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Quicquid sum ego, quamvis
MARRIAGE A-LA-MODE was one of Dryden's most successful comedies. A venerable praiser of the past time, in a curious letter printed in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1745, gives us this account of its first representation. “ This comedy, acted by his Majesty's servants at the Theatre-Royal, made its first appearance with extraordinary lustre. Divesting myself of the old man, I solemnly declare, that you have seen no such acting, no, not in any degree since. The players were then, 1673, on a court establishment, seventeen men, and eight women.” Gent. Mag. Vol. xv. p. 99. From a copy of verses, to which this letter is annexed, we learn the excellence of the various performers by whom the piece was first presented. They are addressed to a young actress.
Henceforth, in livelier characters excel,
These scenes, the glory of a comic age,
Mrs Monfort, who, by her second marriage, became Mrs Verbruggen, was the first who appeared in the highly popular part of Melantha, and the action and character appear to have been held incomparable by that unquestionable judge of the humour of a coquette, or coxcomb, the illustrious Colley Cibber. “Melantha,” says Cibber, “is as finished an impertinent as ever fluttered in a drawing-room; and seems to contain the most complete system of female foppery that could possibly be crowded into the tortured form of a fine lady. Her language, dress, motion, manners, soul, and body, are in a continual hurry to be something more than is necessary or commendable. And, though I doubt it will be a vain labour to offer you a just likeness of Mrs Monfort's action, yet the fantastic expression is still so strong in my memory, that I cannot help saying something, though fantastically, about it. The first ridiculous airs, that break from her, are upon a gallant never seen before, who delivers her a letter from her father, recommending him to her good graces as an honourable lover. Here, now, one would think she might naturally shew a little of the sex's decent reserve, though never so slightly covered. No, sir, not a tittle of it:, Modesty is a poor-souled country gentlewoman; she is too much a court lady to be under so vulgar a confusion. She reads the letter, therefore, with a careless dropping lip, and an erected brow, humming it hastily over, as if she were impatient to outgo her father's commands, by making a complete conquest of him at once ; and, that the letter might not embarrass the attack, crack! she crumbles it at once into her palm, and pours down upon him-her whole artillery of airs, eyes, and motion ; down goes her dainty diving body to the ground, as if she were sinking under the conscious load of her own attractions; then launches into a flood of fine language and compliment, still playing her chest forward in fifty falls and risings, like a swan upon waving water ; and, to complete her impertinence, she is so rapidly fond of her own wit, that she will not give her lover leave to praise it. Silent assenting bows, and vain endeavours to speak, are all the share of the conversation he is admitted to, which, at last, he is removed from by her engagement to half a score of visits, which she swims from him to make, with a promise to return in a twinkling.” Ciba ber's Apology, p. 99.
By this lively sketch, some judgment may be formed of the effect produced by the character of Melantha, when ably represented; but, to say the truth, we could hardly have drawn the same deduction from a simple perusal of the piece. Of the French phrases, which the affected lady throws into her conversation, some have been since naturalized, as good graces, minuet, chagrin, grimace, ridicule, and others. Little can be said of the tragic part of the drama. The sudden turn of fortune in the conclusion is ridiculed in “ The Rehearsal.”
The researches of Mr Malone have ascertained that “ Marriage A-la-Mode” was first acted in 1673, in an old theatre in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, occupied by the King's company, after that in Drury-Lane had been burned, and during its re-building. The play was printed in the same year.
HUMBLY dedicate to your Lordship that poem, of which you were pleased to appear an early patron, before it was acted on the stage. I may yet go farther, with your permission, and say, that it
* The patron, whom Dryden here addresses, was the famous John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, the wittiest, perhaps, and most dissolute, among the witty and dissolute courtiers of Charles II. It is somewhat remarkable, and may be considered as a just judgment upon the poet, that he was, a few years afterwards, way-laid and severely beaten by bravoes, whom Lord Rochester employed to revenge the share which Dryden is supposed to have had in the Essay on Satire. The reader is referred to the life of the author for the particulars of this occurrence, which is here recalled to his recollection, as a striking illustration of the inutility, as well as meanness, of ill applied praise; since even the eulogy of Dryden, however liberally bestowed and beautifully expressed, failed to save hím from the most unmanly treatment at the hands of the worth