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ANON. in The Tryal of Skill, 1704
T H E C R I T I C A L H E R I TA G E
In the Year, MDCCIV. The extract below jibes at Congreve’s
intimacy with the celebrated actress Anne Bracegirdle, and his
share in the writing of Squire Trelooby, a play now lost but
acted early in 1704. It was an adaptation of Molière’s Monsieur
de Pourceaugnac, Congreve’s collaborators being Vanbrugh
and Dryden’s former protégé, William Walsh. The Yale editor
suggests as a possible author of The Tryal of Skill William Pittis.
When Congreve brim full of his Mistresses Charms,
Who had likewise made bold with Molier,
Came in piping hot from his Bracegirdle’s Arms,
And would have it his Title was clear.
What he rendred in English, was nothing like Smut;
For he wisely had taken his Choice;
And though the first Act in this Version might not,
Yet his Prudence should give him their Voice.
Said Apollo, You did most discreetly to take
A Part that was easiest and best;
Though the Rules of Behaviour Distinction should make,
And you’d not done amiss to chuse last.
But never pretend to be Modest or Chast,
Th’ Old Batchelor speaks you Obscene,
And Love for Love shews, notwithstanding your hast,
That your Thoughts are Impure and Unclean.
That meaning’s Lascivious your Dialogues bear,
Fit to grace the foul Language of Stews,
And though you are said to make a Wife of a Play’r,
You in those make a Whore of your Muse.
44. Richard Steele on The Old
Batchelour and ‘Doris’
The two extracts from The Tatler are quoted from The
Lucubrations of Isaac Bickerstaff Esq;, 4 vols (London: 1710–
11): (a) I, p. 76, misnumbered 68; (b) IV, p. 20. Extract (c) is
quoted from The Spectator, ed. Donald F.Bond, 5 vols (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1965), III, pp. 585–6. The text of (d) is taken
from Poetical Miscellanies (London: 1714), sig. A2r-A5v. The
latter was actually published on 29 December 1713.
(a) From The Tatler No. 9, Thursday 28 April to Saturday 30 April
This Evening we were entertained with The Old Batchelor, a Comedy
of deserved Reputation. In the Character which gives Name to the
Play, there is excellently represented the Reluctance of a battered
Debauchee to come into the Trammels of Order and Decency: He
neither languishes nor burns, but frets for Love. The Gentlemen of
more regular Behaviour are drawn with much Spirit and Wit, and the
Drama introduced by the Dialogue of the first Scene with uncommon,
yet natural, Conversation. The Part of Fondlewife is a lively Image of
the unseasonable Fondness of Age and Impotence. But instead of such
agreeable Works as these, the Town has this half Age been tormented
with Insects called Easie Writers, whose Abilities Mr. Wycherly one
Day described excellently well in one Word: That, said he, among
these Fellows is called Easy Writing, which any one may easily write.
(b) From The Tatler No. 193, Saturday 1 July to Tuesday 4 July
I had hardly entered the Room, when I was accosted by Mr. Thomas
Dogget, who desired my Favour in Relation to the Play which was
to be acted for his Benefit on Thursday. He pleased me in saying it
was The Old Batchelor, in which Comedy there is a necessary
T H E C R I T I C A L H E R I TA G E
Circumstance observed by the Author, which most other Poets either
overlook or do not understand, that is to say, the Distinction of
Characters. It is very ordinary with Writers to indulge a certain
Modesty of believing all Men as witty as themselves, and making all
the Persons of the Play speak the Sentiments of the Author, without
any manner of Respect to the Age, Fortune, or Quality, of him that
is on the Stage. Ladies talk like Rakes, and Footmen make Similes:
But this Writer knows Men, which makes his Plays reasonable
Entertainments, while the Scenes of most others are like the Tunes
between the Acts. They are perhaps agreeable Sounds, but they have
no Idea’s affixed to them.
(c) From The Spectator No. 422, Friday 4 July 1712.
After these several Characters of Men who succeed or fail in Raillery,
it may not be amiss to reflect a little further what one takes to be
the most agreeable Kind of it; and that to me appears when the
Satyr is directed against Vice, with an Air of Contempt of the Fault,
but no ill Will to the Criminal. Mr. Congreve’s Doris is a Masterpiece in this Kind. It is the Character of a Woman utterly abandoned,
but her Impudence by the finest Piece of Raillery is made only
Peculiar therefore is her Way,
Whether by Nature taught,
I shall not undertake to say,
Or by Experience bought.
For who o’er Night obtain’d her Grace,
She can next Day disown,
And stare upon the strange Man’s Face,
As one she ne’er had known.
So well she can the Truth disguise,
Such artful Wonder frame,
The Lover or distrusts his Eyes,
Or thinks ’twas all a Dream.
Some censure this as lewd or low,
Who are to Bounty blind;
But to forget what we bestow,
Bespeaks a noble Mind.
[‘Doris’, ll. 49–64]
(d) Dedication of Poetical Miscellanies
MY Name, as Publisher of the following Miscellanies, I am sensible,
is but a slight Recommendation of them to the Publick; but the Town’s
Opinion of them will be raised, when it sees them address’d to Mr.
