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THE SOLDIER'S FORTUNE.
This play, though very successful when first exhibited, is marked with the same immoral character which pervades all Otway's comedies, and has justly condemned them to obscurity. Another, and, as far as the author's literary reputation is concerned, a more fatal objection, is it's defect of originality: the plot, and many of the incidents, having been borrowed from different sources, without acknowledgment. These instances of plagiarism have been minutely exposed by Langbaine, the vigilant detector of dramatic fraud. Lady Dunce's scheme of employing her husband to convey the ring and letter to Beangard, her gallant (perhaps the most agreeable feature in the play), had already been adopted in the “ Parasitaster,” a comedy by John Marston, 1606; and “Flora's Vagaries," anon. 1670. The original story is in Boccacio, Dec. 3. Nov. 3. The source from whence Otway probably derived the hint (and which escaped the notice of Lang. baine), is Moliere's “ l'Ecole des Maris;" where the behaviour of Sganarelle, Isabelle, and Valere, differs but little from that of Sir Davy, Lady Dunce, aud Beaugard. Sir Davy's sudden appearance from the closet, and surprising his wife and Beaugard embracing, and the lady's conduct thereupon, are borrowed from a story in Scarron's “ Ronan Comique;" or rather from “ Les Amours des Dames illustres de nôtre siecle." Bloody-bones' character resembles the Bravo in the “ Antiquary," a comedy by Shakerly Marmion, 1641. The analogy between Courtine's deportment at Sylvia's balcony, and that of Thomas to his mistress Mary, in Fletcher's comedy called “ Monsieur Thomas,” is too weak to convict Otway of fraud in this instance, unless the ballad which he has borrowed from the same play, be regarded as additional evidence. The rest of the piece requires little comment. It's chief recommendations were, probably, the variety and quick succession of the incidents, and that looseness of dialogue which passed for wit at the time it was composed. The character of Sir Jolly Jumble is a ridiculous, not to say disgusting, compound of folly and depravity : whether it be natural or not, it is useless to enquire; as, in either case, it is unfit to be pourtrayed in public.
This play was acted and printed 4to. 1681. It is dedicated to his publisher; not, I suppose, acquittance for the money received for the copy," but as “a preface to the work," in which he might canvass, with more freedom, the objections it seems to have excited. The edition of 1757, and all the subsequent copies of the play, have excluded the whole of the paragraph which refers to the share some lady took in opposing it's success. This is now restored from the quarto copy. lo 1748, a farce taken from this comedy was represented at Covent-garden, under the same title. It was not printed.
I HAVE often (during this play's being in the press) been importuned for a preface; which you, I suppose, · would have speak something in vindication of the comedy: now, to please you, Mr. Bentley, I will, as briefly as I can, speak iny mind upon that occasion, which you . may be pleased to accept of, both as a dedication to yourself, and next as a preface to the book.
And I am not a little proud, that it has happened into my thoughts, to be the first who in these latter years has made an epistle dedicatory to his stationer: it is a compliment as reasonable as it is just. for, Mr. Bentley, you pay honestly for the copy; and an epistle to you is a sort of an acquittance, and may be probably welcome; when to a person of higher rank and order, it looks like an obligation for praises, which he knows he does not deserve, and therefore is very unwilling to part with ready money for.
As to the vindication of this comedy, between friends and acquaintance, I believe it is possible, that as much may be said in it's behalf, as heretofore has been for a great many others. But of all the apish qualities about me, I have not that of being fond of my own issue.; nay, I must confess myself a very unnatural para for when it is once brought into the world, e'en let the brat shift for itself, I say.
The objections made against the inerit of this poor play, I must confess, are very grievous
First, says a lady, that shall be nameless, because the world may think civilly of her: “ Fogh! Oh sherreu, 'tis so filthy, so bawdy, no modest woman ought to be seen
at it: let me die, it has made me sick!" When the world lies, Mr. Bentley, if that very lady has not easily digested a much ranker morsel in a little ale-house towards Paddington, and never made a face at it. But your true jilt is a creature that can extract bawdy out of the chastest sense, as easily as a spider can poison out of a rose : they know true bawdy, let it be never so much concealed, as perfectly as Falstaff did the true prince by instinct: they will separate the true metal from the alloy, let us temper it as well as we can.
Sonie women are the touch-stones of filthiness: though I have heard a lady (that has more modesty than any of those she-critics, and I am sure more wit) say, she wondered at the impudence of any of her sex, that would pretend to understand the thing called bawdy. So, Mr. Bentley, for aught I perceive, my play may be innocent yet, and the lady mistaken in pretending to the knowledge of a mystery above her; though, to speak honestly, she has had, besides her wit, a liberal education; and if we may credit the world, has not buried her talent neither.
This is, Mr. Bentley, all I can say in behalf of my play: wherefore I throw it into your arms; make the best of it you can; praise it to your customers; sell ten thousand of them, if possible, and then you
will com, plete the wishes of
Your Friend and Servant,
BY THE LORD FALKLAND.
FORSAKEN dames, with less concern, reflect
* Pope Joan. 0.–This was the “ Female Prelate," a tragedy by Settle, founded upon the well-known story of a Female Popo.