William Congreve



George-Monck Berkeley, Literary Relics (1789)


The Complete Plays of William Congreve, ed. Herbert Davis (Chicago and London, 1967).


The Mourning Bride, Poems, & Miscellanies by William Congreve, ed. Bonamy Dobrée (London [1928]).

Hodges, Letters

William Congreve: Letters & Documents, collected and edited by John C. Hodges (London, 1964).

Hodges, Library

John C. Hodges, The Library of William Congreve (New York, 1955).

Hodges, Man

John C. Hodges, William Congreve the Man (New York and London, 1941)


The Complete Works of William Congreve, ed. Montague Summers, 4 vols (London, 1923).


The Works of William Congreve, ed. D.F. McKenzie, prepared for publication by C.Y. Ferdinand, 3 vols (Oxford, 2011)


Autograph Literary Manuscripts

Only two literary autograph manuscripts by Congreve are known to have survived, both poems and both now in the Bodleian Library (CgW 4). The authenticity of these autograph manuscripts may be established by comparison with a considerable number of surviving letters and documents in Congreve's hand.


Of his personal autograph letters, over seventy have been recorded in modern times, of which number thirty-four may survive in the originals. Nearly all of these have been edited in Hodges, Letters and 73 letters are printed in McKenzie, III, 136-88.

By far the greatest number of surviving letters by Congreve are addressed to his friend Joseph Keally (1672/3-1713) of Kilkenny. For the established facts about Keally, see notably Kathleen M. Lynch, ‘Congreve's Irish Friend, Joseph Keally’, PMLA, 53 (1938), 1076-87, and her A Congreve Gallery (Cambridge, Mass., 1951), pp. 23-36. Congreve is known to have written at least forty-four letters to Keally between 28 September 1697 and 29 October 1712. This correspondence evidently remained with Keally's descendants at least until 1789, when all but one (Hodges, No. 46) of the letters were published in Literary Relics by George-Monck Berkeley, who was the great-grandson of Rebecca Monck Forster, Keally's sister-in-law. At some time after 1789 the collection was dispersed. At present the originals of thirty-three of the letters are untraced and their text is known only from Berkeley (i.e. Hodges, Letters, Nos. 3, 6-8, 10, 12-14, 17-22, 24-8, 30-4, 36, 39, 40, 42, 45, 47-50).

The remaining eleven letters to Keally are given entries below (*CgW 74, *CgW 85, *CgW 87, CgW 89-97).

There are at least thirty-one letters by Congreve to other correspondents, of which number twenty-three are probably preserved in the originals and are given entries below (*CgW 73, CgW 75-84, *CgW 86, CgW 90-96, CgW 98-113). Most of these are recorded in Hodges, Letters, and see also Hodges' discussion of ‘The Dating of Congreve's Letters’ in PMLA, 51 (1936), 153-64).

Congreve's letters known only from early printed sources (Hodges Nos 110, 112, 115, 118, 124, 132, 144, and 146) include ‘literary’ correspondence with John Dennis and Catharine Trotter (including his observations on humour in comedy). These may be supplemented by the dedications he wrote for his various works and publications. The latter are addressed to such figures as Queen Anne, the Duke of Newcastle, the Earl of Dorset, the Earl of Montagu, Lord Clifford of Lanesborough, Charles Montagu and Mrs Katharine Levenson and are reprinted in Hodges, Letters, Nos. 84, 103-7, 116, 122 and 125. Between 1692 and 1728, Congreve also wrote five formal verse epistles to John Dryden, Charles Montagu (Earl of Halifax), Sir Godfrey Kneller and Sir Richard Temple (Viscount Cobham): see Dobrée, pp. 199-200, 252-3, 289-90, 323-6 and 400-2 (also CgW 26-9, CgW 46).

An unspecified letter by Congreve was in an album of letters offered at Sotheby's, 17 February 1890 (Alexander Foote sale), lot 285. Two unspecified letters by Congreve, in a collection of sixty miscellaneous letters, were sold at Christie's, 5 November 1945 (Tonson/Clinton Baker sale), lot 193.

A letter allegedly by Congreve the poet, both undated and unsigned, addressed to [Mr Whistler], was formerly in the now widely dispersed collection of Matteo Luigi Canonici (1727-1805), once owned by the Rev. W. Sneyd of Keele Hall, Staffordshire. It was briefly described in HMC, 3rd Report (1872), Appendix, p. 289. The letter, not recorded by Hodges, contains a discussion of poetry, with references to Whitehead, Whistler, Dick Iago, Dodsley and Hammond. It would accordingly appear to date from later in the 18th century, well after Congreve's death.


