Imatges de pÓgina

whom it may be reasonably imagined, that many who favoured his design were ashamed of his insolence.

When admiration had subsided, the translation was more coolly examined, and found, like all others, to be sometimes erroneous, and sometimes licentious. Those who could find faults, thought they could avoid them; and Dr. Brady attempted in blank verse a translation of the Æneid, which, when dragged into the world, did not live long enough to cry.

I have never seen it; but that such a version there is, or has been, perhaps some old catalogue informed me.

31With not much better success, Trapp, when his Tragedy and his Prelections had given him reputation, attempted another blank version of the Eneid; to which, notwithstanding the slight regard with which it was treated, he had afterwards perseverance enough to add the 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 an eye of sorrow, such as the traveller casts upon departing day. Vir evoluz

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.

His last work was his Fables, in which he gave us the first example of a mode of writing which the Italians call rifaccimento, a renovation of ancient writers, by modernizing their language. Thus the old poem of Boiardo has been new-dressed by Domenichi and Berni. The works of Chaucer, upon which this kind of rejuvenescence has been bestowed by Dryden, require little criticism. The tale of the Cock seems hardly worth revival; and the story of Palamon and Arcite, containing an action unsuitable to the times in which it 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.

Of the three pieces, borrowed from Boccace, Sigismunda may be defended by the celebrity of the story. Theodore and Honoria, though it contains not much moral, yet afforded opportunities of striking description. And Cymon was formerly a tale of such reputation, 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 to 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. If indeed there is any excellence beyond it, in some other of Dryden's works that excellence must be found. Compared with the ode on Killigrew, it may be pronounced perhaps superior in the whole, but without any singie 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 is not less elegant in the diction. The conclusion is vicious; 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.

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 vigorous genius operating upon large materials.

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; binede nob adLove various minds does variously inspire: golfen od on It stirs in gentle bosoms gentle fire,

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Like that of incense on the altar laid:

But raging flames tempestuous souls invade;
A fire which every windy passion blows,
With pride it mounts, or with revenge it glows.

Dryden's was not one of the gentle bosoms: Love, as it subsists in itself, with no tendency but to the person loved, and wishing only for correspondent kindness; such Love as shuts out all other interest, the Love of the Golden Age, 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.

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 objections and solutions at command; "verbaque provisam rem"-give him matter for his verse, and he finds without difficulty verse for his matter.

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 upon the brink of meaning, 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,

Plead out to Leave weeks and months behind thee in thy race,

Amamel flies

To guard thee from the demons of the air;
My flaming sword above them to display,
All keen, and ground upon the edge of day.

And sometimes it issued in absurdities, of which perhaps he was not conscious:
Then we upon our orb's last verge shall

And see the ocean leaning on the sky;


From thence our rolling neighbours we shall know,

And on the lunar world securely pry.

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, chekungan pil Ere the base laws of servitude began,

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When wild in woods the noble savage ran.

-'Tis but because the living death ne'er knew, of £
They fear to prove it as a thing that's new:oit al

Let me th' experiment before you try,

I'll show you first how easy 'tis to die.

There with a forest of their darts he strove,

And stood like Capaneus defying Jove,

With his broad sword the boldest beating down,
While Fate grew pale lest he should win the town,
And turn'd the iron leaves of his dark book

To make new dooms, or mend what it mistook.

-I beg no pity for this mouldering clay;
For if you give it burial, there it takes
Possession of your earth;

If burnt, and scatter'd in the air, the winds

That strew my dust diffuse my royalty,

And spread me o'er your clime; for where one atom

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.

Óf 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 obscure for poetry, as the meaning that it has is noble :

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;

True, 'tis a narrow way that leads to bliss,

But right before there is no precipice;

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, Which silently each other's track pursue,

Bright as young diamonds in their infant dew ?

Resign your castle

-Enter, brave sir; for, when you speak the word,
The gates shall open of their own accord;
The genius of the place its lord shall meet,
And bow its towery forehead at your feet.

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 spooming 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?
A hollow crystal pyramid he takes,

In firmamental waters dipp'd above,

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 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 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 neces→ sity; 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 varying verse, the full-resounding line,
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 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 Æneid 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 out.

As these lines had their break, or cæsura, always at the eighth syllable, it

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