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EPISTLE THE FOURTH.

TO THE

LADY CASTLEMAIN,

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 auhis 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

thor, upon

• 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 ;
Pleading some pitiful rhymes he had writ
In praise of the Countess of Castlemain.

Session of the Poeta, 1670.

EPISTLE THE FOURTH.

As seamen, shipwreck'd on some happy shore,
Discover wealth in lands unknown before ;
And, what their art had labour'd long in vain,
By their misfortunes happily obtain :
So my much-envied muse, by storms long tost,
Is thrown upon your hospitable coast,
And finds more favour by her ill success,
Than she could hope for by her happiness.
Once Cato's virtue did the gods oppose;
While they the victor, he the vanquish'd chose ;
But
you

have done what Cato could not do,
To choose the vanquish'd, and restore him too.
Let others still triumph, and gain their cause
By their deserts, or by the world's applause;
Let merit crowns, and justice laurels give,
But let me happy by your pity live.
True poets empty fame and praise despise,
Fame is the trumpet, but your smile the prize.
You sit above, and see vain men below
Contend for what you only can bestow ;
But those great actions others do by chance,
Are, like your beauty, your inheritance :
So great a soul, such sweetness join'd in one,
Could only spring from noble Grandison.

* This seems to be the passage sneered at in the " Session of the Poets."

You, like the stars, not by reflection bright,
Are born to your own heaven, and your own light;
Like them are good, but from a nobler cause,
From your own knowledge, not from nature's laws.
Your power you never use, but for defence,
To guard your own, or others' innocence:
Your foes are such, as they, not you, have made,
And virtue may repel, though not invade.
Such courage did the ancient heroes show,
Who, when they might prevent, would wait the blow
With such assurance, as they meant to say,
We will o'ercome, but scorn the safest way.
What further fear of danger can there be ?
Beauty, which captives all things, sets me free.
Posterity will judge by my success,
I had the Grecian poet's happiness,
Who, waving plots, found out a better way;
Some God descended, and preserved the play.
When first the triumphs of your sex were sung
By those old poets, beauty was but young,
And few admired the native red and white,
Till poets dress’d them up to charm the sight;
So beauty took on trust, and did engage
For sums of praises till she came to age.
But this long-growing debt to poetry,
You justly, madam, have discharged to me,
When your applause and favour did infuse
New life to my condemn'd and dying muse.

EPISTLE THE FIFTH.

TO

MR LEE.

ON HIS TRAGEDY OF

THE RIVAL QUEENS, OR ALEXANDER THE GREAT.

1677.

“ 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.

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