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"The Mourning Bride," a tragedy, so written | answers. Congreve, a very young man, elated as to show him sufficiently qualified for either with success, and impatient of censure, assumkind of dramatic poetry. ed an air of confidence and security. His chief artifice of controversy is to retort upon his adversary his own words; he is very angry, and, hoping to conquer Collier with his own weapons, allows himself in the use of every term of con tumely and contempt: but he has the sword without the arm of Scanderbeg; he has his antagonist's coarseness, but not his strength. Col
In this play, of which, when he afterwards revised it, he reduced the versification to greater regularity, there is more bustle than sentiment, the plot is busy and intricate, and the events take hold on the attention; but except a very few passages, we are rather amused with noise, and perplexed with stratagem, than entertained with any true delineation of natural characters.lier replied; for contest was his delight; he was This, however, was received with more benevolence than any other of his works, and still continues to be acted and applauded.
But whatever objections may be made either to his comic or tragic excellence, they are lost at once in the blaze of admiration, when it is remembered that he had produced these four plays before he had passed his twenty-fifth year; before other men, even such as are some time to shine in eminence, have passed their probation of literature, or presume to hope for any other notice than such as is bestowed on diligence and inquiry. Among all the efforts of early genius, which literary history records, I doubt whether any one can be produced that more surpasses the common limits of nature than the plays of Congreve.
About this time began the long continued controversy between Collier and the poets. In the reign of Charles the First, the puritans had raised a violent clamour against the drama, which they considered as an entertainment not lawful to Christians, an opinion held by them in common with the church of Rome; and Prynne published "Histrio-Mastix,” a huge volume, in which stage-plays were censured. The outrages and crimes of the puritans brought afterwards their whole system of doctrine into disrepute, and from the Restoration the poets and players were left at quiet; for to have molested them would have had the appearance of tendency to puritanical malignity.
not to be frighted from his purpose or his prey. The cause of Congreve was not tenable; whatever glosses he might use for the defence or palliation of single passages, the general tenor and tendency of his plays must always be condemned. It is acknowledged, with universal conviction, that the perusal of his works will. make no man better; and that their ultimate effect is to represent pleasure in alliance with vice, and to relax those obligations by which life ought to be regulated.
The stage found other advocates, and the dispute was protracted through ten years; but at last comedy grew more modest, and Collier lived to see the reward of his labour in the reformation of the theatre.
Of the powers by which this important victory was achieved, a quotation from "Love for Love," and the remark upon it, may afford a specimen :
Sir Samps. Sampson's a very good name; for your Sampsons were very strong dogs from the beginning.
Angel. Have a carc-If you remember, the strongest Sampson of your name pulled an old house over his head at last.
"Here you have the Sacred History burlesqued, and Sampson once more brought into the house of Dagon, to make sport for the Philistines!"
that, being in a high degree offended and disgusted, he resolved to commit his quiet and his fame no more to the caprices of an audience.
Congreve's last play was "The Way of the World" which, though as he hints in his dediThis danger, however, was worn away by cation, it was written with great labour and time; and Collier, a fierce and implacable non-much thought, was received with so little favour, juror, knew that an attack upon the theatre would never make him suspected for a puritan; he therefore (1698) published "A short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English From this time his life ceased to the public; he Stage," I believe with no other motive than re-lived for himself and for his friends, and among ligious zeal and honest indignation. He was formed for a controvertist; with sufficient learning; with diction vehement and pointed, though often vulgar and incorrect; with unconquerable pertinacity; with wit in the highest degree keen and sarcastic; and with all those powers exalted and invigorated by just confidence in his
his friends was able to name every man of his time whom wit and elegance had raised to repu tation: it may be, therefore, reasonably supposed, that his manners were polite and his conversation pleasing.
