GREAT BRITAIN and IRELAND.
Compiled from ample Materials scattered in a Variety of Books, and especially from the MS. Notes of the late ingenious Mr. COXETER and others, collected for this Design,
By Mr. CIBBER, and other Hands.
Denham Killegrew Howard Behn, Aphra Etherege Mountford Shadwell Killegrew, William, Howard Flecknoe Dryden Sedley Crowne Sackville, E. Dorset Farquhar Ravenscroft Philips, John Walsh Betterton Banks Chudley, Lady Creech Maynwaring Monk, the Hon. Mrs. Browne Tom. Pomfret King Sprat, Bishop Montague, E. Hallifax Wycherley Tate Garth Rowe Sheffield, D. Buck. Cotton Additon Winshelsea, Anne Gildon D'Urfey Settle
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Sir JOHN DENHAM.
An eminent poet of the 17th century, was the only son of Sir John Denham, knight, of Little Horsley in Essex, and sometime baron of the Exchequer in Ireland, and one of the lords justices of that kingdom. He was born in Dublin, in the year 1615; but was brought over from thence very young, on his father's being made one of the barons of the Exchequer in England 1617.
He received his education, in grammar learning, in London; and in Michaelmas term 1631 he was entered a gentleman commoner in Trinity College, Oxford, being then 16 years of age; where, as Wood expresses it, 'being looked upon as a slow dreaming young man, and more addicted to gaming than study, they could never imagine he could ever enrich the world with the issue of his brain, as he afterwards did.'
He remained three years at the university, and having been examined at the public schools, for the degree of bachelor of arts, he entered himself in Lincoln's-Inn, where he was generally thought to apply himself pretty closely to the study of the common law. But notwithstanding his application to study, and all the efforts he was capable of making, such was his propensity to gaining, that he was often stript of all his money; and his father severely chiding him, and threatening to abandon him if he did not reform, he wrote a little essay against that vice, and presented it to his father, to convince him of his resolution against it. But no sooner did his father die, than being unrestrained by paternal authority, he reassumed the practice, and soon squandered away several thousand pounds.
In the latter end of the year 1641 he published a tragedy called the Sophy, which was greatly admired, and gave Mr. Waller occasion to say of our author, 'That he broke out like the Irish rebellion, threescore thousand strong, when no body was aware, nor in the Ieast expected it.' Soon after this he was pricked for high sheriff for the county of Surry, and made governor of Farnham-Castle for the King; but not being well skilled in military affairs, he soon quitted that post and retired to his Majesty at Oxford, where he published an excellent poem called Cooper's-hill, often reprinted before and since the restoration, with considerable alterations; it has been universally admired by all good judges, and was translated into Latin verse, by Mr. Moses Pengry of Oxford.
Mr. Dryden speaking of this piece, in his dedication of his Rival Ladies, says, that it is a poem, which, for the Majesty of the stile, will ever be the exact standard of good writing, and the noble author of an essay on human life, bestows upon it the most lavish encomium. But of all the evidences in its favour, none is of greater authority, or more beautiful, than the following of Mr. Pope, in his Windsor Forest.
Ye sacred nine, that all my soul possess, Whose raptures fire me, and whose visions bless; Bear me, O bear me, to sequester'd scenes, The bow'ry mazes, and surrounding greens; To Thames's bank which fragrant breezes fill, Or where the muses sport on Cooper's-hill. (On Cooper's hill eternal wreaths shall grow, While lasts the mountain, or while Thames shall flow.) I seem thro' consecrated walks to rove, I hear soft music die along the grove, Led by the found, I roam from shade to shade, By god-like poets venerable made: Here his last lays majestic Denham sung, There the last numbers flow'd from Cowley's tongue.
In the year 1647 he was entrusted by the Queen with a message to the King, then in the hands of the army, and employed in other affairs, relating to, his Majesty. In his dedication of his poems to Charles II. he observes, that after the delivery of the person of his royal father into the hands of the army, he undertook for the Queen-mother, to get access to his Majesty, which he did by means of Hugh Peters; and upon this occasion, the King discoursed with him without reserve upon the state of his affairs. At his departure from Hampton-court, says he, 'The King commanded me to stay privately in London, to send to him and receive from him all his letters, from and to all his correspondents, at home and abroad, and I was furnished with nine several cyphers in order to it. Which I trust I performed with great safety to the persons with whom we corresponded; but about nine months after being discovered by their knowledge of Mr. Cowley's hand, I happily escaped both for myself and those who held correspondence with me.'
In April 1648 he conveyed away James duke of York, then under the tuition of Algernon earl of Northumberland, from St. James's, and carried him into France, to the prince of Wales and Queenmother. This circumstance is related by Wood, but Clarendon, who is a higher authority, says, that the duke went off with colonel Bamfield only, who contrived the means of his escape. Not long after, he was sent embassador to the King of Poland, in conjunction with lord Crofts, to whom he addresses a poem written on their journey; from whence he brought ten thousand pounds for his Majesty, by the decimation of his Scottish subjects there.
About the year 1652, he returned into England, and was well received by the earl of Pembroke at Wilton, and continued with that nobleman about a year; for his own fortune by the expence he was at during the civil war, and his unconquerable itch of gaming was quite exhausted. From that year to the restoration, there are no accounts of our author; but as soon as his Majesty returned, he entered upon the office of surveyor of his Majesty's buildings, in the room of Inigo Jones, deceased; and at the coronation of King Charles II. was created a knight of the Bath. Upon some discontent arising from his second marriage he lost his senses, but soon recovering from that disorder, he continued in great esteem at court for his poetical writings. In the dedication of his poems to King Charles II. he tells us that he had been discouraged by King Charles I. from writing verses.
'One morning (says he) when I was waiting upon the King at Causham, smiling upon me, he said he could tell me some news of myself, which was that he had seen some verses of mine the evening before (being those to Sir Robert Fanshaw) and asking me when I made them, I told him two or three years since; he was pleased to say, that having never seen them before, he was afraid I had written them since my return into England; and though he liked them well he would advise me to write no more: alledging, that when men are young, and having little else to do, they might vent the over-flowings of their fancy that way, but when they were thought fit for more serious employments, if they still persisted in that course, it would look as if they minded not the way to any better; whereupon I stood corrected as long as I had the honour to wait upon him.' This is a strong instance of his duty to the King; but no great compliment to his Majesty's taste: nor was the public much obliged to the Monarch for this admonition to our author.
But King Charles II being of an humour more sprightly than his father, was a professed encourager of poetry, and in his time a race of wits sprung up, unequalled by those of any other reign.
This monarch was particularly delighted with the poetry of our author, especially when he had the happiness to wait upon him, in Holland and Flanders; and he was pleased sometimes to give him arguments to write upon, and divert the evil hours of their banishment, which now and then, Sir John tells us, he acquitted himself not much short of his Majesty's expectation.
In the year 1688 Sir John Denham died, at his office in Whitehall, and was interred in Westminster-Abbey, near the tombs of Chaucer, Spenser, and Cowley.
Our author's works are,
1. Cooper's-hill, of which we have already taken some notice.
2. The Destruction of Troy, an Essay on the second book of Virgil's AEneis, written 1636.
3. On the Earl of Strafford's Trial and Death.
4. On my Lord Crofts's Journey into Poland.
5. On Mr. Thomas Killegrew's return from Venice; and Mr. William Murrey's from Scotland.
6. To Sir John Mennis, being invited from Calais to Bologne to eat a pig.
7. Natura Naturata.
8. Sarpedon's Speech to Glaucus, in the twelfth book of Homer.
9. Out of an Epigram of Martial.
10. Friendship and Single Life, against Love and Marriage.
11. On Mr. Abraham Cowley's Death and Burial.
12. A Speech against Peace at the Close Committee.
13. To the Five Members of the honourable House of Commons: The humble Petition of the Poets.
14. A Western Wonder.
15. A Second Western Wonder.
16. News from Colchester; or, a proper new Ballad, of certain carnal Passages betwixt a Quaker and a Colt, at Horsley in Essex.
17. A Song.
18. On Mr. John Fletcher's Works.
19. To Sir Richard Fanshaw, on his translation of Pastor Fido.
20. A Dialogue between Sir John Pooley, and Mr. Thomas Killegrew.
21. An occasional Imitation of a modern Author, upon a Game at Chess.
22. The Passion of Dido for AEneas.
23. Of Prudence, of Justice.
24. The Progress of Learning.
25. Cato Major of old Age, a Poem: It is taken from the Latin of Tully, though much alter'd from the original, not only by the change of the stile, but by addition and subtraction. Our author tells us, that intending to translate this piece into prose (where translation ought to be strict) finding the matter very proper for verse, he took the liberty to leave out what was only necessary, to that age and place, and to take or add what was proper to this preset age and occasion, by laying the scene clearer and in fewer words, according to the stile and ear of the times.
26. The Sophy, a Tragedy; the above pieces have been several times printed together, in one volume in 12mo. under the Title of Poems and Translations; with the Sophy, a Tragedy, written by Sir John Denham.
