1691 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Shadwell

Gerard Langbaine, in Account of the English Dramatick Poets (1691) 442-53.



A Gentleman, whose Dramatick Works are sufficiently known to the World; but especially his Excellent Comedies; which in the Judgment of some Persons, have very deservedly advanced him to the Honour he now enjoys, under the Title of Poet Laureat to their present Majesties. An Advancement which he ingeniously confesses, is chiefly owing to the Patronage of the Noble Earl of Dorset, that Great Judge of Wit and Parts; in whose Favour it has been Mr. Shadwell's particular Happiness for several Years, to have had an Eminent Share. Mr. Dryden, I dare presume, little imagined, when he writ that Satyr of MackFlecnoe, that the Subject he there so much exposes and ridicules, should have ever lived to have succeeded him in wearing the Bays.

But I am willing to say the less of Mr. Shadwell, because I have publickly profess'd a Friendship for him: and tho' it be not of so long date, as some former Intimacy with others; so neither is it blemished with some unhandsome Dealings, I have met with from Persons, where I had least expected it. I shall therefore speak of him with the Impartiality that becomes a Critick; and own I like His Comedies better than Mr. Dryden's; as having more Variety of Characters, and those drawn from the Life; I mean Men's Converse and Manners, and not from other Men's Writings: tho' indeed I cannot wholly acquit our Present Laureate from borrowing; his Plagiaries being in some places too bold and open to be disguised, of which I shall take Notice, as I go along; tho' with this Remark, That several of them are observed to my Hand, and in a great measure excused by himself, in the publick Acknowledgment he makes in his several Prefaces, to the Persons to whom he was obliged for what he borrowed.

That Mr. Shadwell has propos'd B. Johnson for his Model, I am very certain of; and those who will read the Preface to the Humorists, may be sufficiently satisfied what a value he has for that Great Man; but how far he has succeeded in his Design, I shall leave to the Reader's Examination. So far only give me leave to premise in our Laureat's Defence, that the Reader is not to measure his Merit by Mr. Dryden's Standard; since Socrates, never was more persecuted by the inhumane Aristophanes, than Mr. Shadwell by Mr. Dryden's Pen; and with the same injustice: tho' I think, whoever shall peruse the Modest Defence of the former, in his Epistle to the tenth Satyr of Juvenal, will not only acquit him, but love him for his good Humour and gentle Temper, to One who endeavour'd to destroy his Reputation, so dear to All Men, but the very Darling of Poets; as Ovid says,

Quid petitur sacris, nisi tantum fama Poetis?
Hoc votum nostri summa laboris habet.

Mr. Shadwell has Fourteen Plays in print, which we shall give an Account of in the Order we have begun, viz. Alphabetically; tho' by this means his last Play comes first upon our Stage, viz.

Amorous Bigotte, with the Second Part of Tegue O Divelly; a Comedy acted by their Majesties Servants, printed 4to. Lond. 1690. and dedicated to the Right Honourable Charles, Earl of Shrewsbury.

Bury Fair, a Comedy acted by his present Majesties Servants, printed 4to. Lond. 1689. and dedicated to the Rt. Honourable Charles, Earl of Dorset and Middlesex, the present Lord Chamberlain of his Majesty's Houshold. How difficult it is for Poets to find a continual Supply of new Humour, this Poet has sufficiently shew'd in his Prologue; and therefore he ought to be excus'd, if Old Wit, and Sir Humphry Noddy, have some resemblance with Justice spoil Wit, and Sr. John Noddy; in the Triumphant Widow. Skilfull Poets resemble excellent Cooks, whose Art enables them to dress one Dish of Meat several ways; and by the Assistance of proper Sawces, to give each a different Relish, and yet all grateful to the Palate. Thus the Character of La Roche, tho' first drawn by Molliere, in Les Precieuses ridicules, and afterwards copy'd by Sir W. D'Avenant, Mr. Betterton, and Mrs. Behn; yet in this Play has a more taking Air than in any other Play, and there is something in his Jargon, more diverting than in the Original it self.

Epsom Wells, a Comedy acted at the Duke's Theatre; printed 4to. Lond. 1676. and dedicated to his Grace the Duke of Newcastle. This is so diverting, and withal so true a Comedy, that even Forreigners, who are not generally the kindest to the Wit of our Nation, have extreamly commended it: and it is no small credit to our Author, that the Sieur De Saint Euvremont, speaking of our English Comedies in his Essays, has ranked this Play with Ben Johnson's Bartholmew Fair, as two of our most diverting Comedies. 'Tis true that some endeavoured to fix a Calumny upon our Author, alledging that this Play was not in Ingenious: but this Stain was quickly wip'd off, by the Plea he makes for himself in the Prologue, spoken to the King and Queen at Whitehall, where he says,

If this for him had been by others done,
After this Honour, sure they'd claim their own.

