1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Charles Sedley

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:358.



SIR CHARLES SEDLEY (1639-1701) was one of the brightest satellites of the court of Charles II. — as witty and gallant as Rochester, as fine a poet, and a better man. He was the son of a Kentish baronet, Sir John Sedley of Aylesford. The Restoration drew him to London, and he became such a favourite for his taste and accomplishments, that Charles is said to have asked him if he had not obtained from Nature a patent to be Apollo's viceroy. His estate, his time, and morals, were squandered away at court; but latterly the poet redeemed himself, became a constant attender of parliament, in which he had a seat, opposed the arbitrary measures of James II., and assisted to bring about the Revolution. James had seduced Sedley's daughter, and created her Countess of Dorchester — a circumstance which probably quickened the poet's zeal against the court. "I hate ingratitude," said the witty Sedley; "and as the king has made my daughter a countess, I will endeavour to make his daughter a queen" — alluding to the Princess Mary, married to the Prince of Orange. Sir Charles wrote plays and poems, which were extravagantly praised by his contemporaries. Buckingham eulogized the "witchcraft" of Sedley, and Rochester spoke of his "gentle prevailing art." His songs are light and graceful, with a more studied and felicitous diction than is seen in most of the court poets. One of the finest, "Ah! Chloris, could I now but sit," has been often printed as the composition of the Scottish patriot, Duncan Forbes of Culloden, Lord President of the court of session: the verses occur in Sedley's play, The Mulberry Garden. Sedley's conversation was highly prized, and he lived on, delighting all his friends, till past his sixtieth year. As he says of one of his own heroines, he

Bloom'd in the winter of his days,
Like Glastonbury thorn.