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MY MOST HONOURED FRIEND,
SIR CHARLES SEDLEY, BART.*
Sir, The design of dedicating plays is as common and unjust, as that of desiring seconds in a duel.
* Sir Charles Sedley, noted among “the mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease," was so highly applauded for his taste and judgment, that Charles said, “Nature had given him a patent to be Apollo's viceroy.” Some account has been given of this celebrated courtier in the introduction to the Essay on Dramatic Poetry. Dryden was at this time particularly induced to appeal to the taste of the first among the gay world, by the repeated censures which had been launched against him from the groves of Academe. Mr. Malone gives the titles of three pamphlets which had appeared against Dryden: 1. The Censure of the Rota, on Mr. Dryden's Conquest of Granada, printed at Oxford. 2. A Description of the Academy of the Athenian Virtuoso, with a discourse held there in vindication of Mr. Dryden's Conquest of Granada, against the Author of the Censure of the Rota. 3. A Friendly Vindication of Mr. Dryden, from the Author of the Censure of the Rota, printed at Cambridge. Thus assailed by the grave and the learned, censured for the irregularities of his gay patrons, which he countenanced although he did not partake, and stigmatized as a detractor
It is engaging our friends, it may be, in a senseless quarrel, where they have much to venture, without any concernment of their own.* I have declared thus much beforehand, to prevent you from suspicion, that I intend to interest either your judgment or your kindness, in defending the errors of this comedy. It succeeded ill in the representation, against the opinion of many the best judges of our age, to whom you know I read it, ere it was presented publicly. Whether the fault was in the play itself, or in the lameness of the action, or in the number of its enemies, who came resolved to damn it for the title, I will not now dispute. That would be too like the little satisfaction which an unlucky gamester finds in the relation of every cast by which he came to lose his money. I have had formerly so much success, that the miscarriage of this play was only my giving Fortune her revenge; I owed it her, and she was indulgent that she exacted not the payment long before. I will therefore deal more reasonably with you, than any poet has ever done with any patron: I do not so much as oblige you for my sake, to pass two ill hours in reading of my play. Think, if you please, that this dedication is only an occasion I have taken, to do myself the greatest honour imaginable with posterity; that is, to be recorded in the number of those men whom you have favoured with your friendship and esteem. For I am well assured, that, besides the present satisfaction I have, it will gain me the greatest part of my reputation with after ages, when they shall find me valuing myself on your kindness to me; I may have reason to suspect my own credit with them, but I have none to doubt of
of his predecessors, and a defamer of classical learning, it was natural for Dryden to appeal to the most accomplished of those amongst whom he lived, and to whose taste he was but too strongly compelled to adapt his productions. Sedley, therefore, as a man of wit and gallantry, is called upon to support our author against the censures of pedantic severity. Whatever may be thought of the subject, the appeal is made with all Dryden's spirit and elegance, and his description of the Attic evenings spent with Sedley and his gay associates glosses over, and almost justifies, their occasional irregularities. We have but too often occasion to notice, with censure, the licentious manners of the giddy court of Charles; let us not omit its merited commendation. If the talents of the men of parts of that period were often ill directed, and ill rewarded, let not us, from whom that gratitude is justly due, forget that they were called forth and stimulated to exertion by the countenance and applause of the great. We, at least, who enjoy the fruit of these exertions, ought to rejoice, that the courtiers of Charles possessed the taste to countenance and applaud the genius which was too often perverted by the profligacy of their example, and left unrewarded amid their selfish prodigality.
* At this period, seconds in a duel fought, as well as principals.
yours. And they who, perhaps, would forget me in my poems, would remember me in this epistle.
This was the course which has formerly been practised by the poets of that nation, who were masters of the universe. Horace and Ovid, who had little reason to distrust their immortality, yet took occasion to speak with honour of Virgil
, Varius, Tibullus, and Propertius, their contemporaries; as if they sought, in the testimony of their friendship, a further evidence of their fame. For my own part, I, who am the least amongst the poets, have yet the fortune to be honoured with the best patron, and the best friend. For (to omit some great persons of our
court, to whom I am many ways obliged, and
Et mundus victus, non deficiente crumena?
* The second Dutch war, then raging. † To whom the tragedy of “ Amboyna” is dedicated.
night, without disturbing the business of the morrow.*
And thus far not only the philosophers, but the fathers of the church, have gone, without lessening their reputation of good manners, or of piety. For this reason, I have often laughed at the ignorant and ridiculous descriptions which some pedants have given of the wits, as they are pleased to call them; which are a generation of men as unknown to them, as the people of Tartary, or the Terra Australis, are to
And therefore, as we draw giants and anthropophagi in those vacancies of our maps, where we have not travelled to discover better; so those wretches paint lewdness, atheism, folly, ill-reasoning, and all manner of extravagancies amongst us, for want of understanding what we
* It is impossible to avoid contrasting this beautiful account of elegant dissipation with the noted freak of Sir Charles Sedley, to whom it is addressed. In June 1663, being in company with Lord Buckhurst and Sir Thomas Ogle, in a tavern in Bow Street, and having become furious with intoxication, they not only exposed themselves, by committing the grossest indecencies in the balcony, in the sight of the passengers ; but, a mob being thus collected, Sedley stripped himself naked, and proceeded to harangue them in the grossest and most impious language. The indignation of the populace being excited, they attempted to burst into the house, and a desperate riot ensued, in which the orator and his companions had nearly paid for their frolic with their lives. For this riot they were indicted in the Court of Common Pleas, and heavily fined ; Sedley in the sum of £500. When the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Robert Hyde, to repress his insolence, asked him if he had ever read the “Complete Gentleman,” Sedley answered, that he had read more books than his lordship; a repartee which exhibits more effrontery than wit. The culprits employed Killigrew and another courtier to solicit a mitigation of the fine; but, in the true spirit of court friendship, they begged it for themselves, and extorted every farthing.