The extreme indelicacy of this play would, in the present times furnish ample and most just grounds for the unfavourable reception it met with from the public. But in the reign of Charles II. many plays were applauded, in which the painting is, at least, as coarse as that of Dryden. "Bellamira, or the Mistress," a gross translation by Sir Charles Sedley of Terence's "Eunuchus," had been often represented with the highest approbation. But the satire of Dryden was rather accounted too personal, than too loose. The character of Limberham has been supposed to represent Lauderdale, whose age and uncouth figure rendered ridiculous his ungainly affectation of fashionable vices. Mr Malone intimates a suspicion, that Shaftesbury was the person levelled at, whose lameness and infirmities made the satire equally poignant. In either supposition, a powerful and leading nobleman was offended, to whose party all seem to have drawn, whose loose conduct, in that loose age, exposed them to be duped like the hero of the play. It is a singular mark of the dissolute manners of those times, that an audience, to whom matrimonial infidelity was nightly held out, not only as the most venial of trespasses, but as a matter of triumphant applause, were unable to brook any ridicule, upon the mere transitory connection formed betwixt the keeper and his mistress. Dryden had spared neither kind of union; and accordingly his opponents exclaimed, "That he lampooned the court, to oblige his friends in the city, and ridiculed the city, to secure a promising lord at court; exposed the kind keepers of Covent Garden, to please the cuckolds of Cheapside; and drolled on the city Do-littles, to tickle the Covent-Garden Limberhams." Even Langbaine, relentless as he is in criticism, seems to have considered the condemnation of Limberham as the vengeance of the faction ridiculed.
"In this play, (which I take to be the best comedy of his) he so much exposed the keeping part of the town, that the play was stopt when it had but thrice appeared on the stage; but the 004 author took a becoming care, that the things that offended on the stage, were either altered or omitted in the press. One of our modern writers, in a short satire against keeping, concludes thus:
"Dryden, good man, thought keepers to reclaim,
Writ a kind satire, call'd it Limberham.
This all the herd of letchers straight alarms;
From Charing-Cross to Bow was up in arms:
They damn'd the play all at one fatal blow,
And broke the glass, that did their picture show."
Mr Malone mentions his having seen a MS. copy of this play, found by Lord Bolingbroke among the sweepings of Pope's study, in which there occur several indecent passages, not to be found in the printed copy. These, doubtless, constituted the castrations, which, in obedience to the public voice, our author expunged from his play, after its condemnation. It is difficult to guess what could be the nature of the indecencies struck out, when we consider those which the poet deemed himself at liberty to retain....