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points masters of assay, who shall reject all | affords no exception to this observation. His that is light or debased.
writings exhibit many passages, which, with all
the allowance that can be made for characters Tis true, that when the coarse and worthless dross and occasions, are such as piety would not have Is purged away, there will be mighty loss :
admitted, and such as may vitiate light and E’en Congreve, Southern, manly Wycherly,
unprincipled minds. But there is no reason for When thus refined, will grievous sufferers be.
supposing that he disbelieved the religion which Into the melting pot when Dryden comes,
he disobeyed. He forgot his duty rather than What horrid stench will rise, what noisome fumes !
disowned it. His tendency to profaneness is th How will he shrink, when all lis lewd allay And wicked mixture, shall be purged away!
effect of levity, negligence, and loose conversa
tion, with a desire of accommodating himself to Thus stands the passage in the last edition; the corruption of the times, by venturing to be. but in the original there was an abatement of wicked as far as he durst. When he professed the censure, beginning thus :
himself a convert to popery, he did not pretend
to have received any new conviction of the funBut what remains wili be so pure, 'twill bear damental doctrines of Christianity. Th' examination of the most severe.
The persecution of critics was not the worst of
his vexations ; he was much more disturbed by Blackmore, finding the censure resented, and the importunities of want. His complaints of the civility disregarded, ungenerously om ced
poverty are so frequenily repeated, either with the softer part. Such variations discover a the dejection of weakness sinking in helpless writer who consults his passions more than his misery, or the indignation of merit claiming its virtue; and it may be reasonably supposed that tribute from mankind, that it is impossible not Dryden imputes his enmity to its true cause.
to detest the age which could impose on such a Of Milbourne he wrote only in general terms, man the necessity of such solicitations, or not to such as are always ready at the call of anger, despise the man who could submit to such soliciwhether just or not: a short extract will be suf- tations without necessity. ficient. “ He pretends a quarrel to me, that I Whether by the world's neglect, or his own have fallen foul upon priesthood; if I have, I imprudence, I am afraid that the greatest part am only to ask pardon of good priests, and am of his life was passed in exigencies. Such outafraid his share of the reparation will come to cries were surely never uttered but in severe little. Let him be satisfied that he shall never pain. Of his supplies or his expenses no probabe able to force himself upon me for an adver- ble estimate can now be made. Except the salsary; I contemn him too much to enter into ary of the laureat, to which King James added competition with him.
the office of Historiographer, perhaps with some As for the rest of those who have written additional emoluments, his whole revenue seems against me, they are such scoundrels that they to have been casual; and it is well known that deserve not the least notice to be taken of them; he seldom lives frugally who lives by chance. Blackmore and Milbourne are only distinguished Hope is always liberal; and they that trust her from the crowd by being remembered to their promises make little scruple of revelling to-day infamy."
on the profits of the morrow. Dryden indeed discovered, in many of his Of his plays the profit was not great ; and of writings, an affected and absurd malignity to the produce of his other works very little intelpriests and priesthood, which naturally raised ligence can be had. By discoursing with the him many enemies, and which was sometimes late amiable Mr. Tonson, I could not find that as unseasonably resented as it was exerted. any memorials of the transactions between his Trapp is angry that he calls the sacrificer in the predecessor and Dryden had been preserved, ex“Georgics” the holy butcher: the translation is not cept the following papers : indeed ridiculous; but Trapp's anger arises from “I do hereby promise to pay John Dryden his zeal, not for the Author, but the priest ; as Esq. or order, on the 25th of March, 1699, the if any reproach of the follies of paganism could sum of two hundred and fifty guineas, in consibe extended to the preachers of truth.
deration of ten thousand verses, which the said Dryden's dislike of the priesthood is imputed John Dryden, Esq. is to deliver to me, Jacob by Langbaine, and I think by Brown, to a re- Tonson, when finished, whereof seven thousand pulse which he suffered when he solicited ordi- five hundred verses, more or less, are already in nation; but he denies, in the preface to his the said Jacob Tonson's possession. And I do “ Fables," that he ever designed to enter into the hereby farther promise, and engage myself to church; and such a denial he would not have make up the said sum of two hundred and fifty hazarded, if he could have been convicted of guineas three hundred pounds sterling to the falsehood.
said John Dryden, Esq. his executors, adminisMalevolence to the clergy is seldom' at a great trators, or assigns, at the beginning of the second distance from irreverence of religion, and Dryden impression of the said ten thousand verses.
