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overstrained austerity, goes beyond the profligacy which precedes such a period. The nation resembled the demoniac in the New Testament. The Puritans boasted that the un. clean spirit was cast out. The house was empty, swept, and garnished, and for a time the expelled tenant wandered through dry places seeking rest and finding none. But the force of the exorcism was spent. The fiend returned to his abode; and returned not alone. He took to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself. They entered in, and dwelt together: and the second possession was worse than the first.
We will now, as far as our limits will permit, pass in review the writers to whom Mr. Leigh Hunt has introduced
Of the four, Wycherley stands, we think, last in literary merit, but first in order of time, and first, beyond all doubt, in immorality.
WILLIAM WYCHERLEY was born in 1640. He was the son of a Shropshire gentleman of old family, and of what was then accounted a good estate. The property was estimated at 6001. a year, a fortune which, among the fortunes of that time, probably ranked as a fortune of 20001. a year would rank in our days.
William was an infant when the civil war broke out; and, while he was still in his rudiments, a Presbyterian hierarchy and a republican government were established on the ruins of the ancient church and throne. Old Mr. Wycherley was attached to the royal cause, and was not disposed to intrust the education of his heir to the solemn Puritans who now ruled the universities and public schools. Accordingly, the young gentleman was sent at fifteen to France. He resided some time in the neighbourhood of the Duke of Montausier, chief of one of the noblest races of Touraine. The duke's wife, a daughter of the house of Rambouillet, was a finished specimen of those talents and accomplishments for which her house was celebrated. The young foreigner was introduced to the splendid circle which surrounded the duchess, and there he appears to have learned some good and some evil. In a few years he returned to this country a fine gentleman and a Papist. His conversion, it may safely be affirmed, was the effect, not of any strong impression on his understanding or feelings, but partly of intercourse with an agreeable society in which the Church of Roine was the fashion; and partly of that aversion to Calvinistic austerities, which was then almost universal among young Englishmen of parts and spirit, and which, at one time, seemed likely to make one half of them Catholics, and the other half Atheists.
But the Restoration came. The universities were again in loyal hands; and there was reason to hope that there would be again a national church fit for a gentleman. Wycherley became a member of Queen's College, Oxford, and abjured the errors of the Church of Rome. The somewhat equivocal glory of turning, for a short time, a very-good-fornothing Papist into a very good-for-nothing Protestant is ascribed to Bishop Barlow.
Wycherley left Oxford without taking a degree, and entered at the Temple, where he lived gayly for some years, observing the humours of the town, enjoying its pleasures, and picking up just as much law as was necessary to make the character of a pettifogging attorney or a litigious client entertaining in a comedy.
From an early age he had been in the habit of amusing himself by writing. Some wretched lines of his on the Restoration are still extant. Had he devoted himself to the making of verses, he would have been nearly as far below Tate and Blackmore as Tate and Blackmore are below Dryden. His only chance for renown would have been, that he might have occupied a niche, in a satire, between Flecknoe and Settle. There was, however, another kind of composition in which his talents and acquirements qualified him to succeed; and to that he judiciously betook himself.
In his old age he used to say, that he wrote “Love in a Wood” at nineteen, the “Gentleman Dancing-Master” at twenty-one, the “Plain Dealer” at twenty-five, and the “Country Wife” at one or two-and-thirty. We are incredulous, we own, as to the truth of this story. Nothing that we know of Wycherley leads us to think him incapable of sacrificing truth to vanity. And his memory in the decline of his life played him such strange tricks, that we might question the correctness of his assertion, without throwing any imputation on his veracity. It is certain that none of his plays were acted till 1672, when he gave “ Love in a Wood” to the public. It seems improbable that he should resolve on so important an occasion as that of a first
appearance before the world, to run his chance with a feeble piece, written before his talents were ripe, before his style was formed, before he had looked abroad into the world; and this when he had actually in his desk two highly-finished plays, the fruit of his matured powers. When we look minutely at the pieces themselves, we find in every part of them reason to suspect the accuracy of Wycherley's statement. In the first scene of “Love in a Wood,” to go no further, we find many passages which he could not have written when he was nineteen. There is an allusion to gentlemen's periwigs, which first came into fashion in 1663;
an allusion to guineas, which were first struck in 1663; an allusion to the vests which Charles ordered to be worn at court in 1666; an allusion to the fire of 1666; several allusions to political and ecclesiastical affairs which must be assigned to times later than the year of the Restoration-to times when the government and the city were opposed to each other, and when the Presbyterian ministers had been driven from the parish churches to the conventicles. But it is needless to dwell on particular expressions. The whole air and spirit of the piece belong to a period subsequent to that mentioned by Wycherley. As to the “Plain Dealer," which is said to have been written when he was twenty-five, it contains one scene unquestionably written after 1675, several which are later than 1668, and scarcely a line which can have been composed before the end of 1666.
