William Congreve: Wikis


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William Congreve

William Congreve in 1709 by Godfrey Kneller.
Born 24 January 1670(1670-01-24)
Bardsey, England
Died 19 January 1729 (aged 58)
London, England
Occupation Playwright, Poet
Nationality English
Writing period 1693–1700

William Congreve (24 January 1670 – 19 January 1729) was an English playwright and poet.


Early life

Congreve was born in Bardsey, West Yorkshire, England (near Leeds). His parents were William Congreve (1637–1708) and his wife, Mary (née Browning; 1636?–1715); a sister was buried in London in 1672. He spent his childhood in Ireland, where his father, a Cavalier, had settled during the reign of Charles II. Congreve was educated at Trinity College in Dublin; there he met Jonathan Swift, who would be his friend for the remainder of his life. Upon graduation, he matriculated in the Middle Temple in London to study law, but felt himself pulled toward literature, drama, and the fashionable life. Artistically, he became a disciple of John Dryden.

Literary career

William Congreve wrote some of the most popular English plays of the Restoration period of the late 17th century. By the age of thirty, he had written four comedies, including Love for Love (premiered 30 April 1695) and The Way of the World (premiered 1700), and one tragedy, The Mourning Bride (1697)

Unfortunately, his career ended almost as soon as it began. After writing five plays from his first in 1693 until 1700, he produced no more as public tastes turned against the sort of high-brow sexual comedy of manners in which he specialized. He reportedly was particularly stung by a critique written by Jeremy Collier (A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage), to the point that he wrote a long reply, "Amendments of Mr. Collier's False and Imperfect Citations." A member of the Whig Kit-Kat Club, Congreve's career shifted to the political sector, where he held various minor political positions despite his stance as a Whig among Tories.

Later life

Congreve withdrew from the theatre and lived the rest of his life on residuals from his early work. His output from 1700 was restricted to the occasional poem and some translation (notably Molière's Monsieur de Pourceaugnac). Congreve never married; in his own era and through subsequent generations, he was famous for his friendships with prominent actresses and noblewomen, including Anne Bracegirdle, for whom he wrote major parts in all his plays, and Henrietta Godolphin, 2nd Duchess of Marlborough, daughter of the famous general, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, whom he had probably met by 1703 and with whom he had a daughter, Mary (1723–1764).

As early as 1710, he suffered both from gout and from cataracts on his eyes. Congreve suffered a carriage accident in late September 1728, from which he never recovered (having probably received an internal injury); he died in London in January 1729, and was buried in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Famous lines

Two of Congreve's turns of phrase from The Mourning Bride (1697) have become famous, albeit frequently in misquotation:

  • "Music has charms to soothe a savage breast," spoken by Almeria in Act I, Scene 1. (The word "breast" is often misquoted as "beast", and 'has' sometimes appears as 'hath'.)
  • "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned," spoken by Zara in Act 3, Scene 2. (This is usually paraphrased as "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned")


See also


External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

William Congreve

William Congreve (1670-01-241729-01-19) was an English playwright and poet.



  • Careless she is with artful care,
    Affecting to seem unaffected.
    • "Amoret", line 7 (1710).
  • Invention flags, his brain goes muddy,
    And black despair succeeds brown study.
    • "An Impossible Thing", line 105 (1720).
  • Defer not till tomorrow to be wise,
    Tomorrow's sun to thee may never rise.
    • "Letter to Cobham", line 61. Compare: "Be wise to-day, 't is madness to defer", Edward Young, Night Thoughts, night i. line 390.