“ In witness whereof I have hereunto set my of Ormond; a present not unsuitable to the band and seal, this 20th day of March, 1698-9. magnificence of that splendid family; and he
“ Jacob Tonson. quotes Moyle, as relating that forty pounds “ Sealed and delivered, being
were paid by a musical society for the use of first duly stamped, pursuant
“ Alexander's Feast.” to the acts of Parliament for
In those days the economy of government was that purpose, in the pre
yet unsettled, and the payments of the Exche. sence of
quer were dilatory and uncertain; of this disor“ Ben. Portlock,
der there is reason to believe that the laureat Will. Congreve.”
sometimes felt the effects; for, in one of his
“ March 24, 1698. prefaces, he complains of those, who, being en« Received then of Mr. Jacob Tonson the sum trusted with the distribution of the Prince's of two hundred sixty-eight pounds fifteen shil- bounty, suffer those that depend upon it to lings, in pursuance of an agreement for ten languish in penury. thousand verses, to be delivered by me to the said Of his petty habits or slight amusements, Jacob Tonson, whereof I have already delivered tradition has retained little. Of the only two to him about seven thousand five hundred, more
men whom I have found, to whom he was or less: he the said Jacob Tonson being obliged personally known, one told me that at the to make up the foresaid sum of two hundred house which he frequented, called Will's Coffeesixty-eight pounds fifteen shillings three hundred house, the appeal upon any literary dispute was pounds, at the beginning of the second impres- made to him: and the other related, that his sion of the foresaid ten thousand verses ;
armed chair, which in the winter had a settled “ I say, received by me,
and prescriptive place by the fire, was in the “ John Dryden.
summer placed in the balcony, and that he “ Witness, Charles Dryden.”
called the two places his winter and his sum
mer seat. This is all the intelligence which his Two hundred and fifty guineas, at ll. ls. 6d.
two survivors afforded me. is 2681. 15s.
One of his opinions will do him no honour in It is manifest, from the dates of this contract, the present age, though in his own time, at that it relates to the volume of “ Fables,” which least in the beginning of it, he was far from contains about twelve thousand verses, and for having it confined to himself. He put great which therefore the payment must have be
confidence in the prognostications of judicial afterwards enlarged.
astrology. In the Appendix to the Life of I have been told of another letter yet remain- Congreve is a narrative of some of his predicing, in which he desires Tonson to bring him tions wonderfully fulfilled ; but I know not the money, to pay for a watch which he had order-writer's means of information, or character of ed for his son, and which the maker would not veracity. That he had the configurations of leave without the price.
the horoscope in his mind, and considered them The inevitable consequence of poverty is de- as influencing the affairs of men, he does not pendence. Dryden had probably no recourse in forbear to hint. his exigencies but to his bookseller. The par
The utmost malice of the stars is pas .ticular character of Tonson I do not know; but
Now frequent trines the happier lights among, the general conduct of traders was much less li
And high-rais'd Jove, from his dark prison freed, beral in those times than in our own ; their Those weights took off that on his planet hung, views were narrower, and their manners grosser. Will gloriously the new laid works succeed. To the mercantile ruggedness of that race, the delicacy of the poet was sometimes exposed. Lord He has elsewhere shown his attention to the Bolingbroke, who in his youth had cultivated planetary powers; and in the preface to his poetry, related to Dr. King, of Oxford, that “ Fables” has endeavoured obliquely to justify one day when he visited Dryden, they heard, as his superstition by attributing the same to some they were conversing, another person entering of the ancients. The letter, added to this narthe house. « This,” said Dryden, “is Tonson. rative, leaves no doubt of his notions or pracYou will take care not to depart before he goes
tice. away: for I have not completed the sheet which So slight and so scanty is the knowledge which I promised him; and if you leave me unpro- | I have been able to collect concerning the pritected, I must suffer all the radeness to which vate life and domestic manners of a man whom his resentment can prompt his tongue.”
every English generation must mention with What rewards he obtained for his poems, be- reverence as a critic and a poet. sides the payment of the bookseller, cannot be known. Mr. Derrick, who consulted some of his relations, was informed that his “ Fables" DRYDEN may be properly considered obtained five hundred pounds from the Dutchess | the father of English criticism, as the writer
who first taught us to determine upon princi- | the attestation of the heroes of Marathon by ples the merit of composition. Of our former Demosthenes, fades away before it. In a few poets, the greatest dramatist wrote without lines is exhibited a character, so extensive in its rules, conducted through life and nature by a comprehension, and so curious in its limitations, genius that rarely misled, and rarely deserted that nothing can be added, diminished, or rehim. Of the rest, those who knew the laws of formed; nor can the editors and admirers of propriety had neglected to teach them.
