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appears not to have proposed to himself any successive vicissitudes of his own mind, with, drift or design, but to have written the casual out the intervention of any other speaker, or the dictates of the present moment.
mention of any other agent, unless it be Abra; What Horace said, when he imitated Lucili- the reader is only to learn what he thought, and us, might be said of Butler by Prior; his num- to be told that he thought wrong.
The event bers were not smooth or neat. Prior excelled of every experiment is foreseen, and therefore him in versification : but he was, like Horace, the process is not much regarded. inventore minor: he had not Butler's exuberance Yet the work is far from deserving to be neof matter and variety of illustration. The glected. He that shall peruse it will be able to spangles of wit which he could afford he knew mark many passages to which be may recur for how to polish; but he wanted the bullion of his instruction or delight; many from which the master. Butler pours out a negligent profusion, poet may learn to write, and the philosopher to certain of the weight, but careless of the stamp. Prior has comparatively little, but with that If Prior's poetry be generally considered, his little he makes a fine show. “ Alma” has praise will be that of correctness and industry, many admirers, and was the only piece among rather than of compass, of comprehension, or Prior's works, of which Pope said that he activity of fancy. He never made any effort of should wish to be the author.
invention : his greater pieces are only tissues of “ Solomon" is the work to which he intrust- common thoughts; and his smaller, which coned the protection of his name, and which he ex- sist of light images or single conceits, are not pected succeeding ages to regard with veneration. always his own. I have traced him among the His affection was natural ; it had undoubtedly French epigrammatists, and have been informed been written with great labour; and who is that he poached for prey among obscure authors. willing to think that he has been labouring in The “ Thief and Cordelier” is, I suppose, genvain? He had infused into it much knowledge erally considered as an original production ; with and much thought; had often polished it to ele- how much justice this epigram may tell, which gance, often dignified it with splendour, and was written by Georgius Sabinus, a poet now sometimes heightened it to sublimity: he per- little known or read, though once the friend of ceived in it many excellences, and did not dis- Luther and Melancthon : cover that it wanted that without which all
De Sacerdote Furem consolante, others are of small avail, the power of engaging attention and alluring curiosity.
Quidam sacrificus furem comitatus euntem Tediousness is the most fatal of all faults : Huc ubi dat sontes carnificina neci, negligences or errors are single and local, but
Ne sis moestus, ait; summi conviva Tonantis
Jam cum coelitibus (si modo credis) eris. tediousness pervades the whole; other faults are censured and forgotten, but the power of tedious- Ille gemens, si vera mihi solatia præbes, ness propagates itself. He that is weary the Hospes apud superos sis mens oro, refert. first hour, is more weary the second ; as bodies
Sacrificus contra ; mihi non convivia fas est forced into motion contrary to their tendency
Ducere, jejunans hac edo luce nihil. pass more and more slowly through every suc- What he has valuable he owes to his diligence cessive interval of space.
and his judgment. His diligence has justly Unhappily this pernicious failure is that which placed him amongst the most correct of the Engan author is least able to discover. We are sellish poets; and he was one of the first that resodom tiresome to ourselves; and the act of com- lutely endeavoured at correctness.
He never position fills and delights the mind with change sacrifices accuracy to haste, nor indulges himself of language and succession of images; every in contemptuous negligence, or impatient idlecouplet when produced is new, and novelty is the ness: he has no careless lines, or entangled sengreat source of pleasure. Perhaps no man ever timents: his words are nicely selected, and his thought a line superfluous when he first wrote thoughts fully expanded. If this part of his it, or contracted his work till his ebullitions of character suffers an abatement, it must be from invention had subsided. And even if he should the disproportion of his rhymes, which have not control his desire of immediate renown, and always sufficient consonance, and from the adkeep his work nine years unpublished, he will mission of broken lines into his “ Solomon;" be still the author, and still in danger of deceiv- but perhaps he thought, like Cowley, that heming himself: and if he consults his friends, he istichs ought to be admitted into heroic poetry will probably find men who have more kindness He bad apparently such rectitude of judgment than judgment, or more fear to offend thau de- as secured him from every thing that approache sire to instruct.
ed to the ridiculous or absurd ; but as laws oper The tediousness of this poem proceeds not ate in civil agency not to the excitement of virfrom the uniformity of the subject, for it is suf- tue, but the repression of wickedness, so judgficiently diversified, but from the continued tenor ment in the operations of intellect can hinder of the narration; in which Solomon relates the faults, but not produce excellence. Prior is
never low, nor very often sublime. It is said by And lurk'd in rocks and caves long unespy'd.
