The Comedies of William Congreve - Volume 1 [of 2]
by William Congreve
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Transcribed from the 1895 Methuen and Co. edition (English Classics, edited by W. E. Henley) by David Price, email





{Painting of William Congreve: p0.jpg}

Edinburgh: T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to Her Majesty



Before repeating such known facts of Congreve's life as seem agreeable to the present occasion, and before attempting (with the courage of one's office) to indicate with truth what manner of man he was, and what are the varying qualities of his four comedies, it seems well to discuss and have done with two questions, obviously pertinent indeed, but of a wider scope than the works of any one writer.

The first is a stupid question, which may be happily dismissed with brief ceremony. Grossness of language—the phrase is an assumption—is a matter of time and place, a relative matter altogether. There is a thing, and a generation finds a name for it. The delicacy which prompts a later generation to reject that name is by no means necessarily a result of stricter habits, is far more often due to the flatness which comes of untiring repetition and to the greater piquancy of litotes. I am told that there are, or were, people in America who reject the word 'leg' as a gross word, but they must have found a synonym. So there is not a word in Congreve for which there is not some equivalent expression in contemporary writing. He says this or that: your modern writers say so-and-so. One man may even think the monosyllables in better taste than the periphrases. Another may sacrifice to his intolerance thereof such enjoyment as he was capable of taking from the greatest triumphs of diction or observation: he is free to choose. It may be granted that to one unfamiliar with the English of two centuries since the grossness of Congreve's language may seem excessive—like splashes of colour occurring too frequently in the arrangement of a wall. But that is merely a result of novelty: given time and habit, a more artistic perspective will be achieved.

The second question is more complex. Since Jeremy Collier let off his Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage, there has never lacked a critic to chastise or to deplore—the more effective and irritating course—not simply the coarseness but, the immorality of our old comedies, their attitude towards and their peculiar interests in life. Without affirming that we are now come to the Golden Age of criticism, one may rejoice that modern methods have taught quite humble critics to discriminate between issues, and to deal with such a matter as this with some mental detachment. The great primal fallacy comes from a habit of expecting everything in everything. Just as in a picture it is not enough for some people that it is well drawn and well painted, but they demand an interesting story, a fine sentiment, a great thought: so since our national glory is understood to be the happy home, the happy home must be triumphant everywhere, even in satiric comedy. The best expression of this fallacy is in Thackeray. Concluding a most eloquent, and a somewhat patronising examination of Congreve, 'Ah!' he exclaims, 'it's a weary feast, that banquet of wit where no love is.' The answer is plain: comedy of manners is comedy of manners, and satire is satire; introduce 'love'—an appeal, one supposes, to sympathy with strictly legitimate and common affection and a glorification of the happy home—and the rules of your art compel you to satirise affection and to make the happy home ridiculous: a truly deplorable work, which the incriminated dramatists were discreet enough for the most part to avoid. The remark brings us to the first of the half-truths, which cause the complexity of the subject. The dramatists whose withers the well-intentioned and disastrous Collier wrung seem to have thought their best answer was to pose as people with a mission—certainly Congreve so posed—to reform the world with an exhibition of its follies. An amusing answer, no doubt, of which the absurdity is obvious! It does, however, contain a half-truth. The idea of The Way of the World's reforming adulterers—observe the quotation from Horace on the title-page—is a little delicious; yet the exhibition in a ludicrous light of the thing satirised is surely an end of satiric comedy? The right of the matter is indicated in a sentence which occurs in the dedication of The Double- Dealer far more wisely than in Congreve's answer to Collier: 'I should be very glad of an opportunity to make my compliment to those ladies who are offended: but they can no more expect it in a comedy, than to be tickled by a surgeon, when he's letting 'em blood.' Something more than a half-truth is in Charles Lamb's theory, that the old comedy 'has no reference whatever to the world that is': that it is 'the Utopia of Gallantry' merely. Literally, historically, the theory is a fantasy. What the Restoration dramatists did not borrow from France was inspired directly by the court of Charles the Second, and nobody conversant with the memoirs of that court can have any difficulty in matching the fiction with reality. I imagine that Congreve in part accepted a tradition of the stage, but I am also perfectly well assured that he depicted what he saw. How far the virtues we should associate with the Charles the Second spirit may atone for its vices is a question which would take us far into moral philosophy. It is enough to remark that those vices are the exclusive possession of no period: so long as society is constituted in anything like its present order, there must be a section of it for which those vices are the main interest in life. But Charles Lamb's gay and engaging defiance of the kill-joys of his day has this value: it is most certainly just to say that, in appreciating satiric comedy, 'our coxcombical moral sense' must be 'for a little transitory ease excluded.'

For one may apprehend the whole truth to be somewhat thus. Satiric comedy, or comedy of manners, is the art of making ludicrous in dramatic form some phase of life. The writers of our old comedy thought that certain vices—gambling, adultery, and the like—formed a phase of life which for divers reasons, essential and accidental, lent itself best to their purpose. They may, or may not, have thought they were doing society a service: their real justification is that, as artists, they had to take for their art that material they could use best. They used it according to their lights: Wycherley with a coarse and heavy hand, so that it became nauseous; Etherege with a light touch and a gay perception; Congreve with an instinct of good-breeding, with a sure and extensive observation, and with an incomparable style. But all were justified in choosing for their material just what they chose. They sinned artistically, now here, now there; but to complain of this old comedy as a whole, that vice in it is crammed too closely, is to forget that a play is a picture, not a photograph, of life—is life arranged and coloured—and that comedy of manners is composed of foibles or vices condensed and relieved by one another. In so far as they overdid this work, the comic writers were artistically at fault, and Jeremy Collier was a good critic; but when he and his successors go beyond the artistic objection, one takes leave to say, they misapprehend the thing criticised. To complain that 'love' and common morality have no place in satiric comedy is either to contemplate ridicule of them or to ask comedy to be other than satiric. We know what happened when the dramatists gave way: there followed, Hazlitt says, 'those do-me-good, lack-a-daisical, whining, make-believe comedies in the next age, which are enough to set one to sleep, and where the author tries in vain to be merry and wise in the same breath.' These in place of 'the court, the gala day of wit and pleasure, of gallantry, and Charles the Second!' And all because people would not keep their functions distinct, and remember that at a comedy they were in a court of art and not in a court of law! The old comedy is dead, and its spirit gone from the stage: I have but endeavoured to show that no harm need come to our phylacteries, if a flame start from its ashes in the printed book.


William Congreve was born at Bardsey, near Leeds, and was baptized on 10th February 1669 [1670]. The Congreves were a Staffordshire family, of an antiquity of four hundred years at the date of the poet's birth. Richard, his grandfather, was a redoubtable Cavalier, and William, his father, an officer in the army. The latter was given a command at Youghal, while his son was still an infant, and becoming shortly afterwards agent to Lord Cork, removed to Lismore. So it chanced that the poet had his schooling at Kilkenny (with Swift), and proceeded to Trinity College, Dublin, in 1685, rejoining Swift, and like his friend becoming a pupil of St. George Ashe, the mathematician. In 1688 he left Dublin, remained with his people in Staffordshire for some two years, entered himself at the Temple, and came upon the town with The Old Bachelor in January 1692. The Double-Dealer was produced in November 1693. In 1694 a storm in the theatre led to a secession of Betterton and other renowned players from Drury Lane: with the result that a new playhouse was opened in Lincoln's Inn Fields, on 30th April 1695, with Love for Love. In the same year Congreve was appointed 'Commissioner for Licensing Hackney Coaches.' The Mourning Bride was produced in 1697, and was followed, oddly enough, by the controversy, or rather 'row,' with Jeremy Collier. In March 1700 came The Way of the World. The poet was made Commissioner of Wine-Licences in 1705, and in 1714 with his Jamaica secretaryship and his places in the Customs and the delightful 'Pipe-Office,' he had an income of twelve hundred pounds a year. He died at his house in Surrey Street, Strand, on 19th January 1728 [1729].

One or two comments on these dates are obvious. They dissipate the Thackerayan fable that on the production of The Old Bachelor, the fortunate young author received a shower of sinecures, 'all for writing a comedy.'

'And crazy Congreve scarce could spare A shilling to discharge a chair,'

writes Swift, and 'crazy' indicates that Congreve was gouty before he was rich. But then, the gout was a very early factor in his life, and one may call the line an exaggeration. Another couplet:

'Thus Congreve spent in writing plays, And one poor office, half his days:'

probably expresses the truth. With his plays and his hackney coaches he doubtless got through his twenties and thirties with no very hardly grinding poverty, and at forty or so was comfortably secure. But another fact, which the dates bring out very sharply, has a different interest. At an age when Swift was beginning to try his powers, Congreve's work was done. A few odes, a few letters he was still to write, but no more comedies. Was it ill-health? or because the town had all but damned his greatest play? or because he cared more for life than for art?


