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Oh! were your author's principle received,
Our kind relief against a rainy day,
This admirable Epistle is addressed to Congreve, whose rising genius had early attracted our author's attention and patronage. When Congreve was about to bring out " The Old Bachelor," the manuscript was put by Southerne into Dryden's hands, who declared, that he had never seen such a first play, and bestowed considerable pains in adapting it to the stage. It was received with the most unbounded approbation. " The Double Dealer" was acted in November, 1693, but without that universal applause which attended “ The Old Rachelor.” The plot was perhaps too serious, and the villainy of Maskwell too black and hateful for comedy. It was the opinion too of Dryden, that the fashionable world felt the satire too keenly.* The play, how
Mr Malone quotes part of a letter from Dryden on the subject of “The Double Dealer," and his own tragi-comedy of “ Love Triumphatit.” It is addressed to Mr Walsh, and runs thus :
Congreve's · Double Dealer' is much censured by the greater part of the town, and is defended only by the best judges, who, you know, are commonly the fewest. Yet it gains ground daily, and has already been acted eight times. The women think he has exposed
; and the gentlemen are offended
ever, cannot be said to have failed; for it rose by degrees against opposition. The epistle is one of the most elegant and apparently heart-felt effusions of friendship, that our language boasts; and the progress of literature from the Restoration, is described as Dryden alone could describe it. A critic of that day, whose candour seems to have been on a level with his taste, has ventured to insinuate, that huffing Dryden, as he prophanely calls our poet, had purposely deluded Congreve into presumption, by his praise, in order that he might lead him to make shipwreck of his popularity. But such malevolent constructions have been always put upon the conduct of men of genius, by the mean jealousy of the vulgar. *
with him for the discovery of their follies, and the way of their intrigue under the notions of friendship to their ladies' husbands.
“ I am afraid you discover not your own opinion concerning my irregular use of tragi-comedy, in my doppia favola. I will never defend that practice, for I know it distracts the hearers ; but I kņow withal, that it has hitherto pleased them for the sake of variety, and for the particular taste which they have to low comedy."
*“ The first that was acted was Mr Congreve's, called “The Double Dealer.' It !ias fared with that play, as it generally does with beauties officiously cried up; the mighty expectation which was raised of it made it sink, even beneath its own merit. The character of the Double Dealer is artfully writ; but the action being but single, and confined within the rules of true comedy, it could not please the generality of our audience, who relish nothing but variety, and think any thing dull and heavy which does not border upon farce. The critics were severe upon this play, which gave the author occasion to lash them in his epistle dedicatory, in so defying or hectoring a style, that it was counted rude even by his best friends; so that 'tis generally thought he has done his business, and lost himself; a thing he owes to Mr Dryden's treacherous friendship, who, being jealous of the applause he had got by his • Old Bachelor,' deluded him into a foolish imitation of his own way of writing angry prefaces.” -See MALONE's History of the English Stage, prefixed to Shakespeare's Plays.
EPISTLE THE TWELFTH.
WELL, then, the promised hour is come at last,
But both to Congreve justly shall submit,
O that your brows my laurel had sustain'd!
* Shadwell, who, at the Revolution, was promoted to Dryden's posts of poet-laureat, and royal historiographer, died in 1692: was succeeded in his office of laureat by Nahum Tate, and in that of historiographer by Thomas Rymer. Our author was at present on bad terms with Rymer ; to whom, not to Tate, he applies the sarcastic title of Tom the Second. Yet his old coadjutor, Nahum, is probably included in the warning, that they should not mistake the Earl of Dorset's charity for the recompense
of their own merit. We have often remarked, that the Earl of Dorset, although, as lord-chamberlain, he was obliged to dispose of Dryden's offices to persons less politically obnoxious, bestowed at the same time such marks of generosity on the abdicated laureat, that Dryden, here, and elsewhere, honours him with the title of “his patron." For the quarrel between Rymer and Dryden, see the Introduction to the “ Translations from Ovid's Metamorphoses,"