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Prologue

TO

THE RIGHT HONOURABLE

THE

EARL OF ROCHESTER[1].

MY LORD,

I humbly dedicate to your Lordship that poem, of which you were
pleased to appear an early patron, before it was acted on the stage. I
may yet go farther, with your permission, and say, that it received
amendment from your noble hands ere it was fit to be presented. You
may please likewise to remember, with how much favour to the author,
and indulgence to the play, you commended it to the view of his
Majesty, then at Windsor, and, by his approbation of it in writing,
made way for its kind reception on the theatre. In this dedication,
therefore, I may seem to imitate a custom of the ancients, who offered
to their gods the firstlings of the flock, (which, I think, they
called _Ver sacrum_) because they helped them to increase. I am sure,
if there be any thing in this play, wherein I have raised myself
beyond the ordinary lowness of my comedies, I ought wholly to
acknowledge it to the favour of being admitted into your lordship's
conversation. And not only I, who pretend not to this way, but the
best comic writers of our age, will join with me to acknowledge, that
they have copied the gallantries of courts, the delicacy of
expression, and the decencies of behaviour, from your lordship, with
more success, than if they had taken their models from the court of
France. But this, my lord, will be no wonder to the world, which knows
the excellency of your natural parts, and those you have acquired in a
noble education. That which, with more reason, I admire, is that being
so absolute a courtier, you have not forgot either the ties of
friendship, or the practice of generosity. In my little experience of
a court, (which, I confess, I desire not to improve) I have found in
it much of interest, and more of detraction: Few men there have that
assurance of a friend, as not to be made ridiculous by him when they
are absent. There are a middling sort of courtiers, who become happy
by their want of wit; but they supply that want by an excess of malice
to those who have it. And there is no such persecution as that of
fools: They can never be considerable enough to be talked of
themselves; so that they are safe only in their obscurity, and grow
mischievous to witty men, by the great diligence of their envy, and by
being always present to represent and aggravate their faults. In the
mean time, they are forced, when they endeavour to be pleasant, to
live on the offals of their wit whom they decry; and either to quote
it, (which they do unwillingly) or to pass it upon others for their
own. These are the men who make it their business to chace wit from
the knowledge of princes, lest it should disgrace their ignorance. And
this kind of malice your lordship has not so much avoided, as
surmounted. But if by the excellent temper of a royal master, always
more ready to hear good than ill; if by his inclination to love you;
if by your own merit and address; if by the charms of your
conversation, the grace of your behaviour, your knowledge of
greatness, and habitude in courts, you have been able to preserve
yourself with honour in the midst of so dangerous a course; yet at
least the remembrance of those hazards has inspired you with pity for
other men, who, being of an inferior wit and quality to you, are yet
persecuted, for being that in little, which your lordship is in
great[2]. For the quarrel of those people extends itself to any thing
of sense; and if I may be so vain to own it, amongst the rest of the
poets, has sometimes reached to the very borders of it, even to me. So
that, if our general good fortune had not raised up your lordship to
defend us, I know not whether any thing had been more ridiculous in
court than writers. It is to your lordship's favour we generally owe
our protection and patronage; and to the nobleness of your nature,
which will not suffer the least shadow of your wit to be contemned in
other men. You have been often pleased, not only to excuse my
imperfections, but to vindicate what was tolerable in my writings from
their censures; and, what I never can forget, you have not only been
careful of my reputation, but of my fortune. You have been solicitous
to supply my neglect of myself; and to overcome the fatal modesty of
poets, which submits them to perpetual wants, rather than to become
importunate with those people who have the liberality of kings in
their disposing, and who, dishonouring the bounty of their master,
suffer such to be in necessity who endeavour at least to please him;
and for whose entertainment he has generously provided, if the fruits
of his royal favour were not often stopped in other hands. But your
lordship has given me occasion, not to complain of courts whilst you
are there. I have found the effects of your mediation in all my
concernments; and they were so much the more noble in you, because
they were wholly voluntary. I, became your lordship's, (if I may
venture on the similitude) as the world was made, without knowing him
who made it; and brought only a passive obedience to be your creature.
This nobleness of yours I think myself the rather obliged to own,
because otherwise it must have been lost to all remembrance: For you
are endowed with that excellent quality of a frank nature, to forget
the good which you have done.

But, my lord, I ought to have considered, that you are as great a
judge, as you are a patron; and that in praising you ill, I should
incur a higher note of ingratitude, than that I thought to have
avoided. I stand in need of all your accustomed goodness for the
dedication of this play; which, though perhaps it be the best of my
comedies, is yet so faulty, that I should have feared you for my
critic, if I had not, with some policy, given you the trouble of being
my protector. Wit seems to have lodged itself more nobly in this age,
than in any of the former; and people of my mean condition are only
writers, because some of the nobility, and your lordship in the first
place, are above the narrow praises which poesy could give you. But,
let those who love to see themselves exceeded, encourage your lordship
in so dangerous a quality; for my own part, I must confess, that I
have so much of self-interest, as to be content with reading some
papers of your verses, without desiring you should proceed to a scene,
or play; with the common prudence of those who are worsted in a duel,
and declare they are satisfied, when they are first wounded. Your
lordship has but another step to make, and from the patron of wit, you
may become its tyrant; and oppress our little reputations with more
ease than you now protect them. But these, my lord, are designs, which
I am sure you harbour not, any more than the French king is contriving
the conquest of the Swissers. It is a barren triumph, which is not
worth your pains; and would only rank him amongst your slaves, who is
already,

MY LORD,

Your Lordship's most obedient,
And most faithful servant,
JOHN DRYDEN.