The Old Bachelor (1693)

Wikisource has original text related to:
  • In my conscience I believe the baggage loves me, for she never speaks well of me herself, nor suffers any body else to rail at me.
    • Act I, scene iii.
  • Hannibal was a very pretty fellow in those days.
    • Act II, scene 2.
  • I find we are growing serious, and then we are in great danger of being dull.
    • Act II, scene vii.
  • Eternity was in that moment.
    • Act IV, scene vii .
  • If this be not love, it is madness, and then it is pardonable.
    • Act IV, scene x.
  • Men are apt to offend ('tis true) where they find most goodness to forgive.
    • Act IV, scene xi.
  • Thus grief still treads upon the heels of pleasure;
    Married in haste, we may repent at leisure.
    • Act V, scene viii. Compare: "Who wooed in haste, and means to wed at leisure", William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, Act iii, scene 2.

The Double Dealer (1694)

Wikisource has original text related to:
  • It is the business of a comic poet to paint the vices and follies of human kind.
    • Epistle dedicatory.
  • Retired to their tea and scandal, according to their ancient custom.
    • Act I, scene i.
  • Though marriage makes man and wife one flesh, it leaves 'em still two fools.
    • Act II, scene iii.
  • No mask like open truth to cover lies,
    As to go naked is the best disguise.
    • Act V, scene iv.

Love for Love (1695)

Wikisource has original text related to:
  • Thou liar of the first magnitude.
    • Act II, scene ii.
  • I warrant you, if he danced till doomsday, he thought I was to pay the piper.
    • Act II, scene ii.
  • Ferdinand Mendez Pinto was but a type of thee, thou liar of the first magnitude.
    • Act II, scene v.
  • I came up stairs into the world, for I was born in a cellar.
    • Act II, scene vii. Compare: "Born in a cellar, and living in a garret", Samuel Foote, The Author, act 2; "Born in the garret, in the kitchen bred", Lord Byron, A Sketch.
  • O fie, miss, you must not kiss and tell.
    • Act II, scene x.
  • I know that's a secret, for it's whispered every where.
    • Act III, scene iii.
  • Women are like tricks by sleight of hand,
    Which, to admire, we should not understand.
    • Act IV, scene iii.
  • Uncertainty and expectation are the joys of life. Security is an insipid thing.
    • Act IV, scene xx.
  • 'Tis well enough for a servant to be bred at an University. But the education is a little too pedantic for a gentleman.
    • Act V, scene iii.

The Mourning Bride (1697)

Wikisource has original text related to:
  • Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
    To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.

    I've read, that things inanimate have mov'd,
    And, as with living Souls, have been inform'd,
    By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.
    What then am I? Am I more senseless grown
    Than Trees, or Flint? O force of constant Woe!
    'Tis not in Harmony to calm my Griefs.
    Anselmo sleeps, and is at Peace; last Night
    The silent Tomb receiv'd the good Old King;
    He and his Sorrows now are safely lodg'd
    Within its cold, but hospitable Bosom.
    Why am not I at Peace?
    • Act I, scene i.
    • The first lines of this passage are often rendered in modern spelling as "Music has charms to soothe a savage breast", or misquoted as: "Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast."
  • Vile and ingrate! too late thou shalt repent
    The base Injustice thou hast done my Love:
    Yes, thou shalt know, spite of thy past Distress,
    And all those Ills which thou so long hast mourn'd;
    Heav'n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn'd,
    Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn'd.
    • Act III, scene viii; often paraphrased: "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned". Compare: "We shall find no fiend in hell can match the fury of a disappointed woman", Colley Cibber, Love's Last Shift, act iv.
  • For blessings ever wait on virtuous deeds,
    And though a late, a sure reward succeeds.
    • Act V, scene 12.

The Way of the World (1700)

Wikisource has original text related to:
  • They come together like the Coroner's Inquest, to sit upon the murdered reputations of the week.
    • Act I, scene i.
  • Say what you will, tis better to be left than never to have been loved.
    • Act II, scene i. Compare: "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all", Alfred Tennyson[1].
  • Love's but a frailty of the mind,
    When 'tis not with ambition joined.
    • Act III, scene xii.
  • If there's delight in love, 'tis when I see
    That heart which others bleed for, bleed for me.
    • Act III, scene xii.
  • I nauseate walking; 'tis a country diversion, I loathe the country.
    • Act IV, scene v.
  • Let us be very strange and well-bred:
    Let us be as strange as if we had been married a great while;
    And as well-bred as if we were not married at all.
    • Act IV, scene v.
  • Thou art a retailer of phrases, and dost deal in remnants of remnants.
    • Act IV, scene ix.
  • O, she is the antidote to desire.
    • Act IV, scene xiv.


