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"Eclogues" and "Georgics." His book may continue in existence as long as it is the clandestine refuge of school-boys.
Since the English ear has been accustomed to the mellifluence of Pope's numbers, and the diction of poetry has become more splendid, new attempts have been made to translate Virgil; and all his works have been attempted by men better qualified to contend with Dryden. I will not engage myself in an invidious comparison, by opposing one passage to another; a work of which there would be no end, and which might be often offensive without use.
It is not by comparing line with line that the merit of great works is to be estimated, but by their general effects and ultimate result. It is easy to note a weak line, and write one more vigorous in its place; to find a happiness of expression in the original, and transplant it by force into the version: but what is given to the parts may be subducted from the whole, and the reader may be weary, though the critic may commend. Works of imagination excel by their allurement and delight; by their power of attracting and detaining the attention. That book is good in vain which the reader throws away. He only is the master who keeps the mind in pleasing captivity; whose pages are perused with eagerness, and in hope of new pleasure are perused again; and whose conclusion is perceived with no eye of sorrow, such as the traveller casts upon departing day.
By his proportion of this predomination I will consent that Dryden should be tried; of this, which, in opposition to reason, makes Ariosto the darling and the pride of Italy; of this, which in defiance of criticism, continues Shakspeare the sovereign of the drama,
that at the revival of letters it was translated into Latin by one of the Beroalds.
Whatever subjects employed his pen, he was still improving our measures, and embellishing our language.
In this volume are interspersed some short original poems, which, with his prologues, epilogues, and songs, may be comprised in Congreve's remark, that even those, if he had written nothing else, would have entitled him to the praise of excellence in his kind.
One composition must however be distinguished. The "Ode for St. Cecilia's Day," perhaps the last effort of his poetry, has been always considered as exhibiting the highest flight of fancy, and the exactest nicety of art. This is allowed to stand without a rival. indeed there is any excellence beyond it, in some other of Dryden's works that excellence must be found. Compared with the "Ode on Killegrew," it may be pronounced perhaps superior on the whole, but without any single part equal to the first stanza of the other.
It is said to have cost Dryden a fortnight's labour; but it does not want its negligences; some of the lines are without correspondent rhymes; a defect which I never detected but after an acquaintance of many years, and which the enthusiasm of the writer might hinder him from perceiving.
His last stanza has less emotion than the former; but it is not less elegant in the diction. The conclusion is vitious; the music of "Timotheus," which raised a mortal to the skies, had only a metaphorical power; that of "Cecilia," which drew an angel down, had a real effect: the crown, therefore, could not reasonably be divided.
His last work was his "Fables," in which he gave us the first example of a mode of writing which the Italians call refaccimento, a renovation of ancient writers, by modernizing their language. Thus the old poem of "Boi-gorous genius operating upon large materials. ardo" has been new-dressed by Domenichi and Berni. The works of Chaucer, which upon this kind of rejuvenescence has been bestowed by Dryden, require little criticism. The tale of the Cock seems hardly worth revival; and the tory of "Palamon and Arcite," containing an action unsuitable to the times in which it is placed, can hardly be suffered to pass without censure of the hyperbolical commendation which Dryden has given it in the general Preface, and in a poetical Dedication, a piece where his original fondness of remote conceits seems to have revived.
In a general survey of Dryden's labours, he appears to have a mind very comprehensive by nature, and much enriched with acquired knowledge. His compositions are the effects of a vi
The power that predominated in his intellectual operations was rather strong reason than quick sensibility. Upon all occasions that were presented he studied rather than felt, and produced sentiments not such as nature enforces, but meditation supplies. With the simple and elemental passions, as they spring separate in the mind, he seems not much acquainted; and seldom describes them but as they are complicated by the various relations of society, and confused in the tumults and agitations of life.
What he says of Love may contribute to the explanation of his character.