He seems not to have taken much pleasure in writing, as he contributed nothing to the "Spectator," and only one paper to the "Tatler," Thus qualified, and thus incited, he walked though published by men with whom he might out to battle, and assailed at once most of the be supposed willing to associate; and though he living writers, from Dryden to D'Urfey. His lived many years after the publication of his onset was violent; those passages, which, while Miscellaneous Poems, yet he added nothing to they stood single, had passed with little notice, them, but lived on in literary indolence; engagwhen they were accumulated and exposed to-ed in no controversy, contending with no rival, gether, excited horror; the wise and the pious caught the alarm; and the nation wondered why it had so long suffered irreligion and licentiousness to be openly taught at the public charge.
Nothing now remained for the poets but to resist or fly. Dryden's conscience, or his prudence, angry as he was, withheld him from the conflict: Congreve and Vanbrugh attempted
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 | strike; the contest of smartness is never interwere reverenced. His security, therefore, was mitted; his wit is a meteor playing to and fro never violated; and when, upon the extrusion with alternate coruscations. His comedies of the whigs, some intercession was used lest have, therefore, in some degree, the operation of Congreve should be displaced, the Earl of Ox- tragedies; they surprise rather than divert, and ford made this answer: raise admiration oftener than merriment. But they are the works of a mind replete with images and quick in combination.
"Non obtusa adeo gestamus pectora Pani, Nec tam aversus equos Tyria 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
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; tor, haying 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 latter 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, Dutchess of Marlborough, 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 be endeavoured he seldom failed of performing. His scenes exhibit not much of humour, imagery, or passion; his personages are a kind of intellec tual gladiators; every sentence is to ward or
Of his miscellaneous poetry I cannot say any thing 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 ob served without wonder, that a mind so vigorous and fertile in dramatic compositions, should on any other occasion discover nothing but impo tence 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 Mourn ing Bride:"
No, all is hush'd and still as death.-Tis dreadfull How reverend is the face of this tall pile, Whose ancient pillars rear their marble heads, To bear aloft its arch'd and pond'rous roof, By its own weight made steadfast and immoveable, Looking tranquillity! it strikes an awe And terror on my aching sight; the tombs And monumental caves of death look cold, And shoot a chillness to my trembling heart. Give me thy hand, and let me hear thy voice; Nay, quickly speak to me, and let me hear Thy voice-my own affrights me with its echoes.
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 recognizes a familiar 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 th' impending hills. The water-gods to flood their rivulets turn, And each, with streaming eyes, supplies his wanting urn. The fauns forsake the woods, the nymphs the grove, And round the plain in sad distraction rove: In prickly brakes their tender limbs they tear, And leave on thorns their locks of golden hair. With their sharp nails, themselves the satyrs wound, And tug their shaggy beards, and bite with grief the ground. Lo Pan himself, beneath a blasted oak, Dejected lies, his pipe in picces broke. See Pales weeping too, in wild despair, And to the piercing winds her bosom bare. And see yon fading myrtle, where appears The Queen of Love, all bath'd in flowing tears! See how she wrings her hands, and beats her breast, And tears her useless girdle from her waist! For grief they sigh, forgetful of their loves
Hear the sad murmurs of her sighing doves
And, many years after, he gave no proof that
And now the winds, which had so long been still,
Now loos'd their streams; as when descending rains
Nothing but groans and sighs were heard around,
In both these funeral poems, when he has yelled
The hovering winds on downy wings shall wait around,
It cannot but be proper to show what they shall
"Twas now, when flowery lawns the prospect made, And flowing brooks beneath a forest-shade,
A lowing heifer, loveliest of the herd,
And now, for woods, and fields, and springing flow'rs,
Two rival armies all the plain o'erspread,
"The Birth of the Muse" is a miserable
Cecilia's Day," however, has some lines which
His imitations of Horace are feebly paraphrastical, and the additions which he makes are of little value. He sometimes retains what were more properly omitted, as when he talks of vervain and gums to propitiate Venus.
