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PRIOR.

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To the close rock the frighted raven dies,
Soon as the rising eagle cuts the air :

The shaggy wolf unseen and trembling lies, **** When the hoarse roar proclaims the lion near.

« Ill-starr'd did we our forts and lines forsake, * To dåre bur British foes to open fight; P Our conquest 'we by stratagem should make

Our triumph had been founded in our flight. - Tis ours, by craft and by surprise to gain :

'Tis theirs to meet in arms, and battle in the plain.

By this new structure of his lines he has avoided difficulties; nor am I? sure that he has lost any of the power of Pleasing; but no longer imitates Spenser,

Some of his poems are written without regularity of measure ; for when he commenced poet, he had not recovered from our Pindarick infatuation: but he problably lived to be convinced, that the essence of verse is order and consonance,

His numbers are such as mere diligence may, attain; they seldom offend the ear, and seldom sooth it'; they commonly want airiness, lightness, and facility : what is smooth, is not soft. His verses always roll, but they sele dom flow.

A survey of the life and writings of Prior may exemplify a sentence which he doubtless understood well, when he read Horace at his uncle's;

Es the “ vessel long retains the scent which it first receives. In his private relaxation he revived the tavern, and in his amorous pedantry he exhibited the college. But on higher occasions and nobler subjects, when habit was overpowered by necessity of reflection, he wanted not wisdom as a statesman, Rur, elegance as a poet.

CON:

CONGRE V E.

W

1

*ILLIAM CONGREVE descended from a family in Stafford

shire, 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, mor places than one are still shewn, in groves and gardens, where he is related to have written his Old Batchelor,

Neither the time nor place of his birth are certainly known'; if the in scription upon his monument be true, he was born in 1872. For the place it was said by himself, that he owed his nativity to England, and by ever! body else that he was born in Ireland. Southern mentioned him with shar censure, as a man that meanly disowned his native country. The biogrt phers assigned his nativity to Bardsá, near Leeds in Yorkshire, from th account given by himself, as they suppose, to Jacob.

To doubt whether' a man of emirence has told the truth about his own birth, is, in appearance, to be very deficient in candour; yet nobody car live long without knowing that falsehoods of convenience or vanity, false hoods from whịch no evil immediately visible ensues, except the general de gradatiog of human testimony, are very lightly uttered, and once uttered are sullenly supported. Boileau, who desired to be thought a rigorous ar 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 Congreye was born, he was educated first at Kilkenny, and afterwards at Dublin, his father having some military employment that stad: oned him in Ireland: but after having passed through the usual preparatory študies, as may be reasonably supposed, with great celerity and success, bis father thought it proper to assign him a profession; by which something, proper might be gotten; and about the time of the Revolution sent him, at the age of sixteen, to study ław 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 dramatick labour was the Old Batchelor; of wbich he says, in his defence against Collier, “ that comedy was written, as several know,

some years before it was acted. When I wrote it, I had little thoughts of " the stage ; but did it, to amuse myself in a slow recovery from a fit of " sickness. Afterwards, through my indiscretion, it was seen, and in some " little time more it was acted; and I, through the remainder of my indisa cretion, şuffered myself to be drawn in, to the prosecution of a difficile "and thankless study, and to be involved in a perpetual war with knaves " and fools.”

There seems to be a strange affectation in authors of appearing to have done every thing by chance. The Old Batchelor was written for amusement, in the language of convalescence. Yet it is apparently compased with great elaborateness of dialogue, and incessant ambition of wit. The age of the writer considered, it is indeed a very wonderful performance; for, whenever written, it was acted (1693) when he was not more than twenty-one years old; and was then recommended by Mr. Dryden, Mr. Southern, and Mr. Maynwaring. Dryden said that he never had seen such a first play; but they found it deficient in some things requisite to the success of its exhibition, and by their greater experience fitted it for the stage. Southern used to relate of one comedy, probably of this, that when Congreve read it to the players, he pronounced it so wretchedly, that they had almost rejected it; But they were afterwards so well persuaded of its excellence, that, for half a year before it was acted, the manager allowed its author the privilege of the house.

