Page images
PDF
EPUB

Maher-shalal-hash-baz-- whether he avoided | events, a person who affected to be better than Spring Garden when in town, and abstained his neighbours was sure to be a knave. from hunting and hawking when in the coun. In the old drama there had been much that try—whether he expounded hard scriptures to was reprehensible. But whoever compares his troop of dragoons, and talked in a com- even the least decorous plays of Fletcher with mittee of ways and means about seeking the those contained in the volume before us, will Lord. These were tests which could easily be see how much the profligacy which follows a applied. The misfortune was, that they were period of overstrained austerity, goes beyond tests which proved nothing. Such as they the profligacy which precedes such a period. were, they were employed by the dominant The nation resembled the demoniac in the party. And the consequence was, that a crowd New Testament. The Puritans boasted that of impostors, in every walk of life, began to the unclean spirit was cast out. The house mimic and to caricature what were then re was empty, swept, and garnished, and for a garded as the outward signs of sanctity. The time the expelled tenant wandered through dry nation was not duped. The restraints of that places seeking rest and finding none. But gloomy time were such as would have been the force of the exorcism was spent. The impatiently borne, if imposed by men who fiend returned to his abode ; and returned not were universally believed to be saints. Those alone. He took to him seven other spirits restraints became altogether insupportable more wicked than himself. They entered in, when they were known to be kept up for the and dwelt together: and the second possession profit of hypocrites. It is quite certain that, was worse than the first. even if the Royal Family had never returned We will now, as far as our limits will per -even if Richard Cromwell or Henry Crom- mit, pass in review the writers to whom Mr. well had been at the head of the administration Leigh Hunt has introduced us. Of the four, -there would have been a great relaxation of Wycherley stands, we think, last in literary manners. Before the Revolution many signs merit, but first in order of time, and first, be indicated that a period of license was at hand. yond all doubt, in immorality. The Restoration crushed for a time the Puritan WILLIAM WYCHERLEY was born in 1640. party, and placed supreme power in the hands He was the son of a Shropshire gentleman of of a libertine. The political counter-revolu- old family, and of what was then accounted a tion assisted the moral counter-revolution, and good estate. The property was estimated at was in turn assisted by it. A period of wild 6001. a year, a fortune which, among the forand desperate dissoluteness followed. Even in tunes of that time, probably ranked as a forremote manor houses and hamlets the change tune of 20001. a year would rank in our days. was in some degree felt; but in London the William was an infant when the civil war outbreak of debauchery was appalling. And broke out; and, while he was still in his radi. in London the places most deeply infected were ments, a Presbyterian hierarchy and a republi. the palace, the quarters inhabited by the aris- can government were established on the ruins tocracy, and the Inns of Court. It was on the of the ancient church and throne. Old Mr. support of these parts of the town that the Wycherley was attached to the royal cause, playhouses depended. The character of the and was not disposed to intrust the education drama became conformed to the character of of his heir to the solemn Puritans who mee its patrons. The comic poet was the mouthpiece ruled the universities and public schools. Au. of the most deeply corrupted part of a corrupted cordingly, the young gentleman was sent at society. And in the plays before us, we find fifteen to France. He resided some time in distilled and condensed, the essential spirit of the neighbourhood of the Duke of Montausii, the fashionable world during the Anti-puritan chief of one of the noblest races of Touraine. reaction.

The duke's wife, a daughter of the house of The Paritan had affected formality; the Rambouillet, was a finished specimen of those comic poet laughed at decorum. The Puritan talents and accomplishments for which her had frowned at innocent diversions; the comic house was celebrated. The young foreigner poet took under his patronage the most flagi- was introduced to the splendid circle which tious excesses. The Puritan had canted; the surrounded the duchess, and there he appears comic poet blasphemed. The Puritan had to have learned some good and some evil. In made an affair of gallantry felony, without a few years he returned to this country a tine benefit of clergy; the comic poet represented gentleman and a Papist. His conversion, ii it as an honourable distinction. The Puritan may safely be affirmed, was the effect, not of spoke with disdain of the low standard of any strong impression on his understanding popular morality; his life was regulated by a or feelings, but partly of intercourse with an far more rigid code; his virtue was sustained agreeable society in which the Church of by motives unknown to men of the world. Rome was the fashion; and partly of that Unhappily it had been amply proved in many aversion to Calvinistic austerities, which was cases, and might well be suspected in many then almost universal among young Englishmore, that these high pretensions were un- men of parts and spirit, and which, at one founded. Accordingly, the fashionable circles, time, seemed likely to make one half of them and the comic poets who were the spokesmen Catholics, and the other half Atheists. of those circles, took up the notion that all pro But the Restoration came. The universities fessions of piety and integrity were to be con- were again in loyal hands; and there was rea. strued by the rule of contrary; that it might son to hope that there would be again a na well be doubted whether there was such a tional church fit for a gentleman. Wycherley thing as virtue in the world: but that, at all I became a member of Queen's Coll::ge, Oxford.