Of his translations, the satire of Juvenal was written very early, and may therefore be forgiven, though it have not the massiness and vigour of the original. In all his versions strength and sprightliness are wanting; his Hymn to Venus, from Homer, is perhaps the best. His lines are weakened with expletives, and his rhymes are frequently imperfect.
His petty poems are seldom worth the cost of criticism; sometimes the thoughts are false, and sometimes common. In his verses on Lady Gethin, the latter part is in imitation of Dryden's Ode on Mrs. Killegrew; and Doris, that has been so lavishly flattered by Steele, has indeed some lively stanzas, but the expression might be mended; and the most striking part of the character had been already shown in "Love for Love." His "Art of Pleasing" is founded on a vulgar, but perhaps impracticable, principle, and the staleness of the sense is not concealed by any novelty of illustration or elegance of diction.
This tissue of poetry, from which he seems to have hoped a lasting name, is totally neglected, and known only as it appended to his plays.
While comedy or while tragedy is regarded, his plays are likely to be read; but, except what relates to the stage, I know not that he has ever written a stanza that is sung, or a couplet that is quoted. The general character of his Miscellanies is, that they show little wit and little virtue.
Yet to him it must be confessed that we are fic-indebted for the correction of a national error, and for the cure of our Pindaric madness. He first taught the English writers that Pindar's odes were regular; and, though certainly he had not the fire requsite for the higher species of lyric poetry, he has shown us, that enthusiasm has its rules, and that in mere confusion there is neither grace nor greatness.
This said, no more remain'd. Th' ethereal host
*"Except!" Dr. Warton exclaims, "Is not this a high sort of poetry?" He mentions, likewise, that Congreve's Opera, or Oratorio, of "Semele," was set to music by Handel, I believe in 1743.-C.
a much longer time than it is usual to spend at the university; and which he seems to have passed with very little attention to the business of the place; for, in his poems, the ancient names of nations or places, which he often produces, are pronounced by chance. He after wards travelled at Padua he was made doctor of physic; and, after having wandered about a year and a half on the Continent, returned home.
In some part of his life, it is not known when, his indigence compelled him to teach a school, an humiliation with which, though it certainly lasted but a little while, his enemies did not forget to reproach him, when he became conspicuous enough to excite malevolence; and let it be remembered for his honour, that to have been once a schoolmaster, is the only reproach which all the perspicacity of malice, animated by wit, has ever fixed upon his private life.
much as a permission-poem, but a downright interloper. Those gentlemen who carry on their poetical trade in a joint stock, would certainly do what they could to sink and ruin an unlicensed adventurer, notwithstanding I disturbed none of their factories, nor imported any goods they have ever dealt in." He had lived in the city till he had learned its note.
That "Prince Arthur" found many readers is certain ; for in two years it had three editions; a very uncommon instance of favourable reception, at a time when literary curiosity was yet confined to particular classes of the nation. Such success naturally raised animosity; and Dennis attacked it by a formal criticism, more tedious and disgusting than the work which he condemns. To this censure may be opposed the approbation of Locke and the admiration of Molineux, which are found in their printed letters. Molineux is particularly delighted with the song of Mopas, which is therefore subjoined to this narrative.
When he first engaged in the study of physic, he inquired, as he says, of Dr. Sydenham, what authors he should read, and was directed by It is remarked by Pope, that what "raises the Sydenham to "Don Quixote;" "which," said hero often sinks the man." Of Blackmore it he, "is a very good book; I read it still." The may be said, that as the poet sinks, the man perverseness of mankind makes it often mis-rises; the animadversions of Dennis, insolent chievous in men of eminence to give way to and contemptuous as they were, raised in him merriment; the idle and the illiterate will long no implacable resentment: he and his critic shelter themselves under this foolish apoph- were afterwards friends; and in one of his latthegm. ter works he praises Dennis as "equal to BoiWhether he rested satisfied with this direc-leau in poetry, and superior to him in critical tion, or sought for better, he commenced physician, and obtained high eminence and extensive practice. He became fellow of the College of Physicians, April 12, 1637, being one of the thirty which, by the new charter of King James, were added to the former fellows. His residence was in Cheapside,* and his friends were chiefly in the city. In the early part of Black-was now doubled, and the resentment of wits more's time, a citizen was a term of reproach; and his place of abode was another topic to which his adversaries had recourse, in the penury
Blackmore, therefore, was made a poet not by necessity but inclination, and wrote not for a livelihood but for fame, or, if he may tell his own motives, for a nobler purpose, to engage poetry in the cause of virtue.
