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portion of his rhymes, which have not always sufficient consonance, and from the admission of broken lines into his Solomon; but perhaps he thought, like Cowley, that hemistichs caght to be admitted into heroic poetry."
He had apparently such rectitude of judgement as secured him from every thing that approached to the ridiculous or absurd; but as lays operate in civil agency not to the excitement of virtue, but the expresssion of wickedness, so judgement in the operations of intellect can hinder faults, but not produce excellence. Prior is never low, nor very often sublime. It is said by Longinus of Euripides, that he forces himself sometimes into grandeur by violence of effort, as the lion kindles his fury by the lashes of his own tail. What ever Prior obtains above mediocrity seems the effort of struggle and of toil. He has many vigorouş bụt 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:
His diction, however, is more his own than that of any among the stic cessors of Dryden ; he borrows no lucky turns, or commodious modes of language from his predecessors. His phrases are original, but they are sometimes harsh; as he inherited no elegançes, none has he bequeathed. His expression has every mark of laborious study: the line seldom seems to have been formed at once; the words did not come till they were called, and were then put by constraint into their places, where they do duty, but do it sullenly. In his greater compositions there may be found more rigid staveliness than graceful dignity.
Of versification he was not negligent : what he received from Dryden he did not lose ; neither did he increase the difficulty of writing by unnecessary severity, but uses Triplets and Alexandrines without scruple. In his preface to Solomon he proposes some improvements, by extending the sense from onę couplet to another, with a variety of pauses. This he has attempted; but without success ; his interrupted lines are unpleasing, and his sense as less distinct is less striking.
He has altered the stanza of Spenser, as a house is altered by building another in its place of a different form. With how little resemblance he has formed his new stanza to that of his master, these speciments will shew.
To dare our British foes to open fight :
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-ånd 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 seldom 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; “ 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 reflecţion, he wanted not wisdom as a statesman, por elegance as a poet.
CONGR E V E.
TILLIAM 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 Williams Congreve, second son of Richard Congreve of Congreve and Stratton. He visited, once at least, the residence of his ancestors; and, I believe, more 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 inscription upon his monument be true,' he was born in 1672. For the place; it was said by himself, that he owed his nativity to England, and by evéry body else that he was born in lieland Southern mentioned him with sharp censure, as a man that meanly disowned his native country. The biographers assigned his nativity to Bardsa, near Leeds in Yorkshire, from the account given by himself, as they suppose, to Jacob.
To doubt whether a man of eminence has told the truth about his own birth, is, in appearance, to be very deficient in candour ; yet nobody can live long without knowing that falsehoods of convenience or vanity; falseþoods from which no evil immediately visible ensues, except the general degradation of human testimony, are very lightly uttered, and once uttered, are sullenly supported. Boileau, who desired to be thought a rigorous and 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 Congreve was born, he was educated first at Kilkenny, and afterwards at Dublin, his father having some military employment that stationed him in Ireland: but after having passed through the usual preparatory studies, as may be reasonably supposed, with great celerity and success, his 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 law 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 the 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 which 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 indis* cretion, suffered myself to be drawn in, to the prosecution of a difficult $ 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 composed 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. Mayowaring. 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 ficted 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. Congreve'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 fami: liar knowledge of many characters, and exact observation of the passing world; the difficulty therefore is, to conceive how this knowledge can be obtained by a boy
But if the Old Barchelor be more nearly examined, it will be found to be one of those comedies which may be made by a mind vigorous and acute, and furnished with comiek characters by the peruşal of other poets, without much actual commerce with mankind. The dialogue is one constant res ciprocation of conceits, or clash of wit, 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 endeåvours to reconcile the reader to that which found new friends among the audience. These apologies are always useless : “ de gustibus non est disputandum;" men may be convinced, but tliey 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 new.
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.