Incognita; or, Love and Duty Reconcil'd by William Congreve


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Page 1


Some Authors are so fond of a Preface, that they will write one tho'
there be nothing more in it than an Apology for its self. But to show
thee that I am not one of those, I will make no Apology for this, but do
tell thee that I think it necessary to be prefix'd to this Trifle, to
prevent thy overlooking some little pains which I have taken in the
Composition of the following Story. Romances are generally composed of
the Constant Loves and invincible Courages of Hero's, Heroins, Kings and
Queens, Mortals of the first Rank, and so forth; where lofty Language,
miraculous Contingencies and impossible Performances, elevate and
surprize the Reader into a giddy Delight, which leaves him flat upon the
Ground whenever he gives of, and vexes him to think how he has suffer'd
himself to be pleased and transported, concern'd and afflicted at the
several Passages which he has Read, viz. these Knights Success to their
Damosels Misfortunes, and such like, when he is forced to be very well
convinced that 'tis all a lye. Novels are of a more familiar nature;
Come near us, and represent to us Intrigues in practice, delight us with
Accidents and odd Events, but not such as are wholly unusual or
unpresidented, such which not being so distant from our Belief bring also
the pleasure nearer us. Romances give more of Wonder, Novels more
Delight. And with reverence be it spoken, and the Parallel kept at due
distance, there is something of equality in the Proportion which they
bear in reference to one another, with that betwen Comedy and Tragedy;
but the Drama is the long extracted from Romance and History: 'tis the
Midwife to Industry, and brings forth alive the Conceptions of the Brain.
Minerva walks upon the Stage before us, and we are more assured of the
real presence of Wit when it is delivered viva voce--

Segnius irritant animos demissa per aurem,
Quam quae sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus, & quae
Ipse sibi tradit spectator.--Horace.

Since all Traditions must indisputably give place to the Drama, and since
there is no possibility of giving that life to the Writing or Repetition
of a Story which it has in the Action, I resolved in another beauty to
imitate Dramatick Writing, namely, in the Design, Contexture and Result
of the Plot. I have not observed it before in a Novel. Some I have seen
begin with an unexpected accident, which has been the only surprizing
part of the Story, cause enough to make the Sequel look flat, tedious and
insipid; for 'tis but reasonable the Reader should expect it not to rise,
at least to keep upon a level in the entertainment; for so he may be kept
on in hopes that at some time or other it may mend; but the 'tother is
such a balk to a Man, 'tis carrying him up stairs to show him the Dining-
Room, and after forcing him to make a Meal in the Kitchin. This I have
not only endeavoured to avoid, but also have used a method for the
contrary purpose. The design of the Novel is obvious, after the first
meeting of Aurelian and Hippolito with Incognita and Leonora, and the
difficulty is in bringing it to pass, maugre all apparent obstacles,
within the compass of two days. How many probable Casualties intervene
in opposition to the main Design, viz. of marrying two Couple so oddly
engaged in an intricate Amour, I leave the Reader at his leisure to
consider: As also whether every Obstacle does not in the progress of the
Story act as subservient to that purpose, which at first it seems to
oppose. In a Comedy this would be called the Unity of Action; here it
may pretend to no more than an Unity of Contrivance. The Scene is
continued in Florence from the commencement of the Amour; and the time
from first to last is but three days. If there be any thing more in
particular resembling the Copy which I imitate (as the Curious Reader
will soon perceive) I leave it to show it self, being very well satisfy'd
how much more proper it had been for him to have found out this himself,
than for me to prepossess him with an Opinion of something extraordinary
in an Essay began and finished in the idler hours of a fortnight's time:
for I can only esteem it a laborious idleness, which is Parent to so
inconsiderable a Birth. I have gratified the Bookseller in pretending an
occasion for a Preface; the other two Persons concern'd are the Reader
and my self, and if he be but pleased with what was produced for that
end, my satisfaction follows of course, since it will be proportion'd to
his Approbation or Dislike.

Love & Duty

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Fri 5th Jun 2020, 23:03