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"That is, they shall mount above like falling | Who have their tribute sent, and homage given, stars, or else they shall skip like two Jacks with As men in whispers send loud noise to heaven. lanthorns, or Will with a wisp, and Madge with a candle."
"And in the 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 fliers, 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, 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 imprudent to expose all this stuff, but so arrogant 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 transnonsense sense, that by my stuff, people may judge the better what his is:
Great Boy, thy tragedy and sculptures done,
When their tongues dance to thy words' empty
By thee inspir'd the rumbling verses roll,
From breaths of fools thy commendation spreads,
"Thus I have daubed him with his own puddle: and now we are come from aboard his dancing, masking, rebounding, breathing fleet: and, as 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 terror; rage with little provocation, and terror with little danger. To see the highest mind 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 Horsemanship.
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.
"Tyrannic 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 has taken 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 the 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 dulness of succeeding priesthood turned afterwards into prose.' Thus foolishly could Dryden write, rather than not show his malice to the parsons.
your writings are like a Jack-of-all-trades' shop; they have a variety, but nothing of value; and if thou art not the dullest plant-animal that ever the earth produced, all that I have conversed with are strangely mistaken in thee."
once called Almeria? I mean, under Montezuma, the Indian Emperor. I protest and vow they are either the same, or so alike, that I cannot, for my heart, distinguish one from the other. You are therefore a strange unconscionable thief; thou art not content to steal from others, but dost rob thy poor wretched self too."
In the second he tells him that Almanzor is not more copied from Achilles than from ancient Pistol. "But I am," says he, "strangely mistaken if I have not seen this very Almanzor of yours in some disguise about this town, and passing under another name. Pr'ythee tell The two parts of " The Conquest of Grana-me true, was not this huffcap once the Inda" (1672) are written with a seeming determi- dian Emperor? and at another time did he not nation to glut the public with dramatic wonders, call himself Maximin? Was not Lyndaraxa 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 the rays of romantic 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 inquiring the cause, and loves in spite 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 majestic madness, such as, if it is sometimes despised, is often reverenced, and in which the ridiculous is mingled with the astonishing.
Now was Settle's time to take his revenge. He wrote a vindication of his own lines; and, if he is forced to yield any thing, makes his reprisals upon his enemy. To say that his answer is equal to the censure, is no high commendation. To expose Dryden's method of analyzing his expressions, he tries the same experiment upon the same description of the ships in "The Indian Emperor," of which however he does not deny the excellence; but intends to show, that by studied misconstruction every thing may be equally represented as ridiculous. After so much of Dryden's elegant animadversions, justice requires that something of Settle's should be exhibited. The following observations are therefore extracted from a quarto pamphlet of ninetyfive pages:
In the epilogue to the second part of "The Conquest of Granada,” Dryden indulges his favourite pleasure of discrediting his predecessors; and this epilogue 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 dramatic, epic, or lyric way. This promise was never formally performed; but, with respect to the dramatic 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 shows faults" These two lines, if he can show me any sense: distinctly, and only praises excellence in general or thought in, or any thing but bombast and noise, he shall make me believe every word in his observations on Morocco' sense.
A play thus written, in professed defiance of probability, naturally drew upon itself the vultures of the theatre. One of the critics 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 instruction from his remarks. But let honest credulity beware of receiving characters from contemporary writers. Clifford's remarks, by the favour of Dr. Percy, were at last obtained; and, that no man may ever want them more, I will extract enough to satisfy all reasonable desire.
In the first letter his observation is only general: "You do live," says he, "in as much ignorance and darkness as you did in the womb;
"Fate after him below with pain did move, And victory could scarce keep pace above.
I'll to the turrets of the palace go.
I wonder if he be so strict, how he dares make so bold with the sphere himself, and to be so critical in other men's writings. Fortune is fancied standing on a globe, not on a sphere, as he told us in the first act.
