Sir William Davenant

Gerard Langbaine, in Account of the English Dramatick Poets (1691) 106-13.

A Person sufficiently known to all Lovers of Poetry, and One whose Works will preserve his Memory to Posterity. He was Born in the City of Oxford, in the Parish of St. Martins, vulgarly call'd Carfax, near the End of February in the year 1605. and was Christened on the Third of March following. He was the Mercurial Son of a Saturnine Father, Mr. John D'Avenant, a Vintner by Profession: who liv'd in the same House, which is now known by the Sign of the Crown. He was formerly of Lincoln College, and instructed in the Logick and Physicks, by his Tutor Mr. Daniel Hough, Fellow of that Society; tho' his Genius rather inclin'd him to walk in the more flowry Fields of Poetry, in which he made a Prodigious discovery: advancing even without any Guide, but his own Wit, and Ingenuity, as far as the Herculean Pillars (if any such bounds are to be set) of Poetry. He was Poet Laureat to Two Kings, whose Memory will always be Sacred to all good, loyal, and witty Men; I mean King Charles the First, the Martyr for, and King Charles the Second, the Restorer of the Protestant Religion, according to the Church of England. During this Honour, of which his Wit and Parts render'd him Worthy, he writ (as I suppose) his Dramatick Pieces, of which I shall give some account.

To speak of him in general, I need only say, that most of them have appear'd on the Stage with good applause, and been receiv'd with like success in Print: the greatest part publisht in the Authors Lifetime in Quarto, and all since his Death collected in one Volume, with his other Works, printed in Folio Lond. 1673. and dedicated by his Widow to his Royal Highness, the late King James.

Albovine King of the Lombards his Tragedy, printed first in quarto, and dedicated to the Right Honourable the Duke of Somerset. This Play is commended by Eight Copies of Verses. For the Design, it is founded on History. You may read the Story in several Historians: See Paulus Diaconus de Gestis Langobardorum, lib. 2. c. 28. Gregorius Epise. Turonensis Hist. Francorum, lib. 2. c. 28. Heylin's Cosinoraphy, Part 1. Book 1. p. 57. This Story is likewise related at large in a Novel by Bandello, which is translated by Belleforest; See Histoires Tragiques Tome 4. Nov. 19.

Cruel Brother, a Tragedy printed first in quarto, and dedicated to the Right Honourable the Lord Weston, Lord High Treasurer of England.

Distresses, a Tragi-Comedy printed in folio, Lond. 1673.

First-days Entertainment at Rutland-house, by Declamation, and Musick, after the manner of the Ancients. The subject of the former of these Declamations is concerning Publick Entertainment by Moral Representations; the Disputants being Diogenes the Cynick, and Aristophanes the Poet. The later Dispute is between a Parisian, and a Londoner, who declaim concerning the Preheminence of Paris and London. The Vocal and Instrumental Musick was compos'd by Dr. Charles Coleman, Capt.Henry Cook, Mr. Henry Laws, and Mr. George Hudson.

Fair Favourite, a Tragi-Comedy printed in Folio, 1673.

Just Italian, a Tragi-Comedy printed first in quarto, and dedicated to the Right Honourable the Earl of Dorset, and commended by the Verses of his Friends, Mr. William Hopkins, and Mr. Thomas Carew.

Law against Lovers, a Tragi-Comedy made up of two Plays written by Mr. Shakespear, viz. Measure for Measure, and Much Ado about Nothing. Tho' not only the Characters, but the Language of the whole Play almost, be borrow'd from Shakespear: yet where the Language is rough or obsolete, our Author has taken care to polish it: as to give, instead of many, one Instance. Shakespear's Duke of Vienna says thus;

—I love the People;
But do not like to Stage me to their Eyes:
Though it do well, I do not relish well
Their loud Applause, and Aves vehement:
Nor do I think the Man of safe discretion,
That does affect it.

In Sr. William's Play the Duke speaks as follows;

—I love the People;
But would not on the Stage salute the Croud.
I never relisht their Applause; nor think
The Prince has true discretion who affects it.

For the Plot, I refer you to the abovemention'd Plays, in the Account of Shakespear.

Love and Honour, a Tragi-Comedy which I have several times seen acted with good applause; first at the Play-house in Lincolns-Inn-Fields, and since at the Theatre in Dorset-Garden. This was first printed in quarto.

