Epistle To Lord Halifax "The Good Received, The Giver Is Forgot"
by William Congreve

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"The Good Received, The Giver Is Forgot"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: When Congreve was driven from Ireland to England by the Revolution, he determined to become a writer. During an illness, he wrote his first play, The Old Bachelor (performed 1693). When he read it to the players, he pronounced English so badly that the play was almost rejected. Its successful production won for him the patronage of Charles Montagu (1661–1715), first Earl of Halifax, a wit and patron of such literary men as Addison and Steele. Halifax made Congreve one of the commissioners for leasing coaches, then got him a place in the Pipe-office, and finally nominated him in the Customs House service at six hundred pounds a year. Congreve dedicated to Halifax his next comedy, The Double Dealer. Eventually he gave up playwriting, angry at the reception given some of his plays, and he retired to private life, writing poetry and engaging in conversation with his many friends. However, Lord Halifax had given him his start, and he was not one to be ungrateful, so he prefaced his collection of verse with a poetic letter to his patron, flattering him by the statement that the earl might well have been so great a poet that England could have competed with Greece. Unfortunately for literature, he said, Lord Halifax was too busy encouraging other literary men, and founding the Bank of England (1694), and serving as First Lord of the Treasury, to be able to devote time to his own writing. In fact, he is chiefly remembered for a parody on Dryden's Hind and the Panther (1687) which he and Matthew Prior wrote the same year under the title The Town and the Country Mouse. The reference in Congreve's poem is to Homer whose place of birth was claimed by seven cities of Greece. Halifax was a product of all of England.

O had your genius been to leisure born,
And not more bound to aid us than adorn!
Albion in verse with ancient Greece had vy'd,
And gain'd alone a fame which, there, seven states divide.
But such, ev'n such renoun, too dear had cost,
Had we the patriot in the poet lost.
A true poetic state we had deplor'd
Had not your ministry our coin restor'd . . .
. . .
How oft a patriot's best laid schemes we find
By party cross'd, or faction undermin'd.
If he succeed, he undergoes this lot,
The good receiv'd, the giver is forgot.–
But honors, which from verse their source derive,
Shall both surmount detraction, and survive:
And poets have unquestion'd right to claim,
If not the greatest, the most lasting name.