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deaf to all remonstrances where the interests or whims of favourites were concerned. Wycherley did not choose to be out of the fashion. He embarked, was present at a battle, and celebrated it on his return in a copy of verses too bad for the bellman."*
About the same time he brought on the stage his second piece, the “Gentleman Dancing-Master.” The biographer says nothing, as far as we remember, about the fate of this play. There is, however, reason to believe, that, though certainly far superior to “Love in a Wood,” it was not equally successful. It was first tried at the west end of the town, and, as the poet confessed, “would scarce do there." It was then performed in Salisbury Court, but, as it should seem, with no better event. For, in the prologue to the
Country Wife,” Wycherley described himself as “the late so baffled scribbler."
In 1675, the “Country Wife" was performed with brilliant success, which, in a literary point of view, was not wholly unmerited. For, though one of the most profligate and heartless of human compositions, it is the elaborate production of a mind, not indeed rich, original, or imaginative, but ingenious, observant, quick to seize hints, and patient of the toil of polishing.
The “Plain Dealer,” equally immoral and equally well written, appeared in 1677. At first this piece pleased the people less than the critics ; but after a time its unquestionable merits, and the zealous support of Lord Dorset, whose influence in literary and fashionable society was unbounded, established it in the public favour.
*Mr. Leigh Hunt supposes that the battle at which Wycherley was present was that which the Duke of York gained over Opdam, in 1665. We believe that it was one of the battles between Rupert and De Ruyter, in 1673.
The point is of no importance ; and there can scarcely be said to be any evidence either way. We offer, however, to Mr. Leigh Hunt's consideration three arguments-of no great weight oertainly-yet such as ought, we think, to prevail in the absence of better. First, it is not very likely that a young Templar, quite unknown in the world—and Wycherley was such in 1665--should have quitted his chambers to go to sea. On the other hand, it would have been in the regular course of things that, when a courtier and an equerry, he should offer his services. Secondly, his verses appear to have been written after a drawn battle, like those of 1673, and not after a complete victory like that of 1665. Thirdly, in the epilogue to the “Gentleman Dancing-Master, written in 1673, he says that “all gentlemen must pack to sea ;" an expression which makes it probable that he did not himself mean to stay behind.
The fortune of Wycherley was now in the zenith, and began to decline. A long life was still before him. But it was destined to be filled with nothing but shame and wretchedness, domestic dissensions, literary failures, and pecuniary embarrassments.
The king, who was looking about for an accomplished man to conduct the education of his natural son,
Duke of Richmond, at length fixed on Wycherley. The poet, exulting in his good luck, went down to amuse himself at Tunbridge; looked into a bookseller's shop on the Pantiles, and to his great delight, heard a handsome woman ask for the “Plain Dealer," which had just been published. He made acquaintance with the lady, who proved to be the Countess of Drogheda, a gạy young widow, with an ample jointure. She was charmed with his person and his wit; and, after a short flirtation, agreed to become his wife. Wycherley seems to have been apprehensive that this connexion might not suit well the king's plan respecting the Duke of Richmond. He accordingly prevailed on the lady to consent to a private marriage. All came out. Charles thought the conduct of Wycherley both disrespectful and disingenuous. Other causes probably assisted to alienate the sovereign from the subject who had been so highly favoured. Buckingham was now in opposition, and had been committed to the Tower; not, as Mr. Leigh Hunt supposes, on a charge of treason, but by an order of the House of Lords for some expressions which he had used in debate. Wycherley wrote some bad lines in praise of his imprisoned patron, which, if they came to the knowledge of the king, would certainly have made his majesty very angry. The favour of the court was completely withdrawn from the poet. An amiable woman, with a large fortune, might indeed have been an ample compensation for the loss. But Lady Drogheda was ill-tempered, imperious, and extravagantly jealous. She had herself been a maid of honour at Whitehall. She well knew in what estimation conjugal fidelity was held among the fine gentlemen there; and watched her town husband as assiduously as Mr. Pinchwife watched his country wife.
The unfortunate wit, was, indeed, allowed to meet his friends at a tavern opposite his own house. But on such occasions the windows were always open, in order that her ladyship, who was posted on the other side of the street, might be satisfied that no woman was of the party.