The question brings one to an attempted appreciation of the man. Mr. Gosse, for whose Life I would express my gratitude, confesses that 'it is not very easy to construct a definite portrait of Congreve.' But that it baffled that very new journalist, Mrs. Manley, in his own day, and Mr. Gosse, with his information, in ours, to give 'salient points' to Congreve's character, proves in itself an essential characteristic, which need be negatively stated only by choice. That no amusing eccentricities are recorded, no ludicrous adventures, no persistent quarrels, implies, taken with other facts we know, that he was a well-bred man of the world, with the habit of society: that in itself is a definite personal quality. One supposes him an ease-loving man, not inclined to clown for the amusement of his world. He was loved by his friends, being tolerant, and understanding the art of social life. He was successful, and must therefore have had enemies, but he was careless to improve hostilities. For the temperament which is so plain in the best of his writings must have been present in his life—an unobtrusive, because a never directly implied, superiority and an ironical humour. The picture of swaggering snobbishness which Thackeray was inspired to make of him is proved bad by all that we know. A swaggerer could not have made a fast friend of Dryden—grown mellow, indeed, but by no means beggared of his fire—on his first coming to town, nor kept the intimacy of Swift, nor avoided the fault-finding of Dennis. It is quite unnecessary to suppose that Congreve's famous remark to Voltaire, that he wished to be visited as a plain gentleman, was the remark (if it was made) of a snob: it was clearly a legitimate deprecation, spoken by a man who had written nothing notable for twenty-six years, which Voltaire misunderstood in a moment of stupidity, or in one of forgetfulness misrepresented. His superiority and his irony came from a just sense of the perspective of things, and, not preventing affection for his friends, left him indifferent to his foes. Probably, also, a course of dissipation (at which Swift hints) in his youth, acting on a temperament not particularly ardent, had left him with such passions for war and love as were well under control. The two women with whom his name is connected were Mrs. Bracegirdle and the Duchess of Marlborough; but nobody knew—though the latter's mother hinted the worst—how far the intimacy went. That is to say, no patent scandal was necessary to the connexion, if in either case Congreve was a lover. And (once more) Congreve was a gentleman.

But why did he become sterile at thirty? Where, if not in dealing with motives and causes, may one be fancy-free? Here there are many, of which the first to be given is mere conjecture, but conjecture, I fancy, not inconsistent with such facts as are known. When Congreve produced his first comedy, he was but twenty-three, fresh from college and the country, ignorant, as we are told, of the world. He discovered very soon that he had an aptitude for social life, that, no doubt, living humours and follies were as entertaining as printed ones, that for a popular and witty man the world was pleasant. But no man may be socially finished all at once. In the course of the seven years between The Old Bachelor and The Way of the World, Congreve must have found his wit becoming readier, his tact surer, his appreciation of natural comedy finer and (as personal keenness decreased) more equable, his popularity greater, and—in fine—the world more pleasant and the attractions of the study waning and waning in comparison. He was a finished artist, he was born, one might almost say, with a style; but his inclination was to put his art into life rather than into print. Even in our days (thank God for all His mercies!) everybody is not writing a book. There are people whose talk has inimitable touches, and whose lives are art, but who never sit down to a quire of foolscap. I believe that Congreve naturally was one of these, that his literary ambition was a result of accidental necessity, and that had he lived as a boy in the society he was of as a very young man—for all its literary ornaments—we should have had of him only odes and songs. His generation was idler and took itself less seriously than ours. The primal curse was not imposed on everybody as a duty. In seven years of growing appreciation Congreve came to think the little graces and humours the better part. That I believe to have been the first cause of his early sterility; but others helped to determine the effect. A certain indolence is of course implied in what has been said. There was the gout, and there were his unfortunate obesity and his failing sight. There was Henrietta, Duchess of Marlborough, an absorbing dame. There were the success of Love for Love and the failure of The Way of the World. For all that may be said of the indifference of the true artist to the verdict of the many-headed beast—and Congreve's contempt was as fine as any—it is not amusing when your play or your book falls flat, and Congreve must have known that he might write another, and possibly a better, Way of the World, but no more Love for Loves. Not to anticipate a later division of the subject, it may be said here that a man of thirty, of a fine intellect and a fine taste, of a languid habit withal, and with an invalided constitution, while he might repeat the triumphs of diction and intellect of The Way of the World, was most unlikely to return to the broader humours and the more popular gaiety of the other play. Congreve, like Rochester before him, despised the judgment of the town in these matters, but by the town he would have to be judged.

He was a witty, handsome man of the world, of imperturbable temper and infinite tact, who could make and keep the friendship of very various men, and be intimate with a woman without quarrelling with her lovers. He had a taste for pictures and a love for music. He must have hated violence and uproar, and liked the finer shades of life. He wore the mode of his day, and was free from the superficial protests of the narrow- minded. Possibly not a very 'definite portrait,' possibly a very negative characterisation. Possibly, also, a tolerably sure foundation for a structure of sympathetic imagination.


Passing from necessarily vague and not obviously pertinent remarks to criticism, which may fairly be less diffident, we leave Congreve's life and come to his work, to his 'tawdry playhouse taper,' as Thackeray called it. It is only after the man has appeared that we recognise that he came at the hour; but the nature of the hour is in this case not difficult to be discerned. The habit of playgoing was well-established; the turmoil of the Revolution was over; De Jure was at a comfortable distance, and De Facto's wife was a patroness of the arts. But playgoers had but to be shown something better than that they had, to discover that the convention of the Restoration needed new blood. A justification of its choice of material has been attempted: there is no inconsistency in affirming that the tendency to use it with a mere monotony of ribaldry was emphatic. Of this tendency the most notable and useful illustration is Wycherley, because in point of wit and dramatic skill he dwarfed his colleagues. As Mr. Swinburne has said, the art of Congreve is different in kind, not merely in degree, from the cruder and more boisterous product of the 'brawny' dramatist. Happily, however, for his success, the difference was not instantly clear. His first play links him with Wycherley, not with that rare and faint embryo of the later Congreve, George Etherege. 'You was always a gentleman, Mr. George,' as the valet says in Beau Austin. Happily for his popularity Congreve first followed the more popular man. It is not, indeed, until he wrote his last play that he was a whole Etherege idealised, albeit a greater than Etherege in the meantime. The peculiar effect which Etherege achieved in Sir Fopling Flutter—at whom and with whom you laugh at once—was not sublimated (the fineness left, the faintness become firmness) until Congreve created Witwoud, the inimitable, in The Way of the World.

At the very first Congreve had good fortune in his players. It was a brave time for them. True, their salaries were not wonderfully large. Colley Cibber complains of the days before the revolt in 1694: 'at what unequal salaries the hired actors were held by the absolute authority of their frugal masters, the patentees.' But the example was not faded of those gay days when they were the pets of the most artistic court that England has known: when great ladies carried Kynaston in his woman's dress to Hyde Park after the play, and the King was the most persistent and the most interested playgoer in his realm. They were not thus petted for irrelevant reasons—for their respectability, their piety, or their domestic virtues; and their recognition as artists by an artistic society did not spoil their art. When Congreve started on his course of play- writing, Queen Mary kept up, in a measure, the amiable custom of her uncle. He was very fortunate in his casts. There was Betterton, first of all, the versatile, the restrained, and, witness everybody, the incomparable. There was Underhill, 'a correct and natural comedian'—one must quote Cibber pretty often in this connexion—not well suited, one must suppose, to play Setter to Betterton's Heartwell in The Old Bachelor, but by reason of his admirable assumption of stupidity to make an excellent Sir Sampson in Love for Love. There were Powel, Williams, Verbruggen, Bowen, and Dogget (Fondlewife in the first play: afterwards Ben Legend, a part which made his fame and turned his head)—all notable comedians. Kynaston, graceful in old age as he had been beautiful in youth, was not in The Old Bachelor, but created Lord Touchwood in The Double-Dealer. Mountfort had been murdered by my Lord Mohun, and Leigh had followed him to the grave, but their names lived in their wives. Mrs. Mountfort 'was mistress of more variety of humour than I ever knew in any one woman actress . . . nothing, though ever so barren, if within the bounds of nature, could be flat in her hands.' Indeed 'she was so fond of humour, in what low part soever to be found, that she would make no scruple of defacing her fair form to come heartily into it'—assuredly a rare actress! About Mrs. Leigh Cibber is less enthusiastic, but grants her 'a good deal of humour': her old women were famous. Mrs. Barry was a stately, dignified actress, best, no doubt, in tragedy. Lastly, there was Mrs. Bracegirdle, the innocent publica cura, whom authors courted through their plays, and who had all the men in the house for longing lovers. Who shall say how far 'her youth and lively aspect' influenced the criticisms that have come down to us? She played Millamant to Congreve's satisfaction.