Humorists, a Comedy acted by his Royal Highnesses Servants; printed 4to. Lond. 1671. and dedicated to the most Illustrious Margaret, Dutchess of Newcastle. The Design of this Play was, "To reprehend some of the Vices and Follies of the Age, which is certainly the most proper and most useful way of writing Comedy." But notwithstanding the Author's good Design, it met with implacable Enemies, who resolv'd to damn it right or wrong; and the Author was forc'd to mutilate his Play, by expunging the chief Design, to prevent giving Offence. These and other Disadvantages (the particulars of which you may read in the Preface) the Poet met with: and yet I think a Candid Judge would let it pass without much Censure; and pardon the faults of the Play, for that Reparation that is made for it in the Preface.

Lancashire Witches, and Teague O Divelly, the Irish Priest; a Comedy acted at the Duke's Theatre, and printed 4to. Lond. 1682. This Play was written in the Times of Whig and Tory, therefore was opposed by Papists and their Adherents, for the sake of their Dear-Joy, Teague O Divelly: but nevertheless there appeared so numerous a party in the Play's Defence, that the Play lived in spight of all their Malice. However, I wish our Author for his own sake, had left out the Character of Smirk, notwithstanding and the Defence he makes for it in the Preface, and his Protestation of having a true value for the Church of England: for 'tis evident that her Sons, the Clergy, are abused in that Character; particularly in the first Scene of the second Act: and therefore Mr. Shadwell must allow me a little to distrust his sincerity, when he makes such large Professions of Respect to Gowns-men; to whom I believe his Obligations are greater than Kindness: otherwise, he would not have suffer'd such reflections to have passed his Pen, as are to be met with in his Squire of Alsatia, and the Epilogue to the Amorous Bigotte, &c. If Mr. Shadwell would therefore take a Friend's Counsel, I would advise him to treat serious things with due Respect; and not to make the Pulpit truckle to the Stage; or Preface a Play, with a a Treatise of Religion: every Man has his Province, and I think the Stating of Passive Obedience, and Non-Resistance, is none of Mr. Shadwell's: He may remember, that Mr. Dryden never miscarried more, than when he inter-meddled with Church Matters; and that all the Art and Beauty of his Absalom and Achitophel, will hardly make Amends for the Spots and Blemishes that are to be found in his Hind and Panther. But to return to our Subject: Mr. Heywood and Mr. Brome have writ a Play on the same Story with our Author; but how much this exceeds it, will be evident to unbyassed Judges. As to the Magick in the Play, our Author has given a very good Account in his Notes, from the Writings of Delrio, Bodinus, Wierus, &c. and I know nothing that we have in this Nature, in Dramatick Poetry, except Ben. Johnson's Masque of Queens, which is likewise explained by Annotations.

Libertine, a Tragedy acted by his Royal Highnesses Servants; printed 4to. Lond. 1676. and dedicated to William Duke of Newcastle. This Play, if not regular, is at least diverting: which according to the Opinion of some of our First-Rate Poets, is the End of Poetry. The Play is built upon a Subject which has been handled by Spanish, Italian, and French Authors: there being four Plays extant (says my Author) on this Story. I have never seen but one, viz. Molliere's L'Athee Foundroye, which it appear'd our Author has read. There is a Character in Sir Aston Cockain's Ovid; I mean that of Captain Hannibal, whose Catastrophe is like that of Don John, which (as I have said) may possibly be borrowed from Il Atheisto fulminato.

Miser, a Comedy acted by his Majesties Servants, at the Theatre-Royal; printed 4to. Lond. 1672. and dedicated to the Right Honourable Charles, Lord Buckhurst, the present Earl of Dorset. This Play the Author confesses is founded on Molliere's L'Avare; which by the way is it self founded on Plautus his Autularia. 'Twas the last Play that was acted at the King's House, before the fatal Fire there: Whoever will peruse this Play, will find more than half writ by our Author, and the French part much improved.

Psyche, a Tragedy acted at the Duke's Theatre; printed 4to. Lond. 1675. and dedicated to the late James, Duke of Monmouth. This was the first Play that our Author writ in Rhime; and on that Account he found most of the Crambo-Poets up in Arms against it, who look'd upon our Author, as an Incroacher on their Territories; and Were (as he says) very much offended with him, for leaving his own Province of Comedy, to invade their Dominion of Rhime: But as our Author never valu'd himself upon this Play, so his Design at that time, was to entertain the Town with variety of Musick, curious Dancing splendid Scenes, and Machines; and not with fine Poetry, the Audience being not at leisure to mind the Writing. The foundation of this Play, is Apuleius his Aureus Asinus; which the Reader may read in English, under the Title of The Golden Ass, translated by W. Adlington, printed 4to. Lond. 1639. How far he has borrow'd from the French Psyche, he tells you in the Preface, and I leave it to those which have seen it (which I have not) to give Judgment to whom the preference belongs. How much this Opera takes, every Body that is acquainted with the Theatre knows; and with reason, since the greatest Masters in Vocal Musick, Dancing, and Painting, were concern'd in it.

