From Mrs. Mary Roper, Swan’s Head Road, London. 22, February, 1700


My Dearest Sister Angeline,

I cannot truly articulate how wonderful it was to see you this Christmas past. You were looking very well, and I can see that John won’t have much longer to wait to be a father! As for my husband, it is now almost five years since we’ve been wed, and our match that was spawned out of a mutual arrangement rather than one of love has left me with a secret. Sister I warn you, before you progress but a moment further in this letter, the contents hereafter are quite shocking.
I have begun an affair with none other than Mr. Congreve of Staffordshire. I’ll wager you have more than one question about how this all started. Well, as you know, my husband is the publisher of the newspaper The Post Boy, and one of his papers from 2 years past advertised a lost copy of Mr. Congreve’s latest play The Mourning Bride. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that it was Mr. Congreve’s very own copy! I returned it to his house and that very week we began our love affair. That's him, in the picture I've sent with this letter.will.jpg

I’ve no doubt that you’ve heard of his success as a playwright, even you who live so very far from London. Even before meeting him I, like much of the rest of the populace, fell in love with him at seeing his first play, The Old Bachelor. That was seven years ago, in 1693. Mr. Dryden (well of course you know John Dryden—the poet and playwright? They’re calling this the ‘Age of Dryden’ dear, he’s a celebrity) thought it was magnificent the first time he saw it. He said he had (and I’m quoting this) “never [seen] such a first play in his life.” He even edited it himself, and as I’ve said, the audiences simply adored it. It premiered at Drury Lane Theater, not five minutes from our estate, though I’ve noticed all of his recent plays have been at the newly reopened Lincoln Inn Theater. You know I never gossip dearest sister, but the story goes that two of the actors in the troupe died and the theater was taken under new management, resulting in a revolt from the actors. Mr. Congreve’s last comedy performed there was The Double Dealer, which I’m sorry to say the audiences did not much enjoy. Critics have said that it portrays all women as coquettes and all men as fools, but what is art if it does not mirror life? Mr. Dryden wrote an epistle specifically to congratulate his friend and pupil on the show, publicly declaring his wish that Mr. Congreve take over his literary throne. I’ve been allowed the privilege of reading Mr. Congreve’s most personal letters, (as is the intimate nature of our relationship) and I believe the kind Mr. Dryden’s words resembled something of the following:

“High on the Throne of Wit; and seated there,
Not mine (that’s little) but thy Lawrel wear.
Thy first Attempt an early Promise made;
That early Promise this has more than paid.”

Of course his letter was much longer than these four lines, and he begins by celebrating the return of the good King Charles to the throne, which I must admit betrays his Tory sentiments. I don’t want to bore you with the details, but I can scarcely call any word of Mr. Dryden’s boring at all. So, from there he continues by enumerating the various other authors who fall short of my love Congreve in terms of intelligence and literary expertise. John Fletcher, the playwright following Shakespeare in the King’s Men Troupe is mentioned, along with Samuel Johnson, the famous poet, biographer, essayist, etc. Dryden eloquently explains that all of these older writers who have been surpassed cannot even feel angry or spiteful of Mr. Congreve because of his sweet disposition and the promise he shows at become one of the greatest authors of all time. Then he proceeds to describe himself as a fatherly King relinquishing the throne to Mr. Congreve as the next champion of the stage. Truly sister, my eyes never read such merited praise; a whole Ode dedicated to the genius of Mr. Congreve.

After Mr. Congreve left the Drury Lane Theater in favor of the Lincoln Inn Theater, he once again received the enormous success he deserves. Love for Love in 1695 is surely his most popular comedy to date, though the competition for most popular play is decidedly tougher due to the great success of his poetic tragedy Mourning Bride of 1697. I confess it will always have a special place in my heart due to the peculiar circumstances of our making acquaintance. One of Mr. Congreve’s colleagues, a Whig politician named Sir Richard Blackmore believed it to be, “the most Perfect Tragedy that has ever been wrote in this Age,” but then it is easy to see why he would enjoy it so thoroughly. Though Blackmore normally opposes the witty, lewd comedies that Congreve writes, he enjoyed The Mourning Bride because it is clearly written with Whig ambitions. The character Almeria strongly mirrors our own Queen Mary (God rest her soul) because their fathers both lost their thrones in similar fashions. Almeria’s father is overthrown by her husband’s invasion, much like our Glorious Revolution where King James was dethroned when King William came into power. The marriage of Almeria in the play to the hero Alphonso (an outsider) clearly indicates Congreve’s approval of the succession of the crown to King William.
As of late, my Lord Congreve tells me he is working on a new production; a comedy that he calls The Way of the World. I can scarcely wait for its performance which he assures me will be no later than March of this year. I would delight in telling you the contents of this screenplay, but I confess Mr. Congreve has been quite secretive while writing it. It’s been nearly a year and a half since he started, as I recall he began constructing the plot for this work only a month after we began our affair. I am not so bold to believe that I inspired him as the muse of ancient Greece inspired blind Homer; rather I can fairly easily attribute his endeavor to be a response to the scathing bishop Jeremy Collier and his Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698). Mr. Collier takes a special offense to all the most successful comedies of late because he believes they sacrifice morality for wit.

