William Congreve.

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Transcribed from the 1895 Methuen and Co. [Comedies of William Congreve]
edition by David Price, email [email protected]


_Quem tulit ad scenam ventoso Gloria curru_,
_Exanimat lentus spectator_; _sedulus inflat_:
_Sic leve_, _sic parvum est_, _animum quod laudis avarum_
_Subruit_, _and reficit_.

HORAT. _Epist._ I. lib. ii.


My Lord, - It is with a great deal of pleasure that I lay hold on this
first occasion which the accidents of my life have given me of writing to
your lordship: for since at the same time I write to all the world, it
will be a means of publishing (what I would have everybody know) the
respect and duty which I owe and pay to you. I have so much inclination
to be yours that I need no other engagement. But the particular ties by
which I am bound to your lordship and family have put it out of my power
to make you any compliment, since all offers of myself will amount to no
more than an honest acknowledgment, and only shew a willingness in me to
be grateful.

I am very near wishing that it were not so much my interest to be your
lordship's servant, that it might be more my merit; not that I would
avoid being obliged to you, but I would have my own choice to run me into
the debt: that I might have it to boast, I had distinguished a man to
whom I would be glad to be obliged, even without the hopes of having it
in my power ever to make him a return.

It is impossible for me to come near your lordship in any kind and not to
receive some favour; and while in appearance I am only making an
acknowledgment (with the usual underhand dealing of the world) I am at
the same time insinuating my own interest. I cannot give your lordship
your due, without tacking a bill of my own privileges. 'Tis true, if a
man never committed a folly, he would never stand in need of a
protection. But then power would have nothing to do, and good nature no
occasion to show itself; and where those qualities are, 'tis pity they
should want objects to shine upon. I must confess this is no reason why
a man should do an idle thing, nor indeed any good excuse for it when
done; yet it reconciles the uses of such authority and goodness to the
necessities of our follies, and is a sort of poetical logic, which at
this time I would make use of, to argue your lordship into a protection
of this play. It is the first offence I have committed in this kind, or
indeed, in any kind of poetry, though not the first made public, and
therefore I hope will the more easily be pardoned. But had it been
acted, when it was first written, more might have been said in its
behalf: ignorance of the town and stage would then have been excuses in a
young writer, which now almost four years' experience will scarce allow
of. Yet I must declare myself sensible of the good nature of the town,
in receiving this play so kindly, with all its faults, which I must own
were, for the most part, very industriously covered by the care of the
players; for I think scarce a character but received all the advantage it
would admit of from the justness of the action.

As for the critics, my lord, I have nothing to say to, or against, any of
them of any kind: from those who make just exceptions, to those who find
fault in the wrong place. I will only make this general answer in behalf
of my play (an answer which Epictetus advises every man to make for
himself to his censurers), viz.: 'That if they who find some faults in
it, were as intimate with it as I am, they would find a great many more.'
This is a confession, which I needed not to have made; but however, I can
draw this use from it to my own advantage: that I think there are no
faults in it but what I do know; which, as I take it, is the first step
to an amendment.

Thus I may live in hopes (sometime or other) of making the town amends;
but you, my lord, I never can, though I am ever your lordship's most
obedient and most humble servant,



When virtue in pursuit of fame appears,
And forward shoots the growth beyond the years.
We timely court the rising hero's cause,
And on his side the poet wisely draws,
Bespeaking him hereafter by applause.
The days will come, when we shall all receive
Returning interest from what now we give,
Instructed and supported by that praise
And reputation which we strive to raise.
Nature so coy, so hardly to be wooed,
Flies, like a mistress, but to be pursued.
O Congreve! boldly follow on the chase:
She looks behind and wants thy strong embrace:
She yields, she yields, surrenders all her charms,
Do you but force her gently to your arms:
Such nerves, such graces, in your lines appear,
As you were made to be her ravisher.
Dryden has long extended his command,
By right divine, quite through the muses' land,
Absolute lord; and holding now from none,
But great Apollo, his undoubted crown.
That empire settled, and grown old in power
Can wish for nothing but a successor:
Not to enlarge his limits, but maintain
Those provinces, which he alone could gain.
His eldest Wycherly, in wise retreat,
Thought it not worth his quiet to be great.
Loose, wand'ring Etherege, in wild pleasures tost,
And foreign int'rests, to his hopes long lost:
Poor Lee and Otway dead! Congreve appears,
The darling, and last comfort of his years.
May'st thou live long in thy great master's smiles,
And growing under him, adorn these isles.
But when - when part of him (be that but late)
His body yielding must submit to fate,
Leaving his deathless works and thee behind
(The natural successor of his mind),
Then may'st thou finish what he has begun:
Heir to his merit, be in fame his son.
What thou hast done, shews all is in thy pow'r,
And to write better, only must write more.
'Tis something to be willing to commend;
But my best praise is, that I am your friend,