Besides these, Wood mentions a Panegyric on his excellency general Monk 1659, in one sheet quarto. Though Denham's name is not to it, it is generally ascribed to him. A Prologue to his majesty, at the first play represented at the Cock-pit in White-hall, being part of that noble entertainment, which their majesties received, November 19, 1660, from his grace the duke of Albemarle. A new Version of the Psalms of David. The True Presbyterian, without Disguise; or, a Character of a Presbyterian's Ways and Actions, London 1680, in half a sheet in folio. In the year 1666 there were printed by stealth, in octavo, certain Poems, intitled Directions to a Painter, in four copies or parts, each dedicated to King Charles the IId. They were very satyrically written against several persons engaged in the Dutch war, in 1661. At the end of them was a piece entitled Clarendon's Housewarming; and after that his Epitaph, both containing bitter reflexions against that earl. Sir John Denham's name is to these pieces, but they were generally thought to be written by Andrew Marvel, Esq; a Merry Droll in Charles the IId's Parliaments, but so very honest, that when a minister once called at his lodgings, to tamper with him about his vote, he found him in mean apartments up two pair of stairs, and though he was obliged to send out that very morning to borrow a guinea, yet he was not to be corrupted by the minister, but denied him his vote. The printer of these poems being discovered, he was sentenced to stand in the pillory for the same.
We have met with no authors who have given any account of the moral character of Sir John Denham, and as none have mentioned his virtues, so we find no vice imputed to him but that of gaming; to which it appears he was immoderately addicted. If we may judge from his works, he was a good-natur'd man, an easy companion, and in the day of danger and tumult, of unshaken loyalty to the suffering interest of his sovereign. His character as a poet is well known, he has the fairest testimonies in his favour, the voice of the world, and the sanction of the critics; Dryden and Pope praise him, and when these are mentioned, other authorities are superfluous.
We shall select as a specimen of Sir John Denham's Poetry, his Elegy on his much loved and admired friend Mr. Abraham Cowley.
Old mother Wit and nature gave Shakespear, and Fletcher all they have; In Spencer and in Johnson art, Of slower nature, got the start. But both in him so equal are, None knows which bears the happiest share. To him no author was unknown, Yet what he wrote was all his own: He melted not the ancient gold, Nor, with Ben Johnson, did make bold. To plunder all the Roman stores Of poets and of orators. Horace's wit, and Virgil's state, He did not steal, but emulate; And he would like to them appear, Their garb, but not their cloaths did wear. He not from Rome alone but Greece, Like Johnson, brought the golden fleece. And a stiff gale, (as Flaccus sings) The Theban swan extends his wings, When thro' th' aethereal clouds he flies, To the same pitch our swan doth rise: Old Pindar's flights by him new-reach'd, When on that gale, his wings are stretch'd.
[Footnote 1: Ath. Oxon. vol. ii.]
[Footnote 2: Wood.]
[Footnote 3: In the preface to 2d edition, 1736, 4to.]
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A Gentleman, who was page of honour to king Charles I. and groom of the bed-chamber to king Charles II. with whom he endured twenty-years exile. During his abode beyond sea, he took a view of France, Italy and Spain, and was honoured by his majesty, with the employment of resident at the state of Venice, whither he was sent in August 1651. During his exile abroad, he applied his leisure hours to the study of poetry, and the composition of Several plays, of which Sir John Denham. in a jocular way takes notice, in his copy of verses on our author's return from his embassy from Venice.
Our resident Tom, From Venice is come, And hath left the statesman behind him. Talks at the same pitch, Is as wise, is as rich, And just where you left him, you find him.
But who says he was not, A man of much plot, May repent that false accusation; Having plotted, and penn'd Six plays to attend, The farce of his negotiation.
Killegrew was a man of very great humour, and frequently diverted king Charles II, by his lively spirit of mirth and drollery. He was frequently at court, and had often access to king Charles when admission was denied to the first peers in the realm. Amongst many other merry stories, the following is related of Killegrew. Charles II, who hated business as much as he loved pleasure, would often disappoint the council in vouchsafing his royal presence when they were met, by which their business was necessarily delay'd and many of the council much offended by the disrespect thrown on them: It happened one day while the council were met, and had sat some time in expectation of his majesty, that the duke of Lauderdale, who was a furious ungovernable man, quitted the room in a passion, and accidentally met with Killegrew, to whom he expressed himself irreverently of the king: Killegrew bid his grace be calm, for he would lay a wager of a hundred pounds, that he would make his majesty come to council in less than half an hour. Lauderdale being a little heated, and under the influence of surprize, took him at his word;—Killegrew went to the king, and without ceremony told him what had happened, and added, "I know that your majesty hates Lauderdale, tho' the necessity of your affairs obliges you to behave civilly to him; now if you would get rid of a man you hate, come to the council, for Lauderdale is a man so boundlessly avaricious, that rather than pay the hundred pounds lost in this wager, he will hang himself, and never plague you more." The king was pleased with the archness of this observation, and answered, 'then Killegrew I'll positively go,' which he did.—It is likewise related, that upon the king's suffering his mistresses to gain so great an ascendant over him as to sacrifice for them the interest of the state, and neglect the most important affairs, while, like another Sardanapalus, he wasted his hours in the apartments of those enchantresses: Killegrew went one day into his apartment dress'd like a pilgrim, bent upon a long journey. The king being surprized at this extraordinary frolic, asked him the meaning of it, and to what distant country he was going, to which Killegrew bluntly answered, the country I seek, may it please your majesty, is hell; and what to do there? replies the king? to bring up Oliver Cromwel from thence, returned the wag, to take care of the English affairs, for his successor takes none.—We cannot particularly ascertain the truth of these relations, but we may venture to assert that these are not improbable, when it is considered how much delighted king Charles the IId. was with a joke, however severe, and that there was not at court a more likely person to pass them than Killegrew, who from his long exile with the king, and being about his person, had contracted a kind of familiarity, which the lustre that was thrown round the prince upon his restoration was not sufficient to check.
Tho' Sir John Denham mentions but six, our author wrote nine Plays in his travels, and two at London, amongst which his Don Thomaso, in two parts, and his Parson's Wedding, will always be valued by good judges, and are the best of his performances. The following is a list of his plays.
1. Bellamira's Dream, or Love of Shadows, a Tragi-Comedy; the first part printed in folio 1663, written in Venice, and dedicated to the lady Mary Villiers, duchess of Richmond and Lennox.
2. Bellamira's Dream, the second part, written in Venice; printed in folio, London 1663, and dedicated to the lady Anne Villiers, countess of Essex.
3. Cicilia and Clorinda, or Love in Arms, a Tragi-comedy; the first part printed in folio, London, 1663, written in Turin.
4. Cicilia and Clorinda, the second part, written at Florence 1651, and dedicated to the lady Dorothy Sidney, countess of Sunderland.
5. Claracilla, a Tragi-comedy, printed in folio, London 1663; written at Rome, and dedicated to his sister in-law lady Shannon; on this play and another of the author's called the Prisoners, Mr. Cartwright has written an ingenious copy of verses.
6. The Parson's Wedding, a Comedy, printed in folio, London 1663; written at Basil in Switzerland. This play was revived at the old Theatre, at little Lincoln's Inn-Fields, and acted all by women; a new prologue and epilogue, being spoken by Mrs. Marshal in Man's cloaths, which Mr. Langbain says is printed in the Covent-Garden Drollery. This was a miscellaneous production of those times, which bore some resemblance to our Magazines; but which in all probability is now out of print.
7. The Pilgrim, a Tragedy, printed in folio, London 1663; written in Paris in the year 1651, and dedicated to the countess of Carnarvon.
8. The Princess, or Love at first Sight, a Tragi-Comedy, printed in folio, London 1663; written at Naples, and dedicated to his niece, the lady Anne Wentworth, wife to lord Lovelace.
9. The Prisoners, a Tragi-Comedy, printed in folio; London 1663; written at London and dedicated to the lady Crompton.
10. Don Thomaso, or the Wanderer, a Comedy in two parts, printed in folio, London 1663; and dedicated to the fair and kind friends of prince Palatine Polexander. In the first part of this play, the author has borrowed several ornaments from Fletcher's play called the Captain. He has used great freedom with Ben Johnson, for not only the characters of Lopus, but even the very words are repeated from Johnson's Fox, where Volpone personates Scoto of Mantua. I don't believe that our author designed to conceal his assistance, since he was so just as to acknowledge a song against jealousy, which he borrowed from Mr. Thomas Carew, cup-bearer to king Charles the Ist, and sung in a masque at Whitehall, anno 1633. This Chorus, says he, 'I presume to make use of here, because in the first design it was written at my request, upon a dispute held between Mrs. Cicilia Crofer and myself, when he was present; she being then maid of honour. This I have set down, lest any man should imagine me so foolish as to steal such a poem, from so famous an author.' If he was therefore so scrupulous in committing depredations upon Carew, he would be much more of Ben Johnson, whose fame was so superior to Carew's. All these plays were printed together in one volume in folio, London 1664.
