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JONATHAN SWIFT, 'To Mr. Congreve', 1693

JONATHAN SWIFT, 'To Mr. Congreve', 1693

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when you say, it is as early as ever I intended, since I onely

design they should be printed before it, So I desire you will

send me word immediatly, how it succeeded, whether well, ill,

or indifferently, because my sending them to Mr Congreve

depends upon knowing the issue. (Correspondence of Jonathan

Swift, ed. Harold Williams, 5 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press,

1963–5), I, pp. 13–14.)

If Swift did have The Double-Dealer in mind, its prompt

publication forestalled him. His poem was first printed in 1789

by John Nichols in a gathering of material omitted from

Sheridan’s edition of Swift.



Thrice, with a prophet’s voice and prophet’s pow’r,

The Muse was call’d in a poetic hour,

And insolently thrice, the slighted Maid

Dar’d to suspend her unregarded aid;

Then with that grief we form in spirits divine,

Pleads for her own neglect, and thus reproaches mine:

Once highly honour’d! False is the pretence

You make to truth, retreat, and innocence;

Who, to pollute my shades, bring’st with thee down

The most ungen’rous vices of the town;

Ne’er sprang a youth from out this isle before

I once esteem’d, and lov’d, and favour’d more,

Nor ever maid endur’d such court-like scorn,

So much in mode, so very city-born;

’Tis with a foul design the muse you send,

Like a cast mistress to your wicked friend;

But find some new address, some fresh deceit,

Nor practise such an antiquated cheat;

These are the beaten methods of the stews,

Stale forms of course, all mean deceivers use,

Who barbarously think to ’scape reproach,

By prostituting her they first debauch.

Thus did the Muse severe unkindly blame

This off’ring long design’d to CONGREVE’S fame;

First chid the zeal as unpoetic fire,

Which soon his merit forc’d her to inspire;

Then call this verse, that speaks her largest aid,





The greatest compliment she ever made,

And wisely judge, no pow’r beneath divine

Could leap the bounds which part your world and mine;

For, youth, believe, to you unseen, is fix’d

A mighty gulph unpassable betwixt.

Nor tax the goddess of a mean design

To praise your parts by publishing of mine;

That be my thought when some large bulky writ

Shews in the front the ambition of my wit;

There to surmount what bears me up, and sing

Like the victorious wren perch’d on the eagle’s wing;

This could I do, and proudly o’er him tow’r,

Were my desires but heightened to my pow’r.

Godlike the force of my young CONGREVE’S bays,

Soft’ning the muse’s thunder into praise;

Sent to assist an old unvanquish’d pride

That looks with scorn on half mankind beside;

A pride that well suspends poor mortals fate,

Gets between them and my resentment’s weight,

Stands in the gap ’twixt me and wretched men,

T’avert th’impending judgments of my pen.

Thus I look down with mercy on the age,

By hopes my CONGREVE will reform the stage;

For never did poetic mine before

Produce a richer vein or cleaner ore;

The bullion stampt in your refining mind

Serves by retail to furnish half mankind.

With indignation I behold your wit

Forc’d on me, crack’d, and clipp’d, and counterfeit,

By vile pretenders, who a stock maintain

From broken scraps and filings of your brain.

Through native dross your share is hardly known,

And by short views mistook for all their own;

So small the gain those from your wit do reap,

Who blend it into folly’s larger heap,

Like the sun’s scatter’d beams which loosely pass,

When some rough hand breaks the assembling-glass.

Yet want your critics no just cause to rail,

Since knaves are ne’er oblig’d for what they steal.

These pad on wit’s high road, and suits maintain

With those they rob, by what their trade does gain.

Thus censure seems that fiery froth which breeds

O’er the sun’s face, and from his heat proceeds,








Crusts o’er the day, shadowing its parent beam

As antient nature’s modern masters dream;

This bids some curious praters here below

Call Titan sick, because their sight is so;

And well, methinks, does this allusion fit

To scribblers, and the god of light and wit;

Those who by wild delusions entertain

A lust of rhiming for a poet’s vein,

Raise envy’s clouds to leave themselves in night,

But can no more obscure my CONGREVE’S light

Than swarms of gnats, that wanton in a ray

Which gave them birth, can rob the world of day.