Those specifically mentioned in his accusatory papers include Mr. John Vanbrugh, Mr. John Dryden, and alas, my own Mr. William Congreve. I fear these objections had somewhat of an effect on Mr. Congreve because of the biting critique of Congreve’s most popular play, Love for Love. I recall vividly Collier’s words, “Here we have Adultery dignified with the style of Martyrdom, as if 'twas as Honorable to perish in Defense of Whoring, as to die for the Faith of Christianity.” Mr. Collier goes on to say that with the rising popularity of comedies, female modesty has declined while profanity and blasphemy have run rampant in the playhouses. He concludes with rather similar words to his beginning; that it is the duty of the theater to discourage vice and educate the audience both intellectually and religiously, yet the recent theatrical successes have “cherish[ed] those Passions and reward[ed] those Vices, which ‘tis the business of Reason to discountenance.” I fear Mr. Collier has made quite an impact with his essay on the audiences of London, and I’ve heard my Lord Congreve voice the same fears after reading it. He is convinced that Mr. Collier’s essay not only will influence audiences, but has already been influenced by the public. He says, and I cannot help but revel in my Mr. Congreve’s vast intelligence, that Collier’s papers reflect the audience’s shift from appreciating the witty and explicit comedies of our time to appreciating the values of morality and piety advocated by our own King William and Queen Mary.

Like his contemporaries, my Congreve responded to Collier in his Amendments of Mr. Collier's False and Imperfect Citations, yet it was not his best work and even he believed he failed in refuting Mr. Collier’s claims. Since then he has been working on his latest comedy, which he boasts will be a new type of comedy to the world—one with all the wit of the past comedies and more virtue, while keeping the characters as representative of real people as possible. He has even let slip that his main female character is entirely constructed off of a lady he knows himself! This, I admit, is part of the source of my excitement at viewing the play, to see how closely I resemble this fictitious woman.

Well my beloved sister, it is time for me to bring this scandalous letter to a close. I look forward to your reply, which I am sure (as virtuous as you are) will berate me for my decidedly wicked behavior. Though my heart belongs to Mr. Congreve, I will always and forever be

Eternally Yours,

Mrs. Mary Roper

From Mrs. Angeline Oakleaf, Gregory Boulevard, Nottingham. 3, March, 1700


To my most Cherished Sister Mary,

I must confess that words failed me when reading your most recent message. Do you not fear for the tainted state of your soul? Nay, speak no more to me about this matter; mine ears are much too young to hear of such affairs. Tell me of your husband Abel. I understand his newspaper is doing rather well, though we are unable to receive any copies here in Nottingham. On what type of news does his publication report? We are so deeply out of touch with the world, and I wish to know everything that is going on both inside and outside the city of London.

I apologize for the brevity of this letter, but maintaining our estate has left me with so little spare time for writing. I look forward to our next meeting and of course your soonest correspondence. Until then, I am

Yours,

Mrs. Angeline Oakleaf

From Mrs. Mary Roper, Swan’s Head Road, London. 26, March 1700


My Beloved Angeline,

I had expected no less a response from you; thou art as angelic as thy name would suggest. On my word I will try my best to cease talk of my lewd activities within my letters to you. As for your inquiry about my husband Abel’s newspaper—it is true, the paper is not yet five years old having formed in May of 1695, and has picked up quite a following.
POSTBOY4424617.jpg
At the time of its conception, it was titled Post Boy with Foreign and Domestick News, though it has since been simplified to only Post Boy. Abel, like many of his contemporaries, simply created a one page newspaper with excerpts of news from all over the world on the front (and on the back if it ran long) and concluded with news from our very own London and advertisements for different things. I’m rather impressed with the number of cities that he manages to stay in contact with—he regularly has articles from Paris, Vienna, The Hague, Dublin, Warsaw, Constantinople and more. Abel is, as you know, a Tory, and while it is true he writes his paper as a rival to the Whig Flying Post, he exerts his utmost efforts to ensure that the facts of the news clippings are not tainted. Since I know you have not the means to acquiring this publication, I have sent you a copy, and I will also describe the typical layout for a Post Boy issue. It begins with a brief summary of all the relevant information from foreign places which includes military actions, the marriage of nobles, the activities of ambassadors, alliances, treaties, and conquests being made, and any unusual crimes. From thence it will oftentimes include an update on the various stocks on the market, and then proceed to the domestic affairs of London. Investors in business will know where and when their cargo ships reached a certain point, a list of the deceased is read, fugitives’ crimes and descriptions are listed, and any information regarding His Majesty’s whereabouts is included also. It concludes with an advertisement section which catalogues everything from lost items to miracle health cures to new publications to local performances. All in all sister, it is quite an informative publication.

