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little favour, that, being in a high degree offended and disgusted, he resolved to commit his quiet and his fame no more to the caprices of an audience.
From this time his life ceased to the public; he lived for himself and for his friends ; and among his friends was able to name every man of his time whom wit and elegance had raised to reputation. It may be therefore reasonably supposed that his manners were polite, and his conversation pleasing.
He seems not to have taken much pleasure in writing, as he contributed nothing to the Spectator, and only one paper to the Tatler, though published by men with whom he might be supposed willing to associate; and though he lived many years after the publication of bis Miscellaneous Poems, yet he added nothing to them, but lived on in literary indolence, engaged in no controversy, contending with no rival, neither soliciting flattery by public commendations, nor provoking enmity by malignant criticism, but passing his time among the great and splendid, in the placid enjoyment of his fame and fortune.
Having owed his fortune to Halifax, he continued always of his patron's party, but, as it seems, without violence or acrimony; and his firmness was naturally esteemed, as his abilities were reverenced. His security therefore was never violated; and when, upon the extrusion of the Whigs, some intercession was used lest Congreve , should be displaced, the earl of Oxford made this answer:
Non obtusa adeo gestamus pectora Pæni
He that was thus honoured by the adverse party might naturally expect to be advanced when his friends returned to power, and he was accordingly made secretary for the Island of Jamaica; a place, I suppose, without trust or care, but which, with his post in the Customs, is said to have afforded him twelve hundred pounds a year.
His honours were yet far greater than his profits. Every writer mentioned him with respect; and, among other testimonies to his merit, Steele made him the patron of his Miscellany, and Pope inscribed to him his translation of the lliad.
But he treated the Muses with ingratitude; for, having long conversed familiarly with the great, he wished to be considered rather as a man of fashion than of wit; and when he received a visit from Voltaire, disgusted him by the despicable foppery of desiring to be considered not as an author but a gentleman; to which the Frenchman replied, " that if he had been only a gentleman, he should not have come to visit bim."
In his retirement he may be supposed to have applied himself to books; for he discovers more literature than the poets have commonly attained. But his studies were in his latter days obstructed by cataracts in his eyes, which at last terminated in blindness. This melancholy statę was aggravated by the gout, for which he sought relief by a journey to Bath; but, being overturned in his chariot, complained from that time of a pain in his side, and died, at his house in Surrey, street in the Strand, Jan. 29, 1728-9. Having lain in state in the Jerusalemchamber, he was buried in Westminster-abbey, where a monument is erected to his memory by Henrietta dutchess of Marlborough, to whom, for reasons either not known or not mentioned, be bequeathed a legacy of about ten thousand
pounds, the accumulation of attentive parsiinony, which, though to her superfluous and useless, might have given great assistance to the ancient family from which he descended, at that time, by the imprudence of his relation, reduced to difficulties and distress.
CONGREVE has merit of the highest kind; he is an original writer, who borrowed neither the models of his plot, nor the manner of his dialogue. Of his plays I cannot speak distinctly; for since I inspected them many years have passed; but what remains upon my memory is, that his characters are commonly fictitious and artificial, with very little of nature, and not much of life. He formed a peculiar idea of comic excellence, which he supposed to consist of gay remarks and unexpected answers; but that which he endeavoured, he seldom failed of performing. His scenes exhibit not much of humour, imagery, or passion : his personages are a kind of intellectual gladiators; every sentence is to ward or strike; the contest of smartness is never intermitted ; his wit is a meteor playing to and fro with alternate coruscations. His comedies, have, therefore, in some degree, the operation of tragedies; they surprise rather than divert, and raise admiration oftener than merriment. But they are the works of a mind replete with images, and quick in combination.
Of his miscellaneous poetry I cannot say any thing very favourable. The powers of Congreve seem to desert him when he leaves the stage, as Antæus was no longer
trong than when he could touch the grouud. It cannot be observed without wonder, that a mind so vigorous and fertile in dramatic compositions should, on any other occasion, discover nothing but impotence and poverty. He has in these little pieces neither elevation of fancy, selection of language, nor skill in versification : yet, if I were required to select from the whole mass of English poetry the most poetical pa. ragraph, I know not what I could prefer to an exclamation in the Mourning Bride;
It bore the accent of a human voice.
Nay, quickly speak to me, and let me hear
He who reads these lines enjoys for a moment the powers of a poet; he feels what he remembers to have felt before; but he feels it with great increase of sensibility; he · recognizes a familiar image, but meets it again amplified and expanded, embellished with beauty, and enlarged with majesty.
Yet could the author, who appears here to have enjoyed the confidence of Nature, lament the death of queen Mary in lines like these :
The rocks are cleft, and new-descending rills
And, many years after, he gave no proof that time had improved his wisdom or his wit; for, on the death of the marquis of Blandford, this was his song:
And now the winds, which had so long been still,
In both these funeral poems, when he has yelled out many syllables of senseless dolour, he dismisses bis reader with senseless consolation: from the grave of Pastora rises a light that forms a star; and where Amaryllis wept for Amyntas, from every tear sprung up a violet.
But William is his hero, and of William he will sing:
The hovering winds on downy wings shall wait around,
It cannot but be proper to show what they shall have to catch and carry:
'Twas now, when flowery lawns the prospect made,
The Birth of the Muse is a miserable fiction. One good line it has, w borrowed from Dryden. The concluding verses are these ;
This said, no more remain'd. Th’etherial host
Of his irregular poems, that to Mrs. Arabella Hunt seems to be the best : his ode for St. Cecilia's day, however, has some lines which Pope had in his mind when he wrote his own.
His imitations of Horace are feebly paraphrastical, and the additions which he makes are of little value. He sometimes retains what were more properly omitted, as when he talks of vervain and gums to propitiate Venus.
Of his translations, the satire of Juvenal was written very early, and may therefore be forgiven, though it have not the massiness and vigour of the original. In all his versions strength and sprightliness are wanting : his Hymn to Venus, from Homer, is perhaps the best. His lines are weakened with expletives, and his rhymes are frequently imperfect.
His petty poems are seldom worth the cost of criticism ; sometimes the thoughts are false, and sometimes common. In his verses on lady Gethin, the latter part is in imitation of Dryden's ode on Mrs. Killigrew; and Doris, that has been so lavishly flattered by Steele, has indeed some lively stanzas, but the expression might be mended; and the most striking part of the character had been already shown in Love for Love. His Art of Pleasing is founded on a vulgar, but perhaps impracticable principle, and the staleness of the sense is not concealed by any novelty of illustration or elegance of diction.
This tissue of poetry, from which he seems to have hoped a lasting name, is totally neglected, and known only as it appended to his plays.
While comedy, or while tragedy, is regarded, his plays are likely to be read;
but, except' what relates to the stage, I know not that he has ever written a stanza that is sung, or a couplet that is quoted. The general character of his miscellanies is, that they show little wit and little virtue.
Yet to him it must be confessed, that we are indebted for the correction of a national errour, and for the cure of our Pindaric madness. He first taught the English writers that Pindar's odes were regular; and though certainly he had not the fire requisite for the higher species of lyric poetry, he has shown us, that enthusiasm has its rules, and that in mere confusion there is neither grace nor greatness.
1 “ Except !” Dr. Warton exclaims, “ Is not this a high sort of poetry?” He mentions, likewise, that Congreve's opera or oratorio of Semele, was set to music by Handel, I believe in 1743. C