The humour of Butler was in his time more popular than the sentiment of Milton, but he obtained no commensurate remuneration. Wycherley kindly endeavoured to interest Buckingham on his behalf, and had almost succeeded, when two handsome women passed by, and the Duke left him in pursuit of them. John Wesley’s father has written Butler’s epitaph in imperishable sarcasm:—
“See him when starved to death and
turned to dust,
Presented with a monumental bust;
The poet’s fate is here in emblem shown,
He asked for bread, and he received—a stone.”
Comic Drama of the Restoration—Etherege—Wycherley.
The example set by Beaumont and Fletcher seems to have been much followed by their immediate successors. Decker wrote conjointly with Webster and Middleton, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish his work. His power of invective was well known; and in his humour there is such straining after strong words and effective phrases, as to seem quite unnatural. His “Gull’s Hornbook” is written against coxcombs, and he says their “vinegar railings shall not quench his Alpine resolutions.”
Etherege and Wycherley ushered in the comic drama of the Restoration. They were both courtiers, and the successful writers of this period took their tone from that of “the quality.”
George, (afterwards Sir George) Etherege was born in 1636. He was known as “Gentle George” or “Easy Etherege,” and it is said that he was himself a fop, and painted the character of Dorimant in Sir Fopling Flutter from himself. In his principal plays there is very little humour, though he gives some amusing sketches of the affectations of the metropolis.
Mistress Loveit. You are grown an early riser, I hear.
Belinda. Do you not wonder, my dear, what made me abroad so soon?
Lov. You do not use to do so.
Bel. The country gentlewomen I told you of (Lord! they have the oddest diversions) would never let me rest till I promised to go with them to the markets this morning, to eat fruit and buy nosegays.
Lov. Are they so fond of a filthy nosegay?
Bel. They complain
of the stinks of the town, and are never well
but when they have their noses in one.
Lov. There are essences and sweet waters.
Bel. O, they
cry out upon perfumes they are unwholesome, one of
’em was falling into a fit with the smell of these Narolii.
in complaisance, you should have had a nosegay
Bel. Do you think, my dear, I could be so loathsome to trick myself up with carnations and stock-gilly flowers? I begged their pardon, and told them I never wore anything but Orange-flowers and Tuberose. That which made me willing to go was a strange desire I had to eat some fresh nectarines.
Wycherley was the son of a Shropshire gentleman who being a Royalist, and not willing to trust him to the Puritans, sent him to be educated in France. He became a Roman Catholic, but afterwards recanted.