The danger's great in these censorious days,
When critics are so rife to venture praise:
When the infectious and ill-natured brood
Behold, and damn the work, because 'tis good,
And with a proud, ungenerous spirit, try
To pass an ostracism on poetry.
But you, my friend, your worth does safely bear
Above their spleen; you have no cause for fear;
Like a well-mettled hawk, you took your flight
Quite out of reach, and almost out of sight.
As the strong sun, in a fair summer's day,
You rise, and drive the mists and clouds away,
The owls and bats, and all the birds of prey.
Each line of yours, like polished steel's so hard,
In beauty safe, it wants no other guard.
Nature herself's beholden to your dress,
Which though still like, much fairer you express.
Some vainly striving honour to obtain,
Leave to their heirs the traffic of their brain:
Like China under ground, the ripening ware,
In a long time, perhaps grows worth our care.
But you now reap the fame, so well you've sown;
The planter tastes his fruit to ripeness grown.
As a fair orange-tree at once is seen
Big with what's ripe, yet springing still with green,
So at one time, my worthy friend appears,
With all the sap of youth, and weight of years.
Accept my pious love, as forward zeal,
Which though it ruins me I can't conceal:
Exposed to censure for my weak applause,
I'm pleased to suffer in so just a cause;
And though my offering may unworthy prove,
Take, as a friend, the wishes of my love.



Wit, like true gold, refined from all allay,
Immortal is, and never can decay:
'Tis in all times and languages the same,
Nor can an ill translation quench the flame:
For, though the form and fashion don't remain,
The intrinsic value still it will retain.
Then let each studied scene be writ with art,
And judgment sweat to form the laboured part.
Each character be just, and nature seem:
Without th' ingredient, wit, 'tis all but phlegm:
For that's the soul, which all the mass must move,
And wake our passions into grief or love.
But you, too bounteous, sow your wit so thick,
We are surprised, and know not where to pick;
And while with clapping we are just to you,
Ourselves we injure, and lose something new.
What mayn't we then, great youth, of thee presage,
Whose art and wit so much transcend thy age?
How wilt thou shine at thy meridian height,
Who, at thy rising, giv'st so vast a light?
When Dryden dying shall the world deceive,
Whom we immortal, as his works, believe,
Thou shalt succeed, the glory of the stage,
Adorn and entertain the coming age.


Written by the LORD FALKLAND.

Most authors on the stage at first appear
Like widows' bridegrooms, full of doubt and fear:
They judge, from the experience of the dame,
How hard a task it is to quench her flame;
And who falls short of furnishing a course
Up to his brawny predecessor's force,
With utmost rage from her embraces thrown,
Remains convicted as an empty drone.
Thus often, to his shame, a pert beginner
Proves in the end a miserable sinner.
As for our youngster, I am apt to doubt him,
With all the vigour of his youth about him;
But he, more sanguine, trusts in one and twenty,
And impudently hopes he shall content you:
For though his bachelor be worn and cold,
He thinks the young may club to help the old,
And what alone can be achieved by neither,
Is often brought about by both together.
The briskest of you all have felt alarms,
Finding the fair one prostitute her charms
With broken sighs, in her old fumbler's arms:
But for our spark, he swears he'll ne'er be jealous
Of any rivals, but young lusty fellows.
Faith, let him try his chance, and if the slave,
After his bragging, prove a washy knave,
May he be banished to some lonely den
And never more have leave to dip his pen.
But if he be the champion he pretends,
Both sexes sure will join to be his friends,
For all agree, where all can have their ends.
And you must own him for a man of might,
If he holds out to please you the third night.


