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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

VI. The Restoration Drama

§ 13. The Provok’d Wife

The Provok’d Wife, produced in 1697, is, in all respects, a bettery play. Sir John Brute is Vanbrugh’s masterpiece. Caricature though he be, there are many touches of nature about him. He is the beau inverted, the man of fashion crossed with the churl. And he is fully conscious of his dignity. “Who do you call a drunken fellow, you slut you?” he asks his wife. “I’m a man of quality; the King has made me a knight.” He would not give a fig for a song that is not “full of sin and impudence.” His cry is “Liberty, and property, and old England, Huzza!” He stands out in high relief by the side of lady Brute and Belinda, who speak with the accent of everyday, and who are far nearer to common life than are the fine ladies of Congreve. His servants rival their masters in impudence; and Rasor and Mademoiselle are worthy all the praise which Hazlitt has bestowed upon them.

It has been Sir John Vanbrugh’s fate to prove an inspiration to our English novelists. Sir John Brute has long been a commonplace of fiction, and made a last appearance as Sir Pitt Crawley in Vanity Fair. Still more vivid as a painting of life than The Provok’d Wife is the fragment, A Journey to London, left unfinished at Vanbrugh’s death. There is very little that is dramatic in this masterly sketch. It is but a picture of manners, of the impact of the country upon the town. How well are the characters drawn! Sir Francis Headpiece, a softened Sir Tunbelly; John Moody, his servant, who “stumps about the streets in his dirty boots, and asks every man he meets, if he can tell him where he may have a good lodging for a parliament man”; young Squire Humphrey, the unlicked cub of the country side—are painted in colours fresh to the drama. They have taken their place, one and all, in English fiction, and it is easy to measure the debt which Fielding and Smollett owed to Vanbrugh’s happy fragment.