To rest themselves, and weary powers repair, tail. Whatever Prior obtains above mediocrity
Where store they found of all, that dainty was and seems the effort of struggle and of toil. He has many vigorous but few happy lines; he has every thing by purchase, and nothing by gift; he had no nightly visitations of the muse, no infusions of sentiment or felicities of fancy.
To the close rock the frighted raven flies His diction, however, is more his own than of Soon as the rising eagle cuts the air :
The shaggy wolf unseen and trembling lies, any among the successors of Dryden; he bor
When the hoarse roar proclaims the lion near. rows no lucky turns, or commodious modes of II-starr'd did we our forts and lines forsake, language, from his predecessors. His phrases To dare our British foes to open fight: are original, but they are sometimes harsh : as
Our conquest we by stratagem should make : he inherited no elegances, none has he bequeath. Our triumph had been founded in our flight. ed. His expression has every mark of laborious 'Tis ours, by craft and by surprise to gain : study; the line seldom seems to have been form- 'Tis theirs to meet in arms, and battle in the plaio. ed at once; the words did not come till they
alled, and were then put by constraint into their places, where they do their duty, but
By this new structure of his lines he has do it sullenly. In his greater compositions there lost any of the power of pleasing : but he no
avoided difficulties; nor am I sure that he has may be found more rigid stateliness than grace- longer imitates Spenser. ful dignity.
Some of his poems are written without reguOf versification he was not negligent; what he received from Dryden he did not lose; nei- larity of measure ; for, when he commenced ther did he increase the difficulty of writing by poet, he had not recovered from our Pindaric
infatuation; but he probably lived to be con. unnecessary severity, but uses triplets and Alex- vinced, that the essence of verse is order and andrines without scruple. In his preface to “ Solomon” he proposes some improvements, His numbers are such as mere diligence may by extending the sense from one couplet to an
attain; they seldom offend the ear, and seldom other, with variety of pauses. This he has at
soothe it; they commonly want airiness, lighttempted, but without success; his interrupted
ness, and facility : what is smooth is not soft. lines are unpleasing, and his sense as less dis- His verses always roll, but they seldom flow. tinct is less striking.
A survey of the life and writings of Prior He has altered the stanza of Spenser, as a
may exemplify a sentence which he doubtless house is altered by building another in its place understood well, when he read Horace at his of a different form. With how little resemblance he has formed his new stanza to that of which it first receives.” In his private relax
uncle's; “the vessel long retains the scent his master, these specimens will show :
ation he revived the tavern, and in his amorous
pedantry he exhibited the college. She flying fast from Heaven's hated face,
higher occasions, and nobler subjects, when And from the world that her discovered wide,
habit was overpowered by the necessity of reflecFled to the wasteful wilderness apace,
tion, he wanted not wisdom as a statesman, or From living eyes her open shame to hide,
elegance as a poet.
WILLIAM CONGREVE descended from a family | He visited, once at least, the residence of his in Staffordshire, of so great antiquity that it ancestors; and, I believe, more places than one claims a place among the few that extend their are still shown, in groves and gardens, where he line beyond the Norman Conquest; and was is related to have written his “ Old.Bachelor.” the son of William Congreve, second son of Neither the time nor place of his birth is cerRichard Congreve, of Congreve and Stratton. tainly known: if the inscription upon his monu.
ment be true, he was born in 1672. For the ' by chance. « The Old Bachelor” was writtett plane, it was said by himself, that he owed his for amusement in the languor of convalescence. nativity to England, and by every body else, Yet it is apparently composed with great elab that he was born in Ireland. Southern men- orateness of dialogue, and incessant ambition of tioned him, with sharp censure, as a man that wit. The age of the writer considered, it is, meanly disowned his native country. The bio- indeed, a very wonderful performance; for, graphers assign his nativity to Bardsa, near whenever written, it was acted (1693) when he Leeds, in Yo bire, from the account given by was not more than twenty one years old; and himself, as they suppose, to Jacob.
