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ANON. in 'A Session of the Poets', 1698
T H E C R I T I C A L H E R I TA G E
But Apollo the Gentleman’s heat to asswage,
Proclaim’d if his Writing the Laurel shou’d wear,
Of the Garland he’d have but a very small share.
Since by his Plays, he most plainly descry’d,
He did not much in his own Noddle confide;
But yet him, for one of the Tribe he wou’d own,
If in his next play for his Thefts to attone,
He’d Write a whole Leafe that was truly his own:
But to show he cou’d Write, and recover his Cause,
An Elegy out of his Pocket he draws.
Where he hop’d he shou’d purchase the Bays for this Flight,
Lost is the Day which had from her its Light,
For ever lost with her in endless Night:
In endless Night and Arms of Death she lies,
Death in Eternal Shades has shut Pastoras Eyes.1
Concern so Passionate who ever read,
That Dictates nothing, but she’s Dead, Dead, Dead!2
But still of all that fell upon the Queen,
He’s least injurious to her Ashes been.
For what he has of Dread Pastora Sung,
To Cloris, Cynthia, Cisly may belong.
‘The mourning muse of Alexis’, ll. 73–6.
Romeo and Juliet, IV, v, l. 24.
31. John Oldmixon in Reflections on the
From Reflections on the Stage, and Mr Collyer’s Defence of
the Short View (London: 1699), pp. 14–16.
Reflections on the Stage consists of four critical dialogues; the
extract below comes from the first of these. The book was
advertised in The Post Man for 2 to 4 May, and dedicated to
Charles Montagu. Its author, John Oldmixon (1673–1742),
had just commenced the first phase of his literary career, as an
undistinguished poet and dramatist; he would later become a
journalist, pamphleteer, and historian, serving the Whig interest.
A Poet is permitted to shew an Achilles or a Mezentius, as well as an
Ulysses or an Ỉneas. He may represent Prodigality and Avarice, as
Lawfully as Liberality, and the just oeconomy of a good Husband,
or an honest Citizen. But whatever he does, whether for Virtue or
Vice, or any other indifferent quality, he must know what he is about,
not only because ’tis scandalous for him not to know it, but because
this knowledge will make him manage himself with much more
justness. Thus we see Bossu1 would not have been displeas’d with
Dorax’s Rant in Don Sebastian.
Shall I trust Heaven
With my revenge, then where’s my satisfaction?
No, it must be my own, I scorn a Proxy.
[I, i, 254–6]
He would have consider’d this Bully was a Renegado and a Mezentius
in point of Principles, tho this is not so outrageous as what that
Atheist says in the last Moment of his Life.
Nec mortem horremus, nec divum parcimus ulli,
Nor fear I fate, but all the Gods defy.
Vir. Eneid. Dryd. transl.
This judicious Critick, tho a Christian and a Divine, is not so
scrupulous as to throw such lines as these out of a Poem, When he
knows the Character of the man that spake ’em. Manuel in the
Mourning Bride is a wicked Prince, and as Mr Collier says, swaggers
in these Heroick lines.
Better for him to tempt the rage of Heaven,
And wrench the Bolt red hissing from the hand
Of him that Thunders, than but think such Insolence,
’Tis daring for a God.
[II, ii, 368–71]
But Bossu wou’d have excus’d this Sally when he found him punish’d;
’tis true, ’tis not immediately for this, but ’tis for his Crimes in general,
T H E C R I T I C A L H E R I TA G E
and his Lust and Pride being two of the greatest, our Adversary ought
not to have imputed his punishment only to his Tyranny. There are
worse passages in Milton’s Paradice lost than any Mr Collier has
quoted from the Stage Writers, yet none ever pretended to blame
Milton for Profaneness.
René le Bossu, author of Traité du Poëme épique (1675).
32. James Drake in The Ancient and
Modern Stages Survey’d
From The Ancient and Modern Stages Survey’d (London: 1699),
Dr James Drake (1667–1707) was a Tory controversialist
during the reign of Anne, and the author of some medical
works. In company with Samuel Garth, Tom Brown, and
other wits, he contributed to Commendatory Verses, on the
Author of the Two Arthurs, and the Satyr Against Wit (1700),
a riposte to Blackmore. The work from which the following
extract comes is one of the most learned of the replies to
Collier. As Drake makes clear, he had already made brief
reference to The Mourning Bride in his discussion of poetic
justice on pp. 108–9.
