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When in rage he came there, Beholding how steep
The sides did appear,
And the bottom how deep, His torments projecting, And sadly reflecting
That a lover forsaken
A new love may get,
But a neck when once broken
Can never be set, And, that he could die
Whenever he would, Whereas he could live
But as long as he could,
The torment might grow,
At thoughts of the pain,
To his cottage again.
WILLIAM CONGREVE was born in 1670. His first comedy, The Old Bachelor, was acted in 1693. In 1694 and 1695 respectively appeared two others, The Double Dealer and Love for Love. These were followed in 1697 by the tragedy of The Mourning Bride. His last and best comedy, The Way of the World, conspicuous for its all-conquering character of 'Millamant,' so admirably interpreted by the beautiful Mrs. Bracegirdle, was produced in 1700. After this he practically retired from literature. His works, which include a volume of miscellaneous poems, were published in 1710. He died in 1729.]
The poetical remains of Congreve, especially when considered in connection with those remarkable dramatic works which achieved for him so swift and splendid a reputation, have but a slender claim to vitality. His brilliant and audacious Muse seems to have required the glitter of the foot-lights and the artificial atmosphere of the stage as conditions of success; in the study he is, as a rule, either trivial or frigidly conventional. A translation of the third book of Ovid's Art of Love has the merit of being still readable; but his Pindaric Odes and Pastorals, such as that to the King on the taking of Namur, and The Mourning Muse of Alexis, can now only detain those who are curious in the class of poetry which flourishes under the patronage of royalty. The opening stanza of the lines On Mrs. Arabella Hunt singing has a suave and delicate movement :—
'Let all be hushed, each softest motion cease
Be calm, as in the arms of Death:
And thou, most fickle, most uneasy part,
Be still; gently, ah! gently leave,
Let me be all, but my attention, dead.
This is beautifully and musically said. The second stanza is not so good; and in the third the charm is altogether loosed by the absurd appearance of Silence, draped in 'a melancholy Thought,' and insecurely seated upon an ancient Sigh,'-an intrusion from which the reader barely recovers in time to recognise a strange, and we think hitherto unnoticed, anticipation of the last lines of Keats' famous 'last sonnet' in the concluding couplet of the whole :
Wishing for ever in that state to lie,
For ever to be dying so, yet never die.'
In his songs and minor pieces Congreve is more successful, though he never reaches the level of his contemporary Prior. 'Amoret,' which we quote, sets a tune which has often since been heard in familiar verse; and the little song 'False though she be to me and love' has almost a note of genuine regret.
Fair Amoret is gone astray;
Pursue and seek her every lover; I'll tell the signs by which you may The wandering shepherdess discover.
Coquet and coy at once her air,
Both studied, though both seem neglected; Careless she is with artful care,
Affecting to seem unaffected.
With skill her eyes dart every glance,
Yet change so soon you'd ne'er suspect 'em, For she'd persuade they wound by chance, Though certain aim and art direct 'em.
She likes herself, yet others hates
For that which in herself she prizes; And, while she laughs at them, forgets She is the thing that she despises.
False though she be to me and love,
SIR SAMUEL GARTH.
[SAMUEL GARTH was born at Bolan in Durham about the year 1660. He was knighted at the accession of George I, and died on Jan. 18, 1718. The Dispensary appeared in 1699, and quickly ran through numerous editions. The short poem on Claremont came out in 1715, and in 1717 Garth edited a translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, in which Dryden's versions were completed by a great number of hands, he himself contributing the fourteenth book and parts of others.]
Garth is mainly interesting at the present day because he was the first writer who took the couplet, as Dryden had fashioned it, from Dryden's hands, and displayed it in the form it maintained throughout the eighteenth century. In some respects it may be said that no advance in this peculiar model was ever made on The Dispensary. Its best lines are equal to any of Pope's in mere fashion, and in it appear clearly enough the inherent defects of the form when once Dryden's 'energy divine' and his cunning admixture of what looked like roughness had been lost or rejected. The monotony, the mannerism, and the other defects, emerge side by side with the polish and smoothness which are its great merits. Except for its versification, which not only long preceded Pope, but also anticipated Addison's happiest effort by some years, The Dispensary is not now an interesting poem. The dispute on which it is based is long forgotten, its mock heroic plan looks threadbare to our eyes, and the machinery and imagery have lost all the charm that they may at one time have had. But as a versifier Garth must always deserve a place in the story of English literature. Claremont and his other minor works display the same faculty, but at their date it was already common enough. We therefore here give extracts from The Dispensary only, reminding the reader that the poem gives a burlesque account of the opposition made by some physicians and apothecaries to the plan of giving gratuitous advice and medicine to the poor. We may add that our selections form part of the 'descriptions and episodes' added by the author in the edition of 1703.