British Dramatists from Dryden to Sheridan

By George Henry Nettleton; Arthur Eillicot Case | Go to book overview
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PROLOGUE.
SPOKEN BY THE PLAIN DEALER.

I the Plain Dealer am to act today,
And my rough part begins before the play.
First, you who scribble, yet hate all that write,
And keep each other company in spite,
As rivals in your common mistress, Fame,

And with faint praises one another damn --5
'Tis a good play, we know, you can't forgive, But grudge yourselves the pleasure you receive:
Our scribbler therefore bluntly bid me say,
He would not have the wits pleased here today. 10
Next you, the fine, loud gentlemen o' th' pit, Who damn all plays, yet, if y'ave any wit,
'Tis but what here you sponge and daily get --
Poets, like friends to whom you are in debt,
You hate; and so rooks laugh, to see undone 15
Those pushing gamesters whom they live upon. Well, you are sparks, and still will be i' th' fashion;
Rail then at plays, to hide your obligation.

Now, you shrewd judges, who the boxes sway,
Leading the ladies' hearts and sense astray,
And, for their sakes, see all, and hear no play --
20

Correct your cravats, foretops, lock behind;
The dress and breeding of the play ne'er mind;
Plain dealing is, you'll say, quite out of fashion;

You'll hate it here, as in a dedication; 25
And your fair neighbors, in a limning poet1
No more than in a painter will allow it.
Pictures too like, the ladies will not please;
They must be drawn too here like goddesses.
You, as at Lely's2 too, would truncheon3 wield, 30
And look like heroes in a painted field;
But the coarse dauber of the coming scenes
To follow life and nature only means,
Displays you as you are: makes his fine woman
A mercenary jilt, and true to no man; 35
His men of wit and pleasure of the age Are as dull rogues as ever cumbered stage:
He draws a friend only to custom just,
And makes him naturally break his trust.
I, only, act a part like none of you, 40
And yet, you'll say, it is a fool's part too: An honest man who, like you, never winks
At faults, but, unlike you, speaks what he thinks:
The only fool who ne'er found patron yet,
For truth is now a fault as well as wit. 45

And where else but on stages do we see
Truth pleasing, or rewarded honesty?
Which our bold poet does this day in me.

If not to th' honest, be to th' prosp'rous kind:

Some friends at court let the Plain Dealer find. 50

____________________
24]W1 you'ld.
32]Q1Q3Q4Q6W1 course.
33]W1 life, and nature's only means.
1
A poet who depicts life.
2
Sir Peter Lely was the popular court-painter of the day.
3
A military baton, carried by a high-ranking officer.

-205-

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British Dramatists from Dryden to Sheridan
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