The next and last Tragedy I shall instance in is the Mourning Bride.
I have had occasion already to say something of the Observation of
Poetick Justice in this Play, but this being the proper place, I shall
take it a little more particularly into consideration.
The Fable of this Play is one of the most just, and regular that
the Stage, either Antient or Modern, can boast of. I mean, for the
distribution of Rewards, and Punishments. For no virtuous person
misses his Recompence, and no vitious one escapes Vengeance.
Manuel in the prosecution and exercise of his Cruelty and Tyranny,
is taken in a Trap of his own laying, and falls himself a Sacrifice in
the room of him, whom he in his rage had devoted. Gonsalez
villanous cunning returns upon his own head, and makes him by
mistake kill the King his Master, and in that cut off, not only all his
hopes, but his only Prop and Support, and make sure of his own
Destruction. Alonzo, his Creature and Instrument, acts by his
instructions, and shares his Fate. Zara’s furious Temper and
impetuous ungovernable Passion, urge her to frequent violences,
and conclude at last in a fatal mistake. Thus every one’s own
Wickedness or Miscarriage determines his Fate, without shedding
any Malignity upon the Persons and Fortunes of others. Alphonso
in reward of his Virtue receives the Crowns of Valentia and Granada,
and is happy in his Love; all which he acknowledges to be the Gift
of Providence, which protects the Innocent, and rewards the
Virtuous. Almeria, whose Virtues are much of the same kind, and
who Sympathiz’d with him in his afflictions, becomes a joynt Partner
of his Happiness. And Garcia, tho a Servant of the Tyrant, and Son
of the treacherous, ambitious Statesman, yet executing only his
Soveraigns lawful Commands, and being untainted with his Fathers
guilt, and his Principles undebauch’d, is receiv’d into Alphonso’s
All this as well as the Moral is summ’d up so fully, and so concisely
in Alphonso’s last speech, that ’twere injustice not to give it in the
Poets own words.
(To Alm.) Thy Father fell, where he design’d my Death.
Gonsalez and Alonzo, both of Wounds
Expiring, have with their last Breath Confest
The just Decrees of Heaven, in turning on
Themselves their own most bloody Purposes…
(To Garcia——O Garcia
Seest thou, how just the hand of Heaven has been?
Let us, that thro our Innocence survive,
Still in the Paths of Honour persevere,
And not for past, or present ills despair.
T H E C R I T I C A L H E R I TA G E
For Blessings ever wait on virtuous deeds;
And tho a late, a sure Reward succeeds.
[V, ii, 304–22]
These I think are all the English Tragedies, which Mr Collier has by
name excepted against. Taking therefore our View of the Modern
Tragedy from that quarter, which he has alotted to draw a Prospect
of it in, I shall leave it to the Reader to judge, whether have raised
the more beautiful structures. But if we can with these Forces, which
our Enemies have raised for us, make head, and maintain our ground
against the united strength of all Antiquity, what might have been
done, had we had the listing, and sizing ’em our selves.
33. Charles Hopkins in ‘An Epistle from
Mr. Charles Hopkins to Mr. Yalden in
From Poetical Miscellanies: The Fifth Part (London: 1704),
On Hopkins and Yalden see Nos 13 and 7 above. This poem
appeared posthumously but is dated ‘From London-Derry,
August 3. 1699’.
Methinks I see the tuneful Sisters ride,
Mounted like Sea-Nymphs on the swelling Tide,
The Silver Swans are silent while they play,
Augusta hears their Notes, and puts to Sea,
Dryden and Congreve meet them half the way.
All wafted by their own sweet Voices move,
And all is Harmony—
And all that’s Harmony, is Joy and Love.
All are in all the tuneful Numbers skill’d,
And now Apollo boasts his Consort fill’d.