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EDWARD HOWARD, Esq;
Was descended from the noble family of the earl of Berkshire, and was more illustrious by his birth than his genius; he addicted himself to the study of dramatic poetry, and produced four plays, but gained no reputation by any of them.
1. The Man of New-Market, a Comedy, acted at the Theatre-Royal; and printed in quarto, London 1678.
2. Six Days Adventure, or the New Utopia, a Comedy, acted at his royal highness the duke of York's Theatre, printed in quarto 1671. This play miscarried in the action, as he himself acknowledges in his preface; and the earl of Rochester, with his usual virulence, writ an invective against it; but, Mrs. Behn, Mr. Ravenscroft, and some other poets, taking compassion on him, sent the author recommendatory verses, which are printed before that play, and in return he writ a Pindarique to Mrs. Behn, which she printed in a Collection of Poems 1685.
3. The Usurper, a Tragedy, acted at the Theatre-Royal, and printed 1668, in which the character of Damocles, is said to have been drawn for Oliver Cromwel, and that the play is a parallel of those times.
4. Women's Conquest, a Tragi-Comedy, acted at the Duke's Theatre 1677.
Besides these plays, Mr. Howard has published an Epic Poem in octavo, called the British Princes, which the earl of Rochester likewise handled pretty severely. There is likewise ascribed to him another Book of Poems and Essays, with a Paraphrase on Cicero's Laelius, or Tract of Friendship, printed in 8vo. The Earl of Dorset, who was called by cotemporary writers, the best good man, with the worst natured Muse, has dedicated a few lines to the damnation of this extraordinary epic production of Mr. Howard's.
The Spectator observes, that this epic piece is full of incongruity, or in other words, abounds with nonsense. He quotes the two following lines,
A coat of mail Prince Vortiger had on, Which from a naked pict his grandsire won.
Who does not see the absurdity of winning a coat from a naked man?
The earl of Dorset thus addresses him;
To Mr. EDWARD HOWARD, on his incomparable, incomprehensible POEM called the BRITISH PRINCES.
Come on, ye critics, find one fault who dare, For, read it backward like a witch's prayer, 'Twill do as well; throw not away your jests On solid nonsense that abides all tests. Wit, like tierce-claret, when't begins to pall, Neglected lies, and's of no use at all, But, in its full perfection of decay, Turns vinegar, and comes again in play. Thou hast a brain, such as it is indeed; On what else mould thy worm of fancy feed? Yet in a Filbert I have often known Maggots survive when all the kernel's gone. This simile shall stand, in thy defence, 'Gainst such dull rogues as now and then write sense. Thy style's the same, whatever be thy theme, As some digestion turns all meat to phlegm. He lyes, dear Ned, who says, thy brain it barren, Where deep conceits, like vermin breed in carrion. Thy stumbling founder'd jade can trot as high As any other Pegasus can fly. So the dull Eel moves nimbler in the mud, Than all the swift-finn'd racers of the flood. As skilful divers to the bottom fall, Sooner than those that cannot swim at all, So in the way of writing, without thinking, Thou hast a strange alacrity in sinking. Thou writ'st below ev'n thy own nat'ral parts, And with acquir'd dulness, and new arts Of studied nonsense, tak'st kind readers hearts. Therefore dear Ned, at my advice forbear, Such loud complaints 'gainst critics to prefer, Since thou art turn'd an arrant libeller: Thou sett'st thy name to what thyself do'st write; Did ever libel yet so sharply bite?
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Mrs. APHRA BEHN,
A celebrated poetess of the last age, was a gentlewoman by birth, being descended, as her life-writer says, from a good family in the city of Canterbury. She was born in Charles Ist's reign, but in what year is not known. Her father's name was Johnson, whose relation to the lord Willoughby engaged him for the advantageous post of lieutenant general of Surinam, and six and thirty islands, to undertake a voyage, with his whole family, to the West-Indies, at which time our poetess was very young. Mr. Johnson died at sea, in his passage thither; but his family arrived at Surinam, a place so delightfully situated, and abounding with such a vast profusion of beauties, that, according to Mrs. Behn's description, nature seems to have joined with art to render it perfectly elegant: her habitation in that country, called St. John's Hill, she has challenged all the gardens in Italy, nay, all the globe of the world, to shew so delightful a recess. It was there our poetess became acquainted with the story and person of the American Prince Oroonoko, whose adventures she has so feelingly and elegantly described in the celebrated Novel of that name, upon which Mr. Southern has built his Tragedy of Oroonoko, part of which is so entertaining and moving, that it is almost too much for nature. Mrs. Behn tells us, that she herself had often seen and conversed with that great man, and been a witness to many of his mighty actions, and that at one time, he, and Imoinda his wife, were scarce an hour in a day from her lodgings; that they eat with her, and that she obliged them in all things she was capable of, entertaining them with the lives of the Romans and great men, which charmed him with her company; while she engaged his wife with teaching her all the pretty works she was mistress of, relating stories of Nuns, and endeavouring to bring her to the knowledge of the true God. This intimacy between Oroonoko and Mrs. Behn occasioned some reflexions on her conduct, from which the authoress of her life, already quoted, justified her in the following manner; 'Here, says she, I can add nothing to what she has given the world already, but a vindication of her from some unjust aspersions I find are insinuated about this town, in relation to that prince. I knew her intimately well, and I believe she would not have concealed any love affair from me, being one of her own sex, whose friendship and secrecy she had experienced, which makes me assure the world that there was no intrigue between that Prince and Astraea. She had a general value for his uncommon virtues, and when he related the story of his woes, she might with the Desdemona of Shakespear, cry out, That it was pitiful, wondrous pitiful, which never can be construed into an amour; besides, his heart was too violently set on the everlasting charms of his Imoinda, to be shook with those more faint (in his eye) of a white beauty; and Astrea's relations there present kept too watchful an eye over her, to permit the frailty of her youth, if that had been powerful enough.' After this lady's return to London, she was married to Mr. Behn, a Merchant there, but of Dutch extraction. This marriage strengthening her interest, and, perhaps, restoring her character, gave her an opportunity of appearing with advantage at court. She gave King Charles II. so accurate and agreeable an account of the colony of Surinam, that he conceived a great opinion of her abilities, and thought her a proper person to be entrusted with the management of some important affairs, during the Dutch war; which occasioned her going into Flanders, and residing at Antwerp. Here, by her political intrigues, she discovered the design formed by the Dutch, of sailing up the river Thames, and burning the English ships in their harbours, which she communicated to the court of England; but her intelligence, though well grounded, as appeared by the event, being only laughed at and slighted, she laid aside all other thoughts of state affairs, and amused herself during her stay at Antwerp with the gallantries in that city. But as we have mentioned that she discovered the design of the Dutch to burn our ships, it would be injustice to the lady, as well as to the reader, not to give some detail of her manner of doing it. She made this discovery by the intervention of a Dutchman, whom her life-writer calls by the name of Vander Albert. As an ambassador, or negociator of her sex could not take the usual means of intelligence; of mixing with the multitude, and bustling in the cabals of statesmen, she fell upon another way, perhaps more efficacious, of working by her eyes. This Vander Albert had been in love with her before her marriage with Mr. Behn, and no sooner heard of her arrival at Antwerp, than he paid her a visit; and after a repetition of his former vows, and ardent professions for her service, pressed her to receive from him some undeniable proofs of the vehemence and sincerity of his passion, for which he would ask no reward, 'till he had by long and faithful services convinced her that he deserved it. This proposal was so suitable to her present aim in the service of her country, that she accepted it, and employed Albert in such a manner, as made her very serviceable to the King. The latter end of the year 1666, he sent her word, by a special messenger, that he would be with her at a day appointed, at which time, he revealed to her, that Cornelius de Wit, who, with the rest of that family, had an implacable hatred to the English nation and the house of Orange, had, with de Ruyter, proposed to the States the expedition abovementioned. This proposal, concurring with the advice which the Dutch spies in England had given them, of the total neglect of all naval preparations, was well received, and was resolved to be put in execution, as a thing neither dangerous nor difficult. Albert having communicated a secret of this importance, and with such marks of truth, that she had no room to doubt of it: as soon as the interview was at an end, she dispatched an account of what she had discovered, to England.
But we cannot conclude Mrs. Behn's gallantries at Antwerp, without being a little more particular, as we find her attacked by other lovers, and thought she found means to preserve her innocence, yet the account that she herself gives of her affairs there, is both humorous and entertaining.
