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"Love's Kingdom."---P. 437.
This was a play of Flecknoe's. The full title is, "Love's Kingdom, a Pastoral Tragi-Comedy; not as it was acted at the theatre, near Lincoln's-Inn, but as it was written, and since corrected by Richard Flecknoe; with a short treatise of the English stage, &c. by the same author. London, printed by R. Wood for the author, 1664."
The author's account of this piece, in the advertisement, is, "For the plot, it is neat and handsome, and the language soft and gentle, suitable to the persons who speak; neither on the ground, nor in the clouds, but just like the stage, somewhat elevated above the common. In neither no stiffness, and, I hope, no impertinence nor extravagance, into which your young writers are too apt to run, who, whilst they know not well what to do, and are anxious to do enough, most commonly overdo."
Spoken by Venus from the Clouds.
If ever you have heard of Venus' name,
May then, fair ladies, you
As by your noble favours you declare
How much you friends unto "Love's Kingdom" are;
Of which yourselves compose so great a part,
In your fair eyes, and in your loving heart.
This specimen of "Love's Ki om" is extracted from the "Censura Literaria," No. IX.; to which publication it was communicated by Mr Preston of Dublin. To "Love's Kingdom" Flecknoe subjoined a Discourse on the English Stage, which is sometimes quoted as authority.
Let Virtuosos in five years be writ,
Yet not one thought accuse thy toil of wit.-P. 438.
Shadwell's comedy called "The Virtuoso," was first acted in 1676 with great applause. It is by no means destitute of merit; though, as in all his other pieces, it is to be found rather in the walk of coarse humour than of elegance, or wit.
The character of Sir Nicholas Gimcrack, the Virtuoso, whose time was spent in discoveries, although he had never invented any thing so useful as an engine to pare a cream cheese with, is very ludicrous. I cannot, however, but notice, that some of the discoveries, which are ridiculed with so much humour, as the composition of various kinds of air, for example, have been realized by the philosophers of this age. As the whole piece seems intended as a satire on the researches of the Royal Society, its scope could not be very pleasing to Dryden, a zealous member of that learned body; even if he could have forgiven some hits levelled against him personally in the preface and the epilogue, which have been quoted in the introduction to Mac-Flecknoe.
Let gentle George in triumph tread the stage,
Let Cully, Cockwood, Fopling, charm the pit.-P. 438.
The plays of Sir George Etherege were much admired during the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century, till the refinement of taste condemned their indecency and immorality. Sir George himself was a courtier of the first rank in the gay court of Charles II. Our author has addressed an epistle to him, when he was Resident at Ratisbon. Etherege followed King James to France, according to one account; but others say he was killed at Ratisbon by a fall down stairs, after he had been drinking freely. Sir Fopling Flutter, Dorimant, and Loveit, are characters in his well-known comedy, "The Man of Mode." Cully and Cockwood occur in "Love in a Tub," another of his plays.
But let no alien Sedley interpose,
To lard with wit thy hungry Epsom prose.-P. 438.
The first edition bears Sydney, which is evidently a mistake. Shadwell's comedy of "Epsom Wells" was very successful; which was imputed by his enemies to the assistance he received from
the witty Sir Charles Sedley. This he attempts to refute in the following lines of the second prologue, spoken when the piece was represented before the king and queen at Whitehall:
If this for him had been by others done,
But it is nevertheless certain, that Shadwell acknowledges obligations of the nature supposed, in the Dedication of the "True Widow" to Sir Charles Sedley. "No success whatever," he there says, "could have made me alter my opinion of this comedy, which had the benefit of your correction and alteration, and the honour of your approbation. And I heartily wish you had given yourself the trouble to have reviewed all my plays, as they came inaccurately, and in haste, from my hands: it would have been more to my advantage than the assistance of Scipio and Lelius was to Terence; and I should have thought it at least as much to my honour, since, by the effects, I find I cannot but esteem you as much above both of them in wit, as either of them was above you in place of the state."