Here listen while our English Maro sings,
Born like the Mantuan Swan on equal Wings:
Mark the great Numbers, mind the lofty Song,
The Sense as clear and just, the Lines as strong.
Hark yonder where the Mourning Bride complains,
And melt with pity at the moving Strains:
Wait the Conclusion, then allay your Grief,
Vice meets with Ruin, Virtue with Relief.
34. Charles Gildon in Lives and Characters
of the English Dramatick Poets
From Lives and Characters of the English Dramatick Poets
(London: 1699), pp. 21–5.
On Charles Gildon, see No. 29 above. The following comes
from what is both an abridgement and a chronological
continuation of Gerard Langbaine’s An Account of the English
Dramatick Poets, which had appeared in 1691.
A Gentleman now living, who derives himself from an Ancient Family
in Staffordshire of that Name. His Politer Knowledge he owes to
Dublin Colledge, from whence being returned to England, his first
Applications were to the Law. But Mr. Congreve was of too delicate
a Taste, had a Wit of too fine a turn, to be long pleas’d with that
crabbed, unpalatable Study; in which the laborious dull plodding
Fellow, generally excells the more sprightly and vivacious Wit; for
the Law is something like Preferment at Court, won by Assurance
and Assiduity; this concurring with his Natural Inclinations to Poetry,
T H E C R I T I C A L H E R I TA G E
diverted him from the Bar to the declining Stage, which then stood
in need of such a Support; and from whence the Town justly received
him as Rome’s other Hope.
Rochfoucault truly observes, that Merit alone will never make a
Heroe, without the friendly Assistance of Fortune; and therefore Mr.
Congreve must be said to be as much oblig’d to her for his Success,
as to Nature for his Wit, which truly deserv’d it, and of which all
those that read his Plays, must allow him a more than ordinary Share.
And indeed he took the most certain way to make sure of Fortune,
by the Intimacy he contracted with the most active part of the
establish’d and receiv’d Wits and Poets of the Age, before he ventur’d
his Reputation to the Publick. For as a celebrated French Writer has
observ’d, an Author should never expect to raise his Fame in the
World, from an unknown State, by the Single Force of his own Genius,
and without the Help and Concurrence of the Men of Wit, that have
an Influence over the Opinion of the World in things of that Nature.
But then on the other side, it must be confess’d, that his Merit was
certainly of more than ordinary Power, to oblige them to forget their
habitual Ill-Nature; and criminal Emulation or Jealousy (to give it
no worse Name) of all those, whom they have any Cause to fear, will
once prove any considerable Rivals in their Fickle Mistress, Fame.
Mr. Congreve has already given us Four Plays, of which in their
The Double Dealer, a Comedy, Acted at the Theatre Royal by
their Majesties Servants, 1694. 4to. and Dedicated to the Right
Honourable Charles Montague, Esq. one of the Lords of the Treasury.
This Play not meeting with that Success as was expected, the Author,
as Poets are generally apt to do, engages a little too violently in a
Defence of his Comedy. The Character of Maskwell I take to be an
Image of Vernish in The Plain Dealer.
Love for Love, a Comedy, Acted at the Theatre in Little LincolnsInn-Fields, by his Majesty’s Servants, 1695. 4to. and Dedicated to
the Right Honourable Charles, Earl of Dorset and Middlesex. This
Play, tho’ a very good Comedy in it self, had this Advantage, that it
was Acted at the Opening of the New House, when the Town was so
prepossess’d in Favour of the very Actors, that before a Word was
spoke, each Actor was Clapt for a considerable Time. And yet all
this got it not more Applause than it really deserv’d: For there is
abundance of Wit in it, and a great deal of diverting Humour. The
Characters are justly distinguish’d, and the Manners well marked.
Yet in the Plot he has not given himself the Pains of avoiding that so
often repeated Improbability of Marrying in Masques and Disguises,
which Mr. Tattle, nor Mrs. Frail had Sense enough to avoid, if we
may judge by the rest of their Characters; yet it must be own’d, that
he has much better prepar’d this Incident to gain it, at least some
shew of Probability, than in the Old Batchelor, or than I have generally
met with in other Plays. I leave the nicer Criticks to decide whether
the unravelling of the Plot, and the Conduct of Angelica in it, be
extreamly just or no: I shall only say it pleas’d, and that is a
considerable Defence, whatever some may think to the contrary.
