William Congreve.

Incognita; or, Love and Duty Reconcil'd online

. (page 1 of 6)
Online LibraryWilliam CongreveIncognita; or, Love and Duty Reconcil'd → online text (page 1 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Transcribed from the text of the first edition by David Price, email
[email protected]

by William Congreve

Honoured and Worthily Esteem'd
Mrs. _Katharine Leveson_.


A Clear Wit, sound Judgment and a Merciful Disposition, are things so
rarely united, that it is almost inexcusable to entertain them with any
thing less excellent in its kind. My knowledge of you were a sufficient
Caution to me, to avoid your Censure of this Trifle, had I not as intire
a knowledge of your Goodness. Since I have drawn my Pen for a
Rencounter, I think it better to engage where, though there be Skill
enough to Disarm me, there is too much Generosity to Wound; for so shall
I have the saving Reputation of an unsuccessful Courage, if I cannot make
it a drawn Battle. But methinks the Comparison intimates something of a
Defiance, and savours of Arrogance; wherefore since I am Conscious to my
self of a Fear which I cannot put off, let me use the Policy of Cowards
and lay this Novel unarm'd, naked and shivering at your Feet, so that if
it should want Merit to challenge Protection, yet, as an Object of
Charity, it may move Compassion. It has been some Diversion to me to
Write it, I wish it may prove such to you when you have an hour to throw
away in Reading of it: but this Satisfaction I have at least beforehand,
that in its greatest failings it may fly for Pardon to that Indulgence
which you owe to the weakness of your Friend; a Title which I am proud
you have thought me worthy of, and which I think can alone be superior to

_Your most Humble and_
_Obliged Servant_



Some Authors are so fond of a Preface, that they will write one tho'
there be nothing more in it than an Apology for its self. But to show
thee that I am not one of those, I will make no Apology for this, but do
tell thee that I think it necessary to be prefix'd to this Trifle, to
prevent thy overlooking some little pains which I have taken in the
Composition of the following Story. Romances are generally composed of
the Constant Loves and invincible Courages of Hero's, Heroins, Kings and
Queens, Mortals of the first Rank, and so forth; where lofty Language,
miraculous Contingencies and impossible Performances, elevate and
surprize the Reader into a giddy Delight, which leaves him flat upon the
Ground whenever he gives of, and vexes him to think how he has suffer'd
himself to be pleased and transported, concern'd and afflicted at the
several Passages which he has Read, viz. these Knights Success to their
Damosels Misfortunes, and such like, when he is forced to be very well
convinced that 'tis all a lye. Novels are of a more familiar nature;
Come near us, and represent to us Intrigues in practice, delight us with
Accidents and odd Events, but not such as are wholly unusual or
unpresidented, such which not being so distant from our Belief bring also
the pleasure nearer us. Romances give more of Wonder, Novels more
Delight. And with reverence be it spoken, and the Parallel kept at due
distance, there is something of equality in the Proportion which they
bear in reference to one another, with that betwen Comedy and Tragedy;
but the Drama is the long extracted from Romance and History: 'tis the
Midwife to Industry, and brings forth alive the Conceptions of the Brain.
Minerva walks upon the Stage before us, and we are more assured of the
real presence of Wit when it is delivered viva voce -

Segnius irritant animos demissa per aurem,
Quam quae sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus, & quae
Ipse sibi tradit spectator. - Horace.

