TO THE READER.
FOps and Knaves are the fittest Characters for Comaedy▪ and this Town was wont to abound with variety of Vanities and Knaveries till this unhappy division. But all run now into Politicks, and you must needs, if you touch upon any humour of this time, offend one of the Parties. The Bo•nds being then so narrow, I saw there was no scope for the writing of an intire Comaedy, (wherein the Poet must have a relish of the present time) and therefore I resolved to make as good an entertainment as I could, without tying my self up to the strict rules of a Co∣maedy; which was the reason of my i•troducing of Witches. Yet I will be bold to affirm, that Young Hartfort, Sir Timothy, Smerk, and Tegue O Divelly are true Comical Characters, and have something new in 'em. And how any of these (the Scene being laid in Lancashire) could offend any Party here▪ but that of Papists, I could not imagine, till I heard that great opposition was design'd against the Play (a month before it was acted) by a Party who (being ashamed to say it was for the sake of the Irish Priest) pretended that I had written a Saty• upon the Church of England, and several profest Papists railed at it violently, before they had seen it, alledging that for a reason, such dear Friends they are to our Church. And (notwithstanding all was put out that could any way be •rested to an offence against the Church) yet they came with the greatest malice in the world to hiss it, and many that call'd themselves Protestants, •oyn'd with them in that noble enterprise.
How strict a scrutiny was made upon the Play you may easily see, for I have in my own vindication Printed it just as I first writ it; and all that was exp••∣ged is Printed in the Italick Letter. All the difference is, that I have now or∣dained Smerk, who before was a young Student in Divinity, expecting Orders and to be Chaplain to Sir Edward. The Master of the Revels (who I must confess used me civilly enough) Licenc'd it at first with little alteration: But there c•me such an Alarm to him, and a Report that it was full of dangerous refl•cti∣••s, that upon a Review, he expunged all that you see differently Printed, ex∣cept about a dozen li•es which he struck out at the first reading.
But, for all this, they came resolved to hiss at it right or wrong, and had got∣ten mercenary Fellows, who were such Fools they did not know when •o hiss, and Page [unnumbered] this was evident to all the Audience. It was wonderful to see men of great Qua∣lity and Gentlemen in so mean a Combination. But to my great satisfaction they came off as meanly as I could wish. I had, so numerous an assembly of the best sort of men, who stood so generously in my defence, for the three first days, that they qu•sh'd all the v•in attempts of my Enemies, the inconsiderable▪ Party of •issers yielded, and the Play lived in spight of them.
Had it been never so bad, I had valued the honour of having so many, and such Friends, as eminently appeared for me▪ above that of excelling the most admirable Johnson, if it were possible to be done by me.
Now, for reflecting upon the Chuch of England, you will find, by many ex∣pressions in the Play, that I intended nothing less. And I am well assured that no Learned, or Wise Divine of the Church, will believe me guilty of it. I pro∣fess to have a true value and respect for them.
But they who say that the representation of such a Fool and Knave as Smerk (who is declared to be an infamous Fellow, not of the Church, but crept into it for a Lively-hood, exposed for his Folly and Knavery, and expell'd the Family) should concern, or reflect upon the Church of England, doe sufficiently abuse it. A fo•lish Lord, or Knight is daily represented: nor are there any so silly to believe it an abuse to their Order. Should Thompson, or Mason, or any Impudent Hot-headed Tan•ivy Fool be exposed; I am confident that the Sober and the Wise Divines of the Church will be so far from thinking themselves concern'd in it, that they detest them as much as I do.
Nor should any of the Irish Nation think themselves concern'd, but Kelly (one of the Murderers of Sir Edmond-Bury Godfrey) which I make to be his feign'd Name, and Tegue O Divelly his true one. For Whores and Priests have se∣veral names still.
Some of the worsted Party of the Hissers were so malicious to make People believe (because I had laid the Scene in Lancashire) that I had reflected perso∣nally on some in that, and in an adjoyning County. Which no man, that will give himself leave to think can believe. And I do here solemnly declare the con∣trary, and that it was never once in my thoughts to do so.
But the Clamours of a Party (who can support themselves by nothing but fals∣hood) rose so high, as to report that I had written Sedition and Treason, had re∣flected upon His Majesty, and that the Scope of the Play was against the Govern∣ment of England. Which are Villanies I abhor▪ and some of the Reporters I be∣lieve would not stic• at. But I am well assured they did not believe themselves, only (out of malice to me) thought if they could bring the report to Windsor (which they did) by that means to cause the silencing the Play, without farther examination: But they who had the Power, were too just for that, and let it live.
Page [unnumbered] For these reasons I am forced, in my own vindication, to Print the whole Play just as I writ it (without adding, or deminishing) as all the Actors who rehers'd it so a fortnight together, before it was reviewed, may testifie.
For the Magical part, I had no hopes of equalling Shakespear in fancy, who created his Witchcraft for the most part out of his own imagination (in which fa∣culty no man ever excell'd him) and therefore I resolved to take mine from Autho∣rity. And to that end, there is not one action in the Play, nay scarce a word con∣cerning it, but is borrowed from some antient, or Modern Witchmonger. Which you will find in the notes, wherein I have presented you a great part of the Do∣ctrine of Witchcraft, beleive it who will. For my part, I am (as it is said of Surly in the Alchymist, somewhat costive of beleif. The evidences I have represented are natural, viz slight, and frivolous, such as poor old Women were wont to be hang•d upon.
For the act•••s, if I had not represented them as those of real Witches, but had show'd the ignorance, fear, melancholy, malice, confederacy, and imposture that contribute to the beleif of Witchcraft, the people had wanted diversion, and their had been another clamor against it, it would have been call'd Atheistical, By a prevailing party who take it ill that the power of the Devil should be lessen'd, and attribute more miracles to a silly old Woman, then ever they did to the greatest of Prophets, and by this means the Play might have been Silenced.
I have b•t one thing more to observe which is, that Witchcraft, being a Religion to the Devil, (for so it is) their charms upon several occasions being so many of∣fices of the Witches Liturgy to him,) and attended with as many ceremonies as even the Popish Religion is, 'tis remarkable that the Church of the Devil (if I may catachrestically call it so) ha's continued almost the same, from their first writers on this subject to the last. From Theocritus his Pharmaceutria, to Sadducismus Triumphatus: and to the shame of Divines, the Church of Christ has been in perpetual alteration. But had there been as little to be gotten in one as in the other, 'tis probable there would have been as few changes.
I have troubled you too long, speak of the Play as you find it.