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time, and pronounced equal to Horace by his contemporaries—may give an idea of his power, of his grace, of his daring manner, his
“ Valentine.—Why, to keep a secret. " Tattle.- O Lord !
“ Valentine.---Oh, exceeding good to keep a secret; for, though she should tell, yet she is not to be believed.
“ Tattle.—Hah! Good again, faith.
“ Valentine. I would have musick. Sing me the song that I like."CONGREVE : Love for Love.
There is a Mrs. Nickleby, of the year 1700, in Congreve's Comedy of “The Double Dealer," in whose character the author introduces some wonderful traits of roguish satire. She is practised on by the gallants of the play, and no more knows how to resist them than any of the ladies above quoted could resist Congreve.
“ Lady Plyant.-Oh! reflect upon the horror of your conduct ! Offering to pervert me ” [the joke is that the gentleman is pressing the lady for her daughter's hand, not for her own]—“perverting me from the road of virtue, in which I have trod thus long, and never made one trip-not one faux pas. Oh, consider it: what would you have to answer for, if you should provoke me to frailty! Alas! humanity is feeble, heaven knows! Very feeble, and unable to support itself.
“Mellefont. - Where am I? Is it day? and am I awake? Madam
“ Lady Plyant.—O Lord, ask me the question! I'll swear I'll deny it—there. fore don't ask me ; nay, you shan't ask me, I swear I'll deny it. O Gemini, you have brought all the blood into my face ; I warrant I am as red as a turkey-cock. O fie, cousin Mellefont !
' Mellefont.—Nay, Madam, hear me; I mean
' Lady Plyant.—Hear you? No, no ; I'll deny you first, and hear you afterwards. For one does not know how one's mind may change upon hearinghearing is one of the senses, and all the senses are fallible. I won't trust my honour, I assure you ; my honour is infallible and uncomatable.
“ Mellefont. -For heaven's sake, Madam
“ Lady Plyant.-Oh, name it no more. Bless me, how can you talk of heaven, and have so much wickedness in your heart? May be, you don't think it a sin. They say some of you gentlemen don't think it a sin ; but still, my honour, if it were no sin
But, then, to marry my daughter for the convenience of frequent opportunities - I'll never consent to that : as sure as can be, I'll break the match.
“Mellefont.—Death and amazement ! Madam, upon my knees—
“ Lady Plyant.-Nay, nay, rise up! come, you shall see my good-nature. I know love is powerful, and nobody can help his passion. 'Tis not your fault; nor I swear, it is not mine. How can I help it, if I have charms ? And how can you help it, if you are made a captive? I swear it is pity it should be a fault ; but, my honour. Well, but your honour, too—but the sin! Well, but the necessity. O Lord, here's somebody coming. I dare not stay. Well, you must consider of
magnificence in compliment, and his polished sarcasm. He writes as if he was so accustomed to conquer, that he has a poor opinion of his victims. Nothing's new except their faces, says he: “every woman is the same.” He says this in his first comedy, which he wrote languidly * in illness, when he was an excellent Richelieu at eighty could have hardly said a more excellent thing.
When he advances to make one of his conquests, it is with a splendid gallantry, in full uniform and with the fiddles playing, like Grammont's French dandies attacking the breach of Lerida.
“Cease, cease to ask her name,” he writes of a young lady at the Wells at Tunbridge, whom he salutes with a magnificent compliment
“ Cease, cease to ask her name,
The crowned Muse's noblest theme,
Shall only sounded be.
You may be sure 'tis she." Here are lines about another beauty, who perhaps was not so well pleased at the poet's manner of celebrating her
your crime ; and strive as much as can be against it-strive, be sure ; but don't be melancholick-don't despair ; but never think that I'll grant you anything. O Lord, no ; but be sure you lay aside all thoughts of the marriage, for though I know you don't love Cynthia, only as a blind to your passion for me—yet it will make me jealous. O Lord, what did I say? Jealous ! No, no, I can't be jealous ; for I must not love you. Therefore, don't hope ; but don't despair neither. Oh, they're coming ; I must fly.”—The Double Dealer: Act 2, sc. v. page 156.
* “ There seems to be a strange affectation in authors of appearing to have done everything by chance. The 'Old Bachelor' was written for amusement in the languor of convalescence. Yet it is apparently composed with great elaborateness of dialogue and incessant ambition of wit.”—JOHNSON : Lives of the Poets.
But soon as e'er the beauteous idiot spoke,
Amoret is a cleverer woman than the lovely Lesbia, but the poet does not seem to respect one much more than the other; and describes both with exquisite satirical humour
“ Fair Amoret is gone astray :
Pursue and seek her every lover.