Since all Traditions must indisputably give place to the Drama, and since
there is no possibility of giving that life to the Writing or Repetition
of a Story which it has in the Action, I resolved in another beauty to
imitate Dramatick Writing, namely, in the Design, Contexture and Result
of the Plot. I have not observed it before in a Novel. Some I have seen
begin with an unexpected accident, which has been the only surprizing
part of the Story, cause enough to make the Sequel look flat, tedious and
insipid; for 'tis but reasonable the Reader should expect it not to rise,
at least to keep upon a level in the entertainment; for so he may be kept
on in hopes that at some time or other it may mend; but the 'tother is
such a balk to a Man, 'tis carrying him up stairs to show him the Dining-
Room, and after forcing him to make a Meal in the Kitchin. This I have
not only endeavoured to avoid, but also have used a method for the
contrary purpose. The design of the Novel is obvious, after the first
meeting of Aurelian and Hippolito with Incognita and Leonora, and the
difficulty is in bringing it to pass, maugre all apparent obstacles,
within the compass of two days. How many probable Casualties intervene
in opposition to the main Design, viz. of marrying two Couple so oddly
engaged in an intricate Amour, I leave the Reader at his leisure to
consider: As also whether every Obstacle does not in the progress of the
Story act as subservient to that purpose, which at first it seems to
oppose. In a Comedy this would be called the Unity of Action; here it
may pretend to no more than an Unity of Contrivance. The Scene is
continued in Florence from the commencement of the Amour; and the time
from first to last is but three days. If there be any thing more in
particular resembling the Copy which I imitate (as the Curious Reader
will soon perceive) I leave it to show it self, being very well satisfy'd
how much more proper it had been for him to have found out this himself,
than for me to prepossess him with an Opinion of something extraordinary
in an Essay began and finished in the idler hours of a fortnight's time:
for I can only esteem it a laborious idleness, which is Parent to so
inconsiderable a Birth. I have gratified the Bookseller in pretending an
occasion for a Preface; the other two Persons concern'd are the Reader
and my self, and if he be but pleased with what was produced for that
end, my satisfaction follows of course, since it will be proportion'd to
his Approbation or Dislike.

Love & Duty

Aurelian was the only Son to a Principal Gentleman of Florence. The
Indulgence of his Father prompted, and his Wealth enabled him, to bestow
a generous Education upon him, whom, he now began to look upon as the
Type of himself; an Impression he had made in the Gayety and Vigour of
his Youth, before the Rust of Age had debilitated and obscur'd the
Splendour of the Original: He was sensible, That he ought not to be
sparing in the Adornment of him, if he had Resolution to beautifie his
own Memory. Indeed Don Fabio (for so was the Old Gentleman call'd) has
been observ'd to have fix'd his Eyes upon Aurelian, when much Company has
been at Table, and have wept through Earnestness of Intention, if nothing
hapned to divert the Object; whether it were for regret, at the
Recollection of his former self, or for the Joy he conceiv'd in being, as
it were, reviv'd in the Person of his Son, I never took upon me to
enquire, but suppos'd it might be sometimes one, and sometimes both

Aurelian, at the Age of Eighteen Years, wanted nothing (but a Beard) that
the most accomplished Cavalier in Florence could pretend to: he had been
Educated from Twelve Years old at Siena, where it seems his Father kept a
Receiver, having a large Income from the Rents of several Houses in that
Town. Don Fabio gave his Servant Orders, That Aurelian should not be
stinted in his Expences, when he came up to Years of Discretion. By
which means he was enabled, not only to keep Company with, but also to
confer many Obligations upon Strangers of Quality, and Gentlemen who
travelled from other Countries into Italy, of which Siena never wanted
store, being a Town most delightfully Situate, upon a Noble Hill, and
very well suiting with Strangers at first, by reason of the agreeableness
and purity of the Air: There also is the quaintness and delicacy of the
Italian Tongue most likely to be learned, there being many publick
Professors of it in that place; and indeed the very Vulgar of Siena do
express themselves with an easiness and sweetness surprizing, and even
grateful to their Ears who understand not the Language.

Here Aurelian contracted an acquaintance with Persons of Worth of several
Countries, but among the rest an intimacy with a Gentleman of Quality of
Spain, and Nephew to the Archbishop of Toledo, who had so wrought himself
into the Affections of Aurelian, through a Conformity of Temper, an
Equality in Years, and something of resemblance in Feature and
Proportion, that he look'd upon him as his second self. Hippolito, on
the other hand, was not ungrateful in return of Friendship, but thought
himself either alone or in ill Company, if Aurelian were absent: but his
Uncle having sent him to travel, under the Conduct of a Governour, and
the two Years which limited his stay at Siena being expired, he was put
in mind of his departure. His Friend grew melancholy at the News, but
considering that Hippolito had never seen Florence, he easily prevailed
with him to make his first journey thither, whither he would accompany
him, and perhaps prevail with his Father to do the like throughout his

