The Way of the World
The Way of the World
Audire est operae pretium, prcedere recte
Qui maechis non vultis.--HOR. Sat. i. 2, 37.
- Metuat doti deprensa.--Ibid.
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE RALPH, EARL OF MOUNTAGUE, ETC.
My Lord,--Whether the world will arraign me of vanity or not, that I
have presumed to dedicate this comedy to your lordship, I am yet in
doubt; though, it may be, it is some degree of vanity even to doubt
of it. One who has at any time had the honour of your lordship's
conversation, cannot be supposed to think very meanly of that which
he would prefer to your perusal. Yet it were to incur the
imputation of too much sufficiency to pretend to such a merit as
might abide the test of your lordship's censure.
Whatever value may be wanting to this play while yet it is mine,
will be sufficiently made up to it when it is once become your
lordship's; and it is my security, that I cannot have overrated it
more by my dedication than your lordship will dignify it by your
That it succeeded on the stage was almost beyond my expectation; for
but little of it was prepared for that general taste which seems now
to be predominant in the palates of our audience.
Those characters which are meant to be ridiculed in most of our
comedies are of fools so gross, that in my humble opinion they
should rather disturb than divert the well-natured and reflecting
part of an audience; they are rather objects of charity than
contempt, and instead of moving our mirth, they ought very often to
excite our compassion.
This reflection moved me to design some characters which should
appear ridiculous not so much through a natural folly (which is
incorrigible, and therefore not proper for the stage) as through an
affected wit: a wit which, at the same time that it is affected, is
also false. As there is some difficulty in the formation of a
character of this nature, so there is some hazard which attends the
progress of its success upon the stage: for many come to a play so
overcharged with criticism, that they very often let fly their
censure, when through their rashness they have mistaken their aim.
This I had occasion lately to observe: for this play had been acted
two or three days before some of these hasty judges could find the
leisure to distinguish betwixt the character of a Witwoud and a
I must beg your lordship's pardon for this digression from the true
course of this epistle; but that it may not seem altogether
impertinent, I beg that I may plead the occasion of it, in part of
that excuse of which I stand in need, for recommending this comedy
to your protection. It is only by the countenance of your lordship,
and the FEW so qualified, that such who write with care and pains
can hope to be distinguished: for the prostituted name of poet
promiscuously levels all that bear it.
Terence, the most correct writer in the world, had a Scipio and a
Lelius, if not to assist him, at least to support him in his
reputation. And notwithstanding his extraordinary merit, it may be
their countenance was not more than necessary.
The purity of his style, the delicacy of his turns, and the justness
of his characters, were all of them beauties which the greater part
of his audience were incapable of tasting. Some of the coarsest
strokes of Plautus, so severely censured by Horace, were more likely
to affect the multitude; such, who come with expectation to laugh at
the last act of a play, and are better entertained with two or three
unseasonable jests than with the artful solution of the fable.