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Memoir of Aphra Behn

Montague Summers account of the personal history of Aphra Behn, the first Englishwoman to earn her livelihood by authorship.
by Montague Summers

THE personal history of Aphra Behn, the first Englishwoman to earn
her livelihood by authorship, is unusually interesting but very
difficult to unravel and relate. In dealing with her biography writers
at different periods have rushed headlong to extremes, and we now find
that the pendulum has swung to its fullest stretch. On the one hand,
we have prefixed to a collection of the Histories and Novels,
published in 1696, 'The Life of Mrs. Behn written by one of the Fair
Sex', a frequently reprinted (and even expanded) compilation crowded
with romantic incidents that savour all too strongly of the Italian
novella, with sentimental epistolography and details which can but
be accepted cautiously and in part. On the other there have recently
appeared two revolutionary essays by Dr. Ernest Bernbaum of Harvard,
'Mrs. Behn's Oroonoko', first printed in Kittredge Anniversary Papers,
1913; and- what is even more particularly pertinent- 'Mrs. Behn's
Biography a Fiction,' Publications of the Modern Language
Association of America, xxviii, 3: both afterwards issued as
separate pamphlets, 1913. In these, the keen critical sense of the
writer has apparently been so jarred by the patent incongruities,
the baseless fiction, nay, the very fantasies (such as the fairy
pavilion seen floating upon the Channel), which, imaginative and
invented flotsam that they are, accumulated and were heaped about
the memory of Aphra Behn, that he is apt to regard almost every record
outside those of her residence at Antwerp* with a suspicion which is
in many cases surely unwarranted and undue. Having energetically
cleared away the more peccant rubbish, Dr. Bernbaum became, it appears
to us, a little too drastic, and had he then discriminated rather than
swept clean, we were better able wholly to follow the conclusions at
which he arrives. He even says that after '1671'*(2) when 'she began
to write for the stage... such meagre contemporary notices as we
find of her are critical rather than biographical'. This is a very
partial truth; from extant letters,*(3) to which Dr. Bernbaum does not
refer, we can gather much of Mrs. Behn's literary life and
circumstances. She was a figure of some note, and even if we had no
other evidence it seems impossible that her contemporaries should have
glibly accepted the fiction of a voyage to Surinam and a Dutch husband
named Behn who had never existed.

* Kalendar of State Papers, Domestic, 1666-7.- ed. Mrs. M. A. E.
Green (1864).
*(2) This is inaccurate. Mrs. Behn's first play, The Forc'd
Marriage, was produced in December, 1670.
*(3) e.g. to Waller's daughter-in-law; to Tonson. cf. also the
Warrant of 12 August, 1682; the Pindaric to Burnet, &c.

Ayfara, or Aphara* (Aphra), Amis or Amies, the daughter of John
and Amy Amis or Amies, was baptized together with her brother Peter in
the Parish Church of SS. Gregory and Martin, Wye, 10 July, 1640
presumably by Ambrose Richmore, curate of Wye at that date.*(2) Up
to this time Aphra's maiden name has been stated to be Johnson, and
she is asserted to have been the daughter of a barber, John Johnson.
That the name was not Johnson (an ancient error) is certain from the
baptismal register, wherein, moreover, the 'Quality, Trade, or
Profession' is left blank; that her father was a barber rests upon
no other foundation than a MS. note of Lady Winchilsea.*(3) Mr. Gosse,
in a most valuable article (Athenaeum, 6 September, 1884), was the
first to correct the statement repeatedly made that Mrs. Behn came
from 'the City of Canterbury in Kent'. He tells how he acquired a
folio volume containing the MS. poems of Anne, Countess of
Winchilsea,*(4) 'copied about 1695 under her eye and with
innumerable notes and corrections in her autograph'. In a certain poem
entitled The Circuit of Apollo*(5) the following lines occur:-

And standing where sadly he now might descry
From the banks of the Stowre the desolate Wye,
He lamented for Behn, o'er that place of her birth,
And said amongst Women there was not on the earth,
Her superior in fancy, in language, or witt,
Yet own'd that a little too loosely she writt.

To these is appended this note: 'Mrs. Behn was Daughter to a Barber,
who liv'd formerly in Wye, a little Market Town (now much decay'd)
in Kent. Though the account of her life before her Works pretends
otherwise; some Persons now alive Do testify upon their Knowledge that
to be her Original.' It is a pity that whilst the one error concerning
Aphra's birthplace is thus remedied, the mistake as to the nature of
her father's calling should have been initiated.

* Aphra now appears on Mrs. Behn's gravestone, and is the accepted
form. This is, however, in all probability the third inscription.
The Antiquities of Westminster (1711), quoting the inscription,
gives Aphara. Sometime in the eighteenth century a certain Thomas
Waine restored the inscription and added to the two lines two more:-

Great Poetess, O thy stupendous lays
The world admires and the Muses praise.

The name was then Aphara. The Biog. Brit., whilst insisting on
Aphara as correct and citing the stone as evidence, none the less
prints Apharra. Her works usually have Mrs. A. Behn. One Quarto
misprints 'Mrs. Anne Behn'. There are, of course, many variants of the
name. Afara, and Afra are common. Oldys in his MS. notes on
Langbaine writes Aphra or Aphora, whilst the Muses Mercury, September,
1707, has a special note upon a poem by Mrs. Behn to say 'this
Poetess' true Name was Apharra.' Even Aphaw (Behen, in the 1682
warrant,) and Fyhare (in a petition) occur.
*(2) He died in 1642.
*(3) The Vicar of Wye, the Rev. Edgar Lambert, in answer to my
inquiries courteously writes: 'In company with Mr. C. S. Orwin,
whose book, The History of Wye Church and College, has just been
published, I have closely examined the register and find no mention of
"Johnson", nor of the fact that Aphara Amis' father was a "barber".'
*(4) Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1660-1720), sometime Maid
of Honour to Queen Mary of Modena. She had true lyric genius. For a
generous appreciation see Gosse, Gossip in a Library (1891).
*(5) Then unprinted but now included in the very volumnous edition
of Lady Winchilsea's Poems. ed. M. Reynolds, Chicago, 1903.

Aphra Amis, then, was born early in July, 1640, at Wye, Kent. When
she was of a tender age the Amis family left England for Surinam;
her father, who seems to have been a relative of Francis, Lord
Willoughby of Parham, sometime administrator of several British
colonies in the West Indies, having been promised a post of some
importance in these dependencies. John Amis died on the voyage out,
but his widow and children necessarily continued their journey, and
upon their arrival were accommodated at St. John's Hill, one of the
best houses in the district. Her life and adventures in Surinam
Aphra has herself realistically told in that wonderfully vivid
narrative, Oroonoko.* The writer's bent had already shown itself.
She kept a journal as many girls will, she steeped herself in the
interminable romances fashionable at that time, in the voluminous
Pharamond, Cleopatre Cassandre, Ibrahim, and, above all, Le Grand
Cyrus, so loved and retailed to the annoyance of her worthy husband by
Mrs. Pepys; with a piece of which Dorothy Osborne was 'hugely

* In 'Mrs. Behn's Oroonoko' Dr. Bernbaum elaborately endeavours to
show that this story is pure fiction. His arguments, in many cases
advanced with no little subtlety and precision, do not appear (to me
at least) to be convincing. We have much to weigh in the contrary
balance: Mrs. Behn's manifest first-hand knowledge of, and
extraordinary interest in, colonial life; her reiterated asseverations
that every experience detailed in this famous novel is substantially
true; the assent of all her contemporaries. It must further be
remembered that Aphra was writing in 1688, of a girlhood coloured by
and seen through the enchanted mists of a quarter of a century. That
there are light discrepancies is patent; the exaggerations, however,
are not merely pardonable but perfectly natural. One of Dr. Bernbaum's
most crushing arguments, when sifted, seems to resolve itself into the
fact that whilst writing Oroonoko Mrs. Behn evidently had George
Warren's little book, An Impartial Description of Surinam (London,
1667), at hand. Could anything be more reasonable than to suppose
she would be intimately acquainted with a volume descriptive of her
girlhood's home? Again, Dr. Bernbaum bases another line of argument on
the assumption that Mrs. Behn's father was a barber. Hence the
appointment of such a man to an official position in Surinam was
impossible, and, 'if Mrs. Behn's father was not sent to Surinam, the
only reason she gives for being there disappears'. We know from recent
investigation that John Amis did not follow a barber's trade, but
was probably of good old stock. Accordingly, the conclusions drawn
by Dr. Bernbaum from this point cannot now be for a moment maintained.