was then recommended by Mr. Dryden, Mr. To doubt whether a man of eminence has told Southern, and Mr. Mainwaring. Dryden said, the truth about his own birth, is, in appearance, that he never had seen such a first play; but to be very deficient in candour ; yet, nobody can they found it deficient in some things requisite live long without knowing that falsehoods of to the success of its exhibition, and, by their convenience or vanity, falsehoods from which greater experience, fitted it for the stage. Southno evil immediately visible ensues, except the ern, used to relate of one comedy, probably of general degradation of human testimony, are this, that, when Congreve read it to the playvery lightly uttered; and, once uttered, are sul-ers, he pronounced it so wretchedly, that they lenly supported. Boileau, who desired to be had almost rejected it; but they were afterwards thought a rigorous and steady moralist, having so well persuaded of its excellence, that, for told a petty lie to Lewis the Fourteenth, con-half a year before it was acted, the manager altinued it afterwards by false dates; thinking lowed its Author the privilege of the house. himself obliged in honour, says his admirer, to Few plays have ever been so beneficial to the maintain what, when he said it, was so well re- writer; for it procured him the patronage of ceived.
Halifax, who immediately made him one of Wherever Congreve was born, he was educated the commissioners for licensing coaches, and first at Kilkenny, and afterwards at Dublin, his soon after gave him a place in the Pipe-office, father having some military employment that and another in the Customs of six hundred stationed him in Ireland; but, after having pounds a year. Congreve's conversation must passed through the usual preparatory studies, as surely have been at least equally pleasing with may be reasonably supposed, with great celerity his writings. and success, his father thought it proper to as- Such a comedy, written at such an age, resign him a profession by which something might quires some consideration. As the lighter spebe gotten; and, about the time of the Revolu-cies of dramatic poetry professes the imitation tion, sent him, at the age of sixteen, to study of common life, of real manners, and daily inlaw in the Middle Temple, where he lived for cidents, it apparently pre-supposes a familiar several years, but with very little attention to knowledge of many characters, and exact obstatutes or reports.
servation of the passing world; the difficulty His disposition to become an author appeared therefore is, to conceive how this knowledge can very early, as he very early felt that force of be obtained by a boy. imagination, and possessed that copiousness of
But if “ The Old Bachelor" be more nearly sentiment, by which intellectual pleasure can examined, it will be found to be one of those be given. His first performance was a novel, comedies which may be made by a mind vigorcalled “ Incognita, or Love and Duty recon- ous and acute, and furnished with comic charciled :" it is praised by the biographers, who acters by the perusal of other poets, without quote some part of the preface, that is, indeed, much actual commerce with mankind. The for such a time of life, uncommonly judicious. dialogue is one constant reciprocation of conceits, I would rather praise it than read it.
or clash of wit, in which nothing flows necesHis first dramatic labour was “ The Old sarily from the occasion, or is dictated by naBachelor;” of which he says, in his defence ture. The characters, both of men and women, against Collier, “ that comedy was written, as are either fictitious and artificial, as those of several know, some years before it was acted. Heartwell and the ladies ; or easy and common, When I wrote it, I had little thoughts of the as Wittol, a tame idiot, Bluff, a swaggering stage ; but did it to amuse myself in a slow re- coward, and Fondlewife, a jealous puritan; covery from a fit of sickness. Afterwards, and the catastrophe arises from a mistake not through my indiscretion, it was seen, and, in very probably produced, by marrying a woman some little time more, it was acted; and I, in a mask. through the remainder of my indiscretion, suf- Yet this gay comedy, when all these deducfered myself to be drawn into the prosecution of tions are made, will still remain the work of a difficult and thankless study, and to be involved very powerful and fertile faculties; the dialogue 'in a perpétual war with knaves and fools.”
is quick and sparkling, the incidents such as There seems to be a strange affectation in seize the attention, and the wit so exuberant, authors of appearing to have done every thing that it “o'er-informs its tenement.