And now, you wish for me to describe to you the events of the world? Ah, but where to begin? I shall start with the first of January, and bring you all the news of this new year. The first week, Abel dedicated the entire front page to a declaration made by a Papist Bishop ordering all indulgences to cease, which may surprise you given his strong hatred of Catholics. I’ve heard others comment that Abel’s political preferences vary with his paycheck, however I believe it is simply his attempt at producing an unbiased newspaper.

There is much worry about the Pope dying because of his fragile state, and already the Spanish and French Cardinals have called for soldiers to guard them because they fear an attempt on their lives because of their possible ascension to the papacy. It bears mentioning while on the topic of religion that this is the Jubilee year for Christians, and never has a topic so disgusted my husband more. He writes of how Jewish tradition dictated that every fifty years was a Jubilee year of pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and all slaves were freed, all sins forgiven, and nobody worked the land. Catholics adopted this policy and shortened the length of to only twenty-five years, which Abel calls “false Judaism,” and “[more of] a Triumph of the Pagan Emperors than for an Act of Religion” (Issue 747). This not only illustrates how rigidly divided all of our religious groups are, but also reflects a very popular sentiment that we should embrace our Anglican religion and all its rules that keep us morally sound (unlike the indulgent wielding papists).

In other parts of the world, tensions were running high between Sweden and the combined forces of Muscovy, Denmark, Poland-Lithuania, and Saxony. Denmark began bolstering its navy in early January, and Poland quickly dispatched troops to join them. Sweden responded by mobilizing troops to their plot of land in Germany, while simultaneously working with Muscovy to find a mediator to diffuse the violent atmosphere. At the end of January, a Muscovite ship was sacked by Turks, and the Muscovites prepared for war with the Ottoman Empire. Sweden gathered troops because they are allied with the Ottomans, and Denmark blocked Sweden from accessing the Rivers Elbe and Trave in February. The mediators formed an agreement that all of the countries agreed to except for Denmark because the Dane King desired land that the Swedes had previously won in war. On March 5, Denmark attacked a Swedish fort, and Polish troops began preparing at Saxony. Then, on March 25, the Danes focused their efforts on Tonningen in Holstein. I fear, sister, that this is the start of a tremendous war in the north, and I can only thank God that England has not been forced into such a gory mess. Some are already referring to these conflicts as “The Great Northern War,” which is so catchy that it would not surprise me if this name stuck throughout history.

Abel’s paper records more than simply the violent actions of one country towards another, and I fear I have dwelt too long on the more serious aspects of the journal (though his main purpose in the creation of his paper was to educate English citizens about the foreign and domestic current events). Abel does not include nearly enough on entertainment, so I will describe for you the year thus far in theater as well as what Abel chose to include in his advertisement section. As I have already mentioned, my clandestine lover (who I have promised not to name again) is producing his comedy The Way of the World later this week, and I look forward to seeing that very much. Richard Steele has received an advanced copy, and written an epistle back to Congreve entitled “Epistle XII. To Mister Congreve; occasioned by his comedy call’d The Way of the World.” It is scheduled to be published after the play is performed, but I had the chance to read it one day while at the residence of my paramour. Mr. Steele both admires my Lord Congreve’s writing, and also laments the changing attitudes of the public. With lines such as, “’Tis not in Congreve’s Power to please but few” and “Forgotten Authors who have lately writ/Despair now to revive their Fame of Wit” Mr. Steele explains how our fine era of comedic plays that was started and encouraged by King Charles II is now dying in favor of more morally upright dramas. He echoes Collier’s sentiments that Congreve advocates impropriety, and ends with advice for Mr. Congreve to return to writing tragedies. He says, “But when thy Muse assumes her Tragick Part,/She conquers, and she reigns in ev’ry Heart.” From this epistle I can see that Mr. Steele presumes Mr. Congreve’s play to be a failure, but only time will tell.