It was perhaps from the reading of La Calprenede and Mlle de Scuderi
Aphra gained that intimate knowledge of French which served her well
and amply in after years during her literary life; at any rate she
seems early to have realized her dramatic genius and to have begun a
play drawn from one of the most interesting episodes in Cleopatre, the
love story of the Scythian King Alcamene, scenes which when they had
'meausured three thousand leagues of spacious ocean', were, nearly a
quarter of a century later, to be taken out of her desk and worked
up into a baroque and fanciful yet strangely pleasing tragi-comedy,
the Young King
In Surinam she witnessed the fortunes and fate of the Royal Slave,
Oroonoko, of whom she writes (with all due allowance for pardonable
exaggeration and purely literary touches), so naturally and feelingly,
that 'one of the Fair Sex' with some acerbity makes it her rather
unnecessary business to clear Aphra from any suspicion of a liaison.
It was Surinam which supplied the cognate material for the vivid
comedy, the broad humour and early colonial life, photographic in
its realism, of The Widow Ranter; or, The History of Bacon in
Virginia. Mistakes there may be, errors and forgetfulness, but there
are a thousand touches which only long residence and keen
observation could have so deftly characterized.
We now approach a brief yet important period in Mrs. Behn's life,
which unless we are content to follow (with an acknowledged diffidence
and due reservations) the old Memoir and scattered tradition, we
find ourselves with no sure means whatsoever of detailing. It seems
probable, however, that about the close of 1663, owing no doubt to the
Restoration and the subsequent changes in affairs, the Amis family
returned to England, settling in London, where Aphra, meeting a
merchant of Dutch extraction named Behn, so fascinated him by her
wit and comeliness that he offered her his hand and fortune. During
her married life she is said to have been in affluence, and even to
have appeared at the gay licentious Court, attracting the notice of
and amusing the King himself by her anecdotes and cleverness of
repartee; but when her husband died, not impossibly of the plague in
the year of mortality, 1665, she found herself helpless, without
friends or funds. In her distress it was to the Court she applied
for assistance; and owing to her cosmopolitan experience and still
more to the fact that her name was Dutch, and that she had been by her
husband brought into close contact with the Dutch, she was selected as
a meet political agent to visit Holland and there be employed in
various secret and semi-official capacities. The circumstance that her
position and work could never be openly recognized nor acknowledged by
the English government was shortly to involve her in manifold
difficulties, pecuniary and otherwise, which eventually led to her
perforce abandoning so unstable and unsatisfactory a commission.
In the old History of the Life and Memoirs of Mrs. Behn (1696; and
with additions 1698, &c.), ushered into the world by Charles Gildon, a
romance full as amorous and sensational as any novel of the day, has
been woven about her sojourn at Antwerp. A 'Spark whom we must call by
the name of Vander Albert of Utrecht' is given to Aphra as a fervent
lover, and from him she obtains political secrets to be used to the
English advantage. He has a rival, an antique yclept Van Bruin, 'a
Hogen Mogen... Nestorean' admirer, and the intrigue becomes fast and
furious. On one occasion Albert, imagining he is possessing his
mistress, is cheated with a certain Catalina; and again when he has
bribed an ancient duenna to admit him to Aphra's bed, he is
surprised there by a frolicsome gallant.* There are even included five
letters from Mrs. Behn and a couple of ridiculous effusions purporting
to be Van Bruin's. It would seem that all this pure fiction, the
sweepings of Aphra's desk, was intended by her to have been worked
up into a novel; both letters and narrative are too good to be the
unaided composition of Gildon himself, but possibly Mrs. Behn in her
after life may have elaborated and told him these erotic episodes to
conceal the squalor and misery of the real facts of her early Dutch
mission. It is proved indeed in aim and circumstance to have been
far other.

* Both these incidents are the common property of Italian novelle
and our own stage. Although not entirely impossible, they would appear
highly suspicious in any connection.

Her chief business was to establish an intimacy with William
Scott, son of Thomas Scott, the regicide who had been executed 17
October, 1660. This William, who had been made a fellow of All Souls
by the Parliamentary Visitors of Oxford, and graduated B.C.L. 4
August, 1648, was quite ready to become a spy in the English service
and to report on the doings of the English exiles who were not only
holding treasonable correspondence with traitors at home and
plotting against the King, but even joining with the Dutch foe to
injure their native land. Scott was extremely anxious for his own
pardon and, in addition, eager to earn any money he could.
Aphra then, taking with her some forty pounds in cash, all she
had, set sail with Sir Anthony Desmarces* either at the latter end
of July or early in August, 1666, and on 16 August she writes from
Antwerp to say she has had an interview with William Scott (dubbed
in her correspondence Celadon), even having gone so far as to take
coach and ride a day's journey to see him secretly. Though at first
diffident, he is very ready to undertake the service, only it will
be necessary for her to enter Holland itself and reside on the spot,
not in Flanders, as Colonel Bampfield, who was looked upon as head
of the exiled English at the Hague, watched Scott with most jealous
care and a growing suspicion. Aphra, whose letters give a vivid
picture of the spy's life with its risks and impecuniosity,
addresses herself to two correspondents, Tom Killigrew and James
Halsall, cupbearer to the King.

* He was at Margate 25 July, and at Bruges 7 August.

On 27 August she was still at Antwerp, and William Scott wrote to
her there but did not venture to say much lest the epistle might
miscarry. He asks for a cypher, a useful and indeed necessary
precaution in so difficult circumstances. It was about this time
that Mrs. Behn began to employ the name of Astrea, which, having its
inception in a political code, was later to be generally used by her
and recognized throughout the literary world. Writing to Halsall,
she says that she has been unable to effect anything, but she urgently
demands that money be sent, and confesses she has been obliged even to
pawn her ring to pay messengers. On 31 August she writes to
Killigrew declaring she can get no answer from Halsall, and explaining
that she has twice had to disburse Scott's expenses, amounting in
all to L20, out of her own pocket, whilst her personal debts total
another L25 or L30, and living itself is ten guilders a day. If she is
to continue her work satisfactorily, L80 at least will be needed to
pay up all her creditors; moreover, as a preliminary and a token of
good faith, Scott's official pardon must be forwarded without
compromise or delay. Scott himself was, it seems, playing no easy game
at this juncture, for a certain Carney, resident at Antwerp, 'an
unsufferable, scandalous, lying, prating fellow', piqued at not
being able to ferret out the intrigue, had gone so far as to molest
poor Celadon and threaten him with death, noising up and down
meanwhile the fact of his clandestine rendezvous with Aphra. No money,
however, was forthcoming from England, and on 4 September Mrs. Behn
writing again to Killigrew tells him plainly that she is reduced to
great straits, and unless funds are immediately provided all her
work will be nugatory and vain. The next letter, dated 14 September,
gives Halsall various naval information. On 17 September she is
obliged to importune Killigrew once more on the occasion of sending
him a letter from Scott dealing with political matters. Halsall. she
asserts, will not return any answer, and although she is only in
private lodgings she is continually being thwarted and vilipended by
Carney, 'whose tongue needs clipping'. Four days later she transmits a
five page letter from Scott to Halsall. On 25 September she sends
under cover yet another letter from Scott with the news of De Ruyter's
illness. Silence was her only answer. Capable and indeed ardent
agent as she was, there can be no excuse for her shameful, nay,
criminal, neglect at the hands of the government she was serving so
faithfully and well. Her information* seems to have been received with
inattention and disregard; whether it was that culpable carelessness
which wrecked so many a fair scheme in the second Charles' days, or
whether secret enemies at home steadfastly impeded her efforts remains
an open question. In any case on 3 November she sends a truly
piteous letter to Lord Arlington, Secretary of State, and informs
him she is suffering the extremest want and penury. All her goods
are pawned, Scott is in prison for debt, and she herself seems on
the point of going to the common gaol. The day after Christmas Aphra
wrote to Lord Arlington for the last time. She asks for a round L100
as delays have naturally doubled her expenses and she has had to
obtain credit. Now she is only anxious to return home, and she
declares that if she did not so well know the justness of her cause
and complaint, she would be stark wild with her hard treatment. Scott,
she adds, will soon be free.*(2) Even this final appeal obtained no
response, and at length- well nigh desperate- Mrs. Behn negotiated
in England, from a certain Edward Butler, a private loan of some
L150 which enabled her to settle her affairs and start for home in
January, 1667.

* There do not appear to be any grounds for the oft-repeated
assertion that Mrs. Behn communicated the intelligence when the
Dutch were planning an attack (afterwards carried out) on the Thames
and Medway squadrons, and that her warning was scoffed at.
*(2) Had he been imprisoned for political reasons it is impossible
that there should have been so speedy a prospect of release.

But the chapter of her troubles was by no means ended. Debt
weighed like a millstone round her neck. As the weary months went by
and Aphra was begging in vain for her salary, long overdue, to be
paid, Butler, a harsh, dour man with heart of stone, became
impatient and resorted to drastic measures, eventually flinging her
into a debtor's prison. There are extant three petitions, undated
indeed, but which must be referred to the early autumn of 1668, from
Mrs. Behn to Charles II. Sadly complaining of two years' bitter
sufferings, she prays for an order to Mr. May* or Mr. Chiffinch*(2) to
satisfy Butler, who declares he will stop at nothing if he is not paid
within within a week. In a second document she sets out the reasons
for her urgent claim of L150. Both Mr. Halsall and Mr. Killigrew
know how justly it is her due, and she is hourly threatened with an
execution. To this is annexed a letter from the poor distracted
woman to Killigrew, which runs as follows:-

if you could guess at the affliction of my soule you would I am sure
Pity me 'tis to morrow that I must submitt my self to a Prison the
time being expird & though I indeauerd all day yesterday to get a ffew
days more I can not because they say they see I am dallied wth all &
so they say I shall be for euer: so I can not reuoke my doome I haue
cryd myself dead & could find in my hart to break through all & get to
ye king & neuer rise till he weare pleasd to pay this; but I am sick &
weake & vnfitt for yt; or a Prison; I shall go to morrow: But I will
send my mother to ye king wth a Pitition for I see euery body are
words: & I will not perish in a Prison from whence he swears I shall
not stirr till ye uttmost farthing be payd: & oh god, who considers my
misery & charge too, this is my reward for all my great promises, & my
indeauers. Sr if I have not the money to night you must send me som
thing to keepe me in Prison for I will not starue.
A. Behn.
For Mr. Killigrew this.

