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The cause of Congreve was not tenable; whatever glosses he might use for the defence or palliation of single passages, the general tenour and tendency of his plays must always be condemned. It is acknowledged, with universal conviction, that the perusal of his works will make no man better;
and that their ultimate effect is to represent pleasure in alliance with vice,
and to relax those obligations by which life ought to be regulated. The stage found other advocates, and the dispute was protracted through ten years; but at last Comedy grew more modest ; and Collier lived to see the reward of his labour in the reformation of the theatre." Of the powers by which this important victory was atchieved, a quotation, from Love for Love, and the remark upon it, may afford a specimen. Sir Samps. “Sampson's a very good name; for your Sampsons were “strong dogs from the beginning.” Angel. “Have a care—if you remember, the strchgest Sampson of your “name pull'd an old house over his head at last. - ** Herc you have the Sacred History bullesqued; and Sampson once more “brought into the house of Dagon, to make sport for the Philistines 1" Congreve's last play was The JP'ay of the World; which, though as he hints in his dedication it was written with great labour and much thought, was received with so little favour, that, being in a high degree offended and disgusted, he resolved to commit his quiet and his fame no more to the caprices of an audience. From this time his life ceased to be publick; he lived for himself and for his friends; and among his friends was able to name every man of his time whom wit and elegance had raised to reputation. It may be therefore reasonably supposed that his manners were polite, and his conversation pleasing: He seems not to have taken much pleasure in writing, as he contributed nothing to the Spectator, and only one paper to the Tatler, though published by men with whom he might be supposed willing to associate; and though he lived many years after the publication of his Miscellaneous Poems, yet he added nothing to them, but lived on in literary indolence ; engaged in no controversy, contending with no rival, neither soliciting flattery by publick commendations, nor provoking enmity by malignant criticism, but passing his time among the great and splendid, in the placid enjoyment of his fame and fortune. Having owed his fortune to Halifax, he continued always of his patron's party, but, as it seems, without violence or acrimony; and his firmness was naturally-esteemed, as his abilities were reverenced. His security the efore was never violated; and when, upon the extrosion of the Whigs, some intercession was used lest Congreve should be displaced, the call of Oxford made this answer: . * Non obtusa adeo restams rectora Poeni. " . ... “’Nectam aversus equos Tyria scljungi, ab urbe.”
He that was thus honoured by the adverse party, might naturally expect to be advanced when his friends returned to power, and he was accordingly made secretary for the island of Jamaica; a place, I suppose, without trust or care, but which with his post in the customs, is said to have afforded him twelve hundred pounds a year. His honours were yet far greater than his profits. Every writer mentioned him with respect: and, among other testimonies to his merit, Steele made him the pation of his Miscellany, and Pope inscribed to him his translation of the Iliad. - But he treated the Muses which ingratitude; for, having long conversed familiarly with the great, he wished to be considered rather as a man of fashion than of wit, and, when he received a visit from Voltaire, disgusted him by the despicable foppery of desiring to be considered not as an author but a gentleman; to which the Frenchman replied, “ that if he had been “ only a gentleman, he should not have come to visit him.” - - - t In his retirement he may be supposed to have applied himself to books: for he discovers more literature than the poets have commonly attained. But his studies were in his latter days obstructed by cataracts in his eyes, which at last terminated in blindness. This melancholy state was aggravated by the gout, for which he sought relief by a journey to Bath; but being overturned in his chariot, complained from that time of a pain in his side, and died at his house in Surrey-street in the Strand, Jan. 29, 1728-9. Having lain in state in the Jerusalem-chamber, he was buried in Westminster-abbey, where a monument is erected to his memory by Henrietta duchess of Marlborough, to whom, for reasons either not known or not mentioned, he bequeathed a legacy of about ten thousand pounds ; the accumulation of attentive parsimony, which, though to her superfluous and useless, might have given great assist once to the ancient family from which he descended, at that time by the imprudence of his relation reduced to difficulties and distress. CONGREVE has merit of the highest kind; he is an original writer, who borrowed neither the models of his plot, nor the manner of his dialogne. Of his plays I cannot speak distinctly ; for since 1 inspected thern many years have passed ; but what remains upon memory is, that his’ characters are commonly fictitious and artificial, with very little of nature," and not much of life. He formed a peculiar idea of comic excellence, which he supposed to consist in gay remarks and unexpected answers; but that which he endeavoured, he seldom failed of performing. His scenes exhibit not much of humour, image, y, or passion: his personages are a kind of intellectual gladiators; every sentence is to ward or strike; the contest of smartness is never intermitted; his wit is a meteor playing to and fro with alternate coruscations. His coinedies have therefore, in some degree, the operation of tragedies ; they surprise rather than divert, and raise admiration oftener than merriment. But they are the works of a mind replete with images, and quick in combination.
