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Records, the just Causes of the late Revolution, and the several Settlements of the Crown of Eugland and Scotland on her Majesty,' &c. The publication of this piece was productive of very serious consequences to the author, who had been, from the first, aware of the danger to which it would expose him. The nature of the treatise, and the occasion of his writing it, he himself explains in his ' Apology wherein he tells us, that the plan of the work was first hinted to him by his friend Mr More, of the Inner Temple, "a gentleman well skilled in the laws and constitution of this kingdom." "When 'The Crisis,'" says he, "was written hand in hand with Mr More, I, who was to answer it with my all, would not venture upon my own single judgment; therefore I caused it to be printed; and left one copy with Mr Addison, another with Mr Lechmere, another with Mr Minshull, and anothei with Mr Hoadly. From these copies, 'The Crisis' became the piece it is. When I thought it my duty, I thank God I had no further consideration for myself than to do it in a lawful and proper way, so as to give no disparagement to a glorious cause from my indiscretion, or want of judgment."
'The Crisis' was immediately attacked with great severity by Dr Swift, in a pamphlet intituled, 'The Public Spirit of the Whigs set forth in their generous encouragement of the Author of the Crisis. But it was not till the 12th of March, 1713-14, that it fell under the cognizance of the house of commons, when, at the meeting of the new parliament, Steele had taken his seat for the borough of Stockbridge. On that day, Mr Auditor Foley, cousin to the earl of Oxford, made a complaint to the house of three printed pamphlets published under the name of Mr Steele, as containing paragraphs tending to sedition, highly reflecting upon her majesty, and arraigning her administration and government; which pamphlets being brought up to the table, Steele was ordered to attend in his place next morning. He began his defence with the usual preface of bespeaking favour to any mistakes that might escape him therein ; and spoke for near three hours in vindication of the several heads extracted from his pamphlets.
Mr Robert Walpole, his brother Horace, Lord Finch, Lord Lumley, Lord Hinchinbroke, and some other members, spoke with great spirit in favour of Mr Steele, and against the conduct of the ministry. But Mr Foley, Sir William Wyndham, the attorney-general, and some other courtiers, being supported by a great majority, insisted on the question, which at last was carried by 245 voices against 152. And the house resolved, First, "That a printed pamphlet, intituled 'The Englishman,' being the close of a paper so called, and one other pamphlet, intituled 'The Crisis,' written by Richard Steele, Esq. a member of the house, are scandalous and seditious libels, containing many expressions highly reflecting upon her majesty, and upon the nobility, gentry, clergy, and universities of this kingdom, maliciously insinuating, that the protestant succession in the bouse of Hanover is in danger under her majesty's administration, and tending to alienate the affections of her majesty's good subjects, and to create jealousies and divisions among them. Secondly, That Richard Steele, Esq. for his offence in writing and publishing the said scandalous and seditious libels, be expelled this house."
Steele had determined to exert his talents in the way to which he
had been so long accustomed, and accordingly began to publish two periodical papers; the first of which, intituled 'The Lover,' appeared on the 25th of February, 1714; and the second, called 'The Reader,' on the 22d of April following. In the sixth number of this last paper, he gives an account of his design to write the history of the duke 01 Marlborough from the date of his Grace's commissions of captaingeneral and plenipotentiary, to the expiration of these commissions; the proper materials for which history were, he tells us, in his custody. But the work never appeared. He wrote, however, several political pieces at this time; and likewise published a treatise, intituled 'The Romish Ecclesiastical History of late years.' The design of this publication was to prejudice the cause of the Pretender, which was supposed to be gaining ground in England; and there is an appendix subjoined, consisting of particulars very well calculated for this purpose.
Steele was extremely zealous for the succession of the house of Hanover, and presented to George I. on the 8th of April, 1715, an address—which had been drawn up by himself—from the lieutenancy of Middlesex and Westminster. He had some time before been appointed a justice of peace, and one of the deputy-lieutenants for the county of Middlesex: on presenting this address he received the honour of knighthood, and was soon after appointed surveyor of the royal stables at Hampton-court. He afterwards obtained a share in the patent of one of the play-houses, which was productive of considerable emolument to him; and was elected member of parliament for Boroughbridge in Yorkshire. As a member of parliament, Sir Richard Steele appears to have ever behaved with great public spirit and integrity. In 1717 he was appointed one of the commissioners for inquiring into the estates forfeited by the rebellion in Scotland, which appointment carried him into that part of the united kingdom, where he received from some of the nobility and gentry the most flattering marks of respect.