The Mourning Bride, a Tragedy, Acted at the Theatre in Little
Lincolns-Inn-Fields, by His Majesty’s Servants, and Dedicated to
her Royal Highness the Princess ANN of Denmark, 1697. 4to This
Play had the greatest Success, not only of all Mr. Congreve’s, but
indeed of all the Plays that ever I can remember on the English Stage,
excepting none of the incomparable Otway’s; and if what Dr.
Blackmore says of it be true, it deserved even greater than it met
with; for the learned Doctor in the Seventh Page of his Preface to
King Arthur, says thus:
[Quotes no. 19 above.]
Thus far the Learned Doctor, of whom I will not say, as the Plain
Dealer says of my Lord Plausible, That rather than not Flatter, he
will Flatter the Poets of the Age, &c. Yet I must needs say, so very
great a Commendation, will make some of the Censorious Criticks
imagine what it was that oblig’d him to take such particular Notice
of this Play; which, tho’ I should be never so willing to allow a
Place in the first Form, yet I can never prefer it to the All for Love
of Mr. Dryden, The Orphan, and Venice Preserv’d of Mr. Otway,
or the Lucius Junius Brutus of Mr. Lee, either in true Art in the
Contrivance and Conduct of the Plot; or the Choice and Delineation
of the Characters for the true End of Tragedy, Pitty and Terror; or
the true and natural Movement of the Passions, in which Particular,
none of the Ancients (I was going to say equal’d, but I will boldly
say) surpass’d our English dead Bards in those Plays, and our living
Poet in this of his that I have mention’d. Or the Diction, either in
regard to its Propriety, Clearness, Beauty, Nobleness, or Variety.
Let any impartial Judge read but All for Love, and tell me if there
is or can be a Style more Pure, or more Sublime, more adapted to
the Subject in all its Parts: And I believe, notwithstanding all that
T H E C R I T I C A L H E R I TA G E
some Gentlemen have urg’d against the Language in Otway’s Plays,
it seldom wants any of those Qualities that are necessary to the
Perfection of the Piece he has undertaken; he has seldom given us
any Persons of Kings or Princes, and if his Stile swell not so much
in the Mouths of those of a Lower Degree, whom he has chosen, it
was because he had too much regard to the Nature of the Person
he introduces. And in Lee (with the Critick’s permission let me
speak it) you find always something Wildly Noble, and Irregularly
Great; and I am unwilling, with some, to think his Stile puffie or
tumid; I’m sure in his Play of Lucius Junius Brutus he is generally
Just, both in his Thoughts and his Expressions; and it is rather for
want of a true Taste of him, than his want of Merit, that he is
condemn’d in that Play, I mean, if there be any that do not exempt
that from the Faults of his other Plays.
I urge not this as any Reflection on Mr. Congreve’s Performance,
for which I have all the just Value the Merit of the Play commands;
but to do Justice to his great Predecessors on the Stage, at the
depressing whose Praise, the Doctor, both in this and his former
Preface, seems rather to aim, than at the raising that of Mr. Congreve.
