« PreviousContinue »
When Mrs. Philips was in Ireland, some ladies, that liad seen her translation of Pompey, resolved to bring it on the stage at Dublin ; and, to promote their design, Lord Roscommon gave them a prologue, and Sir Edward Dering an epilogue; " which," says she, “ are the best performances of " those kinds I ever saw." If this is not criticism, it is at least gratitude. The thought of bringing Cæsar and Pompey into Ireland, the only country over which Cæsar never had any power, is lucky.
Of Roscommon's works, the judgement of the public seems to be right. He is elegant, but not great; he never labours after exquisite beauties, and he seldom falls into gross faults. His versification is smooth, but rarely vigorous, and his rhymes are remarkably exact. He improved taste, if he did not enlarge knowledge, and may be numbered among the benefactors to English literature,
Olle is known; nor is there any part of that little which his biographer
can take pleasure in relating.
He was born at Trottin in Sussex, March 3, 1651, the son of Mr. Humphrey Otway, rector of Woolbeding. From Winchester-school, where he was educated, he was entered, in 1669, a commoner of Christ-church; but left the university without a degree, whether for want of money, or from impatience of academical restraint, or mere eagerness to mingle with the world, is not known.
It seems likely that he was in hope of being busy and conspicuous: for he went to London, and commenced player ; but found himself unable to gain any reputation on the stage *.
This kind of inability he shared with Shakspeare and Jonson, as he shared likewise some of their excellencies. It seems reasonable to expect that a great dramatic poet should without difficulty become a great actor ; that he who can feel, could express; that he who can excite passion, should exhibit with great readiness its external modes: but since cxperience has fully proved that of those powers, whatever be their affinity, one may be possessed in a great degree by him who has very little of the other ; it must be allowed that they depend upon different faculties, or on different use of the same faculty; that the actor must have a pliancy of mien, a flexibility of countenance, and a variety of tones, which the poet may be easily
In Roscius Anglicanus by Downes the prompter, p. 34, we learn that it was the character of the King in Mrs. Behn's Forced Marriage, or Ibe Jealous Bridegroom, which Mr. Otway attempted to perform and failed in. This event appears to have happened in the year 1673. E;
supposed to want; or that the attention of the poet and the player have been differently employed; the one has been considering thought, and the other action; one has watched the heart, and the other contemplated the face.
Though he could not gain, much notice as a player, he felt in himself such powers as might qualify for a dramatick author; and, in 1675, his twentyfifth year, produced Alcibiades, a tragedy; whether from the Alcibiade of Palapart, I have not means to enquire. Langbain, the great detector of plagiarism, is silent.
In 1677 he published Titus and Berenice, translated from Rapin, with the Cheats of Scapin from Moliere ; and 1678 Friendship in Fashion, a comedy, which, whatever might be its first reception, was, upon its revival at Drurylane in 1749, hissed off the stage for immorality and obscenity.
Want of morals, or of decency, did not in those days exclude any man from the company of the wealthy and gay, if he brought with him any powers of entertainment; and Otway is said to have been at this time a favourite companion of the dissolute wits. But as he who desires no virtue in his companion has no virtue in himself, those whom Otway frequented had no purpose of doing more for him than to pay his reckoning: They desired only to drink and laugh; their fondness was without benevolence, and their familiarity without friendship. Men of wit, says one of Orway's biographers, received at that time no favour from the Great but to share their riots from which they were dismissed again to their own narrow circumstancesa Thus they languished in poverty without the support of imminence.
Some exception, however, must be made. The Earl of Plymouth, one of King Charles's natural sons, procured for him a cornet's commission in some troops then sent into Flanders. But Orway did not prosper in his military character ; for he soon left his commission behind him, whatever was the reason, and came back to London in extreme indigence; which Rochester mentions with merciless insolence in the Session of the Poets :
Tom Otway came next, Tom Shadwell's dear zany,
2 The scum of a play-house, for the prop of an age. Don Carlos, from which he is represented as having received so much benefit, was played in 1675. It appears, by the Lampoon, to have had great success, and is said to have been played thirty nights together. This however it is reasonable to doubt, as so long a continuance of one play upon the stage is a very wide deviation from the practice of that time: when the ardour for theatrical entertainments was not yet ditfused through the whole people, and the audience, consisting nearly of the same persons, could be drawn together only by variety.