In 1719, Sir Richard Steele published a letter to the earl of Oxford concerning a bill for limiting the peerage; which bill he opposed in the house of commons. He also wrote against it in a periodical paper called ' The Plebeian,' which occasioned a very unpleasant contest between him and his friend Addison, who wrote against him in another periodical paper called 'The Old Whig.' About this time his license for acting plays was revoked, and his patent rendered ineffectual at the instance of the lord-chamberlain. He had a little before formed a plan of a periodical paper, to be published twice a week, under the title ot 'The Theatre,' some numbers of which had appeared; and he now embraced the opportunity of this publication, to give a particular account of the origin and progress of this unfortunate affair, which he did in a spirited letter addressed to his Grace. He published, soon after, ' The State of the Case between the Lord Chamberlain of his majesty's household and the Governor of the Royal company of Comedians, with the Opinions of Pemberton, Northy, and Parker, concerning the Theatre.' In this pamphlet he computes the loss he sustained by this proceeding at little less than £10,000. He then declares, that he never did one act to provoke this attempt; "nor does the chamberlain pretend to assign any direct reason of forfeiture, but openly and wittingly declare* he will ruin Steele; which," adds our author, " in a man in his circumstances against one in mine, is as great as the humour of Malagene in the comedy, who values himself upon his activity in tripping up cripples."
Whilst our author was sinking under this persecution from the hand of power, he was rudely attacked from another quarter. When he began his paper called 'The Theatre,' he had assumed the feigned name of Sir John Edgar, and under that appellation he was now very scurrilously attacked by John Dennis, the noted critic, in a pamphlet entitled, 'The Character and conduct of Sir John Edgar, called by himself sole monarch of the stage in Drury-lane, and his three deputy-governors; in two-letters to Sir John Edgar.' To this insult our author replied in 'The Theatre;' but as the importance of the critic's attack wag unworthy a serious rebuke, he treated him with his usual gaiety and good humour.
In the midst of these private concerns, Sir Richard found time to employ his pen in the service of the public, by writing against the South sea scheme in the year 1720. His first piece on this subject was entitled, ' The Crisis of Property,' which was soon followed by ' A Nation a Family; or a Plan of the Improvement of the South sea Proposals.' He likewise introduced this matter into 'The Theatre,' and by his spirited opposition to that iniquitous project, greatly increased his reputation as a patriot. When our author's patent for the theatre was revoked, his friend, Sir Robert Walpole, was out of favour at court, having resigned his place of first-commissioner of the treasury; but in the beginning of the year 1721 he was recalled to that station, and Sir Richard soon experienced the benefit of this change, being restored, within a few weeks, to his former office and authority in Drury-lane.
This alteration in his circumstances gave Sir Richard new spirits ; and it was not long before he brought upon the stage his celebrated comedy, called, ' The Conscious Lovers,' which was acted with the greatest applause. The profit of this successful play must have been very considerable, and he published it soon after, with a dedication to the king, for which his majesty made him a present of five hundred pounds ; but notwithstanding this ample supply, it was not long before he was reduced to such extremity, that he was obliged to throw his affairs into the hands of lawyers and trustees, in consequence of which his share in the playhouse was sold. He now retired to his seat at Langunnor, near Caermarthen in Wales; but he had not long been in retirement before he was seized with a paralytic disorder, which greatly impaired his understanding. Having languished for some time under this deprivation of his faculties, he died on the 21st of September, 1729, and was privately interred, according to his own desire, in the church of Caermarthen.
BoRN A. D. 1669.—DIED A. D. 1729.
This witty dramatic poet was descended from an old Staffordshire family. His father held a command in the army in Ireland, and young Congreve, having been carried to that country when a child, received the rudiments of education at Kilkenny school, a college as it was sometimes called. In 1685 he was removed to Trinity college, Dublin. After having studied there for some years he came to England, and entered at the Middle temple. The severe science of jurisprudence proved quite unattractive to Congreve, who soon abandoned his legal studies and commenced a career in more congenial paths.
