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men with whom he might be supposed willing to associate ; and though he lived many years after the publication of his “Miscellaneous Poems,” yet he added nothing to them, but lived on in literary indolence, engaged in no controversy, contending with no rival, neither soliciting flattery by public commendations, nor provoking enmity by malignant criticism, but passing his time among the great and splendid, in the placid enjoyment of his fame and fortune.
Having owed his fortune to Halifax, he continued always of his patron's party, but, as it seems, without violence or acrimony, and his firmness was naturally esteemed, as his abilities were reverenced. His security therefore was never violated ; and when, upon the extrusion of the Whigs, some intercession was used lest Congreve should be displaced, the Earl of Oxford made this answer :
“Non obtusa adeo gestamus rectora Preni,
Nec tam aversus equos Tyriâ sol jungit ab urbe."
He that was thus honoured by the adverse party might naturally expect to be advanced when his friends returned to power, and he was accordingly made secretary for the island of Jamaica, a place, I suppose without trust or care, but which, with his post in the Customs, is said to have afforded him twelve hundred pounds a year. His honours were yet far greater than his profits. Every writer mentioned him with respect, and among other testimonies to his merit, Steele made him the patron of his “Miscellany," and Pope inscribed to him his translation of the “Iliad.” But he treated the muses with ingratitude; for, having long conversed familiarly with the great, he wished to be considered rather as a man of fashion than of wit; and, when he received a visit from Voltaire, disgusted him by the despicable foppery of desiring to be considered not as an author but a gentleman ; to which
the Frenchman replied, " that, if he had been only a gentleman, he should not have come to visit him."
In his retirement he may be supposed to have applied himself to books, for he discovers more literature than the poets have commonly attained. But his studies were in his later days obstructed by cataracts in his eyes, which at last terminated in blindness. This melancholy state was aggravated by the gout, for which he sought relief by a journey to Bath : but, being overturned in his chariot, complained from that time of a pain in his side, and died at his house in Surrey Street in the Strand, January 29, 1728-9. Having lain in state in the Jerusalem Chamber, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, where a monument is erected to his memory by Henrietta Duchess of Marl. borough, to whom, for reasons either not known or not mentioned, he bequeathed a legacy of about ten thousand pounds, the accumulation of attentive parsimony, which, though to her superfluous and useless, might have given great assistance to the ancient family from which he descended, at that time, by the imprudence of his relation, reduced to difficulties and distress.
CONGREVE has merit of the highest kind; he is an original writer, who borrowed neither the models of his plot nor the manner of his dialogue. Of his plays I cannot speak distinctly, for since I inspected them many years have passed, but what remains upon my memory is, that his characters are commonly fictitious and artificial, with very little of nature, and not much of life. He formed a peculiar idea of comic excellence, which he supposed to consist in gay remarks and unexpected answers ; but that which he endeavoured, he seldom failed of performing. His scenes exhibit not much of humour, imagery, or passion : his personages are a kind of intellectual gladiators ; every sentence is to ward or
strike ; the contest of smartness is never intermitted ; his wit is a meteor playing to and fro with alternate corus. cations. His comedies have, therefore, in some degree, the operation of tragedies; they surprise rather than divert, and raise admiration oftener than merriment. But they are the works of a mind replete with images, and quick in combination.
Of his miscellaneous poetry I cannot say anything very favourable. The powers of Congreve seem to desert him when he leaves the stage, as Antæus was no longer strong than when he could touch the ground. It cannot be observed without wonder, that a mind so vigorous and fertile in dramatic compositions should on any other occasion discover nothing but impotence and poverty. He has in these little pieces neither elevation of fancy, selection of language, nor skill in versification : yet, if I were required to select from the whole mass of English poetry the most poetical paragraph, I know not what I could prefer to an exclamation in the “Mourning Bride":
It was a fancied noise ; for all is hushed.
It bore the accent of a human voice.
It was thy fear, or else some transient wind
No, all is hushed and still as death.—'Tis dreadful!
And shoot a chillness to my trembling heart.
He who reads these lines enjoys for a moment the powers of a poet; he feels what he remembers to have felt before, but he feels it with great increase of sensibility ; he recognises a familar image, but meets it again amplified and expanded, embellished with beauty and enlarged with majesty. Yet could the author, who appears here to have enjoyed the confidence of Nature, lament the death of Queen Mary in lines like these :
"The rocks are cleft, and new-descending rills
Furrow the brows of all the impending hills.
See how she wrings her hands, and beats lier breast,
For grief they sigh, forgetful of their loves.”
“And now the winds, which had so long been still,
Began the swelling air with sighs to fill;
Now loosed their streams; as when descending rains
And echo multiplied each mournful sound.” In both these funeral poems, when he has yelled out many syllables of senseless dolour', he dismisses his reader with senseless consolation. From the grave of Pastora rises a light that forms a star, and where Amaryllis wept for Amyntas from every tear sprung up a violet. But William is his hero, and of William he will sing :
“The hovering winds on downy wings shall wait around,
And catch, and waft to foreign lands, the flying sound.” It cannot but be proper to show what they shall have to catch and carry :
when flowery lawns the prospect made,
Namur, the prize and mistress of the war." The“Birth of the Muse” is a miserable fiction. One good line it has which was borrowed from Dryden. The con. cluding verses are these :
“This said, no more remained. The ethereal host
Again impatient crowd the crystal coast.
" 'Twas now,