Next year he gave another specimen of his had raised a violent clamour against the drama, abilities in “ The Double Dealer,” which was which they considered as an entertainment not not received with equal kindness. He writes lawful to Christians, an opinion held by them to his patron, the Lord Halifax, a dedication, in common with the church of Rome; and in which he endeavours to reconcile the reader Prynne published “ Histrio-Mastix,” a huge to that which found few friends among the volume, in which stage-plays were censured. audience. These apologies are always useless : The outrages and crimes of the puritans brought “de gustibus non est disputandum;" men may afterwards their whole system of doctrine into be convinced, but they cannot be pleased against disrepute, and from the Restoration the poets their will. But, though taste is obstinate, it is and players were left at quiet; for to have very variable; and time often prevails when molested them would have had the appearance arguments have failed.
of tendency to puritanical malignity. Queen Mary conferred upon both those plays This danger, however, was worn away by the honour of her presence; and when she time; and Collier, a fierce and implacable nondied, soon after, Congreve testified his grati- juror, knew that an attack upon the theatre tude by a despicable effusion of elegiac pastoral; would never make him suspected for a puritan; a composition in which all is unnatural, and he therefore (1698) published “A short View yet nothing is new.
of the Immorality and Profaneness of the In another year (1695) his prolific pen pro- English Stage," I believe with no other motive duced “Love for Love,” a comedy of nearer al- than religious zeal and honest indignation. He liance to life, and exhibiting more real manners was formed for a controvertist; with sufficient than either of the former. The character of learning; with diction vehement and pointed, Foresight was then common. Dryden calcu- though often vulgar and incorrect; with unconlated nativities; both Cromwell and King Wil-querable pertinacity; with wit in the highest deliam had their lucky days; and Shaftesbury gree keen and sarcastic; and with all those himself, though he had no religion, was said to powers exalted and invigorated by just confiregard predietions. The Sailor is not accounted dence in his cause. very natural, but he is very pleasant.
Thus qualified, and thus incited, he walked With this play was opened the New Theatre, out to battle, and assailed at once most of the under the direction of Betterton, the tragedian; living writers, from Dryden to D'Urfey. His
where he exhibited, two years afterwards, onset was violent; those passages, which, while 9 (1687) “ The Mourning Bride,” a tragedy, so they stood single had passed with little notice,
written as to show him sufficiently qualified for when they were accumulated and exposed toeither kind of dramatic poetry.
gether, excited horror; the wise and the pious In this play, of which, where he afterwards caught the alarm ; and the nation wondered revised it, he reduced the versification to greater why it had so long suffered irreligion and licenregularity, there is more bustle than sentiment, tiousness to be openly taught at the public charge. the plot is busy and intricate, and the events Nothing now remained for the poets but to take hold on the attention ; but except a very resist or fly. Dryden's conscience, or his prufew passages, we are rather amused with noise, dence, angry as he was, withheld him from the
nd perplexed with stratagem, than entertained conflict: Congreve and Vanbrugh attempted with any true delineation of natural characters. answers. Congrevt, a very young man, elated This, however, was received with more benevo- with success, ana impatient of censure, assumed lence than any other of his works, and still con- an air of confidence and security. His chief tinues to be acted and applauded.
artifice of controversy is to retort upon his But whatever objections may be made either adversary his own words ; he is very angry, and, to his comic or tragic excellence, they are lost a hoping to conquer Collier with his own weapons, once in the blaze of admiration, when it is re- allows himself in the use of every term of conmembered that he had preduced these four plays tumely and contempt; but he has the sword before he had passed his twenty-fifth year ; be- without the arm of Scanderbeg; he has his anfore other men, even such as are some time to tagonist's coarseness, but not his strength. Colshine in eminence, have passed their probation lier replied; for contest was his delight; he was of literature, or presume to hope for any other not to be frighted from his purpose or his notice than such as is bestowed on diligence and prey. inquiry. Among all the efforts of early genius, The cause of Congreve was not tenable; wbich literary history records, I doubt whether whatever glosses he might use for the defence or any one can be produced that more surpasses the palliation of single passages, the general tenor common limits of nature than the plays of Con- and tendency of his plays must always be congreve.
demned. It is acknowledged, with universal About this time began the long continued conviction, that the perusal of his works will controversy between Collier and the poets. In make no man better ; and that their ultimate the reign of Charles the First, the puritans effect is to represent pleasure in alliance with
vice, and to relax those obligations by which life | party might naturally expect to be advanced ought to be regulated.