and abjured the errors of the Church of Rome.'" Plain Dealer," which is said to have been The somewhat equivocal glory of turning, for written when he was twenty-five, il contains a short time, a very good-for-nothing Papist une scene unquestionably written after 1675, inte a very good-for-nothing Protestant is as- several which are later than 1668, and scarcecribed to Bishop Barlow.

ly a line which can have been composed be Wycherley left Oxford without taking a de- fore the end of 1666. gree, and entered at the Temple, where he Whatever may have been the age at which lived gayly for some years, observing the hu- Wycherley composed his plays, it is certain mours of the town, enjoying its pleasures, and that he did not bring them before the public picking up just as much law as was necessary till he was upwards of thirty. In 1672, "Love to make the character of a pettifogging attor- in a Wood” was acted with more success than ney, or a litigious client entertaining in a it deserved, and this event produced a great comedy.

change in the fortunes of the author. The From an early age he had been in the habit Duchess of Cleveland cast her eyes upon him, of amusing himself by writing. Some wretch- and was pleased with his appearance. This ed lines of his on the Restoration are still ex- abandoned woman, not content with her com. tant. Had he devoted himself to the making placent husband and her royal keeper, lavished of verses, he would have been nearly as far her fondness on a crowd of paramours of all below Tate and Blackmore as Tate and Black- ranks, from dukes to rope-dancers. In the more are below Dryden. His only chance for time of the commonwealth she commenced her renown would have been, that he might have career of gallantry, and terminated it under occupied a niche, iu a satire, between Fleck-Anne, by marrying, when a great-grandmother, noe and Settle. There was, however, another that worthless fop, Beau Fielding. It is not kind of composition in which his talents and strange that she should have regarded Wy. acquirements qualified him to succeed; and to cherley with favour. His figure was com. that he judiciously betook himself.

