Page images



From a base world at last have stolen away: Still more majestic shalt thou rise,
So Scipio, to the soft Cumæan shore 1

More dreadful from each foreign stroke; Retiring, tasted joy he never knew before. As the loud blast that tears the skies,

Serves but to root thy native oak. “But if a little exercise you choose,

Rule, Britannia, etc.
Some zest for ease, 'tis not forbidden here.
Amid the groves you may indulge the Thee haughty tyrants ne'er shall tame;

All their attempts to bend thee down Or tend the blooms, and deck the vernal Will but arouse thy generous flame, year;

But work their woe and thy renown.
Or, softly stealing, with your watery gear, Rule, Britannia, etc.
Along the brooks, the crimson-spotted fry
You may delude; the whilst, amused, you To thee belongs the rural reign;

160 Thy cities shall with commerce shine; Now the hoarse stream, and now the All thine shall be the subject main,' Zephyr's sigh,

And every shore it circles thine.
Attunèd to the birds, and woodland melody. Rule, Britannia, etc.

“O grievous folly ! to heap up estate, The Muses, still? with freedom found,
Losing the days you see beneath the sun; Shall to thy happy coast repair;
When, sudden, comes blind unrelenting Blest isle, with matchless beauty crowned,

And manly hearts to guard the fair ! 30 And gives the untasted portion you have Rule, Britannia, etc.

won, With ruthless toil and many a wretch un

done, To those who mock you gone to Pluto's

JOHN DYER (1700 ?-1758) reign, There with sad ghosts to pine, and shadows

FROM GRONGAR HILL 3 dun; But sure it is of vanities most vain, 170

Silent Nymph, with curious eye,' To toil for what you here untoiling may Who, the purple evening, lie obtain."

On the mountain's lonely van,“.
Beyond the noise of busy man,

Painting fair the form of things,

While the yellow linnet sings;

Or the tuneful nightingale

Charms the forest with her tale;

Come with all thy various hues, When Britain first, at Heaven's command, Come, and aid thy sister Muse; Arose from out the azure main,

Now while Phæbus riding high This was the charter of the land,.'

> Gives lustre to the land and sky ! And guardian angels sang this strain : Grongar Hill invites my song, Rule, Britannia, rule the waves!

Draw the landskip 5 bright and strong; Britons never will be slaves!,

Grongar, in whose mossy cells

Sweetly musing Quiet dwells; The nations not so blest as thee,

Grongar, in whose silent shade, Must in their turns to tyrants fall,

For the modest Muses made, Whilst thou shalt flourish great and free, So oft I have, the evening still, The dread and envy of them all.

At the fountain of a rill, Rule, Britannia, etc.

Sate upon a flowery bed,

With my hand beneath my head; Scipio Africanus, the elder, retired from the intrigues of Rome to his country place near ocean 2 always a hill in southwest Wales Cumæ on the Italian coast. fishing tackle

* peak cf. L'Allegro, I. 70






[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

While strayed my eyes o'er Towy's' flood,
Over mead, and over wood,
From house to house, from hill to hill,
'Till Contemplation had her fill.

About his chequered sides I wind,
And leave his brooks and meads behind,
And groves, and grottoes where I lay,
And vistas shooting beams of day: 30

Wide and wider spreads the vale;
> As circles on a smooth canal:
The mountains round, unhappy fate!
Sooner or later, of all height,
Withdraw their summits from the skies,
And lessen as the others rise :
Still the prospect wider spreads,
Adds a thousand woods and meads,
Still it widens, widens still,
And sinks the newly-risen hill.

Now, I gain the mountain's brow,
What a landskip lies below!
No clouds, no vapours intervene,
But the gay, the open scene
Does the face of nature show,
In all the hues of heaven's bow !
And, swelling to embrace the light,
Spreads around beneath the sight.

Old castles on the cliffs arise, Proudly towering in the skies;

Rushing from the woods, the spires
Seem from hence ascending fires;
Half his beams Apollo sheds
On the yellow mountain-heads,
Gilds the fleeces of the flocks,
And glitters on the broken rocks.

Below me trees unnumbered rise,
Beautiful in various dyes :
The gloomy pine, the poplar blue,
The yellow beach, the sable yew,

The slender fir, that taper grows,
The sturdy oak with broad-spread boughs;
And beyond the purple grove,
Haunt of Phillis, queen of love,
Gaudy as the opening dawn,
Lies a long and level lawn
On which a dark hill, steep and high,
Holds and charms the wandering eye.
Deep are his feet in Towy's flood,
His sides are cloth'd with waving wood, 70
And ancient towers crown his brow,
That cast an aweful look below;
Whose ragged walls the ivy creeps,
And with her arms from falling keeps;

[blocks in formation]

la river that flows into Carmarthen Bay in southwest Wales

[blocks in formation]

certainly known; if the inscription upon his monument be true, he was born in 1672. For the place; it was said by himself, that he owed his nativity to England, and by every body else that he was born in Ireland. Southern mentioned him with sharp censure, as a man that meanly disowned his native country. The biographers assign his nativity to Bardsa, near Leeds in Yorkshire, from the account given by himself, as they suppose, to Jacob.'