The wandering shepherdess discover.
Coquet and coy at once her air,
Both studied, though both seem neglected ;
Affecting to seem unaffected.
With skill her eyes dart every glance,
Yet change so soon you 'd ne'er suspect them ;
Though certain aim and art direct them.
She likes herself, yet others hates
For that which in herself she prizes ;
She is the thing that she despises."
What could Amoret have done to bring down such shafts of ridicule upon her ? Could she have resisted the irresistible Mr. Congreve ? Could anybody? Could Sabina, when she woke and heard such a bard singing under her window? “See,” he writes
“ See ! see, she wakes-Sabina wakes !
And now the sun begins to rise ?
From his bright beams, than her fair eyes.
But different fates ere night fulfil :
How many will her coldness kill !”
Are you melted? Don't you think him a divine raan? If not touched by the brilliant Sabina, hear the devout Selinda :
“ Pious Selinda goes to prayers,
If I but ask the favour ;
When she believes I'll leave her:
Or else had hopes to win her :
her a sinner!"
What a conquering air there is about these! What an irresistible Mr. Congreve it is ! Sinner ! of course he will be a sinner, the delightful rascal ! Win her! of course he will win her, the victorious rogue ! He knows he will : he must-with such a grace, with such a fashion, with such a splendid embroidered suit. You see him with red-heeled shoes deliciously turned out, passing a fair jewelled hand through his dishevelled periwig, and delivering a killing ogle along with his scented billet. And Sabina ? What a comparison that is between the nymph and the sun! The sun gives Sabina the pas, and does not venture to rise before her ladyship: the morn's bright beams are less glorious than her fair eyes : but before night everybody will be frozen by her glances : everybody but one lucky rogue who shall be nameless. Louis Quatorze in all his glory is hardly more splendid than our Phoebus Apollo of the Mall and Spring Gardens.
When Voltaire came to visit the great Congreve, the latter rather affected to despise his literary reputation, and in this perhaps the great Congreve was not far wrong.f A touch of Steele's tenderness is
Among those by whom it ('Will's”) was frequented, Southerne and Congrewe were principally distinguished by Dryden's friendship. But Congreve seems to have gained yet farther than Southerne upon Dryden's friendship. He was introduced to him by his first play, the celebrated 'Old Bachelor' being put into the poet's hands to be revised. Dryden, after making a few alterations to fit it for the stage, returned it to the author with the high and just commendation, that it was the best first play he had ever seen."-Scott's Dryden, vol. i. p. 370.
+ It was in Surrey Street, Strand (where he afterwards died), that Voltaire visited him, in the decline of his life.
worth all his finery; a flash of Swift's lightning, a beam of Addison's pure sunshine, and his tawdry playhouse taper is invisible. But the ladies loved him, and he was undoubtedly a pretty fellow.*
The anecdote relating to his saying that he wished “to be visited on no other footing than as a gentleman who led a life of plainness and simplicity," is common to all writers on the subject of Congreve, and appears in the English version of Voltaire's “Letters concerning the English Nation," published in London, 1733, as also in Goldsmith's “Memoir of Voltaire.” But it is worthy of remark, that it does not appear in the text of the same Letters in the edition of Voltaire's “Cuvres Complètes” in the “Panthéon Littéraire.” Vol. v. of his works. (Paris, 1837.)
“Celui de tous les Anglais qui à porté le plus loin la gloire du théâtre comique est feu M. Congreve. Il n'a fait que peu de pièces, mais toutes sont excellentes dans leur genre. . . . Vous y voyez partout le langage des honnêtes 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.”—VOLTAIRE : Lettres sur les Anglais.
* On the death of Queen Mary he published a Pastoral—"The Mourning Muse of Alexis.” Alexis and Menalcas sing alternately in the orthodox way. The Queen is called PASTORA.
“ I mourn PASTORA dead, let Albion mour,
And sable clouds her chalky cliffs adorn," says Alexis. Among other phenomena, we learn that
“ With their sharp nails themselves the Satyrs wound,
And tug their shaggy beards, and bite with grief the ground "(a degree of sensibility not always found in the Satyrs of that period). It continues
“ Lord of these woods and wide extended plains,
Stretch'd on the ground and close to earth his face,
To dust must all that Heavenly beauty come?
But ravenous Death the shepherdess has seized.” This statement that a wolf eats but a sheep, whilst Death eats a shepherdessthat figure of the “Great Shepherd” lying speechless on his stomach, in a state of despair which neither winds nor floods nor air can exhibit-are to be remembered in poetry surely: and this style was admired in its time by the admirers of the great Congreve !