In a letter to a friend she proceeds thus, 'My other lover is about twice Albert's age, nay and bulk too, tho' Albert "be not the most Barbary shape you have seen, you must know him by the name of Van Bruin, and he was introduced to me by Albert his kinsman, and was obliged by him to furnish me in his absence, with what money and other things I should please to command, or have occasion for. This old fellow had not visited me often, before I began to be sensible of the influence of my eyes upon this old piece of touchwood; but he had not the confidence to tell me he loved me, and modesty you know is no common fault of his countrymen. He often insinuated that he knew a man of wealth and substance, though striken indeed in years, and on that account not so agreeable as a younger man, was passionately in love with me, and desired to know whether my heart was so far engaged, that his friend should not entertain, any hopes. I replied that I was surprized to hear a friend of Albert's making an interest in me for another, and that if love were a passion, I was any way sensible of, it could never be for an old man, and much to that purpose. But all this would not do, in a day or two I received this eloquent epistle from him." Here Mrs. Behn inserts a translation of Van Bruin's letter, which was wrote in French, and in a most ridiculous stile, telling her, he had often strove to reveal to her the tempests of his heart, and with his own mouth scale the walls of her affections; but terrified with the strength of her fortifications, he concluded to make more regular approaches, to attack her at a farther distance, and try first what a bombardment of letters would do; whether these carcasses of love thrown into the sconces of her eyes, would break into the midst of her breast, beat down the out-guard of her aversion, and blow up the magazine of her cruelty, that she might be brought to a capitulation, and yield upon, reasonable terms. He then considers her as a goodly ship under sail for the Indies; her hair is the pennants, her fore-head the prow, her eyes the guns, her nose the rudder. He wishes he could once see her keel above water, and desires to be her pilot, to steer thro' the Cape of Good-Hope, to the Indies of love.
Our ingenious poetess sent him a suitable answer to this truly ridiculous and Dutchman like epistle. She rallies him for setting out in so unprofitable a voyage as love, and humorously reckons up the expences of the voyage; as ribbons, and hoods for her pennants, diamond rings, lockets, and pearl-necklaces for her guns of offence and defence, silks, holland, lawn, cambric, &c. for her rigging.
Mrs. Behn tells us she diverted herself with Van Bruin in Albert's absence, till he began to assume and grow troublesome to her by his addresses, so that to rid himself of him, she was forced to disclose the whole affair to Albert, who was so enraged that he threatened the death of his rival, but he was pacified by his mistress, and content to upbraid the other for his treachery, and forbid him the house, but this says Mrs. Behn, 'produced a very ridiculous scene, for 'my Nestorian lover would not give ground to Albert, but was as high as he, challenged him to sniker-snee for me, and a thousand things as comical; in short nothing but my positive command could satisfy him, and on that he promised no more to trouble me. Sure as he thought himself of me, he was thunder-struck, when he heard me not only forbid him the house, but ridicule all his addresses to his rival Albert; with a countenance full of despair, he went away not only from my lodgings, but the next day from Antwerp, unable to stay in a place where he had met so dreadful a defeat.'
The authoress of her life has given us a farther account of her affairs with Vander Albert, in which she contrived to preserve her honour, without injuring her gratitude. There was a woman at Antwerp, who had often given Astraea warning of Albert's fickleness and inconstancy, assuring her he never loved after enjoyment, and sometimes changed even before he had that pretence; of which she herself was an instance; Albert having married her, and deserted her on the wedding-night. Our poetess took the opportunity of her acquaintance with this lady to put an honest trick upon her lover, and at the same time do justice to an injured woman. Accordingly she made an appointment with Albert, and contrived that the lady whose name was Catalina, should meet him in her stead. The plot succeeded and Catalina infinitely pleased with the adventure, appointed the next night, and the following, till at last he discovered the cheat, and resolved to gratify both his love and resentment, by enjoying Astaea even against her will. To this purpose he bribed an elderly gentlewoman, whom Mrs. Behn kept out of charity, to put him to bed drest in her night-cloaths in her place, when Astraea was passing the evening in a merchant's house in the town. The merchant's son and his two daughters waited on Astraea home; and to conclude the evening's mirth with a frolick, the young gentleman proposed going to bed to the old woman, and that they should all come in with candles and surprize them together. As it was agreed so they did, but no sooner was the young spark put to bed, but he found himself accosted with ardour, and a man's voice, saying, 'have I now caught thee, thou malicious charmer! now I'll not let thee go till thou hast done me justice for all the wrongs thou hast offered my dealing love.' The rest of the company were extremely surprized to find Albert in Astraea's bed instead of the old woman, and Albert no less surprized to find the young spark instead of Astraea. In the conclusion, the old woman was discarded, and Albert's fury at his disappointment appeased by a promise from Mrs. Behn, of marrying him at his arrival in England; but Albert returning to Holland to make preparations for his voyage to England, died of a Fever at Amsterdam. From this adventure it plainly appears, that the observation of a Dutchman's not being capable to love is false; for both Albert, and the Nestorian wooer, seem to have been warm enough in their addresses.
After passing some time in this manner at Antwerp, she embarked at Dunkirk for England; and in her passage, was near being lost, for the ship being driven on the coast, foundered within sight of land, but by the assistance of boats from the shore, they were all saved; and Mrs. Behn arriving in London, dedicated the rest of her life to pleasure and poetry. Besides publishing three volumes of miscellany poems, she wrote seventeen plays, and some histories and novels. She translated Fontenelle's History of Oracles, and plurality of worlds, to which last she annexed an Essay on Translation, and translated Prose. The Paraphrase of Oenone's, Epistle to Paris, in the English Translation of Ovid's Epistles is Mrs. Behn's; as are the celebrated Love Letters between a Nobleman and his Sister. Her wit gained her the esteem of Mr. Dryden, Mr. Southern, &c. and at the same time the love and addresses of several gentlemen, in particular one, with whom she corresponded under the name of Lycida, who it seems did not return her passion with equal warmth, and with the earnestness and rapture, she imagined her beauty had a right to command.
Mrs. Behn died after a long indisposition, April 16, 1689, and was buried in the cloister of Westminster Abbey. We shall beg leave to exhibit her character, as we find it drawn by some of her cotemporaries, and add a remark of our own. 'Mr. Langbain 'thinks her Memory will be long fresh among all lovers of dramatic poetry, as having been sufficiently eminent, not only for her theatrical performances; but several other pieces both in prose and verse, which gained her an esteem among the wits almost equal to that of the incomparable Orinda, Mrs. Katherine Phillips.'
There are several encomiums on Mrs. Behn prefixed to her lover's watch; among the rest, Mr. Charles Cotton, author of Virgil Travesty, throws in his mite in her praise; though the lines are but poorly writ. But of all her admirers, Mr. Charles Gildon, who was intimately acquainted with our poetess, speaks of her with the highest encomiums.
In his epistle dedicatory to her histories and novels, he thus expresses himself. 'Poetry, the supreme pleasure of the mind, is begot, and born in pleasure, but oppressed and killed with pain. This reflexion ought to raise our admiration of Mrs. Behn, whose genius was of that force, to maintain its gaiety in the midst of disappointments, which a woman of her sense and merit ought never to have met with. But she had a great strength of mind, and command of thought, being able to write in the midst of company, and yet have the share of the conversation: which I saw her do in writing Oroonoko, and other parts of her works, in every part of which you'll find an easy stile and a peculiar happiness of thinking. The passions, that of love especially, she was mistress of, and gave us such nice and tender touches of them, that without her name we might discover the author.' To this character of Mrs. Behn may be very properly added, that given of her by the authoress of her life and memoirs, in these words.
'She was of a generous humane disposition, something passionate, very serviceable to her friends in all that was in her power, and could sooner forgive an injury than do one. She had wit, humour, good-nature and judgment. She was mistress of all the pleasing arts of conversation: She was a woman of sense, and consequently a lover of pleasure. For my part I knew her intimately, and never saw ought unbecoming the just modesty of our sex; though more gay and free, than the folly of the precise will allow.'
The authors of the Biographia Brittanica say, that her poetry is none of the best; and that her comedies, tho' not without humour, are full of the most indecent scenes and expressions. As to the first, with submission to the authority of these writers, the charge is ill-founded, which will appear from the specimen upon which Dryden himself makes her a compliment; as to the latter, I'm afraid it cannot be so well defended; but let those who are ready to blame her, consider, that her's was the sad alternative to write or starve; the taste of the times was corrupt; and it is a true observation, that they who live to please, must please to live.
Mrs. Behn perhaps, as much as any one, condemned loose scenes, and too warm descriptions; but something must be allowed to human frailty. She herself was of an amorous complexion, she felt the passions intimately which she describes, and this circumstance added to necessity, might be the occasion of her plays being of that cast.
The stage how loosely does Astrea tread, Who fairly puts, all characters to bed.
Are lines of Mr. Pope:
And another modern speaking of, the vicissitudes to which the stage is subjected, has the following,
Perhaps if skill could distant times explore, New Behn's, new Durfey's, yet remain in store, Perhaps, for who can guess th' effects of chance, Here Hunt may box, and Mahomet may dance.
This author cannot be well acquainted with Mrs. Behn's works, who makes a comparison between them and the productions of Durfey. There are marks of a fine understanding in the most unfinished piece of Mrs. Behn, and the very worst of this lady's compositions are preferable to Durfey's bell. It is unpleasing to have the merit of any of the Fair Sex lessened. Mrs. Behn suffered enough at the hands of supercilious prudes, who had the barbarity to construe her sprightliness into lewdness; and because she had wit and beauty, she must likewise be charged with prostitution and irreligion.
