William Congreve (January 24, 1670 - January 19, 1729)
Born: 24th January, 1670
Died: 19th January, 1729
Nationality: English
Profession/Occupation: Poet
Region: Bardsey, England, London
Literary movement: Restoration
Notable works: "The Mourning Bride", "The Way of the World", "Love for Love", "The Double-Dealer", "The Old Bachelour"
Genres: Drama, Poetry

William Congreve Facts

Biography

William Congreve, (born January 24, 1670, Bardsey, near Leeds, Yorkshire, England—died January 19, 1729, London), English dramatist who shaped the English comedy of manners through his brilliant comic dialogue, his satirical portrayal of the war of the sexes, and his ironic scrutiny of the affectations of his age. His major plays were The Old Bachelour (1693), The Double-Dealer (1693), Love for Love (1695), and The Way of the World (1700).

Early life

In 1674 Congreve’s father was granted a commission in the army to join the garrison at Youghal, in Ireland. When he was transferred to Carrickfergus, Congreve, in 1681, was sent to school at Kilkenny, the Eton of Ireland. In April 1686 he entered Trinity College, Dublin (where he received his M.A. in 1696). He studied under the distinguished philosopher and mathematician St. George Ashe, who also tutored his elder schoolfellow and ultimate lifelong friend Jonathan Swift. It was probably during the Glorious Revolution (1688–89) that the family moved to the Congreve home at Stretton in Staffordshire, Congreve’s father being made estate agent to the earl of Cork in 1690. In 1691 he was entered as a law student at the Middle Temple. Never a serious reader in law, he published in 1692 under the pseudonym Cleophil a light but delightfully skillful near-parody of fashionable romance, possibly drafted when he was 17, Incognita: or, Love and Duty reconcil’d. He quickly became known among men of letters, had some verses printed in a miscellany of the same year, and became a protégé of John Dryden. In that year Dryden published his translation of the satires of Juvenal and Persius (dated 1693), in which Congreve collaborated, contributing the complimentary poem “To Mr. Dryden.”

Literary career

It was in March 1693 that he achieved sudden fame with the production at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, of The Old Bachelour, written, he said, in 1690 to amuse himself during convalescence. Warmly heralded by Dryden, who declared that he had never read so brilliant a first play, though it needed to be given “the fashionable Cutt of the Town,” it was an enormous success, running for the then unprecedented length of a fortnight. His next play, The Double-Dealer, played in November or December at Drury Lane but did not meet with the same applause (it later became the more critically admired work, however). Its published form contained a panegyrical introduction by Dryden. Love for Love almost repeated the success of his first play. Performed in April 1695, it was the first production staged for the new theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which was opened after protracted crises in the old Theatre Royal, complicated by quarrels among the actors. Congreve became one of the managers of the new theatre, promising to provide a new play every year.

In 1695 he began to write his more public occasional verse, such as his pastoral on the death of Queen Mary II and his “Pindarique Ode, Humbly Offer’d to the King on his taking Namure”; and John Dennis, then a young, unsoured critic, collecting his Letters upon Several Occasions (published 1696), extracted from Congreve his “Letter Concerning Humour in Comedy.” By this time, Congreve’s position among men of letters was so well established that he was considered worthy of one of those sinecure posts by which men of power in government rewarded literary merit: he was made one of the five commissioners for licensing hackney coaches, though at a reduced salary of £100 per annum.

Though Congreve signally failed to carry out his promise of writing a play a year for the Lincoln’s Inn theatre, he showed his good intentions by letting them stage The Mourning Bride. Although it is now his least regarded drama, this tragedy, produced early in 1697, swelled his reputation enormously and became his most popular play. No further dramatic work appeared until March 1700, when Congreve’s masterpiece, The Way of the World, was produced—with a brilliant cast—at Lincoln’s Inn Fields; though it is now his only frequently revived piece, it was a failure with the audience. This was Congreve’s last attempt to write a play, though he did not entirely desert the theatre. He wrote librettos for two operas, and in 1704 he collaborated in translating Molière’s Monsieur de Pourceaugnac for Lincoln’s Inn Fields. In 1705 he associated himself for a short time with the playwright and architect Sir John Vanbrugh in the Queen’s theatre, or Italian Opera house, writing an epilogue to its first production. It is likely that Congreve’s retreat from the stage was partly a result of a campaign against the supposed immorality of contemporary comedies. This attack was led most notably by Jeremy Collier, author of the tract A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698), which specifically censured Congreve and Dryden, among others. In reply, Congreve wrote Amendments of Mr. Collier’s False and Imperfect Citations (1698).

