Edward Howard was descended from the noble family of the earl of Berkshire, and was more illustrious by his birth than his genius; he addicted himself to the study of dramatic poetry, and produced four plays, but gained no reputation by any of them.
1 The Man of New-Market, a Comedy, acted at the Theatre-Royal; and printed in quarto, London 1678.
2. Six Days Adventure, or the New Utopia, a Comedy, acted at his royal highness the duke of York's Theatre, printed in quarto 1671. This play miscarried in the action, as he himself acknowledges in his preface; and the earl of Rochester, with his usual virulence, writ an invective against it, but, Mrs. Behn, Mr. Ravenscroft, and some other poets, taking compassion on him, sent the author recommendatory verses, which are printed before that play, and in return he writ a Pindarique to Mrs. Behn, which she printed in a Collection of Poems 1685.
3. The Usurper, a Tragedy, acted at the Theatre-Royal, and printed 1668, in which the character of Damocles, is said to have been drawn for Oliver Cromwel, and that the play is a parallel of those times.
4. Womens Conquest, a Tragi-Comedy, acted at the Duke's Theatre 1677.
Besides these plays, Mr. Howard has published an Epic Poem in octavo, called the British Princes, which the earl of Rochester likewise handled pretty severely. There is likewise ascribed to him another Book of Poems and Essays, with a Paraphrase on Cicero's Laelius, or Tract of Friendship, printed in 8vo. The Earl of Dorset, who was called by cotemporary writers, the best good man, with the worst natured Muse, has dedicated a few lines to the damnation of this extraordinary epic production of Mr. Howard's.
The Spectator observes, that this epic piece is full of incongruity, or in other words, abounds with nonsense. He quotes the two following lines,
A coat of mail Prince Vortiger had on,
Which from a naked pict his grandsire won.
Who does not see the absurdity of winning a coat from a naked man?
The earl of Dorset thus addresses him;
To Mr. EDWARD HOWARD, on his incomparable, incomprehensible POEM called the BRITISH PRINCES.
Come on, ye critics, find one fault who dare,
For, read it backward like a witch's prayer,
'Twill do as well, throw not away your jests
On solid nonsense that abides all tests.
Wit, like tierce-claret, when't begins to pall,
Neglected lies, and's of no use at all,
But, in its full perfection of decay,
Turns vinegar and comes again in play.
Thou hast a brain, such as it is indeed;
On what else should thy worm of fancy feed?
Yet in a Filbert I have often known
Maggots survive when all the kernel's gone
This simile shall stand, in thy defence
'Gainst such dull rogues as now and then write sense.
Thy style's the same, whatever be thy theme,
As some digestion turns all meat to phlegm.
He lyes, dear Ned, who says, thy brain is barren,
Where deep conceits, like vermin breed in carrion.
Thy stumbling founder'd jade can trot as high
As any other Pegasus can fly
So the dull Eel moves nimbler in the mud,
Than all the swift finn'd racers of the flood.
As skilful divers to the bottom fall,
Sooner than those that cannot swim at all,
So in the way of writing, without thinking,
Thou hast a strange alacrity in sinking.
Thou writ'st below ev'n thy own nat'ral parts,
And with acquir'd dulness, and new arts
Of studied nonsense, tak'st kind readers hearts.
Therefore dear Ned, at my advice forbear,
Such loud complaints 'gainst critics to prefer,
Since thou art turn'd an arrant libeller
Thou sett'st thy name to what thyself do'st write;
Did ever libel yet so sharply bite?