« PreviousContinue »
Of Settle he gives this character. “ He's an animal of a most deplored “ understanding, without conversation. His being is in a twilight of sense, " and some glimmerings of thought, which he can never fashion into wit of “ English. His style is boisterous and rough-hewn, his rhymne incorrigibly “ lewd, and his numbers perputually harsh and ill-sounding. The little talent << which he has, is fancy. He sometimes labours with a thought ; but with 5 the pudder he makes to bring it into the world, 'tis commonly still-boin; “ so that for want of learning and elocution, he will never be able to express
any thing either naturally or justly !"
This is not very decent ; yet this is one of the pages in which criticism prevails over brutal fury. He proceeds : “ He has a heavy hand at fools, and a great “ felicity in writing nonsense for them. Fools they will be in spite of “ him. His King, his two empresses, his villain, and his sub-villain, nay “ his hero, have ali a certain natural cast of the father--their folly was born * and bred in them, and something of the Elkanah will be visible.”
This is Dryden's general declamation ; I will not withold from the reader a particular remark. Having gone through the first act, he says, " To conclude this act with the most rumbling piece of nonsense spoken yet,
“ To flattering lightning our feign'd smiles conform,
" Which back'd with thunder do but gild a storm.” Conform a smile to lightning, make a smile imitate lightning, and flattering light“ ning : lightning sure is a threatning thing. And this lightning must gild a
storm. Now if I must conform by smiles to lightning, then my smiles must
gile a storm too: to gild with smiles is a new invention of gilding. And “ gild a storm by being backed with thunder. Thunder is part of the storm;
so one part of the storm must help to gild another part, and help by backing; “ as if a man would guild a thing the better for being backed, or baying a " load upon his back. So that here is gilding by conforming, smiling, lightning,
backing, and thunder ing. The whole is as if I should say thus, I will make my " counterfeit smiles look like a flattering stone-horse, which, being backed " with a trooper, does but gild the battle. I am mistaken if nonsense is not “ here pretty thick sown. Sure the poet writ these two lines aboard some “smack in a storm, and being sea-sick, spewed up a good lump of clotted nonsense at once."
Here is perhaps a sufficient specimen; but as the pamphler, though Dryden's has never been thought worthy of republication, and is not easily to be found, at may gratify curiosity to quote it more largely.
Whene'er she bleeds,
Than'the infection that attends that breath. “ That attends that breath. The poet is at breath again ; breath can never escape him ; and here he brings in a breath that must be infectious with
( nouncing a sentences and this sentence is not to be pronounced till the con-
For when we're dead, and our freed souls enlarg'd
Whom living we made foes, dead we'll make friends. “ If this be not a very liberal mess, I will refer myself to the stomach of any “ moderate guest. And a rare mess it is, far excelling any Westminster " white-broth. It is a kind of gibblet porridge, made of the gibblets of a
couple of young geese, stodged full of meteors, orbs, spheres, track, hideous s draughts, dark characters, white forms, and radiant lights, designed not only " to please appetite, and indulge luxury ; but it is also physical, being an
approved medicine to purge choler: for it is propounded by Morena, as a “ receipt to cure their fathers of their choleric humours: and, were it written “in characters as barbarous as the words, might very well pass for a doctor's “ bill. To conclude, it is porridge, 'tis a receipt, 'tis a pig with a pudding " in the belly, 'tis I know not what; for, certainly, never any one that pre“tended to write sense, had the impudence before to put such stuff as this “ into the mouths of those that were to speak it before an audience, whom “ he did not take to be all fools ; and after that to print it too, and expose it
to the examination of the world. But let us see, what we can make of this stuff:
For when we're dead, and our freed souls enlarg'da Vol. I,
“ Here he tells us what it is to be dead; it is to have our freed souls set frei. " Now if to have a soul set free, is to be dead, then to have a freed soul set “ free, is to have a dead man die.
Then gentle, as a happy lover's sigh“They two like one sigh, and that one sigh like two wandering meteors,
-Shall fly through the air" That is, they shall mount above like falling stars, or else they shall skip " like two Jacks with lanthorns, or Willwith a wisp, and Madge with a candle."
And in their airy walk steal into their cruel fathers breasts, like subtle guests. “ So that their fathers breasts must be in an airy walk, an airy walk of a flier. "And there they will read their souls, and track the spheres of their passions. " That is, these walking Aiers, Jack with a lanthorn, &c. will put on his “ spectacles, and fall a reading souls, and put on his pumps and fall a tracking
of spheres: so that he will read and run, walk and fly at the same time! Oh! "Nimble Jack. Then he will see, how revenge here, how ambition there-The " birds will hop about. And then view the dark characters of sieges, ruins cc
murders, blood, and wars, in their orbs : Track the characters to their “ forms! Oh! rare sport for Jack. Never was place so full of game as these “ breasts! You cannot stir but flush a sphere, start a character, or unkennel
an orb !"
Settle's is said to have been the first play embellished with sculptures; those ornaments seem to have given poor Dryden great disturbance. He tries however to ease his pain, by venting his malice in a parody.
