The following article was originally published in A Short History of the Drama. Martha Fletcher Bellinger. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1927. p. 256.
WILLIAM CONGREVE, the most celebrated of the Restoration comedy writers, was the son of an English officer living in Ireland, and was educated at Trinity, Dublin. His first play, The Old Bachelor, written at the age of twenty-three, was a great success. The Double Dealer, following almost immediately, brought forth the praise of Dryden, the autocrat of English letters. At the age of twenty-seven Congreve had gained a prestige scarcely less in importance than that of Dryden himself. Not only as a comic wit, but as a writer of noble tragedy was he esteemed. He promised his hopeful managers to write a play a year, but the promise was not kept. Love for Love appeared in 1695, followed by The Mourning Bride two years later. After one more comedy, The Way of the World, which seems to have been something of a failure on the boards, Congreve, at the age of thirty, gave up writing for the stage. He affected to despise the profession of dramatist. Voltaire visited him, Dryden praised him, and Pope dedicated to him his translation of the Iliad. Swift, Steele, Lord Halifax, Mrs. Bracegirdle, and all the other fashionable blades and ladies of the time were his friends; and he had the honor of being buried in Westminster Abbey.
In his praise it should be said that, for almost the first time in England, he brought to the service of the stage a painstaking art. He cared much about the way a sentence was built, about balance, and getting the right shade of meaning. His diction is exactly fitted for oral use; and his pictures of the world of wealth and fashion are diverting. Congreve is, perhaps, the only English writer who can really be compared with Molière.