To Mr Southerne, On His Comedy Called "The Wives' Excuse."

A poem by John Dryden

Sure there's a fate in plays, and 'tis in vain
To write, while these malignant planets reign.
Some very foolish influence rules the pit,
Not always kind to sense, or just to wit:
And whilst it lasts, let buffoonry succeed
To make us laugh; for never was more need.
Farce, in itself, is of a nasty scent;
But the gain smells not of the excrement.
The Spanish nymph, a wit and beauty too,
With all her charms, bore but a single show:
But let a monster Muscovite appear,
He draws a crowded audience round the year.
May be thou hast not pleased the box and pit;
Yet those who blame thy tale applaud thy wit:
So Terence plotted, but so Terence writ.
Like his thy thoughts are true, thy language clean
Even lewdness is made moral in thy scene.
The hearers may for want of Nokes repine;
But rest secure, the readers will be thine.
Nor was thy labour'd drama damn'd or hiss'd,
But with a kind civility dismiss'd;
With such good manners, as the Wife[1] did use,
Who, not accepting, did but just refuse.
There was a glance at parting; such a look,
As bids thee not give o'er, for one rebuke.
But if thou wouldst be seen, as well as read,
Copy one living author, and one dead:
The standard of thy style let Etherege be;
For wit, the immortal spring of Wycherly:
Learn, after both, to draw some just design,
And the next age will learn to copy thine.

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