No, had I a mind to exert the Critick, I might, like many other of
that Denomination, urge those Defects that either the Malice, or too
nice Palate of others have descover’d in the Play it self. But I think
’tis a very ungenerous Office (and not to be excus’d by any thing but
some extraordinary Provocation) to dissect the Works of a Man of
Mr. Congreve’s undoubted Merit, when he has done his Endeavour
to please the Town, and so notoriously obtain’d his End; and when
the Faults that may perhaps be found in ’em, are of a Nature that
makes them very disputable, and in which both his Predecessors and
Contemporaries have offended; and I suppose he does not pretend
to infallibility in Poetry. But tho’ I purposely omit all Critical
Reflections, yet the Duty of this Undertaking, and the Foundation I
build on, obliges me to examine what he may have borrowed from
others; which indeed is not much, tho’ the Incident of the Tomb,
seems to be taken from the Meeting of Artaban and Eliza, at the
Tombe of Tyridates, in the Romance of Cleopatra. And Zara has
many Features resembling Nourmahal in Aurenge Zebe, and Almeria
in the Indian Emperor; I know some will have the whole Play a kind
of a Copy of that; but I confess I cannot discover likeness enough to
justify their Opinion: unless it be Zara’s coming to the Prison to
Osmin, as Almeria does to Cortez. I believe our Poet had the Bajazet
of Racine in view, when he formed his Design, at least there is as
much Ground for this as the former Opinion. Perez resenting the
Blow the King gave him, is like an Incident in Cæsar Borgia; but the
Spaniard’s Revenge is more generous, and less cruel than that of the
Thus much for the Mourning Bride, of which, if I may be allow’d
to speak my impartial Sense, I must needs say, that in spite of its
Excellence, it discovers Mr. Congreve’s Genius more inclin’d and
turn’d to Comedy, than Tragedy, tho’ he has gain’d an uncommon
Praise for both; however, it being his first Poem of that Kind, it
promises more perfect Products hereafter; and for which all Lovers
of Poetry long with Impatience.
Old Batchelor, a Comedy, Acted at the Theatre Royal by their
Majesties Servants, and Dedicated to the Right Honourable Charles
Lord Clifford, of Lanesborough, 1693. 4to. This Comedy was Acted
with so general an Applause, that it gave both Fame and Fortune
to our Author; at once made him known to the Town, and to an
Honourable Mecænas; who, to the Satisfaction of all Lovers of
Learning, Wit, and Poetry, has ever since prov’d a generous Friend
to our Poet. The Old Batchelor was usher’d into the World with
several Copies of Verses of his Friends, and which the Merit of the
Play abundantly justifies: For there’s a genteel and sprightly Wit in
the Dialogue, where it ought to be; and the humorous Characters
are generally within the Compass of Nature, which can scarce be
truly said of those of several Poets, who have met with Success
enough on the Stage. Bluff seems an Imitation of the Miles Gloriosus
of Plautus; of Bounce in Greenwich Park; and Hackum in the Squire
of Alsatia, &c. The Incident of Sir Joseph Wittoll’s Marrying Sylvia,
and Captain Bluff, Lucy, in Masques, has been too often an Incident
on the Stage, since I’m confident it was scarce ever done in reality.
Some other Characters are not entirely new, but that is very
excusable in a Young Poet, especially in a Play, which I have been
assur’d was writ, when our Author was but Nineteen Years Old,
and in nothing alter’d, but in the Length, which being consider’d, I
believe few Men that have writ, can shew one half so good at so
unripe an Age.
35. Sir Richard Blackmore in A Satyr
From A Satyr against Wit (London: 1700).
Published in late November with ‘1700’ on the title page,
Blackmore’s poem was an attack on the wits in general, and an
answer to the ridiculing of his poetry in Samuel Garth’s Dispensary,
which had appeared in May the same year. Both men were Whigs,
but Blackmore had sided with the apothecaries against Garth and
other physicians who wished to open a dispensary to provide
medicines for the poor. As the first of the following passages makes
clear, a central metaphor of A Satyr is the establishment of a mint
or exchequer to assay the currency of wit.
Set forth your Edict, let it be enjoyn’d
That all defective Species be recoyn’d.
St. E[vre]m[on]t and R[yme]r both are fit
To oversee the Coining of our Wit.
Let these be made the Masters of Essay,
They’ll every Piece of Metal touch and weigh,
And tell which is too light, which has too much Allay.
’Tis true when that the course and worthless Dross
Is purg’d away, there will be mighty Loss.
Ev’n C[ongrev]e, S[outher]n, Manly W[ycher]ly,
When thus refin’d will grievous Suff’rers be.
V[anbrugh]e and C[ongrev]e both are Wealthy, they
Have Funds of Standard-Sense, need no Allay,
And yet mix’d Metal oft they pass away.
The Bank may safely their Subscriptions take,
But let ’em for their Reputation’s sake,
Take care their Payments they in Sterling make.