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for by his masculine strength, his width of range, and his rich command of expression. As a prose writer, his works of most abiding value are the “Essay on Dramatic Poesy," already mentioned, and the prefaces which he almost invariably added to his publications.

“Read all the prefaces of Dryden,

For these the critics much confide in,
Though only writ at first for filling,
To raise the volume's price a shilling."

These doggerel lines of Swist show the esteem in which the critical remarks on his art with which Dryden was wont to enrich his poems were held by his contemporaries. Occasionally they are found embedded in the very fulsome dedications with which, after the fashion of his age, he addressed his patrons, occasionally in explanatory or apologetic prefaces. Dryden's criticisms are often inconsistent; he wrote hastily, and was apt to put down whatever occurred to him at the moment, without reflecting that he had elsewhere expressed different opinions; but they are generally excellent, and his admiration of Shakespeare and Milton at a time when their praise was not, as now, in every one's mouth, shows his good taste and discernment. His style is clear, easy, and flexible; rather unmethodical, but quite free from the involutions and long-windedness which had almost invariably marked the prose of the preceding generations. “At no time that I can think of,” says Mr. Saintsbury, "was there any Englishman who, for a considerable period, was so far in advance of his contemporaries in almost every branch of literary work as Dryden was during the last twenty years of the seventeenth century. ... But his representative character in relation to the men of his time was almost more remarkable than his intellectual and artistic superiority to them. Other great men of letters, with perhaps the single exception of Voltaire, have usually, when they represented their time at all, represented but a small part of it. With Dryden this was not the case. Not only did the immense majority of men of letters in his later days directly

The Dramatists of the Restoration. 145 imitate him, but both then and earlier most literary Englishmen, even when they did not imitate him, worked on the same lines and pursued the same objects. The eighteen volumes of his works contain a faithful representation of the whole literary movement in England for the best part of half a century; and what is more, they contain the germs and indicate the direction of almost the whole literary movement for nearly a century to come.” Bearing in mind these remarks as to Dryden's representative character, the reader will readily infer, from what has been said as to Dryden's comedies, the leading features of the “ dramatists of the Restoration," as they are somewhat loosely styled. Of these, Wycherley, Congreve, Farquhar, and Vanbrugh were the chief, and Congreve the greatest. Charles Lamb, in his amusing and paradoxical essay “On the Artificial Comedy of the Last Century,"mentions a characteristic of Congreve's plays which applies also to the plays of all the other members of the group. “Judged morally, every character in these plays (he is speaking of the Restoration comedy generally?the few exceptions are only mistakes—is alike essentially vain and worthless. The great art of Congreve is especially shown in this, that he has entirely excluded from his scenes-some little generosities on the part of Angelica perhaps excepted-not only anything like a faultless character, but any pretensions to goodness or good feelings whatsoever. Whether he did this designedly or instinctively, the effect is as happy as the design (if design) was bold. I used to wonder at the strange power which his Way of the World,' in particular, possesses of interesting you all along in the pursuit of characters for whom you absolutely care nothing-for you neither hate nor love his personages-and I think it is owing to this very indifference for any that you endure the whole. He has spread a privation of moral light, I will call it, rather than by the ugly name of palpable darkness, over his creations; and his shadows flit berore you without distinction or prefer. ence. Had he introduced a good character, a single gush of moral feeling, a revulsion of the judgment to actual life and

actual duties, the impertinent Goshen would have only lighted to the discovery of deformities, which now are none because we think them none.” This is not intended for censure, yet what a censure it is! It is this moral darkness, this heartlessness, this cynical contempt for virtue, or rather unbelief in its existence, which, more than their frequent license of language, make the Restoration dramatists a synonym for unhealthy literature. That they had great talents, that their wit was often brilliant, is undeniable ; but though no literary history can altogether pass them over, a full account of them would be out of place here, and we shall accordingly make haste to escape from their polluted atmosphere.