* Baptist May, Esq. (1629-98), Keeper of the Privy Purse.
*(2) William Chiffinch, confidential attendant and pimp to Charles

There was no immediate response however, even to this pathetic and
heart-broken appeal, and in yet a third petition she pleads that she
may not be left to suffer, but that the L150 be sent forthwith to
Edward Butler, who on Lord Arlington's declaring that neither order
nor money had been transmitted, threw her straightway into gaol.
It does not seem, however, that her imprisonment was long. Whether
Killigrew, of whom later she spoke in warm and admiring terms, touched
at last, bestirred himself on her behalf and rescued her from want and
woe, whether Mrs. Amy Amis won a way to the King, whether help came by
some other path, is all uncertain. In any case the debt was duly paid,
and Aphra Behn not improbably received in addition some compensation
for the hardships she had undergone.
'The rest of her Life was entirely dedicated to Pleasure and Poetry;
the Success in which gain'd her the Acquaintance and Friendship of the
most Sensible Men of the Age, and the Love of not a few of different
Characters; for tho' a Sot have no Portion of Wit of his own, he
yet, like old Age, covets what he cannot enjoy.'
More than dubious and idly romancing as the early Memoirs are,
nevertheless this one sentence seems to sum up the situation
thenceforth pretty aptly, if in altogether too general terms. Once
extricated from these main difficulties Mrs. Behn no doubt took
steps to insure that she should not, if it lay in her power, be so
situated again. I would suggest, indeed, that about this period, 1669,
she accepted the protection of some admirer. Who he may have been at
first, how many more there were than one, how long the various
amours endured, it is idle to speculate. She was for her period as
thoroughly unconventional as many another woman of letters has been
since in relation to later times and manners, as unhampered and free
as her witty successor, Mrs. de la Riviere Manley, who lived for so
long as Alderman Barber's kept mistress and died in his house. Mrs.
Behn has given us poetic pseudonyms for many of her lovers, Lycidas,
Lysander, Philaster, Amintas, Alexis, and the rest, but these extended
over many years, and attempts at identification, however
interesting, are fruitless.*

* Amintas repeatedly stands for John Hoyle. In Our Cabal, however
(vide Vol VI, p. 160), Hoyle is dubbed Lycidas.

There has been no more popular mistake, nor yet one more productive,
not merely of nonsense and bad criticism but even of actual malice and
evil, than the easy error of confounding an author with the characters
he creates. Mrs. Behn has not been spared. Some have superficially
argued from the careless levity of her heroes: the Rover, Gayman,
Wittmore, Wilding, Frederick; and again from the delightful
insouciance of Lady Fancy, Queen Lucy, and the genteel coquette
Mirtilla or the torrid passions of Angelica Bianca, Miranda and la
Nuche; that Aphra herself was little better, in fact a great deal
worse, than a common prostitute, and that her works are undiluted
In her own day, probably for reasons purely political, a noisy
clique assailed her on the score of impropriety; a little later came
Pope with his jaded couplet

The stage how loosely does Astrea tread
Who fairly puts all characters to bed;

and the attack was reinforced by an anecdote of Sir Walter Scott and
some female relative who, after having insisted upon the great
novelist lending her Mrs. Behn, found the Novels and Plays too loose
for her perusal, albeit in the heyday of the lady's youth they had
been popular enough. As one might expect, Miss Julia Kavanagh, in
the mid-Victorian era* (English Women of Letters, 1863), is sad and
sorry at having to mention Mrs. Behn- 'Even if her life remained
pure,*(2) it is amply evident her mind was "tainted to the very
core. Grossness was congenial to her.... Mrs. Behn's indelicacy was
useless and worse than useless, the superfluous addition of a
corrupt mind and vitiated taste".' One can afford to smile at and
ignore these modest outbursts, but it is strange to find so sound
and sane a critic as Dr. Doran writing of Aphra Behn as follows: 'No
one equalled this woman in downright nastiness save Ravenscroft and
Wycherley.... With Dryden she vied in indecency and was not
overcome.... She was a mere harlot, who danced through uncleanness and
dared them [the male dramatists] to follow.' Again, we have that she
was 'a wanton hussy'; her 'trolloping muse' shamefacedly 'wallowed
in the mire'; but finally the historian is bound to confess 'she was
never dull'.

* The Retrospective Review, however (Vol. I, November, 1852), has an
article, 'Mrs.Behn's Dramatic Writings,' which warmly praises her
comedies. The writer very justly observes that 'they exhibit a
brilliance of conversation in the dialogue, and a skill in arranging
the plot and producing striking situations, in which she has few
equals.' He frequently insists upon her 'great skill in conducting the
intrigue of her pieces', and with no little acumen declares that
'her comedies may be cited as the most perfect models of the drama
of the latter half of the seventeenth century.'
*(2) Which it certainly was not secundum mid-Victorian morals.

The morality of her plays is au fond that of many a comedy of
to-day: that the situations and phrasing in which she presents her
amorous intrigues and merry cuckoldoms do not conform with modern
exposition of these themes we also show yet would not name, is but our
surface gloss of verbal reticence; we hint, point, and suggest,
where she spoke out broad words, frank and free; the motif is one
and the same. If we judge Mrs. Behn's dramatic output in the only fair
way by comparing it legitimately with the theatre of her age, we
simply shall not find that superfluity of naughtiness the critics lead
us to expect and deplore. There are not infrequent scenes of Dryden,
of Wycherley, of Vanbrugh, Southerne, Otway, Ravenscroft, Shadwell,
D'Urfey, Crowne, full as daring as anything Aphra wrote; indeed, in
some instances, far more wanton. Particularizing, it has been objected
that although in most Restoration comedies the hero, however vicious
(even such a mad scrapegrace as Dryden's Woodall), is decently
noosed up in wedlock when the curtain is about to fall, Mrs. Behn's
Willmore (Rover II), Gayman (The Lucky Chance), Wittmore (Sir
Patient Fancy) end up without a thought of, save it be jest at, the
wedding ring. But even this freedom can be amply paralleled. In the
Duke of Buckingham's clever alteration of The Chances (1682), we
have Don John pairing off with the second Constantia without a hint of
matrimony; we have the intrigue of Bellmour and Laetitia in Congreve's
The Old Bachelor (1693), the amours of Horner in The Country Wife
(1675), of Florio and Artall in Crowne's City Politics (1683), and
many another beside. As for the cavilling crew who carped at her
during her life Mrs. Behn has answered them and she was thoroughly
competent so to do. Indeed, as she somewhat tartly remarked to Otway
on the occasion of certain prudish dames pleasing to take offence at
The Soldier's Fortune, she wondered at the impudence of any of her sex
that would pretend to understand the thing called bawdy. A clique were
shocked at her; it was not her salaciousness they objected to but
her success.
In December, 1670, Mrs. Behn's first play,* The Forc'd Marriage; or,
the Jealous Bridegroom, was produced at the Duke's Theatre,
Lincoln's Inn Field's, with a strong cast. It is a good tragi-comedy
of the bastard Flercherian Davenant type, but she had not hit upon her
happiest vein of comedy, which, however, she approached in a much
better piece, The Amorous Prince, played in the autumn of 1671 by
the same company. Both these had excellent runs for their day, and she
obtained a firm footing in the theatrical world. In 1673*(2) The Dutch
Lover*(3) was ready, a comedy which has earned praise for its
skilful technique. She here began to draw on her own experiences for
material, and Haunce van Ezel owes not a little to her intimate
knowledge of the Hollanders.

* Mr. Gosse in the Dictionary of National Biography basing upon
the preface to The Young King, says that after knocking in vain for
some time at the doors of the theatres with this tragi-comedy that
could find neither manager nor publisher, she put it away and wrote
The Forc'd Marriage, which proved more successful. Dr. Baker follows
this, but I confess I cannot see due grounds for any such hypothesis.
*(2) The Duke's Company opened at their new theatre, Dorset
Garden, 9 November, 1671.
*(3) 4to, 1673. Mrs. Behn's accurate knowledge of the theatre and
technicalities theatrical as shown in the preface to this early play
is certainly remarkable. It is perhaps worth noting that her
allusion to the popularity of I Henry IV was not included in Shakspere
Allusion-book (ed. Furnivall and Munroe, 1909), where it should have
found a place.

These three plays brought her money, friends, and reputation. She
was already beginning to be a considerable figure in literary circles,
and the first writers of the day were glad of the acquaintance of a
woman who was both a wit and a writer. There is still retailed a
vague, persistent, and entirely baseless tradition that Aphra Behn was
assisted in writing her plays by Edward Ravenscroft,* the well known
dramatist. Mrs. Behn often alludes in her prefaces to the prejudice
a carping clique entertained against her and the strenuous efforts
that were made to damn her comedies merely because they were 'writ
by a woman'. Accordingly, when her plays succeeded, this same party,
unable to deny such approved and patent merit, found their excuse in
spreading a report that she was not inconsiderably aided in her scenes
by another hand. Edward Ravenscroft's name stands to the epilogue of
Sir Timothy Tawdrey, and he was undoubtedly well acquainted with
Mrs. Behn. Tom Brown (I suggest) hints at a known intrigue,*(2) but,
even if my surmise be correct, there is nothing in this to warrant the
oft repeated statement that many of her scenes are actually due to his
pen. On the other hand, amongst Aphra's intimates was a certain John
Hoyle, a lawyer, well known about the town as a wit. John Hoyle was
the son of Thomas Hoyle, Alderman and Lord Mayor of, and M.P. for
York, who hanged himself*(3) at the same hour as Charles I was
beheaded. In the Gray's Inn Admission Register we have: '1659/60
Feb. 27. John Hoyle son and heir of Thomas H. late of the city of
York, Esq. deceased.' Some eighteen years after he was admitted to the
Inner Temple: '1678/9 Jan. 26. Order that John Hoyle formerly of
Gray's lnn be admitted to this society ad eundem statum. (Inner Temple
Records, iii, 131.) There are allusions not a few to him in Mrs.
Behn's poems; he is the Mr. J.H. of Our Cabal; and in 'A Letter to Mr.
Creech at Oxford, Written in the last great Frost,' which finds a
place in the Miscellany of 1685, the following lines occur:-

To Honest H-le I shou'd have shown ye,
A Wit that wou'd be proud t' have known ye;
A Wit uncommon, and Facetious,
A great admirer of Lucretius.

