1691 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Charles Sedley

Gerard Langbaine, in Account of the English Dramatick Poets (1691) 485-88.



A Gentleman whose Name speaks a greater Panegyrick, that I am able to express; and whose Wit is so well known to this Age, that I should but tarnish its Lustre, by my Endeavouring to deliver it over to the next: His Wit is too Noble a Subject to need any Herald to proclaim its Titles and Pedigree; or if it did, my Voice and Skill are too weak, to sound out his Praises in their due measures. I shall therefore only content my self, as to the Vallys, that have no Voice of their own, to eccho out his Merits at the Second-hand; and give you part of his Character, from a Person whose Honour and Pride it is, to have a considerable share in his Friendship: I mean Mr. Shadwell, who in his Epistle Dedicatory to The True Widow, says, "That he has heard him speak more Wit at Supper, than all his Adversaries, with their Heads joyn'd together, could write in a Year. That his Writings are not unequal to any Man's of this Age, (not to speak of Abundance of Excellent Copies of Verses). That he has in the Mulberry Garden, shown the true Wit, Humour, and Satyr of a Comedy; and in Anthony and Cleopatra, the true Spirit of a Tragedy." But least this might be thought Partiality or Flattery in our Laureat, give me leave to transcribe another part of his Character, from an Unquestionable Judge of Poetry, the great Ornament of the Muses, the Lord Rochester, in his Imitation of Horace's Tenth Satyr of the First Book.

Sidley, has that prevailing gentle Art,
That can with a resistless Charm impart,
The loosest Wishes, to the chastest Heart,
Raise such a Conflict, kindle such a Fire,
Betwixt declining Virtue, and Desire;
Till the poor vanquisht Maid dissolves away,
In Dreams all Night, in sighs, and tears all Day.

The Plays this Great Wit has oblig'd the World with, are but three; all which appear to be writ with Design (at least they may serve to be) Patterns for succeeding Poets Imitation; which I shall only mention in their Alphabetical Order, viz.

Anthony and Cleopatra, a Tragedy acted at the Duke's Theatre; and printed 4to. Lond. 1677. For the History, see Plutarch's Life of Anthony, Appian, Dion Cassius, Diodorus, Florus, &c.

Bellamira, or The Mistress; a Comedy acted by their Majesties Servants, and printed Lond. 1687. This Play is an Imitation (as the Author informs us) of Terence's Eunuchus.

Mulberry Garden, a Comedy acted by his Majesty's Servants, at the Theatre Royal; printed 4to. Lond. 1668. and dedicated to Her Grace, the Dutchess of Richmond and Lenox; which Epistle is not the least Ornament to the Play, and shews the Neatness of his Stile in Prose. I dare not say, that the Character of Sir John Everyoung and Sir Samuel Fore-cast, are Copies of Sganarelle and Ariste, in Molliere's L'Escole des Maris; but I may say, that there is some Resemblance: tho' whoever understands both Languages, will readily, and with Justice give our English Wit the preference; and Sir Charles is not to learn to Copy Nature from the French.

Give me Leave to conclude, with what the Learned Mr. Evelyn has said, with no less Truth than Ingenuity, (in his Imitation of Ovid's Fifteenth Elegy) of this Excellent Poet, and his Friend Sir George Etheridge:

While Fathers are severe, and Servants cheat,
Till Bawds and Whores can live without deceit,
Sidley and easy Etheridge shall be Great.