What northern hive pour’d out these foes to wit?

Whence came these Goths to overrun the pit?

How would you blush the shameful birth to hear

Of those you so ignobly stoop to fear;

For, ill to them, long have I travell’d since

Round all the circles of impertinence,

Search’d in the nest where every worm did lie

Before it grew a city butterfly;

I’m sure I found them other kind of things

Than those with backs of silk and golden wings;

A search, no doubt, as curious and as wise

As virtuosoes’ in dissecting flies;

For, could you think? the fiercest foes you dread,

And court in prologues, all are country-bred;

Bred in my scene, and for the poet’s sins

Adjourn’d from tops and grammar to the inns;

Those beds of dung, where schoolboys sprout up beaus

Far sooner than the nobler mushroom grows:

These are the lords of the poetic schools,

Who preach the saucy pedantry of rules;

Those pow’rs the criticks, who may boast the odds

O’er Nile, with all its wilderness of gods;

Nor could the nations kneel to viler shapes,

Which worship’d cats, and sacrific’d to apes;

And can you think the wise forbear to laugh

At the warm zeal that breeds this golden calf?

Haply you judge these lines severely writ

Against the proud usurpers of the pit;

Stay while I tell my story, short, and true;

To draw conclusions shall be left to you;

Nor need I ramble far to force a rule,







But lay the scene just here at Farnham school.

Last year, a lad hence by his parents sent

With other cattle to the city went;

Where having cast his coat, and well pursu’d

The methods most in fashion to be lewd,

Return’d a finish’d spark this summer down,

Stock’d with the freshest gibberish of the town;

A jargon form’d from the lost language, wit,

Confounded in that Babel of the pit;

Form’d by diseas’d conceptions, weak, and wild,

Sick lust of souls, and an abortive child;

Born between whores and fops, by lewd compacts,

Before the play, or else between the acts:

Nor wonder, if from such polluted minds

Should spring such short and transitory kinds,

Or crazy rules to make us wits by rote

Last just as long as ev’ry cuckow’s note:

What bungling, rusty tools, are us’d by fate!

’Twas in an evil hour to urge my hate,

My hate, whose lash just heaven has long decreed

Shall on a day make sin and folly bleed;

When man’s ill genius to my presence sent

This wretch, to rouse my wrath, for ruin meant;

Who in his idiom vile, with Gray’s-inn grace,

Squander’d his noisy talents to my face;

Nam’d ev’ry player on his fingers ends,

Swore all the wits were his peculiar friends;

Talk’d with that saucy and familiar ease

Of Wycherly, and you, and Mr. Bays;

Said, how a late report your friends had vex’d,

Who heard you meant to write heroics next;

For, tragedy, he knew, would lose you quite,

And told you so at Will’s but t’other night.

Thus are the lives of fools a sort of dreams,

Rend’ring shades, things, and substances of names;

Such high companions may delusion keep,

Lords are a footboy’s cronies in his sleep.

As a fresh miss, by fancy, face, and gown,

Render’d the topping beauty of the town,

Draws ev’ry rhyming, prating, dressing sot,

To boast of favours that he never got;

Of which, whoe’er lacks confidence to prate,

Brings his good parts and breeding in debate;







And not the meanest coxcomb you can find,

But thanks his stars, that Phyllis has been kind;

Thus prostitute my CONGREVE’S name is grown

To ev’ry lew’d pretender of the town.

’Troth I could pity you; but this is it,

You find, to be the fashionable wit;

These are the slaves whom reputation chains,

Whose maintenance requires no help from brains.

For, should the vilest scribbler to the pit,

Whom sin and want e’er furnish’d out a wit;

Whose name must not within my lines be shewn,

Lest here it live, when perish’d with his own;

Should such a wretch usurp my CONGREVE’S place,

And chuse out wits who ne’er have seen his face;

I’ll be my life but the dull cheat would pass,

Nor need the lion’s skin conceal the ass;

Yes, that beau’s look, that voice, those critic ears,

Must needs be right, so well resembling theirs.