There can be no doubt he was on terms of the closest familiarity*(4)
with Mrs. Behn, and he (if any), not Ravenscroft, assisted her (though
we are not to suppose to a real extent) in her plays. There is a
very plain allusion to this in Radcliffe's The Ramble: News from
Hell (1682):-

Amongst this Heptarchy of Wit
The censuring Age have thought it fit,
To damn a Woman, cause 'tis said
The Plays she vends she never made.
But that a Greys Inn Lawyer does 'em
Who unto her was Friend in Bosom,
So not presenting Scarf and Hood
New Plays and Songs are full as good.*(5)

Unfortunately Hoyle was reputed to be addicted to the grossest
immorality, and rumours of a sinister description were current
concerning him.*(6) There is, in fact, printed a letter*(7) of
Mrs.Behn's wherein she writes most anxiously to her friend stating
that the gravest scandals have reached her ears, and begging him to
clear himself from these allegations. Hoyle was murdered in a brawl 26
May, 1692, and is buried in the vault belonging to the Inner Temple,
which is presumably in the ground attached to the Temple Church. The
entry in the Register runs as follows: 'John Hoyle, esq., of the Inner
Temple was buried in the vault May ye 29, 1692.' Narcissus Luttrell in
his Diary, Saturday, 28 May, 1692, has the following entry: 'Mr.
Hoil of the Temple on Thursday night was at a tavern with other
gentlemen, and quarrelling with Mr. Pitts' eldest son about drinking a
health, as they came out Mr. Hoil was stabb'd in the belly and fell
down dead, and thereon Pitts fled; and the next morning was taken in a
disguise and is committed to Newgate.'*(8) 30 June, 1692, the same
record says: 'This day Mr. Pitts was tryed at the Old Bailey for the
murder of Mr. Hoil of the Temple, and the jury found it manslaughter
but the next heir has brought an appeal.'

* In view of the extremely harsh treatment Ravenscroft has met
with at the hands of the critics it may be worth while emphasizing
Genest's opinion that his 'merit as a dramatic writer has been
vastly underrated'. Ravenscroft has a facility in writing, an ease
of dialogue, a knack of evoking laughter and picturing the
ludicrous, above all a vitality which many a greater name entirely
lacks. As a writer of farce, and farce very nearly akin to comedy,
he is capital.
*(2) Letters from the Dead to the Living: The Virgin's [Mrs.
Bracegirdle] Answer to Mrs. Behn. 'You upbraid me with a great
discovery you chanc'd to make by peeping into the breast of an old
friend of mine; if you give yourself but the trouble of examining an
old poet's conscience, who went lately off the stage, and now takes up
his lodgings in your territories, and I don't question but you'll
there find Mrs. Behn writ as often in black characters, and stand as
thick in some places, as the names of the generation of Adam in the
first of Genesis.' How far credence may be given to anything of
Brown's is of course a moot point, but the above passage and much that
follows would be witless and dull unless there were some real
suggestion of scandal. Moreover, it cannot here be applied to Hoyle,
whereas it very well fits Ravenscroft. This letter which speaks of
'the lash of Mr. C--r' must have been written no great time after
the publication of Jeremy Collier's A Short View of the Immorality
of the English Stage (March, 1698), probably in 1701-2.
Ravenscroft's last play, The Italian Husband, was produced at
Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1697 and he is supposed to have died a year or
two later, which date exactly suits the detail given by Brown.
Ravenscroft's first play, Mamamouchi, had been produced in 1672, and
the 'an old poet' would be understood.
*(3) This occurrence is the subject of some lines in The Rump
(1662): 'On the happy Memory of Alderman Hoyle that hang'd himself.'
*(4) The Muses Mercury, December, 1707, refers to verses made on
Mrs. Behn 'and her very good friend, Mr. Hoyle'.
*(5) My attention was drawn to these lines by Mr. Thorn Drury, who
was, indeed, the first to suggest that Hoyle is the person aimed at. I
have to thank him, moreover, for much valuable information on this
important point.
*(6) cf. Luttrell's Diary, February, 1686-7, which records that an
indictment for misconduct was actually presented against him at the
Old Bailey, but the Grand Jury threw out the bill and he was
discharged. The person implicated in the charge against Hoyle seems to
have been a poulterer. cf. A Faithful Catalogue of our Most Eminent
Ninnies, said to have been written by the Earl of Dorset in 1683, or
(according to another edition of Rochester's works in which it occurs)
1686. In any case the verses cannot be earlier than 1687.

Which made the wiser Choice is now our Strife,
Hoyle his he-mistress, or the Prince his wife:
Those traders sure will be belov'd as well,
As all the dainty tender Birds they sell.

The 'Prince' is George Fitzroy, son of Charles II by the Duchess of
Cleveland, who was created Duke of Northumberland and married
Catherine, daughter of Robert Wheatley, a poulterer, of Bracknell,
Berks; and relict of Robert Lucy of Charlecote, Warwickshire.
*(7) Familiar Letters of Love, Gallantry, etc. There are several
editions. I have used that of 1718, 2 vols.
*(8) In his MS. Commonplace Book (now in the possession of G.
Thorn Drury, Esq., K.C.), Whitelocke Bulstrode writes:-

'27 May 92.

'Mr Hoyle of ye Temple, coming this morning about two of ye Clock
fro ye, Young Divel Tavern, was killed wth a sword; He died Instantly:
It proceeded fro a quarrell about Drincking a Health; Killed by Mr
Pitt of Graies Inne yt Dranck wth them. Mr Hoyle was an Atheist, a
Sodomite professed, a corrupter of youth, & a Blasphemer of Christ.'
The Young (or Little) Devil Tavern was in Fleet Street, on the south
side, near Temple Bar, adjoining Dick's Coffee House. It was called
Young (or Little) to distinguish it from the more famous house, The
Devil (or Old Devil) Tavern, which stood between Temple Bar and the
Inner Temple Gate.

In September, 1676, The Town Fop was acted with applause, and the
following year Mrs. Behn was very busy producing two comedies (of
which one is a masterpiece) and one tragedy. The Debauchee, which
was brought out this year at the Duke's House, a somewhat
superficial though clever alteration of Brome's Mad Couple Well
Match'd, is no doubt from her pen. It was published anonymously,
4to, 1677, and all the best critics with one accord ascribe it to Mrs.
Behn. In the autumn of 1677 there was produced by the Duke's Company a
version of Middleton's No Wit, No Help Like a Woman's, entitled, The
Counterfeit Bridegroom; or, The Defeated Widow (4to, 1677); it is
smart and spirited. Genest was of opinion it is Aphra's work. He is
probably right, for we know that she repeatedly made use of Middleton,
and internal evidence fully bears out our stage historian.* Both
Abdelazer*(2) and The Town Fop evidence in a marked degree her
intimate knowledge of the earlier dramatists, whilst The Rover (I)
is founded on Killigrew. None the less, here she has handled her
materials with rare skill, and successfully put new wine into old
bottles. The critics, however, began to attack her on this point,
and when The Rover (I) appeared in print (4to 1677), she found it
necessary to add a postscript, defending her play from the charge of
merely being 'Thomaso alter'd'. With reference to Abdelazer there is
extant a very interesting letter*(3) from Mrs. Behn to her friend,
Mrs. Emily Price. She writes as follows:-

My Dear,
In your last, you inform'd me, that the World treated me as a
Plagiery, and, I must confess, not with Injustice: But that Mr.
Otway shou'd say, my Sex wou'd not prevent my being pull'd to Pieces
by the Criticks, is something odd, since whatever Mr. Otway now
declares, he may very well remember when last I saw him, I receiv'd
more than ordinary Encomiums on my Abdelazer. But every one knows
Mr. Otway's good Nature, which will not permit him to shock any one of
our Sex to their Faces. But let that pass: For being impeach'd of
murdering my Moor, I am thankful, since, when I shall let the World
know, whenever I take the Pains next to appear in Print, of the mighty
Theft I have been guilty of; But however for your own Satisfaction,
I have sent you the Garden from whence I gather'd, and I hope you will
not think me vain, if I say, I have weeded and improv'd it. I hope
to prevail on the Printer to reprint The Lust's Dominion, &c., that my
theft may be the more publick. But I detain you. I believe I sha'n't
have the Happiness of seeing my dear Amillia 'till the middle of
September: But be assur'd I shall always remain as I am,
Yours, A. Behn.

* Betterton's adaption of Marston's The Dutch Courtezan, which the
actor calls The Revenge; or, A Match in Newgate, has sometimes been
erroneously ascribed to Mrs. Behn by careless writers. She has also
been given The Woman Turn'd Bully, a capital comedy with some clever
characterization, which was produced at Dorset Garden in June, 1675,
and printed without author's name the same year. Both Prologue and
Epilogue, two pretty songs, Oh, the little Delights that a Lover
takes; and Ah, how charming is the shade, together with a rollicking
catch 'O London, wicked London-Town!' which is 'to be sung a
l'yvronge, in a drunken humour', might all well be Mrs. Behn's, and
the whole conduct of the play is very like her early manner. Beyond
this, however, there is no evidence to suggest it is from her pen.
*(2) The overture, act-tunes, incidental music, were composed by
Henry Purcell.
*(3) Familiar Letters of Love, Gallantry, etc., Vol. I (1718), pp.

