« AnteriorContinuar »
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
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 1673, 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 “a man of quality whose ashes he will not disturb.”---Essay on the Origin und 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
tude in courts, you have been able to preserve yourself with honour in the midst of so dangerous a course; yet at least the remembrance of those hazards has inspired you with pity for other men, who, being of an inferior wit and quality to you, are yet persecuted, for being that in little, which your lordship is in great * For the quarrel of those people extends itself to any thing of sense; and if I may be so vain to own it, amongst the rest of the poets, has sometimes reached to the very borders of it, even to me. So that, if our general good fortune had not raised up your lordship to defend us, I know not whether any thing had been inore ridiculous in court than writers. It is to your lordship’s favour we generally owe our protection and patronage; and to the nobleness of your nature, which will not suffer the least shadow of your wit to be contemned in other men. You have been often pleased, not only to excuse my imperfections, but to vindicate what was tolerable in my writings from their censures; and, what I never can forget, you have not only been careful of my reputation, but of my fortune. You have been solicitous to supply my neglect of myself; and to overcome the fatal
* When this play was acted for the first time in 1673. But about 1675, Rochester contrived to give such offence as even the excellent temper of his royal master was unable to digest. This was by writing a lampoon called “ The Insipids," in which the person and character of Charles are treated with most merciless and irreverent severity. It begins thus :
Chaste, pious, prudent, Charles the Second,
The miracle of thy Restoration
Rained on the Israelitish nation;
Became their curse and punishinent.
modesty of poets, which submits them to perpetual wants, rather than to become importunate with those people who have the liberality of kings in their disposing, and who, dishonouring the bounty of their master, suffer such to be in necessity who endeavour at least to please him; and for whose entertainment he has generously provided, if the fruits of his royal favour were not often stopped in other hands. But your lordship has given me occasion, not to complain of courts whilst you are there. I have found the effects of your mediation in all my concernments; and they were so much the more noble in you, because they were wholly voluntary. I, became your lordship's, (if I may venture on the similitude) as the world was made, without knowing him who made it; and brought only a passive obedience to be your creature. This nobleness of yours I think myself the rather obliged to own, because otherwise it must have been lost to all remembrance: For you are endowed with that excellent quality of a frank nature, to forget the good which you have done.
But, my lord, I ought to have considered, that you are as great a judge, as you are a patron; and that in praising you ill, I should incur a higher note of ingratitude, than that I thought to have avoided. I stand in need of all your accustomed goodness for the dedication of this play; which, though perhaps it be the best of my comedies, is yet so faulty, that I should have feared you for my critic, if I had not, with some policy, given you the trouble of being my protector. W'it seems to have lodged itself more nobly in this age, than in any of the former; and people of my mean condition are only writers, because sone of the nobility, and your lordship in the first place, are above the narrow praises which poesy
could give you. But, let those who love to see them selves exceeded, encourage your lordship in so dangerous a quality; for my own part, I must confess, that I have so much of self-interest, as to be content with reading some papers of your verses, without desiring you should proceed to a scene, or play; with the common prudence of those who are worsted in a duel, and declare they are satisfied, when they are first wounded. Your lordship has but another step to make, and from the patron of wit, you may become its tyrant; and oppress our little reputations with more ease than you now protect them. But these, my lord, are designs, which I am sure you harbour not, any more than the French king is contriving the conquest of the Swissers. It is a barren triumph, which is not worth your pains; and would only rank him amongst your slaves, who is already,
And most faithful servant,