Part 3 out of 7
noble wit of Scotland," as he terms Sir George Mackenzie, the issue of
which, in his apprehension, pointed out further room for improving upon
the epic of Milton. This was an inquiry into the "turn of words and
thoughts" requisite in heroic poetry. These "turns," according to the
definition and examples which Dryden has given us, differ from the
points of wit, and quirks of epigram, common in the metaphysical poets,
and consist in a happy, and at the same time a natural, recurrence of
the same form of expression, melodiously varied. Having failed in his
search after these beauties in Cowley, the darling of his youth, "I
consulted," says Dryden, "a greater genius (without offence to the manes
of that noble author), I mean--Milton; but as he endeavours everywhere
to express Homer, whose age had not arrived to that fineness, I found in
him a true sublimity, lofty thoughts, which were clothed with admirable
Grecisms, and ancient words, which he had been digging from the mines of
Chaucer and Spenser, and which, with all their rusticity, had somewhat
of venerable in them. But I found not there neither that for which I
looked." This judgment Addison has proved to be erroneous, by quoting
from Milton the most beautiful example of a turn of words which can be
found in English poetry. But Dryden, holding it for just, conceived,
doubtless, that in his "State of Innocence" he might exert his skill
successfully, by supplying the supposed deficiency, and for relieving
those "flats of thought" which he complains of, where Milton, for a
hundred lines together, runs on in a "track of scripture;" but which
Dennis more justly ascribes to the humble nature of his subject in those
passages. The graces, also, which Dryden ventured to interweave with the
lofty theme of Milton, were rather those of Ovid than of Virgil, rather
turns of verbal expression than of thought. Such is that conceit which
met with censure at the time:
"Seraph and cherub, careless of their charge,
And wanton, in full ease now live at large;
Unguarded leave the passes of the sky,
And all dissolved in hallelujahs lie."
"I have heard," said a petulant critic, "of anchovies dissolved in
sauce; but never of an angel dissolved in hallelujahs." But this
raillery Dryden rebuffs with a quotation from Virgil:
"_Invadunt urbem, somno vinoque sepultam_."
It might have been replied, that Virgil's analogy was familiar and
simple, and that of Dryden was far-fetched, and startling by its
novelty. The majesty of Milton's verse is strangely degraded in the
following speeches, which precede the rising of Pandaemonium. Some of
the couplets are utterly flat and bald, and, in others, the balance of
point and antithesis is substituted for the simple sublimity of the
_Moloch_. Changed as we are, we're yet from homage free;
We have, by hell, at least gained liberty:
That's worth our fall; thus low though we are driven.
Better to rule in hell, than serve in heaven.
_Lucifer_. There spoke the better half of Lucifer!
_Asmoday_. 'Tis fit in frequent senate we confer,
And then determine how to steer our course;
To wage new war by fraud, or open force.
The doom's now past, submission were in vain.
_Mol_. And were it not, such baseness I disdain;
I would not stoop, to purchase all above,
And should contemn a power, whom prayer could move,
As one unworthy to have conquered me.
_Beelzebub_. Moloch, in that all are resolved, like thee
The means are unproposed; but 'tis not fit
Our dark divan in public view should sit;
Or what we plot against the Thunderer,
The ignoble crowd of vulgar devils hear.
_Lucif._ A golden palace let be raised on high;
To imitate? No, to outshine the sky!
All mines are ours, and gold above the rest:
Let this be done; and quick as 'twas exprest.
I fancy the reader is now nearly satisfied with Dryden's improvements on
Milton. Yet some of his alterations have such peculiar reference to the
taste and manners of his age, that I cannot avoid pointing them out. Eve
is somewhat of a coquette even in the state of innocence. She exclaims:
"from each tree
The feathered kind press down to look on me;
The beasts, with up-cast eyes, forsake their shade,
And gaze, as if I were to be obeyed.
Sure, I am somewhat which they wish to be,
And cannot,--I myself am proud of me."
Upon receiving Adam's addresses, she expresses, rather unreasonably in
the circumstances, some apprehensions of his infidelity; and, upon the
whole, she is considerably too knowing for the primitive state. The same
may be said of Adam, whose knowledge in school divinity, and use of
syllogistic argument, Dryden, though he found it in the original, was
under no necessity to have retained.
The "State of Innocence," as it could not be designed for the stage,
seems to have been originally intended as a mere poetical prolusion; for
Dryden, who was above affecting such a circumstance, tells us, that it
was only made public, because, in consequence of several hundred copies,
every one gathering new faults, having been dispersed without his
knowledge, it became at length a libel on the author, who was forced to
print a correct edition in his own defence. As the incidents and
language were ready composed by Milton, we are not surprised when
informed, that the composition and revision were completed in a single
month. The critics having assailed the poem even before publication, the
author has prefixed an "Essay upon Heroic Poetry and Poetic Licence;" in
which he treats chiefly of the use of metaphors, and of the legitimacy
The Dedication of the "State of Innocence," addressed to Mary of Este,
Duchess of York, is a singular specimen of what has been since termed
the _celestial_ style of inscription. It is a strain of flattery in the
language of adoration; and the elated station of the princess is
declared so suited to her excellence, that Providence has only done
justice to its own works in placing the most perfect work of heaven
where it may be admired by all beholders. Even this flight is surpassed
by the following:--"Tis true, you are above all mortal wishes; no man
desires impossibilities, because they are beyond the reach of nature. To
hope to be a god is folly exalted into madness; but, by the laws of our
creation, we are obliged to adore him, and are permitted to love him too
at human distance. 'Tis the nature of perfection to be attractive; but
the excellency of the object refines the nature of the love. It strikes
an impression of awful reverence; 'tis indeed that love which is more
properly a zeal than passion. 'Tis the rapture which anchorites find in
prayer, when a beam of the divinity shines upon them; that which makes
them despise all worldly objects; and yet 'tis all but contemplation.
They are seldom visited from above; but a single vision so transports
them, that it makes up the happiness of their lives. Mortality cannot
bear it often: it finds them in the eagerness and height of their
devotion; they are speechless for the time that it continues, and
prostrate and dead when it departs." Such eulogy was the taste of the
days of Charles, when ladies were deified in dedications and painted as
Venus or Diana upon canvas. In our time, the elegance of the language
would be scarcely held to counterbalance the absurdity of the
Lee, the dramatic writer, an excellent poet, though unfortunate in his
health and circumstances evinced his friendship for Dryden, rather than
his judgment, by prefixing to the "State of Innocence" a copy of verses,
in which he compliments the author with having refined the ore of
Milton. Dryden repaid this favour by an epistle, in which he beautifully
apologises for the extravagancies of his friend's poetry, and consoles
him for the censure of those cold judges, whose blame became praise when
they accused the warmth which they were incapable of feeling.