To doubt whether a man of eminence has told the truth about his own birth, is, in appearance, to be very deficient in candour; yet nobody can live long without knowing that falsehoods of convenience or vanity, falsehoods from which no evil immediately visible ensues, except the general degradation of human testimony, are very lightly uttered, and once uttered are sullenly supported. Boileau, who desired to be thought a rigorous and steady moralist, having told a petty lie to Lewis XIV, continued it afterwards by false dates; “thinking himself obliged in honour," says his admirer, “to maintain what, when he said it, was so well received."

Wherever Congreve was born, he was educated first at Kilkenny, and afterwards at Dublin, his father having some military employment that stationed him in Ireland: but, after having passed through the usual preparatory studies, as may be reasonably supposed, with great celerity and success, his father thought it proper to assign him a profession, by which something might be gotten; and about the time of the Revolution sent him, at the age of sixteen, to study law in the Middle Temple, where he lived for several years, but with very little attention to Statutes or Reports.

His disposition to become an author appeared very early, as he very early felt that force of imagination, and possessed that copiousness of sentiment, by which intellectual pleasure can be given. His first performance was a novel, called “Incognita, or Love and Duty reconciled:” it is praised by the biographers, who quote some part of the Preface, that is, indeed, for such a time of life, uncommonly judicious. I would rather praise it than read it.

His first dramatic labour was “The Old Bachelor;” of which he says, in his defence


[blocks in formation]

William Congreve descended from a family in Staffordshire, of so great antiquity that it claims a place among the few that extend their line beyond the Norman Conquest; and was the son of William Congreve, second son of Richard Congreve, of Congreve and Stratton. He visited, once at least, the residence of his ancestors; and, I believe, more places than one are still shown, in groves and gardens, where he is related to have written his “Old Bachelor."

Neither the time nor place of his birth are

1 Giles Jacob, compiler of the Poctical Register, an account of poets ? in London

against Collier, 1 “ that the comedy was written, daily incidents, it apparently presupposes a as several know, some years before it was familiar knowledge of many characters, and acted. When I wrote it, I had little thoughts exact observation of the passing world; the of the stage; but did it to amuse myself in a difficulty therefore is, to conceive how this slow recovery from a fit of sickness. After- knowledge can be obtained by a boy. wards, through my indiscretion, it was seen, But if “The Old Bachelor” be more nearly and in some little time more it was acted; examined, it will be found to be one of those and I, through the remainder of my indis- comedies which may be made by a mind vigorcretion, suffered myself to be drawn into the ous and acute, and furnished with comic charprosecution of a difficult and thankless study, acters by the perusal of other poets, without and to be involved in a perpetual war with much actual commerce with mankind. The knaves and fools."

dialogue is one constant reciprocation of conThere seems to be a strange affectation in ceits, or clash of wit, in which nothing flows authors of appearing to have done every thing necessarily from the occasion or is dictated by chance. “The Old Bachelor” was written by nature. The characters both of men and for amusement in the languor of convales- women are either fictitious and artificial, as cence. Yet it is apparently composed with those of Heartwell and the Ladies; or easy great elaborateness of dialogue, and incessant and common, as Wittol a tame idiot, Bluff a ambition of wit. The age of the writer con- swaggering coward, and Fondlewife a jealous sidered, it is indeed a very wonderful per- puritan; and the catastrophe arises from a formance; for, whenever written, it was acted mistake not very probably produced, by (1693) when he was not more than twenty- marrying a woman in a mask. one years old; and was then recommended Yet this gay comedy, when all these deducby Mr. Dryden, Mr. Southern, and Mr. Mayn- tions are made, will still remain the work of waring. Dryden said that he never had seen very powerful and fertile faculties; the diasuch a first play; but they found it deficient logue is quick and sparkling, the incidents in some things requisite to the success of its such as seize the attention, and the wit so exhibition, and by their greater experience exuberant that it'o'er-informs its tenement."1 fitted it for the stage. Southern used to relate Next year he gave another specimen of his of one comedy, probably of this, that, when abilities in “The Double Dealer," which was Congreve read it to the players, he pronounced not received with equal kindness. He writes it so wretchedly, that they had almost rejected to his patron the lord Halifax a dedication, in it; but they were afterwards so well per- which he endeavours to reconcile the reader suaded of its excellence, that, for half a year to that which found few friends among the before it was acted, the manager allowed its audience. These apologies are always useauthor the privilege of the house.

less: "de gustibus non est disputandum;"? Few plays have ever been so beneficial to men may be convinced, but they cannot be the writer; for it procured him the patronage pleased, against their will.