Her dramatic works are,
1, 2. The Rover: Or, the banished Cavalier. In two parts, both comedies; acted at the duke's theatre, and printed in 4to. 1677 and 1681. Those plays are taken in a great measure from Killegrew's Don Thomaso, or the wanderer.
3. The Dutch Lover, a Comedy, acted at the Duke's theatre, and printed in 4to, 1673. The plot of this play is founded upon a Spanish Comedy entitled, Don Fenise, written by Don Francisco de las Coveras.
4. Abdelazer; or the Moor's Revenge, a Tragedy, acted at the duke's theatre, and printed in 4to. 1671. It is taken from an old play of Marlow's, intitled, Lust's Dominion; or the Lascivious Queen, a Tragedy.
5. The Young King; or the Mistake, a Tragi-Comedy, acted at the duke's theatre, and printed in 4to. in 1683. The design of this play is taken from the story of Alcamenes and Menalippa, in Calprenede's Cleopatra.
6. The Round-Heads; or the Good Old Cause, a Comedy; acted at the duke's theatre, and printed in 4to. 1682. It is dedicated to Henry Fitzroy—duke of Grafton.
7. The City Heiress; or Sir Timothy Treatwell, a Comedy; acted at the duke's theatre, and printed in 4to. in 1682, dedicated to Henry Earl of Arundel, and Lord Mowbray. Most of the characters in this play are borrowed, according to Langbaine, from Massinger's Guardian, and Middleton's Mad World my Masters.
8. The Town Fop, or Sir Timothy Tawdry, a Comedy, acted at the duke's theatre, and printed in 4to. 1677. This play is founded on a comedy written by one George Wilkins, entitled, the Miseries of inforced Marriage.
9. The False Count, or a New Way to play an old Game, a Comedy; acted at the duke's theatre, and printed in 4to. 1682 Isabella's being deceived by the Chimney Sweeper is borrowed from Mollier's precieuse Ridicules.
10. The Lucky Chances; or an Alderman's Bargain, a Comedy, acted by the King's company, and printed in 4to. in 1687. It is dedicated to Hyde Earl of Rochester. This play was greatly condemned by the critics; some incidents in it are borrowed from Shirley's Lady of Pleasure.
11. The forced Marriage; or the jealous Bridegroom, a Tragi-Comedy, acted at the duke's theatre, and printed in 4to, 1671.
12. Sir Patient Fancy; a Comedy, acted at the duke's theatre, and printed in 4to. 1678. The plot of this play, and some of the characters, particularly Sir Patient, is borrowed from Moliere's Malades Imaginaires.
13. The Widow Ranter; or the History of Bacon in Virginia, a Tragi-Comedy, acted by the King's company, and printed 1690. It is uncertain where she had the history of Bacon; but the catastrophe seems founded on the story of Cassius, who died by the hand of his freed man. This play was published after Mrs. Behn's death by one G.I., her friend.
14. The Feigned Courtezan; or a Night's Intrigue, a Comedy, acted at the duke's theatre, and printed in 4to. 1679. It is dedicated to the famous Ellen Gwyn, King Charles IId's mistress, and is esteemed one of Mrs. Behn's best plays.
15. Emperor of the Moon, a Farce, acted at the Queen's theatre, and printed 4to. 1687. It is dedicated to the Marquis of Worcester. The Plot is taken from an Italian piece translated into French, under the title of Harlequin Empereur, Dans le Monde de la Lune, and acted at Paris above eighty nights without intermission.
16. The Amorous Prince; or the Curious Husband, a Comedy, acted at the duke of York's theatre, and printed in 4to. 1671. The plot is borrowed from the novel of the Curious Impertinent in Don Quixote.
17. The younger Brother; or the Amorous Jilt; a Comedy, published after her death by Mr. Gildon. It was taken from a true story of colonel Henry Martin, and a certain lady.
Mrs. Behn's plays, all but the last, were published together in two volumes 8vo. But the edition of 1724 is in four volumes 12mo. including the Younger Brother.
The following is an account of her novels, and histories,
They are extant in two volumes 12mo. Lond. 1735, 8th edition, published by Mr. Charles Gildon, and dedicated to Simon Scroop, Esq; to which is prefixed the history of the Life and Memoirs of our authoress, written by one of the fair sex.
1. The History of Oroonoko, or the Royal Slave: This was founded on a true story, the incidents of which happened during her residence at Surinam. It gave birth to Mr. Southern's celebrated play of that name; who in his dedication of it, speaking of his obligation to Mrs. Behn for the subject, says,
'She had a great command of the stage, and I have often wondered that she would bury her favorite hero in a novel, when she might have revived him in the scene. She thought either, that no actor could represent him, or she could not bear him represented; and I believe the last, when I remember what I have heard from a friend of her's, that she always told a story more feelingly than she writ.'
2. The Fair Jilt; or the Amours of Prince Tarquin and Miranda. This is likewise said to be derived from a true story, to a great part of which she tells she was an eye witness; and what she did not see, she learned from some of the actors concerned in it, the Franciscans of Antwerp, where the scene is laid.
3. The Nun, or the perjured Beauty, a true novel.
4. The History of Agnes de Castro.
5. The Lover's Watch; or the Art of making love. It is taken from M. Bonnecourte's le Montre, or the Watch. It is not properly a novel. A lady, under the name of Iris, being absent from her lover Damon, is supposed to send him a Watch, on the dial plate of which the whole business of a lover, during the twenty-four hours, is marked out, and pointed to by the dart of a Cupid in the middle.—
"Thus eight o'clock is marked agreeable to reverie; nine o'Clock, design to please no body; ten o'clock, reading of letters, &c."
To which is added, as from Damon to Iris, a description of the case of the watch.
6. The Lady's Looking-Glass, to dress themselves by. Damon is supposed to send Iris a looking-glass, which represents to her all her charms, viz. her shape, complexion, hair, &c. This likewise, which is not properly a novel, is taken from the French.
7. The Lucky Mistake, a new novel.
8. The Court of the King of Bantam.
9. The Adventures of the Black Lady. The reader will distinguish the originals from translations, by consulting the 2d and 3d tomes of Recueil des pieces gallantet, en prose et en verse. Paris 1684.
We have observed, that in the English translation of Ovid's Epistles, the paraphrase of Oenone's Epistle to Paris is her's. In the preface to that work Mr. Dryden pays her this handsome compliment.
"I was desired to say, that the author, who is of the fair sex, understood not Latin; but if she does not, I'm afraid she has given us occasion to be ashamed who do."
Part of this epistle transcribed will afford a specimen of her verification.
Say lovely youth, why wouldst thou, thus betray, My easy faith, and lead my heart away. I might some humble shepherd's choice have been, Had I not heard that tongue, those eyes not seen; And in some homely cot, in low repose, Liv'd undisturb'd, with broken vows and oaths; All day by shaded springs my flocks have kept, And in some honest arms, at night have slept. Then, un-upbraided with my wrongs thou'dit been, Safe in the joys of the fair Grecian queen. What stars do rule the great? no sooner you Became a prince, but you were perjured too. Are crowns and falsehoods then consistent things? And must they all be faithless who are Kings? The gods be prais'd that I was humble born, Ev'n tho' it renders me my Paris' scorn. And I had rather this way wretched prove, Than be a queen, dishonest in my love.
[Footnote 1: Memoirs prefixed to her Novels, by a lady.]
[Footnote 2: Memoires ubi supra.]
[Footnote 3: Memoirs ubi supra.]
[Footnote 4: A noted boxer.]
[Footnote 5: A Turk, famous for his performances on a wire, after the manner of rope-dancers.]
* * * * *
Sir GEORGE ETHEREGE,
A Celebrated wit in the reign of Charles and James II. He is said to have been descended of an ancient family of Oxfordshire, and born about the year 1636; it is thought he had some part of his education at the university of Cambridge, but in his younger years he travelled into France, and consequently made no long stay at the university. Upon his return, he, for some time, studied the Municipal Law at one of the Inns of Court, in which, it seems, he made but little progress, and like other men of sprightly genius, abandoned it for pleasure, and the gayer accomplishments.