Royal Shepherdess, a Tragi-comedy acted by his Highness the Duke of York's Servants; and printed 4to. Lond. 1669. This Play (as our Poet owns) was originally Mr. Fountain's of Devonshire; and without descanting on the Play, I shall refer the Reader to the view of Mr. Shadwell's Epistle to the Reader, and the Comparison of both Plays, which are in print, for his satisfaction.

Squire of Alsatia, a Comedy acted by their Majesties Servants; printed 4to. Lond. 1688. and dedicated to the Earl of Dorset and Middlesex. The Ground of this Play, is from Terence his Adelphi; especially the two Characters of Mitio and Demea, which I think are improv'd. If he has not taken notice of having borrowed these Characters, 'tis because he is not beholding to the French, or English for his Model; and that those for whom he chiefly writes, are Persons that are well acquainted with Poets of Antiquity, and need not be informed. 'Tis sufficient for the vulgar Audience, that the Play is taking and divertive, without troubling their Heads whence 'tis borrowed: and all People must allow that no Comedy has found better success than this, since the Restauration of the Theatre.

Sullen Lovers, or The Impertinents; a Comedy acted by his Highness the Duke of York's Servants; printed 4to. Lond. 1670. and dedicated to the late Duke of Newcastle. The Author owns that he receiv'd a hint from the Report of Molliere's Les Facheux, upon which he wrote a great part of his Play, before he saw it. The Play is regular and diverting, and the Author himself has better defended it than I am able to do, nor doth he at any time need a Second; and therefore I refer you to his Preface for Satisfaction.

Timon of Athens, the Man-hater, his History, acted at the Duke's Theatre; made into a Play, printed 4to. Lond. 1678. and dedicated to the late Duke of Buckingham. The Play is originally Shakespear's; but so imperfectly printed, that 'tis not divided into Acts. How much our Author has added, or expung'd, I must leave to the Examination of the less busie Reader; I not having time at present to enquire into particulars.

True Widow, a Comedy acted at the Duke's Theatre; printed 4to. Lond. 1679. and dedicated to Sir Charles Sidley. This Play I take to be as true Comedy; and the Characters and Humours to be as well drawn, as any of this Age.

Virtuoso, a Comedy acted at the Duke's Theatre; printed 4to. Lond. 1676. and dedicated to his Grace the late Duke of Newcastle. I think there is no Body will deny this Play its due Applause; at least I know, that the University of Oxford, who may be allowed Competent Judges of Comedy, (especially of such Characters, as Sir Nicholas Gimcrack, and Sir Formal Trifle) applauded it: and as no Man ever undertook to discover the Frailties of such Pretenders tenders to this kind of Knowledge, before Mr. Shadwell; so none since Mr. Johnson's Time, ever drew so many different Characters of Humours, and with such Success.

Woman-Captain, a Comedy acted at his Royal Highnesses Servants; printed 4to. Lond. 167— and dedicated to Henry, Lord Ogle, Son to his Grace Henry, Duke of Newcastle. If this Play falls short of the former, at least it wants not variety of Characters, which have gained it a Reputation above what is written by pitiful Poets of the Fourth-Rate, our Author's perpetual Enemies, who are no more to be regarded, than the buzzing of Flies, and Insects in hot Weather; which tho' troublesome, are inoffensive, and without Stings: and for his greatest Enemy; he has imitated the Bee, that with his Malice, has left his Sting behind him. I hope now, our Author is advanced to a Station, wherein he will endeavour to exert his Muse; and having found Encouragement from Majesty it self, aim at writing Dramatick Pieces, equal to those of Antiquity: which however applauded, have been paralelled (I was about to say excelled) by the Comedies of the Admirable Johnson.

I must do Mr. Dryden so much Justice, as to acknowledge, that in Epick Poetry, he far exceeds not only Mr. Shadwell, but most, if not all the Poets of our Age: and I could wish our present Laureat, would not give his predecessor such frequent Advantages over him; but rather confine himself within his own Sphere of Comedy.

He has several Poems extant, but because his Name is not affix'd to them, I shall mention but Three; viz. The tenth Satyr of Juvenal, translated with Notes, printed 4to. Lond. 1687. A Congratulatory Poem on his Highness the Prince of Orange, coming into England: and another to the most Illustrious Q. Mary, upon her arrival; both printed 4to. Lond. 1689.