Wycherley, William

, an English comic poet, eldest son of Daniel Wycherley, of Cleve, in Shropshire, esq. was born about 1640. At fifteen years. of age he was sent to France, in the western parts of which he resided, upon the banks of the Charante, where he was often admitted to the conversation of one of the most accomplished ladies of the court of France, madame de Montausier, celebrated by Voiture in his “Letters.A little before the restoration of Charles II. he became a gentleman-commoner of Queen’s-college in Oxford, where he lived in the provost’s lodge, and was entered in the public library, under the title of “Philosophic Studiosus,” in July 1660. He left the university without being matriculated, or any degree conferred on him; having, according to Wood, been by Dr. Barlow, reconciled to the Protestant Religion, which he bad a little before deserted in his travels. He afterwards entered himself of the Middle Temple; but, making his first appearance in town in a reign when wit and gaiety were the favourite distinctions, he soon quitted the dry study of the law, and pursued things more agreeable to his own genius, as well as to the taste of the age. As nothing was likely to succeed better than dramatic performances, especially comedies, he applied himself to the writing of | these and in about the space of ten years published four: “Love in a Wood, or St. James’s Park,” in 1672; “The Gentleman-Dancing-Master,1673; “Plain Dealer,” in 1678; and “Country-Wife,” in 1683. These were collected and printed together in 1712, 8vo.

Upon the publication of his first play, he became acquainted with several of the wits, both of the court and town; and likewise with the duchess of Cleveland, by whom, according to Mr. Dennis, and the secret history of those times, he was admitted to the last degree of intimacy. Villiers duke of Buckingham 4iad also the highest esteem for him; and, as master of the horse to the king, made him one of his equerries; and, as colonel of a regiment, captain- lieutenant of his own company, resigning to him, at the same time his own pay as captain, with many other advantages. King Charles likewise shewed him signal marks of favour; and once gave him a proof of esteem which perhaps, never any sovereign prince before had given to an author who was only a private gentleman. Wycherley happened to fall sick of a fever at his lodgings in Bowstreet, Covent*Garden, when the king did him the honour to visit him; and, finding his body extremely weakened, and his spirits miserably shattered, and his memory almost totally gone, he commanded him, as soon as he should be able to take a journey, to go to the south of France, believing that the air of Montpelier would contribute to restore him as much as any thing; and assured him, at the same time, that he would order him 500l. to defray the charges of the journey. Wycherley accordingly went into France, and, having spent the winter there, returned to England in the spring, entirely restored to his former vigour both of body and mind. The king, it is said, shortly after his arrival told him, that “he had a son, who he had resolved should be educated like the son of a king; and that he could not chuse a more proper man for his governor than Mr. Wycherley;” for which service 1500l. per annum should be settled upon him. But there seems no solid foundation for this report.

Wycherley, however, soon lost the favour of the king and of the courtiers. Dennis relates, that, immediately after he had received the preceding offer from the king, he went down to Tunbridge, to take either the benefit of the waters, or the diversions of the place when, walking one day upon the Wells- walk with his friend Mr. Fairbard, of | Gray’s-Inn, just as he came up to the bookseller’s the countess of Drogheda, a young widow, rich, noble, and beautiful, came to the bookseller, and inquired for “The Plain Dealer.” “Madam,” says Mr. Fairbeard, “since you are for `The Plain Dealer,’ there he is for you,” pushing Wycherley towards her. “Yes,” says Wycherley, “this lady can bear plain dealing; for she appears to be so accomplished, that what would be compliment said to others, spoken to her would be plain dealing.” “No truly, sir,” said the countess, “I am not without my faults, any more than the rest of my sex and yet I love plain dealing, and am never more fond of it than when it tells me of them.” “Then, madam,” says Mr. Fairbeard, “you and the Plain Dealer seem designed by heaven for each other.” In short, Wycherley walked with the countess upon the walks, waited upon her home, visited her daily at her lodgings while she was at Tunbridge, and at her lodgings in Hatton-garden, after she went to London; where, in a little time, he got her consent to marry her, which he did without acquainting the king.

But this match, so promising in appearance both to his fortunes and to his happiness, was the actual ruin of both. As soon as the news of it came to court, it was looked upon as an affront to the king, and a contempt of his majesty’s orders; and Wycherley’s conduct after marriage occasioned this to be resented more heinously; for he seldom or never went near the fiourt, which made him be thought ungrateful. But the true cause of his absence was not known: in short, the lady was jealous of him to distraction; jealous to that degree, that she could not endure him to be one moment out of her sight. Their lodgings were in Bowstreet, Covent-garden, over against a tavern, whither if he at any time went with friends, he was obliged to leave the windows open, that his lady might see there was no woman in company; or she would immediately put on the airs of a frantic woman. At last she died, and settled her fortune on him; but his title being disputed after her death, the expence of the law and other incumbrances so far reduced him, that, not being able to satisfy the importunity of his creditors, he was thrown into prison.

In this confinement he languished seven years; nor was he released till James II. going to see his “Plain Dealer,” was so charmed with the entertainment, that he gave immediate orders for the payment of his debts; adding a | pension of 200l. per annual while he continued in England. But the bountiful intentions of that prince had not the designed effect, purely through his modesty; he being ashamed to give the earl of Mulgrave, whom the king had sent to demand it, a full account of his debts. He laboured under the weight of these difficulties till his father died; and then, too, the estate that descended to him was left under very uneasy limitations, since, being only a tenant for life, he could not raise any money for the payment of his debts. However, he took a method of doing it that was in his power, though few suspected it to be his choice, and this was, making a jointure. He had often declared, as major Pack says, that “he was resolved to die married, though he could not bear the thoughts of living married again;” and accordingly, just at the eve of his death, married a young gentlewoman of 1500l. fortune, part of which he applied to the uses he wanted it for. Eleven days after the celebration of these nuptials, Jan. 1, 1715, he died, and was interred in the vault of Covent-garden church. He is said to have requested very gravely of his wife upon his death-bed, that she “would not take an old man for her second husband.

Besides the plays abovementioned, he published a volume of poems in 1704, folio, of very inferior merit; and in 1728, his “Posthumous Works in prose and verse” were published by Theobald, in octavo. His curious correspondence with Pope may be seen in that poet’s works, with many anecdotes of Wycherley, who appears to have been a libertine through the whole course of his life; nor are his works free from the licentiousness, so much encouraged when he was the favourite of Charles and James II. 1


Biog. Brit.- Bowles’s edition of Pope’s Works. Major Pack’s Works, p. 179. Spence’s Anecdotes, ms. Malone’s Dryden, vol. I. p. 190. vol. III. p. 37. and IV. p. 168. 335. House and family, —Gent. Mag. vol. LXXXI. and LXXXII.