1739 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Congreve

Anonymous, in "The Apotheosis of Milton" Gentleman's Magazine 9 (January 1739) 20-21.



The next Member who advanced made a very different Figure; the Fashion of his Habit was entirely English but he wore it in so graceful a Manner, that it serv'd rather to shew the Excellency of his Shape, and the fine Proportion of his Limbs, than to conceal them. His Air had in it a decent Assurance, but without any Thing assuming; and his Looks discover'd a surprizing Sprightliness, but without the least Levity: The Company seem'd to shew him great Regard, and appear'd rather more satisfied with him than he with them: After he had taken his Seat, I knew him to be Mr. Congreve. And my Conductor took this Opportunity of informing me, that if we consider him as a dramatic Writer, he had no Equal in his Age. He saw, continued he, so thoroughly into the Recesses of the Soul, and could so easily distinguish Nature thro' all the Disguises she assum'd, that his Works contain the most important Lessons for the Conduct of human Life. Here I again beg'd Pardon for interrupting my divine Conductor. I had always, said I, a great Opinion of Mr. Congreve's Wit, but his Writings gave me no advantageous Idea of his Morals. My Son, answer'd he, from your wanting a just Discernment of Mankind, you accuse Mr. Congreve of what he stands acquitted by every Man who knew him: He was too good a judge of Nature not to be sensible, that to attempt to reform the Heart before the Head, is like healing the Flesh while the Point of the Weapon remains within the Wound. He well knew, that the Generality of Men would soon hate their Vices, if they could be brought to blush at their Follies; and that a bad Heart commonly proceeds from a wrong Head. For this Reason his Writings shew the Ridiculousness of Folly, rather than the Deformity of Vice; and expose Affectation rather than recommend Virtue. He well knew, that the radical Evil must be removed, before the Patient could be cur'd. But here comes one to whole Morals, I dare say, you will have no Objection.