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MAC-FLECNO E,

A SATIRE

AGAINST

THOMAS SHADWELL.

MAC-FLECNOE.

Tue enmity between Dryden and Shadwell at first probably only sprung from some of those temporary causes of disgust, which must frequently divide persons whose lives are spent in a competition for public applause. That they were occasionally upon tolerable terms is certain, for Dryden has told us so ; and Shadwell, in 1676, when expressing his dissent from one of our author's rules of theatrical criticism, industriously and anxiously qualifies his opinion, with the highest compliments to our author's genius. * They had formerly even joined forces, and called in the aid of another wit, to overwhelm the reputation of no less a person than Elkanah Settle. † But, between the politics of the stage and of the nation, the friendship of these bards, which probably never had a very solid foundation, was at length totally overthrown. It is not very easy to discover who struck the first blow; but it may be suspected, that Dryden was displeased to see Shadwell not only dispute his canons of criticism in print, but seem to establish himself as an imitator of the old school of dramatie composition, and particularly of Jonson, on whom Dryden had thrown some censure in his epilogue to “ The Conquest of Grerada,” and in the Defence of these verses. It seems certain, that the feud had broke out in 1675-6; for Shadwell has not only made some invidious allusions to the success of “ Aureng.- Zebe,” which was represented that season, but has plainly intimated, that he needed only a pension to enable him to write as well as Dryden himself. I

See the whole passage, Vol. VII. p. 141. note. + See the Remarks on the Empress of Morocco, written in conjunction by Dryden, Crown, and Shadwell. They were printed in 1674.

| These circumstances of offence occur in the prologue, epilogue, and preface to the “ Virtuoso," which must have been acted in the sanie season with

Aureng.Zebe," as the dedication is dated 26th June, 1676. The prologue commences with an irreverend allusion to that play, and to our author's theatrical engagements :

You came with such an eager appetite
To a late play, which gave so greal delight,

This assault, however, seems to have been forgiven; for Dryden obliged Shadwell with an epilogue to the “ True Widow," acted in 1678. But their precarious reconcilement did not long subsist, when political animosity was added to literary rivalry. Shadwell not only wrote the “ Lancashire Witches,” in ridicule of the Tory party, but entered into a personal contest with our author on the subject of The Medal,” which he answered by a clumsy, though venomous, retort, called “ The Medal of John Bayes.' In the preface be asserts, that no one can think Dryden“ hardly dealt with, since he knows, and so do all his old acquaintance, that there is not one untrue word spoke of him.” Neither was this a single offence; for Dryden, in his “Vindication of the Duke of Guise," says, that Shadwell has repeat

Our poet fears, that by so rich a treat
Your palates are become too delicate.
Yet since you've had rhyme for a relishing bit,
To give a better taste to comic wit;
But this requires expence of time and pains,
Too great, alas' for poets' slender gains.
For wit, like china, should long buried lie,
Before it ripens to good comedy ;
A thing we ne'er have sren since Jonson's days,
And but a few of his were perfect plays.
Now drudges of the stage must oft appear,

They must be bound to scribble twice a year. That these insinuations might not be mistaken, Shadwell, in the epilogue, severely attacks rhyming tragedies in general; the object of which diatribe, considering the late success of “Aureng Zebc,” could not possibly be misin. terpreted :

But of those ladies he despairs to-day,
Who love a dull romantic whining play;
Where poor trail woman's made a deity,
With senseless amorous idolatry,
And snivelling heroes sigh, and pine, and cry.
Though singly tney beat armies, and huff kings,
Rant at the gods, and do impossible things

Though they can laugh at danger, blood, and wounds,
Yet if the dame once cludes, che muk-sop hero swoous.
These doughly things nor manners have nor wit;

We ne'er saw hero fit to drink with yet. The passage in the Dedication, in which he insinuates that the provision of a pension was all he wanted, to place him on a level with the proudest of his rivals, is as follows: “ That there are a great many faults in the conduct of this play, I am not igiorant; but I (having no pension but from the theatre, which is either unwilling, or unable, to reward a man sufficiently for so much pains as correct comedies require) cannot allot my whole tinue to the writing of plays, but am forced to mind some other business of advantage. Had I as much money, and as much time for it, I might perhaps write as correct a comedy as any of my contemporaries."

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edly called him Atheist in print. These reiterated insults at length drew down the vengeance of our poet, who seems to have singled Shadwell from the herd of those who had libelled him, to be gibbetted in rhyme while the English language shall last. Neither was Dryden satisfied with a single attack upon this obnoxious bard; but, having divided his poetical character from that which he held as a political writer, he discussed the first in the satire which ful ows, and the last, with equal severity, in the Second Part of “ Absalom and Achitophel.” These two admirab:e pieces of satire appeared within less than a month of each other; and leave it a matter of doubt, whether the bitter ridicule of the anointed Prince of Dulness, or the sarcastic description of Og, the seditious poetaster, be most cruelly severe.

“ Mac-Flecnoe” must be allowed to be one of the keenest satires in the English language. It is what Dryden has elsewhere termed a Varronian satire; that is, as he seems to use the phrase, one in which the author is not contented with general sarcasm upon the object of attack, but where he has woven his piece into a sort of imaginary story, or scene, in which he introduces the person, whom he ridicules, as a principal actor. The posi . tion in which Dryden has placed Shadwell is the most mortifying to literary vanity which can possibly be imagined, and is hardly excelled by the device of Pope in the “ Dunciad,” who has obviously followed the steps of his predecessor. Flecnoe, who seems to have been universally acknowledged as the very lowest of all poetasters, and whose name had passed into a proverb for doggrel verse and stupid prose, is represented as devolving upon Shadwell that pre-eminence over the realms of Dulness, which he had himself possessed without a rival. The spot chosen for this devolution of empire is the Barbican, an obscure suburb, in which it would seem that there were temporary theatrical representations of the lowest order, among other receptacles of vulgar dissipation, for the amusement of the very lowest of the vulgar. Here the ceremony of Shadwell's coronation is supposed to be performed with an inaugural oration by Flecnoe, his predecessor, in which all his pretensions to wit and to literary fame are sarcastically enumerated and confuted, by a counter-statement of his claims to distinction by pre-eminent and unrivalled stupidity. In this satire, the shatts of the poet are directed with an aim acutely malignant. The inference drawn concerning Shadwell's talents is general and absolute ; but in the proof, Dryden appeals with triumph to those parts only of his literary character which are obviously vulnerable. He reckons up among his titles to the throne of

See Essay on Satire, Vol. XIII. p. 65.

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