A number of other documents of a financial or business nature are known to have been written or signed by Congreve. The majority comprise receipts for payment. Some are of special interest in so far as they relate to transactions with Congreve's publisher Jacob Tonson (and son), a few also throwing light on Congreve's early relations with the ageing Poet Laureat, John Dryden. Most of these miscellaneous documents have been recorded by Hodges (Letters), although a few have managed to elude his indefatigable searches and it is possible that other examples will come to light in due course. These documents are given entries below (CgW 114-144).

For Hodges's document No. 61, Dryden's contract with Tonson for his edition of Virgil witnessed by Congreve, see Dryden, *DrJ 376.

It should be noted — as Hodges himself frequently does — that William Congreve the dramatist has often been confused with various other members of his family bearing the same name (such as his cousin, Colonel William Congreve (1670-1746), some of whose papers are preserved at Yale and in the Brotherton Collection at the University of Leeds). Thus the authenticity of certain of the documents recorded below, whose present location is uncertain, must remain unconfirmed.

Congreve's Library

A further source for examples of Congreve's signature is certain of the books from his library. On 27 January 1728/9, in a letter to his nephew, Jacob Tonson described Congreve's ‘collection of Books’ as ‘very genteel & well chosen’ and worth buying. He added: ‘I think there are in [those] books several notes of his own or corrections & everything from him will be very valuable’ (Hodges, Library, p. 9). Congreve's library was bequeathed in 1729 to his mistress Henrietta, Duchess of Marlborough, who subsequently passed it on to their daughter, Mary. In 1740 Mary married Thomas Osborne, fourth Duke of Leeds, and the library remained at their seat, Hornby Castle in Yorkshire, until its dispersal, prior to the demolition of the house, in 1930. Several manuscript lists of the family library at Hornby survive, but one, preserved in the Yorkshire Archaeological Society in Leeds, was identified by Hodges as being an eighteenth-century list specifically of Congreve's books: see Hodges, Library (facsimiles of the first and fourth pages of the manuscript catalogue appearing as his frontispiece and facing p. 26). In this forty-four-page catalogue — which is also edited, arranged in alphabetical order, in McKenzie, III, 479-542 — are recorded the titles of 659 books (some composite) dating from 1515 to 1728. Either in part or in its entirety, Congreve's library was incorporated in the thousands of books sold by the eleventh Duke of Leeds in June 1930, in a series of sales at Sotheby's (on 2-4 June) and at Hornby Castle itself (lots 1097-1294 in the seven-day sale arranged by Knight, Frank & Rutler). Only a very few of the books were identified as Congreve's in the sale catalogues and indeed most of those books sold at Hornby were not individually specified at all.

Of those titles that are mentioned in the 1930 sale catalogues, nearly seventy correspond with titles given in the early manuscript catalogue and are therefore likely to represent books from Congreve's library. These are indicated in Hodges, Library. Some twenty-five years after the Leeds sales, Hodges was able to locate — or at least record the recent existence of — some sixteen volumes (some of which were mentioned in the sale catalogues, others not). Of those volumes, twelve bear Congreve's signature. A further five volumes, currently untraced, are specifically described in the sale catalogues as bearing Congreve's signature, although, of course, many others may actually have been signed. The signed volumes traced by Hodges include Congreve's exempla of: the Shakespeare First Folio, 1623 (formerly in the University of Leeds, Brotherton Collection, Lt. 1, SHA; sold at Christie's, 28 November 1990, lot 115, and now in Meisei University, Tokyo); John Oldham, Works, 1686 (Yale, IjoL1 c 684b); Aristophanes, Comedies, 1692 (Boston Public Library); Homer, 1606 (Pierpont Morgan Library); Terence, Comedies, 1694 (University of Tennessee: a facsimile of the signed title-page appearing in Hodges, Library, facing p. 100); and other books recorded by Hodges as being at the University of Tennessee, at Yale, and in the possession of the Rev. J.F. Gerrard and E.S. de Beer. One of the latter's volumes inscribed by Congreve — John Raymond's An Itinerary contayning a voyage, made through Italy (London, 1646) — is now in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

