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This play, like that which preceded it, is a drama of intrigue, borrowed from the Spanish, and claiming merit only in proportion to the diversity and ingenuity of the incidents represented. On this point every reader can decide for himself; and it would be an invidious task to point out blemishes, where, to own the truth, there are but few beauties. The ease with which the affections of almost every female in the drama are engrossed by Gonsalvo, and afterwards transferred to the lovers, upon whom the winding up of the plot made it necessary to devolve them, will, it is probable, strike every reader as unnatural. In truth, when the depraved appetite of the public requires to be gratified by trick and bustle, instead of nature and sentiment, authors must sacrifice the probable, as well as the simple, process of events.
The author seems principally to have valued himself on this piece, because it contains some scenes executed in rhyme, in what was then called the heroic manner. Upon this opinion, which Dryden lived to retract, I have ventured to offer my sentiments in the Life of the Author. In other respects, though not slow in perceiving and avouching his own merit, our author seems to consider the Rival Ladies as no very successful dramatic effort.
The Rival Ladies is supposed to have been first acted in 1663, and was certainly published in the year following. Of its success we know nothing particular. It is probable, the flowing verse, into which some part of the dialogue is thrown, with the strong point and antithesis, which distinguishes Dryden's works, and particularly his argumentative poetry, tended to redeem the credit of the author of the Wild Gallant.
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE ROGER, EARL OF ORRERY.
[Footnote 1: This distinguished person was fifth son of Richard Boyle, known by the title of the great Earl of Cork. His first title was Lord Broghill, under which he distinguished himself in Ireland. Cromwell, although his lordship was a noted royalist, and in actual correspondence with the exiled monarch, had so much confidence in his honour and talents, that he almost compelled him to act as lord lieutenant of that kingdom, under the stipulation that he was to come under no oaths, and only to act against the rebel Irish, then the common enemy. He was instrumental in the restoration, and created earl of Orrery by Charles II, in 1660, He deserved Dryden's panegyric in every respect, except as a poet--the very character, however, in which he is most complimented, and perhaps was best pleased to be so. He wrote, 1st, The Art of War--2d, Parthenissa, a romance--3d, Some Poems--4th; Eight Plays--5th, State Tracts.]
This worthless present was designed you long before it was a play; when it was only a confused mass of thoughts, tumbling over one another in the dark; when the fancy was yet in its first work, moving the sleeping images of things towards the light, there to be distinguished, and then either chosen or rejected by the judgment; it was yours, my lord, before I could call it mine. And, I confess, in that first tumult of my thoughts, there appeared a disorderly kind of beauty in some of them, which gave me hope, something, worthy my lord of Orrery, might be drawn from them: But I was then in that eagerness of imagination, which, by overpleasing fanciful men, flatters them into the danger of writing; so that, when I had moulded it into that shape it now bears, I looked with such disgust upon it, that the censures of our severest critics are charitable to what I thought (and still think) of it myself: It is so far from me to believe this perfect, that I am apt to conclude our best plays are scarcely so; for the stage being the representation of the world, and the actions in it, how can it be imagined, that the picture of human life can be more exact than life itself is? He may be allowed sometimes to err, who undertakes to move so many characters and humours, as are requisite in a play, in those narrow channels which are proper to each of them; to conduct his imaginary persons through so many various intrigues and chances, as the labouring audience shall think them lost under every billow; and then, at length, to work them so naturally out of their distresses, that, when the whole plot is laid open, the spectators may rest satisfied, that every cause was powerful enough to produce the effect it had; and that the whole chain of them was with such due order linked together, that the first accident would naturally beget the second, till they all rendered the conclusion necessary.