In the year 1664 the town was obliged with his first performance for the stage, entitled the Comical Revenge, or Love in a Tub, the writing whereof brought him acquainted, as he himself informed us, with the earl of Dorset, to whom it is by the author dedicated. The fame of this play, together with his easy, unreserved conversation, and happy address, rendered him a favourite with the leading wits, such as the duke of Buckingham, Sir Charles Sedley, the earl of Rochester, Sir Car Scroop. Being animated by this encouragement, in 1668, he brought another comedy upon the stage, entitled She Would if She Could; which gained him no less applause, and it was expected, that by the continuance of his studies, he would polish and enliven the theatrical taste, and be no less constant in such entertainments, than the most assiduous of his cotemporaries, but he was too much addicted to pleasure, and being impelled by no necessity, he neglected the stage, and never writ, till he was forced to it, by the importunity of his friends. In 1676, his last comedy called the Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter, came on the stage, with the most extravagant success; he was then a servant to the beautiful duchess of York, of whom Dryden has this very singular expression, 'that he does not think, that at the general resurrection, she can be made to look more charming than now.' Sir George dedicates this play to his Royal Mistress, with the most courtly turns of compliment. In this play he is said to have drawn, or to use the modern cant, taken off, some of the cotemporary coxcombs; and Mr. Dryden, in an Epilogue to it, has endeavoured to remove the suspicion of personal satire, and says, that the character of Flutter is meant to ridicule none in particular, but the whole fraternity of finished fops, the idolaters of new fashions.
His words are,
True fops help nature's work, and go to school, To file and finish God Almighty's fool: Yet none Sir Fopling, him, or him, can call, He's Knight o'th' Shire, and represents you all.
But this industry, to avoid the imputation of personal satire, but served to heighten it; and the town soon found out originals to his characters. Sir Fopling was said to be drawn for one Hewit, a beau of those times, who, it seems, was such a creature as the poet ridiculed, but who, perhaps, like many other coxcombs, would never have been remembered, but for this circumstance, which transmits his memory to posterity.
The character of Dorimant was supposed to represent the earl of Rochester, who was inconstant, faithless, and undetermined in his amours; and it is likewise said, in the character of Medley, that the poet has drawn out some sketch of himself, and from the authority of Mr. Bowman, who played Sir Fopling, or some other part in this comedy, it is said, that the very Shoemaker in Act I. was also meant for a real person, who, by his improvident courses before, having been unable to make any profit by his trade, grew afterwards, upon the public exhibition of him, so industrious and notable, that he drew a crowd of the best customers to him, and became a very thriving tradesman. Whether the poet meant to display these characters, we cannot now determine, but it is certain, the town's ascribing them to some particular persons, was paying him a very high compliment; and if it proved no more, it at least demonstrated, a close imitation of nature, a beauty which constitutes the greatest perfection of a comic poet.
Our author, it seems, was addicted to some gay extravagances, such as gaming, and an unlicensed indulgence in women and wine, which brought some satirical reflexions, upon him. Gildon in his Lives of the Dramatic Poets, says, that upon marrying a fortune, he was knighted; the circumstances of it are these: He had, by his gaming and extravagance, so embarrassed his affairs, that he courted a rich widow in order to retrieve them; but she being an ambitious woman, would not condescend to marry him, unless he could make her a lady, which he was obliged to do by the purchase of a knighthood; and this appears in a Consolatary Epistle to captain Julian, from the duke of Buckingham, in, which this match is reflected on. We have no account of any issue he had by this lady, but from the information of Mr. Bowman we can say, that he cohabited, for some time, with the celebrated Mrs. Barry the actress, and had one daughter by her; that he settled 5 or 6000 l. on her, but that she died young.
From the same intelligence, it also appears, that Sir George was, in his person, a fair, slender, genteel man, but spoiled his countenance with drinking, and other habits of intemperance. In his deportment he was very affable and courteous, of a generous disposition, which, with his free, lively, and natural vein of writing, acquired him the general character of gentle George, and easy Etherege, in respect of which qualities, we often find him compared to Sir Charles Sedley. His courtly and easy behaviour so recommended him to the Duchess of York, that when on the accession of King James II. she became Queen, she sent him ambassador abroad, Gildon says, to Hamburgh; but it is pretty evident, that he was in that reign a minister at Ratisbon, at least, from the year 1686, to the time his majesty left this kingdom, if not later, but it appears that he was there, by his own letters wrote from thence to the earl of Middleton.
After this last comedy, we meet with no more he ever wrote for the stage; however, there are preserved some letters of his in prose, published among a collection of Familiar Letters, by John earl of Rochester; two of which, sent to the duke of Buckingham, have particular merit, both for the archness of the turns, and the acuteness of the observations. He gives his lordship a humorous description of some of the Germans, their excessive drunkenness; their plodding stupidity and ostensive indelicacy; he complains that he has no companion in that part of the world, no Sir Charles Sedleys, nor Buckinghams, and what is still worse, even deprived of the happiness of a mistress, for, the women there, he says, are so coy, and so narrowly watched by their relations, that there is no possibility of accomplishing an intrigue. He mentions, however, one Monsieur Hoffman, who married a French lady, with whom he was very great, and after the calamitous accident of Mr. Hoffman's being drowned, he pleasantly describes the grief of the widow, and the methods he took of removing her sorrow, by an attempt in which he succeeded. These two letters discover the true character of Etherege, as well as of the noble person to whom they were sent, and mark them as great libertines, in speculation as in practice.
As for the other compositions of our author, they consist chiefly of little airy sonnets, smart lampoons, and smooth panegyrics. All that we have met with more than is here mentioned, of his writing in prose, is a short piece, entitled An Account of the Rejoicing at the Diet of Ratisbon, performed by Sir George Etherege, Knight, residing there from his Majesty of Great Britain, upon Occasion of the Birth of the Prince of Wales; in a Letter from himself, printed in the Savoy 1688. When our author died, the writers of his life have been very deficient; Gildon says, that after the Revolution, he followed his master into France, and died there, or very soon after his arrival in England from thence. But there was a report (say the authors of the Biograph. Brit. which they received from an ingenious gentleman) 'that Sir George came to an untimely death, by an unlucky accident at Ratisbon, for, after having treated some company with a liberal entertainment at his house there, when he had taken his glass too freely, and, being through his great complaisance too forward, in waiting on his guests at their departure, flushed as he was, he tumbled down stairs, and broke his neck, and so fell a martyr to jollity and civility.'
One of the earliest of our author's lesser poems, is that addressed to her Grace the Marchioness of Newcastle, after reading her poems, and as it is esteemed a very elegant panegyric, we shall give the conclusion of it as a specimen.
While we, your praise, endeavouring to rehearse, Pay that great duty in our humble verse; Such as may justly move your anger, now, Like Heaven forgive them, and accept them too. But what we cannot, your brave hero pays, He builds those monuments we strive to raise; Such as to after ages shall make known, While he records your deathless fame his own: So when an artist some rare beauty draws, Both in our wonder there, and our applause. His skill, from time secures the glorious dame, And makes himself immortal in her fame.
Besides his Songs, little panegyrical Poems and Sonnets, he wrote two Satires against Nell Gwyn, one of the King's mistresses, though there is no account how a quarrel happened between them; the one is called Madam Nelly's Complaint, beginning,
If Sylla's ghost made bloody Cat'line start.
The other is called the Lady of Pleasure, with; its Argument at the Head of it, whereof the first line is,
The life of Nelly truly shewn.
Sir George spent a life of ease, pleasure, and affluence, at least never was long, nor much, exposed to want. He seems to have possessed a sprightly genius, to have had an excellent turn for comedy, and very happy in a courtly dialogue. We have no proof of his being a scholar, and was rather born, than made a poet. He has not escaped the censure of the critics; for his works are so extremely loose and licentious, as to render them dangerous to young, unguarded minds: and on this account our witty author is, indeed, justly liable to the severest censure of the virtuous, and sober part of mankind.
[Footnote 1: Biogr. Brit. p. 1844.]
* * * * *
THE LIFE OF
This gentleman, who was very much distinguished as a player, was born in the year 1659, but of what family we have no account, farther than that they were of Staffordshire; the extraordinary circumstances of Mr. Mountford's death, have drawn more attention upon him, than he might otherwise have had; and though he was not very considerable as a poet, yet he was of great eminence as an actor. Mr. Cibber, in his Apology for his own Life, has mentioned him with the greatest respect, and drawn his character with strong touches of admiration. After having delineated the theatrical excellences of Kynaston, Sandford, &c. he thus speaks of Mountford. 'Of person he was tall, well made, fair, and of an agreeable aspect, his voice clear, full, and melodious; in tragedy he was the most affecting lover within my memory; his addresses had a resistless recommendation from the very tone of his voice, which gave his words such softness, that as Dryden says,
—'Like flakes of feather'd snow, 'They melted as they fell.
All this he particularly verified in that scene of Alexander, where the hero throws himself at the feet of Statira for pardon of his past infidelities. There we saw the great, the tender, the penitent, the despairing, the transported, and the amiable, in the highest perfection. In comedy he gave the truest life to what we call the fine gentleman; his spirit shone the brighter for being polished by decency. In scenes of gaiety he never broke into the regard that was due to the presence of equal, or superior characters, tho' inferior actors played them; he filled the stage, not by elbowing and crossing it before others, or disconcerting their action, but by surpassing them in true and masterly touches of nature; he never laughed at his own jest, unless the point of his raillery upon another required it; he had a particular talent in giving life to bons mots and repartees; the wit of the poet seemed always to come from him extempore, and sharpened into more wit from his brilliant manner of delivering it; he had himself a good share of it, or what is equal to it, so lively a pleasantness of humour, that when either of these fell into his hands upon the stage, he wantoned with them to the highest delight of his auditors. The agreeable was so natural to him, that even in that dissolute character of the Rover, he seemed to wash off the guilt from vice, and gave it charms and merit; for though it may be a reproach to the poet to draw such characters, not only unpunished, but rewarded, the actor may still be allowed his due praise in his excellent performance; and this was a distinction which, when this comedy was acted at Whitehall, King William's Queen Mary was pleased to make in favour of Mountford, notwithstanding her disapprobation of the play; which was heightened by the consideration of its having been written by a lady, viz. Mrs. Behn, from whom more modesty might have been expected.