"Because Elkanah's Similes are the most unlike things to what they are compared in the world," I'll venture to start a simile in his 'Annus Mirabilis:' he gives this poetical description of the ship called The London :
The goodly London in her gallant trim, The phoenix-daughter of the vanquished old, Like a rich bride does on the ocean swim, And on her shadow rides in floating gold. Her flag aloft spread ruffling in the wind, And sanguine streamers seem'd the flood to fire: The weaver, charm'd with what his loom design'd, Goes on to sea, and knows not to retire. With roomy decks her guns of mighty strength, Whose low-laid moutbs each mounting billow laves, Deep in her draught, and warlike in ber length, She seems a sea-wasp flying in the waves. What a wonderful pother is here, to make all these poetical beautifications of a ship; that is, a phonir in the first stanza, and but a wasp in the last; nay, to make his humble comparison of a wasp more ridiculous, he does not say it flies upon the waves as nimbly as a wasp, or the like, but it seemed a wasp. But our author at the writing of this was not in his altitudes, to compare ships to floating palaces: a comparison to the purpose was a perfection he did not arrive to till the Indian Emperor's days. But perhaps his similitude has more in it than we imagine; this ship had a great many guns in her, and they, put all together, made the sting in the wasp's tail; for this is all the reason I can guess, why
it seemed a wasp. But because we will allow him all we can to help out, let it be a phoenix sea
"'Twould have done well too if he could hav met with a rant or two, worth the observation : such as,
Move swiftly, Sun, and fly a lover's pace;
"But surely the sun, whether he flies a lover' or not a lover's pace, leaves weeks and months nay years too behind him in his race.
"Poor Robin, or any other of the philo-mathematics, would have given him satisfaction in the point.
If I could kill thee now, thy fate's so low,
Piled on thy back, can never pull it down.
"Now where that is, Almanzor's fate is fixed, I cannot guess: but, wherever it is, I believe Almanzor, and think that all Abdalla's subjects, piled upon one another, might not pull down his fate so well as without piling; besides, I think Abdalla so wise a man, that if Almanzor had told him that piling his men upon his back might do the feat, he would scarcely bear such a weight, for the pleasure of the exploit ; but it is a huff, and let Abdalla do it if he dare.
Which of a torrent, which signifies a rapid stream, is much more impossible. Besides, if he goes to wasp, and the rarity of such an animal may do quibble, and say, that it is possible by art water
much towards heightening the fancy.
"It had been much more to his purpose, if he
had designed to render the senseless play little, to have searched for some such pedantry as this:
Two ifs scarce make one possibility.
'Observe how prettily our author chops logic in heroic verse. Three such fustian canting words as distributive, alternative, and two ifs, no man but himself would have come within the noise of. But he's a man of general learning and all comes into his play.
may be made return, and the same water run twice in one and the same channel; then he
quite confutes what he says: for it is by being opposed, that it runs into its former course; for all engines that make water so return, do it by compulsion and opposition. Or, if he means a headlong torrent for a tide, which would be ridiculous, yet they do not wind in volumes but come fore-right back (if their upright lies straight to their former course), and that by opposition of the sea-water, that drives them back again.
"And for fancy, when he lights of any thing like it, 'tis a wonder if it be not borrowed. As here, for example of, I find this fanciful thought in his Ann. Mirab.'
Gld father Thames rais'd up his reverend head:
This is stolen from Cowley's Davideis,' p. 9.