Perish the Muse’s hour, thus vainly spent

In satire, to my CONGREVE’S praises meant;

In how ill season her resentments rule,

What’s that to her if mankind be a fool?

Happy beyond a private muse’s fate,

In pleasing all that’s good among the great,

Where tho’ her elder sisters crowding throng,

She still is welcome with her inn’cent song;

Whom were my CONGREVE blest to see and know,

What poor regards would merit all below!

How proudly would he haste the joy to meet,

And drop his laurel at Apollo’s feet.

Here by a mountain’s side, a reverend cave

Gives murmuring passage to a lasting wave;

’Tis the world’s wat’ry hour-glass streaming fast,

Time is no more when th’utmost drop is past;

Here, on a better day, some druid dwelt,

And the young Muse’s early favour felt;

Druid, a name she does with pride repeat,

Confessing Albion once her darling seat;

Far in this primitive cell might we pursue

Our predecessors foot-steps, still in view;

Here would we sing—But, ah! you think I dream,

And the bad world may well believe the same;

Yes; you are all malicious standers-by,







While two fond lovers prate, the Muse and I.

Since thus I wander from my first intent,

Nor am that grave adviser which I meant;

Take this short lesson from the god of bayes,

And let my friend apply it as he please:

Beat not the dirty paths where vulgar feet have trod,

But give the vigorous fancy room.

For when like stupid alchymists you try

To fix this nimble god,

This volatile mercury,

The subtil spirit all flies up in fume;

Nor shall the bubbl’d virtuoso find

More than a fade insipid mixture left behind.

Whilst thus I write, vast shoals of critics come,

And on my verse pronounce their saucy doom;

The Muse, like some bright country virgin, shows,

Fall’n by mishap amongst a knot of beaux;

They, in their lewd and fashionable prate,

Rally her dress, her language, and her gait;

Spend their base coin before the bashful maid,

Current like copper, and as often paid:

She, who on shady banks has joy’d to sleep

Near better animals, her father’s sheep;

Sham’d and amaz’d, beholds the chatt’ring throng,

To think what cattle she has got among;

But with the odious smell and sight annoy’d,

In haste she does th’offensive herd avoid.

’Tis time to bid my friend a long farewell,

The muse retreats far in yon chrystal cell;

Faint inspiration sickens as she flies,

Like distant echo spent, the spirit dies.

In this descending sheet you’ll haply find

Some short refreshment for your weary mind,

Nought it contains is common or unclean,

And once drawn up, is ne’er let down again.






9. William Congreve, Epistle Dedicatory

to The Double-Dealer


From The Double-Dealer (London: 1694), sig. A2r-av.

Congreve’s second play was not an initial success, and his

resentment is apparent in the dedication. Some of the more

acrimonious passages were toned down or omitted in the second

quarto of 1706.

Congreve’s patron Charles Montagu (1661–1715) had been

an early supporter of the 1688 Revolution. First appointed to

the Treasury in 1692, he proved a brilliant financier, establishing

the Bank of England and the National Debt. He was created

Baron Halifax in 1700, and became an earl the year before his

death. In 1687 Montagu had joined Matthew Prior in a skit on

Dryden, The Hind and the Panther Transvers’d to the Story of

the Country Mouse and the City-Mouse, but his real

contribution to literature was his patronage of Whig writers.

In 1695 he secured for Congreve the post of Commissioner for

Licensing Hackney Coaches.






I Heartily wish this Play were as perfect as I intended it, that it might

be more worthy your acceptance; and that my Dedication of it to

you, might be more becoming that Honour and Esteem which I,

with every Body, who are so fortunate as to know you, have for you.

It had your Countenance when yet unknown; and now it is made

publick, it wants your Protection.



