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Narcissa. Why so, Sir?
Sir Novelty. Then every one will imagine I have been tired with it before: or that I am jealous who talks to who in the King's box. And thus, Madam, do I take more pains to preserve a public reputation, than ever any lady took, after the small-pox, to recover her complexion.
Narcissa. Well, but to the point. What have you to say to me, Sir Novelty?
Young Worthy. Aside. Now does she expect some compliment shall out-flatter her glass.
Sir Novelty. To you, Madam ?-Why, I have been saying all this to you.
Narcissa. To what end, Sir?
Sir Novelty. Why, all this I have done for your sake.
Narcissa. What kindness is it to me?
Sir Novelty. Why, Madam, don't you think it more glory to be beloved by one eminently particular person, whom all the town knows and talks of, than to be adored by five hundred dull souls that have lived incognito?
Narcissa. That, I must confess, is a prevailing ar gument; but still you ha'n't told me why you love
Young Worthy. That's a task he has left for me, Madam.
Sir Novelty. 'Tis a province I never undertake, I
must confess I think 'tis sufficient, if I tell a lady why she should love me.
Narcissa. Aside. Hang him! he 's too conceited: he's so in love with himself, he won't allow a woman the bare comfort of a cold compliment. Aloud. Well, Mr. Worthy.
Young Worthy. Why, Madam, I have observed several particular qualities in your Ladyship, that I have perfectly adored you for; as the majestic toss of your head;-your obliging low courtesy ;-your satirical smile; your blushing laugh ;-your demure look ;— the careless tie of your hood;-the genteel flirt of your fan ;-the designed accident in your letting it fall, and your agreeable manner of receiving it from him that takes it up.
What he speaks, she imitates in dumb show.
They both offer to take up her fan, and, in striving, Young WORTHY pushes Sir NOVELTY on his back.
Sir Novelty. Adjusting himself. I hope your lady
ship will excuse my disorder, Madam.
What makes CONGREVE hold so high a place among comic dramatists is not so much that naturalness which is the distinguishing characteristic of his school, nor his insight, nor his breadth; it is his style that gives him his preeminence, that subtle turn and heightening' which makes the sentences of his dialogue shine like well-faceted precious stones. The polish and elaboration he gives would be excessive were his wit less hard and pure and bright. Congreve has numerous obvious drawbacks, his outlook is not a broad one upon human nature, but upon the town' only-his sympathies are narrow, his morality on the wrong side of tolerable. A more technical objection to him as a playwright is that there is too much ingenuity, too much complexity, and too little true art in his plots; they do not move us, and they hardly interest us. Nevertheless, there are qualifications in Congreve for a great, almost the greatest, place in our literature as a comic dramatist besides this one of consummate wit and consummate style. One of these is his marvellous faculty of characterization. Mirabell, the fine gentleman lover, is not the mere walking gentleman' of most playwrights, but manly, lover-like, readyspoken, and most witty on occasion. Lady Wishfort, Mincing, Foible, Lord Froth, the coxcomb, and that most entertaining of sots and country louts, Sir Wilfull Witwoud, are all personages with the stamp of humanity upon them, and Millamant is by common consent the most delightful of fine ladies that the world has ever known. Congreve's supremacy in the domain of comedy is to a great extent due to this, that he was an accomplished fine gentleman in the first place, and an accomplished littérateur in the second. Voltaire is said to have snubbed him for taking credit to himself in the first character only, and subsequent critics have approved the snub. Yet it may have been no coxcombry at all in Congreve, but only a true gentleman's modesty, and equivalent to saying, 'Do not praise me for my literary talent when I do but repeat in my plays the wit and manners of the society I live in, and in my verse I only reproduce the ease and epigrams of the wits, my friends.' Of course he did much more than this. No society talk was ever so clever as that of Congreve's dramatis person: his very dullards are brighter in speech than most authors' wits, and no fine lady, even at the Court of Queen Anne, could ever have been so airy, so graceful, so wayward, so brilliant, and so charming as Millamant.