Having thus brought the account of our author's productions down to
1674, from which period we date a perceptible change in his taste and
mode of composition, I have only to add, that his private situation was
probably altered to the worse, by the burning of the King's Theatre, and
the debts contracted in rebuilding it. The value of his share in that
company must consequently have fallen far short of what it was
originally. In other respects, he was probably nearly in the same
condition as in 1672. The critics, who assailed his literary reputation,
had hitherto spared his private character; and, excepting Rochester,
whose malignity towards Dryden now began to display itself, he probably
had not lost one person whom he had thought worthy to be called a
friend. Lee, who seems first to have distinguished himself about 1672,
was probably then added to the number of his intimates. Milton died
shortly before the publication of the "State of Innocence;" and we may
wish in vain to know his opinion of that piece; but if tradition can be
trusted, he said, perhaps on that undertaking, that Dryden was a good
rhymer, but no poet. Blount, who had signalised himself in Dryden's
defence, was now added to the number of his friends. This gentleman
dedicated his "_Religio Laici_" to Dryden in 1683, as his much-honoured
friend; and the poet speaks of him with kindness and respect in 1696,
three years after his unfortunate and violent catastrophe.
Dryden was, however, soon to experience the mutability of the friendship
of wits and courtiers. A period was speedily approaching, when the
violence of political faction was to effect a breach between our author
and many of those with whom he was now intimately connected; indeed, he
was already entangled in the quarrels of the great, and sustained a
severe personal outrage, in consequence of a quarrel with which he had
little individual concern.
 In "Repartees between Cat and Puss at a caterwauling, in the modern
"_Cat_. Forbear, foul ravisher, this rude address;
Canst thou at once both injure and caress?
_Puss_. Thou hast bewitched me with thy powerful charms,
And I, by drawing blood, would cure my harms.
_C_. He that does love would set his heart a tilt,
Ere one drop of his lady's should be spilt.
_P_. Your wounds are but without, and mine within:
You wound my heart, and I but prick your skin;
And while your eyes pierce deeper than my claws,
You blame the effect of which you are the cause.
_C_. How could my guiltless eyes your heart invade,
Had it not first been by your own betrayed?
Hence 'tis, my greatest crime has only been
(Not in mine eyes, but yours) in being seen.
_P_. I hurt to love, but do not love to hurt.
_C_. That's worse than making cruelty a sport.
_P_. Pain is the foil of pleasure and delight,
That sets it off to a more noble height.
_C_. He buys his pleasure at a rate too vain,
That takes it up beforehand of his pain.
_P_. Pain is more dear than pleasure when 'tis past.
_C_. But grows intolerable if it last," etc.
 Life of Lope de Vega, p. 208.
 Dryden was severely censured by the critics for his supernatural
persons, and ironically described as the "man, nature seemed to make
choice of to enlarge the poet's empire and to complete those discoveries
others had begun to shadow. That Shakespeare and Fletcher (as some
think) erected the pillars of poetry, is a grosse errour; this Zany of
Columbus has discovered a poeticall world of greater extent than the
naturall, peopled with Atlantick colonies of notionall creatures,
astrall spirits, ghosts, and idols, more various than ever the Indians
worshipt, and heroes more lawless than their savages."--_Censure of
 His mistress having fallen in love with a disguised barber, a less
polished rival exclaims,--
"_Sir Hum_. Nay, for my part, madam, if you must love a cudgelled
barber, and take him for a valiant count, make much of him; I shall
desist: there are more ladies, heaven be thanked.
"_Trim_. Yes, sir, there are more ladies; but if any man affirms
that my fair Dorinda has an equal, I thus fling down my glove, and do
demand the combat for her honour.--This is a nice point of honour I
have hit."--_Bury Fair_.
 The author of the "Friendly Vindication of Mr. Dryden from the
Censure of the Rota" (Cambridge, 1673) mentions, "his humble and
supplicant addresses to men and ladies of honour, to whom he presented
the most of his plays to be read, and so passing through their families,
to comply with their censures before-hand; confessing ingenuously, that
had he ventured his wits upon the tenter-hooks of Fortune (like other
poets who depended more upon the merits of their pens), he had been more
severely entangled in his own lines long ago."--Page 7.
 Of this want of talent the reader may find sufficient proof in the
extracts from his Grace's reflections upon "Absalom and Achitophel."
 See "Key to the Rehearsal." "Our most noble author, to manifest his
just indignation and hatred of this fulsome new way of writing, used his
utmost interest and endeavours to stifle it at its first appearance on
the stage, by engaging all his friends to explode and run down these
plays; especially the 'United Kingdoms,' which had like to have brought
his life into danger.
"The author of it being nobly born, of an ancient and numerous family,
had many of his relations and friends in the cock-pit during the acting
of it. Some of them perceiving his Grace to head a party, who were very
active in damning the play, by hissing and laughing immoderately at the
strange conduct thereof, there were persons laid wait for him as he came
out; but there being a great tumult and uproar in the house and the
passages near it, he escaped; but he was threatened hard. However, the
business was composed in a short time, though by what means I have not
been informed." The trade of criticism was not uniformly safe in these
days. In the Preface to the "Reformation," a beau is only directed to
venture to abuse a new play, _if he knows, the author is no fighter._
 [Scott has Dryden's authority (in the letter to Hyde already
referred to) for this word, but it is pretty certainly rhetorical. See
article on "Butler," by the present writer, in the _Encyclopaedia
Britannica_, ninth edition.--ED.]
 [It may be well to mention that the editions of the "Rehearsal" are
very numerous, and that fresh parodies of fresh plays as they appeared
were incorporated in them. Scott does not seem to have been fully aware
 Preface to "An Evening's Love."
 Mr. Malone inclines to think there is no allusion to "Marriage a la
Mode" in the "Rehearsal." But surely the whimsical distress of Prince
Prettyman, "sometimes a fisher's son, sometimes a prince," is precisely
that of Leonidas, who is first introduced as the son of a shepherd;
secondly, discovered to be the son of an unlawful king called Polydamas;
thirdly, proved anew to be the son of the shepherd, and finally proved
to be the son of neither of them, but of the lawful king, Theogenes.