manding, his countenance strikingly handsome, In his old age he used to say, that he wrote his look and deportment full of grace and dig. “Love in a Wood" al nineteen, the “Gen-nisy. He had, as Pope said long after," the tleman Dancing-Master” at twenty-one, the true nobleman look," the look which seems 10 * Plain Dealer" at twenty-ive, and the "Coun- indicate superiority, and a not unbecoming try Wife" at one or two-and-thirty. We are consciousness of superiority. His hair, inincredulous, we own, as to the truth of this deed, as he says in one of his poems, was prestory. Nothing that we know of Wycherley maturely gray. But in that age of periwigs leads us to think him incapable of sacrificing this misfortune was of little importance. The truth to vanity. And his memory in the de- duchess admired him, and proceeded u make cline of his life played him such strange tricks, love to him after the fashion of the coarsethat we might question the correctness of his minded and shameless circle to which she beassertion, without throwing any imputation on longed. In the Ring, when the crowd of beauhis veracity. It is certain that none of his ties and fine gentlemen was thickest, she pat plays were acted till 1672, when he gave "Love her head out of her coach-window, and bawled in a Wool" to the public. It seems improba- to him—"Sir, you are a rascal; you are a vil. ble that he should resolve on so important an lain;" and, if she be not belied, added another occasion as that of a first appearance before phrase of abuse which we will not quote, but the world, 10 run his chance with a feeble of which we may say that it might most justly piece, written before his talents were ripe, be- have been applied to her own children. 'Wyfore his style was formed, before he had looked cherley called on her grace the next day, and abroad into the world; and this when he had with great humility begged to know in what actually in his desk two highly-finished plays, way he had been so unfortunate as to disoblige the fruit of his matured powers. When we her. Thus began an intimacy from which the look minutely at the pieces themselves, we poet probably expected wealth and honours. find in every part of them reason to suspect Nor were such expectations unreasonable. A the accuracy of Wycherley's statement. In handsome young fellow about the court, known the first scene of “Love in a Wood," to go no by the name of Jack Churchill, was about the inrther, we find many passages which he same time so lucky as to become the object of a could not have written when he was nineteen. sbort-lived fancy of the duchess. She had pre. There is an allusion to gentlemen's periwigs, sented him with 45001., the price, in all probawhich first came into fashion in 1663; an allu- bility, of some title or some pardon. The prasion to guineas, which were first struck in dent youth had lent the money on high interest 1663; an allusion to the vests which Charles and on landed security, and this judicious inordered to be worn at court in 1666; an allu-vestment was the beginning of the most splension to the fire of 1666 ; several allusions to did private fortune in Europe. Wycherley was political and ecclesiastical affairs which must not so lucky. The partiality with which the be assigned tc tiines later than the year of the great lady regarded him was, indeed, the talk Restoration-to times when the government of the whole town; and, sixty years later, old and the city were opposed to each other, and men who remembered those days told Voltaire when the Presbyterian ministers had been that she often stole from the court to her lover's driven from the parish churches to the con- chambers in the Temple, disguised like a counventicles. But it is veedless to dwell on par- try-girl, with a straw hat on her head, pattens ticular expressions. The whole air and spirit on her feet, and a basket in her hand. The of the piece belong to a period subsequent to poet was indeed too happy and proud to be That meptioned by Wycherley. As to the discreet. He dedicated to the duchess the play

[ocr errors]

which had led to their acquaintance, and in the About the same time he brought on the stage dedication expressed himself in terms which his second piece, the “Gentleman Dancing could not bui confirm the reports which had Master.” The biographer says nothing, as far gone abroad. But at Whitehall such an affair as we remember, about the fate of this play. was regarded in no serious light. The lady There is, however, reason to believe, that, was not afraid to bring Wycherley to court, though certainly far superior to “ Love in a and to introduce him to a splendid society, Wood," it was not equally successful. It was with which, as far as appears, he had never first tried at the west end of the town, and, as before mixed. The easy king, who allowed to the poet confessed, “would scarce do there." It his mistresses the same liberty which he was then performed in Salisbury Couri, but, as it claimed for himself, was pleased with the con- should seem, with no better event. For, in the versation and manners of his new rival. prologue to the Country Wife,” Wycherley

So high did Wycherley stand in the royal described himself as "the late so baffled scribe favour, that once, when he was confined by a bler." fever to his lodgings in Bow-street, Charles, In 1675, the "Country Wife” was performed who, with all his faults, was certainly a man with brilliant success, which, in a literary point of a social and affable disposition, called on of view, was not wholly unmerited. For, him, sat by his bed, advised him to try change though one of the most profligate and heartless of air, and gave him a handsome sum of mo- of human compositions, it is the elaborate proney to defray the expense of the journey. duction of a mind, not indeed rich, original, or Buckingham, then master of the horse, and imaginative, but ingenious, observant, quick to one of that infamous ministry known by the seize hints, and patient of the toil of polishing. name of the Cabal, had been one of the The “Plain Dealer," equally immoral and duchess's innumerable paramours. He at first equally well written, appeared in 1677. At showed some symptoms of jealousy, but soon, first this piece pleased the people less than the after his fashion, veered round from anger to critics; but after a time its unquestionable fondness, and gave Wycherley a commission merits, and the zealous support of Lord Dorin his own regiment, and a place in the royal set, whose influence in literary and fashion. household.

able society was unbounded, established it in It would be unjust to Wycherley's memory the public favour. not to mention here the only good action, as The fortune of Wycherley was now in the far as we know, of his whole life. He is said zenith, and began to decline. A long life was to have made great exertions to obtain the pa- still before him. But it was destined to be tronage of Buckingham for the illustrious au- filled with nothing but shame and wretchedthor of " Hudibras," who was now sinking into ness, domestic dissensions, literary failures, an obscure grave, neglected by a nation proud and pecuniary embarrassments. of his genius, and by a court which he had The king, who was looking about for an acserved too well. His grace consented to see complished man to conduct the education of poor Butler, and an appointment was made his natural son, the young Duke of Richmond, But unhappily two pretty women passed by; at length fixed on Wycherley. The poet, ex. the volatile duke ran after them; the oppor- ulting in his good luck, went down to amuse tunity was lost, and could never be regained himself at Tunbridge ; looked into a booksel