Of his miscellaneous poetry, I cannot say any thing very favourable. The powers of Congreve seem to desert him when he leaves the #. as Antaeus was no longer strong than when he could touch the ground. It cannot be chserved without wonder, that a mind so vigorous and fertile in dramatick compositions should on any other occasion discover nothing but impotence and poverty. He has in these little pieces neither elevation of fancy, selection of language, nor skill in versification: yet, if I were required to select from the whole mass of English poetry the most poetical paragraph, I know not what I could prefer to an exclamation in The Moum. ing Bride. - - - - - - - - ALMER1a. It was a fancy'd noise; for all is hush'd, Lzososa. It bore the accent of a human voice. A1 Mora. It was thy fear, or else some transient wind Whistling thro' hollows of this vaulted isle; We'll listen— - - Looxosa. Hark! AIMER: A. No, all is hush'd, and still as death.—'Tis dreadful! How reverend is the face of this tall pile, - - Whose ancient pillars rear their marble heads, - To bear aloft its arch'd and ponderous roof, By its own weight made stedfast and immoveable, Looking tranquiliity . It strikes an awe And terror on my aching sight; the tombs And monumental caves of death look cold, And shoot a chilness to my trembling heart. Give me thy hand, and let me hearthy voice; Nay, quickly speak to me, and let me hear Thy voice—my own affrights me with its echoes. He who reads these lines enjoys for a moment the powers of a poet; he feels what he remembers to have felt before; but he feels it with great increase of sensibility; he recognizes a familiar image, but meets it again amplified and expanded, embellished with beauty, and enlarged with majesty. Yet could the author, who appears here to have enjoy'd the confidence of rature, lament the death of queen Mary in lines like these : The rocks are cleft, and new descending rills, Furrow the brows of all th’ impending hills. The water-gods to floods their rivulets turn, And each, with streaming eyes, supplies his wanting urn, The Fauns forsake the woods, the Nymphs the grove,
And round the plain in sad distraction rove:
in prickly brakes their tender limbs they tear, And leave on thorns their locks of golden hair, With their sharp nails, themselves the Satyrs wound, And tug their shaggy beards, and bite with grief the ground. Lo Pan himself, beneath a blasted oak, Dejected lies, his pipe in pieces broke. See Pales weeping too, in wild despair, And to the piercing winds her bosom bear. And see yon fading myrtle, where appears The Queen of Love, all bath'd in flowing tears; See how she wrings her hands, and beats her breast, And tears her useless girdle from her waist; Hear the sad murmurs of her sighing doves | For grief they sigh, forgetful of their loves. And, many years after, he gave no proof that time had improved his wisdom or his wit: for, on the death of the marquis of Blandford, this was his song; And now the winds which had so long been still, Began the swelling air with sighs to fill ; The water-nymphs, who motionless remain'd, Like images of ice, while she complain'd, Now loos'd their streams: as when descending rains Roll the steep torrents headlong o'er the plains. The prone creation, who so long had gaz'd, Charm'd with her cries, and at her griefs amaz'd, Began to roar and howl with horrid yell, Dismal to hear, and terrible to tell! Nothing but groans and sighs were heard around, And Echo multiplied each mournful sound.
In both these funeral poems, when he has yelled out many syllables of sense-
Two rival armies all the plain o’erspread, Each in battalia rang'd, and shining arms array'd; With eager eyes beholding both from far, Namur, the prize and mistress of the war. The Birth of the Muse is a miserable fiction. One good line it has, which was borrowed from Dryden. The concluding verses are these : This said, no more remain'd. Th’etherial host Again impatient crowd the crystal coast. The father, now, within his spacious hands, Encompass'd all the mingled mass of seas and lands; And, having heav'd aloft the ponderous sphere, He launch'd the world to float in ambient air. Of his irregular poems, that to Mrs. Arabella Hunt seems to be the best: his ode for Cecilia's Day, however, has some lines which Pope had in his mind when he wrote his own. His imitations of Horace are feebly paraphrastical, and the additions which he makes are of little value. He sometimes retains what were more properly omitted, as when he talks of vervain and gums to propitiate Venus. Of his translations, the satire of Juvenal wo, written very early, and may therefore be forgiven, though it had not the massiness and vigour of the original. In all his versions strength and spriteliness are wanting. his Hymn to Venus, from Homer, is perhaps the best. His lines are weakened with expletives, and his rhymes are frequently imperfect. His petty poems are seldom worth the cost of criticism; sometimes the thoughts are false, and sometimes common. In his verses on lady Gethin, the latter part is an imitation of Dryden's ode on Mrs. Killigrew ; and Doris, that has been so lavishly flattered by Steele, has indeed some lively stanzas, but the expression might be mended; and the most striking part of the character had been already shewn in Love for Love. His Art of Pleasing is founded on a vulgar, but perhaps impracticable principle, and the staleness of the sense is not concealed by any novelty of illustration or elegance of diction. This tissue of poetry, from which he seems to have hope dalasting name, is totally neglected, and known only as it appended to his plays. While comedy or while tragedy is regarded, his plays are likely to be read; but, except what relates to the stage, I'. Mow not that he has ever written a sunza that is sung, or a couplet that is quoted. The general character of his Miscellanies is, that they shew little wit, and little virtue. Yet to him it must be confessed that we are indebted for the correction of a national error, and for the cure of our Pindarick madness. He first taught the English writers that Pindar's odes were regular: and though certainly he had not the fire requisite for the higher species of lyrick poetry, he has shewn us that enthusiasm has its rules, and that in Ane e confusion there is neither grace nor greatness.