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JOHN DENNIS in Remarks upon Mr. Pope's Translation of Homer, 1717
not seem to have soured his relations with Congreve, who for
his part remained on good terms with both men.
There is a Gentleman, the living Ornament of the Comick Scene,
who after he had for several Years entertain’d the Town, with that
Wit and Humour, and Art and Vivacity, which are so becoming of
the Comick Stage, produced at last a Play, which besides that it was
equal to most of the former in those pleasant Humours which the
Laughers so much require, had some certain Scenes in it, which were
writ with so much Grace and Delicacy, that they alone were worth
an entire Comedy. What was the Event? The Play was hiss’d by
Barbarous Fools in the Acting; and an impertinent Trifle was brought
on after it, which was acted with vast Applause. Which rais’d so
much Indignation in the foresaid Writer, that he quitted the Stage in
Disdain, and Comedy left it with him. And those nice great Persons,
whose squeamish Palates rejected Quails and Partridges, have pin’d
ever since in such a Dearth, that they greedily feed upon Bull-Beef.
Thus have I set before the Readers Eyes, in as short a Method as
I could, the cruel Treatment that so many extraordinary Men have
received from their Countrymen for these last hundred Years. If I
should now shift the Scene, and show all that Penury, and that Avarice
chang’d all at once to Riot and Profuseness, and more squander’d
away upon one Object, than would have satisfied the greater part of
those extraordinary Men, the Reader to whom this one Creature
should be altogether unknown, would fancy him a Prodigy of Art
and Nature, would believe that all the great Qualities of those
extraordinary Persons were centred in him alone; that he had the
Capacity and Profoundness of BACON, the fine Painting of
SPENSER, the Force and Sublimity, and Elevation of MILTON; the
fine Thinking and Elegance, and Versification of DRYDEN; the Fire
and Enthusiasm of LEE; the moving melting Tenderness of OTWAY;
the Pleasantry of BUTLER; the Wit and Satire of WYCHERLEY;
and the Humour and Spirit, and Art and Grace of
46. Richardson Pack in ‘Of STUDY’
From Miscellanies in Verse and Prose (London: 1719), p. 95.
Major Richardson Pack (1682–1728) was a veteran of the War
of the Spanish Succession. His Miscellanies were published by
Edmund Curll. The ‘Essays on Study and Conversation’ are in
the form of letters addressed to ‘D.C.’, his friend Captain David
CONGREVE of all the Moderns, seems to me, to have the rightest
Turn for Comedy. In all his Plays there is a great deal of Lively and
Uncommon Humour, and such as yet, for the most part, is a Picture
of true Life. Besides, he hath raised the Vein of Ridicule, and made
the Stage, which had been too much prostituted to the Mob, edifying
to Persons of the first Condition. And as his Fable is Diverting, so is
it wrought according to the strictest Rules.
47. Giles Jacob in The Poetical Register
From The Poetical Register: or, the Lives and Characters of
the English Dramatick Poets. With an Account of their Writings,
2 vols (London: 1719–20), I, pp. 41–6.
Giles Jacob (1686–1744) was a prolific compiler of books,
mostly legal works. Consequently he was lampooned as ‘mighty
J——b Blunderbus of Law’ in the 1728 Dunciad, III, 157, after
provoking Pope by adverse comments on Three Hours after
Marriage. The Preface to The Poetical Register acknowledges
Congreve’s ‘free and early Communication of what relates to
himself, as well as his kind Directions for the Composing of
this Work’ (sig. A7r).
Mr. Congreve, notwithstanding he has justly acquir’d the greatest
Reputation in Dramatick Writings, is so far from being puff’d up
with Vanity (a Failing in most Authors of Excellency) that he abounds
with Humility and good Nature. He does not shew so much the Poet
as the Gentleman; he is ambitious of few Praises, tho’ he deserves
numerous Encomiums; he is genteel and regular in Oeconomy,
unaffected in Behaviour, pleasing and informing in his Conversation,
and respectful to all. And as for his Talents in Dramatick Poetry, I
shall omit a Description of the Beauty of his Dialogue, Fineness of
his Humour, and other particulars; and confine what I have to say in
the smallest Compass of Poetical Expression.
As rising Sparkles in each Draught of Wine,
So Force of Wit appears in ev’ry Line.
Mr. Congreve has oblig’d the World with the following Plays.