The second Dutch war, the most disgraceful ler's shop on the Pantiles, and to his great dewar in the whole history of England, was now light, heard a handsome woman ask for the raging. It was not in that age considered as by "Plain Dealer," which had just been published. any means necessary that a naval officer should He made acquaintance with the lady, who receive a professional education. Young men proved to be the Countess of Drogheda, a gay of rank, who were hardly able to keep their young widow, with an ample jointure. She feet in a breeze, served on board of the king's was charmed with his person and his wit; and, ships, sometimes with commissions and some after a short flirtation, agreed to become his times as volunteers. Mulgrave, Dorset, Ro- wife. Wycherley seems to have been apprechester, and many others, left the playhouses hensive that this connexion might not suit and the Mall for hammocks and salt pork; well with the king's plan respecting the Duke and, igncrant as they were of the rudiments of Richmond. He accordingly prevailed on of naval science, showed, at least on the day the lady to consent to a private marriage. All of baule, the courage which is seldom wanting came out. Charles thought the conduct of in an English gentleman. All good judges of maritime affairs complained that under this was one of the battles between Rupert and De Ruyter,

in 1673. system the ships were grossly mismanaged, The point is of no importance; and there can scarcely and that the tarpaulins contracted the vices, he said to be any evidence either way. We offer, howwithout acquiring the graces, of the court. But ever, to Mr. Leigh Hunt's consideration three arguon this subject, as on every other, the govern- we think, to prevail in the absence of better First, it ment of Charles was deaf to all remonstrances is not very likely that a young Templar, quite unknown where the interests or whims of favourites were have quitted his chambers to go to sea. concerned. Wycherley did not choose to be hand, it would have been in the regular course of things out of the fashion. He embarked, was present that, when a courtier and an equerry, he should offer at a battle, and celebrated it on his return in a written after a drawn battle, like those of 1673, and not copy of verses too bad for the bellman."* after a complete victory like that of 1665 Thirdly, in the

epilogue to the “Gentleman Dancing-Master," written Mr. Leigh Hunt supposes that the battle at which in 1673, he says that all

gentlemen must pack to sea ;" Wycnerley was present was that which the Dake of an expression which makes it probable that he did nut York gained over Opdam, in 1665. We believe that it himself mean to stay behind.

On the other

Wycherley both disrespectful and disinge- that, if we place it at this time, we do no in nuous. Other causes probably assisted to justice to the character either of Wycherley or alienate the sovereign from the subject who James. nad been so highly favoured. Buckingham Not long after, old Mr. Wycherley died; and was now in opposition, and had been com- his son, now past the middle of life, came to mitted to the Tower; not, as Mr. Leigh Hunt the family estate. Still, however, he was not supposes, on a charge of treason, but by an at his ease. His embarrassments were great; order of the House of Lords for some expres his property was strictly tied up; and he was sions which he had used in debate. Wycherley on very bad terms with the heir-at-law. He. 'wrote some bad lines in praise of his impri- appears to have led, during a long course of soned patron, which, if they came to the years, that most wretched life, the life of an knowledge of the king, would certainly have old boy about town. Expensive tastes with made his majesty very angry. The favour of little money, and licentious appetites with dethe court was completely wiihdrawn from the clining vigour, were the just penance for his poet. An amiable woman, with a large for early irregularities. A severe illness had proiune, might indeed have been an'ample com- duced a singular effect on his intellect. His pensation for the loss. But Lady Drogheda memory played him pranks stranger than was ill-tempered, imperious, and extravagantly almost any that are to be found in the history jealous. She had herself been a maid of of that strange faculty. It seemed to be at once honour at Whitehall. She well knew in what preternaturally strong and preternaturally estimation conjugal fidelity was held among weak. If a book was read to him before he the fine gentlemen there; and watched her went to bed, he would wake the next morning town husband as assiduously as Mr. Pinch- with his mind full of the thoughts and expres. wife watched his country wife. The unfortu- sions which he had heard over night; and he nate wit was, indeed, allowed to meet his would write them down, without in the least friends at a tavern opposite his own house. suspecting that they were not his own. In his But on such occasions the windows were verses the same ideas, and even the same always open, in order that her ladyship, who words came over and over again several times was posted on the other side of the street, in a short composition. His fine person bore might be satisfied that no woman was of the the marks of age, sickness, and sorrow; and party.

