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When Burnet preached, part of his congregation "hummed” so loudly and so long, that he sat down to enjoy it, and rubbed his face with his handkerchief. When Sprat preached, he likewise was honoured with the like animating “hum;" but he stretched out his hand to the congregation, and cried, “Peace, peace; I pray you peace !”.
This I was told in my youth by my father, an old man, who had been no careless observer of the passages of those times.
Burnet's sermon, says Salmon, was remarkable for sedition, and Sprat’s for loyalty. Burnet had the thanks of the house ; Sprat had no thanks, but a good living from the king, which, he said, was of as much value as the thanks of the Commons.
The works of Sprat, besides his few poems, are, The History of the Royal Society, The Life of Cowley, The Answer to Sorbière, The History of the Rye-house Plot, The Relation of his own Examination, and a volume of sermons. I have heard it observed, with great justness, that every book is of a different kind, and that each has its distinct and characteristical excellence,
My business is only with his poems. He considered Cowley as a model ; and supposed that, as he was imitated, perfection was approached. Nothing, therefore, but Pindaric liberty was to be expected. There is in his few productions no want of such conceits as he thought excellent; and of those our judgment may be settled by the first that appears in his praise of Cromwell, where he says that Cromwell's “fame, like man, will grow white as it grows old.”
SIR GEORGE ETHEREGE.
(1636-1694.) Sir George Etherege, descended from an ancient family of Oxfordshire, was born about the year 1636. After receiving some education at the University of Cambridge, he travelled in France. On his return, he for some time read the law at one of the inns of court, in which he made but little progress, and soon abandoned severer studies for pleasure and accomplishments. . In the year 1664 appeared his first dramatic performance, The Comical Revenge, or Love in a Tub, which brought him acquainted, as he himself informs us, with the Earl of Dorset, to whom it is dedicated. The fame of this play, and the author's easy, unreserved conversation and happy address, rendered him a favourite with the leading wits of the day, such as the Duke of Buckingham, Sir Charles Sedley, the Earl of Rochester, Sir Car Scroop. Animated by their encouragement, in the year 1668 he produced another comedy, called She would if she could, which gained him no less applause than the former among the judges ; though, as we learn from a contemporary writer, it suffered so much from an imperfect representation, that if it had not been for the favour of the court, it could never have preserved its credit. Mr. Phillips says of these two comedies, that " for pleasant wit, and no bad economy, they are judged not unworthy the approbation they have met with.” Gildon agrees with Langbaine, that the latter is a comedy of the first rank; and Langbaine wishes, “ for the public satisfaction, that this great master would oblige the world with more of his performances ; which would put a stop to the crude and indigested plays that, for want of better, cumber the stage.” Whatever satisfaction, however, the wit of Etherege might give to the gayer part of mankind, the graver were highly offended at the tendency of his plays to encourage immorality; and a critic of a later date, speaking of sensual descriptions and expressions, observes, that “ this expedient to supply the deficiency of wit has been used more or less by most of the authors who have succeeded on the stage : though," says he, “I know but one who has professedly written a play upon the basis of the desire of multiplying our species ; and that is the polite Sir George Etherege,-if I understand what the lady would be at in the play called She would if she could. Other poets have here and there given an intimation that there is this design under all the disguises and affectations which a lady may put on; but no author except this has made sure work of it, and put the imaginations of the audience upon this one purpose, from the beginning to the end of the comedy. It has always fared accordingly; for whether it be that all who go to this piece would if they could, or that the innocent goes to it to guess only what she would if she could, the play has always been well received."*
In the year 1676 he published his third and last comedy, The Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter; which exalted his reputation even above what the former had done. What rendered this play very popular was, that he was supposed to have drawn some of the chief characters from the life, and to have shadowed out, under feigned names, some of his contemporaries and acquaintance. Thus, Beau Hewit, the most notorious fop of his time, was supposed to be designed under his first character; Dorimant, to be drawn for his friend Lord Rochester; the poet was himself suspected to be sketched out in Medley; the very shoemaker in the first act is believed to have been a real person, and is said, indeed, to have been so distinguished by this bringing him forward, as from very poor circumstances to have made a fortune, by the custom it attracted for him. Be this as it may, the notion then prevailed so far, that Dryden, in the epilogue he wrote to this play, found it proper to check the public a little, by assuring them that no personal satire was intended; or, as he expresses it in the last line, that “no one fool was hunted from the herd.” Applauded, however, as this play was for wit, yet, like the former, it was condemned for immorality. The critic above quoted says: “It is received as the pattern of genteel comedy; but the whole is a perfect contradiction to good manners, good sense, and common honesty : there is nothing in it but what is built on the ruin of virtue and innocence; and the being lost to a sense of these is the only thing that can make one see this comedy without having more frequent occasion of sorrow and indignation, than of mirth and laughter.” This writer allows, notwithstanding the severity of his censure, that “the negligence of every thing which engages the attention of the sober and valuable part of mankind appears very
* Spectator, vol. i. No. 51.
well drawn in this piece; and though it is nature in her ugliest form, in its utmost corruption and degeneracy, yet it is nature.”* These three comedies were collected and printed in 8vo in the year 1704, and reprinted in 12mo in 1715. At the end of this last edition are subjoined five poems by our author.
