William Congreve.

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Fe;lix E. ScHELi.iNG, Ph.D., LL.D., General Editor

CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE: Tamhurlaine (both parts).
Doctor Faustiis. The /eio of Alalia. B.divard the Second.
With an Introduction by William Lyon Phelps, Professor of
English Literature, Yale University.

GEORGE CHAPMAN : . /// Fools. Eastioard Ho. Btissy
D\4mbois. The Revenge of Bussy D\4inl>cis. With an
Introduction by Havelock Ellis, editor of The Mermaid
Series of English Dramatists, etc.

Maid's Tragedy. Philaster. The Faithful Shepherdess.
Bonduca. Edited by Felix E. Schelling, Professor of English
Literature, University of Pennsylvania.

BEN JONSON: Every Man in His Humour. Volpone.
Epicoine. The .Alchemist. With an Introduction by Ernest
Rhys, editor of Dekker's Plays, etc.

THOMAS MIDDLETON: Michcehnas Term. A Trick to
Catch tke Old One. A Fair Qua7-rel. The Changeling.
Edited by Martin W. Sampson, Professor of English Liter-
ature, Cornell University.

PHILIP MASSINGER: The Roman Actor. The Maid of
Honour. .4 New Way to Pay Old Debts. Believe asYou List.
Edited by Lucius A. Sherman, Dean of the Graduate School
and Head Professor of English, University of Nebraska.

Devil. The Duchess of Malji. Appius and Virgitiia. — The
Revenger^ Tragedy. With an Introduction by Ashley H.
Thorndike, Professor of English, Columbia University.

WTLLIAM CONGREVE: The Double- Dealer. The Way of
the World. Love for Love. The ALourning Bride. With an
Introduction by William Archer, editor of Farquhar's plays,

SHERIDAN : The Good-natured Man. She Stoops to
Conquer. — The Rivals. The School for Scandal. 'The
Critic. Edited by Isa=c N. Demmon, Professor of English,
University of Michigan.

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From ;ui Engraving after the Portrait by

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JUasttrpiecc^ of the Cni^lisli ^t^ama







Copyright, iqi2, bv

Entered ai" Stationeks' Hall, London.

\V. V. I



Introduction i

The Double-Dealek 41

Love for Love 143

The Way of the World 261

The Mourning Bride 367

Notes 445

Glossary 465


William Congreve came of one of the old land-
owning families described, or rather catalogued, by
Sheridan in the picture scene of The School for Scandal;
families which, from generation to generation, pro-
duced judges, generals, parliament men and justices
of the peace; families in which knighthoods were
plentiful, and from which the House of Peers was
commonly recruited. Though Staffordshire was the
home of his race, he was born at Bardsey, near Leeds,
where he was baptized on February tenth, 1669-1670.
His father, also named William, was a soldier, and,
soon after the poet's birth, was given a command at
Youghal in Ireland. In Ireland, therefore, young
Congreve was brought up. At the age of eleven or
thereabouts he went to Kilkenny School, then the
Eton of Ireland, where, for some months, he had Jona-
than Swift for a schoolfellow. Probably, however,
the friendship of the two men dates from their asso-
ciation at Trinity College, Dublin, whither Congreve

^ An excellent bibliography of the writings of Congreve by J. P.
Anderson of the British Museum "is attached as an appendix to
Mr. Gosse's volume on Congreve in Great Writers. The plays of
Congreve were first collected with his other works in Dublin, 1731,
3 vols. Two years later a Tondon edition appeared. The last
modern editions are those of Leigh Hunt (with Wychcrley, Van-
brugh, and Farquhar), 1.S40, and of A. C. Ewald in the Mermaid
Series, 1887. Mr. Gosse's Life, already mentioned (London, 1888),
and the article by Sir Sidney Lee in The Dictionary of National
Biography, 1887, vol. xil, are trustworthy biographies.


proceeded in 1685. Though we do not hear of his
attaining any academical distinction, he became a
good classical scholar after the seventeenth-century
pattern, familiar with Latin literature and not igno-
rant of Greek. At Trinity College, too, he is said to
have made his first essay in authorship, in the form of
a novel named Incognita; or, Love and Duty Recon-
ciled, which was not published until 1692. After
the Revolution of 1688, both Congreve and. Swift
came to England, and Congreve seems never to have
recrossed the Irish Channel.