when his friends returned to power, and he was The stage found other advocates, and the dis- accordingly made secretary for the Island of pute was protracted through ten years; but at Jamaica; a place, I suppose, without trust or last comedy grew more modest, and Collier care, but which, with his post in the Customs, lived to see the reward of his labour in the re- is said to have afforded him twelve hundred formation of the theatre.
pounds a year. Of the powers by which this important vic- His honours were yet far greater than his tory was achieved, a quotation from “ Love for profits. Every writer mentioned him with reLove,” and the remark upon it, may afford a spect ; and, among other testimonies to his specimen :
merit, Steele made him the patron of his MisSir Samps. Sampson's a very good name; for cellany, and Pope inscribed to him his translayour Sampsons were very strong dogs from the tion of the “ Iliad." beginning.
But he treated the Muses with ingratitude; Angel. Have a care-If you remember, the for, having long conversed familiarly with the strongest Sampson of your name pulled an old great, he wished to be considered tather as a man house over his head at last.
of fashion than of wit ; and, when he received “ Here you have the Sacred History bur- a visit from Voltaire, disgusted him by the deslesqued, and Sampson once more brought into the picable foppery of desiring to be considered not house of Dagon, to make sport for the Philis- as an author but a gentleman; to which the tines !”
Frenchman replied, “ that if he had been only a Congreve's last play was “ The Way of the gentleman he should not have come to visit World ;” which, though as he hints in his dedi- him.” cation it was written with great labour and In his retirement he may be supposed to have much thought, was received with so little favour, applied himself to books ; for he discovers more that, being in a high degree offended and dis- literature than the poets have commonly atgusted, he resolved to commit his quiet and his tained. But his studies were in his latter days fame no more to the caprices of an audience. obstructed by cataracts in his eyes, which at last
From this time his life ceased to the public; he terminated in blindness. This melancholy lived for himself and for his friends, and among state was aggravated by the gout, for which he his friends was able to name every man of his sought relief by, a journey to Bath ; but, being time whom wit and elegance had raised to repu- overturned in his chariot, complained from that tation: it may be, therefore, reasonably sup- time of a pain in his side, and died, at his house posed that his manners were polite and his in Surrey-street, in the Strand, January 29, conversation pleasing.
1728-9. Having lain in state in the Jerusalem He seems not to have taken much pleasure in Chamber, he was buried in Westminster Abwriting, as he contributed nothing to the “ Spec- bey, where a monument is erected to his memory tator,” and only one paper to the “ Tatler," by Henrietta, Dutchess of Marlborough, to though published by men with whom he might whom, for reasons either not known or not be supposed willing to associate; and though he mentioned, he bequeathed a legacy, of about lived many years after the publication of his ten thousand pounds, the accumulation of Miscellaneous Poems, yet he added nothing to attentive parsimony; which, though to her them, but lived on in literary indolence; en- superfluous and useless, might have given great gaged in no controversy, contending with no assistance to the ancient family from which he rival, neither soliciting flattery by public com- descended, at that time, by the imprudence of mendations, nor provoking enmity by malignant his relation, reduced to difficulties and distress. criticism, but passing his time among the great and splendid, in the placid enjoyment of his Congreve has merit of the highest kind; he fame and fortune.
is an original writer, who borrowed neither the Having owed his fortune to Halifax, he con- models of his plot nor, the manner of his diatinued always of his patron's party, but, as it logue. Of his plays I cannot speak distinctly, seems, without violence or acrimony: and his for since I inspected them many years have firmness was naturally esteemed, as his abilities passed ; but what remains upon my memory were reverenced. His security, therefore, was is, that his characters are commonly fictinever violated ; and when, upon the extrusion tious and artificial, with very little of nature of the whigs, some intercession was used lest and not much of life. He formed a peculiar Congreve should be displaced, the Earl of Ox idea of comic excellence, which he supposed to ford made this answer ;
consist in gay remarks and unexpected answers;
but that which he endeavoured he seldom failed “ Non obtusa adeo gestamus pectora Poeni,
of performing. His scenes exhibit not much of Nec tam a versus equos Tyria sol jungit ab urbe."
humour, imagery, or passion; his personages :. He that was thus honoured by the adverse are a kind of intellectual gladiators ; every sen