And give me leave, without any Flattery to you, or Vanity in my

self, to tell my Illiterate Criticks, as an answer to their Impotent

Objections, that they have found fault with that, which has been

pleasing to you. This Play in relation to my concern for its

Reputation, succeeded before it was Acted, for thro’ your early

Patronage it had an audience of several Persons of the first Rank

both in Wit and Quality; and their allowance of it, was a

Consequence of your approbation. Therefore if I really wish it might

have had a more popular reception; it is not at all in consideration

of my self; but because I wish well, and would gladly contribute to

the benefit of the Stage, and diversion of the Town. They were (not

long since) so kind to a very imperfect Comedy of mine, that I

thought my self justly indebted to them all my endeavours for an

entertainment that might merit some little of that Applause, which

they were so lavish of, when I thought I had no Title to it. But I

find they are to be treated cheaply, and I have been at an unnecessary


I would not have any Body imagine, that I think this Play without

its Faults, for I am Conscious of several, and ready to own ’em; but

it shall be to those who are able to find ’em out. I confess I design’d

(whatever Vanity or Ambition occasion’d that design) to have written

a true and regular Comedy, but I found it an undertaking which put

me in mind of—Sudet multum, frustraque laboret ausus idem. And

now to make amends for the vanity of such a design, I do confess

both the attempt, and the imperfect performance. Yet I must take

the boldness to say, I have not miscarried in the whole; for the

Mechanical part of it is perfect. That, I may say with as little vanity,

as a Builder may say he has built a House according to the Model

laid down before him; or a Gardiner that he has set his Flowers in a

knot of such or such a Figure. I design’d the Moral first, and to that

Moral I invented the Fable, and do not know that I have borrow’d

one hint of it any where. I made the Plot as strong as I could, because

it was single, and I made it single, because I would avoid confusion,

and was resolved to preserve the three Unities of the Drama, which

I have visibly done to the utmost severity. This is what I ought not to

observe upon my self; but the Ignorance and Malice of the greater

part of the Audience is such, that they would make a Man turn

Herauld to his own Play, and Blazon every Character. However, Sir,

this Discourse is very impertinent to you, whose Judgment, much

better can discern the Faults, than I can excuse them; and whose



good Nature, like that of a Lover, will find out those hidden Beauties

(if there are any such) which it would be great immodesty in me to

discover. I think I don’t speak improperly when I call you a Lover of

Poetry; for it is very well known she has been a kind Mistress to you;

she has not deny’d you the last Favour; you have injoy’d her, and she

has been fruitful in a most Beautiful Issue——If I break off abruptly

here, I hope every Body will understand that it is to avoid a

Commendation, which, as it is your due, would be most easie for me

to pay, and too troublesome for you to receive.

I have since the Acting of this Play hearkned after the Objections

which have been made to it; for I was Conscious where a true Critick

might have put me upon my defence. I was prepared for their Attack;

and am pretty confident I could have vindicated some parts, and

excused others; and where there were any plain Miscarriages, I would

most ingenuously have confess’d ’em. But I have not heard any thing

said sufficient to provoke an Answer. Some little snarling and barking

there has been, but I don’t know one well-mouth’d Curr that has

opened at all. That, which looks most like an Objection, does not

relate in particular to this Play, but to all or most that ever have been

written; and that is Soliloquy. Therefore I will answer it, not only for

my own sake, but to save others the trouble, to whom it may hereafter

be Objected.

I grant, that for a Man to Talk to himself, appears absurd and

unnatural; and indeed it is so in most Cases; but the circumstances

which may attend the occasion, make great alteration. It oftentimes

happens to a Man, to have designs which require him to himself,

and in their Nature, cannot admit of a Confident. Such, for certain,

is all Villany; and other less mischievous intentions may be very

improper to be Communicated to a second Person. In such a case

therefore the Audience must observe, whether the Person upon the

Stage takes any notice of them at all, or no. For if he supposes any

one to be by, when he talks to himself, it is monstrous and ridiculous

to the last degree. Nay, not only in this case, but in any part of a

Play, if there is expressed any knowledge of an Audience, it is

insufferable. But otherwise when a Man is Soliloquy reasons with

himself, and Pro’s and Con’s, and weighs all his Designs: We ought

not to imagine that this Man either talks to us, or to himself; he is

only thinking, and thinking such Matter, as were inexcusable Folly

in him to speak. But because we are conceal’d Spectators of the Plot

in agitation, and the Poet finds it necessary to let us know the whole



Mystery of his Contrivance; he is willing to inform us of this Persons

Thoughts, and to that end is forced to make use of the expedient of

Speech, no other better way being yet invented for the

Communication of Thought.