He passed two years in the country; for the most
part, no doubt, at the family seat of Stratton in Staf-
fordshire. It was during these years, and probably in
the summer of 1690, that he wrote The Old Bachelor,
"to amuse himself" as he afterwards said, "in a slow
recovery from a fit of sickness." On March seven-
teenth, 1691, he was entered at the Middle Temple, and
began, or ought to have begun, the study of the law;
but as we find him in the autumn of 1692 "an accepted
poet" and a prominent collaborator in the translation
of Juvenal and Persius published under Dryden's edi-
torship, it is doubtful whether he ever seriously in-
tended to adopt the legal profession. There must
have been something very ingratiating in his per-
sonality, for the country youth was soon an intimate
friend of the great John Dryden, and of several other
literary leaders, who hailed him, on astonishingly
scanty evidence, as the rising hope of English poetry.
Revised and polished by Dryden and Southerne, The
Old Bachelor was produced at Drury Lane in January,
1693, and was instantly successful. From Better-
ton downwards, all the first actors and actresses of


the day were engaged in it; and Anne Bracegirdle,
the beautiful, the lovable, the discreet, played Con-
greve's first heroine, as she was to play all the rest.
The young poet was overwhelmed with eulogies;
but it is doubtful whether he was "instantly," as
Macaulay and Thackeray have stated, given a post of
profit in the Civil Service. That in the course of his
life he held several such posts * is certain ; but a coup-
let of Swift's,

" And crazy Congreve scarce could spare
A shilling to discharge his chair " —

seems to indicate that for some time, and even after
his health had broken down about the end of the cen-
tury, he was in straitened circumstances. It must be
remembered that the dramatist of those days was not
paid by royalties constantly rolling in, but by the
profits of certain stated performances.^ The sale of the
printed play was often worth at least as much to him
as his share of the theatrical receipts. Nevertheless,
there is no reason to doubt that Congreve was in the
main fortunate in money matters, as in everything
else save health. He enjoyed fat offices during the
latter part of his life; he was an unmarried man, and
his relations with women, so far as they are known,
seem to have been characterized by a good deal of
worldly prudence. One might almost call them sus-
piciously inexpensive.

'Commissioner for licensing Hackney Coaches; Commissioner
for Wine Licences; place in the Pipe Office; post in the Custom
House; Secretary of Jamaica. (Thackeray's enumeration.)

^Congreve, however, was in a position to secure exceptional
terms, and had at different times an actual share in the manage-
ment of the theatres in Lincoln's Inn Fields and in the Havmarkct.


The great success of The Old Bachelor spurred
Congreve to vigorous effort, and before the year was
out (November, 1693) he had placed on the stage a
far more elaborate and highly-polished work. The
Douhle-Dealer. Once more the cast was a superb
one, Betterton playing Maskwell, Mrs. Barry the V0I7
canic Lady Touchwood, and Mrs. Bracegirdle (by
this time the author's intimate friend) the sedate but
not unamiable Cynthia. Theatrical success, however,
is not always commensurate with effort, and The
Douhle-Dealer was a comparative failure. The rea-
sons for this check we shall have to examine later;
in the meantime it is sufficient to record that Con-
greve published the play with a rather ill-tempered
Epistle Dedicatory to Charles Montague,^ and that
his vanity was soothed by a magnificent copy of verses,
signed John Dryden, in w^hich the monarch of con-
temporary letters generously proclaimed him heir
apparent to the throne. Thus heartened, Congreve
set about the composition of his third comedy, the
famous Love for Love.

While he was writing it, however, the affairs of
the Theatre Royal, then the only playhouse in Lon-
don,^ fell into sad disorder, which ended in a split
between the patentee managers and their leading
actors, headed by Betterton. The seceding players
obtained a special licence from William III, and
constructed a new theatre within the walls of a
tennis-court in Lincoln's Inn Fields. At Easter,

' He afterwards suppressed the passages in which his annoyance
was most apparent.

^ The theatre in Dorset Gardens existed, indeed, but had alinost
fallen into disuse, except for opera.


