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The effect produced by the conjunction of these two powerful minds was, that to Shakspeare's monster, Caliban, is added a sister-monster, Sycorax; and a woman who, in the original play, had never seen a man, is in this brought acquainted with a man that had never seen a wo
About this time, in 1673, Dryden seems to have had his quiet much disturbed by the success of the Empress of Morocco, a tragedy written in rhyme by Elkanah Settle; which was so much applauded as to make him think his supremacy of reputation in some danger. Settle had not only been prosperous on the stage, but, in the confidence of success, had published his play, with sculptures, and a preface of defiance. Here was one offence added to another; and, for the last blast of inflammation, it was acted at Whitehall by the court ladies.
Dryden could not now repress those emotions, which he called indignation, and others jealousy; but wrote upon the play and the dedication such criticism as malignant impatience could pour out in haste.
Of Settle he gives this character: "He's an animal of a most deplored understanding, without reading and conversation. His being is in a twilight of sense, and some glimmering of thought, which he can never fashion into wit or English. His style is boisterous and rough-hewn, his rhyme incorrigibly lewd, and his numbers perpetually harsh and ill-sounding. The little talent which he has, is fancy. He sometimes labours with a thought; but, with the pudder he makes to bring it into the world, 'tis commonly still-born; so that, for want of learning and elocution, he will never be able to express any thing either naturally or justly."
This is not very decent; yet this is one of the pages in which criticism prevails over brutal fury.
He proceeds: "He has a heavy hand at fools, and a great felicity in writing nonsense for them. Fools they will be in spite of him. His king, his two empresses, his villain, and his sub-villain, nay his hero, have all a certain natural cast of the father-their folly was born and bred in them, and something of the Elkanah will be visible.”
This is Dryden's general declamation: I will not withhold from the reader a particular remark. Having gone through the first act, he says, "To conclude this act with the most rumbling piece of nonsense spoken yet:
To flattering lightning our feign'd smiles conform,
"Conform a smile to lightning! make a smile imitate lightning! and, flattering lightning! Lightning sure is a threaten. ing thing: and this lightning must gild a storm! Now, if I must conform my smiles to lightning, then my smiles must gild a storm too: to gild with smiles, is a new invention of gilding. And gild a storm by being backed with thunder! Thunder is part of the storm; so one part of the storm must help to gild another part, and help by backing! as if a man would gild a thing the better for being backed, or having a load upon his back. So that, here is gilding, by conforming, smiling, lightning, backing, and thundering! The whole is as if I should say thus: I will make my counterfeit smiles look like a flattering stone horse, which, being backed with a trooper, does but gild the battle. I am mistaken if nonsense is not here pretty thick sown. Sure the poet writ these two lines aboard some smack in a storm, and, being sea-sick, spewed up a good lump of clotted nonsense at once."
Here is perhaps a sufficient specimen; but as the pamphlet, though Dryden's, has never been thought worthy of republication, and is not easily to be found, it may gratify curiosity to quote it more largely:
"Whene'er she bleeds,
He no severer a damnation needs,
That dares pronounce the sentence of her death,
"That attends that breath!—The poet is at breath again; breath can never 'scape him; and here he brings in a breath that must be infectious with pronouncing a sentence; and this sentence is not to be pronounced till the condemned party bleeds; that is, she must be executed first, and sentenced after; and the pronouncing of this sentence will be
infectious; that is, others will catch the disease of that sentence, and this infecting of others will torment a man's self. The whole is thus; when she bleeds, thou needest no greater hell or torment to thyself, than infecting of others by pronouncing a sentence upon her. What hodge-podge does he make here! Never was Dutch grout such clogging, thick, indigestible stuff. But this is but a taste to stay the stomach; we shall have a more plentiful mess presently. "Now to dish up the poet's broth, that I promised:
For when we're dead, and our freed souls enlarg'd,
Like wand'ring meteors through the air we'll fly,
We'll steal into our cruel fathers' breasts,
There read their souls, and track each passion's sphere,
See how revenge moves there, ambition here!
Of sieges, ruins, murders, blood, and wars.
Gentle as nature in its infancy;
Till, soften'd by our charms, their furies cease,
Thus by our death their quarrel ends;
Whom living we made foes, dead we'll make friends.
"If this be not a very liberal mess, I will refer myself to the stomach of any moderate guest. And a rare mess it is, far excelling any Westminster white-broth. It is a kind of giblet porridge, made of the giblets of a couple of young geese, stodged full of meteors, orbs, spheres, track, hideous draughts, dark characters, white forms, and radiant lights, designed not only to please appetite, and indulge luxury, but it is also physical, being an approved medicine to purge choler; for it is propounded, by Morena, as a receipt to cure their fathers of their choleric humours; and, were it written in characters as barbarous as the words, might very well pass for a doctor's bill. To conclude: it is porridge, 'tis a receipt, 'tis a pig with a pudding in the
belly, 'tis I know not what: for, certainly, never any one that pretended to write sense had the impudence before to put such stuff as this into the mouths of those that were to speak it before an audience, whom he did not take to be all fools; and after that to print it too, and expose it to the examination of the world. But let us see what we can make of this stuff:
For when we're dead, and our freed souls enlarg'd—
"Here he tells us what it is to be dead; it is to have our freed souls set free. Now, if to have a soul set free, is to be dead; then to have a freed soul set free, is to have a dead man die.
Then, gently, as a happy lover's sigh
They two like one sigh, and that one sigh, like two wan dering meteors,
Shall fly through the air
"That is, they shall mount above like falling stars, or else they shall skip like two Jacks with lanthorns, or Will with a wisp, and Madge with a candle."
"And in their 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 impudent 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,
From press and plates, in fleets do homeward run;
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