  • Never go to bed angry, stay up and fight.
    • More often attributed to Phyllis Diller.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

WILLIAM CONGREVE (1670-1729), English dramatist, the greatest English master of pure comedy, was born at Bardsey near Leeds, where he was baptized on the 10th of February 1670, although the inscription on his monument gives his date of birth as 1672. He was the son of William Congreve, a soldier who was soon after his son's birth placed in command of the garrison at Youghal. To Ireland, therefore, is due the credit of his education - as a schoolboy at Kilkenny, as an undergraduate at Dublin, where he was a contemporary and friend of Swift. From college he came to London, and was entered as a student of law at the Middle Temple. The first-fruits of his studies appeared under the boyish pseudonym of "Cleophil," in the form of a novel whose existence is now remembered only through the unabashed avowal of so austere a moralist as Dr Johnson, that he "would rather praise it than read it." In 1693 Congreve's real career began, and early enough by the latest computation, with the brilliant appearance and instant success of his first comedy, The Old Bachelor, under the generous auspices of Dryden, then as ever a living and immortal witness to the falsehood of the vulgar charge which taxes the greater among poets with jealousy or envy, the natural badge and brand of the smallest that would claim a place among their kind. The discrowned laureate had never, he said, seen such a first play; and indeed the graceless grace of the dialogue was as yet only to be matched by the last and best work of Etherege, standing as till then it had done alone among the barefaced brutalities of Wycherley and Shadwell. The types of Congreve's first work were the common conventional properties of stage tradition; but the fine and clear-cut style in which these types were reproduced was his own. The gift of one place and the reversion of another were the solid fruits of his splendid success. Next year a better play from the same hand met with worse fortune on the stage, and with yet higher honour from the first living poet of his nation. The noble verses, as faultless in the expression as reckless in the extravagance of their applause, prefixed by Dryden to The Double Dealer, must naturally have supported the younger poet, if indeed such support can have been required, against the momentary annoyance of assailants whose passing clamour left uninjured and secure the fame of his second comedy; for the following year witnessed the crowning triumph of his art and life, in the appearance of Love for Love (1695). Two years later his ambition rather than his genius adventured on the foreign ground of tragedy, and The Mourning Bride (1697) began such a long career of good fortune as in earlier or later times would have been closed against a far better work. Next year he attempted, without his usual success, a reply to the attack of Jeremy Collier, the nonjuror, "on the immorality and profaneness of the English stage" - an attack for once not discreditable to the assailant, whose honesty and courage were evident enough to approve him incapable alike of the ignominious precaution which might have suppressed his own name, and of the dastardly mendacity which would have stolen the mask of a stranger's. Against this merit must be set the mistake of confounding in one indiscriminate indictment the levities of a writer like Congreve with the brutalities of a writer like Wycherley - an error which ever since has more or less perverted the judgment of succeeding critics. The general case of comedy was then, however, as untenable by the argument as indefensible by the sarcasm of its most brilliant and comparatively blameless champion. Art itself, more than anything else, had been outraged and degraded by the recent school of the Restoration; and the comic work of Congreve, though different rather in kind than in degree from the bestial and blatant licence of his immediate precursors, was inevitably for a time involved in the sentence passed upon the comic work of men in all ways alike his inferiors. The true and triumphant answer to all possible attacks of honest men or liars, brave men or cowards, was then as ever to be given by the production of work unarraignable alike by fair means or foul, by frank impeachment or furtive imputation. In 1700 Congreve thus replied to Collier with The Way of the World - the unequalled and unapproached masterpiece of English comedy, which may fairly claim a place beside or but just beneath the mightiest work of Moliere. On the stage which had recently acclaimed with uncritical applause the author's more questionable appearance in the field of tragedy, this final and flawless evidence of his incomparable powers met with a rejection then and ever since inexplicable on any ground of conjecture. During the twenty-eight years which remained to him, Congreve produced little beyond a volume of fugitive verses, published ten years after the miscarriage of his masterpiece. His even course of good fortune under Whig and Tory governments alike was counterweighed by the physical infirmities of gout and failing sight. He died, January 19, 1729, in consequence of an injury received on a journey to Bath by the upsetting of his carriage; was buried in Westminster Abbey, after lying in state in the Jerusalem Chamber; and bequeathed the bulk of his fortune to the chief friend of his last years, Henrietta, duchess of Marlborough, daughter of the great duke, rather than to his family, which, according to Johnson, was then in difficulties, or to Mrs Bracegirdle, the actress, with whom he had lived longer on intimate terms than with any other mistress or friend, but who inherited by his will only £200. The one memorable incident of his later life was the visit of Voltaire, whom he astonished and repelled by his rejection of proffered praise and the expression of his wish to be considered merely as any other gentleman of no literary fame. The great master of well-nigh every province in the empire of letters, except the only one in which his host reigned supreme, replied that in that sad case Congreve would not have received his visit.

