Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. II. Ben Jonson to Dryden
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. II. The Seventeenth Century: Ben Jonson to Dryden
 
To My Friend, Mr. Congreve
By John Dryden (1631–1700)
 
On his Comedy called The Double Dealer, 1693.

WELL then, the promised hour is come at last,
The present age of wit obscures the past:
Strong were our sires, and as they fought they writ,
Conquering with force of arms and dint of wit:
Theirs was the giant race before the flood;        5
And thus, when Charles returned, our empire stood.
Like Janus 1 he the stubborn soil manured,
With rules of husbandry the rankness cured;
Tamed us to manners, when the stage was rude,
And boisterous English wit with art endued.        10
Our age was cultivated thus at length,
But what we gained in skill we lost in strength.
Our builders were with want of genius curst;
The second temple was not like the first;
Till you, the best Vitruvius, come at length,        15
Our beauties equal, but excel our strength.
Firm Doric pillars found your solid base,
The fair Corinthian crowns the higher space;
Thus all below is strength, and all above is grace.
In easy dialogue is Fletcher’s praise;        20
He moved the mind, but had not power to raise.
Great Jonson did by strength of judgment please,
Yet, doubling Fletcher’s force, he wants his ease.
In differing talents both adorned their age,
One for the study, t’ other for the stage.        25
But both to Congreve justly shall submit,
One matched in judgment, both o’ermatched in wit,
In him all beauties of this age we see,
Etherege his courtship, Southern’s purity,
The satire, wit, and strength of manly Wycherly.        30
All this in blooming youth you have achieved;
Nor are your foiled contemporaries grieved.
So much the sweetness of your manners move,
We cannot envy you, because we love.
Fabius might joy in Scipio, when he saw        35
A beardless Consul made against the law,
And join his suffrage to the votes of Rome,
Though he with Hannibal was overcome.
Thus old Romano bowed to Raphael’s fame,
And scholar to the youth he taught became.        40
  O that your brows my laurel had sustained!
Well had I been deposed, if you had reigned:
The father had descended for the son,
For only you are lineal to the throne.
Thus, when the State one Edward did depose,        45
A greater Edward in his room arose:
But now, not I, but poetry is curst;
For Tom the second reigns like Tom the first. 2
But let them not mistake my patron’s part
Nor call his charity their own desert.        50
Yet this I prophesy,—Thou shalt be seen,
Though with some short parenthesis between,
High on the throne of wit, and, seated there,
Not mine—that ’s little—but thy laurel wear.
Thy first attempt an early promise made;        55
That early promise this has more than paid.
So bold, yet so judiciously you dare,
That your least praise is to be regular.
Time, place, and action may with pains be wrought,
But genius must be born, and never can be taught.        60
This is your portion, this your native store:
Heaven, that but once was prodigal before,
To Shakespeare gave as much; she could not give him more.
Maintain your post: that ’s all the fame you need;
For ’tis impossible you should proceed.        65
Already I am worn with cares and age,
And just abandoning the ungrateful stage:
Unprofitably kept at Heaven’s expense,
I live a rent-charge on His providence:
But you, whom every Muse and grace adorn,        70
Whom I foresee to better fortune born,
Be kind to my remains; and oh, defend,
Against your judgment, your departed friend!
Let not the insulting foe my fame pursue,
But shade those laurels which descend to you:        75
And take for tribute what these lines express;
You merit more, nor could my love do less.
 
Note 1. Janus, the primitive and deified king of Latium. [back]
Note 2. Thomas Shadwell was succeeded as Historiographer Royal by Thomas Rymer, who was the right man for the post, though he was a poet of no mark and a critic of no merit. In the poet-laureateship Shadwell was succeeded by Tate. [back]
 
 
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