To the Right Honourable RALPH Earl of MOUNTAGUE, &c.
WHether the World will arraign me of Vanity, or not, that I have presum'd to Dedicate this Comedy to your Lordship, I am yet in doubt: Tho' it may be it is some degree of Vanity even to doubt of it. One who has at any time had the Honour of your Lordship's Conversation, cannot be suppos'd to think very meanly of that which he would prefer to your Perusal: Yet it were to incur the Imputation of too much Sufficiency, to pretend to such a Merit as might abide the Test of your Lordship's Cen∣sure.
Page [unnumbered] Whatever Value may be wanting to this Play while yet it is mine, will be sufficiently made up to it, when it is once become your Lordship's; and it is my Security, that I cannot have over∣rated it more by my Dedication, than your Lord∣ship will dignifie it by your Patronage.
That it succeeded on the Stage, was almost be∣yond my Expectation; for but little of it was prepar'd for that general Taste which seems now to be predominant in the Pallats of our Audience.
Those Characters which are meant to be ridi∣culous in most of our Comedies, are of Fools so gross, that in my humble Opinion, they should rather disturb than divert the well-natur'd and reflecting part of an Audience; they are rather Objects of Charity than Contempt; and instead of moving our Mirth, they ought very often to excite our Compassion.
This Reflection mov'd me to design some Cha∣racters, which should appear ridiculous not so much thro' a natural Folly (which is incorrigible, and therefore not proper for the Stage) as thro' an affected Wit; a Wit, which at the same time that it is affected, is also false. As there is some Difficulty in the formation of a Character of this Nature, so there is some Hazard which attends the progress of its Success, upon the Stage: For many come to a Play, so over-charg'd with Cri∣ticism, that they very often let fly their Censure, when through their rashness they have mistaken Page [unnumbered] their Aim. This I had occasion lately to observe: For this Play had been Acted two or three Days, before some of these hasty Judges cou'd find the leisure to distinguish betwixt the Character of a Witwoud and a Truewit.
I must beg your Lordship's Pardon for this Di∣gression from the true Course of this Epistle; but that it may not seem altogether impertinent, I beg, that I may plead the occasion of it, in part of that Excuse of which I stand in need, for re∣commending this Comedy to your Protection. It is only by the Countenance of your Lordship, and the Few so qualified, that such who write with Care and Pains can hope to be distinguish'd: For the Prostituted Name of Poet promiscuously levels all that bear it.
Terence, the most correct Writer in the World, had a Scipio and a Lelius if not to assist him, at least to support him in his Reputation: And not∣withstanding his extraordinary Merit, it may be, their Countenance was not more than necessary.
The Purity of his Stile, the Delicacy of his Turns, and the Justness of his Characters, were all of them Beauties, which the greater part of his Audience were incapable of Tasting: Some of the coursest Strokes of Plautus, so severely cen∣sured by Horace, were more likely to affect the Multitude; such, who come with expectation to Laugh out the last Act of a Play, and are bet∣ter entertained with two or three unseasonable Page [unnumbered] Jests, than with the artful Solution of the Fable.
As Terence excell'd in his Performances, so had he great Advantages to encourage his Under∣takings; for he built most on the Foundations of Menander: His Plots were generally modell'd, and his Characters ready drawn to his Hand. He, copied Menander; and Menander had no less Light in the Formation of his Characters, from the Observations of Theophrastus, of whom he was a Disciple; and Theopbrastus it is known was not only the Disciple, but the immediate Successor of Aristotle, the first and greatest Judge of Poetry. These were great Models to design by; and the further Advantage which Terence possess'd, towards giving his Plays the due Or∣naments of Purity of Stile, and Justness of Man∣ners, was not less considerable, from the free∣dom of Conversation, which was permitted him with Lelius and Scipio, two of the greatest and most polite Men of his Age. And indeed, the Privilege of such a Conversation, is the only cer∣tain Means of attaining to the Perfection of Dia∣logue.
If it has hapned in any part of this Comedy, that I have gain'd a Turn of Stile, or Expression more Correct, or at least more Corrigible than in those which I have formerly written, I must, with equal Pride and Gratitude, ascribe it to the Honour of your Lordship's admitting me into Page [unnumbered] your Conversation, and that of a Society where every-body else was so well worthy of you, in your Retirement last Summer from the Town: For it was immediately after, that this Comedy was written. If I have fail'd in my Performance, it is only to be regretted, where there were so many, not inferiour either to a Scipio or a Lelius, that there should be one wanting equal to the Capacity of a Terence.
If I am not mistaken, Poetry is almost the only Art, which has not yet laid claim to your Lord∣ship's Patronage. Architecture, and Painting, to the great Honour of our Country, have flourish'd under your Influence and Protection. In the mean time, Poetry, the eldest Sister of all Arts, and Parent of most, seems to have resign'd her Birth-right, by having neglected to pay her Duty to your Lordship; and by permitting others of a later Extraction, to prepossess that Place in your Esteem, to which none can pretend a better Title. Poetry, in its Nature, is sacred to the Good and Great; the relation between them is reciprocal, and they are ever propitious to it. It is the Pri∣vilege of Poetry to address to them, and it is their Prerogative alone to give it Protection.
This receiv'd Maxim, is a general Apology for all Writers who Confecrate their Labours to great Men: But I could wish at this time, that this Address were exempted from the com∣mon pretence of all Dedications; and that as I Page [unnumbered] can distinguish your Lordship even among the most Deserving, so this Offering might become remarkable by some particular Instance of Re∣spect, which shou'd assure your Lordship, that I am, with all due Sense of your extream Worthi∣ness and Humanity,
Your Lordship's most obedient and most oblig'd humble Servant Will. Congreve.