Few plays have ever been so beneficial to the writer; for it procured him the patronage of Halifax, who immediately made him one of the commissioners for licensing coaches, and soon after gave him a place in the pipe-office, and another in the customs of six hundred pounds a year. Con greve's conversation must surely have been at least equally pleasing with his writings.

Such a comedy, written at such an age, requires some consideration. As the lighter species of dramatick poetry professes the imitation of common life, of real manners, and daily incidents, it apparently presupposes a familiar knowledge of many characters, and exact observation of the passing porld; the difficulty therefore is, to conceive how this knowledge, can be obtained by a boy,

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But if the Old Batchelor be more nearly examined, it will be found to be pne of those comedies which may be made by a mind vigorous and acuté, and furnished with comick characters by the perusal of other poets, with out much actual commerce with mankind. The dialogue is one constant reciprocation of conceits, or clash of ivit, in which nothing flows necessarily from the occasion, or is dictated by nature. The characters both of men, and women are either fictitious and artificial, as those of Heartwell and the Ladies ; or easy and common, as Wittol a tame idiot, Bluff a swaggering coward, and Fondlewife a jealous puritan; and the catastrophe arises from a mistake not very probably produced, by marrying a woman in a mask.

Yet this gay comedy, when all these deductions are made, will still remain the work of very powerful and fertile faculties: the dialogue is quick and sparkling, the incidents such, as seize the attention, and the wit so exuberant that it " o'er-informs its tenement."

Next year he gave another specimen of his abilities in The Double Dealer which was not received with equal kindness. He writes to his patron the lord Halifax a dedication, in which he endeavours to reconcile the reader to that which found new friends among the audience. These apologies ate always useless : “ de gustibus non est disputandum;" men may be convinced

, but they cannot be pleased, against their will. But though taste is obstinate, it is very variable, and time often prevails when arguments have failed.

Queen Mary conferred upon both these plays the honour of her presence ; and when she died, soon after Congreve testified his gratitude by a despicable effuson of elegiac pastoral; a composition in which all is unnatural, and yet nothing is nex.

In another year (1695) his prolifick pen produced Love for Love; a comedy of nearer alliance to life, and exhibiting more real manners, than either of the former. The character of Foresight was then.common.

Dryden calculated nativities; both Cromwell and king William had their lucky days; and Shaftesbury himself, though he had no religion, was said to regard predictions, The Sailor is not accounted very natural, but he is very pleasant.

With this play was opened the new Theatre, under the direction of Betterton the tragedian; where he exhibited two years afterwards (1697) The Mourning Bride, a tragedy, so written as to shew him sufficiently qualified for either kind of dramatic poetry.

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 national characters. This, however, was received with more benevolence than any other of his works, and still continues to be acted and applauded.

But

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 bad passed his twentyfifth 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 enquiry. 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 viclent clamour against the drama, which they considered as an entertaininent not law ful 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 poels and players were left at quiet ; for to have molesred them would have had the appearance of tendency to puritanical malignity.

This danger, however, was worn away by time; and Collier, a fierce and implacable Nonjuror, knew that an attack upon the theatre would neve: make him suspected for a puritan ; he therefore (1698) published A short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage, I believe with no other motive than religious 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 sarcastick; and with all those power3 exalted and invigorated by just confidence in his cause.

Thus qualified, and thus incited, he walked out to battle, and assailed at once most of the living writers, from Dryden to Durfey. His onset was violent: those passages, wbich while they scoad single had passed with little notice, when they were accumulated and exposed together, 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 publick charge.

Nothing now remained for the poets but to resist or fly. Dryden's conscience or his prudence, angry as he was, with-heid him from the conflict : Congreve and Vanbrugh attempted answers. Congreve, a very young man, elated with success, and impatient of censure, assumed an air of confidence and security. His chief artifice of controversy is to retort upon his ad. versary his own words ; he is very angry, and, hoping to conquer Collier with his own weapons, allows himself the use of every tera of contumely and of contemp: ; but he has the sword without the arm of Scanderbeg; he has his antagonist's coarseness, but not his strength. Collier replied; for contest was his delight, he was not to be frighted from his purpose or his prey. Vol. I. Z 2

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