1695, the enterprise was inaugurated with the pro-
duction of Love for Love, which, with Bettertorx,
as Valentine, Mrs. Bracegirdle as Angelica, and
Doggctt as Ben, scored an almost unexampled suc-
cess, and placed Congreve easily first among the
dramatists of the day. Two years elapsed before he
followed up this success with another, in a different
line of art. The Mourning Bride^ is now remembered
mainly because Dr. Johnson overpraised a single
speech in it; but for more than a hundred years it
was one of the most popular of English tragedies.

Mr. Gosse has shown that The Mourning Bride
was produced early in 1697. Just a year later (March,
1698) appeared that famous invective, Jeremy Col-
lier's Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness
of the English Stage. On the subject of "profane-
ness" Collier's ecclesiastical prejudices led him. to
weaken his case by many trivial and ridiculous cavil-
lings; but on the side of immorality he may be said
to have understated rather than exaggerated. Injto
the controversy which ensued Congreve entered late
and reluctantly, with a long pamphlet entitled Amend-
ments of Mr. Collier's False and Imperfect Citations.
Its tone and temper were unfortunate; but the
writers who pronounce it an unmitigated blunder are
perhaps judging it by modern canons of taste rather
than by those of the seventeenth century. %

We shall have to consider later whether the moral
atmosphere of Congreve's comedies can be justified, or
must be condemned, or (as Lamb would persuade us)
ought simply to be ignored. Meanwhile, we may note
that Congreve's impenitence under the scourge of Col-
1 See also the note on page 368.


lier was evidently unaffected. He was not seeking, by
bluster, to dissemble a conviction of sin ; for the moral
atmosphere of his next and last comedy. The Way of
the World, was neither better nor worse than that of
its predecessors. In The Old Bachelor and Love for
Love there are, indeed, one or two passages of greater
verbal grossness than any which we find in The Way
of the World, but that is simply attributable to the
higher animal spirits of the two plays. In point of
verbal decency or indecency The Way of the World is
very much on a level with The Doubk-Dealer, which
preceded Collier's attack by more than four years;
while in the total absence of any standard of rectitude,
or even of merely conventional honour, all four plays
are entirely of a piece. There is thus no sign either
of repentance or of bravado in the post-Collier comedy.
Comedy, for Congreve, micant a picture of society
observed from a standpoint of complete moral in-
difference; and if the public chose to quarrel with
that standpoint, why, then they should have no more

I would not, however, be understood to imply that
the scant success of The Way of the World (produced
in March, 1700) was due to a moral reaction in the
public mind, consequent on Collier's rebuke, or that
Congreve ceased to write simply because he realized
that the spirit of the age was against him. The effect
of Collier's diatribe was not nearly so immediate and
startling as it is sometimes represented to have been.
It did not prevent the success of Farquhar's Love and
a Bottle, produced in December, 1698, while the air
was still full of echoes of the pamphlet war; and
the immense popularity of Farquhar's The Constant


Couple, produced only three or four months before
The Way of the World, proves that the public was in no
unreasonably squeamish mood. The Constant Cotiple,
indeed, was still at the height of its success when
TJie Way of fJie World was produced; and it may
perhaps be conjectured that the fashion of the moment
set towards Farquhar's lighter, airier humour, in
contradistinction to Congreve's more elaborate em-
broidery of wit.

I believe, however, and shall try to show later,
that the cool reception of The Way of the World
was probably due in the main to purely tech-
nical reasons. Congreve's statement in his Epistle
Dedicatory that "but little" of the play "was pre-
pared for that general taste which seems now to be
predominant in the palates of our audiences," might
at first sight seem like an allusion to a change of heart
begotten by Collier's influence ; but the context shows
that he has in mind, not a moral reaction, but a pref-
erence for what he considers coarse and overcharged
character-drawing. As years went on, and the come-
dies of Steele, with the later works of Farquhar, took
possession of the stage, Congreve may very well have
felt that the public mind was veering away from that
attitude of moral indifference which was to him the
great condition-precedent of comedy ; and this feeling
may have combined with his natural indolence, and
his lingering resentment over the reception of The
Way of the World, to deter him from again tempting
fortune in the theatre. But it would almost certainly
be a mistake to attribute the silence of his later years
to any one cause, and most of all to see in it a direct
result of Collier's onslaught.