he mourned for his departed beauty with an The death of Lady Drogheda released the effeminate regret. He could not look without unfortunate poet from this distress; but a se- a sigh at the portrait which Lely had painted ries of disasters, in rapid succession, broke of him when he was only twenty-eight; and down his health, his spirits, and his fortune. often murmured, Quantum mutatus ab illo. He His wife meant to leave him a good property, was still nervously anxioạs about his literary and left him only a lawsuit. His father could reputation; and, not content with the fame. not or would not assist him. He was at length which he still possessed as a dramatist, was thrown into the Fleet, and languished there determined to be renowned as a satirist and during seven years, utterly forgotten, as it an amatory poet. should seem, by the gay and lively circle of In 1704, after twenty-seven years of silence, which he had been a distinguished ornament. he again appeared as an author. He put forth In the extremity of his distress he implored a large folio of miscellaneous verses, which, the publisher who had been enriched by the we believe, has never been reprinted. Some sale of his works, to lend him twenty pounds, of these pieces had probably circulated through and was refused. His comedies, however, the town in manuscript; for, before the volume still kept possession of the stage, and drew appeared, the critics at the coffee-houses very great audiences, which troubled themselves confidently predicted that it would be utterly little about the situation of the author. At worthless; and were, in consequence, bitterly length James the Second, who had now suc- reviled by the poet in an ill-written, foolish, ceeded to the throne, happened to go to the and egotistical preface. The book amply vin. theatre on an evening when the “Plain Dealer" dicated the most unfavourable prophecies that was acted. He was pleased by the perform- had been hazarded. The style and versifica. ance, and touched by the fate of the writer, tion are beneath criticism; the morals are whom he probably remembered as one of the those of Rochester. For Rochester, indeed, gayest and handsomest of his brother's cour- there was some excuse. When his offences ties. The king determined to pay Wycher- against decorum were committed, he was a ley's debts, and to settle on the unfortunate very young man, misled by a prevailing fast: poet a pension of 2001. a year. This munifi-ion. Wycherley was sixty-four. He had long cence, on the part of a prince who was little outlived the times when libertinism was rein the habit of rewarding literary meril, and garded as essential to the character of a wit whose whole soul was devoted to the interests and a gentleman. Most of the rising poets, of his church, raises in us a surmise which like Addison, John Philips, and Rowe, were Mr. Leigh Hunt will, we fear, pronounce very studious of decency. We can hardly conceive oncharitable. We cannot help suspecting that any thing more miserable than the figure which. it was at this time that Wycherley returned to the ribald old man makes in the midst of so the cominunion of the Church of Rome. That many sober and well-conducted youths. he did return to the communion of the Church In the very year in which this bulky volume of Rume is certain. The date of his re-con- of obscene doggerel was published, Wycherley version, as far as we know, has never been formed an acquaintance of a very singular mentioned by any biographer. We believe Ikind. A little, pale, crooked sickly, bright

eyed urchin, just turned of sixteen, had written in your first volume, or in this very paper: and some copies of verses, in which discerning the versification throughout is, I believe, such judges could detect the promise of future emi- as nobody can be shocked at. The repeated nence. There was, indeed, as yet nothing very permission you give me of dealing freely with striking or original in the conceptions of the you, will, I hope, excuse what I have done; for, young poet. But he was already skilled in the if I have not spared you when I thought seveart of metrical composition. His diction and rity would do you a kindness, I have not man his music were not those of the great old mas- gled you where I thought there was no absolute ters, but that which his ablest contemporaries need of amputation." Wycherley continued were labouring to do, he already did best. His to return thanks for all this hacking and hew.* style was not richly poetical, but it was always ing, which was, indeed, of inestimable service near, compact, and pointed. His verse wanted to his compositions. But by degrees his thanks variety of pause, of swell, and of cadence; but began to sound very like reproaches. In priit never grated on the ear by a harsh turn, or vatc he is said to have described Pope as a disappointed it by a feeble close. The youth person who could not cut out a suit, but who was already free of the company of wits, and had some skill in turning old coats. In his was greatly elated at being introduced to the letter to Pope, while he acknowledged that the author of the “Plain Dealer" and the “Country versification of his poems had been greatly Wife."