The Rover (I) is undoubtedly the best known of Aphra Behn's
comedies. It long remained a popular favourite in the theatre, its
verve, bustle and wit, utterly defiant of the modest Josephs and
qualmy prudes who censured these lively scenes. Steele has mention
of this in an archly humorous paper, No. 51, Spectator, Saturday, 28
April, 1711. He pictures a young lady who has taken offence at some
negligent expression in that chastest of ice-cold proprieties, The
Funeral, and he forthwith more or less seriously proceeds to defend
his play by quoting the example of both predecessors and
contemporaries. Amongst the writers who are 'best skilled in this
luscious Way', he informs us that 'we are obliged to the Lady who writ
Ibrahim * for introducing a preparatory Scene to the very Action, when
the Emperor throws his Handkerchief as a Signal for his Mistress to
follow him into the most retired Part of the Seraglio.... This
ingenious Gentlewoman in this piece of Baudry refined upon an Author
of the same Sex, who in The Rover makes a Country Squire strip to
his Holland Drawers. For Blunt is disappointed, and the Emperor is
understood to go on to the utmost.... It is not here to be omitted,
that in one of the above-mentioned Female Compositions the Rover is
very frequently sent on the same Errand; as I take it above once every
Act. This is not wholly unnatural; for, they say, the Men-Authors draw
themselves in their Chief Characters, and the Women-Writers may be
allowed the same Liberty.'

* Ibrahim, the Thirteenth Emperor of the Turks, produced in 1696
(4to, 1696), a commendable tragedy by Mrs. Mary Pix, nee Griffiths
(1666-1720?). The plot is based on Sir Paul Ricaut's continuation of
the Turkish history.

Early in 1678, either the first or second week of January, Sir
Patient Fancy was received with great applause. A hint from Brome,
more than a hint from Moliere, much wit, vivacity, and cleverness make
up this admirable comedy. Throughout the whole of her career it is
amply evident that Mrs. Behn, an omnivorous reader, kept in constant
touch with and profited by the French literature and theatre of her
day. The debt of the English stage to France at this period is a
fact often not sufficiently acknowledged, but one which it would
really be difficult to over-emphasize. No adequate critical
knowledge of much of our English song, fiction and drama of the
Restoration can be attained without a close study of their French
models and originals.
During the latter part of this year Mrs. Behn found time to revise
and write up the romantic scenes she had composed two decades before
as a girl in Surinam, and the result was a tragi-comedy, The Young
King, which won considerable favour. Produced in March or early
April,* 1679, it was not published till 1683, but a second edition was
called for in 1698.*(2)

* The date is fixed by the Epilogue 'at his R.H. second exile into
Flanders'. The Duke of York sailed for Antwerp 4 March, 1679. He
returned in August owing to the King's illness.
*(2) This fact sufficiently explodes the quite untenable
suggestion that The Young King in earlier days could find neither
producer nor publisher. That the quarto did not appear until four
years after the play had been seen on the stage is no argument of
non-success. Ravenscroft's Mamamouchi was produced early in 1672 and
'continu'd Acting 9 Days with a full house'. It specially delighted
the King and Court. It was not printed, however, until 1675.

In March, The Feign'd Courtezans, one of Mrs. Behn's happiest
efforts, appeared on the boards of the Duke's House. Not one tittle is
borrowed, and its success gives striking proof of the capacity of
her unaided powers. When printed, the comedy was dedicated in
adulatory terms to Nell Gwynne. With the great Betterton, handsome
Will Smith, Nokes, Underhill, Leigh, an inimitable trio, the famous
Mrs. Barry, pretty and piquante Betty Currer, the beautiful and
serenely gracious Mrs. Mary Lee, in the cast, it had a perfect
galaxy of genius to give it life and triumph.
In 1681 a second part continued the adventures of The Rover, and
surprisingly good the sequel is.
From 1678 to 1683 were years of the keenest political excitement and
unrest. Fomented to frenzy by the murderous villainies of Oates and
his accomplices, aggravated by the traitrous ambition and
rascalities of Shaftesbury, by the deceit and weakness of Monmouth,
and the open disloyalty of the Whiggish crew, party politics and
controversy waxed hotter and fiercer until riots were common and a
revolution seemed imminent. Fortunately an appeal in a royal
declaration to the justice of the nation at large allayed the storm,
and an overwhelming outburst of genuine enthusiasm ensued. Albeit
the bill against him was thrown out with an 'ignoramus' by a packed
jury 24 November, 1681, a year later, 28 November, 1682, Shaftesbury
found it expedient to escape to Holland. Monmouth, who had been making
a regal progress through the country, was arrested. Shortly after he
was bailed out by his political friends, but he presently fled in
terror lest he should pay the penalty of his follies and crimes,
inasmuch as a true bill for high treason had been found against him.
It was natural that at such a crisis the stage and satire (both
prose and rhyme), should become impregnated with party feeling; and
the Tory poets, with glorious John Dryden at their head,
unmercifully pilloried their adversaries. In 1682 Mrs. Behn produced
three comedies, two of which are mainly political. The Roundheads, a
masterly pasquinade, shows the Puritans, near ancestors of the
Whigs, in their most odious and veritable colours. The City Heiress
lampoons Shaftesbury and his cit following in exquisite caricature.
The wit and humour, the pointed raillery never coarsening into mere
invective and zany burlesque, place this in the very front rank of her
comedies.* The False Count, the third play of this year, is
non-political, and she has herein borrowed a suggestion from
Moliere. It is full of brilliant dialogue and point, whilst the
situations are truly ludicrous and entertaining. As might well be
surmised, The Roundheads and The City Heiress were not slow to wake
the rancour of the Whigs, who looked about for an opportunity of
vengeance which they shortly found. On 10 August, 1682, there was
produced at the Duke's Theatre an anonymous tragedy Romulus and
Hersilia; or, The Sabine War. It is a vigorous play of no small
merit and attracted considerable attention at the time.*(2) Mrs.
Behn contributed both Prologue and Epilogue, the former being spoken
by that sweet-voiced blonde, winsome Charlotte Butler, the latter by
Lady Slingsby, who acted Tarpeia. There was matter in the Epilogue
which reflected upon the disgraced Duke of Monmouth, for whom in spite
of his known treachery and treasons, Charles still retained the
fondest affection. Warm representations were made in high quarters,
and the following warrant was speedily issued:-

Whereas the Lady Slingsby Comoedian and Mrs. Aphaw Behen have by
acting and writeing at his Royall Highnesse Theatre committed severall
Misdemeanors and made abusive reflections upon persons of Quality, and
have written and spoken scandalous speeches without any License or
Approbation of those that ought to peruse and authorize the same,
These are therefore to require you to take into yor Custody the said
Lady Slingsby and Mrs. Aphaw Behen and bring them before mee to
answere the said Offence, And for soe doeing this shalbe yor
sufficient Warrt. Given undr my hand and seale this 12th day of
August, 1682.
To Henry Legatt Messenger
of His Maties Chamber, etc.

The lines particularly complained of ran as follows:

of all Treasons, mine was most accurst;
Rebelling 'gainst a KING and FATHER first.
A Sin, which Heav'n nor Man can e're forgive;
Nor could I Act it with the face to live.

There's nothing can my Reputation save
With all the True, the Loyal and the Brave;
Not my Remorse or death can Expiate
With them a Treason 'gainst the KING and State.

Coming from the mouth of the perjured Tarpeia they were of course
winged with point unmistakable. It is not probable, however, that
either authoress or actress was visited with anything more than
censure and a fright. In any case their detention*(3) (if brought
about) must have been very short-liv'd, for the partizans of Monmouth,
although noisy and unquiet, were not really strong, and they met
with the most effective opposition at every turn.

* Gould in The Play House, a Satyr, stung by Mrs. Behn's success,
derides that
clean piece of Wit
The City Heiress by chaste Sappho Writ,
Where the Lewd Widow comes with Brazen Face,
Just seeking from a Stallion's rank Embrace,
T' acquaint the Audience with her Filthy Case.
Where can you find a Scene for juster Praise,
In Shakespear, Johnson, or in Fletcher's Plays?
*(2) Publication was delayed. Brooks Impartial Mercury Friday, 17
Nov., 1682, advertises: 'To be published on Monday next, the last
new play called Romulus.' The 4to is dated 1683. A broad sheet,
1682, gives both Prologue 'spoken by Mrs. Butler, written by Mrs.
Behn,' and Epilogue 'spoken by the Lady Slingsby.' The 4to gives
'Prologue, spoken by Mrs. Butler,' 'Epilogue, Writ by Mrs. A. Behn.
Spoken by Tarpeia.'
*(3) Curtis' Protestant Mercury, August 12-6, 1682, notices that
both Lady Slingsby and Mrs. Behn have been ordered into custody in
respect of this Epilogue.