These difficulties, my lord, may reasonably excuse the errors of my undertaking; but for this confidence of my dedication, I have an argument, which is too advantageous for me not to publish it to the world. It is the kindness your lordship has continually shown to all my writings. You have been pleased, my lord, they should sometimes cross the Irish seas, to kiss your hands; which passage (contrary to the experience of others) I have found the least dangerous in the world. Your favour has shone upon me at a remote distance, without the least knowledge of my person; and (like the influence of the heavenly bodies) you have done good, without knowing to whom you did it. It is this virtue in your lordship, which emboldens me to this attempt; for, did I not consider you as my patron, I have little reason to desire you for my judge; and should appear with as much awe before you in the reading, as I had when the full theatre sat upon the action. For, who could so severely judge of faults as he, who has given testimony he commits none? Your excellent poems have afforded that knowledge of it to the world, that your enemies are ready to upbraid you with it, as a crime for a man of business to write so well. Neither durst I have justified your lordship in it, if examples of it had not been in the world before you; if Xenophon had not written a romance, and a certain Roman, called Augustus Caesar, a tragedy, and epigrams. But their writing was the entertainment of their pleasure; yours is only a diversion of your pain. The muses have seldom employed your thoughts, but when some violent fit of the gout has snatched you from affairs of state; and, like the priestess of Apollo, you never come to deliver his oracles, but unwillingly, and in torment. So that we are obliged to your lordship's misery for our delight: You treat us with the cruel pleasure of a Turkish triumph, where those, who cut and wound their bodies, sing songs of victory as they pass, and divert others with their own sufferings. Other men endure their diseases; your lordship only can enjoy them. Plotting and writing in this kind are certainly more troublesome employments than many which signify more, and are of greater moment in the world: The fancy, memory, and judgment, are then extended (like so many limbs) upon the rack; all of them reaching with their utmost stress at nature; a thing so almost infinite and boundless, as can never fully be comprehended, but where the images of all things are always present. Yet I wonder not your lordship succeeds so well in this attempt; the knowledge of men is your daily practice in the world; to work and bend their stubborn minds, which go not all after the same grain, but each of them so particular a way, that the same common humours, in several persons, must be wrought upon by several means. Thus, my lord, your sickness is but the imitation of your health; the poet but subordinate to the statesman in you; you still govern men with the same address, and manage business with the same prudence; allowing it here (as in the world) the due increase and growth, till it comes to the just height; and then turning it when it is fully ripe, and nature calls out, as it were, to be delivered. With this only advantage of ease to you in your poetry, that you have fortune here at your command; with which wisdom does often unsuccessfully struggle in the world. Here is no chance, which you have not foreseen; all your heroes are more than your subjects, they are your creatures; and though they seem to move freely in all the sallies of their passions, yet you make destinies for them, which they cannot shun. They are moved (if I may dare to say so) like the rational creatures of the Almighty Poet, who walk at liberty, in their own opinion, because their fetters are invisible; when, indeed, the prison of their will is the more sure for being large; and, instead of an absolute power over their actions, they have only a wretched desire of doing that, which they cannot chuse but do.
[Footnote 1: The earl of Orrery was author of several plays. If the reader is not disposed to admit, that his habit of composing them, when tormented by the gout, enhanced their value, it may be allowed to apologise for their faults.]
I have dwelt, my lord, thus long upon your writing, not because you deserve not greater and more noble commendations, but because I am not equally able to express them in other subjects. Like an ill swimmer, I have willingly staid long in my own depth; and though I am eager of performing more, yet am loth to venture out beyond my knowledge: for beyond your poetry, my lord, all is ocean to me. To speak of you as a soldier, or a statesman, were only to betray my own ignorance; and I could hope no better success from it, than that miserable rhetorician had, who solemnly declaimed before Hannibal, of the conduct of armies, and the art of war. I can only say, in general, that the souls of other men shine out at little crannies; they understand some one thing, perhaps, to admiration, while they are darkened on all the other parts; but your lordship's soul is an entire globe of light, breaking out on every side; and, if I have only discovered one beam of it, it is not that the light falls unequally, but because the body, which receives it, is of unequal parts.
The acknowledgment of which is a fair occasion offered me, to retire from the consideration of your lordship to that of myself. I here present you, my lord, with that in print, which you had the goodness not to dislike upon the stage; and account it happy to have met you here in England; it being, at best, like small wines, to be drunk out upon the place, and has not body enough to endure the sea.
I know not whether I have been so careful of the plot and language as I ought; but, for the latter, I have endeavoured to write English, as near as I could distinguish it from the tongue of pedants, and that of affected travellers. Only I am sorry, that (speaking so noble a language as we do) we have not a more certain measure of it, as they have in France, where they have an academy erected for that purpose, and endowed with large privileges by the present king. I wish we might at length leave to borrow words from other nations, which is now a wantonness in us, not a necessity; but so long as some affect to speak them, there will not want others, who will have the boldness to write them.