'He had, besides all this, a variety in his genius, which few capital actors have shewn, or perhaps have thought it any addition of their merit to arrive at; he could entirely change himself, could at once throw off the man of sense, for the brisk, vain, rude, lively coxcomb, the false, flashy pretender to wit, and the dupe of his own sufficiency; of this he gave a delightful instance, in the character of Sparkish, in Wycherley's Country Wife: in that of Sir Courtly Nice, by Crown, his excellence was still greater; there his whole man, voice, mien, and gesture, was no longer Mountford, but another person; there, the insipid, soft civility, the elegant and formal mien, the drawling delicacy of voice, the stately flatness of his address, and the empty eminence of his attitudes, were so nicely observed, that had he not been an entire matter of nature, had he not kept his judgment, as it were a centinel upon himself, not to admit the least likeness of what he used to be, to enter into any part of his performance, he could not possibly have so compleatly finished it.'
Mr. Cibber further observes, that if, some years after the death of Mountford, he himself had any success in those parts, he acknowledges the advantages he had received from the just idea, and strong impressions from Mountford's acting them.' 'Had he been remembered (says he) when I first attempted them, my defects would have been more easily discovered, and consequently my favourable reception in them must have been very much, and justly abated. If it could be remembered, how much he had the advantage of me in voice and person, I could not here be suspected of an affected modesty, or overvaluing his excellence; for he sung a clear, counter-tenor, and had a melodious, warbling throat, which could not but set off the last scene of Sir Courtly with uncommon happiness, which I, alas! could only struggle through, with the faint excuses, and real confidence of a fine singer, under the imperfection of a feigned, and screaming treble, which, at least, could only shew you. what I would have done, had nature been more favourable to me.'
This is the amiable representation which Mr. Cibber makes of his old favourite, and whose judgment in theatrical excellences has been ever indisputed. But this finished performer did not live to reap the advantages which would have arisen from the great figure he made upon the stage.
He fell in the 33d year of his age, by the hand of an assassin, who cowardly murdered him, and slid from justice. As we imagine it will not be unpleasing to the reader to be made acquainted with the most material circumstances relating to that affair, we mail here insert them, as they appear on the trial of lord Mohun, who was arraigned for that murder, and acquitted by his peers. Lord Mohun, it is well known, was a man of loose morals, a rancorous spirit, and, in short, reflected no honour on his titles. It is a true observation, that the temper and disposition of a man may be more accurately known by the company he keeps, than by any other means of reading the human heart: Lord Mohun had contracted a great intimacy with one captain Hill, a man of scandalous morals, and despicable life, and was so fond of this fellow, whom, it seems, nature had wonderfully formed to be a cut throat, that he entered into his schemes, and became a party in promoting his most criminal pleasures.
This murderer had long entertained a passion for Mrs. Bracegirdle, so well known, as an excellent actress, and who died not many years ago, that it would be superfluous to give a particular account of her; his passion was rejected with disdain by Mrs. Bracegirdle, who did not think such a heart as his worth possessing. The contempt with which she used captain Hill fired his resentment; he valued himself for being a gentleman, and an officer in the army, and thought he had a right, at the first onset, to triumph over the heart of an actress; but in this he found himself miserably mistaken: Hill, who could not bear the contempt shewn him by Mrs. Bracegirdle, conceived that her aversion must proceed from having previously engaged her heart to some more favoured lover; and though Mr. Mountford was a married man, he became jealous of him, probably, from no other reason, than the respect with which he observed Mr. Mountford treat her, and their frequently playing together in the same scene. Confirmed in this suspicion, he resolved to be revenged on Mountford, and as he could not possess Mrs. Bracegirdle by gentle means, he determined to have recourse to violence, and hired some ruffians to assist him in carrying her off. His chief accomplice in this scheme was lord Mohun, to whom he communicated his intention, and who concurred with him in it. They appointed an evening for that purpose, hired a number of soldiers, and a coach, and went to the playhouse in order to find Mrs. Bracegirdle, but she having no part in the play of that night, did not come to the house. They then got intelligence that she was gone with her mother to sup at one Mrs. Page's in Drury-Lane; thither they went, and fixed their post, in expectation of Mrs. Bracegirdle's coming out, when they intended to have executed their scheme against her. She at last came out, accompanied with her mother and Mr. Page: the two adventurers made a sign to their hired bravo's, who laid their hands on Mrs. Bracegirdle: but her mother, who threw her arms round her waist, preventing them from thrusting her immediately into the coach, and Mr. Page gaining time to call assistance, their attempt was frustrated, and Mrs. Bracegirdle, her mother, and Mr. Page, were safely conveyed to her own house in Howard-street in the Strand. Lord Mohnn and Hill, enraged at this disappointment, resolved, since they were unsuccessful in one part of their design, they would yet attempt another; and that night vowed revenge against Mr. Mountford.
They went to the street where Mr. Mountford lived, and there lay in wait for him: Old Mrs. Bracegirdle and another gentlewoman who had heard them vow revenge against Mr. Mountford, sent to his house, to desire his wife to let him know his danger, and to warn him not to come home that night, but unluckily no messenger Mrs. Mountford sent was able to find him: Captain Hill and lord Mohun paraded in the streets with their swords drawn; and when the watch made enquiry into the cause of this, lord Mohun answered, that he was a peer of the realm, and dared them to touch him at their peril; the night-officers being intimidated at this threat, left them unmolested, and went their rounds. Towards midnight Mr. Mountford going home to his own house was saluted in a very friendly manner, by lord Mohun; and as his lordship seemed to carry no marks of resentment in his behaviour, he used the freedom to ask him, how he came there at that time of night? to which his lordship replied, by asking if he had not heard the affair of the woman? Mountford asked what woman? to which he answered Mrs. Bracegirdle; I hope, says he, my lord, you do not encourage Mr. Hill in his attempt upon Mrs. Bracegirdle; which however is no concern of mine; when he uttered these words, Hill, behind his back, gave him some desperate blows on his head, and before Mr. Mountford had time to draw, and stand on his defence, he basely run him thro' the body, and made his escape; the alarm of murder being given, the constable seized lord Mohun, who upon hearing that Hill had escaped expressed great satisfaction, and said he did not care if he were hanged for him: When the evidences were examined at Hicks's-Hall, one Mr. Bencroft, who attended Mr. Mountford, swore that Mr. Mountford declared to him as a dying man, that while he was talking to lord Mohun, Hill struck him, with his left hand, and with his right hand run him thro' the body, before he had time to draw his sword.
Thus fell the unfortunate Mountford by the hand of an assassin, without having given him any provocation; save that which his own jealousy had raised, and which could not reasonably be imputed to Mountford as a crime.
Lord Mohun, as we have already observed, was tried, and acquitted by his peers; as it did not appear, that he immediately assisted Hill, in perpetrating the murder, or that they had concerted it before; for tho' they were heard to vow revenge against Mountford, the word murther was never mentioned. It seems abundantly clear, that lord Mohun, however, if not active, was yet accessary to the murther; and had his crime been high treason, half the evidence which appeared against him, might have been sufficient to cost him his head. This nobleman himself was killed at last in a duel with the duke of Hamilton.
Mr. Mountford, besides his extraordinary talents as an actor, is author of the following dramatic pieces.
1. The Injured Lovers, or the Ambitious Father, a Tragedy, acted at the Theatre-Royal 1688, dedicated to James earl of Arran, son to the duke of Hamilton.
2. The Successful Strangers, a Tragi-Comedy, acted at the Theatre-Royal 1690; dedicated to lord Wharton. The plot is taken from the Rival Brothers, in Scarron's Novels.
3. Greenwich-Park, a Comedy, acted at the Theatre-Royal 1691; dedicated to Algernon earl of Essex.
Besides these, he turned the Life and Death of Dr. Faustus into a Farce, with the Humours of Harlequin and Scaramouch, acted at the queen's theatre in Dorset-Garden, and revived at the Theatre in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields 1697.
Mr. Mountford has written many Prologues and Epilogues, scattered in Dryden's Miscellanies; and likewise several Songs. He seems to have had a sprightly genius, and possessed a pleasing gaiety of humour.—He was killed in the year 1692; and was buried in St. Clement Danes.