Another very wrong Objection has been made by some who have

not taken leisure to distinguish the Characters. The Hero of the Play

as they are pleas’d to call him, (meaning Mellefont) is a Gull, and

made a Fool, and cheated. Is every Man a Gull and a Fool that is

deceived? At that rate I’m afraid the two Classes of Men, will be

reduc’d to one, and the Knaves themselves be at a loss to justifie

their Title: But if an Open-hearted Honest Man, who has an entire

Confidence in one whom he takes to be his Friend, and whom he has

obliged to be so; and who (to confirm him in his Opinion) in all

appearance, and upon several tryals has been so: If this Man be

deceived by the Treachery of the other; must he of necessity commence

Fool immediately, only because the other has proved a Villain? Ay,

but there was Caution given to Mellefont in the first Act by his Friend

Careless. Of what Nature was that Caution? Only to give the

Audience some light into the Character of Maskwell, before his

appearance; and not to convince Mellefont of his Treachery; for that

was more than Careless was then able to do: He never knew Maskwell

guilty of any Villany; he was only a sort of Man which he did not

like. As for his suspecting his Familiarity with my Lady Touchwood:

Let ’em examine the answer that Mellefont makes him, and compare

it with the Conduct of Maskwell’s Character through the Play.

I would have ’em again look into the Character of Maskwell,

before they accuse any Body of weakness for being deceiv’d by him.

For upon summing up the enquiry into this Objection, find they have

only mistaken Cunning in one Character, for Folly in another.

But there is one thing, at which I am more concerned than all the

false Criticisms that are made upon me; and that is, some of the

Ladies are offended: I am heartily sorry for it, for I declare I would

rather disoblige all the Criticks in the World, than one of the Fair

Sex. They are concerned that I have represented some Women Vicious

and Affected: How can I help it? It is the Business of a Comick Poet

to paint the Vices and Follies of Humane kind; and there are but two

Sexes that I know, viz. Men, and Women, which have a Title to

Humanity: And if I leave one half of them out, the Work will be

imperfect. I should be very glad of an opportunity to make my

Complement to those Ladies who are offended: But they can no more



expect it in a Comedy, than to be Tickled by a Surgeon, when he’s

letting ’em Blood. They who are Virtuous or Discreet, I’m sure cannot

be offended, for such Characters as these distinguish them, and make

their Beauties more shining and observ’d: And they who are of the

other kind, may nevertheless pass for such, by seeming not to be

displeased, or touched with the Satyr of this Comedy. Thus have

they also wrongfully accused me of doing them a prejudice, when I

have in reality done them a Service.

I have heard some whispering, as if they intended to accuse this

Play of Smuttiness and Bawdy: But I declare I took a particular care

to avoid it, and if they find any in it, it is of their own making, for I

did not design it to be so understood. But to avoid my saying any

thing upon a Subject, which has been so admirably handled before,

and for their better instruction, I earnestly recommend to their perusal,

the Epistle Dedicatory before the Plain-Dealer.

You will pardon me, Sir, for the freedom I take of making Answers

to other People, in an Epistle which ought wholly to be sacred to

you: But since I intend the Play to be so too, I hope I may take the

more liberty of Justifying it, where it is in the right. I hear a great

many of the Fools are angry at me, and I am glad of it; for I Writ at

them, not to ’em. This is a bold confession, and yet I don’t think I

shall disoblige one Person by it; for no Body can take it to himself,

without owning the Character.

I must now, Sir, declare to the World, how kind you have been to

my Endeavours; for in regard of what was well meant, you have

excused what was ill perform’d, I beg you would continue the same

Method in your acceptance of this Dedication. I know no other way

of making a return to that Charity you shew’d, in protecting an

Infant, but by Enrolling it in your Service, now that it is of Age and

come into the World. Therefore be pleased to accept of this as an

Acknowledgement of the Favour you have shewn me, and an earnest

of the real Service and Gratitude of,


Your Most Obliged

Humble Servant

William Congreve.


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