The Orphan was exhibited in 1680. This is one of the few plays that keep possession of the stage, and has pleased for alaost a century, through all the VOL. I.
vicissitudes of dramatick fashion. Of this play nothing new can easily be said. It is a domestick tragedy drawn from middle life. Its whole power is upon the affections ; for it is not written with much comprehension of thought or elegance of expression. But if the heart is interested, niany other beauties may be wanting, yet not be missed.
The same year produced the History and Fall of Caius Marius, much of which is borrowed from the Romeo and Juliet of Shakspeare.
In 1683* was published the first, and next years the second, parts of The Soldier's Fortune two comedies now forgotten: and in 16851 his last and greatest dramatick work, Venice preserved, a tragedy, which still continues to be one of the favourites of the publick, notwithstanding the want of morality in the original design, and the despicable scenes of vile comedy with which he has diversified his tragick action. By comparing this with his Orphan, it will appear that his images were by time become stronger, and his language more energetick. The striking passages are in every mouth ; and the publick seems to judge rightly of the faults and excellencies of this play, that it is the work of a man not attentive to decency, nor zealous for virtue ; but of one who conceived forcibly, and drew originally, by consulting nature in his own breast.
Together with those plays he wrote the poems which are in the present collection, and translated from the French the History of the Triumvirate.
All this was performed before he was thirty-four years old; for he died April 14, 1685, in a manner which I am unwilling to mention. Having been compelled by his necessities to contract debts, and hunted, as is supposed, by the tarriers of the law; he retired to a publick house on Tower-hill, where he is said to have died of want; or as it is related by one of his biographers, by swallowing, after a long last, a piece of bread which charity had supplied. He went out, as is reported, almost naked, in the rage of hunger, and finding a gentleman in a neighbouring coffee-house, asked him for a shilling. The gentleman gave him a guinea ; and Otway going away bought a roll, and was choaked with the first mouthful. All this, I hope, is not true; and there is this ground of better hope, that Pope, who lived near enough to be well informed, relates in Spence's memorials, that he died of a fever caught by violent pursuit of a thief that had robbed one of his friends. But that indigence, and its concomitants, sorrow and despondency, pressed hard upon him, has never been denied, whatever immediate cause might bring hiin to the grave.
Of the poems which the present collection admits, the longest is the Poet's complaint of his Muse, part of which I do not understand ; and in that which is less obscure I find little to commend. The language is often gross, and the numbers are harsh. Otway had not much cultivated versification nor much replenished his mind with general knowledge. His principal power was in moving the passions, to which Dryden $ in his latter years left an illustrious testimony. He appears by some of his verses to have been a zealous royalist; and had what was in those times the common reward of loyalty; he lived and died neglected. *1681.
+1684 16826 In his preface to Fresnoy's Art of Painting. Dr. )
EDMUND WALLER was born on the third of March, 1605, at Cols
bill in Hertfordshire. His father was Robert Waller, Esq; of Agmondesham in Buckinghamshire, whose family was originally a branch of the Kentish Wallers; and his mother was the daughter of John Hampden, of Hampden in the same county, and sister to Hampden, the zealot of rebellion.
His father died while he was yet an infant, but left him a yearly income of three thousand five hundred pounds ; which, rating together the value of money and the customs of life, we may reckon more than equivalent to ten thousand at the present time.