Congreve. If the Patron is but known to have a Taste for what is
presented to him, it gives an hopeful Idea of the Work; how much
more, when He is an acknowledg’d Master of the Art He is desired
to Favour? Your just Success in the various Parts of Poetry, will make
Your Approbation of the following Sheets a Favour to many Ingenious
Gentlemen, whose Modesty wants the Sanction of such an Authority.
Men of your Talents oblige the World, when they are studious to
produce in others the Similitude of their Excellencies. Your great
Discerning in distinguishing the Characters of Mankind, which is
manifested in Your Comedies, renders Your good Opinion a just
Foundation for the Esteem of other Men. I know, indeed, no
Argument against these Collections, in Comparison of any other
Tonson has heretofore Printed; but that there are in it no Verses of
Yours: That gentle, free, and easie Faculty, which also in Songs, and
short Poems, You possess above all others, distinguishes it self whereever it appears. I cannot but instance Your inimitable DORIS, which
excels, for Politeness, fine Raillery, and courtly Satyr, any Thing we
can meet with in any Language.
Give me leave to tell You, that when I consider Your Capacity
this Way, I cannot enough Applaud the Goodness of Your Mind,
that has given so few Examples of these Severities, under the
Temptation of so great Applause, as the ill-natured World bestows
on them, tho’ addressed without any Mixture of Your Delicacy.
I cannot leave my Favourite DORIS, without taking Notice how
much that short Performance discovers a True Knowledge of Life.
DORIS is the Character of a Libertine Woman of Condition, and
the Satyr is work’d up accordingly: For People of Quality are seldom
touched with any Representation of their Vices, but in a Light which
makes them Ridiculous.
As much as I Esteem You for Your Excellent Writings, by which
You are an Honour to our Nation; I chuse rather, as one that has
passed many Happy Hours with You, to celebrate that easie
T H E C R I T I C A L H E R I TA G E
Condescention of Mind, and Command of a pleasant Imagination,
which give You the uncommon Praise of a Man of Wit, always to
please, and never to offend. No one, after a joyful Evening, can reflect
upon an Expression of Mr. Congreve’s, that dwells upon him with
In a Man capable of Exerting himself any Way, this (whatever the
Vain and Ill-natured may think of the Matter) is an Excellence above
the brightest Sallies of Imagination.
The Reflection upon this most equal, amiable, and correct
Behaviour, which can be observed only by your intimate
Acquaintance, has quite diverted me from acknowledging your several
Excellencies as a Writer; but to dwell particularly on those Subjects,
would have no very good Effect upon the following Performances of
my Self and Friends: Thus I confess to You, your Modesty is spared
only by my Vanity, and yet I Hope You will give me leave to indulge
it yet further, in telling all the World, I am, with great Truth,
Your most Obedient, and
most Humble Servant,
45. John Dennis in Remarks upon Mr.
Pope’s Translation of Homer
From The Critical Works of John Dennis, ed. E.N.Hooker, 2
vols (Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1943),
II, pp. 121–2.
The following tribute occurs in Dennis’s hostile critique of
Pope’s Homer, which, perhaps not coincidentally, had been
dedicated to Congreve. Dennis’s animosity towards Pope does
not seem to have soured his relations with Congreve, who for
his part remained on good terms with both men.
There is a Gentleman, the living Ornament of the Comick Scene,
who after he had for several Years entertain’d the Town, with that
Wit and Humour, and Art and Vivacity, which are so becoming of
the Comick Stage, produced at last a Play, which besides that it was
equal to most of the former in those pleasant Humours which the
Laughers so much require, had some certain Scenes in it, which were
writ with so much Grace and Delicacy, that they alone were worth
an entire Comedy. What was the Event? The Play was hiss’d by
Barbarous Fools in the Acting; and an impertinent Trifle was brought
on after it, which was acted with vast Applause. Which rais’d so
much Indignation in the foresaid Writer, that he quitted the Stage in
Disdain, and Comedy left it with him. And those nice great Persons,
whose squeamish Palates rejected Quails and Partridges, have pin’d
ever since in such a Dearth, that they greedily feed upon Bull-Beef.
Thus have I set before the Readers Eyes, in as short a Method as
I could, the cruel Treatment that so many extraordinary Men have
received from their Countrymen for these last hundred Years. If I
should now shift the Scene, and show all that Penury, and that Avarice
chang’d all at once to Riot and Profuseness, and more squander’d
away upon one Object, than would have satisfied the greater part of
those extraordinary Men, the Reader to whom this one Creature
should be altogether unknown, would fancy him a Prodigy of Art
and Nature, would believe that all the great Qualities of those
extraordinary Persons were centred in him alone; that he had the
Capacity and Profoundness of BACON, the fine Painting of
SPENSER, the Force and Sublimity, and Elevation of MILTON; the
fine Thinking and Elegance, and Versification of DRYDEN; the Fire
and Enthusiasm of LEE; the moving melting Tenderness of OTWAY;
the Pleasantry of BUTLER; the Wit and Satire of WYCHERLEY;
and the Humour and Spirit, and Art and Grace of