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As to a dying lamp, one drop of oil
Gives a new blaze, and makes it live awhile;
Will you vouchsafe your presence? You, that were given
To be our Atlas, and support our heaven?
Will you, dread sir, your precious moments lose
To grace the first endeavours of our muse ?
This with your character most aptly suits,
Even Heaven itself is pleas'd with the first-fruits.
*This refers to the author's purpose of retirement, at that time when his Majesty recommended this plot to him.
+ He looking up, and seeing the King, starts.
He kneels. He rises.
HAVING been desired by a lady, who has more than ordinary favour for this play, though in other things very judicious, to make a song, and insert it in that scene where you may now read it; I found it more difficult to disobey the commands of this excellent person, than to obtain of myself to write any more upon subjects of this nature.
This occasioned the revising of this piece, upon which I had not cast my eyes since it was first printed; and finding there some very obvious faults (with respect to their judgments, who have been pleased to applaud it), I could not well imagine how they came to escape my last hand; unless poetic rage, or, in a more humble phrase, heat of fancy, will not, at the same time, admit the calm temper of judgment; or that, being importuned by those, for whose benefit this play was intended, I was even forced to expose it, before it was fit to be seen in such good company.
This refers only to the dress; for certainly the plot needs no apology; it was taken out of Don Pedro Calderon*, a celebrated Spanish author, the nation of the world who are the happiest in the force and delicacy of their inventions, and recommended to me by his sacred Majesty, as an excellent design; whose judgment is no more to be doubted, than his commands to
* Calderon de la Barca was a Spanish officer, who, after having signalised himself in the military profession, quitted it for the ecclesiastical, and then commenced dramatic writer. His plays make nine volumes in 4to. and several of them have been adapted to the English stage. He flourished about the year 1640.
be disobeyed and therefore it might be a great presumption in me, to enter my sentiments, with his royal suffrage: but as secretaries of state subscribe their names to the mandates of their prince, so at the bottom of the leaf I take the boldness to sign my opinion, that this is incomparably the best plot that I ever met with; and yet, if I may be allowed to do myself justice, I might acquaint the readers, that there are several alterations in the copy, which do not disgrace the original.
I confess, 'tis something new, that trifles of this nature should have a second edition; but if in truth this essay be at present more correct, I have then found an easy way to gratify their civility, who have been pleased to indulge the errors in the former impressions.
If they who have formerly seen or read this play, should not perceive the amendments, then I have touched the point; since the chiefest art in writing is the concealing of art; and they who discover 'em, and are pleased with them, are indebted only to themselves for their new satisfaction; since their former favour to our negligent muses has occasion'd their appearing again in a more studied dress: and certainly those labours are not ungrateful, with which the writers and readers are both pleased.
And since I am upon the subject of novelties, I take the boldness to advertise the reader, that, though it be unusual, I have in a distinct column prefix'd the several characters of the most eminent persons in the play; that being acquainted with them at his first setting out, he may the better judge how they are carried on in the whole composition; for plays being moral pictures, their chiefest perfections consist in the force and congruity of passions and humours, which are the features and complexion of our minds; and I cannot choose but hope, that he will approve the ingenuity of this design, though possibly he may dislike the painting.
As for those who have been so angry with this innocent piece, not guilty of so much as that current wit, obscenity, and profaneness, these are to let them know
that though the author converses but with few, he writes to all; and aiming as well at the delight as profit of his readers, if there be any amongst them, who are pleased to enter their haggard muses at so mean a quarry, they may freely use their poetic licence; for he pretends not to any royalty on the mount of Parnassus and I dare answer for him, that he will sing no more, till he comes into that choir, where there is room enough for all; and such, he presumes, is the good breeding of these critics, that they will not be so unmannerly as to crowd him there. FAREWELL.