William Wycherley (1641-1716)

UPON the writing of his first play, which was St. James's Park, he became acquainted with several of the most celebrated wits both of the Court and Town. The writing of that play was likewise the occasion of his becoming acquainted with one of King Charles's mistresses after a very particular manner. As Mr. Wycherley was going through Pall Mall towards St. James's in his chariot, he met the foresaid lady in hers, who, thrusting half her body out of the chariot, cried out aloud to him, 'You, Wycherley, you are a son of a whore!', at the same time laughing aloud and heartily.... If you never heard of this passage before, you may be surprised at so strange a greeting from one of the most beautiful and best-bred ladies in the world. Mr. Wycherley was certainly very much surprised at it, yet not so much but he soon apprehended it was spoke with allusion to the latter end of a song in the forementioned play:

When parents are slaves
Their brats cannot be any other,
Great wits and great braves
Have always a punk to their mother.

As, during Mr. Wycherley's surprise, the chariots drove different ways, they were soon at considerable distance from each other, when Mr. Wycherley, recovering from his surprise, ordered his coachman to drive back and to overtake the lady. As soon as he got over-against her, he said to her,

'Madam, you have been pleased to bestow a title on me which generally belongs to the fortunate. Will your ladyship be at the play tonight?' 'Well,' she replied, 'what if I am there?' 'Why then, I will be there to wait on your ladyship, though I disappoint a very fine woman who has made me an assignation.' 'So,' said she, 'you are sure to disappoint a woman who has favoured you for one who has not.' 'Yes,' he replied, 'if she who has not favoured me is the finer woman of the two. But he who will be constant to your ladyship till he can find a finer woman is sure to die your captive.'

The lady blushed, and bade her coachman drive away. As she was then in all her bloom, and the most celebrated beauty that was then in England, or perhaps that has been in England since, she was touched with the gallantry of that compliment. In short, she was that night in the first row of the King's box in Drury Lane, and Mr. Wycherley in the Pit under her, where he entertained her during the whole play. And this was the beginning of a correspondence between these two persons which afterwards made a great noise in the Town.

The Critical Works of John Dennis, ed. cit. ii. 409-10 (from a letter of Dennis, 1 September 1720 )

Wycherely was in a bookseller's shop at Bath or Tunbridge when Lady Drogheda came in and happened to inquire for the Plain Dealer. A friend of Wycherley's who stood by him pushed him towards her and said, 'There's the plain dealer, Madam, if you want him.' Wycherley made his excuses, and Lady Drogheda said that 'she loved plain dealing best'. He afterwards visited that lady, and in some time married her. This proved a great blow to his fortunes. Just before the time of his courting he was designed for governor to the late Duke of Richmond, and was to have been allowed £1,500 a year from the government. His absence from court in the progress of his amour, and his being yet more absent after his marriage (for Lady Drogheda was very jealous of him), disgusted his friends there so much that he lost all his interest with them. His lady died; he got little by her, and his misfortunes were such that he was thrown into the Fleet and lay there seven years.

It was then that Colonel Brett got his Plain Dealer to be acted, and contrived to get the King (James II) to be there. The colonel attended him thither. The King was mightily pleased with the play, asked who was the author of it, and upon hearing it was one of Wycherley's, complained that he had not seen him for so many years, and inquired what was become of him. The colonel improved this opportunity so well that the King gave orders that his debts should be discharged out of the privy purse. Wycherley was so weak as to give in an account only of £500, and so was confined almost half a year longer, till his father was at last prevailed upon to pay the rest—between two and three hundred pounds more.

Spence, Anecdotes, i. 321-2.

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