Love various minds does variously inspire:
Dryden's was not one of the gentle bosoms: | upon the brink of meaning, where light and Love, as it subsists in itself, with no tendency darkness begin to mingle; to approach the prebut to the person loved, and wishing only for cipice of absurdity, and hover over the abyss of forresponding kindness; such Love as shuts out unideal vacancy. This inclination sometimes all other interest, the Love of the Golden Age, produced nonsense which he knew; as, was too soft and subtle to put his faculties in motion. He hardly conceived it but in its turbulent effervescence with some other desires; when it was inflamed by rivalry, or obstructed by difficulties; when it invigorated ambition, or exasperated revenge.
He is, therefore, with all his variety of excellence, not often pathetic; and had so little sensibility of the power of effusions purely natural, that he did not esteem them in others: simplicity gave him no pleasure; and for the first part of his life he looked on Otway with contempt, though at last, indeed very late, he confessed that in his play there was Nature, which is the chief beauty.
We do not always know our own motives. I am not certain whether it was not rather the difficulty which he found in exhibiting the genuine operations of the heart, than a servile submission to an injudicious audience, that filled his plays with false magnificence. It was necessary to fix attention; and the mind can be captivated only by recollection, or by curiosity; by reviving natural sentiments, or impressing new appearances of things; sentences were readier at his call than images; he could more easily fill the ear with splendid novelty, 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 so much profundity, that the terms which he uses are not always understood. It is indeed learning, but learning out of place.
Move swiftly, Sun, and fly a lover's pace,
To guard thee from the demons of the air;
And sometimes it ssued in absurdities, of which perhaps he was not conscious:
Then we upon our orb's last verge shall go
These lines have no meaning; but may we not say, in imitation of Cowley on another book,
'Tis so like sense, 'twill serve the turn as well?
This endeavour after the grand and the new produced many sentiments either great or bulky, and many images either just or splendid:
I am as free as Nature first made man,
Ere the base laws of servitude began,
'Tis but because the living death ne'er knew,
There with a forest of their darts he strove,
-I beg no pity for this mouldering clay;
Possession of your earth:
When once he had engaged himself in disputation thoughts flowed in on either side: he was now no longer at a loss; he had always objec- For if you give it burial, there it takes tions and solutions at command; 66 verbaque provisam rem"-gave him matter for his verse, and he finds without difficulty verse for his
In comedy, for which he professes himself not naturally qualified, the mirth which he excites will perhaps not be found so much to arise from any original humour, or peculiarity of character nicely distinguished and diligently pursued, as from incidents and circumstances, artifices and surprises; from jests of action rather than of sentiment. What he had of humorous or passionate, he seems to have had not from nature, but from other poets; if not always as a plagiary, at least as an imitator.
Next to argument, his delight was in wild and daring sallies of sentiment, in the irregular and eccentric violence of wit. He delighted to tread
If burnt, and scatter'd in the air, the winds
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 not perhaps be quite clear in prose, is not too obscure for poetry, as th meaning that it has is noble : *
* I cannot see why Johnson has thought there w any want of clearness in this passage even in prose Addison has given us almost the very same thought in very good prose: "If we look forward to Him (the Deity) for help, we shall never be in danger of
No, there is a necessity in fate, Why still the brave bold man is fortunate; He keeps his object ever full in sight;
And that assurance holds him firm and right;
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,
Bright as young diamonds in their infant dew!
-Resign your castle
Of this a broad extinguisher he makes
And hoods the flames that to their quarry strove.
When he describes the last day, and the decisive tribunal, he intermingles this image:
When rattling bones together fly,
From the four quarters of the sky.
It was indeed never in his power to resist the temptation of a jest. In his "Elegy on Cromwell:"
No sooner was the Frenchman's cause embraced, Than the light Monsieur the grave Don outweigh'd ; His fortune turn'd the scale
He had a vanity, unworthy of his abilities, to show, as may be suspected, the rank of the company with whom he lived, by the use of
-Enter, brave Sir: for, when you speak the word, French words, which had then crept into con
The gates shall open of their own accord;
These 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 pedantic 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 vanity now and then betrays his ignorance:
They Nature's king through Nature's optics view'd; Reversed, 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?
hollow crystal pyramid he takes,
In firmamental water dipp'd above,
falling down those precipices which our imagination is apt to create. Like those who walk upon a line, if we keep our eye fixed upon one point we may step forward securely; whereas an imprudent or cowardly glance on either side will infallibly destroy us." Spec. No. 615.-J. B.
versation: 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 Dryden was of which the reader is ashamed. no rigid judge of his own pages; he seldom struggled after supreme excellence, but snatched in haste 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 music 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 confidence 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 hastiness 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
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 choose the flowing and the sonorous words; to vary the 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 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," published 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" Æneid" 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 cut.
