« AnteriorContinuar »
that of Sir Charles Sedley. I have chosen that poet to whom I would resemble you, not only because I think him at least equal, if not superior, 'to Ovid in his elegies; nor because of his quality, for he was, you know, a Roman knight, as well as (vid ; but for his candour, his wealth, his way of living, and particularly because of this testimony which is given him by Horace, which I have a thousand times in my mind applied to you:
Non tu corpus eras sine pectore : Dii tibi formam,
Certainly the poets of that age enjoyed much happiness in the conversation and friendship of one another. They imitated the best way of living, which was, to pursue an innocent and inoffensive pleasure, that which one of the ancients called eruditam voluptatem. We have, like them, our genial nights, where our discourse is neither too serious nor too light, but always pleasant, and, for the most part, instructive; the raillery, neither too sharp upon the present, nor too censorious on the absent; and the cups only such as will raise the conversation of the night, without disturbing the business of the morrow* And thus far not only the philo
* 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 Bowstreet, 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
sophers, 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 us. 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 are. Oftentimes it so falls out, that they have a particular pique to some one amongst us, and then they immediately interest heaven in their quarrel; as it is an usual trick in courts, when one designs the ruin of his enemy, to disguise his malice with some concernment of the kings; and to revenge his own cause, with pretence of vindicating the honour of his master. Such wits as they describe, I have never been so unfortunate as to meet in your company; but have often heard much better reasoning at your table, than I have encountered in their books. The wits they describe, are the fops we banish: For blasphemy and atheism, if they were neither sin nor ill manners, are subjects so very common, and worn so threadbare, that people, who have sense, avoid them, for fear of being suspected to have none. It calls the good name of their wit in quéstion, as it does the credit of a citizen when his shop is filled with trumperies and painted titles, instead of wares: We conclude them bankrupt to all manner of understanding; and that to use blasphemy, is a kind of applying pigeons to the soles of the feet; it proclaims their fancy, as well as judgment, to be in a desperate condition. I am sure, for your own particular, if any of these judges had once the happiness to converse with you,--to hear the candour of your opinions; how freely you commend that wit in others of which you have so large a portion yourself; how unapt you are to be censorious; with how much easiness you speak so many things, and those so pointed, that no other man is able to excel, or perhaps to reach by study;—they would, instead of your accusers, become your proselytes. They would reverence so much sense, and so much good nature in the same person; and come, like the satyr, to warm themselves at that fire, of which they were ignorantly afraid when they stood at a distance. But you have too great a reputation to be wholly free from censure: it is a fine which fortune sets upon all extraordinary persons, and from which you should not wish to be delivered until you are dead. I have been used by my critics much more severely, and have more reason to complain, because I am deeper taxed for a less estate. I am, ridiculously enough, accused to be a contemner of universities; that is, in other words, an enemy of learning; without the foundation of which, I am sure, no man can pretend to be a poet. And if this be not
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 riut they were indicted in the Court of Common Pleas, and heavily fined ; Sedley in the sum of L. 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.
enough, I am made a detractor from my predecessors, whom I confess to have been my masters in the art. But this latter was the accusation of the best judge, and almost the best poet, in the Latin tongue. You find Horace complaining, that, for taxing some verses in Lucilius, he himself was blamed by others, though his design was no other than mine now, to improve the knowledge of poetry; and it was no defence to him, amongst his enemies, any more than it is for me, that he praised Lucilius where he deserved it; paginá laudatur eâdem. It is for this reason I will be no more mistaken for my good meaning: I know I honour Ben Jonson more than my little critics, because, without vanity I may own, I understand him better*. As for the errors they pretend to find in me, I could easily show them, that the greatest part of them are beauties; and for the rest, I could recriminate upon the best poets of our nation, if I could resolve to accuse another of little faults, whom, at the same time, I admire for greater excellencies. But I have neither concernment enough upon me to write any thing in my own defence, neither will I gratify the ambition of two wretched scribblers, who desire nothing more than to be answered. I have not wanted friends, even among strangers, who have defended me more strongly, than my contemptible pedant could attack met. For the other,
* Our author here shortly repeats what he has said at more length in his Defence of the Epilogue to the second part of the Conquest of Granada.
+ The pedant Mr Malone conjectures to be Matthew Clifford, Master of the Charter-house, one of the Duke of Buckingham's colleagues in writing “The Rehearsal.” But the pedant is obviously the same with the Fastidious Brisk of Oxford, inentioned in the following sentence, which can hardly apply to Clifford, who was
he is only like Fungoso in the play, who follows the fashion at a distance, and adores the Fastidious Brisk of Oxford*. You can bear me witness, that I have not consideration enough for either of them to be angry. Let Mevius and Bavius admire each other; I wish to be hated by them and their fellows, by the same reason for which I desire to be, loved by you. And I leave it to the world, whether their judgment of my poetry ought to be preferred to yours; though they are as much prejudiced by their malice, as I desire you should be led by your kindness, to be partial to,
Your most humble,
And most faithful servant,
educated, at Cambridge. One Leigh is said by Wood to have written the Censure of the Rota; and as he was educated at Oxford, and the book printed there, he may be 56 the contemptible pedant,” though his profession was that of a player in the duke's company.
* Fungoso and Sir Fastidious Brisk are two characters in “ Every Ilan Out of his Humour;" the former of whom is represented as copying the dress and manners of the latter. Dryden seems only to mean, that one of those pamphleteers was the servile imitator of ble other.