But I fear, lest, defending the received words, I shall be accused for following the new way, I mean, of writing scenes in verse. Though, to speak properly, it is not so much a new way amongst us, as an old way new revived; for, many years before Shakspeare's plays, was the tragedy of Queen Gorboduc, in English verse, written by that famous Lord Buckhurst, afterwards earl of Dorset, and progenitor to that excellent person, who (as he inherits his soul and title) I wish may inherit his good fortune. But, supposing our countrymen had not received this writing till of late; shall we oppose ourselves to the most polished and civilised nations of Europe? Shall we, with the same singularity, oppose the world in this, as most of us do in pronouncing Latin? Or do we desire that the brand, which Barclay has (I hope unjustly) laid upon the English, should still continue? Angli suos ac sua omnia impense mirantur; caeteras nationes despectui habent. All the Spanish and Italian tragedies, I have yet seen, are writ in rhyme. For the French, I do not name them, because it is the fate of our countrymen to admit little of theirs among us, but the basest of their men, the extravagancies of their fashions, and the frippery of their merchandise. Shakspeare (who, with some errors not to be avoided in that age, had undoubtedly a larger soul of poesy than ever any of our nation) was the first who, to shun the pains of continual rhyming, invented[A] that kind of writing which we call blank verse, but the French, more properly, prose mesuré; into which the English tongue so naturally slides, that, in writing prose, it is hardly to be avoided. And therefore, I admire some men should perpetually stumble in a way so easy, and, inverting the order of their words, constantly close their lines with verbs, which, though commended sometimes in writing Latin, yet we were whipt at Westminster if we used it twice together. I knew some, who, if they were to write in blank verse, Sir, I ask your pardon, would think it sounded more heroically to write, Sir, I your pardon ask. I should judge him to have little command of English, whom the necessity of a rhyme should force often upon this rock; though sometimes it cannot easily be avoided; and indeed this is the only inconvenience with which rhyme can be charged. This is that which makes them say, rhyme is not natural; it being only so, when the poet either makes a vicious choice of words, or places them, for rhyme sake, so unnaturally as no man would in ordinary speaking; but when it is so judiciously ordered, that the first word in the verse seems to beget the second, and that the next, till that becomes the last word in the line, which, in the negligence of prose, would be so; it must then be granted, rhyme has all the advantages of prose, besides its own. But the excellence and dignity of it were never fully known till Mr Waller taught it; he first made writing easily an art; first shewed us to conclude the sense, most commonly in distichs, which, in the verse of those before him, runs on for so many lines together, that the reader is out of breath to overtake it. This sweetness of Mr Waller's lyric poesy was afterwards followed in the epic by Sir John Denham, in his Cooper's-Hill, a poem which, your Lordship knows, for the majesty of the style, is, and ever will be, the exact standard of good writing. But if we owe the invention of it to Mr Waller, we are acknowledging for the noblest use of it to Sir William D'Avenant, who at once brought it upon the stage, and made it perfect, in the Siege of Rhodes.
[Footnote 1: The tragedy of Ferrex and Perrex (which is the proper title) was written by Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, afterwards earl of Dorset, and Thomas Norton, a barrister at law. In Sackville's part of the play, which comprehends the two last acts, there is some poetry worthy of the author of the sublime Introduction to the Mirror of Magistrates. While both the authors were out of England, one William Griffiths published a spurious copy, under the title of Gorboduc, the name of one of the principal personages, who is not, however, queen, but king, of England, But, what was a wider mistake, considering Dryden's purpose of mentioning the work, it is not written in rhyme, but in blank verse, excepting the choruses, which are in stanzas of six lines. The name of the queen is Videna. Sir Philip Sydney says, "Gorboduc is full of stately speeches and well sounding phrases, climbing up to the height of Seneca his style, and as full of notable morality, which it doth most delightfully teach, and thereby obtain the very end of poetry."]
[Footnote A: This is a mistake. Marlow, and several other dramatic authors, used blank verse before the days of Shakspeare.]