Whatever may have been the age at which Wycherley composed his plays, it is certain that he did not bring them before the public till he was upwards of thirty. In 1672, " Love in a Wood” was acted with more success than it deserved, and this event produced a great change in the fortunes of the author. The Duchess of Cleveland cast her eyes upon him, and was pleased with his appearance. This abandoned woman, not content with her complacent husband and her royal keeper, lavished her fondness on a crowd of paramours of all ranks, from dukes to rope-dancers. In the time of the commonwealth she commenced her career of gallantry, and terminated it under Anne, by marrying, when a great-grandmother, that worthless fop, Beau Fielding. It is not strange that she should have regarded Wycherley with favour. His figure was commanding, his countenance strikingly handsome, his look and deportment full of grace and dignity. He had, as Pope said long after, “the true nobleman look,” the look which seems to indicate superiority, and a not unbecoming consciousness of superiority. His hair, indeed, as he says in one of his poems, was prematurely gray. But in that age of periwigs this misfortune was of little importance. The duchess admired him, and proceeded to make love to him after the fashion of the coarse-minded and shameless circle to which she belonged. In the Ring, when the crowd of beauties and fine gentlemen was thickest, she put her head out of her coach-window, and bawled to him—“Sir, you are a rascal; you are a villain ;' and, if she be not belied, added another phrase of abuse which we will not quote, but of which we may say that it might most justly have been applied to her own chil. dren. Wycherley called on her grace the next day, and with great humility begged to know in what way he had been so unfortunate as to disoblige her. Thus began an intimacy from which the poet probably expected wealth and honours. Nor were such expectations unreasonable. A handsome young fellow about the court, known by the name of Jack Churchill, was about the same time so lucky as to become the object of a short-lived fancy of the duchess. She had presented him with 45001., the price, in all probability, of some title or some pardon. The prudent youth had lent the money on high interest and on landed security, and this judicious investment was the beginning of the most splendid private fortune in Europe. Wycherley was not so lucky. The partiality with which the great lady regarded him was, indeed, the talk of the whole town; and, sixty years later, old men who remembered those days told Voltaire that she often stole from the court to her lover's chambers in the Temple, disguised like a country girl, with a straw hat on her head, pattens on her feet, and a basket in her hand. The poet was indeed too happy and proud to be discreet. He dedicated to the duchess the play which had led to the acquaintance, and in the dedication expressed himself in terms which could not but confirm the reports which had gone abroad. But at Whitehall such an affair was regarded in no serious light. The lady was not afraid to bring Wycherley to court, and to introduce him to a splendid society, with which, as far as appears, he had never before mixed. The easy king who allowed to his mistresses the same liberty which he claimed for himself, was pleased with the conversation and manners of his new rival.
So high did Wycherley stand in the royal favour, that once, when he was confined by a fever to his lodgings in Bow-street, Charles, who, with all his faults, was certainly a man of a social and affable disposition, called on him, sat by his bed, advised him to try change of air, and gave him a handsome sum of money to defray the expense of the journey. Buckingham, then master of the horse, and one of that infamous ministry known by the name of the Cabal, had been one of the duchess's innumerable paramours. He at first showed some symptoms of jealousy, but soon, after his fashion, veered round from anger to fondness, and gave Wycherley a commission in his own regiment, and a place in the royal household.
It would be unjust to Wycherley's memory not to mention here the only good action, as far as we know, of his whole life. He is said to have made great exertions to obtain the patronage of Buckingham for the illustrious author of “ Hudibras,” who was now sinking into an obscure grave, neglected by a nation proud of his genius, and by a court which he had served too well. His grace consented to see poor Butler, and an appointment was made. But unhappily two pretty women passed by; the volatile duke ran after them; the opportunity was lost, and could never be regained.
The second Dutch war, the most disgraceful war in the whole history of England, was now raging. It was not in that age considered as by any means necessary that a naval officer should receive a professional education. Young men of rank, who were hardly able to keep their feet in a breeze, served on board the king's ships, sometimes with commissions and sometimes as volunteers. Mulgrave, Dorset, Rochester, and many others, left the playhouses and the Mall for hammocks and salt pork; and, ignorant as they were of the rudiments of naval science, showed, at least on the day of battle, the courage which is seldom wanting in an English gentleman. All good judges of maritime affairs complained that under this system the ships were grossly mismanaged, and that the tarpaulins contracted the vices, without acquiring the graces, of the court. But on this subject, as on every other, the government of Charles was