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quo be captivated only by rècollection, or by curiosity ; by reviving natural seatiments, or impressing new appearances of things : sentences were readier # bis call than images; he could more easily fill the ear with more splendid sovelty, than awaken those ideas that slumber in the heart.
The favourite exercise of his mind was ratiocination; and, that argument might not be too soon at an end, he delighted to talk of liberty and necessity, destiny and contingence; these he discusses in the language of the school with 50 much profundity, that the terms which he uses are not always understood. It is indeed learning, but learning out of place.
When once he had engaged himself in disputation, thoughts flowed in on enher side: - he was now no longer at a loss; he had always objections and solutions at command; “ verbaque provisam rem"--give him matter for his Ferse, and he finds without difficulty verse for his matter.
In Comedy, for which he professes himself not naturally qualified, the da minh which he excites will perhaps not be found so much to arise froin any
original humour, or peculiarity of character nicely distinguished and diligently pursued, as from incidents and circumstances, artifices and surprizes; from jests
of action rather than of sentiment. What he had of humorous or passionate, niz be seems to have had not from nature, but from other poets; if not always 25 a plagiary, at least as an imitator.
Next to argument, his delight was in wild and daring sallies of sentiment, in the irregular and excentrick violence of wit. He delighted to tread upon the brink of mcaning, where light and darkness begin to mingle; to approach the precipice of absurdity, and hover over the abyss of unideal vacancy. This inclination sometimes produced nonsense, which he knew; as,
Move swiftly, sun, and fly a lover's pace,
All keen, and ground upon the edge of day.
And on the lunar 'world securely pry.
'Tis so like sense 'twill serve the turn as well?
I am as free as Nature first made man,
-Tis but because the Living death ne'er knew,
'tis to die,
Of mine shall light, know there Sebastian reigns. Of these quotations the two first may be allowed to be great, the two latter only tumid.
Of such selection there is no end. I will add only a few more passages; of which the first, though it may perhaps be quite clear in prose, is not too obseure for poetry : as the meaning that it has is noble:
No, there is a necessity in Fate,
Fear makes men look aside, and so their footing miss. Of the images which the two following citations afford, the first is elegant the second magnificent; whether either be just, let the reader judge:
What precious drops are these,
-Resign your castle
And bow its towery forehead at your feet. The bursts of extravagance, Dryden calls the “ Dalilahs" of the Theatre; and owns that many noisy lines of Maximin and Almanzor call out for vengeance upon him; “ but I knew," says he, “ that they were bad enough to please, even when I wrote them." There is surely reason to suspect that
he pleased himself as well as his audience ; and that these, like the harlots of other men, had his love, though not his approbation.
He had sometimes faults of a less generous'and splendid kind. He makes like almost all other poets, very frequent use" of mythology, and sometimes connects religion and fable too closely without distinction.
He descends to display his knowledge with pedantick ostentation; as when, in translating Virgil, he says, "tack to the larboard”-and“ veer starboard;" and talks, in another work, of '“ virtue spooning before the wind.” His yanity now and then betrays his ignorance :
They Nature's king through Nature's opticks view'd;
Revers'd they view'd him lessen'd to their eyes. He had heard of reversing a telescope, and unluckily reverses the object.
He is sometimes unexpectedly mean. When he describes the Supreme Being as moved by prayer to stop the Fire of London, what is his expression ?
A hollow crystal pyramid he takes,
In firmamental waters dipp'd above,
And hoods the flames that to their quarry strove.
this image :
When rattling bones together fly,
From the four quarters of the sky.
No sooner was the Frenchman's cause embrac'd.
He had a vanity, unworthy of his abilities, to shew, as may be suspected, the rank of the company with whom he lived, by the use of French words, which had then crept into conversation ; such as fraicheur for coolness, fougue for turbulence, and a few more, none of which the language has incorporated or retained. They continue only where they stood first, perpetual warnings to future innovators.
These are his faults of affectation; his faults of negligence are beyond recital. Such is the unevenness of his compositions, that ten lines are seldom found together, without something of which the reader is ashamed. Dryden was no rigid judge of bis own pages; he seldom struggled after supreme excellence, but snatchcúin laste what was within his reach; and when he could content others, was himself contented. He did not keep present to his mind an idea of pure perfection; nor compare his works, such as they were, with what they might
be made. He knew to whom he should be opposed. He had more musich than Waller, more vigour than Denham, and more nature than Cowley and from his contemporaries he was in no danger. Standing therefore in the highest place, he had no care to rise by contending with himself; but while there was no name above his own, was willing to enjoy fame on the easiest terms.
