a good poet will make it his business to please the few. I will not proceed farther on a subject which arraigns so many of the readers.
For what remains, both my son and I are extremely obliged to my dear friend, Mr Congreve, whose excellent Prologue was one of the greatest ornaments of the play. Neither is my Epilogue the worst which I have written; though it seems, at the first sight, to expose our young clergy with too much freedom. It was on that consideration that I had once begun it otherwise, and delivered the copy of it to be spoken, in case the first part of it had given offence. This I will give you, partly in my own justification, and partly too because I think it not unworthy of your sight; only remembering you, that the last line connects the sense to the ensuing part of it.-- Farewell
, reader : if you are a father, you will forgive me; if not, you will when you are a father.
Time was, when none could preach without degrees,
But when the canting saints came once in play,
you dare condemn,