How this vile world is changed! In former days
Prologues were serious speeches before plays,
Grave, solemn things, as graces are to feasts,
Where poets begged a blessing from their guests.
But now no more like suppliants we come;
A play makes war, and prologue is the drum.
Armed with keen satire and with pointed wit,
We threaten you who do for judges sit,
To save our plays, or else we'll damn your pit.
But for your comfort, it falls out to-day,
We've a young author and his first-born play;
So, standing only on his good behaviour,
He's very civil, and entreats your favour.
Not but the man has malice, would he show it,
But on my conscience he's a bashful poet;
You think that strange - no matter, he'll outgrow it.
Well, I'm his advocate: by me he prays you
(I don't know whether I shall speak to please you),
He prays - O bless me! what shall I do now?
Hang me if I know what he prays, or how!
And 'twas the prettiest prologue as he wrote it!
Well, the deuce take me, if I han't forgot it.
O Lord, for heav'n's sake excuse the play,
Because, you know, if it be damned to-day,
I shall be hanged for wanting what to say.
For my sake then - but I'm in such confusion,
I cannot stay to hear your resolution.

[_Runs off_.]



HEARTWELL, a surly old bachelor, pretending to slight women, secretly in
love with Silvia - Mr. Betterton.
BELLMOUR, in love with Belinda - Mr. Powell
VAINLOVE, capricious in his love; in love with Araminta - Mr. Williams
SHARPER, - Mr. Verbruggen
FONDLEWIFE, a banker - Mr. Dogget
SETTER, a pimp - Mr Underhill
SERVANT to Fondlewife.


ARAMINTA, in love with Vainlove - Mrs. Bracegirdle
BELINDA, her cousin, an affected lady, in love with Bellmour - Mrs.
LAETITIA, wife to Fondlewife - Mrs. Barry
SYLVIA, Vainlove's forsaken mistress - Mrs. Bowman
LUCY, her maid - Mrs. Leigh

SCENE: London.



SCENE: _The Street_.

BELLMOUR _and_ VAINLOVE _meeting_.

BELL. Vainlove, and abroad so early! Good-morrow; I thought a
contemplative lover could no more have parted with his bed in a morning
than he could have slept in't.

VAIN. Bellmour, good-morrow. Why, truth on't is, these early sallies
are not usual to me; but business, as you see, sir - [_Showing Letters_.]
And business must be followed, or be lost.

BELL. Business! And so must time, my friend, be close pursued, or lost.
Business is the rub of life, perverts our aim, casts off the bias, and
leaves us wide and short of the intended mark.

VAIN. Pleasure, I guess you mean.

BELL. Ay; what else has meaning?

VAIN. Oh, the wise will tell you -

BELL. More than they believe - or understand.

VAIN. How, how, Ned! A wise man say more than he understands?

BELL. Ay, ay! Wisdom's nothing but a pretending to know and believe
more than we really do. You read of but one wise man, and all that he
knew was, that he knew nothing. Come, come, leave business to idlers and
wisdom to fools; they have need of 'em. Wit be my faculty, and pleasure
my occupation; and let Father Time shake his glass. Let low and earthly
souls grovel till they have worked themselves six foot deep into a grave.
Business is not my element - I roll in a higher orb, and dwell -

VAIN. In castles i' th' air of thy own building. That's thy element,
Ned. Well, as high a flier as you are, I have a lure may make you stoop.
[_Flings a Letter_.]

BELL. I, marry, sir, I have a hawk's eye at a woman's hand. There's
more elegancy in the false spelling of this superscription [_takes up the
Letter_] than in all Cicero. Let me see. - How now! - Dear _perfidious
Vainlove_. [_Reads_.]

VAIN. Hold, hold, 'slife, that's the wrong.

BELL. Nay, let's see the name - Sylvia! - how canst thou be ungrateful to
that creature? She's extremely pretty, and loves thee entirely - I have
heard her breathe such raptures about thee -

VAIN. Ay, or anybody that she's about -

BELL. No, faith, Frank, you wrong her; she has been just to you.

VAIN. That's pleasant, by my troth, from thee, who hast had her.

BELL. Never - her affections. 'Tis true, by heaven: she owned it to my
face; and, blushing like the virgin morn when it disclosed the cheat
which that trusty bawd of nature, night, had hid, confessed her soul was
true to you; though I by treachery had stolen the bliss.

VAIN. So was true as turtle - in imagination - Ned, ha? Preach this
doctrine to husbands, and the married women will adore thee.

BELL. Why, faith, I think it will do well enough, if the husband be out
of the way, for the wife to show her fondness and impatience of his
absence by choosing a lover as like him as she can; and what is unlike,
she may help out with her own fancy.