I. The Old Batchelor, a Comedy, acted at the Theatre Royal, in
the Year 1693. Dedicated to the Right Honourable Charles Lord
Clifford. This Comedy was acted with a general Applause, and was
introduc’d into the World with several Copies of Verses, which it
justly merited, tho’ the Author was then not above nineteen Years of
Age; and it not only made him known to the Town, and a noble
Mecaenas, but was honour’d with the Presence of the beautiful and
virtuous Queen Mary: And Mr. Congreve, in return of Gratitude,
wrote one of the finest Pastorals we have in the English Language,
on the lamented Death of that incomparable Princess. There’s a
genteel and sprightly Wit in the Dialogue of this Play; and the
humorous Characters are agreeable to Nature, which can be said of
few other Dramatick Performances; yet the Criticks attack him for
the Incidents of Marriages in Masks, as being scarce ever done in
II. The Double Dealer; a Comedy, acted at the Theatre Royal,
1694. Dedicated to the Right Honourable Charles Montague, Esq;
one of the Lords of the Treasury. This Play did not meet with the
Encouragement as the former; neither had it equal Success with
T H E C R I T I C A L H E R I TA G E
any of Mr. Congreve’s latter Dramatick Pieces; but I never saw
any particular Criticism on its Defects; which gives me leave to
think its ill Reception proceeded more from a capricious Humour
of the Town, than any considerable Errors in the Composure of
III. Love for Love; a Comedy, acted at the Theatre in Little
Lincolns-Inn-Fields, by his Majesty’s Servants, 1695. Dedicated to
the Right Honourable Charles Earl of Dorset and Middlesex. This
Play was acted with very great Applause, at the opening of the New
House. There is abundance of Wit in it, and a great deal of fine and
diverting Humour; the Characters are justly distinguish’d, and the
Manners well mark’d. Some of the nicer Criticks find Fault with the
unravelling of the Plot, and the Conduct of Angelica in it: But in
spite of Envy, this Play must be allow’d to be one of the best of our
IV. The Mourning Bride; a Tragedy, acted at the Theatre in Little
Lincolns-Inn-Fields, by his Majesty’s Servants, 1697. Dedicated to
her Royal Highness the Princess Anne of Denmark. This Play had
the greatest Success of all Mr. Congreve’s Performances; and indeed
met with Encouragement inferior to no Dramatick piece, that has at
any time appear’d on the English Stage. The Excellency of this
Tragedy can in nothing be more particularly describ’d, than in Sir
Richard Blackmore’s Preface to his Poem, entitled, King Arthur, which
[Quotes No. 19 above.]
This is the Character given by the learned Doctor of Mr. Congreve’s
Mourning Bride; and I can, by no means, be of Opinion with some
pretending Criticks, that Sir Richard’s Aim, in this Commendation,
was more to depress the Praises of Mr. Congreve’s Predecessors, Mr.
Dryden, Mr. Otway, and Mr. Lee, than the raising of Mr. Congreve;
I look upon it to be meerly a Debt due to Merit, and pursu’d without
any further protracted Views.
V. The Way of the World; a Comedy acted at the Theatre in
Little Lincolns-Inn-Fields, by his Majesty’s Servants, Dedicated to
the Right Honourable Ralph Earl of Mountague. This Play, equal
to, if not the best of Mr. Congreve’s Comedies, unless it be his
Love for Love, had not the Success of most of his other
Performances; which shews there is still an uncertainty in hitting
the Humour of the Town: But tho’ at first it seem’d to be rejected,
it has been lately reviv’d at the Theatre in Drury-lane, and acted
several Nights with very great Applause.
VI. SEMELE; an Opera. This Performance was never represented
on the Theatre.
VII. The Judgment of PARIS; a Masque.
These Dramatick Performances of Mr. Congreve, were publish’d
with his other Poetical Writings, in three Volumes Octavo, 1710.
and the Criticks do him the Justice to confess, that the Faults which
may be found in them, are of a Nature that makes them very
disputable; and in which both his Predecessors and Cotemporaries
have offended. Whatever small Errors there may be in Mr. Congreve’s
Dramatick Pieces, he may be justly excus’d, when ’tis consider’d,
that he both began and left off to write when he was very Young; he
quitted writing at the Age of seven and twenty: And what might not
the World have expected from him, if he had continu’ed his
Dramatical Studies, when he was capable of writing an Old Batchelor
at Nineteen? and the great Mr. Dryden did not compleat his first
Performance till he was above the Age of Thirty.
He is the only Dramatick Poet now living, excellent for both
Comedy and Tragedy; the Plays he has written in both ways, being
very much applauded: And what Mr. Dennis has lately observ’d of
Mr. Congreve, is esteem’d, by most Persons, very just; That he left
the Stage early, and Comedy has quitted it with him.
48. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, ‘To
the Memory of Mr. Congreve’
From Essays and Poems and Simplicity, A Comedy, ed. Robert
Halsband and Isobel Grundy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977),
Congreve died on 19 January 1729, and Lady Mary’s poem
was probably written very soon after. She was 8 years old when
T H E C R I T I C A L H E R I TA G E
she first met Congreve; both he and her father were members
of the Kit-Cat Club. Spence’s Anecdotes No. 744 records Lady
Mary’s opinion that Congreve was the wittiest man she had
Farewell the best and loveliest of Mankind
Where Nature with a happy hand had joyn’d
The softest temper with the strongest mind,
In pain could counsel and could charm when blind.
In this Lewd Age when Honor is a Jest
He found a refuge in his Congreve’s breast,
Superior there, unsully’d, and entire;
And only could with the last breath expire.
His wit was never by his Malice stain’d,
No rival writer of his Verse complain’d,
For neither party drew a venal pen
To praise bad measures or to blast good men.
A Queen indeed he mourn’d, but such a Queen
Where Virtue mix’d with royal Blood was seen,
With equal merit grac’d each Scene of Life
An Humble Regent and Obedient Wife.
If in a Distant State blest Spirits know
The Scenes of Sorrow of a World below,
This little Tribute to thy Fame approve,
A Triffling Instance of a boundless Love.
49. Jonathan Swift in a letter to Viscount
Bolingbroke and Alexander Pope
From The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, ed. Sir Harold
Williams, 5 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), III, p. 329.