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Press me not further to explain myself; 'Twill not become me, and may cause your
trouble. Leon. Too well I understand her secret grief,
[Aside. But dare not seem to know it.—Come, my fairest; ;
[To PALMYRA. Beyond my crown I have one joy in store, To give that crown to her whom I adore.
Thus have my spouse and I informed the nation,
And led you all the way to reformation;
Not with dull morals, gravely writ, like those,
Which men of easy phlegm with care compose,-
Your poets, of stiff words and limber sense,
Born on the confines of indifference;
But by examples drawn, I dare to say,
From most of you who hear and see the play.
There are more Rhodophils in this theatre,
More Palamedes, and some few wives, I fear :
But yet too far our poet would not run;
Though 'twas well offered, there was nothing done,
He would not quite the women's frailty bare,
But stript them to the waist, and left them there :
And the men's faults are less severely shown,
For he considers that himself
Some stabbing wits, to bloody satire bent,
Would treat both sexes with less compliment;
Would lay the scene at home; of husbands tell,
For wenches taking up their wives i' the Mall;
And a brisk bout, which each of them did want,
Made by mistake of mistress and gallant.
Our modest author thought it was enough
To cut you off a sample of the stuff:
He spared my shame, which you, I'm sure, would not,
For you were all for driving on the plot:
You sighed when I came in to break the sport,
And set your teeth when each design fell short.
To wives and servants all good wishes lend,
But the poor cuckold seldom finds a friend.
Since, therefore, court and town will take no pity,
I humbly cast myself upon the city.
* [Spoken by Rhodophil.-Ed.]
This play was unfortunate in the representation. It is needless, at the distance of more than a century, to investigate the grounds of the dislike of an audience, who, perhaps, could at the very time have given no good reason for their capricious condemnation of a play, not worse than many others which they received with applause. The author, in the dedication, hints at the “ lameness of the action;" but, as the poet and performers are nearly equally involved in the disgrace of a condemned piece, it is a very natural desire on either side to assign the cause of its failure to the imperfections of the other; of which there is a ludicrous representation in a dialogue betwixt the player and the poetin "Joseph Andrews.” Another cause of its unfavourable reception seems to have been its second title of “ Love in a Nunnery.” Dryden certainly could, last of any man, have been justly suspected of an intention to ridicule the Duke of York and the Catholic religion; yet, as he fell under the same censure for the
Spanish Friar,” it seems probable that such suspicions were actually entertained. The play certainly contains, in the present instance, nothing to justify them. In point of merit, “The Assignation" seems pretty much on a level with Dryden's other comedies ; and certainly the spectators, who had received the blunders of Sir Martin Mar-all with such unbounded applause, might have taken some interest in those
poor Benito. Perhaps the absurd and vulgar scene, in which the prince pretends a fit of the colic, had some share in occasioning the fall of the piece. This inelegant jeu de théâtre is severely ridiculed in the “Rehearsal."
To one person, the damnation of this play seems to have afforded exquisite pleasure. This was Edward Ravenscroft, once a member of the Middle Temple,-an ingenious gentleman, of whose taste it may be held a satisfactory instance, that he deemed the tragedy of “ Titus Andronicus” too mild for representation, and generously added a few more murders, rapes, and parricides, to that charnel-house of horrors.* His
* In the prologue to this beautified edition, Ravenscroft modestly tells us :
Like other poets, he'll not proudly scorn
To own, that he but winnowed Shakespeare's corn:
So far was he from robbing him of's treasure,
That be did add his own to make full measure.
turn for comedy being at least equal to his success in the
blood-stained buskin, Mr. Ravenscroft translated and mangled
several of the more farcical French comedies, which he
decorated with the lustre of his own great name. Amongst
others which he thus appropriated, were the most extravagant
and buffoon scenes in Molière's “Bourgeois Gentilhomme;
in which Monsieur Jourdain is, with much absurd ceremony,
created a Turkish Paladin; and where Molière took the
opportunity to introduce an entrée de ballet, danced and sung
by the Mufti, dervises, and others, in eastern habits. Ravens-
croft's translation, entitled “ The Citizen turned Gentleman,”
was acted in 1672, and printed in the same year; the jargon
of the songs, like similar nonsense of our own day, seems to
have been well received on the stage. Dryden, who was not
always above feeling indignation at the bad taste and unjust
preferences of the age, attacked Ravenscroft in the prologue
to “The Assignation,” as he had before, though less directly,
in that of “ Marriage à la Mode." Hence the exuberant and
unrepressed joy of that miserable scribbler broke forth upon
the damnation of Dryden's performance, in the following
passage of a prologue to another of his pilfered performances,
called “The Careless Lovers," acted, according to Langbaine,
in the vacation succeeding the fall of “The Assignation,
An author did, to please you, let his wit run,
Of late, much on a serving man and cittern;
And yet, you would not like the serenade, -
Nay, and you damned his nuns in masquerade :
You did his Spanish sing-song too abhor;
Ah! que locura con tanto rigor!
In fine, the whole by you so much was blamed,
To act their parts the players were ashamed. *
Ah, how severe your malice was that day!
To damn, at once, the poet and his play:t
But why was your rage just at that time shown,
When what the author writ was all his own?
Till then, he borrowed from romance, and did translate ; #
And those plays found a more indulgent fate.
* This looks as if there had been some ground for Dryden's censure upon the actors.
+ A flat parody on the lines in Dryden's prologue, referring to Mamamouchi:
Grimace and habit sent you pleased away:
You damned the poet, but cried up the play. | It is somewhat remarkable, that the censure contained in what is above printed like verses recoils upon the head of the author, who never wrote a single original performance. Langbaine, the persecutor of all plagiarism, though he did not know very well in what it consisted, threatens to “pulí off Ravenscroft's disguise, and discover the politic plagiary that lurks under