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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 care- 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!"
Congreve's last play was "The Way of the World;" which, though as he hints in his dedication it was written with great labour and much thought, was received with so little favour, 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.
From this time his life ceased to be public; he lived for himself and for his friends, and among his friends was able to name every man of his time whom wit and elegance had raised to reputation: 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," though published by 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 pectora Poni,
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 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 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 Surreystreet, 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 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 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 coruscations. 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 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 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 hush'd.
It bore the accent of a human voice.
It was thy fear, or else some transient wind
No, all is hush'd and still as death. 'Tis dreadful!
Whose ancient pillars rear their marble heads,
By its own weight made steadfast and immoveable,
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
The water-gods to floods their rivulets turn,
And each, with streaming eyes, supplies his wanting urn.
And round the plain in sad distractions 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.
Dejected lies, his pipe in pieces broke.
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!
Hear the sad murmurs of her sighing doves!
For grief they sigh, forgetful of their loves.
And, many years after, he gave no proof that time had improved his wisdom or his wit; for, on the death of the Marquis of Blandford, this was his song:
And now the winds, which had so long been still,
The water-nymphs, who motionless remain'd,
Like images of ice, while she complain'd,
Now loos'd their streams; as when descending rains
Roll the steep torrents headlong o'er the plains.
The prone creation who so long had gaz`d,
Dismal to hear and terrible to tell!
Nothing but groans and sighs were heard around,
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 shew what they shall have to catch and carry:
when flowery lawns the prospect made,
And flowing brooks beneath a forest-shade,
A lowing heifer, loveliest of the herd,
Stood feeding by; while two fierce bulls prepar'd
Their armed heads for fight, by fate of war to prove
The victor worthy of the fair one's love;
Unthought presage of what met next my view;
For soon the shady scene withdrew.
And now, for woods, and fields, and springing flowers,
Behold a town arise, bulwark'd with walls and lofty towers;
Two rival armies all the plain o'erspread,
Each in battalia rang'd, and shining arms array'd;
With eager eyes beholding both from far
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 concluding verses are these:
This said, no more remain'd. Th' ethereal host