1691 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Nathaniel Lee

Gerard Langbaine, in Account of the English Dramatick Poets (1691) 320-27.



An Author whose Plays have made him sufficiently remarkable to those who call themselves The Wits; and One whose Muse deserv'd a better place than Bedlam. How truly he has verified the Saying of the Philosopher, Nullum sit Magnum Ingenium fine mixture a dementiae; even to the Regret and Pity of all that knew him, is manifest: I heartily wish his Madness had not exceeded that Divine Fury which Ovid mentions, and which usually accompanies the best Poet; "Est Deus in nobis agitante calescimus illo." But alas! his Condition is far worse, as it has been describ'd in a Satyr on the Modern Poets.

There, in a Den remov'd from human Eyes
Possest with Muse, the Brain-sick Poet lyes,
Too miserably wretched to be nam'd;
For Plays, for Heroes, and for Passion fam'd.
Thoughtless he raves his sleepless Hours away,
In Chains all Nights, in darkness all the Day.
And if he gets some intervals from pain,
The Fit returns; he foams, and bites his Chain,
His Eye-balls rowl, and he grows mad again.

However, before this misfortune befel him, he writ several Dramatical Pieces, which gave him a Title to the First Rank of Poets; there being several of his Tragedies, as Mithridates, Theodosius, &c. which have forc'd Tears from the fairest Eyes in the World: his Muse indeed seem'd destin'd for the Diversion of the Fair Sex; so soft and passionately moving, are his Scenes of Love written. He has publisht Eleven Plays, besides these two, in which he joyn'd with Mr. Dryden, viz.

Caesar Borgia, Son to Pope Alexander the VI. a Tragedy acted at the Duke's Theatre, by their Royal-Highnesses Servants; printed 4to. Lond. 1680. and dedicated to the Right Honourable Philip Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery. For the Plot, see Writers of those times, as Guicciardine, L. 5, 6. Mariana L. 27, 28. Sr. Paul Ricaut's Continuation of Platina, in the Reign of Pope Alexander the VI.

Constantine the Great, a Tragedy acted at the Theatre-Royal by their Majesties Servants; printed 4to. Lond. 1684. Many are the Authors that have writ the Actions of this Illustrious Emperor, as Socrates, Sozomen, Eusebius, Zonaras, Eutropius, Ruffinus, Baronius, &c. The Story of Crispus and Fausta, is particularly related (as I think) in Ammianus Marcellinus: See besides Beard's Theatre of God's Judgements, Ch. 13. p. 225.

Gloriana, the Court of Augustus Caesar, a Tragedy in Heroick Verse, acted at the Theatre-Royal by their Majesties Servants, printed 4to. Lond. 1676. and dedicated to her Grace the Dutchess of Portsmouth. The Plot I take to be rather founded on Romance than History, as the Reader will find by comparing the Play with the Romance of Cleopatra, in the several Stories of Caesario, Marcellus Julia; Part 1. Book 3. Part 5. Book 3. Ovid, Cypassis and Julia, Part 7. Book 3. A Modern Poet, in a Satyr writ in Imitation of Sir John Suckling's Session of the Poets, writes thus of our Author and this Play:

Nat Lee stept in next, in hopes of a Prize,
Apollo remember'd he had hit Once in Thrice;
By the Rubies in's Face, he could not deny,
But he had as much Wit, as Wine could supply;
Confest that indeed he had a Musical Note,
But sometimes strain'd so hard, that it rattled i' th' Throat;
Yet own'd he had Sense, t' encourage him for 't,
He made him his Ovid in Augustus's Court.

Lucius Junius Brutus, Father of his Country, a Tragedy, acted at the Duke's Theatre, by their Royal Highnesses Servants; printed 4to. Lond. 1681. and dedicated to the Right Honourable Charles, Earl of Dorset and Middlesex. This Play well deserv'd so great a Patron as his Lordship, few Plays that I know, being writ with more Manly Spirit, Force and Vigour. For the Plot our Author has partly follow'd History, partly Romance: For History, consult Floras Lib. 1. Ch. 9, 10. Livy Lib. 1. Dionysius Hallicarnassaeus, Eutropius, Sextus Rufus, Orosius, &c. For Fiction, read in the Romance called Clelia, The History of Junius Brutus, Part 2. Book 1. p. 170. Part 3. Book 1. p. 229.

Massacre of Paris, a Tragedy acted at the Theatre-Royal, by their Majesties Servants, printed 4to. Lond. 1690. This Play is founded on that Bloody Massacre which was acted on St. Bartholomew Day, in the Year 1572. For the Story, consult Thuanus, Davila, Lib. 5. Pierre Matthieu, or, (as some say) Monliard his Continuation of De Serres, Mezeray and other Historians in the Reign of Charles the IX. Several passages in the Duke of Guise, are borrow'd from this Play, as the Reader may find by comparing p. 6. of the former, with p. 4. of the latter; p. 11. with p. 5. p. 13. with p. 5. and 6, &c.