Swift Jordan started, and straight backward fled,
"This Almanzor speaks of himself; and sure for one man to conquer an army within the city, and another without the city, at once, is something difficult: but this flight is pardonable to some we meet with in Granada;' Osmin, speaking of Almanzor,
Who, like a tempest that outrides the wind, Made a just battle, ere the bodies join'd. Pray, what does this honourable person mean by a tempest that outrides the wind! a tempest that outrides itself? To suppose a tempest without wind, is as bad as supposing a man to walk without feet; for if he supposes the tempest to be something distinct from the wind, yet, as being the effect of wind only, to come before the cause is a little preposterous; so that if he takes it one way, or if he takes it the other, those two ifs will scarcely make one possibility.' Enough of Settle. "Marriage a-la-mode" (1673) is a comedy dedicated to the Earl of Rochester; whom he acknowledges not only as the defender of his poetry, but the promoter of his fortune. Langbaine places this play in 1673. The Earl of Rochester, therefore, was the famous Wilmot, whom yet tradition always represents as an enemy to Dryden, and who is mentioned by him with some disrespect in the preface to Juvenal.' "The Assignation, or Love in a Nunnery,' a comedy (1673) was driven off the stage, against the opinion, as the Author says, of the best judges. It is dedicated in a very elegant address to Sir Charles Sedley; in which he finds an opportunity for his usual complaint of hard treatment and unreasonable censure.
"Amboyna" (1673) is a tissue of mingled dialogue in verse and prose, and was perhaps
the third act is a masterpiece." It is introduced by a discourse on "the Grounds of Criticism in Tragedy," to which I suspect that Rymer's book had given occasion.
"The Spanish Friar" (1681) is a tragi-comedy, eminent for the happy coincidence and coalition of the two plots. As it was written against the papists, it would naturally at that time have friends and enemies; and partly by the popularity which it obtained at first, and partly by the real power both of the serious and risible part, it continued long a favourite of the public.
It was Dryden's opinion, at least for some time, and he maintains it in the dedication of this play, that the drama required an alternation of comic and tragic scenes; and that it is necessary to mitigate by alleviations of merriment the pressure of ponderous events, and the fatigue of toilsome passions. "Whoever," says writer for the stage.' cannot perform both parts is but half a
"The Duke of Guise," a tragedy (1683) written in conjunction with Lee, as "Oedipus" had been before, seems to deserve notice only for the offence which it gave to the remnant of the covenanters, and in general to the enemies of the court who attacked him with great violence, and were answered by him; though at last he seems to withdraw from the conflict, by
transferring the greater part of the blame or merit to his partner. It happened that a contract had been made between them, by which
they were to join in writing a play: and “he happened," says Dryden, "to claim the promise have been glad of a little respite.—Two-thirds just upon the finishing of a poem, when I would of it belonged to him; and to me only the first scene of the play, the whole fourth act, and the first half, or somewhat more, of the fifth."
This was a play written professedly for the party of the Duke of York, whose succession was then opposed. A parallel is intended beof England: and this intention produced the tween the leaguers of France and the covenanters
"Albion and Albanius" (1685) is a musical drama or opera, written, like "The Duke of
written in less time than "The Virgin Martyr," Guise," against the republicans. With what
though the Author thought not fit, either ostentatiously or mournfully, to tell how little labour it cost him, or at how short a warning he produced it. It was a temporary performance, written in the time of the Dutch war, to inflame the nation against their enemies; to whom he hopes, as he declares in his epilogue, to make his poetry not less destructive than that by which Tyrtæus of old animated the Spartans. This play was written in the second Dutch war, in 1673.
"Troilus and Cressida" (1679) is a play altered from Shakspeare; but so altered, that, even in Langbaine's opinion, "the last scene in
success it was performed, I have not found.*
"The State of Innocence and Fall of Man"
(1675) is termed by him an opera: it is rather
a tragedy in heroic rhyme, but of which the personages are such as cannot decently be exhibited on the stage. Some such production was foreseen by Marvel, who writes thus to Milton:
* Downes says, it was performed on a very unlucky day; viz. that on which the Duke of. Monmouth sternation into which the kingdom was thrown by landed in the west: and he intimates, that the conthis event was a reason why it was performed but six times, and was in general ill received.-H.
"Or if a work so infinite be spann'd, Jealous I was lest some less skilful hand (Such as disquiet always what is well, And by ill-imitating would excel,) Might hence presume the whole creation's day To change in scenes, and show it in a play." It is another of his hasty productions: for the heat of his imagination raised it in a month.