VAIN. But is it not an abuse to the lover to be made a blind of?

BELL. As you say, the abuse is to the lover, not the husband. For 'tis
an argument of her great zeal towards him, that she will enjoy him in

VAIN. It must be a very superstitious country where such zeal passes for
true devotion. I doubt it will be damned by all our Protestant husbands
for flat idolatry. But, if you can make Alderman Fondlewife of your
persuasion, this letter will be needless.

BELL. What! The old banker with the handsome wife?


BELL. Let me see - _Laetitia_! Oh, 'tis a delicious morsel. Dear Frank,
thou art the truest friend in the world.

VAIN. Ay, am I not? To be continually starting of hares for you to
course. We were certainly cut out for one another; for my temper quits
an amour just where thine takes it up. But read that; it is an
appointment for me, this evening - when Fondlewife will be gone out of
town, to meet the master of a ship, about the return of a venture which
he's in danger of losing. Read, read.

BELL. [_reads_.] Hum, Hum - Out of town this evening, and talks of
sending for Mr. Spintext to keep me company; but I'll take care he shall
not be at home. Good! Spintext! Oh, the fanatic one-eyed parson!


BELL. [_reads_.] Hum, Hum - That your conversation will be much more
agreeable, if you can counterfeit his habit to blind the servants. Very
good! Then I must be disguised? - With all my heart! - It adds a gusto to
an amour; gives it the greater resemblance of theft; and, among us lewd
mortals, the deeper the sin the sweeter. Frank, I'm amazed at thy good
nature -

VAIN. Faith, I hate love when 'tis forced upon a man, as I do wine. And
this business is none of my seeking; I only happened to be, once or
twice, where Laetitia was the handsomest woman in company; so,
consequently, applied myself to her - and it seems she has taken me at my
word. Had you been there, or anybody, 't had been the same.

BELL. I wish I may succeed as the same.

VAIN. Never doubt it; for if the spirit of cuckoldom be once raised up
in a woman, the devil can't lay it, until she has done't.

BELL. Prithee, what sort of fellow is Fondlewife?

VAIN. A kind of mongrel zealot, sometimes very precise and peevish. But
I have seen him pleasant enough in his way; much addicted to jealousy,
but more to fondness; so that as he is often jealous without a cause,
he's as often satisfied without reason.

BELL. A very even temper, and fit for my purpose. I must get your man
Setter to provide my disguise.

VAIN. Ay; you may take him for good and all, if you will, for you have
made him fit for nobody else. Well -

BELL. You're going to visit in return of Sylvia's letter. Poor rogue!
Any hour of the day or night will serve her. But do you know nothing of
a new rival there?

VAIN. Yes; Heartwell - that surly, old, pretended woman-hater - thinks her
virtuous; that's one reason why I fail her. I would have her fret
herself out of conceit with me, that she may entertain some thoughts of
him. I know he visits her every day.

BELL. Yet rails on still, and thinks his love unknown to us. A little
time will swell him so, he must be forced to give it birth; and the
discovery must needs be very pleasant from himself, to see what pains he
will take, and how he will strain to be delivered of a secret, when he
has miscarried of it already.

VAIN. Well, good-morrow. Let's dine together; I'll meet at the old

BELL. With all my heart. It lies convenient for us to pay our afternoon
services to our mistresses. I find I am damnably in love, I'm so uneasy
for not having seen Belinda yesterday.

VAIN. But I saw my Araminta, yet am as impatient.


BELLMOUR _alone_.

BELL. Why, what a cormorant in love am I! Who, not contented with the
slavery of honourable love in one place, and the pleasure of enjoying
some half a score mistresses of my own acquiring, must yet take
Vainlove's business upon my hands, because it lay too heavy upon his; so
am not only forced to lie with other men's wives for 'em, but must also
undertake the harder task of obliging their mistresses. I must take up,
or I shall never hold out. Flesh and blood cannot bear it always.


[_To him_] SHARPER.

SHARP. I'm sorry to see this, Ned. Once a man comes to his soliloquies,
I give him for gone.

BELL. Sharper, I'm glad to see thee.

SHARP. What! is Belinda cruel, that you are so thoughtful?

BELL. No, faith, not for that. But there's a business of consequence
fallen out to-day that requires some consideration.

SHARP. Prithee, what mighty business of consequence canst thou have?