Whatever the reason, Congreve's career as a drama-
tist was now at an end. Except a masque called
The Judgement of Paris, an opera, Semele, and an
adaptation of Moliere's Monsieur de Pourceaugnac in
which he collaborated with Vanbrugh and Walsh,
he did nothing more for the stage. Until his death,
nearly thirty years later, he lived the life of a well-to-do
gentleman ^ of literary tastes and of a sadly impaired
constitution. He was a constant martyr to gout in
all its insidious forms, including painful and tedious
affections of the eyes. Moreover, even before he
reached middle age, he had grown very fat; so that
the spectacle of his later years has more than a touch
of that physical grotesqueness which so often afflicts
us in the personal chronicles of the eighteenth century
— probably because that age was less careful than our
own to dissemble its uglier aspects. His literary repu-
tation remained very high. He was the peer and
valued friend of Swift, Addison, Steele, Arbuthnot,
Gay and Pope. His cheerful and equable disposi-
tion made him acceptable in every society; he was on
good terms with both political parties and all literary
cliques. To him Pope dedicated his translation of
the Iliad, a distinction dukes might have envied; and,
as Mr. Gosse happily puts it, "Not Mrs. Blimber
merely, but every lover of letters, might wish to have
been admitted, behind a curtain, to the dinner of five

1 Mr. Gosse has, very justly in my opinion, attempted to vin-
dicate Congrcve against the reproach of vanity or affectation in
saying to Voltaire that he was to be rcgarrled "simply as a gentle-
man who led a life of plainness and simplicity." He probably
meant that his literary achievements, whatever their value, were
now things of the distant past, and had ceased, as it were, to bj
part of his present self.


at Twickenham, on the seventh of July, 1726, when
Pope entertained Congreve, Bolingbroke, Gay, and

In the latter years of his life — that is to say, when
he was well advanced in middle asre — he became


a constant guest in the household of Henrietta,
Duchess of Marlborough, the eccentric daughter of
the great Duke. To her he left the bulk of his fortune,
and to Mrs. Bracegirdle only two hundred pounds —
no doubt on the scriptural principle that to her that
hath shall be given. His apparent desertion of the
actress-friend, to whose beauty and genius he owed
so much, has been often and severely commented on ;
but in such matters it is wise to withhold judgement
until we know all the circumstances ; whereas here all
is empty conjecture. Congreve died on January nine-
teenth, 1729, and a week later was buried with great
pomp in Westminster Abbey. The Duchess of Marl-
borough erected the monument over his grave, and
is said to have kept his memory alive in her household
by nursing and tending a figure of wax or ivory made
in his image. Serious biographers accept the legend,
but it is probably an absurd misunderstanding or
misrepresentation of some very trivial fact.

The fate of Congreve's plays in their novelty was,
on the face of it, paradoxical, and calculated to beget
in him a contempt for the public judgement. He very
well knew that The Double-Dealer was a far maturer
effort than The Old Bachelor, and that The Way of the
World was a much finer piece of work than Love for
Love. Yet The Old Bachelor and Love for Love were
triumphantly successful, while The Double-Dealer


and The Way of the World were comparative failures.
Whether he actually formed such a resolve or not, it
would certainly not have been surprising if, after the
cool acceptance of the play illumined by the exquisite
creation of Millamant, he had vowed, as Genest says,
"to commit his quiet and his fame no more to the
caprices of an audience."

Yet, had he been able to look into the matter with
dispassionate penetration, he might have found the pub-
lic judgement not so very capricious after all. Many
theories have from time to time been advanced to
explain why the curve of success ran so directly counter
(it would seem) to the curve of merit; but the main
and sufficient reason, I think, was a purely technical
one. For the immediate success of a new play, the
one thing absolutely needful is clearness of construc-
tion. An audience cannot endure to have its atten-
tion overtaxed in a futile elYort to follow the windings
of a labyrinthine intrigue; and that was precisely
the task which, in The Double-Dealer, and to a less
degree in The Way of the World, Congreve had im-
posed upon his public. In both cases he rashly es-
sayed to write a "well-made play," without possessing
the rudiments of what was then an undiscovered, or
at any rate an unimported, art. Now there is nothing
more irritating than a play which sets forth to be well-
made, but is, in fact, helplessly ill-made; so that it
need not at all surprise us to find that The Double-
Dealer and The Way of the World had to live down
the confused and fatiguing impression which they at
first produced, whereas the comparatively simple
and perspicuous action of The Old Bachelor and Love
for Love offered no obstacles to instant appreciation.