This composition is addressed to the Princess of Modena, then Dutchess of York, in a strain of flattery which disgraces genius, and which it was wonderful that any man that knew the meaning of his own words could use without self-detestation. It is an attempt to mingle earth and heaven, by praising human excellence in the language of religion.
The preface contains an apology for heroic verse and poetic license; by which is meant not any liberty taken in contracting or extending words, but the use of bold fictions and ambitious figures.
The reason which he gives for printing what was never acted cannot be overpassed: "I was induced to it in my own defence, many hundred copies of it being dispersed abroad without my 'knowledge or consent; and every one gathering new faults, it became at length a libel against These copies, as they gathered faults, were apparently manuscript, and he lived in an age very unlike ours, if many hundred copies of fourteen hundred lines were likely to be transcribed. An author has a right to print his own works, and need not seek an apology in falsehood; but he that could bear to write the dedication felt no pain in writing the preface.
"Aureng Zebe" (1676) is a tragedy founded on the actions of a great prince then reigning, but over nations not likely to employ their critics upon the transactions of the English stage. If he had known and disliked his own character, our trade was not in those times secure from his resentment. His country is at such a distance, that the manners might be safely falsified, and the incidents feigned for the remoteness of place is remarked, by Racine, to afford the same conveniences to a poet as length of time.
This play is written in rhyme, and has the appearance of being the most elaborate of all the dramas. The personages are imperial; but the dialogue is often domestic, and therefore susceptible of sentiments accommodated to familiar incidents. The complaint of life is celebrated; and there are many other passages that may be read with pleasure.
This play is addressed to the Earl of Mulgrave, afterwards Duke of Buckingham, himself, if not a poet, yet a writer of verses, and a critic. In this address Dryden gave the first hints of his intention to write an epic poem. He mentions his design in terms so obscure, that he seems afraid lest his plan should be purloined,
as, he says, happened to him when he told it more plainly in his preface to "Juvenal." "The design," says he, " you know is great, the story English, and neither too near the present times, nor too distant from them.'
"All for Love, or the World well Lost," (1678) a tragedy founded upon the story of Antony and Cleopatra, he tells us, "is the only play which he wrote for himself:" the rest were given to the people. It is by universal consent accounted the work in which he has admitted the fewest improprieties of style or character; but it has one fault equal to many, though rather moral than critical, that, by admitting the romantic omnipotence of Love, he has recommended, as laudable and worthy of imitation, that conduct which, through all ages, the good have censured as vicious, and the bad despised as foolish.
Of this play the prologue and the epilogue, though written upon the common topics of malicious and ignorant criticisms, and without any particular relation to the characters or incidents of the drama, are deservedly celebrated for their elegance and sprightliness.
"Limberham, or the kind Keeper," (1680) is a comedy, which, after the third night, was prohibited as too indecent for the stage. What gave offence was in the printing, as the Author says, altered or omitted. Dryden confesses that its indecency was objected to; but Langbaine, who yet seldom favours him, imputes its expulsion to resentment, because it "so much exposed the keeping part of the town.
Oedipus" (1679) is a tragedy formed by Dryden and Lee, in conjunction, from the works of Sophocles, Seneca, and Corneille. Dryden planned the scenes, and composed the first and third acts.
"Don Sebastian" (1690) is commonly esteemed either the first or second of his dramatic performances. It is too long to be all acted, and has many characters and many incidents: and though it is not without sallies of frantic dignity, and more noise than meaning, yet, as it makes approaches to the possibilities of real life, and has some sentiments which leave a strong impression, it continued long to attract attention. Amidst the distresses of princes, and the vicissitudes of empire, are inserted several scenes which the writer intended for comic; but which, I suppose, that age did not much commend, and this would not endure. There are, however, passages of excellence universally acknowledged; the dispute and the reconciliation of Dorax and Sebastian has always been admired.
This play was first acted in 1690, after Dryden had for some years discontinued dramatio poetry.
"Amphytrion" is a comedy derived from Plautus and Moliere. The dedication is dated Oct. 1690. This play seems to have succeeded