Congreve, William

William Congreve by Sir Godfrey Kneller,Bt
William Congreve by Sir Godfrey Kneller,Bt. Image source Wikipedia Commons

William Congreve was born in 1672, not 1670 and not at Bardsley, near Leeds in England, as he claimed. His father was steward to the Earl of Burlington, 1st Earl of Cork, and it is likely that he was born on the estates in Cork. At a very early age he was sent to school in Kilkenny, and afterwards to the University of Dublin, where he was a contemporary of Swift, who remained a lifelong friend.

When he was seventeen, his father sent him to London, where he was placed in the Middle Temple. It was here he produced his first work, a novel called Incognita; or Love and Duty reconciled. Johnson commented: ‘‘I would rather praise it than read it.’’

His first dramatic work, The Old Bachelor, was fitted for the stage by Dryden, who stated that he had never seen such a first play in his life. It was acted in 1639, when Congreve was just 21. This gained him patronage from Lord Halifax, who appointed him to positions which afforded him an income.

His subsequent plays are The Double Dealer (1694); Love for Love (1695); Mourning Bride ([his only tragedy] 1697); and The Way of the World (1700), which was initially unsuccessful and after which he largely gave up the theatre.

He turned to translations, including that of Moliere’s Monsieur de Pourceaugnac.

The leading female roles in Congreve’s plays were written for Anne Bracegirdle, reputed to be his mistress.
The phrases ‘‘Heaven hath no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned’’, and ‘‘Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast’’ are from his play The Mourning Bride.

One of the earliest collected editions of his work is The dramatick works of Mr. William Congreve. Containing, The old batchelor. The way of the world. Love for love. The mourning bride. The double-dealer. (Dublin, Printed by S. Powell, for P. Crampton, 1731)*

He died in a London carriage accident in 1729, and was buried in the Poet’s Corner at Westminster.

Source: The Cabinet of Irish Literature

William Congreve at Online Literature which includes a biography and two plays, Love for Love, and The Way of the World

William Congreve works at Project Gutenberg

William Congreve at The National Library of Ireland