Besides, the author of the "Key to the Rehearsal" points out a parallel
between the revolution of state in the farce, and that by which
Leonidas, after being carried off to execution, on a sudden snatches a
sword from one of the guards, proclaims himself rightful king, and,
without more ceremony, deposes the powerful and jealous usurper, who had
sentenced him to death.
 Spence's "Anecdotes," quoted by Mr. Malone, vol. i. p. 106.
 "I answered not the 'Rehearsal,' because I knew the author sat to
himself when he drew the picture, and was the very Bayes of his own
farce; because also I knew, that my betters were more concerned than I
was in that satire; and, lastly, because Mr. Smith and Mr. Johnson, the
main pillars of it, were two such languishing gentlemen in their
conversation, that I could liken them to nothing but to their own
relations, those noble characters of men of wit and pleasure about the
town."--_Dedication to Juvenal_.
 The pains which Dryden bestowed on the character of Zimri, and the
esteem in which he held it, is evident from his quoting it as the
master-piece of his own satire. "The character of Zimri in my 'Absalom'
is, in my opinion, worth the whole poem: it is not bloody, but it is
ridiculous enough; and he, for him it was intended, was too witty to
resent it as an injury. If I had railed, I might have suffered for it
justly; but I managed my own work more happily, perhaps more
dexterously. I avoided the mention of great crimes, and applied myself
to the representing of blind-sides, and little extravagancies; to which,
the wittier a man is, he is generally the more obnoxious. It succeeded
as I wished; the jest went round, and he was laughed at in his turn who
began the frolic."
 In one of Cibber's moods of alteration, he combined the comic
scenes of these two plays into a comedy entitled, "The Comical Lovers."
"You are changed too, and your pretence to see
Is but a nobler name for charity;
Your own provisions furnish out our feasts,
While you, the founders, make yourselves the guests."--Vol. x.
"Some have expected, from our bills to-day,
To find a satire in our poet's ploy.
The zealous route from Coleman street did run.
To see the story of the Friar and Nun;
Or tales yet more ridiculous to hear,
Vouched by their vicar often pounds a-year,--
Nuns who did against temptation pray,
And discipline laid on the pleasant way:
Or that, to please the malice of the town,
Our poet should in some close cell have shown
Some sister, playing at content alone.
This they did hope; the other side did fear;
And both, you see, alike are cozened here."
"_Bayes._ I remember once, in a play of mine, I set off a scene,
i'gad, beyond expectation, only with a petticoat and the belly-ache.
_Smith_. Pray, how was that, sir?
_Bayes_. Why, sir, I contrived a petticoat to be brought in upon
a chair (nobody knew how), into a prince's chamber, whose father was
now to see it, that came in by chance.
_Johns_. God's-my-life, that was a notable contrivance indeed!
_Smith_. Ay, but, Mr. Bayes, how could you contrive the
_Bayes._ The easiest i' the world, i'gad: I'll tell you how; I
made the prince sit down upon the petticoat, no more than so, and
pretended to his father that he had just then got the belly-ache;
whereupon his father went out to call a physician, and his man ran
away with the petticoat."--_Rehearsal_.
 Not Matthew, but Martin, as it is correctly printed before.--Ed.
 "To begin with your character of Almanzor, which you avow to have
taken from the Achilles in Homer; pray hear what Famianus Strada says of
such talkers as Mr. Dryden: _Ridere soleo, cum video homines ab Homeri
virtibus strenue declinates, si quid vero irrepsi vitii, id avide
arripientes._ But I might have spared this quotation, and you your
avowing; for this character might as well have been borrowed from some
of the stalls in Bedlam, or any of your own hair-brained cox-combs which
you call heroes, and persons of honour. I remember just such another
fuming Achilles in Shakespeare, one ancient Pistol, whom he avows to be
a man of so fiery a temper, and so impatient of an injury, even from Sir
John Falstaff his captain, and a knight, that he not only disobeyed his
commands about carrying a letter to Mrs. Page, but returned him an
answer as full of contumely, and in as opprobrious terms, as he could
'Let vultures gripe thy guts, for gourd and Fullam holds,
And high and low beguiles the rich and poor.
Tester I'll have in pouch, when thou shalt lack,
Base Phrygian Turk,' etc.
"Let's see e'er an Abencerrago fly a higher pitch. Take him at another
turn, quarrelling with corporal Nym and old Zegri: The difference arose
about mine hostess Quickly (for I would not give a rush for a man unless
he be particular in matters of this moment); they both aimed at her
body, but Abencerrago Pistol defies his rival in these words:
'Fetch from the powdering-tub of infamy
That lazar-kite of Cressid's kind,
Doll Tearsheet, she by name, and her espouse:
I have, and I will hold,
The quondam Quickly for the only she.
There's enough. Does not quotation sound as well as I[20a]?
"But the four sons of Aminon, the three bold Beachams, the four London
Prentices, Tamerlain, the Scythian Shepherd, Muleasses, Amurath, and
Bajazet, or any raging Turk at the Red-bull and Fortune, might as well
have been urged by you as a pattern of your Almanzor, as the Achilles in
Homer; but then our laureate had not passed for so learned a man as he
desires his unlearned admirers should esteem him.
"But I am strangely mistaken, if I have not seen this very Almanzor of
your's in some disguise about this town, and passing under another name.
Prithee tell me true, was not this huff-cap once the Indian Emperor,
and, at another time, did not he call himself Maximme? Was not Lyndaraxa
once called Almeria, I mean under Montezuma the Indian Emperor? I
protest and vow they are either the same, or so alike, that I can't for
my heart distinguish one from the other. You are, therefore, a strange
unconscionable thief, that art not content to steal from others, but
do'st rob thy poor wretched self too."
[20a] [There is no I in the original where Clifford quotes:
[Greek: Oinobares, kunos ommat echon kradiaen d elaphoio.
I owe my copy of this curious monument of belated spite to the kindness
of Mr. Austin Dobson.--ED.]