Mithridates Kings of Pontus, a Tragedy, acted at the Theatre-Royal, by their Majesties Servants: printed 4to. Lond. 1678. and dedicated to the Right Honourable Charles Earl of Dorset and Middlesex. This Play may be reckon'd amongst those of The First-Rank, and will always be a Favourite of the Tender-hearted Ladies. It is founded on History: See Appian de Bell. Mithrid. Florus l. 3. c. 5. Vell. Paterculus, l. 2. Plutarch in the Lives of Scylla, Lucullus and Pompey, &c.

Nero Emperor of Rome his Tragedy, acted at the Theatre-Royal by his Majesties Servants; printed 4to. Lond. 1675. and dedicated to the Right Honourable the Earl of Rochester. This Play is writ in a mixt Stile, part in Prose, part in Rime, and part in Blank Verse. For the Plot, consult Suetonius in his Life; Aurelius Victor; Tacitus Ann. lib. 13, 14, &c. Sulpicius Severus, &c.

Princess of Cleve, a Tragi-comedy, acted at the Queen's Theatre in Dorset Garden; printed 4to. Lond. 1689. and dedicated to the Right Honourable Charles Earl of Dorset and Middlesex, Lord Chamberlain of his present Majesty's Houshold, and one of his Majesties most Honourable Privy Council. This Play is founded on a Romance call'd The Princess of Cleves, translated from the French. The Invective against Women, spoken by Poltrot Act 5. Sc. 1. is printed in several Books of Poetry, and may be read in a Romance call'd The French Rogue, 8vo. ch. 21. p. 132. The Author tells his Patron, That the Duke of Guise has wrested two Scenes from the Original; but which they are I have not time to enquire.

Rival Queens, or The Death of Alexander the Great, a Tragedy acted at the Theatre-Royal, by their Majesties Servants, printed Lond. 1677. and dedicated to the Right Honourable John, Earl of Mulgrave. This Play has always been applauded by the Spectators, and is acknowledg'd a Master-piece by Mr. Dryden himself, in that Copy of Verses prefix'd to it, which are a sufficient Testimony of its worth. The Prologue was written by Sir Car Scroop. For the Plot, as far as the Author has follow'd History, consult Arrian; Q. Curtius; Plutarch's Life of Alexander; Justin lib. 11, 12. Diodorus Siculus, lib. 17. & 18. Josephus lib. 11. cap. 8.

Sophonisba, or Hannibals Overthrow, a Tragedy, acted at the Theatre-Royal, by their Majesties Servants; printed 4to. Lond. 1676. and dedicated to her Grace the Dutchess of Portsmouth. This Play is writ in Heroick Verse, and hath always appear'd on the Stage with applause; especially from the Female Sex: and Envy it self must acknowledge, That the Passion between Massanissa, and Sophonisba, is well express't; tho' Hannibal and Scipio's Parts fall somewhat short of the Characters given them by Historians; as the Ingenious and Sharp Lord Rochester has observ'd, in his Allusion to Horace's Tenth Satyr of the First Book;

When Lee makes temperate Scipio, fret and rave;
And Hannibal, a whining Amorous Slave,
I laugh, and wish the Hot-brain'd Fustian-Fool,
In Busby's Hands to be well lasht at School.

As our Author has taken the Liberty in several Plays to follow Romances, so possibly he purposely err'd with the late Earl of Orrery, who in his first Part of Parthenissa, has represented the Warlike Hannibal as much in Love with Izadora, as Mr. Lee has describ'd him passionate of Rosalinda's Charms. Many Historians have writ the Actions of these Great Men: see Cornelius Nepos his Life of Hannibal; Plutarch's Life of Scipio; and that of Hannibal, father'd on him, tho' suppos'd to be writ by Donatus Acciajolus: Livy Dec. 3. Lib. 1. &c. Florus Lib. 2. C. 6. Justin, Orosius, Diodorus, Polybius, Appian, &c. Those who understand Italian, may read the Story of Massanissa, and Sophonisba, very neatly describ'd by the Excellent Pen of Petrarch, in his Il Trionfo d'Amore, C. 2.

Theodosius, or The Force of Love, a Tragedy acted by their Royal-Highness's Servants, at the Duke's Theatre; printed 4to. Lond. 1680. and dedicated to her Grace, the Dutchess of Richmond. The Passions are extreamly well drawn in this Play, and it met with its deserv'd Applause: and our Author has said with as much Truth as Modesty, That such Characters Every Dawber cannot draw. This Play is founded on a Romance call'd Pharamond, translated from the French of Mr. Calpranede. See the History of Varannes, Part 3. Book 3. p. 282. Of Martian. Part 7. Book 1. p. 207. Of Theodosius Part 7. Book 3. p. 256.

I know nothing else that our Author has in Print; and therefore I shall conclude with that just Commendation given him and Mr. Otway, by Mr. Evelyn, in his Imitation of Ovid's Elegy ad Invidos.

When the aspiring Grecians in the East,
And haughty Philip is forgot in the West,
Then Lee and Otway's Works shall be supprest.