1719 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Dennis

Giles Jacob, in Poetical Register: or the Lives and Characters of the English Dramatick Poets (1719) 67-70, 286.



A Gentleman now living, born in the Year 1657. and Son of an eminent Citizen of London. He had his first Education at Harrow on the Hill, under the pious and learned Mr. William Horn; having with him as School-fellows, the late Lord Francis Seymour, afterwards Duke of Somerset, the present Duke of Somerset his Brother, and several others, who have since made no inconsiderable Figure in the World. He remov'd from Harrow, to Caius College in Cambridge, where he took the Degrees of Batchelor and Master of Arts; and afterwards, desiring rather to improve his Mind than his Fortune, he saw France and Italy. In his Youth he was very familiarly conversant with several Gentlemen about Town remarkable for their Wit and Gallantry; and the Affectation he always had for Poetry, and which began in his very Infancy, brought him acquainted with some of the most celebrated Dramatick Writers of the Age, viz. Mr. Dryden, Mr. Wycherley, Mr. Congreve and Mr. Southern. Mr. Dennis is excellent at Pindarick Writings, perfectly regular in all his Performances; and a Person of sound Learning: And that he is Master of a great deal of Penetration and Judgment, his Criticisms, particularly on Sir Richard Blackmore's Prince Arthur, sufficiently demonstrate. He has oblig'd the World with the following Plays.

I. A Plot and no Plot; a Comedy, acted at the Theatre Royal, 1697. Dedicated to the Right Honourable the Earl of Sunderland. This Play, I am inform'd, Mr. Dennis intended as a Satire upon the Credulity of the Jacobite Party at that Time; and, as a certain Author has observ'd, is exactly regular, and discovers it self to be written by a Master of the Art of the Stage, as well as by a Man of Wit.

II. RINALDO and ARMIDA; a Tragedy, acted at the Theatre in Lincolns-Inn-Fields, 1699. Dedicated to the Duke of Ormond.

III. IPHIGENIA; a Tragedy, acted at the Theatre in Lincolns-Inn-Fields, by her Majesty's Servants, 1704. This Play is Dedicated to Anthony Henley, Esq; and was acte with very great Applause.

V. APPIUS and VIRGINIA; a Tragedy, acted at the Theatre Royal; Dedicated to Sidney Earl of Godolphin.

VI. The Comical Gallant; With the Humours of Sir JOHN FALSTAFF; a Comedy. Being an Alteration of Shakespear's Merry Wives of Windsor.

This Gentleman, in his Comedy, hath shewn a great deal of Justness, and Delicacy of Reflection, a Pleasantness of Humour, a Novelty and Distinction of Characters, an admirable Conduct and Design, and a useful Moral. When he first began to write Tragedy, he saw, with Concern, that Love had got the entire possession of the Tragick Stage, contrary to the Nature and Design of Tragedy, the Practice of Sophocles, Euripides, and our Countryman Shakespear. As his Intentions were more to get Reputation than Money, and to gain the Approbation of the Judicious and Knowing (which he look'd upon as a certain Earnest of future Fame) rather than a Crowd of ignorant Spectators and Readers; he resolv'd to deviate a little from the reigning Practice of the Stage; and not to make his Heroes whining Slaves in their Amours; which not only debases the Majesty of Tragedy, but confounds most of its principal Characters, by making that Passion the predominant Quality in all; and which must for ever make the present and succeeding Writers unable to attain to the Excellency of the Ancients: But he did not think it adviseable at once to shew his principal Characters wholly exempt from it, apprehending that so great and sudden an Alteration might prove disagreeable; he rather chose to steer a middle Course, and to make Love appear violent, but at the same time to give way to the force of Reason, or to the influence of some other more noble Passion; as in Rinaldo, it gives place to Glory; in Iphigenia, to Friendship; and in Liberty Asserted, to the publick Good. He thought by these means an Audience might be entertain'd and prepar'd for greater Alterations, whereby the Dignity of Tragedy might be supported, and its principal Characters justly distinguish'd. He has write several other Pieces both in Verse and Prose, beside his Dramatick Works; the chief of which, with Four of his Plays, are publish'd in Two Volumes Octavo....

In the Account this Gentleman sent, he omitted, but for what Reason is unknown to us, a Play wrote by him, call'd, Gibralter, or The Spanish Adventure; a Comedy, acted at the Theatre Royal in Drury-Lane.