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wonderful that any man that knew the meaning of his own words could ufe without felf-deteftation." It is an attempt to mingle earth and heaven, by praifing human excellence in the language of religion.
The preface contains an apology for heroick verfe and poetick licence; by which is meant not any liberty taken in contracting or extending words, but the ufe of bold fictions and ambitious Sigures.
The reafon which he gives for printing what was never acted, cannot be overpaffed: "I was in"duced to it in my own defence, many hundred
copies of it being difperfed abroad without my "knowledge or confent; and every one gathering "new faults, it became at length a libel against "mé." Thefe copies, as they gathered faults, were apparently manufcript; and he lived in an age very unlike ours, if many hundred copies of fourteen hundred lines were likely to be tranfcribed. An author has a right to print his own works, and need not feek an apology in falfehood; 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 criticks upon the tranfactions of the English ftage. If he had known and difliked his own character, our trade was not in thofe times fecure from his refentment. His country is at fuch a diftance, that the manners might be fafely falfified, and the incidents feigned; for the remotenefs of the place is remarked, by Racine, to afford the fame 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 perfonages are imperial; but the dialogue is often domeftick, and therefore fufceptible of fentiments accommodated to familiar incidents. The complaint of life is celebrated, and not there are many other paffages that may be read with
This play is addreffed to the Earl of Mulgrave, afterwards Duke of Buckingham, himself, if not a poet, yet a writer of verfes, and a critick. In this addrefs Dryden gave the first hints of his in-. tention to write an epick poem. He mentions his defign in terms fo obfcure, that he feems afraid left his plan fhould be purloined, as, he fays, happened to him when he told it more plainly in his preface to Juvenal. "The defign," fays he, ** you know is great, the story English, and nei"ther too near the prefent times, nor too diftant
All for Love, or the World well loft (1678), a tragedy founded upon the ftory of Antony and Cleopatra, he tells us, "is the only play which he "wrote for himfelf," the reft were given to the people. It is by univerfal confent accounted the work in which he has admitted the feweft inipro prieties 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 cenfured as vicious, and the bad defpifed as foolish.
Of this play the prologue and the epilogue, though written upon the common topicks of с 3 malicious
malicious and ignorant criticism, and without any particular relation to the characters or incidents of the drama, are defervedly celebrated for their elegance and fpritelinefs.
Limberham, or the kind Keeper (1680), is a comedy, which, after the third night, was prohibited as too indecent for the flage. What gave offence was, in the printing, as the author fays, altered or omitted. Dryden confeffes that its indecency was objected to; but Langbaine, who yet feldom favours him, imputes its expulfion to refentment, because it "fo much expofed 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 compofed the first and third acts.
Don Sebaftian (1690), is commonly esteemed either the first or fecond of his dramatick performances. It is too long to be all acted, and has many characters and many incidents; and though it is not without fallies of frantick dignity, and more noife than meaning, yet as it makes approaches to the poffibilities of real life, and has fome fentiments which leave a ftrong impreffion, it continued long to attract attention. Amidst the diftreffes of princes, and the viciffitudes of empire, are inferted feveral fcenes which the writer intended for comick; but which, I fuppofe, that age did not much commend, and this would not endure. There are, however, paffages of excellence univerfally acknowledged; the difpute and the reconciliation of Dorax and Sebaftian has always been admired.
This play was first acted in 1690, after Dryden had for fome years difcontinued dramatick poetry.
Amphitryon is a comedy derived from Plautus and Moliere. The dedication is dated Oct. 1690. This play feems to have fucceeded at its firft appearance; and was, I think, long confidered as a very diverting entertainment.
Cleomones (1692) is a tragedy, only remarkable as it occafioned an incident related in the Guardian, and allufively mentioned by Dryden in his preface. As he came out from the reprefentation, he was accofted thus by fome airy ftripling: "Had I been " left alone with a young beauty, I would not have "fpent my time like your Spartan." "That, "Sir," faid Dryden, perhaps is true; but give "6 me leave to tell you, that you are no hero." King Arthur (1691) is another opera. It was the laft work that Dryden performed for King Charles, who did not live to fee it exhibited, and it does not feem to have been ever brought upon the stage *. In the dedication to the Marquis of Halifax, there is a very elegant character of Charles, and a pleafing account of his latter life. When this was firft brought upon the ftage, news that the Duke of Monmouth had landed was told in the theatre; upon which the company departed, and Arthur was exhibited no more.
His laft drama was Love Triumphant, a tragicomedy. In his dedication to the Earl of Salisbury he mentions "the lownels of fortune to which he "has voluntarily reduced himfelf, and of which "he has no reafon to be ashamed."
This is a mistake. It was fet to mufick by Purcell, and well received, and is yet a favourite entertainment. H.
This play appeared in 1694. It is faid to have been unfuccefsful. The catastrophe, proceeding merely from a change of mind, is confeiled by the author to be defective. Thus he began and ended his dramatick labours with ill fuccefs.
From fuch a number of theatrical pieces it will be fuppofed, by moft readers, that he must have improved his fortune; at least that fuch diligence with fuch abilities muft have fet penury at defiance. But in Dryden's time the drama was very far from that univerfal approbation which it has now obtained. The playhoufe was abhorred by the Puritans, and avoided by thofe who defired the character of ferioufnefs or decency. A gravé lawyer would have debafed his dignity, and a young trader would have impaired his credit, by appear ing in thofe manfions of diffolute licentioufnefs. The profits of the theatre, when fo many claffes of the people were deducted from the audience, were not great; and the poet had for a long time but a fingle night. The firft that had two nights was Southern, and the first that had three was Rowe. There were, however, in thofe days, arts of improving a poet's profit, which Dryden forbore to practise; and a play therefore feldom produced him more than a hundred pounds, by the acumulated gain of the third night, the dedication, and the copy.
Almost every piece had a dedication, written with fuch elegance and luxuriance of praife, as neither haughtinefs nor avarice could be imagined able to refift. But he feems to have made flattery too cheap. That praife is worth nothing of which the price is known.