Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

fastidious taste, I readily admit. Take the following song as a specimen :

“Ah, Chloris, that I now could sit

As unconcerned as when
Your infant beauty could beget

No pleasure, nor no pain !
When I the dawn used to admire

And praised the coming day;
I little thought the growing fire

Must take my rest away.
Your charms in harmless childhood lay,

Like metals in the mine,
Age from no face took more away

Than youth concealed in thine,
But as your charms insensibly

To their perfection prest,
Fond love as unperceived did fly,

And in my bosom rest,
My passion with your beauty grew,

And Cupid at my heart,
Still as his mother favoured you,

Threw a new flaming dart.
Each gloried in their wanton part:

To make a lover, he
Employed the utmost of his art.

To make a beauty she.
Though now I slowly bend to love,

Uncertain of my fate,
If your fair self my chains approve,

I shall my freedom hate.
Lovers, like dying men, may well

At first disordered be,
Since none alive can truly tell

What future they must see.” The opening lines of another of his songs have received the merit-mark of universal approbation, and to this day are quoted :

“Love still has something of the sea

From whence his mother rose." Sir Charles Sedley's plays are now known only to the

scholar, and though they contain some witty passages and a felicitous sketch or two of character-painting, they are not worthy of deliverance from the oblivion into which they have fallen. Their construction is irregular, and they are deficient in dramatic interest. The tragedy of “ Antony and Cleopatra” was produced at the Duke's Theatre in 1667; his comedy (the best of his dramatic works) of “The Mulberry Garden,” at Drury Lane, in 1668; and “Bellamira; or, The Mistress," at the King's House in 1687. We are told that “ while this play was acting, the roof of the play-house fell down; but very few were hurt, except the author, whose merry friend, Sir Fleetwood Shepherd, told him that there was so much fire in the play, that it blew up the poet, house, and all. Sir Charles answered, “No; the play was so heavy it brought down the house, and buried the poet in his own rubbish.'" Sedley also wrote the tragedy of “ Beauty the Conqueror," and two other dramas have, but on no good grounds, been ascribed to him.

This brilliant wit and easy courtier was guilty on one occasion of a profligacy so vile that one is inclined to attribu te it to mental aberration. He presented himself, after “a wild revel,” perfectly naked in the balcony of the Cock Tavern, in Bow Street, and harangued the crowd of porters and orange-girls in such profane and indecent language that they resented it with volleys of stones, and compelled him and his companions (among whom, unhappily, was Buckhurst, afterwards Earl of Dorset) to retire. For this shameful exploit they were brought before the Court of Common Pleas, and heavily fined, Sir Charles Sedley's penalty being not less than £500. The Lord Chief Justice, Sir Robert Hyde, sar

castically inquired of the dissolute wit if he had ever read “The Complete Gentleman ?” * “I believe,” he replied, unabashed, “I have read more books than your lordship.” It is said that Sir Charles and his companions engaged Killigrew and another courtier to intercede with the King for a reduction of the penalty ; but, contrary to the proverb, honour does not always prevail among such men, they obtained a grant of the money for themselves, and extorted it to the last farthing.

Another of Sedley's indefensible pranks is related by Oldys :-“There was a great resemblance," he says, “in the shape and features, between him and Kynaston the actor, who once got some laced clothes made exactly after a suit Sir Charles wore, who therefore got him well caned. Sir Charles's emissary pretending to take Kynaston for Sir Charles, quarrelled with him in St. James's Park, and beat him as Sir Charles. When some of his friends, in pity to the man, reproved Sir Charles for it, he told them that they misplaced their pity, and that it was himself they should bestow it on; that Kynaston's bones would not suffer as much as his reputation; for all the town believed it was him that was thrashed, and suffered such a public disgrace.”

It seems to be generally agreed that, after his mad orgie at the Cock Tavern, Sedley adopted a more serious mode of life, and began to take an active interest in public affairs. As member for Romney, in Kent, he took a frequent part in the debates in the House of Commons, and by his eloquence and vivacity obtained a considerable influence. During the reign of James II. he distinguished

* Henry Peacham's book, published in 1622, of which a new edition had appeared in 1661.

himself by his vigorous opposition to the measures of the Court. It is true that in this opposition he was influenced, perhaps, as much by personal feelings as by regard for the public interest. Profligate as he was, or had been, he could not as a father witness without shame and indignation the illicit connection which James, when Duke of York, had formed with his daughter, the notorious Catherine Sedley.* And when he was asked the reason of his bitter antipathy to a king who had loaded him with favours, he replied, “I hate ingratitude; and, therefore, as the king has made my daughter a Countess, I will endeavour to make his daughter a Queen.”

On his accession to the throne, James was reluctantly induced, by the advice of his confessors and the remonstrances of his queen,t to dissolve the connection; though he had just shown the strength of his affection by creating

* Catherine Sedley was distinguished by her wit and accomplishments, but possessed no personal charms, except two brilliant eyes. Her countenance was haggard, and her form lean. Charles II., though he admired her in. tellectual gifts, laughed at her want of comeliness, and declared that the priests must bave recommended her to his brother by way of penance. She was too clever a woman not to know and own her ugliness, and affirmed that she could not understand the secret of James's passion for her. “It cannot be my beauty," she said, “for he must see that I have none; and it cannot be my wit, for he has not enough to know that I have any." Like many plain women, she was fond of sumptuous dress, and Lord Dorset has somewhat coarsely satirised the weakness which led her to appear in public places, in all the gorgeousness of Brussels lace, diamonds, and paint :

“ Tell me, Dorinda, why so gay,

Why such embroidery, fringe, and lace ?
Can any dresses find a way
To stop the approaches of decay,

And mend a ruined face?....
So have I seen in larder dark

Of veal a lucid loin,
Replete with many a brilliant spark,
(As wise philosophers remark)

At once both stink and shine.”
+ The intrigues of which she was the author are described at length by
Macaulay. See also Evelyn's Diary, under date January 19, 1686; Bishop
Barnet's History of His Own Time, i, 682 ; and Rousby's Memoirs.

her (1686) Baroness of Darlington and Countess of Dorchester for life. She afterwards became the wife of Sir David Colyear, first Earl of Portmore. She died at Bath in 1717.

In the Parliaments of King William and Queen Mary, Sir Charles was generally on the side of the Opposition; and in the session of 1690 made one of his best speeches in condemnation of the large sums expended on salaries and pensions. Macaulay refers to it as proving, what his poems and plays might make us doubt, that his contemporaries were not mistaken in considering him as a man of parts and vivacity. Gradually, as he advanced in years, he withdrew from the political arena ; and the public had almost forgotten him at the time of his death, which took place at Haverstock Hill * on the 20th of August, 1701. A complete edition of his works, including love songs, translations from martial and other classic writers, prologues and epilogues, plays and speeches, was published in the following year by his friend and kinsman, Captain Ayloff, who observes that “he (Sir Charles) was a man of the first class of wit and gallantry; his friendship was courted by everybody; and nobody went out of his company but pleased and improved; Time added but very little to Nature, and he was everything that an English gentleman could be.” That his powers were considerable no one can reasonably doubt. It is to be regretted that he did not make a worthier use of them.

The last of the aristocratic poets whom we shall notice

* Steele for awhile (1712) resided at this house. He writes to Pope :"I am at a solitude, a house between Hampstead and London, wherein Sir Charles Sedley died. This circumstance set me a-thinking and ruminating upon the employments in which men of wit exercise themselves.” The house was pulled down in 1869, and its site is now occupied by Steele Terrace,

« ZurückWeiter »