 "Amongst several other late exercises of the Athenian virtuosi in
the Coffee-academy, instituted by Apollo for the advancement of Gazette
Philosophy, Mercury's, Diurnalli, etc., this day was wholly taken up in
the examination of the 'Conquest of Granada.' A gentleman on the reading
of the First Part, and there in the description of the bull-baiting,
said, that Almanzor's playing at the bull was according to the standard
of the Greek heroes, who, as Mr. Dryden had learnedly observed (Essay
of Dramatic Poesy), were great beef-eaters. And why might not Almanzor
as well as Ajax, or Don Quixote, worry mutton, or take a bull by the
throat, since the author had elsewhere explained himself, by telling us
the heroes were more noble beasts of prey, in his Epistle to his
'Conquest of Granada,' distinguishing them into wild and tame; and in
his play we have Almanzor shaking his chains, and frighting his keeper,
broke loose, and tearing those that would reclaim his rage. To this he
added, that his bulls excelled other heroes, as far as his own heroes
surpassed his gods; that the champion bull was divested of flesh and
blood, and made immortal by the poet, and bellowed after death; that
the fantastic bull seemed fiercer than the true, and the dead
bellowings in verse were louder than the living; concluding with a
wish, that Mr. Dryden had the good luck to have varied that old verse
quoted in his dramatic essay:
'_Atque Ursum, el Pugiles media inter carmina poscunt
Tauros, et Pugiles pruna inter carmina posco_;'
and prefixed it to the front of his play, instead of
'_Major rerum mihi nascitur ordo,
Majus ojius moveo_.'"
--_Censure of the Rota_, p. 1.
 "But however, if he were taken for no good comic poet, or satirist,
he had found a way of much easier licence (though more remarkable in the
sense of some), which was, not only to libel men's persons, but to
represent them on the stage too. That to this purpose he made his
observations of men, their words, and actions, with so little disguise,
that many beheld themselves acted for their half-crown; yet, after all,
was unwilling to believe, that this was not both good comedy, and no
less good manners."--_Friendly Vindication of Mr. Dryden_, p. 8.
 Dedication to the "Assignation."
 Dryden either confines himself to two pamphlets, or, more probably,
speaks of the three as written by only two authors. Leigh is, I presume,
the contemptible pedant, and the Sir Fastidious Brisk of Oxford. The
Cambridge author, who imitated his style, is the Fungoso of the
Dedication:--"As for the errors they pretend to find in me, I could
easily show them that the greatest part of them are beauties; and for
the rest, I could recriminate upon the best poets of our nation, if I
could resolve to accuse another of little faults, whom at the same time
I admire for greater excellencies. But I have neither concernment enough
upon me to write any thing in my own defence, neither will I gratify the
ambition of two wretched scribblers, who desire nothing more than to be
answered. I have not wanted friends, even amongst strangers, who have
defended me more strongly than my contemptible pedant could attack me;
for the other, he is only like Fungoso in the play, who follows the
fashion at a distance, and adores the Fastidious Brisk of Oxford. You
can bear me witness, that I have not consideration enough for either of
them to be angry: let Maevius and Bavius admire each other; I wish to be
hated by them and their fellows, by the same reason for which I desire
to be loved by you."--_Dedication to the Assignation_, vol. iv.
 A student of law in the Temple, and author of that notable
alteration of "Titus Andronicus" mentioned in the commentaries on
Shakespeare. Besides the "Citizen turned Gentleman," he wrote the
"Careless Lovers," "Scaramouch, a Philosopher," the "Wrangling Lovers,"
"Edgar and Alfreda," the "English Lawyer," the "London Cuckolds,"
distinguished by Cibber as the grossest play that ever succeeded, "Dame
Dobson," the said alteration of "Titus Andronicus," the "Canterbury
Guests," and the "Italian Husband,"--in all twelve plays, not one of
which has the least merit.
"An author did, to please you, let his wit run,
Of late, much on a serving-man and cittern;
And yet, you would not like the serenade,--
Nay, and you damned his nuns in masquerade;
You did his Spanish sing-song too abhor;
_Ah! que locura con tanto rigor!_
In fine, the whole by you so much was blamed,
To act their parts, the players were ashamed.
Ah, how severe your malice was that day!
To damn, at once, the poet and his play:
But why was your rage just at that time shown,
When what the author writ was all his own?
Till then, he borrowed from romance, and did translate;
And those plays found a mere indulgent fate."
 "For my own part, I, who am the least among the poets, have yet the
fortune to be honoured with the _best patron_, and the best friend; for
(to omit some great persons of our court, to whom I am many ways
obliged, and who have taken care of me during the exigencies of a war.)
I have found a better Maecenas in the person of my Lord Treasurer
Clifford, and a more elegant Tibullus in that of Sir Charles Sedley."--
_Dedication to the Assignation_.
 In his Dedication of the Pastorals of Virgil to Hugh Lord Clifford,
he says: "I have no reason to complain of fortune, since, in the midst
of that abundance, I could not have chosen better than the worthy son of
so illustrious a father. He was the patron of my manhood, when I
flourished in the opinion of the world, though with small advantage to
my fortune, till he awakened the remembrance of my royal master. He was
that Pollio, or that Varus, _who introduced me to Augustus_."
 The elder Richardson has told a story, that Lord Buckhurst,
afterwards Earl of Dorset, was the first who introduced the "Paradise
Lost," then lying like waste paper in the bookseller's hands, to the
notice of Dryden. But this tradition has been justly exploded by Mr.
Malone, _Life of Dryden_, vol. i. p. 114. Indeed it is by no means
likely that Dryden could be a stranger to the very existence of a large
poem, written by a man of such political as well as literary eminence,
even if he had not happened, as was the case, to be personally known to
the author. [The various legends as to Dryden and "Paradise Lost,"
Dorset and "Paradise Lost," etc., are well handled by Professor Masson,
_Life of Milton_, vol. vi. pp. 628-635.--ED.]
 Dennis's Letters, quoted by Malone.
"With thee conversing, I forget all time,
All seasons, and their change; all please alike:
Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet,
With charm of earliest birds: pleasant the sun,
When first on this delightful land he spreads
His orient beams, on herb, tree, fruit, and flower,
Glist'ning with dew: fragrant the fertile earth
After soft showers, and sweet the coming on
Of grateful evening mild: then, silent night,
With this her solemn bird, and this fair moon,
And these the gems of heaven, her starry train:
But neither breath of morn, when she ascends
With charm of earliest birds; nor rising sun
On this delightful land; nor herb, fruit, flower,
Glist'ning with dew; nor fragrance after showers;
Nor grateful evening mild; nor silent night,
With this her solemn bird; nor walk by moon;
Or glittering star-light, without thee is sweet."
"The variety of images in this passage is infinitely pleasing, and the
recapitulation of each particular image, with a little varying of the
expression, makes one of the finest turns of words that I have ever
seen; which I rather mention, because Mr. Dryden has said, in his
Preface to Juvenal, that he could meet with no turn of words in
Milton."--_Tatler_, No. 114.
 See this Epistle. It was prefixed to "Alexander the Great;" a play,
the merits and faults of which are both in extreme.