The fame of the greatest English comic dramatist is founded wholly or mainly on but three of his five plays. His first comedy was little more than a brilliant study after such models as were eclipsed by this earliest effort of their imitator; and tragedy under his hands appears rouged and wrinkled, in the patches and powder of Lady Wishfort. But his three great comedies are more than enough to sustain a reputation as durable as our language. Were it not for these we should have no samples to show of comedy in its purest and highest form. Ben Jonson, who alone attempted to introduce it by way of reform among the mixed work of a time when comedy and tragedy were as inextricably blended on the stage as in actual life, failed to give the requisite ease and the indispensable grace of comic life and movement to the action and passion of his elaborate and magnificent work. Of Congreve's immediate predecessors, whose aim had been to raise on French foundations a new English fabric of simple and unmixed comedy, Wycherley was of too base metal and Etherege was of metal too light to be weighed against him; and besides theirs no other or finer coin was current than the crude British ore of Shadwell's brutal and burly talent. Borrowing a metaphor from Landor, we may say that a limb of Moliere would have sufficed to make a Congreve, a limb of Congreve would have sufficed to make a Sheridan. The broad and robust humour of Vanbrugh's admirable comedies gives him a place on the master's right hand; on the left stands Farquhar, whose bright light genius is to Congreve's as female is to male, or "as moonlight unto sunlight." No English writer, on the whole, has so nearly touched the skirts of Moliere; but his splendid intelligence is wanting in the deepest and subtlest quality which has won for Moliere from the greatest poet of his country and our age the tribute of exact and final definition conveyed in that perfect phrase which salutes at once and denotes him - "ce moqueur pensif comme un apotre." Only perhaps in a single part has Congreve half consciously touched a note of almost tragic depth and suggestion; there is something wellnigh akin to the grotesque and piteous figure of Arnolphe himself in the unvenerable old age of Lady Wishfort, set off and relieved as it is, with grace and art worthy of the supreme French master, against the only figure on any stage which need not shun comparison even with that of Celimene.

The Works of William Congreve were published in 1710 (3 vols.). The Dramatic Works of Wycherley, Congreve.. . edited by Leigh Hunt (1849), contains a biographical and critical notice of Congreve. See also The Comedies of William Congreve (1895), with an introduction by W. G. S. Street; and The Best Plays of William Congreve (1887, 1903), edited for the Mermaid Series by A. C. Ewald. The Life of William Congreve (1887) by Edmund Gosse, in E. S. Robertson's Great Writers, contains a bibliography by J. P. Anderson.

(A. C. S.)

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