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 lyric measure: as,
Relentless Time, destroying power,
To work some new decay.
In the Alexandrine, when its power was once felt, some poems, as Drayton's "Polyalbion," 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 heroic lines of ten syllables, and from him Dryden professes to have adopted it.*
This is an error. The Alexandrine inserted among heroic lines of ten syllables is found in many of the writers of Queen Elizabeth's reign. It will be sufficient to mention Hall, who has already been quoted for the use of the triplet:
As though the staring world hanged on his sleeve
Take another instance:
For shame! or better write or Labeo write none.
Ibid. B. ii. Sat. 1.-J. B.
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 however 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 spondees differently combined; the English heroic admits of acute or grave syllables variously disposed. The Latin never deviates into seven feet, or exceeds the number of seventeen syllables; but the English Alexandrine breaks the lawful 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 surprised 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 metrical art simply as a science, and consequently excluding all casualty, 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 poetry exact, there ought to be some stated mode of admitting them.
But till some such regulation can be formed, I wish them still to be retained in their present state. They are sometimes convenient to the poet. Fenton 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 find
ing them; but he is sometimes open to objec
lable; a rule which the modern French poets Guide the vast world, while thy great hand shall never violate, but which Dryden sometimes neglected:
And with paternal thunder vindicates his throne." Of Dryden's works it was said by Pope, that * he could select from them better specimens of every mode of poetry than any other English writer could supply." Perhaps no nation ever produced a writer that enriched his language with such a variety of models. To him we owe the improvement, perhaps the completion, of our metre, the refinement of our language, and much of the correctness of our sentiments. By him we were taught sapere et fari, to think naturally and express forcibly. Though Davies has reasoned in rhyme before him, it may be perhaps maintained that he was the first who joined argument with poetry. He showed us the true bounds of a translator's liberty. What was said of Rome, adorned by Augustus, may be applied by an easy metaphor to English poetry embellished by Dryden, lateritiam invenit, marmoream reliquit. He found it brick, and he left it marble.
The invocation before the "Georgics" is here
inserted from Mr. Milbourne's version, that ac
cording to his own proposal, his verses may be
What makes the richest tilth, beneath what signs
Wood-nymphs and fawns, your kind assistance yield;
Your gifts I sing; and thou, at whose fear'd stroke
And he who first the crooked plough design'd,
And thou, great Cæsar! though we know not yet
The fruits and seasons of the turning year,
Mr. Dryden, having received from Rymer his "Remarks on the Tragedies of the last Age," wrote observations on the blank leaves: which, having been in the possession of Mr.
Garrick, are by his favour communicated to the public, that no particle of Dryden may be lost.
"That we may less wonder why pity and terror are not now the only springs on which our tragedies move, and that Shakspeare may be more excused, Rapin confesses that the French tragedies now all run on the tendre ; and gives the reason, because love is the passion which most predominates in our souls, and that therefore the passions represented become thoughts of the audience. insipid, unless they are conformable to the But it is to be concluded, that this passion works not now amongst the French so strongly as the other two did amongst the ancients. Amongst us, who have a stronger genius for writing, the operations from the writing are much stronger; for the raising of Shakspeare's passions is more from the excellency of the words and thoughts, than the justness of the occasion; and, if he has been able to pick single occasions, he has never founded the whole reasonably: yet, by the genius of poetry in writing, he has succeeded.
"Rapin attributes more to the dictio, that is, to the words and discourse of a tragedy, than Aristotle has done, who places them in the last rank of beauties; perhaps, only last in order, because they are the last product of the design, of the disposition or connection of its parts; of the characters, of the manners of those characters, and of the thoughts proceeding from those manners. Rapin's words are remarkable: "Tis not the admirable intrigue, the surprising events,