Williain Wycherley, the coarsest, but not the least gifted, of the dramatists of the Restoration, was born in 1640, the son of a Shropshire gentleman of good family. Sent to France at the age of fifteen to receive his education, he there acquired the manners of a fine gentleman, and became a convert to Roman Catholicism. When the Restoration came, he once more turned Protestant, and became a member of Queen's College, Oxford. Leaving Oxford without taking a degree, he entered the Temple, where he soon distinguished himself among the gay young men about town by the elegance of his manners and by his strikingly handsome appearance. In 1672 his first play, “Love in a Wood,” was acted. His two most famous plays, the “Country Wife” and the “Piain Dealer," appeared in 1675 and 1677. Wycherley's life was a sad one enough. After basking for some years in the sunshine of royal favour, he fell into disgrace, and, imprisoned for debt, languished for seven years in the Fleet, “utterly forgotten, as it should seem, by the gay and lively circle of which he had been a distinguished ornament.” At length he owed his release to the favour of James II., who paid his debts and granted him a pension of £200 a year. Macaulay suspects that this munificence was the price of Wycherley's apostasy: it is certain, at any rate, that before his death Wycherley a second time joined the Church of Rome. In 1704 he published a folio volume of miscellaneous verses, very immoral and very worthless. He


William Congreve.

147 died in 1715 a wretched, worn-out rake, who had outlived his talents and accomplishments. The desire of literary fame was strong in him to the last, and he called in the aid of young Mr. Pope, the most rising genius of the time, to amend his dog. gerel verses. This Pope did with such unfailing rigour of criticism, such cruel minuteness, that poor Wycherley at length found his advice so unpalatable that he withdrew his papers from him. Coarse vigour and no small show of humour as well as wit are the great characteristics of Wycherley as a dramatist.

The names of Wycherley and Congreve are generally placed together, but there are wide differences between them, both as regards their natural capabilities and their mode of literary treatment. Wycherley was a child of the Restoration with its roistering coarseness; Congreve was rather a child of the Queen Anne period with its low moral ideals united to outward polish and refinement. Hence it is not surprising to find that the comedies of Congreve, if perhaps equally immoral, are not nearly so much disfigured by grossness as Wycherley's. Congreve was born in 1670 at Bardsey, near Leeds. His father, a scion of an ancient Staffordshire family, settled in Ireland soon after the Restoration, and there Congreve received his education. He afterwards came to London to study law; but he was more ambitious to cut a brilliant figure in fashionable society than to accumulate a store of forensic knowledge. His first work was a novel--one of those insipid and affected romances with which our ancestors were compelled to beguile their leisure in the absence of anything better. In 1693 his first comedy, “The Old Bachelor," was acted with great success. The merits of the gifted young author were at once recognised by the generous Montagu, then one of the Lords of the Treasury, who bestowed on him offices of which the salary was more important than the duties. In 1694 Congreve's second play, the “Double Dealer," was produced ; in 1695 came “Love for Love," and in 1697 the “Mourning Bride," a tragedy containing one famous passage, which Johnson was accustomed to praise extravagantly in conversation, and which, in his “Lives of the Poets,” he declares that he considered the

most poetical paragraph in the whole mass of English poetry. Here it is :

Alm. It was a fancied noise ; for all is hushed.
Leo. It bore the accent of a human voice.
Alm. It was thy fear, or else some transient wind

Whistling through hollows of this vaulted isle ;

We'll listen.
Leo. Hark!

Alm. No, all is hushed and still as death.—'Tis dreadful !
How reverend is the face of this tall pile,
Whose ancient pillars rear their marble heads,
To bear alost its arched and ponderous roof,
By its own weight made steadfast and immoveable,
Looking tranquillity! It strikes an awe
And terror on my aching sight; the tombs
And monumental caves of death look cold,
And shoot a chillness to my trembling heart.
Give me thy hand, and let me hear thy voice ;
Nay, quickly speak to me, and let me hear

Thy voice—my own affrights me with its echoes."
In 1700 Congreve produced what is perhaps his best play, the

Way of the World ;” it failed, for some reason or other, and the indignant author took his leave of the stage. He died in 1728. Congreve was a man both of wit and learning, but he was anxious to be distinguished rather as an accomplished gentleman than as a talented writer. When Voltaire called on him, he disclaimed the character of a poet, and declared that his plays were trifles produced in an idle hour. “If," said the great Frenchman, disgusted by what Johnson truly calls this despicable foppery, "you had been only a gentleman, I should not have come to visit you.” By his contemporaries Congreve was much looked up to.

Dryden gave him in large profusion the weighty tribute of his praise and respect; Pope dedicated to him his translation of the “Iliad ;" everywhere among young authors his esteem was courted and his advice sought. It is only as a dramatist that Congreve has any title to fame : his miscellaneous poems are singularly poor productions. “Congreve," says Hazlitt, a very acute if somewhat too partial critic, “is the most distinct from the

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