It is not difficult to understand how it was that Dryden thought The Old Bachelor the best first play he had seen, and the town applauded to the echo. But it is a little hard to understand why later critics, with the three other comedies before them, have not more expressly marked the difference between the first and those. There is no new tune in The Old Bachelor: it is an old tune more finely played, and for that very reason it met with immediate acceptance. It is not likely that Dryden—a great poet and a great and generous critic, it may be, but an old man—would have bestowed such unhesitating approval on a play which ignored the conventions in which he had lived. As it was, he saw those conventions reverently followed, yet served by a master wit. The fact that Congreve allowed Dryden and others to 'polish' his play, by giving it an air of the stage and the town which it lacked, need not of course spoil it for us. The stamp of Congreve is clearly marked on the dialogue, though not on every page. You may see its essentials in two passages taken absolutely at random. 'Come, come,' says Bellmour in the very first scene, 'leave business to idlers and wisdom to fools; they have need of 'em: wit be my faculty and pleasure my occupation, and let Father Time shake his glass.' Or Fondlewife soliloquises: 'Tell me, Isaac, why art thee jealous? Why art thee distrustful of the wife of thy bosom? Because she is young and vigorous, and I am old and impotent. Then why didst thee marry, Isaac? Because she was beautiful and tempting, and because I was obstinate and doating. . . .' In the one passage is the gay and skilfully light paradox, in the other the clean, rhythmical, and balanced, yet dramatic and appropriate English that are elements of Congreve's style. It is in the conventions of its characterisation that The Old Bachelor belongs, not to true Congrevean comedy but, to that of the models from which he was to break away. The characterisation of The Way of the World is light and true, that of The Old Bachelor is heavy and yet vague. Vainlove indeed, the 'mumper in love,' who 'lies canting at the gate,' is individual and Congrevean. But Heartwell, the blustering fool, Bellmour, the impersonal rake, Wittol and Bluffe, the farcical sticks, Fondlewife, the immemorial city husband, and the troop of undistinguished women—what can be said of them but that they are glaring stage properties, speaking better English than the comic stage had before attracted? Germs, possibly, of better things to come, that is all, so far as characterisation goes. The Fondlewife episode, in particular, which doubtless was mightily popular—what is there more in it than the mutton fisted wit and brutality of Wycherley, with some of Congreve's English? Such scenes as these, it may be hazarded, so contemptible in the light of Congreve's better work, are ineffective now because they fall between two stools: between the comedy (or tragedy) of a crude physical fact, naked and impossible, as in Rochester, and the comedy (or tragedy) of delicately-phrased intrigue. The latter was yet to come when this play was produced, and meantime such episodes went very well, and their popularity is intelligible. For the rest The Old Bachelor, though to us in these days its plot appear a somewhat uninspiring piece of fairyland, was a good acting play, fitted with great skill to its actual players. The part of Fondlewife, created by Dogget, was on a revival played (to his own immense satisfaction) by Colley Cibber. In Araminta Mrs. Bracegirdle began (in a faint outline as it were) the series of lively, sympathetic, intelligent heroines which Congreve wrote for her. Lord Falkland's Prologue is as funny as it is indecently suggestive, which is saying a great deal. The one actually spoken gave an opportunity of the merriest archness to Mrs. Bracegirdle, and was calculated to put the audience in the best of good humours.

The faults of The Double-Dealer are obvious on a first reading, and were very justly condemned on a first acting. The intrigue is wearisome: its involutions are ineffectively puzzling. Maskwell's villainy and Mellefont's folly are both unconvincing. The tragedy of Lady Touchwood, less tragic than that of Lady Wishfort in The Way of the World, is more obviously than that out of the picture. The play is, in fact, not pure comedy of manners: it is that plus tragedy, an element less offensive than the sentimentality which spoils The School for Scandal, but yet a notable fault. For while you can resolve the tragedy of Lady Wishfort into wicked and very grim comedy, you can do nothing with the tragedy of Lady Touchwood but try to ignore it. In his epistle dedicatory to Charles Montague, Congreve admits that his play has faults, but does not take in hand those adduced above, with the exception of the objections to Maskwell and Mellefont. 'They have mistaken cunning in one character for folly in another': an ineffectual answer, because the extremity of cunning is equally destructive of dramatic balance. He defends his use of soliloquy very warmly: of which it may be said that, so long as his rule—that no character may overhear the soliloquiser—is observed, it is a tolerable convention, but a confession of weakness in construction. He declares he 'would rather disoblige all the critics in the world than one of the fair sex,' and, having made his bow, he turns upon the ladies and rends them. An author campaigning against his critics is always a pleasant spectacle, but Congreve's defence of The Double-Dealer is rather amusing than convincing.

It needed no defence; for with all its faults, such as they are, upon it, there are in it scenes and characters which only Congreve could have made. Brisk is a worthy forerunner of Witwoud, Sir Paul Plyant a delicious old credulous fool; while the tyrannical and vain Lady Plyant is so drawn that you almost love her. But the triumph is Lady Froth, 'a great coquet, pretender to poetry, wit, and learning,' and one would almost as lief have seen Mrs. Mountfort in the part as the Bracegirdle's Millamant. Her serious folly and foolish wisdom, her poem and malice and compliments and babbling vivacity—set off, it is fair to remember, by a pretty face—are atonement for a dozen Maskwells. She is a female Witwoud, her author's first success in a sort of character he draws to perfection. The scene between Mellefont and Lady Plyant, where she insists on believing that the gallant, under cover of a marriage with her stepdaughter, purposes to lead her astray, and where she goes through a delightful farce of answering her scruples before the bewildered man—the scene that for some far-fetched reason led Macaulay's mind to the incest in the Oedipus Rex—is perhaps the best comedy of situation in the piece. But the scene of defamation between the Froths and Brisk is notable as (with the Cabal idea in The Way of the World) the inspiration of the Scandal Scenes in Sheridan's play. When we remember that less than two years were gone since the production of The Old Bachelor, the improvement in Congreve is remarkable. Almost his only concession to the groundlings is the star-gazing episode of Lady Froth and Brisk: a mistake, because it spoils her inconsequent folly, but a small matter. In his second play Congreve was himself, the wittiest and most polished writer of comedy in English. In the face of this fact 'the public' conducted itself characteristically: it more or less damned The Double-Dealer until the queen approved, when it applauded lustily. That occasion gave Colley Cibber his first chance as Kynaston's substitute in Lord Touchwood. When one remembers Dryden's long, struggling, cudgelling and cudgelled life, it is impossible to read without emotion his tribute to a very young and successful author in the verses prefixed to this play:

Firm Doric pillars found your solid base: The fair Corinthian crowns the higher space; Thus all below is strength, and all above is grace. . . . . . We cannot envy you, because we love. . . . . . Time, place, and action may with pains be wrought, But Genius must be born, and never can be taught. This is your portion, this your native store; Heav'n, that but once was prodigal before. To Shakespeare gave as much; she could not give him more.

The tribute is indubitably sincere; in point of Congreve's wit and diction it is as indubitably true.

Love for Love was the most popular of Congreve's comedies: it held the stage so long that Hazlitt could say, 'it still acts and is still acted well.' Being wise after the event, one may give some obvious reasons. It is more human than any other of his plays, and at the same time more farcical. By 'more human' it is not meant that the characters are truer to life than those in The Way of the World, but that they are truer to average life, and therefore more easily recognisable by the average spectator. Tattle, for instance, is so gross a fool, that any fool in the pit could see his folly; Witwoud might deceive all but the elect. No familiarity—direct or indirect—with a particular mode of life and speech is necessary to the appreciation of Love for Love. Sir Sampson Legend is your unmistakable heavy father, cross-grained and bullying. Valentine is no ironical, fine gentleman like Mirabell, but a young rake from Cambridge, all debts and high spirits. Scandal is a plain railer at things, especially women; Ben Legend a sea-dog who cannot speak without a nautical metaphor; Jeremy an idealised comic servant; and Foresight grotesque farce. Angelica is a shrewd but hearty 'English girl,' and Miss Prue a veritable country Miss; while Mrs. Frail and Mrs. Foresight are broadly skittish matrons. There is nothing in the play to strain the attention or to puzzle the intellect, and it is full of laughter: no wonder it was a success. It is, intellectually, on an altogether different plane from The Way of the World, on a slightly lower one than The Double-Dealer. But in its own way it is irresistibly funny, and by reason of its diction it is never for a moment other than distinguished.

I imagine the bodkin scene will always take the palm in it for mere mirth. Delightful sisters!

I suppose you would not go alone to the World's End?

The World's End! What, do you mean to banter me?

Poor innocent! You don't know that there's a place called the World's End? I'll swear you can keep your countenance purely; you'd make an admirable player. . . . But look you here, now—where did you lose this gold bodkin?—Oh, sister, sister!

My bodkin?

Nay, 'tis yours; look at it.

Well, if you go to that, where did you find this bodkin? Oh, sister, sister!—sister every way.