improved, he spoke of the whole art of versifiIt is curious to trace the history of the inter- cation with scorn, and sneered at those who course which took place between Wycherley preferred sound to sense. Pope revenged him. and Pope-between the representative of the self for this outbreak of spleen by return of age that was going out, and the representative post. He had in his hands a volume of Wy. of the age that was coming in-between the cherley's rhymes, and he wrote to say that this friend of Rochester and Buckingham, and the volume was so full of faults that he could not friend of Lyttleton and Mansfield. At first the correct it without completely defacing the ma. boy was enchanted by the kindness and conde- nuscript. "I am," he said, “equally afraid of scension of his new friend, haunted his door, sparing you, and of offending you by too impuand followed him about like a spaniel, from dent a correction." This was more than flesh Coffee-house to coffee-house. Letters full of and blood could bear: Wycherley reclaimed affection, humility, and fulsome flattery, were his papers, in a letter in which resentment interchanged between the friends. But the shows itself plainly through the thin disguise first ardour of affection could not last. Pope, of civility. Pope, glad to be rid of a troublethough at no time scrupulously delicate in his some and inglorious task, sent back the depowritings, or fastidious as to the morals of his sit; and, by way of a parting courtesy, advised associates, was shocked by the indecency of a the old man to turn his poetry into prose, and rake who, at seventy, was still the representa- assured him that the public would like his tive of the monstrous profligacy of the Restora- thoughts much better without his versification. tion. As he grew older, as his mind expanded Thus ended this memorable correspondence. and his fame rose, he appreciated both himself Wycherley lived some years after the termiand Wycherley more justly. He felt a well- nation of the strange friendship which we have founded contempt for the old gentleman's described. The last scene of his life was Verses, and was at no great pains to conceal perhaps, the most scandalous. Ten days before his opinion. Wycherley, on the other hand, his death, at seventy-five, he married a young though blinded by self-love to the imperfections girl, merely in order to injure his nephew; an of what he called his poetry, could not but see act which proves that neither years, nor adver. that there was an immense difference between sity, nor what he called his philosophy, nor his young companion's rhymes and his own. either of the religions which he had at different He was divided between two feelings. He times professed, had taught him the rudiments wished to have the assistance of so skilful a of morality. He died in December, 1715, and hand to polish his lines; and yet he shrank lies in the vault under the church of St. Paul, from the humiliation of being beholden for in Covent-Garden. literary assistance to a lad who might have His bride soon after married a Captain been his grandson. Pope was willing to give Shrimpton, who thus became possessed of a assistance, but was by no means disposed to large collection of manuscripts. These were give assistance and flattery too. He took the sold to a bookseller. They were so full of trouble to retouch whole reams of feeble, stum- erasures and interlineations that no printer bling verses, and inserted many vigorous lines, could decipher them. It was necessary to call which the least skilful reader will distinguish in the aid of a professed critic; and Theobald, in an instant. But he thought that by these the editor of Shakspeare, and the hero of the services he acquired a right to express him- first Dunciad, was employed to ascertain tho seli in terms which would not, under ordinary true reading. In this way a volume of miscel. circumstances, become a youth when address-lanies in verse and prose was got up for the ing a man of four times his age. In one letter market. The collection derives all its value he tells Wycherley that “the worst pieces are from the traces of Pope's hand, which are every such as, to render them very good, would re- where discernible. quire almost the entire new writing of them.” of the moral character of Wycherley it can

In another he gives the following account of hardly be necessary for us to say more. His his corrections:-" Though the whole be as t'ame as a writer rests wholly on his comedies, short again as at first, there is not one thonght and chiefly on the last two. Even as a comic mitted but what is a repetition of something writer, he was neither of the best school, nor

« PreviousContinue »