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Essays on the Stage Preface to the Campaigners (1689) and Preface to the Translation of Bossuet's Maxims and Reflections on Plays (1699)   By: (1653-1723)

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Series Three: Essays on the Stage

No. 4

Thomas D'Urfey, Preface to The Campaigners (1698)


Anonymous, Preface to the Translation of Bossuet's Maxims and Reflections upon Plays (1699)

With an Introduction by Joseph Wood Krutch

The Augustan Reprint Society March, 1948 Price: $1.00


RICHARD C. BOYS, University of Michigan EDWARD NILES HOOKER, University of California, Los Angeles H.T. SWEDENBERG, JR., University of California, Los Angeles


W. EARL BRITTON, University of Michigan


EMMETT L. AVERY, State College of Washington BENJAMIN BOYCE, University of Nebraska LOUIS I. BREDVOLD, University of Michigan CLEANTH BROOKS, Yale University JAMES L. CLIFFORD, Columbia University ARTHUR FRIEDMAN, University of Chicago SAMUEL H. MONK, University of Minnesota ERNEST MOSSNER, University of Texas JAMES SUTHERLAND, Queen Mary College, London

Lithoprinted from copy supplied by author by Edwards Brothers, Inc. Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.A. 1948


The three parts of D'Urfey's "The Comical History of Don Quixote" were performed between 1694 and (probably) the end of 1696. Some of the songs included were conspicuously "smutty" to use a word which D'Urfey ridiculed but the fact that the plays were fresh in the public mind was probably the most effective reason for Jeremy Collier's decision to include the not very highly respected author among the still living playwrights to be singled out for attack in "A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage", which appeared at Easter time 1698. In July of the same year D'Urfey replied with the preface to his "smutty" play "The Campaigners". It is this preface which is given as the first item of the present reprint.

Pope's contemptuous prologue, written many years later and apparently for a benefit performance of one of D'Urfey's plays, is sufficient evidence that the playwright was not highly regarded; but he was reputed to be a good natured man and, by the standards of the time, his twitting of Collier whom he accused of having a better nose for smut than a clergyman should have is not conspicuously vituperative. Even his attack on the political character of the notorious Non Juror is bitter without being really scurrilous. But like his betters Congreve and Vanbrugh, D'Urfey both missed the opportunity to grapple with the real issues of the controversy and misjudged the temper of the public. Had that public been, as all the playwrights seem to have assumed, ready to side with them against Collier, there might have been some justification in resting content as he and Congreve did with the scoring of a few debater's points. But the public, even "the town", was less interested in mere sally and rejoinder than it was in the serious question of the relation of comedy to morality, and hence Collier was allowed to win the victory almost by default.

Collier's own argument was either confused or deliberately disingenuous, since he shifts his ground several times. On occasion he argues merely in the role of a moderate man who is shocked by the extravagances of the playwrights, and on other occasions as an ascetic to whom all worldly diversion, however innocent of any obvious offence, is wicked. At one time, moreover, he accuses the playwrights of recommending the vices which they should satirize and at other times denies that even the most sincere satiric intention can justify the lively representation of wickedness. But none of his opponents actually seized the opportunity to completely clarify the issues. Vanbrugh, it is true, makes some real points in his "A Short Vindication of The Relapse and The Provok'd Wife", and John Dennis, in his heavy handed way, showed some realization of what the issues were both in "The Usefulness of the Stage to the Happiness of Mankind, to Government and to Religion" (1698) and, much later, In "The Stage Defended" (1726)... Continue reading book >>

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