He was no lover of labour. What he thought sufficient, he did not stop to make better; and allowed himself to leave many parts unfinished, in confs dence that the good lines would overbalance the bad. What he had once written, he dismissed from his thoughts: and, I believe, there is no example to be found of any correction or improvement made by him after publication. The haștiness of his productions might be the effect of necessity; but his subsequent neglect could hardly have any other cause than impatience of study.
What can be said of his versification will be little more than a dilatation of the praise given it by Pope :
Waller was smooth ; but Dryden taught to join
The long majestic march, and energy divine. Some improvements had been already made in English numbers; but the full force of our language was not yet felt; the verse that was smooth was commonly feeble. If Cowley had sometimes a finished line, he had it by chance. Dryden knew how to chuse the flowing and the sonorous words: to vary tl:t pauses, and adjust the accents; to diversify the cadence, and yet preserve the smoothness of his metre.
Of Triplets and Alexandrines, though he did not introduce the use, he established it. The triplet has long subsisted among us. Dryden seems not ts
to have traced it higher than to Chapman's Homer; but it is to be found in Phaer's Virgil, written in the reign of Mary; and in Hall's Satires, publisheủ five years before the death of Elizabeth.
The Alexandrine was, I believe, first used by Spenser, for the sake of closing his stanza with a fuller sound. We had a longer measure of fourteen syllables, into which the Eneid was translated by Phaer, and other works of the ancients by other writers; of which Chapman's Iliad was, I believe, the last. The two first lines of Phaer's third Eneid will exemplify this measure:
When Asia's state was overthrown, and Priam's kingdom stout,
All guiltless, by the power of gods above was rooted out. As these lines had their break, or cæsura, always at the eighth syllable, it was thought, in time, commodious to divide them; and quatrains of lines, alternately, consisting of eight and six syllables, make the most soft and pleasing of our lyrick measures ; as,
Relentless Time, destroying power,
Which stone and brass obey,
To work some new decaj. In the Alexandrine, when its power was once felt, some poems, as Drayton's Polyolbion, were wholly written', and sometimes the measures of twelve and fourteen syllables were interchanged with one another, Cowley was the first that inserted the Alexandrine at pleasure among the heroick lines of ten syllables, and from him Dryden professes to have adopted it.
The Triplet and Alexandrine are not universally approved. Swift always censured them, and wrote some lines to ridicule them. In examining their propriety, it is to be considered that the essence of verse is regularity, and its ornament is variety. To write verse, is to dispose syllables and sounds harmonically by some known and settled rule; a rule hou ever lax enough to substitute similitude for identity, to admit change without breach of order, and to relieve the ear without disappointing it. Thus a Latin hexameter is formed from dactyls and spodees differently combined; the English heroick admits of acute or grave syllables variously disposed. The Latin never deriates into seyen feet, or exceeds the number of seventeen syllables; but the English Alexandrine breaks the lawsul bounds, and surprises the reader with two syllables more than he expected.
The effect of the Triplet is the same: the ear has been accustomed to expect a new rhyme in every couplet ; but is on a sudden surprized with three rhymes together, to which the reader could not accommodate his voice, did he not obtain notice of the change from the braces of the Margins. Surely there is something unskilful in the necessity of such mechanical direction.
Considering the metrịcal art simply as a science, and consequently excluding all casuality, we must allow that Triplets and Alexandrines, inserted by caprice, are interruptions of that constancy to which science aspires. And though the variety which they produce may very justly be desired, yet, to make our poetry exact, there ought to be some stated mode of admitting them.
But till some such regulation can be formed, I wish then still to be retained in their present state. They are sometimes convenient to the poct. Benton was of opinion, that Dryden was too liberal, and Pope too sparing, in their use.
The rhymes of Dryden are commonly just, and he valued himself for his readiness in finding them, but lie is sometimes open to objection.
It is the common practice of our poets to end the second line with a weak or grave syllable:
Together o'er the Alps methinks we fly,