_Dryden's Controversy with Settle--with Rochester--He is assaulted in
Rose-street--Aureng-Zebe--Dryden meditates an Epic Poem--All for Love--
Limberham--Oedipus--Troilus and Cressida--The Spanish Friar--Dryden
supposed to be in opposition to the Court._
"The State of Innocence" was published in 1674, and "Aureng-Zebe,"
Dryden's next tragedy, appeared in 1675. In the interval, he informs us,
his ardour for rhyming plays had considerably abated. The course of
study which he imposed on himself doubtless led him to this conclusion.
But it is also possible, that he found the peculiar facilities of that
drama had excited the emulation of very inferior poets, who, by dint of
show, rant, and clamorous hexameters, were likely to divide with him the
public favour. Before proceeding, therefore, to state the gradual
alteration in Dryden's own taste, we must perform the task of detailing
the literary quarrels in which he was at this period engaged. The chief
of his rivals was Elkanah Settle, a person afterwards utterly
contemptible; but who, first by the strength of a party at court, and
afterwards by a faction in the state, was, for a time, buoyed up in
opposition to Dryden. It is impossible to detail the progress of the
contest for public favour between these two ill-matched rivals, without
noticing at the same time Dryden's quarrel with Rochester, who appears
to have played off Settle in opposition to him, as absolutely, and
nearly as successfully, as Settle ever played off the literary
[literal?] puppets, for which, in the ebb of his fortune, he
In the year 1673, Dryden and Rochester were on such friendly terms, that
our poet inscribed to his lordship his favourite play of "Marriage a la
Mode;" not without acknowledgment of the deepest gratitude for favours
done to his fortune and reputation. The dedication, we have seen, was so
favourably accepted by Rochester, that the reception called forth a
second tribute of thanks from the poet to the patron. But at this point,
the interchange of kindness and of civility received a sudden and
irrecoverable check. This was partly owing to Rochester's fickle and
jealous temper, which induced him alternately to raise and depress the
men of parts whom he loved to patronise; so that no one should ever
become independent of his favour, or so rooted in the public opinion as
to be beyond the reach of his satire; but it may also in part be
attributed to Dryden's attachment to Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave,
afterwards Duke of Buckingham, then Rochester's rival in wit and
court-favour, and from whom he had sustained a deadly affront, on an
occasion, which, as the remote cause of a curious incident in Dryden's
life, I have elsewhere detailed in the words of Sheffield himself.
Rochester, who was branded as a coward in consequence of this
transaction, must be reasonably supposed to entertain a sincere hatred
against Mulgrave; with whom he had once lived on such friendly terms as
to inscribe to him an Epistle on their mutual poems. But, as his nerves
had proved unequal to a personal conflict with his brother peer, his
malice prompted the discharge of his spleen upon those men of literature
whom his antagonist cherished and patronised. Among these Dryden held a
distinguished situation; for about 1675 he was, as we shall presently
see, sufficiently in Sheffield's confidence to correct and revise that
nobleman's poetry; and in 1676 dedicated to him the tragedy of
"Aureng-Zebe," as one who enjoyed not only his favour, but his love and
conversation. Thus Dryden was obnoxious to Rochester, both as holding a
station among the authors of the period, grievous to the vanity of one
who aimed, by a levelling and dividing system, to be the tyrant, or at
least the dictator, of wit; and also as the friend, and even the
confidant, of Mulgrave, by whom the witty profligate had been baffled
and humiliated. Dryden was therefore to be lowered in the public
opinion; and for this purpose, Rochester made use of Elkanah Settle,
whom, though he gratified his malice by placing him in opposition to
Dryden, he must, in his heart, have thoroughly despised.
This playwright, whom the jealous spleen of a favourite courtier, and
the misjudging taste of a promiscuous audience, placed for some time in
so high a station, came into notice in 1671, on the representation of
his first play, "Cambyses, King of Persia," which was played six nights
successively. This run of public favour gave Rochester some pretence to
bring Settle to the notice of the king; and, through the efforts of this
mischievous wit, joined to the natural disposition of the people to be
carried by show, rant, and tumult, Settle's second play, "The Empress of
Morocco," was acted with unanimous and overpowering applause for a month
together. To add to Dryden's mortification, Rochester had interest
enough to have this tragedy of one whom he had elevated into the rank of
his rival, first acted at Whitehall by the lords and ladies of the
court; an honour which had never been paid to any of Dryden's
compositions, however more justly entitled to it, both from intrinsic
merit, and by the author's situation as poet-laureate. Rochester
contributed a prologue upon this brilliant occasion to add still more
grace to Settle's triumph; but what seems yet more extraordinary, and
has, I think, been unnoticed in all accounts of the controversy,
Mulgrave, Rochester's rival and the friend of Dryden, did the same
homage to "The Empress of Morocco." From the king's private theatre,
"The Empress of Morocco" was transferred, in all its honours, to the
public stage in Dorset Gardens, and received with applause corresponding
to the expectation excited by its favour at Whitehall. While the court
and city were thus worshipping the idol which Rochester had set up, it
could hardly be expected of poor Settle, that he should be first to
discern his own want of desert. On the contrary, he grew presumptuous on
success; and when he printed his performance, the dedication to the Earl
of Norwich was directly levelled against the poet-laureate who termed it
the "most arrogant, calumniatory, ill-mannered, and senseless preface he
ever saw." And, to add gall to bitterness, the bookseller thought
"The Empress of Morocco" worthy of being decorated with engravings, and
sold at the advanced price of two shillings; being the first drama
advanced to such honourable distinction. Moreover, the play is
ostentatiously stated in the title to be written by Elkanah Settle,
_Servant to His Majesty_; an addition which the laureate had assumed
with greater propriety.
If we are asked the merit of a performance which made such an impression
at the time, we may borrow an expression applied to a certain orator,
and say, that "The Empress of Morocco" must have acted _to the tune_ of
a good heroic play. It had all the outward and visible requisites of
splendid scenery, prisons, palaces, fleets, combats of desperate
duration and uncertain issue, assassinations, a dancing tree, a
rainbow, a shower of hail, a criminal executed, and hell itself
opening upon the stage. The rhyming dialogue too, in which the play was
written, had an imperative and tyrannical sound; and to a foreigner,
ignorant of the language, might have appeared as magnificent as that of
Dryden. But it must raise our admiration, that the witty court of
Charles could patiently listen to a "tale told by an idiot, full of
noise and fury, signifying nothing," and give it a preference over the
poetry of Dryden. The following description of a hail-storm will
vindicate our wonder:
"This morning, as our eyes we upward cast,
The desert regions of the air lay waste.