A few items that Hodges failed to locate may briefly be mentioned. Congreve's signed exemplum of Thomas Randolph, Cornelianum dolium (London, 1638), evidently corresponding to Hodges, Library, No. 112, is now in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester (Christie 10. a. 20). An exemplum of Charles Cotton's translation of Montaigne's Essays (3 vols, 1685-93), bearing Congreve's signature on each title-page and evidently corresponding to Hodges, Library, No. 379, was sold at Sotheby's, 22 July 1982, Lot 580, to Quaritch. A composite volume comprising Dryden's Of Dramatick Poesie (1694), Roscommon's translation of Horace's Art of Poetry (1684) and Buckingham's The Rehearsal (1687), all three signed by Congreve and evidently corresponding to Hodges No. 406, was sold at Christie's, 19 May 1982, lot 164. It was re-offered in Quaritch's catalogue English Books before 1701 (October 1983), item 236, and is now privately owned. Congreve's inscribed exempla of François Hédelin, La Pratique du Theatre (Paris, 1657) and Charles Cotton's translation of Essays of Michael Seigneur de Montaigne (London, 1685) were in the library of John R. B. Brett-Smith and were sold at Sotheby's, 27 May 2004, lots 122 and 123 (illustrated in the sale catalogue).

Those recorded in the 1930 sales catalogues as containing Congreve's signature include his exempla of Thomas Otway's plays; Henry Purcell, Orpheus Britannicus (1698-1702); Sir Richard Fanshawe's translation of Camoens, Lusiad (1655); and Stow's Survey of London (1637). Other volumes mentioned in the early manuscript catalogue include works by Beaumont and Fletcher, Jonson, Chaucer, Cowley, Dryden, Donne, Hobbes, Thomas Killigrew, Milton, Newton, Prior, Pope, Spenser, Swift, Suckling, Shadwell, Voltaire and Wycherley. There is also record, not mentioned by Hodges, of Congreve's signed exemplum of Robert Boyle's Some Considerations touching the Style of the Holy Scriptures (London, 1663), sold at Sotheby's, 15 June 1846 (William Upcott sale), lot 119.

It is also known that Congreve presented at least three exempla of his Works (3 vols, London, 1710) to friends. One was sent to Joseph Keally (see his letter of 9 November 1710: Hodges, Letters, No. 42). Another, inscribed to Anthony Henley, was recorded by J. Isaacs in ‘Congreve's Library’, TLS (2 September 1949), p. 569. Yet another bears an inscription by Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (‘december 1710. given me by mr Congreve S. Marlborough’). This is now in the library of Robert S. Pirie, New York.

Manuscript Copies

Of those manuscript copies of original works by Congreve given entries below, the majority — copied chiefly in miscellanies and compilations dating from the eighteenth century — were almost certainly transcribed from printed sources. There are a few notable exceptions. While no authorial manuscripts are preserved of any of those dramatic works (especially The Way of the World) on which Congreve's reputation rests, a single document among King's Bench records in the National Archives, Kew, allows for a brief glimpse of what was probably the original acting version of his early comedy Love for Love. Over a dozen lines spoken by Sir Sampson Legend or his son Ben, in a substantially different version from the published text, are cited in an indictment against stage profanity (see CgW 62). Since the document relates to a performance of the play on 26 December 1700, it is possible that Congreve's original text as used in the first performance in April 1695 had been altered by the actors, but it is at least equally likely — as the discoverers of the document argued in 1975 — that ‘the objectionable expressions were in Congreve's original manuscript’. No further contemporary documentary sources throw light on the text of Congreve's plays other than the various printed editions, which themselves incorporate authorial revisions (for a notable instance, see, for example, David D. Mann, ‘Congreve's Revisions of The Mourning Bride’, PBSA, 69 (1975), 526-46). The full score of Congreve's opera The Judgment of Paris, possibly in the hand of the composer Daniel Purcell (CgW 58), is an important witness to one of Congreve's more peripheral dramatic productions; however, an extant manuscript of his opera Semele (CgW 71) belongs to the later production in Handel's adaptation. As is common with both plays and operas of the period, certain of the songs in Congreve's dramatic works had some degree of circulation as independent pieces, the texts recorded below probably deriving from musical scores.