“ The poet has not only been so impudent to expose all this stuff, but so ar
rogant to defend it with an epistle ; like a saucy booth-keeper, that, when "he had put a cheat upon the people, would wrangle and fight with any that “ would not like it, or would offer to discover it ; for which arrogance our
poet receives this correction; and to jerk him a little the sharper, I will not
transpose his verse, but by the help of his own words transnon-sense, sense, " that, by my stuff, people may judge the better what his is;
“ Great Boy, the tragedy and sculptures done
No grain of sense does in our line appear,
“ By thee inspir'd the rumbling verses roll,
Fame sings thy praise with mouths of logger-heads.
" As men in whispers send loud noise to heaven. " Thus I have daubed him with his own puddle: and now we are come “ from aboard his dancing, masking, rebounding, breathing fleet; andas if
we had landed at Gotham, we meet nothing but fools and nonsense.”
Such was the criticism to which the genius of Dryden could be reduced, between rage and terrour ; rage with little provocation, and terrous with little danger. To see the highest minds thus levelled with the meanest, may produce some solace to the consciousness of weakness, and some mortification to the pride of wisdom. But let it be remembered, that minds are not levelled in their powers but when they are first levelled in their desires. Dryden and Settle had both placed their happiness in the claps of multitudes.
An Evening's Love or the Mock Astrologer, a comedy (1671), is dedicated to the illustrious duke of Newcastle, whom he courts by adding to his praises those of his lady, not only as a lover but a partner of his studies. It is unpleasing to think how many names, once celebrated, are since forgotten. Of Newcastle's works nothing is now known but his treatise on horesemanship.
The Preface seems very elaborately written, and contains many just remarks on the Fathers of the English drama. Shakspeare's plots, he says, are in the hundred novels of Cinthio'; those of Beaumont and Fletcher in Spanish Stories; Jonson only made them for himself. His criticisms upon tragedy, comedy, and farce, are judicious and profound. He endeavours to defend the immorality of some of his comedies by the example of former writers; which is only to say, that he was not the first nor perhaps the greatest offender. Against those that accused him of plagiarism he alleges a favourable expression of the king: “ He only desired that they, who accuse me of thefts, would steal him
plays like mine;" and then relates how much labour he spends in fitting for the English stage what he borrows from others.
Tyrannick Love, or the Virgin Martyr, (1672), was another tragedy in rhyme, conspicuous for many passages of strength and elegance, and many of empty noise and ridiculous turbulence. The rants of Maximin have been always the
sport of criticism; and were at length, if his own confession may be trusted, the shame of the writer,
Of this play he takes care to let the reader know, that it was contrived and written in seven weeks. Want of time was often his excuse, or perhaps shortness of time was his private boast in the form of an apology.
It was written before the Conquest of Granada, but published after it. The design is to recommend piety. “I considered that pleasure was not the only “ end of poesy, and that even the instructions of morality were not so wholly “the business of a poet, as that precepts and examples of piety were to be “ omitted; for to leave that employment altogether to the clergy, were to " .forget that religion was first taught in verse, which the laziness or dullness “ of succeeding priesthood tarned afterwards into prose;" Thus foolishly could Dryden write, rather than not shew his malice to the parsons.
The two parts of the Conquest of Granada (1672) are written with a seeming determination to glut the publick with dramatic wonders; to exhibit in its highest elevation a theatrical meteor of incredible love and impossible valour, and to leave no room for a wilder flight to the extravagance of posterity. All
of romantick heat, whether amorous or warlike, glow in Almanzor by a kind of concentration. He is above all laws; he is exempt from all restraints ; he ranges the world at will, and governs wherever he appears. He fights without enquiring the cause, and loves in spight of the obligations of justice, of rejection by his mistress, and of prohibition from the dead. Yet the scenes are, for the most part, delightful; they exhibit a kind of illustrious depravity, and majestick madness, such as, if it is sometimes despised, is often reverenced, and in which the ridiculous is mingled with the astonishing.
In the Epilogue to the second part of the Conquest of Granada, Dryden indulges his favourite pleasure of discrediting his predecessors; and this Epiloguo he has defended by a long postscript. He had promised a second dialogue, in which he should more fully treat of the virtues and faults of the English poets, who have written in the dramatick, epick, or lyrick way. This promise was never formally performed; but, with respect to the dramatick writers, he has given us in his prefaces, and in this postscript, something equivalent: but his purpose being to exalt himself by the comparison, he shews faults distinctly, and only praises excellence in general terms.
A play thus written, in professed defiance of probability, naturally drew upon itself the vultures of the theatre. One of the criticks that attacked it was Martin Clifford, to whom Sprat addressed the Life of Cowley, with such veneration of his critical powers as might naturally excite great expectations of instructions from his remarks. But let honest credulity beware of receiving characters from contemporary writers. Cifford's remarks, by the favour of Pr. Percy, were at last obtained; and; that no man may ever want them more, I will extract enough to satisfy all reasonable desire,