Man's the Master, a Comedy which I think I have seen acted at the Duke's House; however I am sure the Design, and part of the Language is borrow'd from Scarron's Jodelet, ou Le Maistre valet; and (as I remember) part from L'Heritier ridicule, a Comedy of the same Authors.

Platonick Lovers, a Tragi-Comedy, which was first printed in octavo with The Wits.

Play-house to be Let. I know not under what Species to place this Play, it consisting of several Pieces of different Kinds handsomely tackt together, several of which the Author writ in the Times of Oliver, and were acted separately by stealth; as the History of Sr. Francis Drake exprest by Instrumental, and Vocal Musick, and by Art of Perpective in Scenes, &c. The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru. These two Pieces were first printed in quarto. They make the third and fourth Acts of this Play. The second Act consists of a French Farce, translated from Molliere's Sganarelle, ou Le Cocu Imaginaire, and purposely by our Author put into a sort of Jargon common to French-men newly come over. The fifth Act consists of Tragedie travestie, or the Actions of Caesar Antony and Cleopatra in Verse Burlesque. This Farce I have seen acted at the Theatre in Dorset-garden some years ago, at the end of that excellent Tragedy of Pompey, translated by the incomparable Pen of the much admired Orinda.

Siege of Rhodes, in two Parts. These Plays were likewise in the times of the Civil Wars, acted with Stilo Recitativo, and printed in quarto, but afterwards enlarged by the Author, and acted with applause at the Duke of York's Theatre in Lincolns-Inn-Fields. It is dedicated to the Right Honourable the Earl of Clarendon Lord High Chancellor of England. For the Plot, as far as it is founded on History, there are several Historians have writ of it in the Life of Solyman the second, who took this City in the year 1522. See Thomas Artus Continuation de l'Histoire des Turcs. Giov. Bosio. L'Istoria della Sacra Religione & Illma Militia di San Giovanni Gierosolimitano, lib. 29. Boissardi Icones & Vitae Sultanorum Turcicorum, &c. in Vit. Solym. 2. Knolles History of the Turks, &c.

Siege, a Tragi-Comedy.

News from Plimouth; a Comedy formerly acted at the Globe with good success, and was printed (as I believe) in quarto.

Temple of Love, presented by the Queens Majesty, [Wife to King Charles the First] and her Ladies at Whitehall: viz. The Lady Marquess Hamilton; the Lady Mary Herbert; Countess of Oxford; Berkshire; Carnarvan; &c. The Lords, and others that represented the noble Persian Youths were, The Duke of Lenox; the Earls of Newport; Desmond; &c. "This Masque (says the Author) for the newness of the Invention, variety of Scenes, Apparitions, and richness of Habits, was generally approv'd to be one of the most Magnificent that hath been done in England."

Triumphs of the Prince d'Amour, a Masque presented by his Highness at his Pallace in the Middle-Temple. This Masque, at the Request of that Honourable Society, was devis'd and written by our Author in Three days; and was presented by the Members thereof, as an Entertainment to the Prince Elector. A List of the Masquers Names, as they were rank'd by their Antiquity, in that noble Society, is to be found at the end of the Masque, to which I refer the curious Reader. The Musick of the Songs and Symphonies were excellently compos'd by Mr. Henry, and Mr. William Lawes his Majesties Servants.

Wits, a Comedy heretofore acted at the Black-friars, and since at the Duke's Theatre; printed both in octavo, and quarto, before this New Edition, and dedicated to the chiefly belov'd of all, that Ingenious and Noble, Endimion Porter, of his Majesties Bed-Chamber. This Play is commended by a Copy of Verses written by Mr. Thomas Carew, and has often appear'd on the Stage with Applause.