Shakspeare, in all their emulation of reverence, Two Arts of English Poetry were written in boast of much more than of having diffused and the days of Elizabeth by Webb and Puttenham, paraphrased this epit me of excellence, of having from which something might be learned, and a changed Dryden's gold for baser metal, of lower few hints had been given by Jonson and Cow-value, though of greater bulk. ley; but Dryden's “ Essay on Dramatic In this, and in all his other essays on the same Poetry” was the first regular and valuable subject, the criticism of Dryden is the criticism treatise on the art of writing.
of a poet; not a dull collection of theorems, nor He who, having formed his opinions in the a rude detection of faults, which perhaps the present age of English literature, turns back to censor was not able to have committed ; but a peruse this dialogue, will not perhaps find much gay and vigorous dissertation, where delight is increase of knowledge, or much novelty of in- mingled with instruction, and where the author struction; but he is to remember, that critical proves his right of judgment by his power of principles were then in the hands of a few, who performance. had gathered them partly from the ancients, The different manner and effect with which and partly from the Italians and French. The critical knowledge may be conveyed, was perstructure of dramatic poems was then not gen-haps never more clearly exemplified than in the erally understood. Audiences applauded by in- performances of Rymer and Dryden. It was stinct; and poets perhaps often pleased by said of a dispute between two mathematicians, chance.
66 malim cum Scaligero errare, quam cum A writer who has obtained his full purpose Clavio recte sapere ;” that “it was more eligiloses himself in his own lustre. Of an opinion ble to go wrong with one, than right with the which is no longer doubted, the evidence ceases other.” A tendency of the same kind every to be examined. Of an art universally practised, mind must feel at the perusal of Dryden's prethe first teacher is forgotten. Learning once faces and Rymer's discourses. With Dryden made popular is no longer learning ; it has the we are wandering in quest of Truth; whom we appearance of something which we have be- find, if we find her at all, dressed in the graces stowed upon ourselves, as the dew appears to of elegance: and, if we miss her, the labour of rise from the field which it refreshes.
the pursuit rewards itself; we are led only To judge rightly of an author, we must tran through fragrance and flowers. Rymer, withsport ourselves to his time, and examine what out taking a nearer, takes a rougher way; were the wants of his contemporaries, and what every step is to be made through thorns and were his means of supplying them. That brambles; and Truth, if we meet her, appears which is easy at one time was difficult at repulsive by her mien, and ungraceful by her another. Dryden at least imported his science, habit. Dryden's criticism has the majesty of and gave his country what it wanted before; or a queen; Rymer's has the ferocity of a tyrant. rather, he in orted only the als, and
As he had studied with great diligence the manufactured them by his own skill.
art of poetry, and enlarged or rectified his noThe dialogue on the drama was one of his tions, by experience perpetually increasing, he first essays of criticism, written when he was had his mind stored with principles and obseryet a timorous candidate for reputation, and vations; he poured out his knowledge with littherefore laboured with that diligence which he tle labour; for of labour, notwithstanding the might allow himself somewhat to remit; when multiplicity of his productions, there is suffihis name gave sanction to his positions, and his cient reason to suspect that he was not a lover. awe of the public was abated, partly by custom, To write con amore, with fondness for the emand partly by success. It will not be easy to find, ployment, with perpetual touches and retouches, in all the opulence of our language, a treatise so with unwillingness to take leave of his own artfully variegated with successive representa- idea, and an unwearied pursuit of unattainable tions of opposite probabilities, so enlivened with perfection, was, I think, no part of his charimagery, so brightened with illustrations. His portraits of the English dramatists are His criticism may be considered as general or wrought with great spirit and diligence. The occasional. In his general precepts, which deaccount of Shakspeare may stand as a perpe- pend upon the nature of things, and the structual model of encomiastic criticism ; exact ture of the human mind, he may doubtless be without minuteness, and lofty without exagger- safely recommended to the confidence of the ation. The praise lavished by Longinus, on reader; but his occasional and particular posi
tions were sometimes interested, sometimes neg- It will be difficult to prove that Dryden ever ligent, and sometimes capricious. It is not made any great advances in literature, As, without reason that Trapp, speaking of the having distinguished himself at Westminster praises which he bestows on Palamon and under the tution of Busby, who advanced his Arcite, says, “ Novimus judicium Drydeni de scholars to a height of knowledge very rarely poemate quodam Chauceri, pulchro sane illo, et attained in grammar-schools, he resided after. admodum laudando, nimirum quod non modo wards at Cambridge; it is not to be supposed, vere epicum sit, set Iliada etiam atque Æneada that his skill in the ancient languages was defi. æquet, imo superet. Sed novimus eodem tem- cient, compared with that of common students; pore viri illius maximi non semper accuratissi- but his scholastic acquisitions seem not propormas esse censuras, nec ad severissimam critices tionate to his opportunities and abilities. He normam exactas ; illo judice id plerumque opti- could not, like Milton or Cowley, have made mum est, quod nunc præ manibus habet, et in his name illustrious merely by his learning. He quo nunc occupatur.”