But straight, as if it had some penance bore,
A mourning garb of thick black clouds it wore.
But on the sudden,
Some aery demon changed its form, and now
That which looked black above looked white below;
The clouds dishevelled from their crusted locks,
Something like gems coined out of crystal rocks.
The ground was with this strange bright issue spread,
As if heaven in affront to nature had
Designed some new-found tillage of its own,
And on the earth these unknown seeds had sown.
Of these I reached a grain, which to my sense
Appeared as cool as virgin-innocence;
And like that too (which chiefly I admired),
Its ravished whiteness with a touch expired.
At the approach of heat, this candid rain
Dissolved to its first element again.
_Muly-H._ Though showers of hail Morocco never see,
Dull priest, what does all this portend to me?
_Ham_. It does portend--
_Ham_. That the fates design--
_Muly_. To tire me with impertinence like thine."
Such were the strains once preferred to the magnificent verses of
Dryden; whose very worst bombast is sublimity compared to them. To prove
which, the reader need only peruse the Indian's account of the Spanish
fleet in the "Indian Emperor," to which the above lines are a parallel;
each being the description of an object familiar to the audience, but
new to the describer. The poet felt the disgraceful preference more
deeply than was altogether becoming; but he had levelled his powers,
says Johnson, when he levelled his desires to those of Settle, and
placed his happiness in the claps of multitudes. The moral may be
carried yet further; for had not Dryden stooped to call to the aid of
his poetry the auxiliaries of scenery, gilded truncheons, and verse of
more noise than meaning, it is impossible his plays could have been
drawn into comparison with those of Settle. But the meretricious
ornaments which he himself had introduced were within the reach of the
meanest capacity; and, having been among the first to debauch the taste
of the public, it was retributive justice that he should experience
their inconstancy. Indeed Dryden seems himself to admit, that the
principal difference between his heroic plays and "The Empress of
Morocco," was, that the former were good sense, that looked like
nonsense, and the latter nonsense, which yet looked very like sense. A
nice distinction, and which argued some regret at having opened the way
to such a rival.
The feelings of contempt ought to have suppressed those of anger; but
Dryden, who professedly lived to please his own age, had not temper to
wait till time should do him justice. Angry he was; and unfortunately he
determined to shew the world that he did well in being so. With this
view, in conjunction with Shadwell and Crowne, two brother-dramatists,
equally jealous of Settle's success, he composed a pamphlet, entitled
"Remarks upon the Empress of Morocco." This piece is written in the same
tone of boisterous and vulgar raillery with which Clifford and Leigh had
assailed Dryden himself; and little resembles our poet's general style
of controversy. He seems to have exchanged his satirical scourge for the
clumsy flail of Shadwell, when he stooped to use such raillery as the
following description of Settle: "In short, he is 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 either into wit or English. His style is boisterous and
rough-hewn; his rhyme incorrigibly lewd, and his numbers perpetually
harsh and ill-sounding."
Settle, nothing dismayed with this vehement attack, manfully retorted
the abuse which had been thrown upon him, and answered the insulting
clamour of his three antagonists with clamorous insult. It was
obvious that the weaker poet must be the winner by this contest in
abuse; and Dryden gained no more by his dispute with Settle, than a
well-dressed man who should condescend to wrestle with a
chimney-sweeper. The feud between them was carried no further, until,
after the publication of "Absalom and Achitophel," party animosity added
spurs to literary rivalry.
We must now return to Rochester, who, observing Settle's rise to his
unmerited elevation in the public opinion, became as anxious to lower
his presumption as he had formerly been to diminish the reputation of
Dryden. With this view, that tyrannical person of honour availed himself
of his credit to recommend Crowne to write the masque of "Calisto,"
which was acted by the lords and ladies of the court of Charles in 1675.
Nothing could be more galling towards Dryden, a part of whose duty as
poet-laureate was to compose the pieces designed for such occasions.
Crowne, though he was a tolerable comic writer, had no turn whatever
for tragedy, or indeed for poetry of any kind. But the splendour of the
scenery and dresses, the quality of the performers, selected from the
first nobility, and the favour of the sovereign, gave "Calisto" a run of
nearly thirty nights. Dryden, though mortified, tendered his services in
the shape of an epilogue, to be spoken by Lady Henrietta Maria
Wentworth. But the influence of his enemy, Rochester, was still
predominant, and the epilogue of the laureate was rejected.
The author of "Calisto" also lost his credit with Rochester, so soon as
he became generally popular; and shortly after the representation of
that piece, its fickle patron seems to have recommended to the royal
protection, a rival more formidable to Dryden than either Settle or
"starch Johnny Crowne." This was no other than Otway, whose "Don
Carlos" appeared in 1676, and was hailed as one of the best heroic plays
which had been written. The author avows in his preface the obligations
he owed to Rochester, who had recommended him to the king and the duke,
to whose favour he owed his good success, and on whose indulgence he
reckoned as insuring that of his next attempt. These effusions of
gratitude did not, as Mr. Malone observes, withhold Rochester, shortly
after, from lampooning Otway, with circumstances of gross insult, in the
"Session of the Poets." In the same preface, Otway, in very
intelligible language, bade defiance to Dryden whom he charges with
having spoken slightly of his play. But although Dryden did not
admire the general structure of Otway's poetry, he is said, even at this
time, to have borne witness to his power of moving the passions; an
acknowledgment which he long afterwards solemnly repeated. Thus Otway,
like many others, mistook the character of a pretended friend, and did
injustice to that of a liberal rival. Dryden and he indeed never appear
to have been personal friends, even when they both wrote in the Tory
interest. It was probably about this time that Otway challenged Settle,
whose courage appears to have failed him upon the occasion.