In this same year the Whigs in spite of their utmost efforts
signally failed to suppress, and could only retard the production of
Dryden and Lee's excellent tragedy The Duke of Guise, first
performed 4 December. The play created a furore, and its political
purport as a picture of the baffled intrigues of Shaftesbury in favour
of Lucy Walter's overweening son is obvious, nor is it rendered less
so by Dryden's clever and caustic Vindication of the Duke of Guise
(1683). It is interesting to note that Lady Slingsby, who played the
Queen Mother, Catherine de' Medici, in this play, has some very
sardonic speeches put in her mouth; indeed, as Henri III aptly
remarks, 'she has a cruel wit'.
In 1684 were published the famous Love Letters between a Nobleman
and his Sister. The letters, supposed to have passed between Forde,
Lord Grey,* and his sister-in-law Lady Henrietta Berkeley, fifth
daughter of the Earl, are certainly the work of Mrs. Behn. Romantic
and sentimental, with now and again a pretty touch that is almost
lyrical in its sweet cadence, they enjoyed the same extraordinary
popularity which very similar productions have attained at a recent
date. A third edition was called for in 1707.

* Forde Lord Grey of Werke, Earl of Tankerville, who succeeded to
the title in 1675 was married to Lady Mary Berkeley. He eloped,
however, with Lady Henrietta Berkley, and great scandal ensued. When
he and his minions were brought to trial, 23 November, 1682, his
mistress and a number of staunch Whigs boldly accompanied him into
court. He was found guilty, but as his friends banded together to
resist, something very like a riot ensued. He died 25 June, 1701. Lady
Henrietta Berkeley, who never married, survived her lover nine years.

Mrs. Behn was also busy seeing her poems through the press. The
title page is dated 1684, and they were issued with a dedication to
the Earl of Salisbury.* In the same volume is included her graceful
translation of the Abbe Tallemant's Le Voyage de l'Isle d'Amour,
entitled, Voyage to The Isle of Love.

* Astrea with her soft gay sighing Swains
And rural virgins on the flowery Plains,
The lavish Peer's profuseness may reprove
Who gave her Guineas for the Isle of Love.
-Contemporary Satire.- (Harleian MSS.)

The following undated letter (preserved at Bayfordbury) addressed to
Jacob Tonson, and first published in the Gentleman's Magazine, May,
1836, pleads hard for an extra payment of five pounds for her book.
She writes:-

Deare Mr. Tonson
I am mightly obleg'd to you for ye service you have don me to Mr.
Dryden; in whose esteeme I wou'd chuse to be rather then any bodys
in the world; and I am sure I never, in thought, word, or deed
merritted other from him, but if you had heard wt was told me, you
wou'd have excus'd all I said on that account. Thank him most
infinitly for ye hon. he offers, and I shall never think I can do
any thing that can merritt so vast a glory; and I must owe it all to
you if I have it. As for Mr. Creech, I would not have you afflict
him wth a thing can not now be help'd, so never let him know my
resentment. I am troubled for ye line that's left out of Dr. Garth,*
and wish yor man wou'd write it in ye margent, at his leasure, to
all you sell.
As for ye verses of mine, I shou'd really have thought 'em worth
thirty pound; and I hope you will find it worth L25; not that I shou'd
dispute at any other time for 5 pound wher I am so obleeged; but you
can not think wt a preety thing ye Island will be, and wt a deal of
labor I shall have yet with it: and if that pleases, I will do the
2d Voyage, wch will compose a little book as big as a novel by it
self. But pray speake to yor Bror to advance the price to one 5lb
more, 'twill at this time be more then given me, and I vow I wou'd not
aske it if I did not really believe it worth more. Alas I wou'd not
loose my time in such low gettings, but only since I am about it I
am resolv'd to go throw wth it tho I shou'd give it. I pray go about
it as soone as you please, for I shall finish as fast as you can go
on. Methinks ye Voyage shou'd com last, as being ye largest volume.
You know Mr. Couly's Dauid is last, because a large poem, and Mrs.
Philips her Plays for ye same reason. I wish I had more time, I
wou'd ad something to ye verses yt I have a mind too, but, good
deare Mr. Tonson, let it be 5lb more, for I may safly swere I have
lost ye getting of 50lb by it, tho that's nothing to you, or my
satisfaction and humour: but I have been wthout getting so long yt I
am just on ye poynt of breaking, espesiall since a body has no creditt
at ye Playhouse for money as we usd to have, fifty or 60 deepe, or
more; I want extreamly or I wo'd not urge this.
Yors A.B.
Pray send me ye loose papers to put to these I have, and let me know
wch you will go about first, ye songs and verses or that. Send me an
answer to-day.

* This of course cannot be correct, but it is so transcribed. In the
transcript of this letter made by Malone, and now in the possession of
G. Thorn Drury, Esq., K.C., over the word 'Garth's' is written 'Q',
and at the foot of the page a note by Mitford says: 'This name seems
to have been doubtful in the MSS.' I have thought it best not to
attempt any emendation.

It is probable that about this date, 1683-4, she penned her little
novel The adventure of the Black Lady, and also that excellent
extravaganza The King of Bantam.* Both these and The Unfortunate Happy
Lady are written as if they had certainly been completed before the
death of Charles II, in which case they must have lain by, MSS, in
Mrs. Behn's desk.

* Neither of these was printed until eight years after her death.
They first appear, each with its separate title page, 1697, bound up
in the Third Edition, 'with Large Additions,' of All the Histories and
Novels, Written by the Late Ingenious Mrs. Behn, Entire in One Volume,
1698. After Nos. vii, viii, ix, Memoirs of the Court of the King of
Bantam, The Nun; or, the Perjured Beauty, The Adventure of the Black
Lady follows a note: 'These last three never before published.' Some
superficial bibliographers (e.g. Miss Charlotte E. Morgan in her
unreliable monograph, The English Novel till 1749) have postulated
imaginary editions of 1683-4 for The Little Black Lady and The King of
Bantam. The Nun; or, the Perjured Beauty, is universally confounded
with The History of the Nun (vide Vol. V, p. 259, Introduction to that
novel) and dated 1689.
With reference to The King of Bantam we have in the 1698 collected
edition of the Novels the following 'Advertisement to the Reader.
The Stile of the Court of the King of Bantam, being so very
different from Mrs. Behn's usual way of Writing, it may perhaps call
its being genuine in Question; to obviate which objection, I must
inform the Reader, that it was a Trial of Skill upon a Wager, to
shew that she was able to write in the Style of the Celebrated
Scarron, in Imitation of whom 'tis writ, tho' the Story be true. I
need not say any thing of the other Two, they evidently confessing
their admirable Author.'

The King, at the height of his power, after a short illness, died
6 February, 1685, an event that together with the accession of James
naturally evoked a plethora of State Poems, to which flood Mrs. Behn
contributed. Her Pindarics rank high amongst the semi-official,
complimentary, threnodic or pastoral pseudo-Dithyrambs, of which the
age was so bounteous; but it needed the supreme genius of a Dryden
sustainedly to instil lyric fire and true poetry into these hybrid
forms.* The nadir is sounded by the plumbeous productions of Shadwell,
Nahum Tate, and 'Persons of Quality'. Aphra's Pindarick on the Death
of Charles II ran through two editions in 1685, and her Poem to the
Queen Dowager Catherine was published the same year. James II was
crowned on St. George's Day, and she greeted her new monarch and old
patron with a Poem on the Happy Coronation of His Sacred Majesty. A
little later she published a Miscellany of poems by various hands:
amongst whom were Etheredge, Edmund Arwaker, Henry Crisp, and Otway,
including not a few from her own pen, 'Together with Reflections on
Morality, or Seneca Unmasqued. Translated from the Maximes of the Duke
de la Rochefoucauld', a number of clever apophthegms tersely turned.

* Swift, although he amply fulfilled Dryden's famous prophecy,
'Cousin Swift, you will never be a Pindaric poet', was doubtless
thinking of these Pindarics when in The Battle of the Book, he
wrote: 'Then Pindar slew-, and-, and Oldham, and-, and Afra the Amazon
light of foot.'

The following note,* however, affords ample evidence that at this
juncture, maugre her diligence and unremitting toils, she was far from
being in easy circumstances:-

'Where as I am indebted to Mr. Bags the sum of six pownd for the
payment of which Mr. Tonson has obleged him self. Now I do here by
impowre Mr. Zachary Baggs, in case the said debt is not fully
discharged before Michaelmas next, to stop what money he shall
hereafter have in his hands of mine, upon the playing my first play
till this aforesaid debt of six pownd be discharged.
Witness my hand this 1st August,- 85.
A. Behn.'

* First Published in the Gentlemans's Magazine, May, 1836.

Early in 1686 a frolicksome comedy of great merit, The Lucky Chance,
was produced by her at the Theatre Royal, the home of the United
Companies. A Whiggish clique, unable to harm her in any other way,
banded together to damn the play and so endeavoured to raise a pudic
hubbub, that happily proved quite ineffective. The Lucky Chance, which
contends with The Rover (I), and The Feign'd Courtezans for the honour
of being Mrs. Behn's highest flight of comic genius, has scenes
admittedly wantoning beyond the bounds of niggard propriety, but all
are alive with a careless wit and a brilliant humour that prove
quite irresistible. Next appeared those graceful translations from
de Bonnecorse's La Montre... seconde partie contenant La Boete et Le
Miroir, which she termed The Lover's Watch and The Lady's
In 1687 the Duke of Albemarle's voyage to Jamaica* to take up the
government in the West Indies gave occasion for a Pindaric, but we
only have one dramatic piece from Mrs. Behn, The Emperor of the
Moon, a capital three act farce, Italian in sentiment and origin.
For some little time past her health had begun to trouble her.*(2) Her
three years of privation and cares had told upon her physically, and
since then, 'forced to write for bread and not ashamed to own it,' she
had spared neither mind nor bodily strength. Graver symptoms appeared,
but yet she found time to translate from Fontenelle his version of Van
Dale's De Oraculis Ethnicorum as The History of Oracles and the Cheats
of the Pagan Priests, a book of great interest. There was also
published in 1687 an edition in stately folio of Aesop's Fables with
his Life in English, French and Latin, 'illustrated with One hundred
and twelve Sculptures' and 'Thirty One New Figures representing his
Life', by Francis Barlow, the celebrated draughtsman of birds and
animals. Each plate to the Life has a quatrain appended, and each
fable with its moral is versified beneath the accompanying picture. In
his brief address to the Reader Barlow writes: 'The Ingenious Mrs.
A. Behn has been so obliging as to perform the English Poetry, which
in short comprehends the Sense of the Fable and Moral; Whereof to
say much were needless, since it may sufficiently recommend it self to
all Persons of Understanding.' To this year we further assign the
composition of no fewer than four novels, The Unfortunate Bride, The
Dumb Virgin, The Wandering Beauty, The Unhappy Mistake. She was
working at high pressure, and 1688 still saw a tremendous literary
output. Waller had died 21 October, 1687, at the great age of
eighty-one, and her Elegiac Ode to his Memory begins:-

How to thy Sacred Memory, shall I bring
(Worthy thy Fame) a grateful Offering?
I, who by Toils of Sickness, am become
Almost as near as thou art to a Tomb?
While every soft and every tender strain
Is ruffl'd, and ill-natur'd grown with Pain.

