The Brides’ Tragedy, Original Dedication
First published, 1822
THE REV. H. CARD, M.A. F.R.S. F.A.S.
ETC. ETC. ETC.
My DEAR SIR,
As you have, in a late publication, which displays your usual learning and judgment, mentioned this performance in terms, perhaps dictated by friendship rather than critical impartiality, I must beg to inscribe it to your name.
There are many prejudices with which a playwright has to contend, on his first appearance, more especially if he court the reader in lieu of the spectator; and it is so great an effort to give up any established topic of condolement, that we can hardly yet expect those, who call themselves “the critics,” to abandon their favourite complaint of the degeneracy which characterizes the efforts of contemporary tragic writers. But let any unprejudiced person turn to the productions even of the present year; let him candidly examine the anonymous Play, “The Court of Tuscany,” and compare its best scenes with the master-pieces of Rowe or Otway; let him peruse Allan Cunningham’s poetical drama, which has won the applause of the highest literary authority of the day; let him dwell upon the energetic grandeur and warlike animation which Croly has so successfully displayed in pourtraying the restless spirit of Catiline; and I think his verdict will place this age not the last among those which have done honour to the British stage.
These instances are sufficient to attest the flourishing condition of dramatic literature, but, alas! we must seek them in the closet, not in their proper home, the populous theatre, for there we shall meet with a sight, sufficient to deter the boldest adventurer from hazarding the representation of his best and most vaunted piece, our countrymen barely enduring the poetry of Shakspeare as the vehicle of a fashionable song or a gaudy pageant. Even the theatre itself however may appear “not yet enslaved, not wholly vile,” as long as the classic taste of Milman, the plaintive sweetness of Barry Cornwall, and the frank nature of Knowles, linger, like flowers upon the Muse’s grave. But they have almost deserted the public haunt, and England can hardly boast anything that deserves to be called a national stage.
The following scenes were written, as you well know, exclusively for the closet, founded upon facts, which occurred at Oxford, and are well detailed and illustrated by an interesting ballad in a little volume of Poems, lately published at Oxford, entitled the Midland Minstrel, by Mr. Gillet: and may thus be succinctly narrated.
The Manciple of one of the Colleges early in the last century had a very beautiful daughter, who was privately married to a student without the knowledge of the parents on either side.
During the long vacation subsequent to this union the husband was introduced to a young lady, who was at the same time proposed as his bride: absence, the fear of his father’s displeasure, the presence of a lovely object, and, most likely, a natural fickleness of disposition overcame any regard he might have cherished for his ill-fated wife, and finally he became deeply enamoured of her unconscious rival. In the contest of duties and desires, which was the consequence of this passion, the worse part of man prevailed, and he formed and executed a design almost unparalleled in the annals of crime.
His second nuptials were at hand when he returned to Oxford, and to her who was now an obstacle to his happiness. Late at night he prevailed upon his victim to accompany him to a lone spot in the Divinity Walk, and there murdered and buried her. The wretch escaped detection, and the horrid deed remained unknown till he confessed it on his death-bed. The remains of the unfortunate girl were dug up in the place described, and the Divinity Walk was deserted and demolished, as haunted ground. Such are the outlines of a Minor’s Tragedy.
My age, it will be said, is a bad excuse for the publication of a faulty poem; be it so: secure of your approbation, I can meet with a careless smile the frown of him who reads only to condemn.
I am, my dear Sir,
Your’s most sincerely,
THOMAS LOVELL BEDDOES.