Rochester was not content with exciting rivals against Dryden in the
public opinion, but assailed him personally in an imitation of Horace,
which he quaintly entitled, "An Allusion to the Tenth Satire." It came
out anonymously about 1678, but the town was at no loss to guess that
Rochester was the patron or author. Much of the satire was bestowed on
Dryden, whom Rochester for the first time distinguishes by a ridiculous
nickname, which was afterwards echoed by imitating dunces in all their
lampoons. The lines are more cutting, because mingled with as much
praise as the writer probably thought necessary to gain the credit of a
candid critic. Dryden, on his part, did not view with indifference
these repeated direct and indirect attacks on his literary reputation by
Rochester. In the preface to "All for Love," published in 1678, he gives
a severe rebuke to those men of rank, who, having acquired the credit of
wit, either by virtue of their quality, or by common fame, and finding
themselves possessed of some smattering of Latin, become ambitious to
distinguish themselves by their poetry from the herd of gentlemen. "And
is not this," he exclaims, "a wretched affectation, not to be contented
with what fortune has done for them, and sit down quietly with their
estates, but they must call their wits in question, and needlessly
expose their nakedness to public view? Not considering that they are
not to expect the same approbation from sober men, which they have found
from their flatterers after the third bottle. If a little glittering in
discourse has passed them on us for witty men, where was the necessity
of undeceiving the world? Would a man who has an ill title to an estate,
but yet is in possession of it; would he bring it of his own accord to
be tried at Westminster? We who write, if we want the talent, yet have
the excuse, that we do it for a poor subsistence; but what can be urged
in their defence, who, not having the vocation of poverty to scribble
out of mere wantonness, take pains to make themselves ridiculous? Horace
was certainly in the right, where he said, 'That no man is satisfied
with his own condition.' A poet is not pleased, because he is not rich;
and the rich are discontented, because the poets will not admit them of
their number. Thus the case is hard with writers: if they succeed not,
they must starve; and if they do, some malicious satire is prepared to
level them, for daring to please without their leave. But while they are
so eager to destroy the fame of others, their ambition is manifest in
their concernment; some poem of their own is to be produced, and the
slaves are to be laid flat with their faces on the ground, that the
monarch may appear in the greater majesty." This general censure of the
persons of wit and honour about town, is fixed on Rochester in
particular not only by the marked allusion in the last sentence, to the
despotic tyranny which he claimed over the authors of his time, but also
by a direct attack upon such imitators of Horace, who make doggrel of
his Latin, misapply his censures, and often contradict their own. It is
remarkable, however, that he ascribes this imitation rather to some zany
of the great, than to one of their number; and seems to have thought
Rochester rather the patron than the author.
At the expense of anticipating the order of events, and that we may
bring Dryden's dispute with Rochester to a conclusion, we must recall to
the reader's recollection our author's friendship with Mulgrave. This
appears to have been so intimate, that, in 1675, that nobleman intrusted
him with the task of revising his "Essay upon Satire:" a poem which
contained dishonourable mention of many courtiers of the time, and was
particularly severe on Sir Car Scrope and Rochester. The last of these
is taxed with cowardice, and a thousand odious and mean vices; upbraided
with the grossness and scurrility of his writings, and with the infamous
profligacy of his life. The versification of the poem is as flat and
inharmonious, as the plan is careless and ill-arranged; and though the
imputation was to cost Dryden dear, I cannot think that any part of the
"Essay on Satire" received additions from his pen. Probably he might
contribute a few hints for revision; but the author of "Absalom and
Achitophel" could never completely disguise the powers which were
shortly to produce that brilliant satire. Dryden's verses must have
shone among Mulgrave's as gold beside copper. The whole Essay is a mere
stagnant level, no one part of it so far rising above the rest as to
bespeak the work of a superior hand. The thoughts, even when conceived
with some spirit, are clumsily and unhappily brought out; a fault never
to be traced in the beautiful language of Dryden, whose powers of
expression were at least equal to his force of conception. Besides, as
Mr. Malone has observed, he had now brought to the highest excellence
his system of versification; and is it possible he could neglect it so
far as to write the rugged lines in the note, where all manner of
elliptical barbarisms are resorted to, for squeezing the words into a
measure "lame and o'erburdened, and screaming its wretchedness"? The
"Essay on Satire" was finally subjected by the noble author to the
criticism of Pope, who, less scrupulous than Dryden, appears to have
made large improvements; but after having undergone the revision of two
of the first names in English poetry, it continues to be a very
In another point of view, it seems inconsistent with Dryden's situation
to suppose he had any active share in the "Essay on Satire." The
character of Charles is treated with great severity, as well as those of
the Duchesses of Portsmouth and Cleveland, the royal mistresses. This
was quite consistent with Mulgrave's disposition, who was at this time
discontented with the ministry; but certainly would not have beseemed
Dryden, who held an office at court. Sedley also, with whom Dryden
always seems to have lived on friendly terms, is harshly treated in the
"Essay on Satire." It may be owned, however, that these reasons were not
held powerful at the time, since they must, in that case, have saved
Dryden from the inconvenient suspicion which, we will presently see,
attached to him. The public were accustomed to see the friendship of
wits end in mutual satire; and the good-natured Charles was so generally
the subject of the ridicule which he loved, that no one seems to have
thought there was improbability in a libel being composed on him by his
The "Essay on Satire," though written, as appears from the title-page of
the last edition, in 1675, was not made public until 1679, when several
copies were handed about in manuscript. Rochester sends one of these to
his friend Henry Saville, on the 21st of November 1679, with this
observation:--"I have sent you herewith a libel, in which my own share
is not the least. The king, having perused it, is no way dissatisfied
with his. The author is apparently Mr. Dr[yden], his patron, Lord
M[ulgrave,] having a panegyric in the midst." From hence it is evident,
that Dryden obtained the reputation of being the author; in consequence
of which, Rochester meditated the base and cowardly revenge which he
afterwards executed; and he thus coolly expressed his intention in
another of his letters:--"You write me word, that I'm out of favour with
a certain poet, whom I have admired for the disproportion of him and his
attributes. He is a rarity which I cannot but be fond of, as one would
be of a hog that could fiddle, or a singing owl. If he falls on me at
the blunt, which is his very good weapon in wit, I will forgive him if
you please; and _leave the repartee to black Will with a cudgel_."
