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Then finish what you have began,
* This is the only mention that our author makes of the “ Rehearsal” in poetry : In prose he twice notices that satirical farce with some contempt. The length of time which the Duke spent upon it, or at least which elapsed between the first concoction and the representation, is mentioned by Duke in his character of Villerius;
But with play-houses, wars, immortal wars,
He'll finish Cliveden sooner than his play. The last line alludes to the magnificent structure at Cliveden, which Buckingham planned, but never completed. Another satirist has the same idea :
I come to his farce, which must needs well be done,
EPISTLE THE TENTH.
ON HIS COMEDY
THE WIVES' EXCUSE,
ACTED IN 1692.
SOUTHERNE,—well known to the present age as a tragic writer, for his Isabella has been ranked among the first-rate parts of our inimitable Siddons,---was also distinguished by his contemporaries as a successful candidate for the honours of the comic muse. Two of his comedies, “ The Mother in Fashion,” and “ Sir Anthony Love," had been represented with success, when, in 1692, the “ Wives' Excuse, or Cuckolds make Themselves,” was brought forward. The tone of that piece approaches what we now call genteel comedy: but, whether owing to the flatness into which such plays are apt to slide, for want of the vis comica which enlivens the more animated, though coarser, effusions of the lower comedy, or to some strokes of satire directed against music meetings, and other places of fashionable resort, “ The Wives’ Excuse' was unfortunate in the representation. The author, in the dedi. cation of the printed play, t has hinted at the latter cause as that
+ To the honourable Thomas Wharton, Esq. comptroller of his majesty's household.
of his defeat; and vindicates himself from the idea of reflecting upon music meetings, or any other resort of the people of fashion, by urging, that although a billet dour is represented as being there delivered, “ such a thing has been done before now in a church, without the place being thought the worse of.” But Southerne consoles himself for the disapprobation of the audience with the favour of Dryden, who, says he, “ speaking of this play, has publicly said, the town was kind to · Sir Anthony Love;' I needed them only to be just to this.” And, after mentioning that Dryden had intrusted to him, upon the credit of this play, the task of completing “ Cleomenes," I he triumphantly adds ---" If modesty be sometimes a weakness, what I say can hardly be a crime: in a fair English trial, both parties are allowed to be heard; and without this vanity of mentioning Mr Dryden, I had lost the best evidence of my cause." Dryden, not satisfied with a verbal exertion of his patronage, consoled his friend under his discomfiture, by addressing to him the following Epistle, in which his failure is ascribed to the taste for bustling intrigue, and for low and farcical humour.
It is not the Editor's business to trace Southerne's life, or poetical career. He was born in the county of Dublin, in 1659; and produced, in his twenty-third year, the tragedy of “ The Loyal Brother," which Dryden honoured with a prologue. On this occasion, Southerne's acquaintance with our bard took place, under the whimsical circumstances mentioned Vol. X. p. 372. The aged bard furnished also a prologue to Southerne's “ Disappointment, or Mother in Fashion;" and as he had repeatedly ushered him to success, he presented him with the following lines to console him under disappointment. The poets appear to have continued on the most friendly. terms until Dryden's death. Southerne survived him many years, and lived to be praised by the rising generation of a second century, for mildness of manners, and that cheerful and amiable disposition, which rarely is found in old age, unless from the happy union of a body at ease, and a conscience void of offence. When this dramatist was sixty-five, his last play, called “Money the Mistress," was acted, with a prologue by Welsted, containing the following beautiful lines : *
See the introductory remarks on that play, Vol. VIII. * Welsted,“ howe'er insulted by the spleen of Pope," was a poet of merit. His fate is an instance, among a thousand, of the disadvantage sustained by an inferior genius, who enters into collision with one of supereminent talents. It is the combat of a gun-boat with a frigate ; and many an author has been run down in such an encounter, who, had he avoided it, might have still enjoyed a fair portion of literary reputation. The apologue of the iron and earthen pot contains a moral applicable to such circumstances,
To you, ye fair, for patronage he sues;
Southerne, on his eighty-first birth day, was complimented with a copy of verses by Pope; and on 26th May, 1746, he died at the advanced age of eighty-five and upwards,
EPISTLE THE TENTH.
Sure there's a fate in plays, and 'tis in vain
,* The moral of the “ Wives' Excuse" is as bad as possible; but the language of the play is free from that broad licence which disgraces the dramatic taste of the age.
+ Nokes was then famous for parts of low humour. Cibber thus describes him: “ This celebrated comedian was of the mid