The advantages which rhyme has over blank verse are so many, that it were lost time to name them. Sir Philip Sidney, in his Defence of Poesy, gives us one, which, in my opinion, is not the least considerable; I mean the help it brings to memory, which rhyme so knits up, by the affinity of sounds, that, by remembering the last word in one line, we often call to mind both the verses. Then, in the quickness of repartees (which in discoursive scenes fall very often), it has so particular a grace, and is so aptly suited to them, that the sudden smartness of the answer, and the sweetness of the rhyme, set off the beauty of each other. But that benefit which I consider most in it, because I have not seldom found it, is, that it bounds and circumscribes the fancy. For imagination in a poet is a faculty so wild and lawless, that, like an high-ranging spaniel, it must have clogs tied to it, lest it out-run the judgment. The great easiness of blank verse renders the poet too luxuriant; he is tempted to say many things, which might better be omitted, or at least shut up in fewer words; but when the difficulty of artful rhyming is interposed, where the poet commonly confines his sense to his couplet, and must contrive that sense into such words, that the rhyme shall naturally follow them, not they the rhyme; the fancy then gives leisure to the judgment to come in, which, seeing so heavy a tax imposed, is ready to cut off all unnecessary expences. This last consideration has already answered an objection which some have made, that rhyme is only an embroidery of sense, to make that, which is ordinary in itself, pass for excellent with less examination. But certainly, that, which most regulates the fancy, and gives the judgment its busiest employment, is like to bring forth the richest and clearest thoughts. The poet examines that most, which he produceth with the greatest leisure, and which, he knows, must pass the severest test of the audience, because they are aptest to have it ever in their memory; as the stomach makes the best concoction, when it strictly embraces the nourishment, and takes account of every little particle as it passes through. But, as the best medicines may lose their virtue, by being ill applied, so is it with verse, if a fit subject be not chosen for it. Neither must the argument alone, but the characters and persons, be great and noble; otherwise, (as Scaliger says of Claudian) the poet will be ignobitiore materiâ depressus. The scenes, which, in my opinion, most commend it, are those of argumentation and discourse, on the result of which the doing or not doing some considerable action should depend.
But, my lord, though I have more to say upon this subject, yet I must remember, it is your lordship to whom I speak; who have much better commended this way by your writing in it, than I can do by writing for it. Where my reasons cannot prevail, I am sure your lordship's example must. Your rhetoric has gained my cause; at least the greatest part of my design has already succeeded to my wish, which was to interest so noble a person in the quarrel, and withal to testify to the world how happy I esteem myself in the honour of being,
Your Lordship's most humble,
and most obedient servant,
'Tis much desired, you judges of the town Would pass a vote to put all prologues down; For who can show me, since they first were writ, They e'er converted one hard-hearted wit? Yet the world's mended well; in former days Good prologues were as scarce as now good plays. For the reforming poets of our age, In this first charge, spend their poetic rage: Expect no more when once the prologue's done; The wit is ended ere the play's begun. You now have habits, dances, scenes, and rhymes; High language often; ay, and sense, sometimes. As for a clear contrivance, doubt it not; They blow out candles to give light to th' plot. And for surprise, two bloody-minded men Fight till they die, then rise and dance again. Such deep intrigues you're welcome to this day: But blame yourselves, not him who writ the play; Though his plot's dull, as can be well desired, Wit stiff as any you have e'er admired: He's bound to please, not to write well; and knows, There is a mode in plays as well as clothes; Therefore, kind judges--
Second Prologue enters.
2.--Hold; would you admit For judges all you see within the pit?
1. Whom would he then except, or on what score?
2. All, who (like him) have writ ill plays before; For they, like thieves condemned, are hangmen made, To execute the members of their trade. All that are writing now he would disown, But then he must except--even all the town; All cholerick, losing gamesters, who, in spite, Will damn to day, because they lost last night; All servants, whom their mistress' scorn upbraids; All maudlin lovers, and all slighted maids; All, who are out of humour, or severe; All, that want wit, or hope to find it here.
DON GONSALVO DE PERALTA, a young gentleman newly arrived from the Indies, in love with JULIA.
DON RODORIGO DE SYLVA, in love with the same lady.
DON MANUEL DE TORRES, brother to JULIA.
JULIA, elder sister to DON MANUEL, promised to RODORIGO.
HONORIA, younger sister to DON MANUEL, disguised in the habit of a man, and going by the name of HIPPOLITO, in love with GONSALVO.
ANGELINA, sister to DON RODORIGO, in man's habit, likewise in love with GONSALVO, and going by the name of AMIDEO.
Servants, Robbers, Seamen, and Masquers.
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