He seems to have been more delighted with praise than pained by censure, and, instead of slackening, quickened his career. Having in two years produced ten books of "Prince Arthur," in two years more (1697) he sent into the world "King Arthur" in twelve. The provocation
and critics may be supposed to have increased in proportion. He found, however, advantages more than equivalent to all their outrages; he was this year made one of the physicians in ordinary to King William, and advanced by him to the honour of knighthood, with the present of a gold chain and a medal.
The malignity of the wits attributed his knighthood to his new poem; but King William I believe it is peculiar to him, that his first was not very studious of poetry; and Blackpublic work was an heroic poem. He was not more perhaps had other merit, for he says, in his known as a maker of verses till he published dedication to " Alfred," that "he had a greater (in 1695) "Prince Arthur," in ten books, writ-part in the succession of the house of Hanover ten, as he relates, "by such catches and starts, than ever he had boasted." and in such occasional uncertain hours, as his profession afforded, and for the greatest part in coffee-houses, or in passing up and down the streets." For the latter part of this apology he was accused of writing" to the rumbling of his chariot-wheels." He had read, he says, "but little poetry throughout his whole life; and for fifteen years before had not written a hundred verses, except one copy of Latin verses in praise of a friend's book."
He thinks, and with some reason, that from such a performance perfection cannot be expected; but he finds another reason for the severity of his censures, which he expresses in language such as Cheapside easily furnished. "I am not free of the poets' company, having never kissed the governor's hands: mine is therefore not so
At Sadlers' Hall.
What Blackmore could contribute to the succession, or what he imagined himself to have contributed, cannot now be known. That he had been of considerable use, I doubt not but he believed, for I hold him to have been very honest; but he might easily make a false estimate of his own importance: those whom their virtue restrains from deceiving others, are often disposed by their vanity to deceive themselves. Whether he promoted the succession or not, he at least approved it, and adhered invariably to his principles and party through his whole life.
His ardour of poetry still continued; and not long after (1700) he published "A Paraphrase on the Book of Job," and other parts of the Scripture. This performance Dryden, who pursued him with great malignity, lived long enough to ridicule in a prologue.
The wits easily confederated against him, as
Dryden, whose favour they almost all courted, was his professed adversary. He had besides given them reason for resentment; as, in his preface to "Prince Arthur," he had said of the dramatic writers almost all that was alleged afterwards by Collier; but Blackmore's censure was cold and general, Collier's was personal and ardent; Blackmore taught his reader to dislike what Collier incited him to abhor.
of Lucretius in the beauty of its versification, and infinitely surpassed it in the solidity and strength of its reasoning."
Why an author surpasses himself, it is natural to inquire. I have heard from Mr. Draper, an eminent bookseller, an account received by him from Ambrose Philips, “That Blackmore, as he proceeded in this poem, laid his manuscript from time to time before a club of wits with In his preface to "King Arthur" he endea- whom he associated; and that every man convoured to gain at least one friend, and propiti- tributed, as he could, either improvement or corated Congreve by higher praise of his "Mourn-rection: so that," said Philips, "there are pering Bride" than it has obtained from any other
haps no where in the book thirty lines together that now stand as they were originally written."
