I just cruised by This Day in Literature (I’d throw a link, but screw ’em – there’s some rubbish about Premium Subscribers.) I didn’t realise that it was Congreve’s Birthday! He’d be three hundred and thirty six today, a good innings by anyone’s standards. But of course he’s dead.
By the time Congreve was my age he’d written a couple of the best comedies in English (Love for Love at 25 and The Way of the World at around 29). As brilliant and sharp as anything’s been about the smart talk and fast ethics of the town.
He was winding down from about thirty onwards; mostly poetry and the revised versions of the plays for the 1710 edition. Everyone liked Congreve – Swift, Pope, Addison, Steele. Not a bad list of friends.
He died in 1729.
I’d sign off here with a cheap joke (I was sort of building up to a comparing-achievements-at-ages crack, somehow involving computer games), but some part of me rebels. Instead, my conscience tells me to go to Wikipedia and help with their patchy page on the man (incidentally, if anyone in academia is listening, I believe they should borrow this bit of vandalism from the Augustan Literature article for an exam essay title. Just put ‘discuss’ on the end.)
Hazlitt on Congreve:
His style is inimitable, nay perfect. It is the highest model of comic dialogue. Every sentence is replete with sense and satire, conveyed in the most polished and pointed terms. Every page presents a shower of brilliant conceits, is a tissue of epigrams in prose, is a new triumph of wit, a new conquest over dullness.
Conquests over dullness. That’s right. That’s what we’re after.