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EPISTLE THE FOURTH.
UPON HER ENCOURAGING HIS FIRST PLAY,
THE WILD GALLANT,
ACTED IN 1662-3.
Barbara Villiers, heiress of William Viscount Grandison, in Ireland, and wife of Roger Palmer, Esq., was the first favourite, who after the Restoration of Charles II. enjoyed the power and consequence of a royal mistress. It is even said, that the king took her from her husband, upon the very day of his landing, and raised him, in compensation, to the rank and title of Earl of Castlemain. The lady herself was created Lady Nonsuch, Countess of Southampton, and finally Duchess of Cleveland. She bore the king three sons and three daughters, and long enjoyed a considerable share of his favour.
It would seem, that, in 1662-3, while Lady Castlemain was in the very height of her reign, she extended her patronage to our author, upon his commencing his dramatic career. In the preface to his first play, “The Wild
Gallant,” he acknowledges, that it met with very
indifferent success, and had been condemned by the greater part of the audience. But he adds, “it was well received at court, and was more than once the divertisement of his majesty, by his own command.”* These marks of royal favour were
• Preface to “ The Wild Gallant," Vol. II. p. 17.
doubtless owing to the intercession of Lady Castlemain. If we can trust the sarcasm thrown out by a contemporary satirist, our author piqued himself more on this light and gallant effusion, than its importance deserved.* The verses abound with sprightly and ingenious turns; and the conceits, which were the taste of the age, shew to some advantage on such an occasion. There is, however, little propriety in comparing the influence of the royal mistress to the virtue of Cato.
* Dryden, who one would have thought had more wit,
The censure of every man did disdain ;
Session of the Poets, 1670.
EPISTLE THE FOURTH.
As seamen, shipwreck'd on some happy shore,
* This seems to be the passage sneered at in the “ Session of the Poets."
You, like the stars, not by reflection bright,
EPISTLE THE FIFTH.
ON HIS TRAGEDY OF
THE RIVAL QUEENS, OR ALEXANDER THE GREAT.
“ The Rival Queens, or Alexander the Great,” of Nathaniel Lee, has been always deemed the most capital performance of its unfortunate author. There is nothing throughout the play that is tame or indifferent; all is either exquisitely good, or extravagantly bombastic, though some passages hover between the sublime and the ludicrous. Addison has justly remarked, that Lee's “ thoughts are wonderfully suited for tragedy, but frequently lost in such a crowd of words, that it is hard to see the beauty of them. There is infinite fire in his works, but so involved in smoke, that it does not appear in half its lustre.”
Lee and our author lived on terms of strict friendship, and wrote, in conjunction, “ CEdipus," and the “ Duke of Guise.” Lee's madness and confinement in Bedlam are well known; as also his repartee to a coxcomb, who told him it was easy to write like a madman :- No," answered the poet,
“ it is not easy to write like a madman, but it is very easy to write like a fool.” Dryden elegantly apologizes, in the following verses, for the extravagance of his style of poetry. Lee's death was very melancholy: Being discharged from Bedlam, and returning by night from a tavern, in a state of intoxication, to his lodgings in Dukestreet, he fell down somewhere in Clare-Market, and was either killed by a carriage driving over him, or stifled in the snow, which was then deep. Thus died this eminent dramatic poet in the year 1691, or 1692, in the 35th year of his age.