He was educated, by the care of his mother, at Eaton ; and removed afterwards to King's College in Cambridge. He was sent to parliament in his eighteenth, if not in his sixteenth year, and frequented the court of James the First, where he heard a very remarkable conversation, which the writer of the Life prefixed to his Works, who seems to have been well informed of facts, though he may sometimes err in chronology, has delivered as indubitably certain :
“ He found Dr. Andrews, bishop of Winchester, and Dr. Neale, bishop of - Durham, standing behind his Majesty's chair; and there happened some" thing extraordinary,” continues this writer, “ in the conversation, those
prelates had with the king, on which Mr. Waller did often reflect. His
Majesty asked the bishops, “ My Lords, cannot I take my subjects money " when I want it, without all ihis formality of parliament?” The bishop of « Durham readily answered, God forbid, Sir, but you should : you are the " breath of our nostrils.' Whereupon the King turned and said to the bishop " of Winchester, “ Well, my Lord, what say you?" • Sir,' replied the bi
shop, I have no skill to judge of parliamentary cases.' The King answered, « « No put-offs, my Lord ; answer me presently.” « Then, Sir,' said he, 'I “think it is lawful for you to take my brother Neale's money; for he offers “ it.' Mr. Waller said, the company was pleased with this ariswer, and the “wit of it seemed to affect the King; for, a certain lord coming in soon af“ter, his Majesty cried out, “.Oh, my lord, they say you lig with my lady,"
No, Sir,' says his Lordship in confusion ; ' but I like her company, be«s cause she has so much wit.' " Why then," says the King,“ do you not “ lig with my Lord of Winchester there?"
Waller’s political and poetical life began nearly together. In his eighteenth year he wrote the poem that appears in his works, on the Prince's Escape
at “St. Andero :" a piece which justifies the observation made by one of his editors, that he attained, by a felicity like instinct, a style which perhaps will never be obsolete ; and that, “ were we to judge only by the wording, « we could not know what was wrote at twenty, and what at fourscore.” His versification was, in his first essay, such as it appears in his last performance. By the perusal of Fairfax's translation of Tasso, to which, as* Dryden relates, he confessed himself indebted for the smoothness of his numbers, and by his own nicety of observation, he had already formed such a system of metrical harmony as he never afterwards much needed, or much endeavoured to improve. Denham corrected his numbers by experience, and gained ground gradually upon the ruggedness of his age, but what was acquired by Denham was inherited by Waller.
ΤΙ next poem, of which the subject seems to fix the time, is supposed by Mr. Fenton to be the Address to the Queen, which he considers as congratulating her arival, in Waller's twentieth year. He is apparently mistaken; for the mention of the nations obligations to her frequent pregnancy, proves that it was written when she had brought many children. We have therefore no date of any other poetical production before that which the murder of the Duke of Buckingham occasioned; the steadiness with which the King received the news in the chapel, deserved indeed to be rescued from oblivion.
Neither of these pieces that seem to carry their own dates, could have been the sudden 'effusion of fancy. In the verses on the Prince's escape, the prediction of his marriage with the princess of France must have been written after the event ; in the other, the promises of the King's kindness to the descendants of Buckingham, which could not be properly praised till it had appeared by its effects, shew that time was taken for revision and improvement. It is not known that they were published till they appeared long afterwards with other poems.
Waller was not one of those idolators of praise who cultivate their minds at the expence of their fortunes. Rich as he was by inheritance, he took care early to grow richer, by marrying Mrs Banks, a great heiress in the city, whom the interest of the court was employed to obtain for Mr. Crofts. Having brought him a son, who died young, and a daughter, who was afterwards married to Mr. Dormer of Oxfordshire, she died in childbed, and left him a widower of about five and twenty, gay and wealthy, to please himself with another marriage.
Being too young to resist beauty, and probably too vain to think himself resistable, he fixed his heart, perhaps half fondly and half ambitiously, upon the Lady Dorothea Sidney, eldest daughter of the Earl of Leicester, whom he courted by all the poetry in which Sacharissa is celebrated; the name is derived from the Latin appellation of sugar, and implies, if it means any thing, a spiritless mildness, and dull good-nature, such as excites rather tenderness than esteem, and such as, though always treated with kindness, is never honoured or admired.
Yet * Preface to his Fables. Dr .).