One of the very few poems by Congreve to achieve some degree of manuscript circulation before publication, beyond the confines of his private friends and acquaintances, is his Letter to Viscount Cobham. In his octavo edition of 1729, Edmund Curll claimed: ‘The following Epistle…is here printed from a Manuscript of the Author, with which I was obliged by a person of the first Rank; the Public having been notoriously abused, by a very erroneous Copy, surreptitiously obtained by one Lewis in Covent-Garden and vended under the Cover of A. Dodd and E. Nutt’ (Summers, IV, 219). Several contemporary copies of this poem (textually closer to Curll's version than to Lewis's) are recorded (CgW 26-29), including one from the family papers of Congreve's publisher, Jacob Tonson. Another surreptitiously circulated poem was his pastoral elegy on the Marquess of Blandford, The Tears of Amaryllis for Amyntas. Writing to Tonson on 1 July 1703, Congreve reported that Tonson's nephew had ‘told me of Copies that were dispersed of the Pastoral & likely to be printed so we have thought fit to prevent 'em & print it our selves’ (Hodges, Letters, No. 69). In the published edition (1703), in the prefatory remarks ‘To the Reader’, Congreve explains further: ‘These verses had been Printed soon after they were written if they had not been design'd rather privately to Condole, than publickly to Lament…But, by some Accident, many Copies of 'em have been dispersed, and one, I was informed, had been shewn to a Bookseller. So that it was high time for me to prevent their appearing with more Faults than their own’ (Summers, IV, 67). One of these unauthorized ‘Copies’ is among the Duke of Portland's collections (CgW 45).

Verse Canon

The canon of Congreve's poetry has not been established conclusively, although the main body (most of which Congreve incorporated in his Works (1710)) is clear enough. Except for the two poems discussed above (CgW 4 and CgW 30) and another set by Henry Purcell which is printed in Dobrée (CgW 47-49), those poems given entries below are based, for present purposes, on the canon established in Summers (virtually the same adopted in McKenzie). This includes A Hue and Cry after Fair Amoret (CgW 11-21), which has been sometimes assigned to the Earl of Dorset.

Yet further poems have been ascribed to Congreve in manuscript sources, whether legitimately or otherwise. These have not been given separate entries, but may be briefly listed as follows:


A Ballad on the Victory at Oudenarde (‘Ye Commons and Peers’).

First published anonymously, as Jack Frenchman's Lamentation (London, 1708) McKenzie, II, 469-71 (headed ‘Jack French-Man's Defeat’. Anonymous in Poetical Miscellanies, The Sixth Part (published by Jacob Tonson, London, 1709). Reprinted, and a case for Congreve's authorship (based on contemporary references) argued, in William Congreve: A Sheaf of Poetical Scraps, ed. Dragosh Protopopesco, 2nd edition (Bucharest, [1925]), pp. 24-9, and also in Dobrée, pp. 381-3. Variously attributed to Swift, Congreve and Prior, but ‘there seems no reason to assume the author was a major poet’ (D.F. Foxon, English Verse 1701-1750, 2 vols (Cambridge, 1975), p. 382, J1-J5). See also the text and discussion in The Poems of Jonathan Swift, ed Harold Williams, 3 vols (Oxford, 1937), III, 1078-82.

A manuscript copy, headed ‘The Frenchman's Lamentation An Excellent New Song to the Tune of I'll tell the Dick’, dated July 1708 and ascribed to ‘Mr Congreve’, is in an early 18th-century verse miscellany (also containing other verses by Congreve) in the British Library (Add. MS 40060, ff. 71v-3v). An anonymous copy is in the British Library (Add. MS 30162, ff. 26v-30). Another copy is in Leeds University, Brotherton Collection. (MS Lt 11, pp. 143-6), and a four-page octavo copy endorsed ‘Mr Prior's Ballad upon ye Victory at Oudenard 1708’, was owned in 1937 by Harold Williams.


The History and Fall of the Conformity-Bill (‘God bless our Gracious Sovereign Anne’).

Published in A New Collection of Poems Relating to State Affairs, from Oliver Cromwel To this present Time (London, 1705), pp. 557-61. The text in Alexander Pope's exemplum of this publication (British Library, C. 28. e. 15) is annotated by him ‘Certainly written by Mr Congreve’. Attributed to Arthur Maynwaring (who, like Congreve, was a member of the ‘Order of the Toast’ or ‘Punch Club’) in John Oldmixon, The Life and Posthumous Works of A. Maynwaring (London, 1715), p. 40.

A manuscript copy, dated January 1703/4 and subscribed ‘Certainly written by Mr. Congreve’, is in the British Library (Add. MS 40060, ff. 41r-5r). The poem is ascribed to Robert Wisdom in Bodleian (MS Locke. c. 32, f. 44r) and British Library (Add. MS 7122, f. 6r). Anonymous copies are in Bodleian (MSS Rawl. D. 360, f. 62r; Rawl. poet. 169, f. 29r; Firth b. 21, f. 51r), and elsewhere.


The Oath of the Tost (‘By Bacchus and by Venus Swear’).

