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the liveliness of his dialogue. The poet speaks out of the mouths of all his dunces and coxcombs, and makes them describe themselves with a good sense and acuteness which puts them on a level with the wits and heroes. We will give two instances, the first which occur to us, from the Country Wife. There are in the world fools who find the society of old friends insipid, and who are always running after new companions. Such a character is a fair subject for comedy. But nothing can be more absurd than to introduce a man of this sort saying to his comrade, “I can deny you nothing: for though I have known thee a great while, never go if I do not love thee as well as a new acquaintance.” That town-wits, again, have always been rather a heartless class, is true. But none of them, we will answer for it, ever said to a young lady to whom he was making love, “We wits rail and make love often, but to show our parts: as we have no affections, so we have no malice.” Wycherley's plays are said to have been the produce of long and patient labour. The epithet of “slow" was early given to him by Rochester, and was frequently repeated. In truth his mind, unless we are greatly mistaken, was naturally a very meagre soil, and was forced only by great labour and outlay to bear fruit which, after all, was not of the highest flavour. He has scarcely more claim to originality than Terence. It is not too much to say that there is hardly any thing of the least value in his plays of which the hint is not to be sound elsewhere. The best scenes in the Gentleman Dancing-Master were suggested by Calderon's Maestro de Danzar, not by any means one of the happiest comedies of the great Castilian poet. The Country Wife is borrowed from the Ecole des Maris and the Ecole des Femmes. The groundwork of the Plain Dealer is taken from the Misanthrope of Molière. One whole scene is almost translated from the Critique de l’Ecole des Femmes. Fidelia is Shakspeare's Viola stolen, and

marred in the stealing; and the Widow Blackacre,
beyond comparison Wycherley's best comic character,
is the Countess in Racine's Plaideurs, talking the
jargon of English instead of that of French chicane.
The only thing original about Wycherley, the only
thing which he could furnish from his own mind in
inexhaustible abundance, was profligacy. It is curious
to observe how every thing that he touched, however
pure and noble, took in an instant the colour of his
own mind. Compare the Ecole des Femmes with
the Country Wife. Agnes is a simple and amiable
girl, whose heart is indeed full of love, but of love
sanctioned by honour, morality, and religion. Her
natural talents are great. They have been hidden,
and, as it might appear, destroyed by an education
elaborately bad. But they are called forth into full
energy by a virtuous passion. Her lover, while he
adores her beauty, is too honest a man to abuse the
confiding tenderness of a creature so charming and
inexperienced. Wycherley takes this plot into his
hands; and forthwith this sweet and graceful court-
ship becomes a licentious intrigue of the lowest and
least sentimental kind, between an impudent London
rake and the idiot wife of a country squire. We will
not go into details. In truth, Wycherley's indecency
is protected against the critics as a skunk is protected
against the hunters. It is safe, because it is too filthy
to handle, and too noisome even to approach.
It is the same with the Plain Dealer. How careful
has Shakspeare been in Twelfth Night to preserve
the dignity and delicacy of Viola under her disguise!
Even when wearing a page's doublet and hose, she is
never mixed up with any transaction which the most
fastidious mind could regard as leaving a stain on
her. She is employed by the Duke on an embassy
of love to Olivia, but on an embassy of the most
honourable kind. Wycherley borrows Viola; and
Viola forthwith becomes a pandar of the basest sort.
But the character of Manly is the best illustration of