* Christopher Monck, second Duke of Albermarle, was appointed
Governor-General of Jamaica, 26 November, 1687. He died there early in
the following autumn.
*(2) 'Sappho famous for her Gout and Guilt,' writes Gould in The
Poetess, a Satyr.

This she sent to his daughter-in-law with the following letter*:-

At such losses as you have sustain'd in that of yor Glorious ffather
in Law Mr. Waller, the whole world must wait on your sighs &
mournings, tho' we must allow yours to be the more sensible by how
much more (above your Sex) you are Mistriss of that Generous Tallent
that made him so great & so admird (besids what we will allow as a
Relation) tis therfore at your ffeet Madam we ought to lay all those
Tributary Garlands, we humbler pretenders to the Muses believe it
our Duty to offer at his Tombe- in excuse for mine Madam I can only
say I am very ill & have been dying this twelve month, that they
want those Graces & that spiritt wch possible I might have drest em in
had my health & dulling vapors permitted me, howeuer Madam they are
left to your finer judgment to determin whether they are worthy the
Honour of the Press among those that cellibrat Mr. Wallers great fame,
or of being doomed to the fire & whateuer you decree will extreamly
I humbly beg pardon yor most Devoted &
for my yll writing most Obeadient
Madam for tis with Seruant
a Lame hand scarce A. BEHN.
able to hold a pen.

* Now published for the first time by the courtesy of G. Thorn
Drury, Esq., K.C., who generously obliged me with a transcript of
the original.

Her weakness, lassitude, and despondency are more than apparent; yet
bravely buckling to her work, and encouraged by her success with
Fontenelle, she Englished with rare skill his Theory of the System
of Several New Inhabited Worlds, prefixing thereto a first-rate 'Essay
on Translated Prose.' She shows herself an admirable critic,
broad-minded, with a keen eye for niceties of style. The Fair Jilt
(licensed 17 April, 1688),* Oroonoko, and Agnes de Castro, followed in
swift succession. She also published Lycidus, a Voyage from the Island
of Love, returning to the Abbe Tallemant's dainty preciosities. On
10 June, James Francis Edward, Prince of Wales, was born at St.
James's Palace, and Mrs. Behn having already written a
Congratulatory Poem*(2) to Queen Mary of Modena on her expectation
of the Prince, was ready with a Poem on his Happy Birth.

* In the original edition of The Fair Jilt (1688), we have
advertised: 'There is now in the Press, Oroonoko; or, The History of
the Royal Slave. Written by Madam Behn.'
*(2) In the second edition (1688), of this Congratulatory Poem to
Queen Mary of Modena we have the following advertisement:- 'On
Wednesday next will be published the most Ingenious and long
Expected History of Oroonoko; or, the Royal Slave. By Mrs. Behn.'

One of the most social and convivial of women, a thorough Tory, well
known to Dryden, Creech, Otway and all the leading men of her day,
warm helper and ally of every struggling writer, Astrea began to be
completely overpowered by the continual strain, the unremittent tax
upon both health and time. Overworked and overwrought, in the early
months of 1689 she put into English verse the sixth book (of Trees)
from Cowley's Sex Libri Plantarum (1668). Nahum Tate undertook Books
IV and V and prefaced the translation when printed. As Mrs. Behn
knew no Latin no doubt some friend, perhaps Tate himself, must have
paraphrased the original for her. She further published The Lucky
Mistake and The History of the Nun; or, The Fair Vow Breaker,*
licensed 22 October, 1688. On the afternoon of 12 February, Mary, wife
of William of Orange, had with great diffidence landed at Whitehall
Stairs, and Mrs. Behn congratulated the lady in her Poem To Her Sacred
Majesty Queen Mary on her Arrival in England. One regrets to find
her writing on such an occasion, and that she realized the impropriety
of her conduct is clear from the reference to the banished monarch.
But she was weary, depressed, and ill, and had indeed for months
past been racked with incessant pain. An agonizing complication of
disorders now gave scant hope of recovery. It is in the highest degree
interesting to note that during her last sickness Dr. Burnet, a figure
of no little importance at that moment, kindly enquired after the
dying woman. The Pindaric in which she thanks him, and which was
printed March, 1689, proved the last poem she herself saw through
the press. At length exhausted nature failed altogether, and she
expired 16 April, 1689, the end hastened by a sad lack of skill in her
physician. She is buried in the east cloisters of Westminster Abbey. A
black marble slab marks the spot. On it are graven 'Mrs. Aphra Behn
Dyed April, 16, A.D 1689,' and two lines, 'made by a very ingenious
Gentleman tho' no poet':-*(2)

Here lies a Proof that Wit can never be
Defence enough against Mortality.*(3)

* The title page has 1689, but is was possibly published late in
*(2) Traditionally said to be John Hoyle.
*(3) Sam Briscoe, the publisher, in his Dedicatory Epistle to
Familiar Letters of love, Gallantry etc. (2 vols., 1718), says: 'Had
the rough Days of K. Charles II newly recovr'd from the Confusion of a
Civil War, or the tempestuous Time of James the Second, had the same
Sence of Wit as our Gentlemen now appear to have, the first
Impressions of Milton's Paradise Lost had never been sold for Waste
Paper; the Inimitable Hudibras had never suffered the Miseries of a
Neglected Cavalier; Tom Brown the merriest and most diverting'st
man, had never expir'd so neglected; Mr. Dryden's Religion would never
have lost him his Pension; or Mrs. Behn ever had but two Lines upon
her Grave-stone.'

'She was of a generous and open Temper, something passionate, very
serviceable to her Friends in all that was in her Power; and could
sooner forgive an Injury, than do one. She had Wit, Honour,
Good-Humour, and Judgment. She was Mistress of all the pleasing Arts
of Conversation, but us'd 'em not to any but those who love
Plain-dealing.' So she comes before us. A graceful, comely woman,*
merry and buxom, with brown hair and bright eyes, candid, sincere, a
brilliant conversationalist in days when conversation was no mere
slipshod gabble of slang but cut and thrust of poignant epigram and
repartee; warm-hearted, perhaps too warm-hearted, and ready to lend
a helping hand even to the most undeserving, a quality which
gathered all Grub Street round her door. At a period when any and
every writer, mean or great, of whatsoever merit or party, was
continually assailed with vehement satire and acrid lampoons,
lacking both truth and decency, Aphra Behn does not come off
scot-free, nobody did; and upon occasion her name is amply vilified by
her foes. There are some eight ungenerous lines with a side
reference to the 'Conquests she had won' in Buckingham's A Trial of
the Poets for the Bays, and a page or two of insipid spiritless
rhymes, The Female Laureat, find a place in State Poems. The same
collection contains A Satyr on the Modern Translators. 'Odi Imitatores
servum pecus,' &c. By Mr. P-r,*(2) 1684. It begins rather smartly:-

Since the united Cunning of the Stage,
Has balk'd the hireling Drudges of the Age;
Since Betterton of late so thrifty's grown,
Revives Old Plays, or wisely acts his own;

the modern poets

Have left Stage-practice, chang'd their old Vocations,
Atoning for bad Plays with worse Translations.

In some instances this was true enough, but when the writer attacks
Dryden he becomes ridiculous and imprecates

May he still split on some unlucky Coast,
And have his Works or Dictionary lost:
That he may know what Roman Authors mean,
No more than does our blind Translatress Behn,*(3)
The Female Wit, who next convicted stands,
Not for abusing Ovid's verse but Sand's:
She might have learn'd from the ill-borrow'd Grace,
(Which little helps the Ruin of her Face)
That Wit, like Beauty, triumphs o'er the Heart
When more of Nature's seen, and less of Art:
Nor strive in Ovid's Letters to have shown
As much of Skill, as Lewdness in her own.
Then let her from the next inconstant Lover,
Take a new Copy for a second Rover.
Describe the Cunning of a jilting Whore,
From the ill Arts herself has us'd before;
Thus let her write, but Paraphrase no more.