Broad, popular comedy, it is admirable; but it is not especially Congrevean. Tattle's love-lesson to Miss Prue and his boasting of his duchesses are in the same broad vein. Valentine's mad scene is more remarkable, in that Congreve gives rein to his fancy, and that his diction is at its very best. 'Hark'ee, I have a secret to tell you. Endymion and the Moon shall meet us upon Mount Latmos, and will be married in the dead of night. But say not a word. Hymen shall put his torch into a dark lanthorn, that it may be secret; and Juno shall give her peacock poppy-water, that he may fold his ogling tail, and Argus's hundred eyes be shut, ha? Nobody shall know, but Jeremy.'

TATTLE. Do you know me, Valentine?

VALENTINE. You? Who are you? No, I hope not.

TATTLE. I am Jack Tattle, your friend.

VALENTINE. My friend, what to do? I am no married man, and thou canst not lie with my wife. I am very poor, and thou canst not borrow money of me. Then, what employment have I for a friend?

ANGELICA. Do you know me, Valentine?

VALENTINE. Oh, very well.


VALENTINE. You're a woman, one to whom Heaven gave beauty when it grafted roses on a briar. You are the reflection of Heaven in a pond, and he that leaps at you is sunk. You are all white, a sheet of lovely, spotless paper, when you first are born; but you are to be scrawled and blotted by every goose's quill. I know you; for I loved a woman, and loved her so long, that I found out a strange thing: I found out what a woman was good for.

Imagine Betterton, the greatest actor of his time, delivering that last speech, with its incomparable rhythm! I like to think that he gave the spectators an idea that Valentine's self-sacrifice for Angelica was nothing but a bold device, a calculated effect; otherwise the sacrifice is an excrescence in this comedy, which, popular and broad though it be, is cynical in Congreve's manner throughout. One is consoled, however, by the pleasant fate of the ingenious Mr. Tattle and the intriguing Mrs. Frail, who are left tied for life against their will. The trick, by the way, of a tricked marriage is constant in Congreve, and reveals his poverty of construction. He can devise you comic situations unflaggingly, but when he approaches the end of a play his deus ex machina is invariably this flattest and most battered old deity in fairyland.

The dedication to Lord Dorset contains nothing of interest beyond the confession that the play is too long, and the information that part of it was omitted in the playing. A line in the prologue, 'We grieve One falling Adam and one tempted Eve,' is explained by Colley Cibber to refer to Mrs. Mountford, who, having cast her lot with Betterton and migrated to Lincoln's Inn Fields, threw up her part on a question of cash, and to Williams, an actor who 'loved his bottle better than his business,' who deserted at the same time. It serves to show the interest the town took in the players, that the fact was referred to on the stage. The lady's part was taken by Mrs. Ayliff; Mrs. Leigh played the nurse—a very poor part after Lady Plyant; Dogget's success as Ben Legend has been noted. Mrs. Bracegirdle's Angelica was doubtless ravishing: a 'virtuous young woman,' as our ancestors phrased it, but quite relieved from insipidity.

It would need a greater presumption than the writer is gifted withal to add his contribution to the praises critics have lavished on The Way of the World. It is better to quote Mr. Swinburne. 'In 1700 Congreve replied to Collier with the crowning work of his genius—the unequalled and unapproached masterpiece of English comedy. The one play in our language which may fairly claim a place beside, or but just beneath, the mightiest work of Moliere, is The Way of the World.' But he continues: 'On the stage, which had recently acclaimed with uncritical applause the author's more questionable appearance in the field of tragedy,'—The Mourning Bride,—'this final and flawless evidence of his incomparable powers met with a rejection then and ever since inexplicable on any ground of conjecture.' There the critics are not unanimous. Mr. Gosse, for instance, has his explanation: that the spectators must have fidgeted, and wished 'that the actors and actresses would be doing something.' Very like, indeed: the spectators, then as now, would no doubt have preferred 'knock-about farce.' But, I venture to think, the explanation is not complete. The construction of the play is weak, certainly, but the actors and actresses do a great deal after all. For that matter, audiences will stand scenes of still wit—but they like to comprehend it; and the characters in The Way of the World, or most of them, represent a society whose attitude and speech are entirely ironical and paradoxical, a society of necessity but a small fraction of any community. Some sort of study or some special experience is necessary to the enjoyment of such a set. It is not the case of a few witticisms and paradoxes firing off at intervals, like crackers, from the mouths of one or two actors with whom the audience is taught to laugh as a matter of course: the vein is unbroken. Now, literalness and common sense are the qualities of the average uninstructed spectator, and The Way of the World was high over the heads of its audience.

To come to details. The tragedy of Lady Wishfort has often been remarked—the veritable tragedy of a lovesick old woman. All the grotesque touches, her credulity, her vanity, her admirable dialect ('as I'm a person!'), but serve to make the tragedy the more pitiable. Either, therefore, our appreciation of satiric comedy is defective, or Congreve made a mistake. To regard this poor old soul as mere comedy is to attain to an almost satanic height of contempt: the comedy is more than grim, it is savagely cruel. To be pitiless, on the other hand, is a satirist's virtue. On the whole, we may reasonably say that the tragedy is not too keen in itself, but that it is too obviously indicated. Witwoud is surely a great character? The stage is alive with mirth when he is on it. His entrance in the very first part of the play is delightful. 'Afford me your compassion, my dears; pity me, Fainall; Mirabell, pity me. . . . Fainall, how does your lady? Gad, I say anything in the world to get this fellow out of my head. I beg pardon that I should ask a man of pleasure, and the town, a question at once so foreign and domestic. But I talk like an old maid at a marriage, I don't know what I say.' But one might quote for ever. Witwoud, almost as much as Millamant herself, is an eternal type. His little exclamations, his assurance of sympathy, his terror of the commonplace—surely one knows them well? His tolerance of any impertinence, lest he should be thought to have misunderstood a jest, is a great distinction. But Congreve's gibe in the dedication at the critics, who failed 'to distinguish betwixt the character of a Witwoud and a Truewit,' is hardly fair: as Dryden said of Etherege's Sir Fopling, he is 'a fool so nicely writ, The ladies might mistake him for a wit.' Then, Millamant is the ultimate expression of those who, having all the material goods which nature and civilisation can give, live on paradoxes and artifices. Her insolence is the inoffensive insolence only possible to the well-bred. 'O ay, letters,—I had letters,—I am persecuted with letters,—I hate letters,—nobody knows how to write letters; and yet one has 'em, one does not know why,—they serve one to pin up one's hair.' 'Beauty the lover's gift!—Lord, what is a lover, that it can give? Why one makes lovers as fast as one pleases, and they live as long as one pleases, and they die as soon as one pleases; and then if one pleases one makes more.'

In parts of its characterisation The Way of the World is extremely bold in observation, extremely careless of literary types and traditions. Mrs. Fainall, a woman who is the friend, and assists in the intrigues, of a man who has ceased to be her lover, is most unconventionally human. Of all the inimitable scenes, that in which Millamant and Mirabell make their conditions of marriage is perhaps the most unquestionable triumph. 'Let us never visit together, nor go to a play together, but let us be very strange and well-bred'—there is its keynote. The dialogue is as sure and perfect in diction, in balance of phrases, and in musical effectiveness as can be conceived, and for all its care is absolutely free in its gaiety. It is the ultimate expression of the joys of the artificial. As for the prologue, it is an invitation to the dullards to damn the play, and is anything but serenely confident. The dedication, to 'Ralph, Earl of Mountague,' has an interesting fact: it tells us that the comedy was written immediately after staying with him, 'in your retirement last summer from the town,' and pays a tribute to the influence of the society the dramatist met there. 'Vous y voyez partout,' said Voltaire of Congreve, 'le langage des honnetes gens avec des actions de fripon; ce qui prouve qu'il connaissait bien son monde, et qu'il vivait dans ce qu'on appelle la bonne compagnie.'

The want of dramatic skill which has been alleged against Congreve is simply a question of construction—of the construction of his plays as a whole. His plots hang fire, are difficult to follow, and are not worth remembering. But many things besides go to the making of good plays, and few playwrights have had all the theatrical virtues. Do we not pardon a lack of incident in a novel of character? In this connexion it is worth while to contrast Congreve with Sheridan, who in the matter of construction was a far abler craftsman. But is there not in the elder poet enough to turn the scale, even the theatrical scale, ten times over? Compare the petty indignation, with which the dramatist of The School for Scandal deals with his scandalmongers, and the amused indifference of Congreve towards the cabalists in The Way of the World. Or take any hero of Congreve's and contrast him with that glorification of vulgar lavishness and canting generosity, that very barmaid's hero, Charles Surface. It is all very well to say that Joseph is the real hero; but Sheridan made it natural for the stupid sentimentality of later days to make him the villain, and Congreve would have made it impossible. Of wit (of course) there is more in a scene of Congreve than in a play of Sheridan. Moreover, faulty in construction as his main plots are, in detail his construction is often admirable: as in play of character upon character, in countless opportunities for delightful archness and cruelty in the women, for the display of every comic emotion in the men. He lived in the playhouse, and his characters, true to life though they be, have about them as it were an ideal essence of the boards. With Hazlitt, 'I would rather have seen Mrs. Abington's Millamant than any Rosalind that ever appeared on the stage.' A lover and a constant frequenter of the theatre—albeit the plays he sees bore him to death—cannot, in reading Congreve, choose but see the glances and hear the intonations of imaginary players.


