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TO MR. CONGREVE.
The Farce of theWhat-d'ye-call-it9has occasioned many different speculations in the town. Some looked upon it as a mere jest upon the Tragic poets, others as a satire upon the late War. Mr. Cromwell hearing none of the words, and seeing the action to be tragical, was much astonished to find the audience laugh; and says the Prince and Princess must doubtless be under no less amazement on the same account. Several templars and others of the more vociferous kind of critics, went with a resolution to hiss, and confessed they were forced to laugh so much, that they forgot the design they came with. The Court in general has in a very particular manner come into the jest, and the three first nights (notwithstanding two of them were court-nights) were distinguished by very full audiences of the first Quality. The common people of the pit and gallery received it at first with great gravity and sedateness, some few with tears; but after the third day they also took the hint, and have ever since been very loud in their claps. There are still some sober men who cannot be of the general opinion; but the laughers are so much the majority, that one or two critics seem determined to undeceive the town at their proper cost, by
• Written by Mr. Gay. W.
writing grave dissertations against it; to encourage them in which laudable design, it is resolved a Preface shall be prefixed to the Farce, in vindication of the nature and dignity of this new way of writing.
Yesterday Mr. Steele's affair was decided: I am sorry I can be of no other opinion than yours1, as to his whole carriage and writings of late. But certainly he has not only been punished by others, but suffered much even from his own party in the point of character, nor (I believe) received any amends in that of interest, as yet, whatever may be his prospects for the future.
This gentleman, among a thousand others, is a great instance of the fate of all who are carried away by party-spirit, of any side. I wish all violence may succeed as ill: but am really amazed that so much of that sour and pernicious quality should be joined with so much natural good humour as, I think, Mr.
Steele is possessed of.
I am, etc.
TO MR. CONGREVE.
April 7, 1715.
Mr. Pope is going to Mr. Jervas's, where Mr. Addison is sitting for his picture; in the mean time, amidst clouds of tobacco at a coffee-house, I write
1 Hence it appears that Congreve was candid and moderate in his political opinions.
this letter. There is a grand revolution at Will's; Morrice has quitted for a coffee-house in the city, and Titcomb is restored, to the great joy of Cromwell, who was at a great loss for a person to converse with upon the fathers and church-history; the knowledge I gain from him is entirely in painting and poetry; and Mr. Pope owes all his skill in astronomy to him and Mr. Whiston, so celebrated of late for his discovery of the longitude in an extraordinary copy of verses2. Mr. Rowe's Jane Gray is to be played in Easter-week, when Mrs. Oldfield is to personate a character directly opposite to female nature; for what woman ever despised Sovereignty? You know Chaucer has a tale where a knight saves his head, by discovering it was the thing which all women most coveted. Mr. Pope's Homer is retarded by the great rains that have fallen of late, which causes the sheets to be long a drying: this gives Mr. Lintot great uneasiness, who is now endeavouring to corrupt the Curate of his parish to pray for fair weather, that his work may go on. There is a six-penny Criticism lately published upon the tragedy of the What-d'ye-call-it, wherein he with much judgment and learning calls me a blockhead, and Mr. Pope a knave. His grand charge is against the Pilgrim's Progress being read, which he says, is directly levelled at Cato's reading Plato; to back this censure, he goes on to tell you, that the Pilgrim's Progress being mentioned to be the eighth edition, makes the reflection evident, the Tragedy of Cato having just eight times (as he quaintly expresses it) visited the press. He has also endeavoured to show, that every particular passage of the play alludes to some fine part of tragedy, which, he says, I have injudiciously and profanely abused3. Sir Samuel Garth's poem upon my Lord Clare's house, I believe, will be published in Easter-week.
* Called, An Ode on the Longitude, in Swift and Pope's Miscellanies. P.
A very flat and feeble attack truly, on a man respectable for integrity, simplicity of manners, and extensive learning, though his opinions may be erroneous!
Thus far Mr. Gay, who has in his letter forestalled all the subjects of diversion; unless it should be one to you to say, that I sit up till two a clock over Burgundy and Champagne; and am become so much a rake that I shall be ashamed in a short time to be thought to do any sort of business. I fear I must get the gout by drinking; purely for a fashionable pretence to sit still long enough to translate four books of Homer. I hope you'll by that time be up again, and I may succeed to the bed and couch of my predecessor: pray cause the stuffing to be repaired, and the crutches shortened for me. The calamity of your gout is what all your friends, that is to say, all that know you, must share in; we desire you in your return to condole with us; who are under a persecution, and much afflicted with a distemper which proves mortal to many poets, a Criticism. We have indeed some relieving intervals of laughter, (as you know there are in some diseases,) and it is the opinion of divers good guessers, that the last fit will not be more violent than advantageous; for poets assailed by critics, are like men bitten by Tarantula's, they dance on so much the faster.
3 This curious piece was entitled, A compleat Key to the What-d'ye-call-it, written by one Griffin a player, assisted by Lewis Theobald. P.
Mr. Thomas Burnet hath played the precursor to the coming of Homer, in a treatise called Homerides. He has since risen very much in his criticisms, and after assaulting Homer, made a daring attack upon the What-d'ye-call-it4. Yet is there not a Proclamation issued for the burning of Homer and the Pope by the common hangman; nor is the What-d'ye-callit yet silenced by the Lord Chamberlain.
FROM MR. CONGREVE.
I Have the pleasure of your very kind letter. I have always been obliged to you for your friendship and concern for me, and am more affected with it than I will take upon me to express in this letter. I do assure you there is no return wanting on my part, and am very sorry I had not the good luck to see the Dean before I left the town: it is a great pleasure to me, and not a little vanity to think that he misses me. As to my health, which you are so kind to enquire after, it is not worse than in London: I am almost afraid yet to say that it is better, for I cannot reason
4 In one of his papers called The Grumbler. P.