Footnotes:
1. The patron, whom Dryden here addresses, was the famous John Wilmot,
Earl of Rochester, the wittiest, perhaps, and most dissolute, among
the witty and dissolute courtiers of Charles II. It is somewhat
remarkable, and may be considered as a just judgment upon the poet,
that he was, a few years afterwards, way-laid and severely beaten
by bravoes, whom Lord Rochester employed to revenge the share which
Dryden is supposed to have had in the Essay on Satire. The reader
is referred to the life of the author for the particulars of this
occurrence, which is here recalled to his recollection, as a
striking illustration of the inutility, as well as meanness, of ill
applied praise; since even the eulogy of Dryden, however liberally
bestowed and beautifully expressed, failed to save him from the
most unmanly treatment at the hands of the worthless and heartless
object, on whom it was wasted. It is melancholy to see Dryden, as
may be fairly inferred from his motto, piqueing himself on being
admitted into the society of such men as Rochester, and enjoying
their precarious favour. Mr Malone has remarked, that even in the
course of the year 1673, when this dedication came forth, Rochester
entertained the perverse ambition of directing the public favour,
not according to merit, but to his own caprice. Accordingly, he
countenanced Settle in his impudent rivalry of Dryden, and wrote a
prologue to the "Empress of Morocco," when it was exhibited at
Whitehall. Perhaps, joined to a certain envy of Dryden's talents,
the poet's intimacy with Sheffield Earl of Mulgrave gave offence to
Rochester. It is certain they were never afterwards reconciled; and
even after Rochester's death, Dryden only mentions his once valued
patron, as "a man of quality whose ashes he will not
disturb."--_Essay on the Origin and Progress of Satire_, prefixed
to Juvenal. It would seem, however, that this dedication was very
favourably received by Rochester, since a letter of Dryden's to
that nobleman is still extant, in which he acknowledges a
flattering return of compliment from his Lordship in exchange for
it.

2. When this play was acted for the first time in 1673. But about
1675, Rochester contrived to give such offence as even the
excellent temper of his royal master was unable to digest. This was
by writing a lampoon called "The Insipids," in which the person and
character of Charles are treated with most merciless and irreverent
severity. It begins thus:


Chaste, pious, prudent, Charles the Second,
The miracle of thy Restoration
May like to that of quails be reckoned,
Rained on the Israelitish nation;
The wished-for blessing, from heaven sent,
Became their curse and punishment.

For this satiric effusion the author was banished from the court.


PROLOGUE.


Lord, how reformed and quiet are we grown,
Since all our braves and all our wits are gone!
Fop-corner now is free from civil war,
White-wig and vizard make no longer jar.
France, and the fleet, have swept the town so clear,
That we can act in peace, and you can hear.
'Twas a sad sight, before they marched from home,
To see our warriors in red waistcoats come,
With hair tucked up, into our tireing-room.
But 'twas more sad to hear their last adieu:
The women sobbed, and swore they would be true;
And so they were, as long as e'er they could,
But powerful guinea cannot be withstood,
And they were made of play-house flesh and blood.
Fate did their friends for double use ordain;
In wars abroad they grinning honour gain,
And mistresses, for all that stay, maintain.
Now they are gone, 'tis dead vacation here,
For neither friends nor enemies appear.
Poor pensive punk now peeps ere plays begin,
Sees the bare bench, and dares not venture in;
But manages her last half-crown with care,
And trudges to the Mall, on foot, for air.
Our city friends so far will hardly come,
They can take up with pleasures nearer home;
And see gay shows, and gaudy scenes elsewhere;
For we presume they seldom come to hear.
But they have now ta'en up a glorious trade,
And cutting Morecraft[1] struts in masquerade.
There's all our hope, for we shall shew to-day
A masking ball, to recommend our play;
Nay, to endear them more, and let them see
We scorn to come behind in courtesy,
We'll follow the new mode which they begin,
And treat them with a room, and couch within:
For that's one way, howe'er the play fall short,
To oblige the town, the city, and the court.


Footnote:
1. In the conclusion of Beaumont and Fletcher's play of "The Scornful
Lady," Morecraft, an usurer, turns a cutter, or, as we now say, a
buck. Dryden seems to allude to Ravenscroft's play of "The Citizen
turned Gentleman," a transmigration somewhat resembling that of
cutting Morecraft. This play was now acting by the Duke's company
in Dorset Gardens, which, from its situation, says Mr Malone, was
much frequented by citizens, as here insinuated.


John Dryden

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