We must not forget, of course, that the accepted
dramatic formula or ideal of that age was widely dif-
ferent from that which is now dominant. Unity of
action, or at any rate of theme, is to our mind indis-
pensable in any play which pretends to rank as a work
of art. The dramatist seizes upon a crisis in the lives
of his characters, states its conditions, and follows its
evolution to an end, comic or tragic, ironic or senti-
mental, as the case may be. We start from a state of
calm which contains in it the elements of a dramatic
conflict; we see these elements rush together and
effervesce ; and we watch the effervescence die back
again into calm, whether it be that of triumph or
disaster, of serenity or despair. No dramatist of the
smallest skill will introduce a character that is wholly
unnecessary to the advancement of the action, or a
conversation that has no bearing on the theme. In
a second-rate order of plays, indeed, a certain amount
of "comic" (or sentimental) "relief" may be admitted;
but even if, for instance, a pair of young lovers is
suffered to lighten the gloom of a tragic story, an
effort is always made to weave them into the main
fabric and give them an efficient part in it. This
conception of a play as the logical working-out of a
given subject has had for its necessary consequence
the total abandonment of the old five-act convention.
The main crisis of which the action consists falls natu-
rally and almost inevitably into a series of sub-crises,
to each of which an act is devoted. Five acts are still
the limit which can scarcely be exceeded in the three
hours to which a representation is confined; but a
four-act distribution of the subject is far commoner,
while three acts — a beginning, middle, and end —


may almost be called the normal and logical modern

In Congreve's day, on the other hand, the drama-
tist's problem was, not to give his action an organic
unity, but to fill a predetermined mould, so large that
one action seldom or never sufficed for it. The under-
plot, therefore, was an established institution; and
sometimes a play would consist of two or three loosely
interwoven actions, so nearly equal in extent and im-
portance that it was hard to say which was the main
plot and which the underplots. The result of this
mingling of heterogeneous matters was to render
doubly difficult the manipulation of a complex in-
trigue. Audiences, indeed, were not so exacting on
the score of probability as they now are. But though
they would accept a good deal that we should now
reject as extravagant, they wanted to understand
what they were accepting; and that they could not
do when a chain of events demanding close and con-
tinuous attention was being constantly interrupted
by the humours and intrigues of subsidiary characters.
Both from internal and external evidence, we can see
that Congreve's keen intellect was dissatisfied with
the loosely-knit patchwork play of the period. In
the preface to The Douhle-Dealer he says : " I made
the plot as strong as I could, because it was single;
and I made it single, because I would avoid confusion,
and was resolved to preserve the three unities of the
drama." In the preface to The Way of the World,
again, he complains of the spectators " who come with
expectation to laugh at the last act of a play, and are
better entertained with two or three unseasonable
jests, than with the artful solution of the fable." These


remarks show a technical ideal far in advance of his
time ; but whenever he essayed to realize that ideal,
he met with misfortune; partly because his manipu-
lative skill was inadequate to the tasks he set himself,
partly because the five-act form, forbidding continu-
ity and concentration, unduly handicapped what
skill he possessed.

Such, at least, is my solution of the seeming paradox
presented by the success of his less elaborate, and
the comparative failure of his more elaborate, come-
dies. Let us look a little more closely into their

In The Old Bachelor we have three or four concur-
rent plots, which become interwoven, indeed, at the
end, but up to that point present no complexity. The
Bcllmour-Fondlewife-La?titia plot may at once be
set aside as independent of all the others. It is the
traditional farce of the citizen befooled by the courtier,
a legacy from Jacobean times, a piece of conventional,
imitative cynicism, characteristic of the boy beginner.
It is loosely attached to the main action at the begin-
ning and at the end: at the beginning, by the fact
that Vainlove illustrates his character by handing on
the adventure to Bellmour ; at the end, by the chance
that Bcllmour's adoption of the clerical habit suggests
the device of the mock-marriage between Heartwell
and Sylvia. Otherwise the episode might be bodily
lifted out of the play, and presented as what we
should now call a one-act " curtain-raiser."

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