pleased, against their will. But, though taste of Halifax," who immediately made him one of is obstinate, it is very variable: and time often the commissioners for licensing coaches, and prevails when arguments have failed. soon after gave him a place in the pipe-office,5 Queen Mary conferred upon both those and another in the customs of six hundred plays the honour of her presence; and when pounds a year. Congreve's conversation she died soon after, Congreve testified his must surely have been at least equally pleas- gratitude by a despicable effusion of elegiac ing with his writings.

pastoral; a composition in which all is unSuch a comedy, written at such an age, re- natural, and yet nothing is new. quires some consideration. As the lighter In another year (1695) his prolific pen prospecies of dramatic poetry professes the imi- duced “Love for Love;” a comedy of nearer tation of common life, of real manners, and alliance to life, and exhibiting more real

manners than either of the former. The char1 Jeremy Collier; see below 2 a well-known acter of Foresight 3 was then common. Drydramatist 3a Templar and influential man of den calculated nativities; both Cromwell and letters George Savile, Marquis of Halifax 5 government office in which records called pipe- 1 cf. Absalom and Achitophel, 1. 74 rolls were kept

not a subject for argument an astrologer




tastes are


King William had their lucky days; and Nonjuror,' knew that an attack upon the theaShaftesbury himself, though he had no reli- tre would never make him suspected for a gion, was said to regard predictions. The Puritan; he therefore (1698) published “A Sailor is not accounted very natural, but he short View of the Immorality and Profaneness is very pleasant.

of the English Stage," I believe with no other With this play was opened the New Thea- motive than religious zeal and honest indigtre, under the direction of Betterton the trage- nation. He was formed for a controvertist; dian; where he exhibited two years after- with sufficient learning; with diction vehewards (1687) “The Mourning Bride,” a ment and pointed, though often vulgar and tragedy, so written as to show him sufficiently incorrect; with unconquerable pertinacity; qualified for either kind of dramatic poetry. with wit in the highest degree keen and sar

In this play, of which, when he afterwards castic; and with all those powers, exalted and revised it, he reduced the versification to invigorated by just confidence in his cause. greater regularity, there is more bustle than Thus qualified, and thus incited, he walked sentiment; the plot is busy and intricate, and out to battle, and assailed at once most of the the events take hold on the attention ; but, living writers, from Dryden to D'Urfey. His except a very few passages, we are rather onset was violent; those passages, which, amused with noise, and per exed with strata- while they stood single had passed with little gem, than entertained with any true delinea- notice, when they were accumulated and extion of natural characters. This, however, posed together, excited horror; the wise and was received with more benevolence than any the pious caught the alarm; and the nation other of his works, and still continues to be wondered why it had so long suffered irreacted and applauded.

ligion and licentiousness to be openly taught But whatever objections may be made either at the public charge. to his comic or tragic excellence, they are lost Nothing now remained for the poets but at once in the blaze of admiration, when it is to resist or fly. Dryden's conscience, or his remembered that he had produced these four prudence, angry as he was, withheld him from plays before he had passed his twenty-fifth the conflict: Congreve and Vanbrugh atyear, before other men, even such as are some- tempted answers. Congreve, a very young time to shine in eminence, have passed their man, elated with success, and impatient of probation of literature, or presume to hope censure, assumed an air of confidence and sefor any other notice than such as is bestowed curity. His chief artifice of controversy is to on diligence and inquiry. Among all the retort upon his adversary his own words; he efforts of early genius which literary history is very angry, and, hoping to conquer Collier records, I doubt whether any one can be with his own weapons, allows himself in the produced that more surpasses the common use of every term of contumely and contempt; limits of nature than the plays of Congreve. but he has the sword without the arm of

About this time began the long-continued Scanderbeg; he has his antagonist's coarsecontroversy between Collier and the poets. ness, but not his strength. Collier replied; In the reign of Charles the First the Puritans for contest was his delight, he was not to be had raised a violent clamour against the drama, frighted from his purpose or his prey. which they considered as an entertainment The cause of Congreve was not tenable ; not lawful to Christians, an opinion held by whatever glosses he might use for the defence them in common with the church of Rome; or palliation of single passages, the general and Prynne published "Histriomastix," a huge tenor and tendency of his plays must always volume, in which stage-plays were censured. be condemned. It is acknowledged, with uniThe outrages and crimes of the Puritans versal conviction, that the perusal of his works brought afterwards their whole system of doc- will make no man better; and that their ultitrine into disrepute, and from the Restoration mate effect is to represent pleasure in alliance the poets and players were left at quiet; for with vice, and to relax those obligations by to have molested them would have had the which life ought to be regulated. appearance of tendency to puritanical malignity.

one who in 1689 refused to swear allegiance This danger, however, was worn away by to William and Mary as king and queen ? Tom time; and Collier, a fierce and implacable D'Urfey, a disreputable writer


« PreviousContinue »