A manuscript copy, ascribed to ‘Mr Congreve’, is in British Library (Add. MS 40060, f. 7r). It is edited from this manuscript and attributed to Congreve in W.J. Cameron, ‘John Dryden and Henry Heveningham’, N & Q, 202 (May 1957), 199-203.


A Satyr Against Love (‘After the Rebel Lucifer was driv'n’).

First published, as ‘Revis'd and Corrected by Mr. Congreve’, in London, 1703). Reprinted and discussed in John Barnard, ‘Did Congreve write A Satyr Against Love?’, BNYPL, 68 (1964), 308-22. In the prefatory remarks ‘To the Reader’ in The Tears of Amaryllis for Amyntas (1703), Congreve specifically disowns this poem: ‘[he] does assure the Reader he never saw or heard of any such Verses before they were so Printed, viz. without either the Name of the Author, Bookseller or Printer, being Publish'd after the Manner of a Libel’ (Barnard, op. cit., p. 310; Summers, IV, 67).

A manuscript copy of the first forty-seven lines, ascribed to ‘Mr. Congreve’ (written at the end of a manuscript medical treatise) is in the British Library (Sloane MS 3996, f. 46r-v). It is edited from that source, and assigned to Congreve, by Dragosh Protopopesco in TLS (8 November 1923) and in William Congreve: A Sheaf of Poetical Scraps, 2nd edition (Bucharest, [1925]), pp. 21-3, and also in Dobrée, pp. 378-9. It is almost certainly not by Congreve.


“The Mulcibers, who in the Minories sweat”.

Attributed to Congreve (‘what Congreve said about Aurelia’) in a letter by ‘Clarina’ published in Addison and Steele's The Guardian, No. 85 (18 June 1713).

A manuscript copy in a verse miscellany compiled by Thomas Axton (b.1699/1700) of Trinity College, Cambridge (c.1718-22) is in the Bodleian (MS Rawl. poet. 116, f. 119v).


On the Union (‘Whilst rich in brightest red the blushing rose’)

Translation of a Latin poem, published in 1707 (Foxon R 304). Assigned to Nicholas Rowe in his Poems (1714).

A manuscript copy, as ‘By Mr Congreve’, is among the Gibson manuscripts in Leeds University, MS Lt. 87, f. 82r.

Dramatic Works

A few eighteenth-century promptbooks of Congreve's plays survive and are discussed notably in Edward A. Langhans, Eighteenth Century British and Irish Promptbooks: A Descriptive Bibliography (New York, Westport, Conn., & London, 1987), pp. 30-4. Two examples from the collection of prompt-books given by J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps to the Morrab Library, Penzance, were sold at Sotheby's on 27 May 1964. Lot 669 was a marked-up 18th-century prompt-copy of The Old Batchelour (1693), now in Edinburgh University Library (JA 275, while lot 674 was a similar prompt-copy of The Double-Dealer (2nd edition, [1707]); now in Edinburgh University Library (JA 274). Complete photocopies of these two prompt-books are in the University of Texas (Prompt Books Box 1). Other prompt-books of this kind no doubt survive elsewhere. Eighteenth-century editions of Congreve's plays that are, in effect, printed acting copies are discussed in Emmett L. Avery, Congreve's Plays on the Eighteenth-Century Stage (New York, 1951), pp. 161-70. The manuscript of a play by Alexander Dalrymple adapted in 1795 from Congreve's novel Incognita is in the Bodleian (MS Don. e. 55).

A manuscript of a prologue and epilogue for a private performance of Congreve's The Mourning Bride (1697) is at Yale (Osborn MSS File 19022). The performance was given, probably by Thomas Betterton's Lincoln's Inn Fields company, for George, Earl of Berkeley, and his wife Elizabeth on their 51st anniversary.


An unlocated manuscript miscellany allegedly containing ‘a number of Poems by William Congreve’ was offered for sale in P.J. Dobell's catalogue Literature of the Restoration (1918), item 1285, where it is described as a ‘Commonplace Book’ also including ‘Poems by Charles Gildon and…the poems of Boetius, made English by ye Right Honble. Richard Ld. Viscount Preston, printed 1695’.

Unspecified ‘pieces’ by Congreve and others are reported to have been in a late 17th-century small octavo ‘commonplace book’ once owned by the Hertfordshire solicitor and historian Reginald L. Hine (1883-1949). This was sold at Sotheby's, 12 December 1977, lot 110, to Quaritch.

An exemplum of Edmund Gosse's Life of William Congreve (1888) annotated by George Thorn-Drury, KC (1860-1931), literary scholar and editor, is in the Bodleian Library (Thorn-Drury d. 49).

Peter Beal