Sir Charles Sedley, 5th Baronet  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Sir Charles Sedley, 5th Baronet (March 1639 – 20 August 1701), was an English wit, dramatist and politician.

Sedley as poet and translator

His most famous song, Phyllis is my only joy, is much more widely known now than the author's name. While Sedley chiefly produced light amatory verse and pastoral dialogues in the 1670s, he turned to satirical epigrams in the 1680s and 1690s. His Epigrams: or, Court Characters are modelled on the works of Martial. In his epigram "To Nysus", for example, Sedley describes the function of satire and emphasizes the aggressive mode of satire: "Let us write satyr than, and at our ease / Vex the ill-natur'd Fools we cannot please." At the same time, Sedley translated other specimens of ancient poetry, such as Virgil's Georgics IV, the eighth Ode of the second Book of Horace and three elegies from Ovid's Amores. Dryden included Sedley's translations from Ovid in the Miscellany of 1684.

The plays

His first comedy, The Mulberry-Garden (1668), hardly sustains Sedley's contemporary reputation for wit in conversation. The best, but most licentious, of his comedies is Bellamira: or, The Mistress (1687), an imitation of the Eunuchus of Terence, in which the heroine is supposed to represent the duchess of Cleveland, the mistress of Charles II. While The Mulberry-Garden exuberantly praises the achievements of the Restoration, Bellamira displays a dark cynicism which has to be accounted for within a changed historical context. His two tragedies, Antony and Cleopatra (1677) and The Tyrant King of Crete (1702), an adaptation of Henry Killigrew's Pallantus and Eudora, have little merit. He also produced The Grumbler (1702), an adaptation of Le Grondeur of Brueys and Palaprat. However, many contents of the Sedley's posthumous edition are spurious. Apart from the prologues of his own plays, Sedley wrote at least four more prologues to comedies, the best-known of which was written for Shadwell's Epsom-Wells.

Reputation of the young and dashing courtiers of Charles II's time

In 1663 an indecent frolic in Bow Street, for which he was heavily fined, made Sedley notorious. He was member of parliament for New Romney in Kent, and took an active and useful part in politics. A speech of his on the civil list after the Revolution is cited by Macaulay as a proof that his reputation as a man of wit and ability was deserved. His bon mot at the expense of James II is well known. The king had seduced his daughter and created her countess of Dorchester, whereupon Sedley said: "As the king has made my daughter a countess, the least I can do, in common gratitude, is to assist in making his Majesty's daughter (Mary) a queen". Sedley is also occasionally associated with a notorious gang of unbridled revellers who called themselves Ballers and who were active between 1660 and 1670. It was probably Sedley who wrote the Ballers' Oath on behalf of them.




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