Imatges de pÓgina

how to complain. In the life of Plutarch he mentions his education in the College with gratitude; but, in a prologue at Oxford, he has thefe lines:

Oxford to him a dearer name fhall be

Than his own mother-univerfity;
Thebes did his rude; unknowing youth engage;
He chooses Athens in his riper age.


It was not till the death of Cromwell, in 1658, that he hecame a public candidate for fame, by publishing Heroick Stanzas on the late Lord Protector; which, compared with the verfes of Sprat and Waller on the fame occafion, were fufficient to raise great expectations of the rifing poet.

When the king was reftored, Dryden, like the other panegyrifts of ufurpation, changed his opinion, or his profeffion, and published ASTREA REDUX; a Poem on the happy Reftoration and Return of his most facred Majefty King Charles the Second.

The reproach of inconftancy was, on this occafion, fhared with fuch numbers, that it produced neither hatred nor difgrace! if he changed, he changed with the nation. It was, however, not totally forgotten when his reputation raised him


The fame year he praifed the new king in a fecond poem on his restoration.

In the ASTREA was the line,

An horrid ftillness firft invades the ear,
And in that filence we a tempeft fear-

for which he was perfecuted with perpetual ridicule perhaps with more than was deferved. Silence is indeed mere privation; and, fo confidered, cannot

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invade; but privation likewise certainly is darkness, and probably cold; yet poetry has never been refufed the right of afcribing effects or agency to them as to pofitive powers. No man fcruples to fay that darkness hinders him from his work; or that cold has killed the plants. Death is alfo privation; yet who has made any difficulty of affigning to Death a Dart and the power of ftriking?

In fettling the order of his works there is fome difficulty; for, even when they are important enough to be formally offered to a patron, he does not commonly date his dedication; the time of writing and publishing is not always the fame nor can the first editions be eafily found, if even from them could be obtained the neceffary information.


The time at which his firft play was exhibited is not certainly known, because it was not printed till it was fome years afterwards altered and revived; but fince the plays are faid to be printed in the order in which they were written, from the dates of fome, thofe of others may be inferred; and thus it may be collected, that in 1663, in the thirtyfecond year of his life, he commenced a writer for the ftage; compelled undoubtedly by neceflity, for he appears never to have loved that exercife of his genius, or to have much pleafed himself with his own dramas.

Of the ftage, when he had once invaded it, he kept poffeffion for many years; not indeed without the competition of rivals who fometimes prevailed, or the cenfure of criticks, which was often poignant, and often juft; but with fuch a degree of reputation as made him at leaft fecure of being


heard, whatever might be the final determination of the publick.

His first piece was a comedy called the Wild Gallant. He began with no happy auguries; for his performance was fo much difapproved, that he was compelled to recall it, and change it from its imperfect state to the form in which it now appears, and which is yet fufficiently defective to vindicate the criticks.

I wish that there were no neceffity of following the progrefs of his theatrical fame, or tracing the meanders of his mind through the whole feries of his dramatic performances; it will he fit, however, to enumerate them, and to take efpecial notice of those that are diftinguifhed by any peculiarity, intrinfick or concomitant; for the compofition and fate of eight-and-twenty dramas include too much. of a poetical life to be omitted.

In 1664 he publifhed the Rival Ladies, which he dedicated to the Earl of Orrery, a man of high reputation both as a writer and as a ftatefinan In this play he made his effay of dramatick rhyme, which he defends in his dedication, with fufficient certainty of a favourable hearing; for Orrery was himself a writer of rhyming tragedies.


He then joined with Sir Robert Howard in the Indian Queen, a tragedy in rhyme. The parts which either of them wrote are not diftinguished.

The In an Emperor was published in 1667. It is a tragedy in rhyme, intended for a fequel to Howard's Indian Queen. Of this connection notice was given to the audience by printed bills, diftributed at the door; an expedient fuppofed to be ridiculed in the Rebearful, when Bayes tells how

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many reams he has printed, to inftill into the audience fome conception of his plot.

In this play is the defcription of Night, which Rymer has made famous by preferring it to those of all other poets.

The practice of making tragedies in rhyme was introduced foon after the Reftoration, as it feems by the Earl of Orrery, in compliance with the opinion of Charles the Second, who had formed his tafte by the French theatre; and Dryden, who wrote, and made no difficulty of declaring that he wrote only to pleafe, and who perhaps knew that by his dexterity of verfification he was more likely to excel others in rhyme than without it, very readily adopted his matter's preference. He therefore made rhyming tragedies, till, by the preva-> lence of manifeft propriety, he feems to have grown afhamed of making them any longer.

To this play is prefixed a very vehement defence of dramatic rhyme, in confutation of the preface to the Duke of Lerma, in which Sir Robert Howard had cenfured it.

In 1667 he published Annus Mirabilis, the Year of Wonders, which may be efteemed one of his moft elaborate works.

It is addrefled to Sir Robert Howard by a letter, which is not properly a dedication; and, writing to a poet, he has inter perfed many critical obfervations, of which fome are common, and fome perhaps ventured without much confideration. He began, even now, to exercife the domination of confcious genius, by recommending his own performance: "I am fatisfied that as the Prince and "General [Rupert and Monk] are incomparably



"the beft fubjects I ever had, fo what I have writ ten on them is much better than what I have performed on any other. As I have endeavoured "to adorn my poem with noble thoughts, fo "much more to exprefs thofe thoughts with clo"cution."

It is written in quatrains, or heroic ftanzas of four lines; a meafure which he had learned from the Gondibert of Davenant, and which he then thought the most majestick that the English language affords. Of this ftanza he mentions the incumbrances, encreased as they were by the exactnefs which the age required. It was, throughout his life, very much his cuftom to recommend his works, by reprefentation of the difficulties that he had encountered, without appearing to have fufficiently confidered, that where there is no difficulty there is no praise.

There feems to be, in the conduct of Sir Robert Howard and Dryden towards each other, fomething that is not now eafily to be explained. Dryden, in his dedication to the Earl of Orrery, had defended dramatick rhyme; and Howard, in the preface to a collection of plays, had cenfured his opinion. Dryden vindicated himfelf in his Dialogue on Dramatick Poetry; Howard, in his preface to the Duke of Lerma, animadverted on the Vindication; and Dryden, in a preface to the Indian Emperor, replied to the Animadverfions with great afperity, and almoft with contumely. The dedication to this play is dated the year in which the Annus Mirabilis was published. Here appears a ftrange inconfiftency; but Langbaine affords fome help, by relating that the answer to Howard was not published in the first edition of the play, but B. 4


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