1800 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Charles Sedley

Edmond Malone, Note in Critical and Miscellaneous Prose Works of John Dryden (1800) 1:1:64-66.



Lord Mulgrave, in his ESSAY ON SATIRE, 1682, represents Sir Charles Sidley as a voluptuary; but he is acknowledged both by that writer, and other of his contemporaries, to have been extremely witty, and particularly happy in his similes. He condescended, however, sometimes to become a practical joker, as appears from some anecdotes concerning him, recorded by Oldys, in his manuscript Notes on Langbaine.

Sidley, though somewhat inclining to corpulency, was a handsome man, and very like Kynaston, the Actor, who was so proud of the resemblance, that he got a suit of laced cloaths made exactly after one that Sir Charles had worn; and appeared in it in publick. In order to punish his vanity, Sidley hired a bravo, who, accosting Kynaston in St. James's Park in his fine suit, pretended to mistake him for the Baronet, and having picked a quarrel with him under pretence of having received a rude message from him, he caned the actor soundly. In vain Kynaston protested he was not the person the bravo took him for the more he protested, the more blows the other laid on, to punish him for endeavouring to escape chastisement by so impudent a falsehood. When some of the poor actor's friends afterwards remonstrated with Sidley on this harsh treatment of an inoffensive man, he replied, that their pity was very much misplaced, and ought rather to be bestowed on him, since Kyraston could not have suffered half so much in his bones, as he (Sidley) had suffered in his reputation; all the town believing that it was he who was thus publickly disgraced.

In those days, when a gentleman drank a lady's health as a toast, by way of doing her still more honour, he frequently threw some part of his dress into the flames; in which proof of his veneration his companions were obliged to follow him, by consuming the same article, whatever it might be. One of Sidley's friends, after dinner, at a tavern, perceiving he had a very rich lace-cravat on, when he named the lady to whom honour was to be done, made a sacrifice of his cravat, and Sir Charles and the rest of the company were all obliged to follow his example. Sir Charles bore his loss with great composure, observing, that it was a good joke, but that he would have as good a frolick some other time. On a subsequent day, the same party being assembled, when Sidley had drunk a bumper to the health of some beauty of the day, he called the waiter, and ordering a toothdrawer into the room, whom he had previously stationed for the purpose, made him draw a decayed tooth which long had plagued him. The rules of good fellowship clearly required that every one of the company should lose a tooth also; but they hoped he would not be so unmerciful as rigidly to enforce the law. All their remonstrances, however, proving vain, each of his companions successively, "multa gemens," was obliged to put himself into the hands of the operator, and while they were writhing with pain, Sir Charles continued exclaiming — "Patience, gentlemen, patience; you know, you promised I should have my frolick too."

This anecdote Oldys appears to have heard from an old gentleman of the name of Partridge, who was Sidley's contemporary. These adventures probably happened when he was extremely young; and, after all allowances for the thoughtlessness and gaiety of that period of life, have hardly wit enough in them to compensate for the ill-nature.