These verses are verjuiced, unwarranted, unfair. Tom Brown too in
his Letters from the Dead to the Living has a long epistle 'From
worthy Mrs. Behn the Poetess, to the famous Virgin Actress,' (Mrs.
Bracegirdle), in which the Diana of the stage is crudely rallied. 'The
Virgin's Answer to Mrs. Behn' contains allusions to Aphra's intrigue
with some well-known dramatic writer, perhaps Ravenscroft, and
speaks of many an other amour beside. But then for a groat Brown would
have proved Barbara Villiers a virgin, and taxed Torquemada with
unorthodoxy. Brown has yet another gird at Mrs. Behn in his The Late
Converts Exposed, or the Reason of Mr. Bays's Changing his Religion
&c. Considered in a Dialogue (1690, a quarto tract; and reprinted in a
Collection of Brown's Dialogues, 8vo, 1704). Says Eugenius: 'You may
remember Mr. Bays, how the famed Astrea, once in her Life-time
unluckily lighted upon such a Sacred Subject, and in a strange fit
of Piety, must needs attempt a Paraphrase on the Lord's Prayer. But
alas poor Gentlewoman! She had scarce travell'd half way, when Cupid
served her as the Cut-Purse did the Old Justice in Bartholmew Fair,
tickled her with a Straw in her Ear, and then she could not budge
one foot further, till she had humbly requested her Maker to grant her
a private Act of Toleration for a little Harmless Love, otherwise
called Fornication.' There is a marginal note to this passage: 'Mrs.
Behn's Miscell. Printed by Jos. Hindmarsh.' In a Letter from the
Dead Thomas Brown to the Living Heraclitus (1704), a sixpenny tract,
this wag is supposed to meet Mrs. Behn in the underworld, and anon
establishes himself on the most familiar terms with his 'dear Afra';
they take, indeed, 'an extraordinary liking to one another's
Company' for 'good Conversation is not so over plentiful in these
Parts.' A bitterer attack yet, An Epistle to Julian (c. 1686-7),
paints her as ill, feeble, dying:-

Doth that lewd Harlot, that Poetick Quean,
Fam'd through White Fryars, you know who I mean,
Mend for reproof, others set up in spight,
To flux, take glisters, vomits, purge and write.
Long with a Sciatica she's beside lame,
Her limbs distortur'd, Nerves shrunk up with pain,
And therefore I'll all sharp reflections shun,
Poverty, Poetry, Pox, are plagues enough for one.

In truth, Aphra Behn's life was not one of mere pleasure, but a hard
struggle against overwhelming adversity, a continual round of work. We
cannot but admire the courage of this lonely woman, who, poor and
friendless, was the first in England to turn to the pen for a
livelihood, and not only won herself bread but no mean position in the
world of her day and English literature of all time. For years her
name to a new book, a comedy, a poem, an essay from the French, was
a word to conjure with for the booksellers. There are anecdotes in
plenty. Some true, some not so reliable. She is said to have
introduced milk-punch into England.*(4) We are told that she could
write a page of a novel or a scene of a play in a room full of
people and yet hold her own in talk the while.*(5) Her popularity
was enormous, and edition after edition of her plays and novels was
called for.

* 'She was a most beautiful woman, and a more excellent poet'.
Col. Colepeper. Adversaria, Vol. ii (Harleian MSS.)
*(2) This piece finds a place in the unauthorised edition of Prior's
Poems, 1707 a volume the poet himself repudiated. In the Cambridge
edition of Prior's Works (1905-7), reason is given, however, to show
that the lines are certainly Prior's, and that he withdrew this and
other satires (says Curll, the bookseller), owing to 'his great
Modesty'. The Horatian tag (Epistles I, xiv, 19) is of course 'O
Imitatores servum pecus'.
*(3) In his Preface Concerning Ovid's Epistles affixed to the
translation of the Heroides (Ovid's Epistles), 'by Several Hands'
(1680), Dryden writes 'The Reader will here find most of the
Translations, with some little Latitude or variation from the Author's
Sence: That of Oenone to Paris, is in Mr. Cowley's way of Imitation
only. I was desir'd to say that the Author who is of the Fair Sex,
understood not Latine. But if she does not, I am afraid she has
given us occasion to be asham'd who do.'
*(4) 'Old Mr. John Bowman, the player, told me that Mrs. Behn was
the First Person he ever knew or heard of who made the Liquor call'd
Milk Punch.'- Oldys; MS. note in Langbaine. In a tattered MS. recipe
book, the compilation of a good housewife named Mary Rockett, and
dated 1711, the following directions are given how to brew this
tipple. 'To make Milk Punch. Infuse the rinds of 8 Lemons in a
Gallon of Brandy 48 hours then add 5 Quarts of Water and 2 pounds of
Loaf Sugar then Squize the Juices of all the Lemons to these
Ingredients add 2 Quarts of new milk Scald hot stirring the whole till
it crudles grate in 2 Nutmegs let the whole infuse 1 Hour then
refine through a flannel Bag.'
*(5) 'She always Writ with the greatest ease in the world, and
that in the midst of Company, and Discourse of other matters. I saw
her my self write Oroonoko, and keep her own in Discoursing with
several then present in the Room.'- Gildon: An Account of the Life
of the Incomparable Mrs. Behn, prefixed to The Younger Brother (4to
1696). Southerne says, with reference to Oroonoko, 'That she always
told his Story, more feelingly than she writ it.'

In 1690, there was brought out on the stage a posthumous comedy, The
Widow Ranter.* But without her supervision, it was badly cast, the
script was mauled, and it failed. In 1696 Charles Gildon, who posed as
her favourite protege (and edited her writings), gave The Younger
Brother. He had, however, himself tampered with the text. The actors
did it scant justice and it could not win a permanent place in the
theatrical repertory. In May, 1738, The Gentleman's Magazine published
The Apotheosis of Milton, a paper, full of interest, which ran through
several numbers. It is a Vision, in which the writer, having fallen
asleep in Westminster Abbey, is conducted by a Genius into a
spacious hall, 'sacred to the Spirits of the Bards, whose Remains
are buried, or whose Monuments are erected within this Pile. To
night an Assembly of the greatest Importance is held upon the
Admission of the Great Milton into this Society.' The Poets
accordingly appear either in the habits which they were wont to wear
on earth, or in some suitable attire. We have Chaucer, Drayton,
Beaumont, Ben Jonson, and others who are well particularized, but when
we get to the laureates and critics of a later period there are some
really valuable touches. In 1738 there must have been many alive who
could well remember Dryden, Shadwell, Otway, Prior, Philips, Sheffield
Duke of Buckinghamshire, Dennis, Atterbury, Lee, Congreve, Rowe,
Addison, Betterton, Gay. In the course of his remarks the guide
exclaims to the visitor: 'Observe that Lady dressed in the loose
Robe de Chambre with her Neck and Breasts bare; how much Fire in her
Eye! what a passionate Expression in her Motions; And how much
Assurance in her Features! Observe what an Indignant Look she
bestows on the President [Chaucer], who is telling her, that none of
her Sex has any Right to a Seat there. How she throws her Eyes
about, to see if she can find out any one of the Assembly who inclines
to take her Part. No! not one stirs; they who are enclined in her
favour are overawed, and the rest shake their Heads; and now she
flings out of the Assembly. That extraordinary Woman is Afra Behn.'
The passage is not impertinent, even though but as showing how early
condemnatory tradition had begun to incrustate around Astrea.
Fielding, however, makes his Man of the World tell a friend that the
best way for a man to improve his intellect and commend himself to the
ladies is by a course of Mrs. Behn's novels. With the oncoming of
the ponderous and starched decorum of the third George's reign her
vogue waned apace, but she was still read and quoted. On 12
December, 1786, Horace Walpole writes to the Countess of Upper Ossory,
'I am going to Mrs. Cowley's new play,*(2) which I suppose is as
instructive as the Marriage of Figaro, for I am told it approaches
to those of Mrs. Behn in Spartan delicacy; but I shall see Miss
Farren, who, in my poor opinion is the first of all actresses.' Sir
Walter Scott admired and praised her warmly. But the pinchbeck
sobriety of later times was unable to tolerate her freedom. She was
condemned in no small still voice as immoral, loose, scandalous; and
writer after writer, leaving her unread, reiterated the charge till it
passed into a byword of criticism, and her works were practically
taboo in literature, a type and summary of all that was worst and
foulest in Restoration days. The absurdities and falsity of this
extreme are of course patent now, and it was inevitable the recoil
should come.

* It is ushered in by one 'G.J. her friend.' This was almost
certainly George Jenkins.
*(2) 'The School for Greybeards, produced at Drury Lane, 25
November, 1786. It owes much of its business to The Lucky Chance.
See the Theatrical History of that comedy (Vol. iii, p. 180). Miss
Farren acted Donna Seraphina, second wife of Don Alexis, one of the
Greybeards. She also spoke the epilogue.

It is a commonplace to say that her novels are a landmark in the
history of fiction. Even Macaulay allowed that the best of Defoe was
'in no respect... beyond the reach of Afra Behn'. Above all Oroonoko
can be traced directly and indirectly, perhaps unconsciously, in
many a descendant. Without assigning her any direct influence on
Wilberforce, much of the reeling of this novel is the same as inspired
Harriet Beecher Stowe. She has been claimed to be the literary
ancestress of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre and Chateaubriand; nor is it
any exaggeration to find Byron and Rousseau in her train. Her
lyrics, it has been well said, are often of 'quite bewildering
beauty', but her comedies represent her best work and she is worthy to
be ranked with the greatest dramatists of her day, with Vanbrugh and
Etheredge; not so strong as Wycherley, less polished than Congreve.
Such faults as she has are obviously owing to the haste with which
circumstances compelled her to write her scenes. That she should
ever recover her pristine reputation is of course, owing to the
passing of time with its change of manners, fashions, thought and
style, impossible. But there is happily every indication that- long
neglected and traduced- she will speedily vindicate for herself, as
she is already beginning to do, her rightful claim to a high and
honourable place in our glorious literature.


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