mentions but a few books, and those such as lie He is therefore by no means constant to him- in the beaten track of regular study; from self. His defence and desertion of dramatic which, if ever he departs, he is in danger of rhyme is generally known. Spence, in his re- losing himself in unknown regions. marks on Pope's “ Odyssey," produced what In his dialogue on the drama, he pronounces he thinks an unconquerable quotation from with great confidence that the Latin tragedy of Dryden's preface to the “ Æneid,” in favour of “ Medea” is not Ovid's, because it is not suffitranslating an epic poem into blank verse; but ciently interesting and pathetic. He might he forgets that when his author attempted the have determined the question upon surer evi“ Iliad,” some years afterward, he departed dence; for it is quoted by Quintilian as the from his own decision, and translated into work of Seneca; and the only line which rerhyme.
mains in Ovid's play, for one line is left us, is When he has any objection to obviate, or any not there to be found. There was therefore no license to defend, he is not very scrupulous need of the gravity of conjecture, or the discusabout what he asserts, nor very cautious, if the sion of plot or sentiment, to find what was alpresent purpose be served, not to entangle him-ready known upon higher authority than such self in his own sophistries. But, when all arts discussions can ever reach. are exhausted, like other hunted animals, he His literature, though not always free from sometimes stands at bay; when he cannot dis- ostentation, will be commonly found either obown the grossness of one of his plays, he declares vious, and made his own by the art of dressing that he knows not any law that prescribes mo- it. or superficial, which by what he gives, shows rality to a comic poet.
what he wanted : or erroneous, hastily colHis remarks on ancient or modern writers lected, and negligently scattered. are not always to be trusted. His parallel of Yet it cannot be said that his genius is ever the versification of Ovid with that of Claudian unprovided of matter, or that his fancy lanhas been very justly censured by Sewel.* His guishes in penury of ideas. His works abound comparison of the first line of Virgil with the with knowledge, and sparkle with illustrations. first of Statius is not happier. Virgil, he says, There is scarcely any science or faculty that is soft and gentle, and would have thought does not supply him with occasional images and Statius mad, if he had heard him thundering lucky similitudes ; every page discovers a mind
very widely acquainted both with art and na
ture, and in full possession of great stores of inQuæ superimposito moles geminata colosso. tellectual wealth. Of him that knows much it
is natural to suppose that he has read with diliStatius perhaps heats himself, as he proceeds, gence : yet I rather believe that the knowledge to exaggeration somewhat hyperbolical; but un- of Dryden was gleaned from accidental intellidoubtedly Virgil would have been too hasty, if gence and various conversations, by a quick aphe had condemned him to straw for one sound-prehension, a judicious selection, and a happy ing line. Dryden wanted an instance, and the memory, a keen appetite of knowledge, and a first that occurred was impressed into the ser- powerful digestion; by vigilance that permitted vice.
nothing to pass without notice, and a habit of What he wishes to say, he says at hazard; he reflection that suffered nothing useful to be lost. cited Gorbuduc, which he had never seen; gives A mind like Dryden's, always curious, always a false account of Chapman's versification; and active, to which every understanding was proud discovers, in the preface to his “ Fables,” that to be associated, and of which every one solicited he translated the first book of the “ Iliad” with the regard, by an ambitious display of himself, out knowing what was in the second.