The same year he published "A Satire on The relation of Philips, I suppose, was true; Wit;" a proclamation of defiance, which united but when all reasonable, all credible, allowance the poets almost all against him, and which is made for this friendly revision, the Author will brought upon him lampoons and ridicule from still retain an ample dividend of praise: for to every side. This he doubtless foresaw, and evi-him must always be assigned the plan of the dently despised; nor should his dignity of mind work, the distribution of its parts, the choice of be without its praise, had he not paid the ho- topics, the train of argument, and, what is yet mage to greatness which he denied to genius, and more, the general predominance of philosophical degraded himself by conferring that authority judgment and poetical spirit. Correction seldom over the national taste which he takes from the effects more than the suppression of faults; a poots upon men of high rank and wide influ- happy line, or a single elegance, may perhaps ence, but of less wit and not greater virtue. be added; but of a large work the general chaHere is again discovered the inhabitant of racter must always remain; the original constiCheapside, whose head cannot keep his poetry tution can be very little helped by local remeunmingled with trade. To hinder that intellec-dies; inherent and radical dulness will never be tual bankruptcy which he affects to fear, he will erect a Bank for Wit.
In this poem he justly censured Dryden's impurities, but praised his powers: though in a subsequent edition he retained the satire and omitted the praise. What was his reason, I know not; Dryden was then no longer in his
His head still teemed with heroic poetry; and (1705) he published “Eliza,” in ten books. am afraid that the world was now weary of contending about Blackmore's heroes: for I do not remember that by any author, serious or comical, I have found "Eliza" either praised or blamed. She "dropped," as it seems, "deadborn from the press." It is never mentioned, and was never seen by me till I borrowed it for the present occasion. Jacob says, "it is corrected and revised for another impression;" but the labour of revision was thrown away.
much invigorated by extrinsic animation.
This poem, if he had written nothing else, would have transmitted him to posterity among the first favourites of the English muse; but to make verses was his transcendent pleasure, and as he was not deterred by censure, he was not satiated with praise.
He deviated, however, sometimes into other tracks of literature, and condescended to entertain his readers with plain prose. When the 'Spectator" stopped, he considered the polite world as destitute of entertainment: and, in concert with Mr. Hughes, who wrote every third paper, published three times a-week "The Lay Monastery," founded on the supposition that some literary men, whose characters are de scribed, had retired to a house in the country to enjoy philosophical leisure, and resolved to instruct the public, by communicating their disquisitions and amusements. Whether any real persons were concealed under fictitious names, is not known. The hero of the club is one Mr. Johnson; such a constellation of excellence, that his character shall not be suppressed, though there is no great genius in the design, nor skill in the delineation.
From this time he turned some of his thoughts to the celebration of living characters; and wrote a poem on the Kit-cat Club, and Advice to the Poets how to celebrate the Duke of Marlborough; but on occasion of another year of success, thinking himself qualified to give more instruction, he again wrote a poem of "Advice to "The first I shall name is Mr. Johnson, a a Weaver of Tapestry." Steele was then pub- gentleman that owes to nature excellent faculties lishing the "Tatler;" and, looking around him and an elevated genius, and to industry and apfor something at which he might laugh, unluck-plication many acquired accomplishments. His ily lighted on Sir Richard's work, and treated it with such contempt, that, as Fenton observes, he put an end to the species of writers that gave Advice to Painters.
Not long after (1712) he published "Creation," a philosophical poem, which has been by my recommendation inserted in the late collection. Whoever judges of this by any other of Blackmore's performances will do it injury. The praise given it by Addison (Spec. 339) is too well known to be transcribed: but some notice is due to the testimony of Dennis, who calls it a "philosophical poem, which has equalled that
taste is distinguishing, just, and delicate: his judgment clear, and his reason strong, accompanied with an imagination full of spirit, of great compass, and stored with refined ideas. He is a critic of the first rank; and, what is his peculiar ornament, he is delivered from the ostentation, malevolence, and supercilious temper, that so often blemish men of that character. His remarks result from the nature and reason of things, and are formed by a judgment free and unbiassed by the authority of those who have lazily followed each other in the same beaten track of thinking, and are arrived only at the re