They accordingly set out, but not being able easily to reach Florence the
same Night, they rested a League or two short, at a Villa of the great
Duke's called Poggio Imperiale, where they were informed by some of his
Highness's Servants, That the Nuptials of Donna Catharina (near Kinswoman
to the great Duke) and Don Ferdinand de Rovori, were to be solemnized the
next day, and that extraordinary Preparations had been making for some
time past, to illustrate the Solemnity with Balls and Masques, and other
Divertisements; that a Tilting had been proclaimed, and to that purpose
Scaffolds erected around the Spacious Court, before the Church Di Santa
Croce, where were usually seen all Cavalcades and Shews, performed by
Assemblies of the Young Nobility: That all Mechanicks and Tradesmen were
forbidden to work or expose any Goods to Sale for the space of three
days; during which time all Persons should be entertain'd at the Great
Duke's Cost; and publick Provision was to be made for the setting forth
and furnishing a multitude of Tables, with Entertainment for all Comers
and Goers, and several Houses appointed for that use in all Streets.

This Account alarm'd the Spirits of our Young Travellers, and they were
overjoy'd at the prospect of Pleasures they foresaw. Aurelian could not
contain the satisfaction he conceiv'd in the welcome Fortune had prepar'd
for his dear Hippolito. In short, they both remembred so much of the
pleasing Relation had been made them, that they forgot to sleep, and were
up as soon as it was light, pounding at poor Signior Claudio's Door (so
was Hippolito's Governour call'd) to rouse him, that no time might be
lost till they were arriv'd at Florence, where they would furnish
themselves with Disguises and other Accoutrements necessary for the
Prosecution of their Design of sharing in the publick Merriment; the
rather were they for going so early because Aurelian did not think fit to
publish his being in Town for a time, least his Father knowing of it,
might give some restraint to that loose they designed themselves.

Before Sun rise they entred Florence at Porta Romana, attended only by
two Servants, the rest being left behind to avoid notice; but, alas! they
needed not to have used half that caution; for early as it was, the
Streets were crowded with all sorts of People passing to and fro, and
every Man employ'd in something relating to the Diversions to come; so
that no notice was taken of any body; a Marquess and his Train might have
pass'd by as unregarded as a single Fachin or Cobler. Not a Window in
the Streets but echoed the tuning of a Lute or thrumming of a Gitarr:
for, by the way, the Inhabitants of Florence are strangely addicted to
the love of Musick, insomuch that scarce their Children can go, before
they can scratch some Instrument or other. It was no unpleasing
Spectacle to our Cavaliers (who, seeing they were not observ'd, resolved
to make Observations) to behold the Diversity of Figures and Postures of
many of these Musicians. Here you should have an affected Vallet, who
Mimick'd the Behaviour of his Master, leaning carelessly against the
Window, with his Head on one side, in a languishing Posture, whining, in
a low, mournful Voice, some dismal Complaint; while, from his
sympathizing Theorbo, issued a Base no less doleful to the Hearers. In
Opposition to him was set up perhaps a Cobler, with the wretched Skeleton
of a Gitarr, battered and waxed together by his own Industry, and who
with three Strings out of Tune, and his own tearing hoarse Voice, would
rack attention from the Neighbourhood, to the great affliction of many
more moderate Practitioners, who, no doubt, were full as desirous to be
heard. By this time Aurelian's Servant had taken a Lodging and was
returned, to give his Master an Account of it. The Cavaliers grown weary
of that ridiculous Entertainment, which was diverting at first sight,
retired whither the Lacquey conducted them; who, according to their
Directions, had sought out one of the most obscure Streets in the City.
All that day, to the evening, was spent in sending from one Brokers Shop
to another, to furnish them with Habits, since they had not time to make
any new.