our meaning. Moliere exhibited in his misanthrope a pure and noble mind, which had been sorely vexed by the sight of perfidy and malevolence, disguised under the forms of politeness. As every extreme naturally generates its contrary, Alceste adopts a standard of good and evil directly opposed to that of the society which surrounds him. Courtesy seems to him a vice; and those stern virtues which are neglected by the fops and coquettes of Paris become too exclusively the objects of his veneration. He is often to blame; he is often ridiculous; but he is always a good man; and the feeling which he inspires is regret that a person so estimable should be so unamiable. Wycherley borrowed Alceste, and turned him,-we quote the words of so lenient a critic as Mr. Leigh Hunt, — into “a ferocious sensualist, who believed himself as great a rascal as he thought every body else.” The surliness of Moliere's hero is copied and caricatured. But the most nauseous libertinism and the most dastardly fraud are substituted for the purity and integrity of the original. And, to make the whole complete, Wycherley does not seem to have been aware that he was not drawing the portrait of an eminently honest man. So depraved was his moral taste that, while he firmly believed that he was producing a picture of virtue too exalted for the commerce of this world, he was really delineating the greatest rascal that is to be found, even in his own writings. We pass a very severe censure on Wycherley, when we say that it is a relief to turn from him to Congreve. Congreve's writings, indeed, are by no means pure; nor was he, as far as we are able to judge, a warm-hearted or high-minded man. Yet, in coming to him, we feel that the worst is over, that we are one remove further from the Restoration, that we are past the Nadir of national taste and morality. WILLIAM CoNGREVE was born in 1670, at Bardsey, in the neighbourhood of Leeds. His father, a younger

son of a very ancient Staffordshire family, had distinguished himself among the cavaliers in the civil war, was set down after the Restoration for the Order of the Royal Oak, and subsequently settled in Ireland, under the patronage of the Earl of Burlington. Congreve passed his childhood and youth in Ireland. He was sent to school at Kilkenny, and thence went to the University of Dublin. His learning does great honour to his instructors. From his writings it appears, not only that he was well acquainted with Latin literature, but that his knowledge of the Greek poets was such as was not, in his time, common even in a college. When he had completed his academical studies, he was sent to London to study the law, and was entered of the Middle Temple. He troubled himself, however, very little about pleading or conveyancing, and gave himself up to literature and society. Two kinds of ambition early took possession of his mind, and often pulled it in opposite directions. He was conscious of great fertility of thought and power of ingenious combination. His lively conversation, his polished manners, and his highly respectable connections, had obtained for him ready access to the best company. He longed to be a great writer. He longed to be a man of fashion. Either object was within his reach. But could he secure both P Was there not something vulgar in letters, something inconsistent with the easy apathetic graces of a man of the mode? Was it aristocratical to be confounded with creatures who lived in the cocklofts of Grub Street, to bargain with publishers, to hurry printers' devils and be hurried by them, to squabble with managers, to be applauded or hissed by pit, boxes, and galleries? Could he forego the renown of being the first wit of his age? Could he attain that renown without sullying what he valued quite as much, his character for gentility? The history of his life is the history of a conflict between D 2

these two impulses. In his youth the desire of literary fame had the mastery; but soon the meaner ambition overpowered the higher, and obtained supreme dominion over his mind. His first work, a novel of no great value, he published under the assumed name of Cleophil. His second was the Old Bachelor, acted in 1693, a play inferior indeed to his other comedies, but, in its own line, inferior to them alone. The plot is equally destitute of interest and of probability. The characters are either not distinguishable, or are distinguished only by peculiarities of the most glaring kind. But the dialogue is resplendent with wit and eloquence, which indeed are so abundant that the fool comes in for an ample share, and yet preserves a certain colloquial air, a certain indescribable ease, of which Wycherley had given no example, and which Sheridan in vain attempted to imitate. The author, divided between pride and shame, pride at having written a good play, and shame at having done an ungentlemanlike thing, pretended that he had merely scribbled a few scenes for his own amusement, and affected to yield unwillingly to the importunities of those who pressed him to try his fortune on the stage. The Old Bachelor was seen in manuscript by Dryden, one of whose best qualities was a hearty and generous admiration for the talents of others. He declared that he had never read such a first play, and lent his services to bring it into a form fit for representation. Nothing was wanted to the success of the piece. It was so cast as to bring into play all the comic talent, and to exhibit on the boards in one view all the beauty, which Drury Lane Theatre, then the only theatre in London, could assemble. The result was a complete triumph; and the author was gratified with rewards more substantial than the applauses of the pit. Montagu, then a lord of the treasury, immediately gave him a place, and, in a short time, added the reversion of another place of much greater value,

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