had a more pleasant, perhaps a nearer way to
knowledge than by the silent progress of solitary * Preface to Ovid's “ Metamorphoses."-.Dr. J. reading. I do not suppose that he despised
books, or intentionally neglected them; but that From bis prose, however, Dryden derives he was carried out, by the impetuosity of his only his accidental and secondary praise; the genius, to more vivid and speedy instructors ; veneration with which his name is pronounced and that his studies were rather desultory and by every cultivator of English literature, is paid fortuitous than constant and systematical. to him as he refined the language, improved the
It must be confessed that he scarcely ever ap- sentiments, and tuned the numbers of English pears to want book-learning but when he men- poetry. tions books; and to him may be transferred the After about half a century of forced thoughts, praise which he gives his master Charles : and rugged metre, some advances towards na
ture and harmony had been already made by His conversation, wit, and parts,
Waller and Denham; they had shown that long His knowledge in the noblest useful arts
discourses in rhyme grew more pleasing when Were such, dead authors could not give,
they were broken into couplets, and that verse But habitudes of those that live:
consisted not only in the number but the arWho, lighting him, did greater lights receive ; rangement of syllables. He draiu'd from all, and all they knew,
But though they did much, who can deny His apprehensions quick, his judgment true;
that they left much to do? Their works were That the most learn'd with shame confess,
not many, nor were their minds of very ample His knowledge more, his reading only less.
comprehension. More examples of more modes
of composition were necessary for the establishOf all this, however, if the proof be demanded, ment of regularity, and the introduction of proI will not undertake to give it; the atoms of priety in word and thought. probability, of which my opinion has been Every language of a learned nation necessarily formed, lie scattered over all his works: and by divides itself into diction, scholastic and popuhim who thinks the question worth his notice, lar, grave and familiar, elegant and gross; and his works must be perused with very close at- from a nice distinction of these different parts tention.
arises a great part of the beauty of style. But, Criticism, either didactic or defensive, occu- if we except a few minds, the favourites of napies almost all his prose, except those pages ture, to whom their own original rectitude was which he has devoted to his patrons; but none in the place of rules, this delicacy of selection of his prefaces were ever thought tedious. They was little known to our authors; our speech lay have not the formality of a settled style, in before them in a heap of confusion; and every which the first half of the sentence betrays the man took for every purpose what chance might other. The pauses are never balanced, nor the offer him. periods modelled ; every word seems to drop by There was therefore before the time of Dryden chance, though it falls into its proper place. no poetical diction, no system of words at once Nothing is cold or languid; the whole is airy, refined from the grossness of domestic use, and animated, and vigorous; what is little, is gay; free from the harshness of terms appropriated what is great, is splendid. He may be thought to particular arts. Words too familiar, or too to mention himself too frequently; but, while remote, defeat the purpose of a poet. From he forces himself upon our esteem, we cannot those sounds which we hear on small or on refuse him to stand high in his own. Every coarse occasions, we do not easily receive strong thing is excused by the play of images, and the impressions, or delightful images ; and words sprightliness of expression. Though all is easy, to which we are nearly strangers, whenever nothing is feeble: though all seems careless, they occur, draw that attention on themselves there is nothing harsh; and though since his which they should transmit to things. earlier works more than a century has passed, Those happy combinations of words which they have nothing yet uncouth or obsolete. distinguished poetry from prose had been rarely
He who writes much will not easily escape a attempted: we had few elegances or flowers of manner-such a recurrence of particular modes speech; the roses had not yet been plucked from as may be easily noted. Dryden is always the bramble, or different colours had not been another and the same; he does not exhibit a se- joined to enliven one another. cond time the same elegances in the same form, It may be doubted whether Waller and Dennor appears to have any art other than that of ham could have over-borne the prejudices which expressing with clearness what he thinks with had long prevailed, and which even then were vigour. His style could not easily be imitated, sheltered by the protection of Cowley. The either seriously or ludicrously ; for, being al- new versification, as it was called, may be conways equable and always varied, it has no sidered as owing its establishment to Dryden; prominent or discriminative characters. The from whose time it is apparent that English beauty who is totally free from disproportion of poetry has had no tendency to relapse to its parts and features, cannot be ridiculed by an former savageness. overcharged resemblance.
The affluence and comprehension of our lan