« VorigeDoorgaan »
nor excites pride, in its possessor ; but is consistent with her mingling in the society of the libertine and the profligate.
Some of Dryden's libellers draw an invidious comparison betwixt his own private life and this satire; and exhort him to
Be to vices, which he practised, kind.
But of the injustice of this charge on Dryden's character, we have spoken fully elsewhere. Undoubtedly he had the licence of this, and his other dramatic writings, in his mind, when he wrote the following verses; where the impurity of the stage is traced to its radical source, the debauchery of the court :
Then courts of kings were held in high renown,
Wife of Buth's Tale.
" Limberham" was acted at the Duke's Theatre in Dorset-Garden; for, being a satire upon a court vice, it was deemed peculiarly calculated for that play-house. The concourse of the citizens thither is alluded to in the prologue to “ Marriage-a-la-Mode.” Ravenscroft also, in his epilogue to the “ Citizen turned Gentleman," acted at the same theatre, disowns the patronage of the courtiers who kept mistresses, probably because they constituted the minor part of his audience
From the court party we hope no success;
The stage for introducing “Limberham" was therefore judiciously chosen, although the piece was ill received, and withdrawn aftér being only thrice represented. It was printed in 1698.
MY LORD, I cannot easily excuse the printing of a play at so unseasonable a time t, when the great plot of the nation, like one of Pharaoh's lean kine, has devour.
* John, Lord Vaughan, was the eldest surviving son of Richard, Earl of Carbery, to which title he afterwards succeeded. He was a man of literature, and president of the Royal Society from 1686 to 1689. Dryden was distinguished by his patronage as far back as 1664, being fourteen years before the acting of this play. Lord Vaughan had thus the honour of discovering and admiring the poet's genius, before the public applause had fixed his fame; and, probably, better deserved the panegyric here bestowed, than was usual among Dryden's patrons. He wrote a recommendatory copy of verses, which are prefixed to “ The Conquest of Granada.” Mr Malone informs us, that this accomplished nobleman died at Chelsea, on 16th January, 1712-13.
+ The great popish plot, that scene of mystery and blood, broke out in August 1678.
ed its younger brethren of the stage. But however weak my defence might be for this, I am sure I should not need any to the world for my dedication to your lordship; and if you can pardon my presumption in it, that a bad poet should address himself to so great a judge of wit, I may hope at least to escape with the excuse of Catullus, when he writ to Cicero :
Gratias tibi maximas Catullus
Quanto tu optimus omnium patronus. I have seen an epistle of Flecknoe's to a nobleman, who was by some extraordinary chance a scholar (and you may please to take notice by the way, how natural the connection of thought is betwixt a bad poet and Flecknoe) where he begins thus : Quatuordecim jam elapsi sunt anni, &c.; his Latin, it seems, not holding out to the end of the sentence : but he endeavoured to tell his patron, betwixt two languages, which he understood alike, that it was fourteen years since he had the happiness to know him. It is just so long, (and as happy be the omen of dulness to me, as it is to some clergymen and statesmen!) since your lordship has known, that there is a worse poet remaining in the world, than he of scandalous memory, who left it last * I might enlarge
* Flecknoe was a Roman Catholic priest, very much addicted to scribbling verses. His name has been chiefly preserved by our author's satire of “ Mack-Flecknoe;" in which he has depicted Shadwell, as the literary son and heir of this wretched poetaster. A few farther particulars concerning him may be found prefixed to that poem. Flecknoe, from this dedication, appears to have been just deceased. The particular passage referred to has not been discovered; even Langbaine had never seen it: but Mr Malone points out a letter of Flecknoe to the Cardinal Barberini, whereof the first sentence is in Latin, and the next in English. Our author, in
upon the subject with my author, and assure you, that I have served as long for you, as one of the patriarchs did for his Old-Testament mistress; but I leave those flourishes, when occasion shall serve, for a greater orator to use, and dare only tell you, that I never passed any part of my life with greater satisfaction, or improvement to myself, than those years which I have lived in the honour of your lordship’s acquaintance; if I may have only the time abated when the public service called you to another part of the world, which, in imitation of our florid speakers, I might (if I durst presume upon the expression) call the parenthesis of my life. That I have always honoured you,
I need not tell you at this time of day; for you know I staid not to date my respects to you from that title which now you have, and to which you bring a greater addition by your merit, than you receive from it by the name; but I am proud to let others know, how long it is that I have been made happy by my knowledge of you; because I am sure it will give me a reputation with the present age, and with posterity. And now, my lord, I know you are afraid, lest I should take this occasion, which lies
an uncommon strain of self-depreciation, or rather to give a neat turn to his sentence, has avouched himself to be a worse poet than Flecknoe. But expressions of modesty in a dedication, like those of panegyric, are not to be understood literally. "As in the latter, Dryden often strains a note beyond Ela, so, on the present occasion, he has certainly sounded the very base string of humility. Poor Flecknoe, indeed, seems to have become proverbial, as the worst of poets. The Earl of Dorset thus begins a satire on Edward Howard :
Those damned antipodes to common sense,
Those foils to Flecknoe, pr'ythee, tell me whence : Does all this mighty mass of dulness spring, Which in such loads thou to the stage dost bring ?
so fair for me, to acquaint the world with some of those excellencies which I have admired in you; but I have reasonably considered, that to acquaint the world, is a phrase of a malicious meaning; for it would imply, that the world were not already acquainted with them. You are so generally known to be above the meanness of my praises, that you have spared my evidence, and spoiled my compliment: Should I take for my common places, your knowledge both of the old and the new philosophy; should I add to these your skill in mathematics and history; and yet farther, your being conversant with all the ancient authors of the Greek and Latin tongues, as well as with the modern-I should tell nothing new to mankind; for when I have once but named you, the world will anticipate all my commendations, and go faster before me than I can follow. Be therefore secure, my lord, that your own fame has freed itself from the danger of a panegyric; and only give me leave to tell you, that I value the candour of your 'nature, and that one character of friendliness, and, if I may have leave to call it, kindness in you, before all those other which make you considerable in the nation *.
Some few of our nobility are learned, and therefore I will not conclude an absolute contradiction in the terms of nobleman and scholar; but as the
There is a very flat and prosaic imitation of this sentiment in the Duke of Buckingham's lines to Pope :
And yet so wondrous, so sublime a thing
Does all desert in sciences exceed.