BELL. Why, you must know, 'tis a piece of work toward the finishing of
an alderman. It seems I must put the last hand to it, and dub him
cuckold, that he may be of equal dignity with the rest of his brethren:
so I must beg Belinda's pardon.

SHARP. Faith, e'en give her over for good and all; you can have no hopes
of getting her for a mistress; and she is too proud, too inconstant, too
affected and too witty, and too handsome for a wife.

BELL. But she can't have too much money. There's twelve thousand pound,
Tom. 'Tis true she is excessively foppish and affected; but in my
conscience I believe the baggage loves me: for she never speaks well of
me herself, nor suffers anybody else to rail at me. Then, as I told you,
there's twelve thousand pound. Hum! Why, faith, upon second thoughts,
she does not appear to be so very affected neither. - Give her her due, I
think the woman's a woman, and that's all. As such, I'm sure I shall
like her; for the devil take me if I don't love all the sex.

SHARP. And here comes one who swears as heartily he hates all the sex.


[_To them_] HEARTWELL.

BELL. Who? Heartwell? Ay, but he knows better things. How now,
George, where hast thou been snarling odious truths, and entertaining
company, like a physician, with discourse of their diseases and
infirmities? What fine lady hast thou been putting out of conceit with
herself, and persuading that the face she had been making all the morning
was none of her own? For I know thou art as unmannerly and as unwelcome
to a woman as a looking-glass after the smallpox.

HEART. I confess I have not been sneering fulsome lies and nauseous
flattery; fawning upon a little tawdry whore, that will fawn upon me
again, and entertain any puppy that comes, like a tumbler, with the same
tricks over and over. For such, I guess, may have been your late

BELL. Would thou hadst come a little sooner. Vainlove would have
wrought thy conversion, and been a champion for the cause.

HEART. What! has he been here? That's one of love's April fools; is
always upon some errand that's to no purpose; ever embarking in
adventures, yet never comes to harbour.

SHARP. That's because he always sets out in foul weather, loves to
buffet with the winds, meet the tide, and sail in the teeth of

HEART. What! Has he not dropt anchor at Araminta?

BELL. Truth on't is she fits his temper best, is a kind of floating
island; sometimes seems in reach, then vanishes and keeps him busied in
the search.

SHARP. She had need have a good share of sense to manage so capricious a

BELL. Faith I don't know, he's of a temper the most easy to himself in
the world; he takes as much always of an amour as he cares for, and quits
it when it grows stale or unpleasant.

SHARP. An argument of very little passion, very good understanding, and
very ill nature.

HEART. And proves that Vainlove plays the fool with discretion.

SHARP. You, Bellmour, are bound in gratitude to stickle for him; you
with pleasure reap that fruit, which he takes pains to sow: he does the
drudgery in the mine, and you stamp your image on the gold.

BELL. He's of another opinion, and says I do the drudgery in the mine.
Well, we have each our share of sport, and each that which he likes best;
'tis his diversion to set, 'tis mine to cover the partridge.

HEART. And it should be mine to let 'em go again.

SHARP. Not till you had mouthed a little, George. I think that's all
thou art fit for now.

HEART. Good Mr. Young-Fellow, you're mistaken; as able as yourself, and
as nimble, too, though I mayn't have so much mercury in my limbs; 'tis
true, indeed, I don't force appetite, but wait the natural call of my
lust, and think it time enough to be lewd after I have had the

BELL. Time enough, ay, too soon, I should rather have expected, from a
person of your gravity.

HEART. Yet it is oftentimes too late with some of you young, termagant,
flashy sinners - you have all the guilt of the intention, and none of the
pleasure of the practice - 'tis true you are so eager in pursuit of the
temptation, that you save the devil the trouble of leading you into it.
Nor is it out of discretion that you don't swallow that very hook
yourselves have baited, but you are cloyed with the preparative, and what
you mean for a whet, turns the edge of your puny stomachs. Your love is
like your courage, which you show for the first year or two upon all
occasions; till in a little time, being disabled or disarmed, you abate
of your vigour; and that daring blade which was so often drawn, is bound
to the peace for ever after.

BELL. Thou art an old fornicator of a singular good principle indeed,
and art for encouraging youth, that they may be as wicked as thou art at
thy years.

HEART. I am for having everybody be what they pretend to be: a
whoremaster be a whoremaster, and not like Vainlove, kiss a lap-dog with

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