Among this, other works from this year include Achilles; or, Iphigenia in Aulis: a tragedy, written by Abel Boyer who my husband has referenced before in his paper (though not this time) and even invited to become a writer for The Post Boy. This was a translation of Jean Racine’s tragedy that glorified one princess for being morally virtuous, illustrating the shifting taste of audiences. Besides Mr. Boyer, at least four other playwrights chose to write tragedies this year. Mr. Collier published A Second Defense of the Short View of the Profaneness and Immorality of the English Stage which replied to his critics about theater, and can be found advertised in Post Boy issues 749, 755, 763, and more. Richard Blackmore, the aforementioned supporter of Mr. Congreve’s The Mourning Bride wrote this year A Satyr Against Wit which attacks all of the “authors of wit” like Mr. Dryden and even my Mr. Congreve. All in all, this theater season seems to dramatically exemplify the phrase “old with the old, in with the new” with the public’s turn from the Restoration comedy of manners to what some are calling Sentimentalism. I can only pray that when Mr. Congreve’s play is performed it still manages to touch the hearts of those who are not ready to retire this witty form of comedy.

Well sister, I believe that is all the information you have requested of me; I have detailed all of the current events of the last three months as well as the theatrical news. I shall write to you again after I witness Mr. Congreve’s The Way of the World.
Until then,

Mrs. Mary Roper

From Mrs. Mary Roper, Swan’s Head Road, London. 31, March 1700


To my Sister Angeline,
anne bracegirdle.png Oh woe is me! Why did I forsake your wisdom about my covert affair with Mr. Congreve! Dost thou remember when I told you that Mr. Congreve had based one of his female characters on a lady he knew, and I so foolishly believed it to be myself? Alas no, the character Mrs. Millamant was written based on the persona of the actress who played her—Anne Bracegirdle! (I've sent you a picture). He has even gone so far as to include her in his last will and testament, an honor never bestowed upon me. The scoundrel has broken my heart. As for the play, I ache to admit that it is his finest work—a true masterpiece; though it was received quite indifferently by the audience. As this is the case, Mr. Congreve has resolved never to write another play again, and good riddance I say. Let his pride hurt as much as my own soul.

My husband simply adored the production, despite the political differences between himself and Mr. Congreve. I must agree that there were some overlapping similarities between his play and my husband’s newspaper. I previously mentioned the worldly nature of The Post Boy which placed a heavy emphasis on educating the common citizen about the world, and Mr. Congreve echoes this theme through his character Sir Willful’s desire to go on a “Grand Tour” around Europe. This is not a new theme for Mr. Congreve, as his tragedy The Mourning Bride took place in a completely different country with many interactions with foreigners. In addition, Mr. Congreve created the character of Witwoud, who lacks any kind of wit at all. Surely this is meant to mock the many writers who fancy themselves Restoration writers of wit, but fall short, much like those my husband’s friend Mr. Abel Boyer mocked in his A Satyr Against Wit. Finally, the unambiguous references to the many affairs between characters exemplify the exact type of impropriety that Mr. Collier railed against (in his works advertised in The Post Boy).

Oh, such sadness I feel, though I suppose it is just (as the villain Congreve says) the way of the world. With any luck he will perish in this Great Northern War that is occurring, though I concede it is unlikely. Write me back soon, my sister, with all the condolences in your person.
Awaiting your response,

Mrs. Mary Roper
Works Cited
Braverman, Richard Lewis. Plots and Counterplots: Sexual Politics and the Body Politic in English Literature, 1660-1730. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 1993. Print.
Collier, Jeremy. A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage: Together with the Sense of Antiquity upon This Argument. 2nd ed. London: Printed for S. Keble at the Turk's Head in Fleetstreet, R. Sare at Gray's-Inn-Gate in Holborn, and H. Hindmarsh against the Exchange in Corhil, 1698. Play.google.com. Google. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.
Dryden, John. "To My Dear Friend Mr. Congreve: On His Comedy, Called, The Double Dealer." The Works of Mr. Congreve in Two Volumes To Which Is Prefixed, a Life of the Author. Vol. 1. London: MDCCLXXXVIII. [1788]. 80-82. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. University of Maryland College Park. 14 Nov. 2013.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. University of Maryland College Park Internet resource.
Steele, Richard. "Epistle XII. To Mister Congreve; Occasion'd by His Comedy, Call'd The Way of the World." Letters of Wit, Politicks, and Morality. London: n.p., 1701. 260-62. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. University of Maryland College Park. 22 Nov. 2013
“The Post Boy, 1700." The Post Boy 1700, January-March ed. Abel Roper. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers. Web.
Thomas, David, ed. Theatre in Europe: A Documentary History; Restoration and Georgian England 1660-1788. Comp. Arnold Hare. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989. Print.