The rest of his life he passed quietly enough, being in easy circumstances thanks to his private income, the royalties on his plays, and his not very exacting posts in the civil service. In 1705 he was made a commissioner for wines, a post that he retained by virtue of Swift’s good offices at the change of government in 1710 but which he relinquished in 1714 when he joined the customs service; his position was improved at the end of 1714 with the addition of the secretaryship of the island of Jamaica. He wrote a considerable number of poems, some of the light social variety, some soundly scholarly translations from Homer, Juvenal, Ovid, and Horace, and some Pindaric odes. The volume containing these odes also comprised his timely “Discourse on the Pindarique Ode” (1706), which brought some order to a form that had become wildly unrestrained since the days of the poet Abraham Cowley. Congreve’s friendships were numerous, warm, and constant, as much with insignificant people, such as his early companions in Ireland, as with the literary figures of his time. No quarrels are attributed to him, except for a very brief one with Jacob Tonson, a publisher. Swift, whose friendship with him had begun in early days in Ireland, was unvarying in his affection; for John Gay, poet and author of The Beggar’s Opera, he was the “unreproachful man”; Alexander Pope dedicated his Iliad to him; and Sir Richard Steele his edition of Joseph Addison’s The Drummer. As to his relations with the other sex, his affection for Mrs. Anne Bracegirdle—who acted most of his female leads—is well known; they were always close friends, but whether the intimacy was of a deeper nature is undetermined. In his later years he was devotedly attached to the second duchess of Marlborough, and it is almost certain that he was the father of her second daughter, Lady Mary Godolphin, later duchess of Leeds. This would account for the large legacy, of almost all his fortune, which he left to the duchess of Marlborough. He died after a carriage accident.

Legacy

Congreve’s character was praised in Giles Jacob’s Poetical Register (1719), where he is described as being “so far from being puff’d up with Vanity…that he abounds with Humility and good Nature. He does not shew so much the Poet as the Gentleman.” The last phrase will serve as a comment on the notorious meeting with Voltaire, who in 1726 had come celebrity-seeking in England and wished to extract what he could from the great English writer of comedy. Congreve, failing, fatigued, attacked by gout, and half-blind, did not feel equal to discussing the minutiae of comic writing or a play he had written some 30 years earlier. He told Voltaire that he would be delighted to talk on general subjects, “on the footing of a gentleman” as he phrased it, but not on subjects of which he would be expected to display expert critical knowledge and affect the pundit.

Congreve is the outstanding writer of the English comedy of manners, markedly different in many respects from others of this period of the drama. Taking as its main theme the manners and behaviour of the class to which it was addressed, that is, the antipuritanical theatre audience drawn largely from the court, it dealt with imitators of French customs, conceited wits, and fantastics of all kinds; but its main theme was the sexual life led by a large number of courtiers, with their philosophy of freedom and experimentation. Restoration comedy was always satirical and sometimes cynical. Congreve rises above other dramatists of his time in both the delicacy of his feeling and the perfection of his phrasing.

The latter is strikingly exhibited in the opening speeches of The Old Bachelour, a play that no doubt appealed to the audiences because it handled with a new brilliance themes they were familiar with. Some of the repartee may seem superficial to modern readers, but that was the manner of the time. As Congreve progressed, his speeches became more modulated, more musical, but always sure in their cadence. “Every sentence is replete with sense and satire,” William Hazlitt wrote, “conveyed in the most polished and pointed terms.” As George Meredith stated, “He is at once precise and voluble…in this he is a classic, and is worthy of treading a measure with Molière.” Congreve’s most successful work is his last play, The Way of the World. Here he is doing more than holding up to ridicule the assumptions that governed the society of his time. He could not regard love merely as the gratification of lust, a matter of appetite rather than of feeling, but he was equally averse to “rationalizing” love. Congreve goes deeper than any of his contemporaries, has more feeling for the individual, and is far subtler. He was a sensitive craftsman, and nothing came from his hand that was not thoughtfully conceived and expertly contrived. Though not the equal of Molière, he was the nearest English approach to him.