We have seen that between the publication of our author's last play and his last but one there was an interval of above seven years; which delay, owing to his indolence and love of pleasure, was the occasion of his missing the place of poet laureate. This we learn from The Trial of the Poets for the Bays, &c.; a poem written after the example of Sir John Suckling's upon the same subject, and printed among the miscellaneous works of Villiers Duke of Buckingham, though it is said to have had the Earl of Rochester for its author. In this poem Apollo finds some plea of exception to the claim of every poetical candidate for the laurel; and having first of all discarded Dryden, he proceeds thus :
“ This rev'rend author was no sooner set by,
But Apollo had got gentle George in his eye,
That his long seven years' silence was not to be pardon'd." Idleness, however, was not Etherege's only fault: he was addicted to some great extravagances—to gaming, to intrigue, to wine-which hurt his fortune, his health, and his character. Gildon says, that for marrying a fortune he was knighted : the history of this is, that to repair his circumstances, he courted a rich old widow, whose ambition was such, that she would not marry him unless he could make her a lady; which, by the purchase of knighthood, he was forced to do. He was in his person a fair, slender, genteel man; and in his deportment very affable and courteous, of a sprightly and generous temper; which, with his lively and natural vein of writing, acquired him the appellation of “gentle George,” and “easy Etherege." His courtly address and other accomplishments procured him the favour of James the Second's queen, to whom he had dedicated his last play when she was only daughter of the Duke of Modena; and by her interest and recommendation he was sent as English minister at Ratisbon,-or, as the wits called it, in reference to our poet, “ Rotbis-bones.”
The manner of Etherege's death was characteristic of the life which he had led. According to Oldys, whose account is confirmed by the writers of the Biographica Britannica, he had been entertaining some friends, and having drunk to intoxication, was proceeding with lights in his hands to show his guests from his apartments, when he lost his balance, and tumbling headlong downstairs, broke his neck in the fall. He died at Ratisbon, according to Dennis, in 1693 or 1694 ; the year 1688, however, seems to be the last in which he was heard of in England.
By his wife, Etherege is believed to have left no children. By the beautiful Mrs. Barry, to whom poor Otway addressed his six well
* Spectator, vol. i. No. 65.
known pathetic letters, he left one daughter, on whom he contrived to settle six or seven thousand pounds: the child, however, did not live to benefit by the provision. In the words of Oldys, Sir George Etherege was “a man of much courtesy and delicate address." Profligacy, sprightliness, and good-humour seem to have been his principal characteristics.
CHARLES SACKVILLE, EARL OF DORSET. *
(1637-1706.) Of the Earl of Dorset the character has been drawn so largely and so elegantly by Prior, to whom he was familiarly known, that nothing can be added by a casual hand; and as its author is so generally read, it would be useless officiousness to transcribe it.
Charles Sackville was born Jan. 24, 1637. Having been educated under a private tutor, he travelled into Italy, and returned a little before the Restoration. He was chosen into the first parliament that was called, for East Grinstead in Sussex, and soon became a favourite of Charles II.; but undertook no public employment, being too eager
of the riotous and licentious pleasures which young men of high rank, who aspired to be thought wits, at that time imagined themselves entitled to indulge.
One of these frolics has, by the industry of Wood, come down to posterity. Sackville, who was then Lord Buckhurst, with Sir Charles Sedley and Sir Thomas Ogle, got drunk at the Cock in Bow-street, by Covent Garden, and going into the balcony, exposed themselves to the populace in very indecent postures. At last, as they grew warmer, Sedley stood forth naked, and harangued the populace in such profane language, that the public indignation was awakened ; the crowd attempted to force the door, and being repulsed, drove in the performers with stones, and broke the windows of the house.
For this misdemeanour they were indicted, and Sedley was fined 5001.: what was the sentence of the others is not known, Sedley employed Killigrew and another to procure a remission from the king ; but (mark the friendship of the dissolute !) they begged the fine for themselves, and exacted it to the last groat.
In 1665, Lord Buckhurst attended the Duke of York as a volunteer in the Dutch war; and was in the battle of June 3, when eighteen great Dutch ships were taken, fourteen others were destroyed, and Opdam the admiral, who engaged the duke, was blown up beside him with all his crew.
On the night before the battle he is said to have composed the celebrated song, “ To all you ladies now at land,” with equal tranquillity of mind and promptitude of wit. Seldom any splendid story is wholly true. I have heard, from the late Earl of Orrery, who was likely to have good hereditary intelligence, that Lord Buckhurst had been a week employed upon it, and only retouched or finished it on the memorable evening. But even this, whatever it may subtract from his facility, leaves him his courage.
He was soon after made a gentleman of the bed-chamber, and sent on short embassies to France.
In 1674, the estate of his uncle James Cranfield, Earl of Middlesex, came to him by its owner's death, and the title was conferred on him the year after. In 1677 he became, by the death of his father, Earl of Dorset, and inherited the estate of his family.
In 1684, having buried his first wife, of the family of Bagot, who left him no child, he married a daughter of the Earl of Northampton, celebrated both for beauty and understanding.
He received some favourable notice from King James ; but soon found it necessary to oppose the violence of his innovations, and with some other lords appeared in Westminster Hall to countenance the bishops at their trial.
As enormities grew every day less supportable, he found it necessary to concur in the Revolution. He was one of those lords who sat every day in council to preserve the public peace after the king's departure; and, what is not the most illustrious action of his life, was employed to conduct the Princess Anne to Nottingham with a guard, such as might alarm the populace, as they passed, with false apprehensions of her danger. Whatever end may be designed, there is always something despicable in a trick..
He became, as may be easily supposed, a favourite of King Wil