Congreve's choice of material has been defended at an early stage of these remarks. There is the further and more interesting question of his point of view, his attitude towards it. Mr. Henley speaks of his 'deliberate and unmitigable baseness of morality.' Differing with deference, I think it may be shown that his attitude is a pose merely, and an artistic and quite innocent pose. It is the amusing pose of the boyish cynic turned into an artistic convention. The lines:

'He alone won't betray in whom none will confide, And the nymph may be chaste that has never been tried:'

which conclude the characteristic song in the third act of Love for Love, are typical of his attitude. Does anybody suppose that an intelligent man of the world meant that sentiment in all seriousness?

'Nothing's new besides our faces, Every woman is the same'—

those lines (in his first play), which seemed so shocking to Thackeray, what more do they express than the green cynicism of youth? When Mr. Leslie Stephen speaks of his 'gush of cynical sentiment,' he speaks unsympathetically, but the phrase, to be an enemy's, is just. It is cynical sentiment, and the hostility comes from taking it seriously. I think it the most artistic attitude for a writer of gay, satiric comedies, and that its very excess should prevent its being taken for more than a convention. We are not called upon to see satiric comedies all day long, and the question, everlastingly asked by implication of every work of art—'Would you like to live with it?'—is here, as in most other cases, irrelevant. One is reminded that there is more in life than intrigues and cynical comments on them. And one is inclined to put the questions in answer: 'Does a man who really feels the sorrowful things of life, its futile endeavours and piteous separations, find relief in seeing his emotions mimicked on the stage in a 'wholesome' play of sentiment with a happy ending? Is he not rather comforted by the distractions of cheerful frivolity, of conventional denial of his pains?' The demand is as inartistic and irrelevant as the criticism which suggested it, but it returns a sufficient reply. It does not touch the 'catharsis' of tragedy, which is another matter. For the rest, Congreve's attitude, cynicism apart, is an attitude of irony and superiority over common emotions, the attitude, artificial and inoffensive, of the society he depicts in his greatest play. He enjoys the humours of his puppets, he is never angry with them. It is the attitude of an artist in expounding human nature, of an expert in observation of life: an attitude attainable but by very few, and disliked as a rule by the rest, who want to clap or to hiss—who can laugh but who cannot smile.


When Congreve left the stage, said Dennis the critic, 'comedy left it with him.' Vanburgh and Farquhar were left to expound comedy of manners, the one with a vigorous gusto, the other with a romantic gaiety. The peculiar perfume of The Way of the World was given to neither, yet they wrote comedy of manners. But if Congreve left colleagues, he left no sons, and most certainly, one may say, that when those colleagues died, English comedy took to her bed. 'The Comic Muse, long sick, is now a- dying,' wrote Garrick in his prologue to She Stoops to Conquer, and she had not to apologise, like Charles the Second, for the unconscionable time she was about it. It is a little crude to attribute her demise to Jeremy Collier and his Short View—a block painted to look like a thunderbolt. It is not a matter of decency, of alteration or improvement in manners. A comedy might be wholly Congrevean without a coarse word from beginning to end. It is a matter of the exclusion (not the stultification), the suspension of moral prepossessions, the absence of sympathetic sentimentalism, the habit of shirking nothing and smiling at all things. These qualities are not characteristic of the average Englishman. Now, satiric comedy did not in its initiation depend upon the average Englishman. It took its cue from the court of Charles the Second, who—with a dash of thoroughly English humour—was more than half- French in temperament, and attracted to himself all that was artistically frivolous in his kingdom. Questions of decency and morality—which after all are not perpetually amusing—apart, the social spirit typified in this exceptional king is one of sceptical humour and ironical smiles: it takes common emotions for granted—is bored by them, in fact—and is a foe to sentimentality and gush and virtuously happy endings. It was the spirit of Charles the Second that inspired English comedy, and inspired it most thoroughly in Congreve but a few years after Charles's death. Under changed conditions, one is apt to underestimate the influence of the Court upon the Town two hundred years ago. Well, the Georges became our defenders of the faith, and they hated 'boets and bainters.' English comedy was thrown back upon the patronage and the inspiration of average England, and up to the time of writing has shown few signs of recovery. Of course, the decay was gradual: you may see it at a most interesting stage in The School for Scandal, a comedy of manners with a strong dash of common sentimentality. It would be just possible, one conceives, to play The School for Scandal as Charles Lamb says he saw it played, with Joseph for a hero, as a comedy of manners: you can just imagine Sir Peter as a sort of Sir Paul Plyant, and as not played to raise a lump in your throat. But Sheridan made it a difficult task. Perhaps you may see the evil influence at its worst in the so-called comedies which were our glory twenty-five years ago: in such a play as Caste, an even river of sloppy sentiment, where the acme of chivalrous delicacy is to refrain from lighting a cigarette in a woman's presence, where the triumph of humour is for a guardsman to take a kettle off the fire, and where the character of Eccles shows what excellent comedy the author might (alas!) have written.

One is fain to ask if the spirit of Congrevean comedy will ever come back to our stage. An echo of it has been heard in dialogue once or twice in the last few years: not a trace has been seen in action. And yet we permit our dramatists a pretty wide range of subjects. We allow the subjects: it is the Congrevean attitude towards them which we should condemn. But the stage would be all the merrier if we could only understand that that attitude is harmless; that to see the humorous aspect of a thing is not to ignore the pathetic or the sociological; and that we should return all the heartier to our serious and sentimental considerations of the problems of life for allowing them to be laughed at for an evening at a comedy. Meantime we can read the book.



Quem tulit ad scenam ventoso Gloria curru, Exanimat lentus spectator; sedulus inflat: Sic leve, sic parvum est, animum quod laudis avarum Subruit, and reficit.

HORAT. Epist. I. lib. ii.


My Lord,—It is with a great deal of pleasure that I lay hold on this first occasion which the accidents of my life have given me of writing to your lordship: for since at the same time I write to all the world, it will be a means of publishing (what I would have everybody know) the respect and duty which I owe and pay to you. I have so much inclination to be yours that I need no other engagement. But the particular ties by which I am bound to your lordship and family have put it out of my power to make you any compliment, since all offers of myself will amount to no more than an honest acknowledgment, and only shew a willingness in me to be grateful.

I am very near wishing that it were not so much my interest to be your lordship's servant, that it might be more my merit; not that I would avoid being obliged to you, but I would have my own choice to run me into the debt: that I might have it to boast, I had distinguished a man to whom I would be glad to be obliged, even without the hopes of having it in my power ever to make him a return.

It is impossible for me to come near your lordship in any kind and not to receive some favour; and while in appearance I am only making an acknowledgment (with the usual underhand dealing of the world) I am at the same time insinuating my own interest. I cannot give your lordship your due, without tacking a bill of my own privileges. 'Tis true, if a man never committed a folly, he would never stand in need of a protection. But then power would have nothing to do, and good nature no occasion to show itself; and where those qualities are, 'tis pity they should want objects to shine upon. I must confess this is no reason why a man should do an idle thing, nor indeed any good excuse for it when done; yet it reconciles the uses of such authority and goodness to the necessities of our follies, and is a sort of poetical logic, which at this time I would make use of, to argue your lordship into a protection of this play. It is the first offence I have committed in this kind, or indeed, in any kind of poetry, though not the first made public, and therefore I hope will the more easily be pardoned. But had it been acted, when it was first written, more might have been said in its behalf: ignorance of the town and stage would then have been excuses in a young writer, which now almost four years' experience will scarce allow of. Yet I must declare myself sensible of the good nature of the town, in receiving this play so kindly, with all its faults, which I must own were, for the most part, very industriously covered by the care of the players; for I think scarce a character but received all the advantage it would admit of from the justness of the action.

As for the critics, my lord, I have nothing to say to, or against, any of them of any kind: from those who make just exceptions, to those who find fault in the wrong place. I will only make this general answer in behalf of my play (an answer which Epictetus advises every man to make for himself to his censurers), viz.: 'That if they who find some faults in it, were as intimate with it as I am, they would find a great many more.' This is a confession, which I needed not to have made; but however, I can draw this use from it to my own advantage: that I think there are no faults in it but what I do know; which, as I take it, is the first step to an amendment.

