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Thus have my spouse and I informed the nation,
* [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 of 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
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. Ravenscroft'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," in 1673 :
An author did, to please you, let his wit run,
* 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. I 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 “puli off Ravenscroft's disguise, and discover the politic plagiary that lurks under
Ravenscroft, however, seems to have given the first offence ; for, in the prologue to “The Citizen turned Gentleman," licensed 9th August 1672, we find the following lines obviously levelled at “The Conquest of Granada," and other heroic dramas of our author :
Then shall the knight, that had a knock in 's cradle,
Be for at least six months full every day. Langbaine, who quotes the lines from the prologue to Ravenscroft's "Careless Lovers," is of opinion, that he paid Dryden too great a compliment in admitting the originality of “ The Assignation,” and labours to show, that the characters are imitated from the “Roman Comique” of Scarron, and other novels of the time. But Langbaine seems to have been unable to comprehend, that originality consists in the mode of treating a subject more than in the subject itself.
“ The Assignation" was acted in 1672, and printed in 1673.
[Scott's sentence on Langbaine is just and final, and must excuse me from noticing the idle and uncritical attempts of criticasters to indicate this and that source for the incidents of this and other plays. As however they may interest some readers, they will be inserted in the Appendix. The charge of plagiarism, as far as the Roman Comique is concerned, is simply preposterous. But I can hardly agree with Sir Walter that The Assignation is on a level with Dryden's other comedies. It seems to me to be the most flagrant example, except Amboyna, of his habit—an avowed habit—of dramatic “pot-boiling Almost all the incidents are forced, the characters are feebly marked and hardly at all worked out, the dialogue is much below the level of Marriage à la Mode or The Mock Astrologer, and the song “ Long between Love and Fear” is almost the only redeeming feature in the play,—nor is that up to the standard of the best of Dryden's songs. -Ed.] it. I know," continues the biographer, "he has endeavoured to show him. self master of the art of swift writing, and would persuade the world that wbat he writes is extempore wit, and written currente calamo. But I doubt not to show, that though he would be thought to imitate the silkworm, that spins its web from its own bowels, yet I shall make him appear like the leech, that lives upon the blood of other men, drawn from the gums; and, when he is rubbed with salt, spows it up again.”
* Sir Martin Mar-all we are acquainted with. Sir Arthur Addle is a similar character, in a play called “Sir Solomon, or, The Cautious Coxcomb," attributed to one John Caryll.