There was, it happened, but one to be got Rich enough to please our young
Gentlemen, so many were taken up upon this occasion. While they were in
Dispute and Complementing one another, (Aurelian protesting that
Hippolito should wear it, and he, on 'tother hand, forswearing it as
bitterly) a Servant of Hippolito's came up and ended the Controversie;
telling them, That he had met below with the Vallet de Chambre of a
Gentleman, who was one of the greatest Gallants about the Town, but was
at this time in such a condition he could not possibly be at the
Entertainment; whereupon the Vallet had designed to dress himself up in
his Master's Apparel, and try his talent at Court; which he hearing, told
him he would inform him how he might bestow the Habit for some time much
more to his profit if not to his pleasure, so acquainted him with the
occasion his Master had for it. Hippolito sent for the Fellow up, who
was not so fond of his design as not to be bought off it, but upon having
his own demand granted for the use of it, brought it; it was very Rich,
and upon tryal, as fit for Hippolito as if it had been made for him. The
Ceremony was performed in the Morning, in the great Dome, with all
magnificence correspondent to the wealth of the great Duke, and the
esteem he had for the Noble Pair. The next Morning was to be a Tilting,
and the same Night a Masquing Ball at Court. To omit the Description of
the universal Joy, (that had diffus'd it self through all the Conduits of
Wine, which convey'd it in large measures to the People) and only relate
those effects of it which concern our present Adventurers. You must
know, that about the fall of the Evening, and at that time when the
_aequilibrium_ of Day and Night, for some time, holds the Air in a gloomy
suspence between an unwillingness to leave the light, and a natural
impulse into the Dominion of darkness, about this time our Hero's, shall
I say, sally'd or slunk out of their Lodgings, and steer'd toward the
great Palace, whither, before they were arrived, such a prodigious number
of Torches were on fire, that the day, by help of these Auxiliary Forces,
seem'd to continue its Dominion; the Owls and Bats apprehending their
mistake, in counting the hours, retir'd again to a convenient darkness;
for Madam Night was no more to be seen than she was to be heard; and the
Chymists were of Opinion, That her fuliginous Damps, rarefy'd by the
abundance of Flame, were evaporated.

Now the Reader I suppose to be upon Thorns at this and the like
impertinent Digressions, but let him alone and he'll come to himself; at
which time I think fit to acquaint him, that when I digress, I am at that
time writing to please my self, when I continue the Thread of the Story,
I write to please him; supposing him a reasonable Man, I conclude him
satisfied to allow me this liberty, and so I proceed.

If our Cavaliers were dazled at the splendour they beheld without doors,
what surprize, think you, must they be in, when entering the Palace they
found even the lights there to be but so many foils to the bright eyes
that flash'd upon 'em at every turn.

A more glorious Troop no occasion ever assembled; all the fair of
Florence, with the most accomplished Cavaliers, were present; and however
Nature had been partial in bestowing on some better Faces than others,
Art was alike indulgent to all, and industriously supplyed those Defects
she had left, giving some Addition also to her greatest Excellencies.
Every body appear'd well shap'd, as it is to be suppos'd, none who were
conscious to themselves of any visible Deformity would presume to come
thither. Their Apparel was equally glorious, though each differing in
fancy. In short, our Strangers were so well bred, as to conclude from
these apparent Perfections, that there was not a Masque which did not at
least hide the Face of a Cherubim. Perhaps the Ladies were not behind
hand in return of a favourable Opinion of them: for they were both well
dress'd, and had something inexpressibly pleasing in their Air and Mien,
different from other People, and indeed differing from one another. They
fansy'd that while they stood together they were more particularly taken
notice of than any in the Room, and being unwilling to be taken for
Strangers, which they thought they were, by reason of some whispering
they observed near them, they agreed upon an hour of meeting after the
company should be broke up, and so separately mingled with the thickest
of the Assembly. Aurelian had fixed his eye upon a Lady whom he had
observ'd to have been a considerable time in close whisper with another
Woman; he expected with great impatience the result of that private
Conference, that he might have an opportunity of engaging the Lady whose
Person was so agreeable to him. At last he perceived they were broke
off, and the 'tother Lady seem'd to have taken her leave. He had taken
no small pains in the mean time to put himself in a posture to accost the
Lady, which, no doubt, he had happily performed had he not been
interrupted; but scarce had he acquitted himself of a preliminary bow
(and which, I have heard him say, was the lowest that ever he made) and
had just opened his Lips to deliver himself of a small Complement, which,
nevertheless he was very big with, when he unluckily miscarried, by the
interposal of the same Lady, whose departure, not long before, he had so
zealously pray'd for: but, as Providence would have it, there was only
some very small matter forgot, which was recovered in a short whisper.
The Coast being again cleared, he took heart and bore up, and, striking
sail, repeated his Ceremony to the Lady; who, having Obligingly returned
it, he accosted her in these or the like words:

'If I do not usurp a priviledge reserved for some one more happy in your
acquaintance, may I presume, Madam, to entreat (for a while) the favour
of your Conversation, at least till the arrival of whom you expect,
provided you are not tired of me before; for then upon the least
intimation of uneasiness, I will not fail of doing my self the violence
to withdraw for your release. The Lady made him answer, she did not
expect any body; by which he might imagine her Conversation not of value
to be bespoke, and to afford it him, were but farther to convince him to
her own cost. He reply'd, 'She had already said enough to convince him
of something he heartily wished might not be to his cost in the end. She
pretended not to understand him; but told him, 'If he already found
himself grieved with her Conversation, he would have sufficient reason to
repent the rashness of his first Demand before they had ended: for that
now she intended to hold discourse with him, on purpose to punish his
unadvisedness, in presuming upon a Person whose dress and mien might not
(may be) be disagreeable to have wit. 'I must confess (reply'd Aurelian)
my self guilty of a Presumption, and willingly submit to the punishment
you intend: and though it be an aggravation of a Crime to persevere in
its justification, yet I cannot help defending an Opinion in which now I
am more confirm'd, that probable conjectures may be made of the ingenious
Disposition of the Mind, from the fancy and choice of Apparel. The
humour I grant ye (said the Lady) or constitution of the Person whether
melancholick or brisk; but I should hardly pass my censure upon so slight
an indication of wit: for there is your brisk fool as well as your brisk
man of sense, and so of the melancholick. I confess 'tis possible a fool
may reveal himself by his Dress, in wearing something extravagantly
singular and ridiculous, or in preposterous suiting of colours; but a
decency of Habit (which is all that Men of best sense pretend to) may be
acquired by custom and example, without putting the Person to a
superfluous expence of wit for the contrivance; and though there should
be occasion for it, few are so unfortunate in their Relations and
Acquaintance not to have some Friend capable of giving them advice, if
they are not too ignorantly conceited to ask it. Aurelian was so pleased
with the easiness and smartness of her Expostulation, that he forgot to
make a reply, when she seem'd to expect it; but being a Woman of a quick
Apprehension, and justly sensible of her own perfections, she soon
perceived he did not grudge his attention. However she had a mind to put
it upon him to turn the discourse, so went on upon the same Subject.
'Signior (said she) I have been looking round me, and by your Maxim I
cannot discover one fool in the Company; for they are all well drest.
This was spoken with an Air of Rallery that awakened the Cavalier, who
immediately made answer: 'Tis true, Madam, we see there may be as much
variety of good fancies as of faces, yet there may be many of both kinds
borrowed and adulterate if inquired into; and as you were pleased to
observe, the invention may be Foreign to the Person who puts it in
practice; and as good an Opinion as I have of an agreeable Dress, I
should be loth to answer for the wit of all about us. I believe you
(says the Lady) and hope you are convinced of your error, since you must
allow it impossible to tell who of all this Assembly did or did not make
choice of their own Apparel. Not all (said Aurelian) there is an
ungainness in some which betrays them. 'Look ye there (says he) pointing
to a Lady who stood playing with the Tassels of her Girdle, I dare answer
for that Lady, though she be very well dress'd, 'tis more than she knows.
His fair unknown could not forbear laughing at his particular
distinction, and freely told him, he had indeed light upon one who knew
as little as any body in the Room, her self excepted. Ah! Madam,
(reply'd Aurelian) you know every thing in the World but your own
Perfections, and you only know not those because 'tis the top of
Perfection not to know them. How? (reply'd the Lady) I thought it had
been the extremity of knowledge to know ones self. Aurelian had a little
over-strain'd himself in that Complement, and I am of Opinion would have
been puzzl'd to have brought himself off readily: but by good fortune the
Musick came into the Room and gave him an opportunity to seem to decline
an answer, because the company prepared to dance: he only told her he was
too mean a Conquest for her wit who was already a Slave to the Charms of
her Person. She thanked him for his Complement, and briskly told him she
ought to have made him a return in praise of his wit, but she hoped he
was a Man more happy than to be dissatisfy'd with any of his own
Endowments; and if it were so, that he had not a just Opinion of himself,
she knew her self incapable of saying any thing to beget one. Aurelian
did not know well what to make of this last reply; for he always abhor'd
any thing that was conceited, with which this seem'd to reproach him. But
however modest he had been heretofore in his own thoughts, yet never was
he so distrustful of his good behaviour as now, being rally'd so by a
Person whom he took to be of judgment: Yet he resolved to take no notice,

1 3 4 5 6

Online LibraryWilliam CongreveIncognita; or, Love and Duty Reconcil'd → online text (page 1 of 6)