Thus I may live in hopes (sometime or other) of making the town amends; but you, my lord, I never can, though I am ever your lordship's most obedient and most humble servant,



When virtue in pursuit of fame appears, And forward shoots the growth beyond the years. We timely court the rising hero's cause, And on his side the poet wisely draws, Bespeaking him hereafter by applause. The days will come, when we shall all receive Returning interest from what now we give, Instructed and supported by that praise And reputation which we strive to raise. Nature so coy, so hardly to be wooed, Flies, like a mistress, but to be pursued. O Congreve! boldly follow on the chase: She looks behind and wants thy strong embrace: She yields, she yields, surrenders all her charms, Do you but force her gently to your arms: Such nerves, such graces, in your lines appear, As you were made to be her ravisher. Dryden has long extended his command, By right divine, quite through the muses' land, Absolute lord; and holding now from none, But great Apollo, his undoubted crown. That empire settled, and grown old in power Can wish for nothing but a successor: Not to enlarge his limits, but maintain Those provinces, which he alone could gain. His eldest Wycherly, in wise retreat, Thought it not worth his quiet to be great. Loose, wand'ring Etherege, in wild pleasures tost, And foreign int'rests, to his hopes long lost: Poor Lee and Otway dead! Congreve appears, The darling, and last comfort of his years. May'st thou live long in thy great master's smiles, And growing under him, adorn these isles. But when—when part of him (be that but late) His body yielding must submit to fate, Leaving his deathless works and thee behind (The natural successor of his mind), Then may'st thou finish what he has begun: Heir to his merit, be in fame his son. What thou hast done, shews all is in thy pow'r, And to write better, only must write more. 'Tis something to be willing to commend; But my best praise is, that I am your friend,



The danger's great in these censorious days, When critics are so rife to venture praise: When the infectious and ill-natured brood Behold, and damn the work, because 'tis good, And with a proud, ungenerous spirit, try To pass an ostracism on poetry. But you, my friend, your worth does safely bear Above their spleen; you have no cause for fear; Like a well-mettled hawk, you took your flight Quite out of reach, and almost out of sight. As the strong sun, in a fair summer's day, You rise, and drive the mists and clouds away, The owls and bats, and all the birds of prey. Each line of yours, like polished steel's so hard, In beauty safe, it wants no other guard. Nature herself's beholden to your dress, Which though still like, much fairer you express. Some vainly striving honour to obtain, Leave to their heirs the traffic of their brain: Like China under ground, the ripening ware, In a long time, perhaps grows worth our care. But you now reap the fame, so well you've sown; The planter tastes his fruit to ripeness grown. As a fair orange-tree at once is seen Big with what's ripe, yet springing still with green, So at one time, my worthy friend appears, With all the sap of youth, and weight of years. Accept my pious love, as forward zeal, Which though it ruins me I can't conceal: Exposed to censure for my weak applause, I'm pleased to suffer in so just a cause; And though my offering may unworthy prove, Take, as a friend, the wishes of my love.



Wit, like true gold, refined from all allay, Immortal is, and never can decay: 'Tis in all times and languages the same, Nor can an ill translation quench the flame: For, though the form and fashion don't remain, The intrinsic value still it will retain. Then let each studied scene be writ with art, And judgment sweat to form the laboured part. Each character be just, and nature seem: Without th' ingredient, wit, 'tis all but phlegm: For that's the soul, which all the mass must move, And wake our passions into grief or love. But you, too bounteous, sow your wit so thick, We are surprised, and know not where to pick; And while with clapping we are just to you, Ourselves we injure, and lose something new. What mayn't we then, great youth, of thee presage, Whose art and wit so much transcend thy age? How wilt thou shine at thy meridian height, Who, at thy rising, giv'st so vast a light? When Dryden dying shall the world deceive, Whom we immortal, as his works, believe, Thou shalt succeed, the glory of the stage, Adorn and entertain the coming age.



Most authors on the stage at first appear Like widows' bridegrooms, full of doubt and fear: They judge, from the experience of the dame, How hard a task it is to quench her flame; And who falls short of furnishing a course Up to his brawny predecessor's force, With utmost rage from her embraces thrown, Remains convicted as an empty drone. Thus often, to his shame, a pert beginner Proves in the end a miserable sinner. As for our youngster, I am apt to doubt him, With all the vigour of his youth about him; But he, more sanguine, trusts in one and twenty, And impudently hopes he shall content you: For though his bachelor be worn and cold, He thinks the young may club to help the old, And what alone can be achieved by neither, Is often brought about by both together. The briskest of you all have felt alarms, Finding the fair one prostitute her charms With broken sighs, in her old fumbler's arms: But for our spark, he swears he'll ne'er be jealous Of any rivals, but young lusty fellows. Faith, let him try his chance, and if the slave, After his bragging, prove a washy knave, May he be banished to some lonely den And never more have leave to dip his pen. But if he be the champion he pretends, Both sexes sure will join to be his friends, For all agree, where all can have their ends. And you must own him for a man of might, If he holds out to please you the third night.


How this vile world is changed! In former days Prologues were serious speeches before plays, Grave, solemn things, as graces are to feasts, Where poets begged a blessing from their guests. But now no more like suppliants we come; A play makes war, and prologue is the drum. Armed with keen satire and with pointed wit, We threaten you who do for judges sit, To save our plays, or else we'll damn your pit. But for your comfort, it falls out to-day, We've a young author and his first-born play; So, standing only on his good behaviour, He's very civil, and entreats your favour. Not but the man has malice, would he show it, But on my conscience he's a bashful poet; You think that strange—no matter, he'll outgrow it. Well, I'm his advocate: by me he prays you (I don't know whether I shall speak to please you), He prays—O bless me! what shall I do now? Hang me if I know what he prays, or how! And 'twas the prettiest prologue as he wrote it! Well, the deuce take me, if I han't forgot it. O Lord, for heav'n's sake excuse the play, Because, you know, if it be damned to-day, I shall be hanged for wanting what to say. For my sake then—but I'm in such confusion, I cannot stay to hear your resolution.

[Runs off.]



HEARTWELL, a surly old bachelor, pretending to slight women, secretly in love with Silvia—Mr. Betterton. BELLMOUR, in love with Belinda—Mr. Powell VAINLOVE, capricious in his love; in love with Araminta—Mr. Williams SHARPER,—Mr. Verbruggen SIR JOSEPH WITTOL,—Mr. Bowen CAPTAIN BLUFFE,—Mr. Haines. FONDLEWIFE, a banker—Mr. Dogget SETTER, a pimp—Mr Underhill SERVANT to Fondlewife.


ARAMINTA, in love with Vainlove—Mrs. Bracegirdle BELINDA, her cousin, an affected lady, in love with Bellmour—Mrs. Mountfort LAETITIA, wife to Fondlewife—Mrs. Barry SYLVIA, Vainlove's forsaken mistress—Mrs. Bowman LUCY, her maid—Mrs. Leigh BETTY. BOY and FOOTMEN.

SCENE: London.



SCENE: The Street.


BELL. Vainlove, and abroad so early! Good-morrow; I thought a contemplative lover could no more have parted with his bed in a morning than he could have slept in't.

VAIN. Bellmour, good-morrow. Why, truth on't is, these early sallies are not usual to me; but business, as you see, sir—[Showing Letters.] And business must be followed, or be lost.

BELL. Business! And so must time, my friend, be close pursued, or lost. Business is the rub of life, perverts our aim, casts off the bias, and leaves us wide and short of the intended mark.

VAIN. Pleasure, I guess you mean.

BELL. Ay; what else has meaning?

VAIN. Oh, the wise will tell you—

BELL. More than they believe—or understand.

VAIN. How, how, Ned! A wise man say more than he understands?

BELL. Ay, ay! Wisdom's nothing but a pretending to know and believe more than we really do. You read of but one wise man, and all that he knew was, that he knew nothing. Come, come, leave business to idlers and wisdom to fools; they have need of 'em. Wit be my faculty, and pleasure my occupation; and let Father Time shake his glass. Let low and earthly souls grovel till they have worked themselves six foot deep into a grave. Business is not my element—I roll in a higher orb, and dwell—

VAIN. In castles i' th' air of thy own building. That's thy element, Ned. Well, as high a flier as you are, I have a lure may make you stoop. [Flings a Letter.]

BELL. I, marry, sir, I have a hawk's eye at a woman's hand. There's more elegancy in the false spelling of this superscription [takes up the Letter] than in all Cicero. Let me see.—How now!—Dear perfidious Vainlove. [Reads.]

VAIN. Hold, hold, 'slife, that's the wrong.

BELL. Nay, let's see the name—Sylvia!—how canst thou be ungrateful to that creature? She's extremely pretty, and loves thee entirely—I have heard her breathe such raptures about thee—

VAIN. Ay, or anybody that she's about—

BELL. No, faith, Frank, you wrong her; she has been just to you.

VAIN. That's pleasant, by my troth, from thee, who hast had her.

BELL. Never—her affections. 'Tis true, by heaven: she owned it to my face; and, blushing like the virgin morn when it disclosed the cheat which that trusty bawd of nature, night, had hid, confessed her soul was true to you; though I by treachery had stolen the bliss.

VAIN. So was true as turtle—in imagination—Ned, ha? Preach this doctrine to husbands, and the married women will adore thee.

BELL. Why, faith, I think it will do well enough, if the husband be out of the way, for the wife to show her fondness and impatience of his absence by choosing a lover as like him as she can; and what is unlike, she may help out with her own fancy.

VAIN. But is it not an abuse to the lover to be made a blind of?