There was a general opinion current, that Shadwell received assistance in his most successful pieces. A libel of the times, the reference to which I have mislaid, mentions with contempt the dulness of his "unassisted scenes."
Sir Formal, though unsought, attends thy quill,
Sir Formal Trifle is a florid conceited orator in "The Virtuoso," whose character is drawn and brought out with no inconsiderable portion of humour. Dryden intimates, that his coxcomical inflated style attends Shadwell himself upon the most serious occasions, and particularly in his dedications to the Duke and Duchess of Newcastle, to whom he has inscribed several of his plays. Hence Dryden, in the "Vindication of the Duke of Guise," calls him the Northern Dedicator. The truth is, that Shadwell's prose was inflated and embarrassed; and his adulation comes aukwardly from him, as appears from the opening of the dedication of that very play, "The Virtuoso," to the Duke of Newcastle.
"So long as your grace persists in obliging, I must go on in acknowledging; nor can I let any opportunity pass of telling the world how much I am favoured by you, or any occasion slip of assuring your grace, that all the actions of my life shall be dedicated to your service; who, by your noble patronage, your generosity and kindness, and your continual bounty, have made me wholly your creature: nor can I forbear to declare, that I am
more obliged to your grace than to all mankind. And my misfortune is, I can make no other return, but a declaration of my grateful attachment."
Nor let false friends seduce thy mind to fame,
Shadwell, as appears from many passages of his prologues and prefaces, and as we have had repeated occasion to notice, affected to consider Ben Jonson as the object of his emulation. There were indeed many points of resemblance between them, both as authors and men. In their habits, a life spent in taverns, and in their persons, huge corpulence, probably acquired by habits of sensual indulgence, much coarseness of manners, and an ungentlemanly vulgarity of dialect, seem to have distinguished both the original and the imitator. As a dramatist, although Shadwell falls short of the learned vigour and deep erudition of Ben Jonson, his dry hard comic painting entitles him to be considered as an inferior artist of the same school. Dryden more particularly resented Shadwell's reiterated and affected praises of Jonson, because he had himself censured that writer in the epilogue to the "Conquest of Granada," and in the critical defence of that poem. Hence he considered Shadwell's ranking himself under Jonson's banners as a sort of personal defiance. But Dryden more particularly alludes to the following ebullition of admiration, which occurs in the epilogue to Shadwell's "Humorists:"
The mighty prince of poets, learned Ben,
That there each humorist himself might view.
He feared no pimp, no pick-pocket, or drab;
And with great wit and judgment made them good.
By which with violence 'tis one way inclined;
See Vol. IV. p. 211, &c.
It makes our actions lean on one side still,
He only knew and represented right.
Thus none, but mighty Jonson, e'er could write,
Dryden, in the text, turns the idea of bias into ridicule; for its original application being to the leaden weight disposed in the centre of a bowl, which inclines its course in rolling, he alleges, that the only bias which can influence Shadwell is his predominant stupidity.
Leave writing plays, and chuse for thy command,
There thou may'st wings display, and altars raise,
And torture one poor word ten thousand ways.---P. 440.
Among other efforts of gentle dulness, may be noticed the singular fashion which prevailed during the earlier period of the 17th century, of writing in such changes of measure, that by the different length and arrangement of the lines, the poem was made to resemble an egg, an altar, a pair of wings, a cross, or some other fanciful figure. This laborious kind of trifling was much akin to the anagrams and acrostics. Those who are curious to read, or rather to see, a specimen of such whimsies, (for they are rather addressed to the eye than the understanding,) may find a dirge of Mr George Withers, arranged into the figure of a rhomboid, in Ellis's "Specimens of the Early English Poets," Vol. III. p. 100. They are mentioned with anagrams, acrostics, rebuses, and other exercises of false wit, in the "Spectator," No. 63.
END OF THE TENTH VOLUME.
Printed by James Ballantyne & Co.