[Footnote 1: The foundation of the quarrel between lord Mohun and the duke (however it might be improved by party suggestions) was a law suit between these noblemen, on account of part of the earl of Macclesfield's estate, which Mr. Savage would have been heir to, had not his mother, to facilitate her designed divorce from that earl (with the pleasing view of having her large fortune restored to her, and the no less pleasing prospect of being freed from an uncomfortable husband) declared unhappy Savage to be illegitimate, and natural son of the then earl Rivers. Of this farther notice will be taken in Savage's Life.]
* * * * *
This celebrated poet laureat was descended of a very antient family in Staffordshire; the eldest branch of which has enjoyed an estate there of five-hundred pounds per ann. He was born about the year 1640, at Stanton-Hall in Norfolk, a seat of his father's, and educated at Caius College in Cambridge, where his father had been likewise bred; and then placed in the middle Temple, to study the law; where having spent some time, he travelled abroad. Upon his return home he became acquainted with the most celebrated persons of wit, and distinguished quality, in that age; which was so much addicted to poetry and polite literature, that it was not easy for him, who had no doubt a native relish for the same accomplishments, to abstain from these the fashionable studies and amusements of those times. He applied himself chiefly to the dramatic kind of writing, in which he had considerable success. At the revolution, Mr. Dryden, who had so warmly espoused the opposite interest, was dispossessed of his place of Poet Laureat, and Mr. Shadwell succeeded him in it, which employment he possessed till his death. Mr. Shadwell has been illustrious, for nothing so much as the quarrel which subsisted between him and Dryden, who held him in the greatest contempt. We cannot discover what was the cause of Mr. Dryden's aversion to Shadwell, or how this quarrel began, unless it was occasioned by the vacant Laurel being bellowed on Mr. Shadwell: But it is certain, the former prosecuted his resentment severely, and, in his Mac Flecknoe, has transmitted his antagonist to posterity in no advantageous light. It is the nature of satire to be biting, but it is not always its nature to be true: We cannot help thinking that Mr. Dryden has treated Shadwell a little too unmercifully, and has violated truth to make the satire more pungent. He says, in the piece abovementioned,
Others to some saint meaning make pretence, But Shadwell never deviates into sense.
Which is not strictly true. There are high authorities in favour of many of his Comedies, and the best wits of the age gave their testimony for them: They have in them fine strokes of humour, the characters are often original, strongly mark'd, and well sustained; add to this, that he had the greatest expedition in writing imaginable, and sometimes produced a play in less than a month. Shadwell, as it appears from Rochester's Session of the Poets, was a great favourite with Otway, and as they lived, in intimacy together, it might perhaps be the occasion of Dryden's expressing so much contempt for Otway; which his cooler judgment could never have directed him to do.
Mr. Shadwell died the 19th of December 1692, in the fifty-second year of his age, as we are informed by the inscription upon his monument in Westminster Abbey; tho' there may be some mistake in that date; for it is said in the title page of his funeral sermon preached by Dr. Nicholas Brady, that he was interred at Chelsea, on the 24th of November, that year. This sermon was published 1693, in quarto, and in it Dr. Brady tells us, 'That our author was 'a man of great honesty and integrity, an inviolable fidelity and strictness in his word, an unalterable friendship wherever he professed it, and however the world maybe mistaken in him, he had a much deeper sense of religion than many who pretended more to it. His natural and acquired abilities, continues the Dr. made him very amiable to all who knew and conversed with him, a very few being equal in the becoming qualities, which adorn, and fit off a complete gentleman; his very enemies, if he have now any left, will give him this character, at least if they knew him so thoroughly as I did.—His death seized him suddenly, but he could not be unprepared, since to my certain knowledge he never took a dose of opium, but he solemnly recommended himself to God by prayer.'
When some persons urged to the then lord chamberlain, that there were authors who had better pretensions to the Laurel; his lordship replied, 'He did not pretend to say how great a poet Shadwell might be, but was sure he was an honest man.'
Besides his dramatic works, he wrote several other pieces of poetry; the chief of which are his congratulatory poem on the Prince of Orange's coming to England; another on queen Mary; his translation of the 10th Satire of Juvenal, &c. Shadwell in his Comedies imitated Ben Johnson, and proposed him as his model of excellence, with what degree of success we shall not take upon us to determine, but proceed to give an account of his plays.
1. The Sullen Lovers, or the Impertinent, a Comedy; acted at the duke's theatre, dedicated to William duke of Newcastle: the dedication is dated September 1st, 1668.
2. The Humorist, a Comedy; acted by his royal highest servants, dedicated to Margaret duchess of Newcastle.
3. The Royal Shepherdess, a Tragi-Comedy; acted by the duke of York's servants, printed at London 1669, in quarto. This play was originally written by Mr. Fountain of Devonshire, but altered throughout by Mr. Shadwell.
4. The Virtuoso, a Comedy; acted at the duke's theatre, printed at London 1676, in quarto, dedicated to the duke of Newcastle.
Mr. Langbaine observes, that no body will deny this play its due applause; at least I know, says he, that the university of Oxford, who may be allowed competent judges of comedy, especially such characters as Sir Nicholas Gimcrack, and Sir Formal Trifle, applauded it. And as no man ever undertook to discover the frailties of such pretenders to this kind of knowledge before Mr. Shadwell, so none since Johnson's time, ever drew so many different characters of humour, and with such success.
5. Pysche, a Tragedy; acted at the duke's theatre, printed in London 1675 in 4to, and dedicated to the duke of Monmouth. In the preface he tell us, that this play was written in five weeks.
6. The Libertine, a Tragedy; acted by his royal highness's servants, printed in London 1676, in quarto, and dedicated to the duke of Newcastle. In the preface Mr. Shadwell observes, that the story from which he took the hint of this play, is famous all over Spain, Italy, and France. It was first used in a Spanish play, the Spaniards having a tradition of such a vicious Spaniard, as is represented in this play; from them the Italian comedians took it; the French borrowed it from them, and four several plays have been made upon the story.
7. Epsom Wells, a comedy; acted at the duke's theatre; printed at London 1676, in 4to, and dedicated to the duke of Newcastle. Mr. Langbaine says, that this is so diverting and so true a comedy, that even foreigners, who are not in general kind to the wit of our nation, have extremely commended it.
8. The History of Timon of Athens the Manhater; acted at the duke's theatre, printed at London 1678, in 4to. In the dedication to George duke of Buckingham he observes, that this play was originally Shakespear's, who never made, says he, more masterly strokes than in this; yet I can truly say, I have made it into a play.
9. The Miser, a Comedy; acted at the theatre royal, dedicated to the earl of Dorset. In the preface our author observes, he took the foundation of it from Moliere's L'Avare.
10. A true Widow, a Comedy; acted at the duke's theatre, printed in 1679, in 4to, dedicated to Sir Charles Sidley. The prologue was written by Mr. Dryden; for at this time they lived in friendship.
11. The Lancashire Witches, and Teague O Divelly, the Irish priest, a comedy; acted at the duke's theatre, printed at London 1682. Our author has a long preface to this play, in which he vindicates his piece from the charge of reflecting upon the church, and the sacred order. He apologizes for the magical part, and observes, that he had no hopes of equaling Shakespear in his fancy, who created his Witches for the most part out of his imagination; in which faculty no man ever excelled led him, and therefore, says he, I resolve to take mine from authority.
12. The Woman Captain, a Comedy; acted by his royal highness's servants.
13. The Squire of Alsatia, a Comedy; acted by his Majesty's servants, printed at London 1688, in 4to. and dedicated to the earl of Dorset and Middlesex.
14. Bury-Fair, a Comedy; acted by his Majesty's servants, printed at London 1689 in 4to. and dedicated to the earl of Dorset. In the dedication he observes, 'That this play was written during eight months painful sickness, wherein all the several days in which he was able to write any part of a scene amounted not to one month, except some few, which were employed in indispensible business.'
15. Amorous Bigot, with the second part of Teague O Divelly, a Comedy, acted by their Majesties servants, printed 1690 in 4to. dedicated to Charles earl of Shrewsbury.
16. The Scowerers, a Comedy, acted by their Majesties servants, and printed in 4to. 1690.
17. The Volunteers, or the Stock-Jobbers, a Comedy, acted by their Majesties servants, dedicated to the Queen by Mrs. Anne Shadwell, our author's widow.
In the epilogue the character of Mr. Shadwell, who was then dead, was given in the following lines.
Shadwell, the great support o'th'comic stage, Born to expose the follies of the age, To whip prevailing vices, and unite, Mirth with instruction, profit with delight; For large ideas, and a flowing pen, First of our times, and second but to Ben; Whose mighty genius, and discerning mind, Trac'd all the various humours of mankind; Dressing them up, with such successful care That ev'ry fop found his own picture there. And blush'd for shame, at the surprising skill, Which made his lov'd resemblance look so ill. Shadwell who all his lines from nature drew, Copy'd her out, and kept her still in view; Who never sunk in prose, nor soar'd in verse, So high as bombast, or so low as farce; Who ne'er was brib'd by title or estate To fawn or flatter with the rich or great; To let a gilded vice or folly pass, But always lash'd the villain and the ass.