1691 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir William Cavendish

Gerard Langbaine, in Account of the English Dramatick Poets (1691) 385-90.



I am now arriv'd at a Nobleman, whose Heroick Actions are too Copious, and Illustrious for me to attempt the Description of; and are a fitter Subject for the Pen of a Modern Plutarch, if any such were to be found, than for mine: I shall leave therefore the Character of this Valiant Heroe, Careful Tutor, Wise Statesman, Exact Courtier, and Loyal Subject, to be describ'd by some Illustrious Historian; or else refer my Reader to his Life, already write in Latin and English, by the Hand of his Incomparable Dutchess: who during his Lifetime, describ'd all his Glorious Actions, in a Stile so Noble and Masculine, that she seems to have even antedated his Apotheosis. But tho' I dare not pretend to describe his Heroick Atchievements, or view him in the Field, as a General; yet I shall presume to look upon him in his Retirements, and consider him as a Poet, and an Author, it being my immediate Province.

To speak first of his Acquaintance with the Muses, and his affable Deportment to all their Votaries. No Person since the Time of Augustus better understood Dramatick Poetry, nor more generously encourag'd Poets; so that we may truly call him our English Mecaenas. He had a more particular kindness for that Great Master of Dramatick Poesy, the Excellent Johnson; and 'twas from him that he attain'd to a perfect Knowledge of what was to be accounted True Humour in comedy. How well he has copy'd his Master, I leave to the Criticks: but I am sure our late, as well as our present Laureat, have powerful Reasons to defend his Memory. He has writ four Comedies, which have always been acted with applause.

Country Captain, a Comedy lately presented by his Majesties Servants at the Black-fryars; 8o. In's Grave van Hag. Ant. 1649. I believe this Play was writ during his Exile.

Humorous Lovers, a Comedy acted by his Royal Highness's Servants; printed 4to. Lond. 1677. This Play equals most Comedies of this Age.

Triumphant Widow, or The Medley of Humours, a Comedy acted by his Royal Highness's Servants; printed 4to. Lond. 1677. This was thought so excellent a Play by our present Laureat, that he has transcrib'd a great part of it in his Bury-Fair.

Variety, a Comedy presented by his Majesties Servants at the Black-fryars; printed 8vo. Lond. 1649. This Play, and Country Captain, are always bound together: the Duke's Name is not prefix'd to them, but I am confident they are his, from several Testimonies; since Mr. Alexander Brome writ a Copy in praise of this Play, directed to his Grace, and printed before the Comedy, call'd Covent Garden weeded: and Mr. Leigh in a Copy directed to Mr. Mosely (the publisher of Mr. Carthwright's Works) in reckoning what Poetical Treatises he has presented the Publick with, names these two Plays, in the following Couplet:

Then fam'd Newcastle's choice Variety,
With his Brave Captain held up Poetry.

We have many other Pieces writ by this Ingenious Nobleman, scattered up and down in the Poems of his Dutchess: all which seem to confirm the Character given by Mr. Shadwell; "That he was the greatest Master of Wit, the most exact Observer of Mankind, and the most acurate Judge of Humour, that ever he knew."

Besides what his Grace has writ in Dramatick Poetry, he published during his Honourable Exile at Antwerp, the most Magnificent, and withall the Best Book of Horsmanship, that was ever yet extant. How eminent his skill was in that Noble Art of Dressing Horses in the Manage, is well known not only to our Countrymen but to all Nations of Europe: Persons of all Countries, and those of the best Quality crouding to his Manage at Antwerp, to see him ride. Insomuch that Signior del Campo, One of the most knowing Riders of his Time, said to the Duke (upon his Dismounting) as it were in an Extasie, "Il faut tirer la Planche;" The Bridge must be drawn up: meaning that no Rider must presume to come in Horsemanship after him. M. De Soleil, (one of the best Writers that I have met with amongst the French) when he enlarged his Le Parfaict Mareschal, borrowed the Art of Breeding from the Duke's Book, as he owns in his Avis au Lecteur; and stiles him "Un des plus accomplis Cavaliers de notre temps." But having nam'd this Forreigner's borrowing from his Grace, I should justly deserve to be branded with Ingratitude, should I not own, That 'tis to the Work of this Great Man, that I am indebted for several Notions borrow'd from his Grace, in a little Essay of Horsemanship, printed 8vo. Oxon. 1685. Nay, further, I think it no small Glory that I am the only Author that I know of, who has quoted him in English. He has written two Books of Horsemanship; the first in French, called La Methode nouvelle de Dresser les Chevaux, avec Figures, Fol. Ant. 1658. The other in English, stiled A New Method and Extraordinary Invention to dress Horses, and work them according to Nature, as also to perfect Nature by the Subtlety of Art, Fol. Lond. 1667. The first Book was writ by the Duke in English, and made French at his command, by a Wallon; and is extraordinary scarce and dear. The latter (as the Duke informs his Reader) "Is neither a Translation of the first, nor an absolutely necessary Addition to it, and may be of use without the other, as the other hath been hitherto, and still is without this; but both together will questionless do best."

I beg my Reader's Pardon, if I have dwelt upon this Subject, to the tryal of his Patience: but I have so great a Value for the Art it self, and such a Respect for the Memory of the best of Horsemen, that I cannot refrain from trespassing yet further, by transcribing an Epigram writ to the Duke, on this Subject; but it being the production of the Immortal Johnson I hope that alone will attone for the Digression.

AN EPIGRAM TO WILLIAM DUKE OF NEWCASTLE.
When first, my Lord, I saw you back your Horse,
Provoke his Mettle, and command his force
To all the uses of the Field, and Race,
Methought I read the ancient Art of Thrace,
And saw a Centaure past those tales of Greece,
So seem'd your Horse, and you both of a piece!
You shew'd like Perseus, upon Pegasus;
Or Castor mounted on his Cyllarus:
Or what we hear our home-born Legend tell
Of bold Sir Bevis, and his Arundel:
Nay, so your Seat his Beauties did endorse,
As I began to wish my self a Horse:
And surely had I but your Stables seen
Before: I think my wish absolv'd had been.
For never saw I yet the Muses dwell,
Nor any of their Houshold, half so well.
So well! as when I saw the Floor, and Room,
I look'd for Hercules to be the Groom:
And cry'd, Away with the Caesarian Breed,
At these immortal Mangers Virgil fed.