The death of Lady Drogheda released the unfortunate poet from this distress ; but a series of disasters, in rapid succession, broke down his health, his spirits, and his fortune. His wife meant to leave him a good property, and left him only a lawsuit. His father could not or would not assist him. He was at length thrown into the Fleet, and languished there during seven years, utterly forgotten, as it should seem, by the gay and lively circle of which he had been a distinguished ornament. In the extremity of his distress he implored the publisher who had been enriched by the sale of his works, to lend him twenty pounds, and was refused. His comedies, however, still kept possession of the stage, and drew great audiences, which troubled themselves little about the situation of the author. At length James the Second, who had now succeeded to the throne, happened to go to the theatre on an evening when the “Plain Dealer” was acted. He was pleased by the performance, and touched by the fate of the writer, whom he probably remembered as one of the gayest and handsomest of his brother's courtiers. The king determined to pay Wycherley's debts, and to settle on the unfortunate poet a pension of 2001. a year. This munificence, on the part of a prince who was little in the habit of rewarding literary merit, and whose whole soul was devoted to the interests of his church, raises in us a surmise which Mr. Leigh Hunt will, we fear, pronounce very uncharitable. We cannot help suspecting that it was at this time that Wycherley returned to the communion of the Church of Rome. That he did return to the communion of the Church of Rome is certain. The date of his re-conversion, as far as we know, has never been mentioned by any biographer. We believe that, if we place it at this time, we do no injustice to the character either of Wycherley or James.
Not long after, old Mr. Wycherley died; and his son, now past the middle of life, came to the family estate. Still, however, he was not at his ease. His embarrassments were great; his property was strictly tied up; and he was on very pad terms with the heir at law. He appears to have led, during a long course of years, that most wretched life, the life of an old boy about town. Expensive tastes with little money, and licentious appetites with declining vigour, were the just penance for his early irregularities. A severe illness had produced a singular effect on his intellect. His memory played him pranks stranger than almost any that are to be found in the history of that strange faculty. It seemed to be at once preternaturally strong, and preternaturally weak. If a book was read to him before he went to bed, he would wake the next morning with his mind full of the thoughts and expressions which he had heard over night; and he would write them down, without in the least suspecting that they were not his own. In his verses the same ideas, and even the same words came over and over again several times in a short composition. His fine person bore the marks of age, sickness, and sorrow; and he mourned for his departed beauty with an effeminate regret. He could not look without a sigh at the portrait which Lely had painted of him when he was only twenty-eight; and often murmured, Quantum mutatus ab illo. He was still nervously anxious about his literary reputation; and, not content with the fame which he still possessed as a dramatist, was determined to be renowned as a satirist and an amatory poet.
In 1704, after twenty-seven years of silence, he again appeared as an author. He put forth a large folio of miscellaneous verses, which, we believe, has never been reprinted. Some of these pieces had probably circulated through the town in manuscript; for, before the volume appeared, the critics at the coffee-houses very confidently predicted that it would be utterly worthless; and were, in consequence, bitterly reviled by the poet in an ill-written, foolish, and egotistical preface. The book amply vindicated the most unfavourable prophecies that had been hazarded. The style and versification are beneath criticism; the morals are those of Rochester. For Rochester, indeed, there was some excuse. When his offences against decorum were committed, be was a very young man, misled by a prevail.. ing fashion. Wycherley was sixty-four. He had long outlived the times when libertinism was regarded as essential to the character of a wit and a gentleman. Most of the
rising poets, like Addison, John Philips, and Rowe, were studious of decency. We can hardly conceive anything more miserable than the figure which the ribald old man makes in the midst of so many sober and well-conducted youths.
In the very year in which this bulky volume of obscene doggerel was published, Wycherley formed an acquaintance of a very singular kind. A little, pale, crooked, sickly, brighteyed urchin, just turned of sixteen, had written some copies of verses, in which discerning judges could detect the promise of future eminence. There was, indeed, as yet nothing very striking or original in the conceptions of the young poet. But he was already skilled in the art of metrical composition. His diction and his music were not those of the great old masters, but that which his ablest contemporaries were labouring to do, he already did best. His style was not richly poetical, but it was always neat, compact, and pointed. His verse wanted variety of pause, of swell, and of cadence; but it never grated on the ear by a harsh turn, or disappointed it by a feeble close. The youth was already free of the company of wits, and was greatly elated at being introduced to the author of the " Plain Dealer" and the “ Country Wife.”
It is curious to trace the history of the intercourse which took place between Wycherley and Pope-between the representative of the age that was going out, and the representative of the age that was coming in-between the friend of Rochester and Buckingham, and the friend of Lyttleton and Mansfield. At first the boy was enchanted by the kindness and condescension of his new friend, haunted his door, and followed him about like a spaniel, from coffee-house to coffee-house. Letters full of affection, humility, and fulsome flattery, were interchanged between the friends. But the first ardour of affection could not last. Pope, though at no time scrupulously delicate in his writings, or fastidious as to the morals of his associates, was shocked by the indecency of a rake who, at seventy, was still the representative of the monstrous profligacy of the Restoration. As he grew older, as his mind expanded and his fame rose, he appreciated both himself and Wycherley more justly. He felt a well-founded contempt for the old gentleman's verses, and was at no great pains to conceal his opinion. Wycherley,