Page images
PDF
EPUB

begun by Waller and Denham, the examn ple of Cowley still kept in reputation. Lord Hastings died of the small-pox; and his poet has made of the pustules first rosebuds, and then gems ; at last exalts them into stars ; and says,

No comer need foretell his change drew on, Whose corpse might seem a constellation. * At the university he does not appear to have been eager of poetical distinction, or to have lavished his early wit either on fictitious subjects or public occasions. He probably considered, that he, who proposed to be an author, ought first to be a student. He obtained, whatever was the reason, no fellowship in the College. Why he was excluded eannot now be known, and it is vain to guess; had he thought himself injured, he knew how to complain. In the life of Plutarch he mentions his education in the College with gratitude ; but, in a prologue at Oxford, he has these lines : ,

Oxford to him a dearer name shall be
Than his own mother-university;
Thebes did his rude, unknowing youth engage;
He chooses Athens in his riper age.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

It was not till the death of Cromwell, in 1653, that he became a public candidate for fame, by publishing Heroic Stanzas on the late Lord Protector; which, compared with the verses of Sprat and Waller on the same occasion, were sufficient to raise great expectations of the rising poet.

When the king was resored, Dryden, like the other panegyrists of usurpation, changed his opinion, or his profession, and published Astrea Redux; a Poem on the bappy Refloration and Return of his most facred Majesty King Charles the Second.

The reproach of inconstancy was, on this occasion, shared with such numbers, that it produced neither hatred nor disgrace! if he changed, he changed with the nation. It was, however, not totally forgotten when his reputation raised him enemies.

The same year he praised the new king in a second poem on his restoration. In the ASTREA was the line,

An horrid stillness first invades the ear,

And in that filence we a tempest fearfor wbich he was perfecuted with perpetual ridicule, perhaps with more than was de

ferved.

.

ferved. Silence is indeed mere privation; and, fo considered, cannot invade; but privation likewise certainly is darkness, and probably cold; yet poetry has never been refused the right of afcribing effects or agency to them as to positive powers. No man scruples to say that darkness hinders him from his work; or that cold has killed the plants. Death is also privation; yet who has made any difficulty of assigning to Death a dart and the power of striking?

In settling the order of his works there is some difficulty; for, even when they are important enough to be formally offered to a patron, he does not commonly date his dedication; the time of writing and publishing is not always the same; nor can the first editions be easily found, if even from them could be obtained the necessary information.

The time at which his first play was exhibited is not certainly known, because it was not printed till it was some years afterwards altered and revived; but since the plays are said to be printed in the order in which they were written, from the dates of fome, those of others may be inferred; and

thus

B 3

thus it may be collected, that in 1663, in the thirty-second year of his life, he commenced a writer for the stage; compelled undoubtedly by necessity, for he appears never to have loved that exercise of his genius, or to have much pleased himself with his own dramas.

Of the stage, when he had once invaded it, he kept possession for many years ; not indeed without the competition of rivals who fometimes prevailed, or the censure of criticks, which was often poignant and of. ten just; but with such a degree of reputation as made him at least secure of being heard, whatever might be the final determination of the publick.

His first piece was a comedy called the Wild Gallant. He began with no happy auguries; for his performance was so much disapproved, that he was compelled to recall it, and change it from its imperfect state to the form in which it now appears, and which is yet fufficiently defective to vindicate the criticks.

I wish that there were no necessity of following the progress of his theatrical fame, ortracing the meanders of his mind through

the

[ocr errors]

the whole series of his dramatic performances; it will be fit, however, to enumerate them, and to take especial notice of those that are distinguished by any peculiarity, intrinsick or concomitant; for the composition and fate of eight-and-twenty dramas include too much of a poetical life to be omitted.

In 1664 he published the Rival Ladies, I which he dedicated to the Earl of Orrery, a man of high reputation both as a writer and a statesman. In this play he made his essay of dramatick rhyme, which he defends in his dedication, with sufficient certainty of a favourable hearing; for Orrery was himself a writer of rhyming tragedies.

He then joined with Sir Robert Howard in the Indian Queen, a tragedy in rhyme. The parts which either of them wrote are not distinguished.

The Indian Emperor was published in 1667. It is a tragedy in rhyme, intended for a sequel to Howard's Indian Queen. Of this connection notice was given to the audience by printed bills, distributed at the door; an expedient supposed to be ridiculed in the Rehearsal, when Bayes tells how ma

« PreviousContinue »