BELL. As you say, the abuse is to the lover, not the husband. For 'tis an argument of her great zeal towards him, that she will enjoy him in effigy.

VAIN. It must be a very superstitious country where such zeal passes for true devotion. I doubt it will be damned by all our Protestant husbands for flat idolatry. But, if you can make Alderman Fondlewife of your persuasion, this letter will be needless.

BELL. What! The old banker with the handsome wife?


BELL. Let me see—Laetitia! Oh, 'tis a delicious morsel. Dear Frank, thou art the truest friend in the world.

VAIN. Ay, am I not? To be continually starting of hares for you to course. We were certainly cut out for one another; for my temper quits an amour just where thine takes it up. But read that; it is an appointment for me, this evening—when Fondlewife will be gone out of town, to meet the master of a ship, about the return of a venture which he's in danger of losing. Read, read.

BELL. [reads.] Hum, Hum—Out of town this evening, and talks of sending for Mr. Spintext to keep me company; but I'll take care he shall not be at home. Good! Spintext! Oh, the fanatic one-eyed parson!


BELL. [reads.] Hum, Hum—That your conversation will be much more agreeable, if you can counterfeit his habit to blind the servants. Very good! Then I must be disguised?—With all my heart!—It adds a gusto to an amour; gives it the greater resemblance of theft; and, among us lewd mortals, the deeper the sin the sweeter. Frank, I'm amazed at thy good nature—

VAIN. Faith, I hate love when 'tis forced upon a man, as I do wine. And this business is none of my seeking; I only happened to be, once or twice, where Laetitia was the handsomest woman in company; so, consequently, applied myself to her—and it seems she has taken me at my word. Had you been there, or anybody, 't had been the same.

BELL. I wish I may succeed as the same.

VAIN. Never doubt it; for if the spirit of cuckoldom be once raised up in a woman, the devil can't lay it, until she has done't.

BELL. Prithee, what sort of fellow is Fondlewife?

VAIN. A kind of mongrel zealot, sometimes very precise and peevish. But I have seen him pleasant enough in his way; much addicted to jealousy, but more to fondness; so that as he is often jealous without a cause, he's as often satisfied without reason.

BELL. A very even temper, and fit for my purpose. I must get your man Setter to provide my disguise.

VAIN. Ay; you may take him for good and all, if you will, for you have made him fit for nobody else. Well—

BELL. You're going to visit in return of Sylvia's letter. Poor rogue! Any hour of the day or night will serve her. But do you know nothing of a new rival there?

VAIN. Yes; Heartwell—that surly, old, pretended woman-hater—thinks her virtuous; that's one reason why I fail her. I would have her fret herself out of conceit with me, that she may entertain some thoughts of him. I know he visits her every day.

BELL. Yet rails on still, and thinks his love unknown to us. A little time will swell him so, he must be forced to give it birth; and the discovery must needs be very pleasant from himself, to see what pains he will take, and how he will strain to be delivered of a secret, when he has miscarried of it already.

VAIN. Well, good-morrow. Let's dine together; I'll meet at the old place.

BELL. With all my heart. It lies convenient for us to pay our afternoon services to our mistresses. I find I am damnably in love, I'm so uneasy for not having seen Belinda yesterday.

VAIN. But I saw my Araminta, yet am as impatient.



BELL. Why, what a cormorant in love am I! Who, not contented with the slavery of honourable love in one place, and the pleasure of enjoying some half a score mistresses of my own acquiring, must yet take Vainlove's business upon my hands, because it lay too heavy upon his; so am not only forced to lie with other men's wives for 'em, but must also undertake the harder task of obliging their mistresses. I must take up, or I shall never hold out. Flesh and blood cannot bear it always.


[To him] SHARPER.

SHARP. I'm sorry to see this, Ned. Once a man comes to his soliloquies, I give him for gone.

BELL. Sharper, I'm glad to see thee.

SHARP. What! is Belinda cruel, that you are so thoughtful?

BELL. No, faith, not for that. But there's a business of consequence fallen out to-day that requires some consideration.

SHARP. Prithee, what mighty business of consequence canst thou have?

BELL. Why, you must know, 'tis a piece of work toward the finishing of an alderman. It seems I must put the last hand to it, and dub him cuckold, that he may be of equal dignity with the rest of his brethren: so I must beg Belinda's pardon.

SHARP. Faith, e'en give her over for good and all; you can have no hopes of getting her for a mistress; and she is too proud, too inconstant, too affected and too witty, and too handsome for a wife.

BELL. But she can't have too much money. There's twelve thousand pound, Tom. 'Tis true she is excessively foppish and affected; but in my conscience I believe the baggage loves me: for she never speaks well of me herself, nor suffers anybody else to rail at me. Then, as I told you, there's twelve thousand pound. Hum! Why, faith, upon second thoughts, she does not appear to be so very affected neither.—Give her her due, I think the woman's a woman, and that's all. As such, I'm sure I shall like her; for the devil take me if I don't love all the sex.

SHARP. And here comes one who swears as heartily he hates all the sex.


[To them] HEARTWELL.

BELL. Who? Heartwell? Ay, but he knows better things. How now, George, where hast thou been snarling odious truths, and entertaining company, like a physician, with discourse of their diseases and infirmities? What fine lady hast thou been putting out of conceit with herself, and persuading that the face she had been making all the morning was none of her own? For I know thou art as unmannerly and as unwelcome to a woman as a looking-glass after the smallpox.

HEART. I confess I have not been sneering fulsome lies and nauseous flattery; fawning upon a little tawdry whore, that will fawn upon me again, and entertain any puppy that comes, like a tumbler, with the same tricks over and over. For such, I guess, may have been your late employment.

BELL. Would thou hadst come a little sooner. Vainlove would have wrought thy conversion, and been a champion for the cause.

HEART. What! has he been here? That's one of love's April fools; is always upon some errand that's to no purpose; ever embarking in adventures, yet never comes to harbour.

SHARP. That's because he always sets out in foul weather, loves to buffet with the winds, meet the tide, and sail in the teeth of opposition.

HEART. What! Has he not dropt anchor at Araminta?

BELL. Truth on't is she fits his temper best, is a kind of floating island; sometimes seems in reach, then vanishes and keeps him busied in the search.

SHARP. She had need have a good share of sense to manage so capricious a lover.

BELL. Faith I don't know, he's of a temper the most easy to himself in the world; he takes as much always of an amour as he cares for, and quits it when it grows stale or unpleasant.

SHARP. An argument of very little passion, very good understanding, and very ill nature.

HEART. And proves that Vainlove plays the fool with discretion.

SHARP. You, Bellmour, are bound in gratitude to stickle for him; you with pleasure reap that fruit, which he takes pains to sow: he does the drudgery in the mine, and you stamp your image on the gold.

BELL. He's of another opinion, and says I do the drudgery in the mine. Well, we have each our share of sport, and each that which he likes best; 'tis his diversion to set, 'tis mine to cover the partridge.

HEART. And it should be mine to let 'em go again.

SHARP. Not till you had mouthed a little, George. I think that's all thou art fit for now.

HEART. Good Mr. Young-Fellow, you're mistaken; as able as yourself, and as nimble, too, though I mayn't have so much mercury in my limbs; 'tis true, indeed, I don't force appetite, but wait the natural call of my lust, and think it time enough to be lewd after I have had the temptation.

BELL. Time enough, ay, too soon, I should rather have expected, from a person of your gravity.

HEART. Yet it is oftentimes too late with some of you young, termagant, flashy sinners—you have all the guilt of the intention, and none of the pleasure of the practice—'tis true you are so eager in pursuit of the temptation, that you save the devil the trouble of leading you into it. Nor is it out of discretion that you don't swallow that very hook yourselves have baited, but you are cloyed with the preparative, and what you mean for a whet, turns the edge of your puny stomachs. Your love is like your courage, which you show for the first year or two upon all occasions; till in a little time, being disabled or disarmed, you abate of your vigour; and that daring blade which was so often drawn, is bound to the peace for ever after.

BELL. Thou art an old fornicator of a singular good principle indeed, and art for encouraging youth, that they may be as wicked as thou art at thy years.

HEART. I am for having everybody be what they pretend to be: a whoremaster be a whoremaster, and not like Vainlove, kiss a lap-dog with passion, when it would disgust him from the lady's own lips.

BELL. That only happens sometimes, where the dog has the sweeter breath, for the more cleanly conveyance. But, George, you must not quarrel with little gallantries of this nature: women are often won by 'em. Who would refuse to kiss a lap-dog, if it were preliminary to the lips of his lady?

SHARP. Or omit playing with her fan, and cooling her if she were hot, when it might entitle him to the office of warming her when she should be cold?

BELL. What is it to read a play in a rainy day? Though you should be now and then interrupted in a witty scene, and she perhaps preserve her laughter, till the jest were over; even that may be borne with, considering the reward in prospect.

HEART. I confess you that are women's asses bear greater burdens: are forced to undergo dressing, dancing, singing, sighing, whining, rhyming, flattering, lying, grinning, cringing, and the drudgery of loving to boot.

