Dramatist; born at Clive Hall, near Wem of a long established Shropshire family. His father was said to have appropriated public money for his own use and to have bought the manors of Wem and Loppington, fending off the resulting lawsuits in the process. William spent much of his childhood at another of the family's properties, Trench Farm, between Clive and Wem. He was educated in France and at Oxford but spent most of his life in London, where he displayed a marked preference for the taverns and bawdy houses of the seedier parts of the capital.
His plays, mostly satirical and sometimes savagely so, include Love in a wood, or St. James's Park (1672), The gentleman dancing master (1673), The plain dealer (1674) and The country wife (1675).
After publication of his Miscellany poems in 1704 he gained the friendship of Pope, who went on to revise and edit many of his writings. Wycherley was forced to return to his father's house in Clive in 1689 to take refuge from a potentially dangerous political scene; William III was not one to favour literary men, certainly not libertines such as he. Wycherley must have been desperate to escape, for he hated country life and country people and the watchful presence of his disapproving father would have sorely tried him. However, he managed to break his Shropshire exile from time to time by means of short periods back in London.
In Shropshire, apart from feuding with his father over his many debts, he spent his time corresponding with old friends in London and writing poetry. His father bargained with him over the terms of his will. William was to receive only a small amount of the family estate but his father agreed to pay off £1,000 of his debts; the errant son readily agreed to this arrangement and returned to London. The old man died in May 1697 and was buried beneath the chancel of All Saints Church, Clive. William, whose first wife had died many years before, decided very late on in life to remarry in order to rid himself of further debts. A cousin of his, Captain Thomas Shrimpton, told him he could find him a rich bride who would fit the bill perfectly. He duly arrived with one Elizabeth Jackson, a coarse and unrefined woman who was said to be Shrimpton's mistress. After some delay William, now an old man and in his dotage, married the woman and his debts were discharged. He just had time to make over Trench Farm to her before he died on 31st December 1716. So ended the rumbustious life of "Manly Wycherley" as he was called.
From An Illustrated Literary Guide to Shropshire by Gordon Dickins, published by Shropshire Libraries, 1987. © Gordon Dickins, 1987.
An introduction, extract and the complete text of the following are available on this website.
Follow this link to the website Bibliomania which has a full-text version of The country wife.
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