Having done with his Plays, I am now to speak of his other Works, which consist of Poems, of several sorts, and on several Occasions, amongst which Gondibert an Epick Poem has made the greatest noise. This Poem was design'd by the Author to be†an Imitation of an English Drama; it being to be divided into Five Books, as the other is into Five Acts; The Canto's to be the Parallel of the Scenes; with this difference, that this is deliver'd Narratively, the other Dialogue-wise. The Reader may find a long account of the Author's design, and his Reasons in the Preface, which is directed to his Friend, the so well known Mr. Hobbs; who not only approves his Design, but in the Close of his Letter fixes and extraordinary Complement upon him: viz. "The Virtues you distribute in your Poem, amongst so many Noble Persons, represent (in the Reading) the image but of One Man's Virtue to my fancy, which is your own." Nor was Mr. Hobbs the only Person that commended this Poem: for the first and second Books were usher'd into the world, by the Pens of two of our best Poets: viz. Mr. Waller, and Mr. Cowley; which One would have thought might have prov'd a sufficient Defence and Protection against the snarling Criticks. Notwithstanding which, Four eminent Wits of that Age, (two of which were Sr. John Denham, and Mr. Donne,) publisht several Copies of Verses to Sr. William's discredit, under this Title, Certain Verses written by several of the Author's Friends, to be reprinted with the second Edition of Gondibert, in octavo Lond. 1653. These Verses were answer'd (as Mr. Wood says) by the Author himself, with as much, or rather more Wit, and little or no concern for their Raillery, rather seeming to sport at, and pity their want of Sence. The Title of his Answer is, The Incomparable Poem Gondibert vindicated from the Wit-Combats of Four Esquires; Clinias, Dametas, Sancho, and Jack Pudding, printed in octavo Lond. 1655. The Books being scarce, I shall for the Readers diverssion, chuse one out of each of these, as a Sample of the rest: and amongst the former I shall pitch upon that Copy which reflects on the Commendations given by those great Men above-mention'd.

I am Old Davenant with my Fustian Quill;
Tho' skill I have not,
I must be writing still
On Gondibert,
That is not worth a Fart.
Waller, and Cowley, 'tis true, have prais'd my Book;
But how untruly
All they that read may look;
Nor can Old Hobbs.
Defend me from dry Bobbs.
Then no more I'll dabble, nor pump Fancy dry,
To compose a Fable,
Shall make Will. Crofts to cry,
O gentle Knight,
Thou writ'st to them that shite.

False as Foolish! What turn felo de me?
Davenant kill Davenant!
No, the whole World does see
My Gondibert,
To be a piece of Art.
Waller and Cowley, true, have prais'd my Book,
And deservedly,
Nay I did for it look;
He both us robbs,
That blames for this Old Hobbs.
Write on (jeer'd Will) and write in Pantofle,
That's over Pump-ho,
And for Will Crofts his baffle,
Thou may'st long write,
That writ'st to them that shite.

Many other Railleries were broacht against him by his Enemies, as those Lines in Sr. John Sucklin's Session of the Poets; the Ballad entitled How Daphne pays his Debts, and others which I might insert; but I think 'tis time to leave these trifles, and acquaint my Readers, who are delighted with Criticismes, that they may find more serious Animadversions on this Poem, in the English Preface written by that admirable Critick Mr. Rymer, to his Translation of Monsieur Rapin's Reflections on Aristotle's Treatise of Poesy, printed 8vo Lond. 1674.

This great Man Died on the Seventh day of April 1668. Aged 63, and was Buried amongst the Poets in Westminster-Abby, near to his old Antagonist, and Rival for the Bays, Mr. Thomas May. 'Twas observ'd, that at his Funeral his Coffin wanted the Ornament of his Laureats Crown, which by the Law of Heraldry justly appertain'd to him: but this omission is sufficiently recompenc'd by an Eternal Fame, which will always accompany his Memory; he having been the first Introducer of all that is splendid in our English Opera's, and 'tis by his means and industry, that our Stage at present rivals the Italian Theatre. I shall conclude his Character, with that Account which Mr. Dryden has formerly given of him, which is the more valuable, because the commendation of his Predecessors is seldome the Subject of his Pen. "In the time (says he) that I writ with Sr. William Davenant, I had the opportunity to observe somewhat more nearly of him, than I had formerly done, when I had only a bare acquaintance with him. I found him then of so quick a Fancy, that nothing was propos'd to him on which he could not suddenly produce a Thought extreamly pleasant and surprising: and those first Thoughts of his, contrary to the old Latine Proverb, Were not always the least happy. And as his Fancy was quick, so likewise were the Products of it remote and new. He borrow'd not of any other; and his Imaginations were such, as could not enter into any other Man. His Corrections were sober and judicious: and he corrected his own Writings much more severely than those of another Man; bestowing twice the labour and time in Polishing, which he us'd in Invention. Si sic omnia dixisset,—"