Top 30 William Congreve quotes

Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.
Fury
Hatred
Heaven
Hell
Like
Love
Nor
Rage
Scorned
Turned
Woman
Never go to bed angry, stay up and fight.
Angry
Bed
Fight
Go
Never
Stay
Up
Uncertainty and expectation are the joys of life. Security is an insipid thing.
Expectation
Insipid
Joys
Life
Security
Thing
Uncertainty
If this be not love, it is madness, and then it is pardonable.
Love
Madness
Then
They are at the end of the gallery; retired to their tea and scandal, according to their ancient custom.
According
Ancient
Custom
End
Gallery
Retired
Scandal
Tea
I find we are growing serious, and then we are in great danger of being dull.
Being
Danger
Dull
Find
Great
Growing
Serious
Then
They come together like the Coroner's Inquest, to sit upon the murdered reputations of the week.
Come
Like
Reputations
Sit
Together
Week
'Tis well enough for a servant to be bred at an University. But the education is a little too pedantic for a gentleman.
Bred
Education
Enough
Gentleman
Little
Pedantic
Servant
Tis
Too
University
Well
Well enough
Grief walks upon the heels of pleasure; married in haste, we repent at leisure.
Grief
Haste
Heels
Leisure
Married
Pleasure
Repent
Walks
Invention flags, his brain goes muddy, and black despair succeeds brown study.
Black
Brain
Brown
Despair
Flags
Goes
His
Invention
Muddy
Study
Succeeds
If there's delight in love, 'Tis when I see that heart, which others bleed for, bleed for me.
Bleed
Delight
Heart
I see
Love
Me
Others
See
Tis
Which
Music has charms to sooth a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.
Bend
Charms
Music
Oak
Rocks
Savage
Soften
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.
Any
Baggage
Believe
Body
Conscience
Else
Herself
I believe
I believe the
Loves
Me
Never
Nor
Rail
Say what you will, 'tis better to be left than never to have been loved.
Been
Better
Left
Loved
Never
Say
Than
Tis
Will
You
I know that's a secret, for it's whispered everywhere.
Everywhere
Know
Secret
Whispered
Wit must be foiled by wit: cut a diamond with a diamond.
Cut
Diamond
Must
Wit
No, I'm no enemy to learning; it hurts not me.
Enemy
Hurts
Learning
Me
Beauty is the lover's gift.
Beauty
Gift
Lover
A wit should be no more sincere than a woman constant.
Constant
More
Should
Sincere
Than
Wit
Woman
A little disdain is not amiss; a little scorn is alluring.
Alluring
Disdain
Little
Scorn
Courtship is to marriage, as a very witty prologue to a very dull play.
Courtship
Dull
Marriage
Play
Very
Witty
A hungry wolf at all the herd will run, In hopes, through many, to make sure of one.
Herd
Hopes
Hungry
Make
Many
Run
Sure
Through
Will
Wolf
There is in true beauty, as in courage, something which narrow souls cannot dare to admire.
Admire
Beauty
Cannot
Courage
Dare
Narrow
Something
Souls
True
True beauty
Which
I confess freely to you, I could never look long upon a monkey, without very mortifying reflections.
Confess
Could
Freely
Long
Look
Monkey
Never
Reflections
Very
Without
You
He who closes his ears to the views of others shows little confidence in the integrity of his own views.
Closes
Confidence
Ears
He
His
Integrity
Little
Others
Own
Shows
Views
Who
To find a young fellow that is neither a wit in his own eye, nor a fool in the eye of the world, is a very hard task.
Eye
Fellow
Find
Fool
Hard
His
Neither
Nor
Own
Task
Very
Wit
World
Young
Fear comes from uncertainty. When we are absolutely certain, whether of our worth or worthlessness, we are almost impervious to fear.
Absolutely
Almost
Certain
Fear
Impervious
Our
Uncertainty
Whether
Worth
Come, come, leave business to idlers, and wisdom to fools: they have need of 'em: wit be my faculty, and pleasure my occupation, and let father Time shake his glass.
Business
Come
Faculty
Father
Father time
Fools
Glass
His
Leave
Need
Occupation
Pleasure
Shake
Time
You are a woman: you must never speak what you think; your words must contradict your thoughts, but your actions may contradict your words.
Actions
Contradict
May
Must
Never
Speak
Think
Thoughts
Woman
Words
You
Your
She likes herself, yet others hates, For that which in herself she prizes; And while she laughs at them, forgets She is the thing that she despises.
Despises
Forgets
Hates
Herself
Laughs
Likes
Others
Prizes
She
Them
Thing
Which
While

William Congreve books

The Way of the World and Other Plays [with Biographical Introduction]

The Way of the World and Other Plays [with Biographical Introduction]

The Way of the World: A Comedy

The Way of the World: A Comedy

The Mourning Bride

The Mourning Bride

The Comedies of William Congreve Volume 1 [of 2]

The Comedies of William Congreve Volume 1 [of 2]

The Way of the World

The Way of the World

The Way Of The World

The Way Of The World

The Comedies of William Congreve

The Comedies of William Congreve

The Works of Mr. Congreve: Volume 2. Containing: The Mourning Bride; The Way of the World; The Judgment of Paris; Semele; and Poems on Several Occasions

The Works of Mr. Congreve: Volume 2. Containing: The Mourning Bride; The Way of the World; The Judgment of Paris; Semele; and Poems on Several Occasions

William Congreve - The Mourning Bride: "Grief walks upon the heels of pleasure; married in haste, we repent at leisure."

William Congreve - The Mourning Bride: "Grief walks upon the heels of pleasure; married in haste, we repent at leisure."

The Comedies of William Congreve (Plays by Renaissance and Restoration Dramatists)

The Comedies of William Congreve (Plays by Renaissance and Restoration Dramatists)

The Comedies of William Congreve; Volume I

The Comedies of William Congreve; Volume I

Complete Plays of William Congreve (Curtain Playwrights)

Complete Plays of William Congreve (Curtain Playwrights)

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