His first production was a novel, which he had the good sense, however, to publish anonymously, or rather under a fictitious name. It was entitled 'Incognita, or Love and Duty reconciled.' Its reception was not of a kind calculated to encourage him in the further prosecution of this department of light literature ; he therefore turned his attention to the drama, and wrote a comedy, called 'The Old Bachelor,' of which Dryden expressed himself in most favourable terms, having declared to Southerne that " he never saw such a first play in his life," and that all its author wanted, to place himself at the very head of his line of writers, was a little more acquaintance with the manners of the town and the style of the stage. This play, revised and corrected by Dryden, was first acted at Drury-lane, in 1693. The prologue was spoken by Mrs Bracegirdle; and the epilogue—not remarkable for delicacy—by Mrs Barry. It procured for its author the patronage of Lord Halifax, who appointed him a commissioner for licensing hackneycoaches, and soon after conferred on him some more valuable appointments. The next of our author's comedies was called 'The Double Dealer.' It did not prove nearly so successful as the first. The year 1695 was distinguished for its theatrical schisms: amongst other changes in the corps dramatiques, Betterton threw up his former connexions, and opened a new theatre in Lincolns-Inn-fields, on which occasion Congreve gave him his 'Love for Love,' which was acted the first night, and took a great run. His ' Mourning Bride' was produced at the same theatre in 1697.
There is nothing more licentious in the whole round of the English drama than these comedies of Congreve's. Lord Karnes has justly, though severely, said of them, "that if they did not rack their author with remorse in his last moments, he must have been lost to all sense of virtue." They roused Collier to his indignant attack upon the English stage,—an attack which Congreve attempted, but without success, to parry,—the cause was not defensible, nor was Congreve altogether a match for his sturdy opponent. Chagrined by his want of success in this rencounter, and still more perhaps by the failure of his next piece, ' The Way of the World,' Congreve retired from the stage, and amused the remainder of his life with the composition of minor poems and translations. Loss of sight from cataracts in both eyes, and severe paroxysms of gout, rendered his declining years very cheerless and gloomy. He died on the 29th January, 1729, and was interred in Westminster-abbey.
Voltaire says of Congreve, that he " raised the glory of comedy to a greater height than any English writer before or since his time." This is high praise; but it may be doubted whether the Frenchman took a correct view of Congreve's comedies. If the real object of the drama be to exhibit human character, not as it is found and fashioned in passing through the author's mind, but as it may be conceived to exist in actual life, English comedy seems little indebted either to Congreve, or his still more brilliant successor, Sheridan. Of the wit and genius of both these dramatists, there can be no doubt; but their fault lay in casting all their characters in one and the same mould. With them it has been justly said, " Every fop, every boor, every valet, is a man of wit. The very butts and dupes, Tattle, Urkwould, Puff, Acres, outshine the whole Hotel de Ilambouillet." This is not to write comedy. It is indeed to hold the mirror up to their own sparkling selves; but not to Nature.
"Congreve's plays," says Mr Leigh Hunt, in his excellent 'London Journal,' "are exquisite of their kind, and the excessive heartlessness and duplicity of some of his characters are not to be taken without allowance for the ugly ideal. There is something not natural, both in his characters and wit; and we read him rather to see how entertaining he can make his superfine ladies and gentlemen, and what a pack of sensual busy bodies they are, like insects over a pool, than from any true sense of them as 'men and women.' As a companion he must have been exquisite to a woman of fashion. We can believe that the duchess of Marlborough in ignorance of any tragic emotion but what was mixed with his loss, would really talk with a waxen image of him in a peruke, and think the universe contained nothing better. It was carrying wit and politeness beyond the grave. Queen Constance, in Shakspeare, makes grief put on the pretty looks of her lost child: the duchess of Marlborough made it put on a wig and jaunty air,—such as she had given her friend in his monument in Westminster abbey. No criticism on his plays could be more perfect. Congreve's serious poetry is a refreshment, from its extreme insipidity and common-place."
BoBN A. D. 1676. DIED A. D. 1729.
This celebrated free-thinker was born in the neighbourhood of Hounslow in Middlesex, in the year 1676, and educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was originally designed for the profession of the law, but not liking it, and being in possession of a competent estate, he soon abandoned the study of jurisprudence, and devoted himself entirely to metaphysical and ethical speculations. His first publication was a tract, entitled 'Several of the London Cases Considered.' This appeared in 1700, and procured for him the notice and approbation of no less a personage than John Locke himself, whom we find addressing Collins, under date October 29th, 1703, in such terms of friendship and compliment as these: "If I were now setting out in the world, I should think it my great happiness to have such a companion as you, who had a true relish of truth, would in earnest seek it with me, from whom I might receive it undisguised, and to whom I might communicate what I thought true, freely. Believe it, my good friend, to love truth for truth's sake is the principal part of human perfection in this world, and the seed-plot of all other virtues; and, if I mistake not, you have as much of it as ever I met with in any body. What then is there