BELL. O brute, the drudgery of loving!

HEART. Ay! Why, to come to love through all these incumbrances is like coming to an estate overcharged with debts, which, by the time you have paid, yields no further profit than what the bare tillage and manuring of the land will produce at the expense of your own sweat.

BELL. Prithee, how dost thou love?

SHARP. He! He hates the sex.

HEART. So I hate physic too—yet I may love to take it for my health.

BELL. Well come off, George, if at any time you should be taken straying.

SHARP. He has need of such an excuse, considering the present state of his body.

HEART. How d'ye mean?

SHARP. Why, if whoring be purging, as you call it, then, I may say, marriage is entering into a course of physic.

BELL. How, George! Does the wind blow there?

HEART. It will as soon blow north and by south—marry, quotha! I hope in heaven I have a greater portion of grace, and I think I have baited too many of those traps to be caught in one myself.

BELL. Who the devil would have thee? unless 'twere an oysterwoman to propagate young fry for Billingsgate—thy talent will never recommend thee to anything of better quality.

HEART. My talent is chiefly that of speaking truth, which I don't expect should ever recommend me to people of quality. I thank heaven I have very honestly purchased the hatred of all the great families in town.

SHARP. And you in return of spleen hate them. But could you hope to be received into the alliance of a noble family—

HEART. No; I hope I shall never merit that affliction, to be punished with a wife of birth, be a stag of the first head and bear my horns aloft, like one of the supporters of my wife's coat. S'death I would not be a Cuckold to e'er an illustrious whore in England.

BELL. What, not to make your family, man and provide for your children?

SHARP. For her children, you mean.

HEART. Ay, there you've nicked it. There's the devil upon devil. Oh, the pride and joy of heart 'twould be to me to have my son and heir resemble such a duke; to have a fleering coxcomb scoff and cry, 'Mr. your son's mighty like his Grace, has just his smile and air of's face.' Then replies another, 'Methinks he has more of the Marquess of such a place about his nose and eyes, though he has my Lord what-d'ye-call's mouth to a tittle.' Then I, to put it off as unconcerned, come chuck the infant under the chin, force a smile, and cry, 'Ay, the boy takes after his mother's relations,' when the devil and she knows 'tis a little compound of the whole body of nobility.

BELL+SHARP. Ha, ha, ha!

BELL. Well, but, George, I have one question to ask you—

HEART. Pshaw, I have prattled away my time. I hope you are in no haste for an answer, for I shan't stay now. [Looking on his watch.]

BELL. Nay, prithee, George—

HEART. No; besides my business, I see a fool coming this way. Adieu.



BELL. What does he mean? Oh, 'tis Sir Joseph Wittoll with his friend; but I see he has turned the corner and goes another way.

SHARP. What in the name of wonder is it?

BELL. Why, a fool.

SHARP. 'Tis a tawdry outside.

BELL. And a very beggarly lining—yet he may be worth your acquaintance; a little of thy chymistry, Tom, may extract gold from that dirt.

SHARP. Say you so? 'Faith I am as poor as a chymist, and would be as industrious. But what was he that followed him? Is not he a dragon that watches those golden pippins?

BELL. Hang him, no, he a dragon! If he be, 'tis a very peaceful one. I can ensure his anger dormant; or should he seem to rouse, 'tis but well lashing him, and he will sleep like a top.

SHARP. Ay, is he of that kidney?

BELL. Yet is adored by that bigot, Sir Joseph Wittoll, as the image of valour. He calls him his back, and indeed they are never asunder—yet, last night, I know not by what mischance, the knight was alone, and had fallen into the hands of some night-walkers, who, I suppose, would have pillaged him. But I chanced to come by and rescued him, though I believe he was heartily frightened; for as soon as ever he was loose, he ran away without staying to see who had helped him.

SHARP. Is that bully of his in the army?

BELL. No; but is a pretender, and wears the habit of a soldier, which nowadays as often cloaks cowardice, as a black gown does atheism. You must know he has been abroad—went purely to run away from a campaign; enriched himself with the plunder of a few oaths, and here vents them against the general, who, slighting men of merit, and preferring only those of interest, has made him quit the service.

SHARP. Wherein no doubt he magnifies his own performance.

BELL. Speaks miracles, is the drum to his own praise—the only implement of a soldier he resembles, like that, being full of blustering noise and emptiness—

SHARP. And like that, of no use but to be beaten.

BELL. Right; but then the comparison breaks, for he will take a drubbing with as little noise as a pulpit cushion.

SHARP. His name, and I have done?

BELL. Why, that, to pass it current too, he has gilded with a title: he is called Capt. Bluffe.

SHARP. Well, I'll endeavour his acquaintance—you steer another course, are bound—

For love's island: I, for the golden coast. May each succeed in what he wishes most.




SHARP. Sure that's he, and alone.

SIR JO. Um—Ay, this, this is the very damned place; the inhuman cannibals, the bloody-minded villains, would have butchered me last night. No doubt they would have flayed me alive, have sold my skin, and devoured, etc.

SHARP. How's this!

SIR JO. An it hadn't been for a civil gentleman as came by and frighted 'em away—but, agad, I durst not stay to give him thanks.

SHARP. This must be Bellmour he means. Ha! I have a thought—

SIR JO. Zooks, would the captain would come; the very remembrance makes me quake; agad, I shall never be reconciled to this place heartily.

SHARP. 'Tis but trying, and being where I am at worst, now luck!—cursed fortune! this must be the place, this damned unlucky place—

SIR JO. Agad, and so 'tis. Why, here has been more mischief done, I perceive.

SHARP. No, 'tis gone, 'tis lost—ten thousand devils on that chance which drew me hither; ay, here, just here, this spot to me is hell; nothing to be found, but the despair of what I've lost. [Looking about as in search.]

SIR JO. Poor gentleman! By the Lord Harry I'll stay no longer, for I have found too—

SHARP. Ha! who's that has found? What have you found? Restore it quickly, or by—

SIR JO. Not I, sir, not I; as I've a soul to be saved, I have found nothing but what has been to my loss, as I may say, and as you were saying, sir.

SHARP. Oh, your servant, sir; you are safe, then, it seems. 'Tis an ill wind that blows nobody good. Well, you may rejoice over my ill fortune, since it paid the price of your ransom.

SIR JO. I rejoice! agad, not I, sir: I'm very sorry for your loss, with all my heart, blood and guts, sir; and if you did but know me, you'd ne'er say I were so ill-natured.

SHARP. Know you! Why, can you be so ungrateful to forget me?

SIR JO. O Lord, forget him! No, no, sir, I don't forget you—because I never saw your face before, agad. Ha, ha, ha!

SHARP. How! [Angrily.]

SIR JO. Stay, stay, sir, let me recollect—he's a damned angry fellow—I believe I had better remember him, until I can get out of his sight; but out of sight out of mind, agad. [Aside.]

SHARP. Methought the service I did you last night, sir, in preserving you from those ruffians, might have taken better root in your shallow memory.

SIR JO. Gads-daggers-belts-blades and scabbards, this is the very gentleman! How shall I make him a return suitable to the greatness of his merit? I had a pretty thing to that purpose, if he ha'n't frighted it out of my memory. Hem! hem! sir, I most submissively implore your pardon for my transgression of ingratitude and omission; having my entire dependence, sir, upon the superfluity of your goodness, which, like an inundation, will, I hope, totally immerge the recollection of my error, and leave me floating, in your sight, upon the full-blown bladders of repentance—by the help of which, I shall once more hope to swim into your favour. [Bows.]

SHARP. So-h, oh, sir, I am easily pacified, the acknowledgment of a gentleman—

SIR JO. Acknowledgment! Sir, I am all over acknowledgment, and will not stick to show it in the greatest extremity by night or by day, in sickness or in health, winter or summer; all seasons and occasions shall testify the reality and gratitude of your superabundant humble servant, Sir Joseph Wittoll, knight. Hem! hem!

SHARP. Sir Joseph Wittoll?

SIR JO. The same, sir, of Wittoll Hall in Comitatu Bucks.

SHARP. Is it possible! Then I am happy to have obliged the mirror of knighthood and pink of courtesie in the age. Let me embrace you.

SIR JO. O Lord, sir!

SHARP. My loss I esteem as a trifle repaid with interest, since it has purchased me the friendship and acquaintance of the person in the world whose character I admire.

SIR JO. You are only pleased to say so, sir. But, pray, if I may be so bold, what is that loss you mention?

SHARP. Oh, term it no longer so, sir. In the scuffle last night I only dropt a bill of a hundred pound, which, I confess, I came half despairing to recover; but, thanks to my better fortune—

SIR JO. You have found it, sir, then, it seems; I profess I'm heartily glad—

SHARP. Sir, your humble servant. I don't question but you are, that you have so cheap an opportunity of expressing your gratitude and generosity, since the paying so trivial a sum will wholly acquit you and doubly engage me.

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