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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, 16"73, on a court establishment, seventeen men, and eight women." Gent. Mag. Vol. xv. p. gy. 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,
Though 'tis great merit to act folly well;
Take, take from Dryden's hand Melantha's part,
The gaudy effort of luxuriant art,
In all imagination's glitter drest;
What from her lips fantastic Montfort caught,
And almost moved the thing the poet thought.
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 Collcy 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 toofter 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:tModesty 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-hcT 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 lond of her own wit, that she will not givs 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." Gibber'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.
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
EARL OF ROCHESTER
J. 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 received amendment from your noble hands ere it was fit to be presented. You may please likewise to remember, with how much favour to the author, and indulgence to the play, you commended it to the view of his Majesty, then at Windsor, and, by his approbation of it in writing, made way for its kind reception on the theatre. In this dedication, therefore, I may seem to imitate a custom of the ancients, who offered to their gods the firstlings of the flock, (which, I think, they called Ver sacrum) because they helped them to increase. I am sure, if there be any thing in this play, wherein I have raised myself beyond the ordinary lowness of my comedies, I ought wholly to acknowledge it to the favour of being admitted into your lordship's conversation. And not only I, who pretend not to this way, but the best comic writers of our age, will join with me to acknowledge, that they have copied the
* 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 him from the most unmanly treatment at the hands of the worth
less and heartless object, on whom it was wasted. It is melancholy to see Dryden, as may be fairly inferred from his motto, piqueing himself on being admitted into the society of such men as Rochester, and enjoying their precarious favour. Mr Malone has remarked, that even in the course of the year I6'73, when this dedication came forth, Rochester entertained the perverse ambition of directing the public favour, not according to merit, but to his own caprice. Accordingly, he countenanced Settle in his impudent rivalry of Dryden, and wrote a prologue to the " Empress of Morocco," when it was exhibited at Whitehall. Perhaps, joined to a certain envy of Dryden's talents, the poet's intimacy with Sheffield Earl of Mulgrave gave offence to Rochester. It is certain they were never afterwards reconciled; and even after Rochester's death, Dryden only mentions his once valued patron, as "aman of quality whose ashes he will not disturb."—Essay on the Origin and Progress of Satire, prefixed to Juvenal. It would seem, however, that this dedication was very favourably received by Rochester, since a letter of Dryden's to that nobleman is still extant, in which he acknowledges a flattering return of compliment from his Lordship in exchange for it.
gallantries of courts, the delicacy of expression, and the decencies of behaviour, from your lordship, with more success, than if they had taken their models from the court of France. But this, my lord, will be no wonder to the world, which knows the excellency of your natural parts, and those you have acquired in a noble education. That which, with more reason, I admire, is, that being so absolute a courtier, you have not forgot either the ties of friendship, or the practice of generosity. In my little experience of a court, (which, I confess, I desire not to improve) I have found in it much of interest, and more of detraction: Few men there have that assurance of a friend, as not to be made ridiculous by him when they are absent. There are a middling sort of courtiers, who become happy by their want of wit; but they supply that want by an excess of malice to those who have it. And there is no such persecution as that of fools: They can never be considerable enough to be talked of themselves; so that they are safe only in their obscurity, and grow mischievous to witty men, by the great diligence of their envy, and by being always present to represent and aggravate their faults. In the mean time, they are forced, when they endeavour to be pleasant, to live on the offals of their wit whom they decry; and either to quote it, (which they do unwillingly) or to pass it upon others for their own. These are the men who make it their business to chace wit from the knowledge of princes, lest it should disgrace their ignorance. And this kind of malice your lordship has not so much avoided, as surmounted. But if by the excellent temper of a royal master, always more ready to hear good than ill; if by his inclination to love you; if by your own merit and address; if by the charms of your conversation, the grace of your behaviour, your knowledge of greatness, and habi