In pursuance of this infamous resolution, Dryden, upon the night of the
18th December 1679, was waylaid by hired ruffians, and severely beaten,
as he passed through Rose-street, Covent-garden returning from Will's
Coffee-house to his own house in Gerrard-street. A reward of L50 was in
vain offered, in the London Gazette and other newspapers, for the
discovery of the perpetrators of this outrage. The town was,
however, at no loss to pitch upon Rochester as the employer of the
bravoes, with whom the public suspicion joined the Duchess of
Portsmouth, equally concerned in the supposed affront thus avenged. In
our time, were a nobleman to have recourse to hired bravoes to avenge
his personal quarrel against any one, more especially a person holding
the rank of a gentleman, he might lay his account with being hunted out
of society. But in the age of Charles, the ancient high and chivalrous
sense of honour was esteemed Quixotic, and the civil war had left traces
of ferocity in the manners and sentiments of the people. Rencounters,
where the assailants took all advantages of number and weapons, were as
frequent, and held as honourable, as regular duels. Some of these
approached closely to assassination; as in the famous case of Sir John
Coventry, who was waylaid, and had his nose slit by some young men of
high rank, for a reflection upon the king's theatrical amours. This
occasioned the famous statute against maiming and wounding, called the
Coventry Act; an Act highly necessary, since so far did our ancestors'
ideas of manly forbearance differ from ours, that Killigrew introduces
the hero of one of his comedies, a cavalier, and the fine gentleman of
the piece, lying in wait for, and slashing the face of a poor courtezan,
who had cheated him. It will certainly be admitted, that a man,
surprised in the dark and beaten by ruffians, loses no honour by such a
misfortune. But, if Dryden had received the same discipline from
Rochester's own hand without resenting it, his drubbing could not have
been more frequently made a matter of reproach to him;--a sign surely of
the penury of subjects for satire in his life and character, since an
accident, which might have happened to the greatest hero who ever lived,
was resorted to as an imputation on his honour. The Rose-alley ambuscade
became almost proverbial; and even Mulgrave, the real author of the
satire, and upon whose shoulders the blows ought in justice to have
descended, mentions the circumstance in his "Art of Poetry;" with a cold
and self-sufficient complacent sneer:
"Though praised and punished for another's rhymes,
His own deserve as great applause _sometimes_."
To which is added in a note, "A libel for which he was both applauded
and wounded, though entirely ignorant of the whole matter." This flat
and conceited couplet, and note, the noble author judged it proper to
omit in the corrected edition of his poem. Otway alone, no longer the
friend of Rochester, and perhaps no longer the enemy of Dryden, has
spoken of the author of this dastardly outrage with the contempt his
cowardly malice deserved:
"Poets in honour of the truth should write,
With the same spirit brave men for it fight;
And though against him causeless hatreds rise,
And daily where he goes, of late, he spies
The scowls of sullen and revengeful eyes;
'Tis what he knows with much contempt to bear,
And serves a cause too good to let him fear:
He fears no poison from incensed drab,
No ruffian's five-foot sword, nor rascal's stab;
Nor any other snares of mischief laid,
_Not a Rose-alley cudgel ambuscade_;
From any private cause where malice reigns,
Or general pique all blockheads have to brains."
It does not appear that Dryden ever thought it worth his while to take
revenge on Rochester; and the only allusion to him in his writings may
be found in the Essay prefixed to the translation of Juvenal, where he
is mentioned as a man of quality, whose ashes our author was unwilling
to disturb, and who had paid Dorset, to whom that piece is inscribed,
the highest compliment which his self-sufficiency could afford to any
one. Perhaps Dryden remembered Rochester among others, when, in the same
piece, he takes credit for resisting opportunities and temptation to
take revenge, even upon those by whom he had been notoriously and
The detail of these quarrels has interrupted our account of Dryden's
writings, which we are now to resume.
"Aureng-Zebe" was his first performance after the failure of the
"Assignation." It was acted in 1675 with general applause. "Aureng-Zebe"
is a heroic, or rhyming play, but not cast in a mould quite so romantic
as the "Conquest of Granada." There is a grave and moral turn in many of
the speeches, which brings it nearer the style of a French tragedy. It
is true, the character of Moral borders upon extravagance; but a certain
licence has been always given to theatrical tyrants, and we excuse
bombast in him more readily than in Almanzor. There is perhaps some
reason for this indulgence. The possession of unlimited power, vested in
active and mercurial characters, naturally drives them to an extravagant
indulgence of passion, bordering upon insanity; and it follows, that
their language must outstrip the modesty of nature. Propriety of diction
in the drama is relative, and to be referred more to individual
character than to general rules: to make a tyrant sober-minded is to
make a madman rational. But this discretion must be used with great
caution by the writer, lest he should confound the terrible with the
burlesque. Two great actors, Kynaston and Booth, differed in their style
of playing Morat.
The former, who was the original performer, and doubtless had his
instructions from the author, gave full force to the sentiments of
avowed and barbarous vainglory, which mark the character. When he is
determined to spare Aureng-Zebe, and Nourmahal pleads,
"Twill not be safe to let him live an hour,"
Kynaston gave all the stern and haughty insolence of despotism to his
"I'll do't to show my arbitrary power."
But Booth, with modest caution, avoided marking and pressing upon the
audience a sentiment hovering between the comic and terrible, however
consonant to the character by whom it was delivered. The principal
incident in "Aureng-Zebe" was suggested by King Charles himself. The
tragedy is dedicated to Mulgrave, whose patronage had been so effectual,
as to introduce Dryden and his poetical schemes to the peculiar notice
of the king and duke. The dedication and the prologue of this piece
throw considerable light upon these plans, as well as upon the
revolution which had gradually taken place in Dryden's dramatic taste.
During the space which occurred between writing the "Conquest of
Granada" and "Aureng-Zebe", our author's researches into the nature and
causes of harmony of versification been unremitted, and he had probably
already collected the materials of his intended English _Prosodia_.
Besides this labour, he had been engaged in a closer and more critical
examination of the ancient English poets, than he had before bestowed
upon them. These studies seem to have led Dryden to two conclusions:
first, that the drama ought to be emancipated from the fetters of rhyme;
and secondly, that he ought to employ the system of versification, which
he had now perfected, to the more legitimate purpose of epic poetry.
Each of these opinions merits consideration.
However hardily Dryden stood forward in defence of the heroic plays, he
confessed, even in the heat of argument, that Rhyme, though he was brave
and generous, and his dominion pleasing, had still somewhat of the
usurper in him. A more minute inquiry seems to have still further
demonstrated the weakness of this usurped dominion; and our author's
good taste and practice speedily pointed out deficiencies and
difficulties, which Sir Robert Howard, against whom he defended the use
of rhyme, could not show, because he never aimed at the excellencies
which they impeded. The perusal of Shakespeare, on whom Dryden had now
turned his attention, led him to feel, that something further might be
attained in tragedy than the expression of exaggerated sentiment in
smooth verse, and that the scene ought to represent not a fanciful set
of agents exerting their superhuman faculties in a fairy-land of the
poet's own creation, but human characters, acting from the direct and
energetic influence of human passions, with whose emotions the audience
might sympathise, because akin to the feelings of their own hearts. When
Dryden had once discovered, that fear and pity were more likely to be
excited by other causes than the logic of metaphysical love, or the
dictates of fantastic honour, he must have found, that rhyme sounded as
unnatural in the dialogue of characters drawn upon the usual scale of
humanity, as the plate and mail of chivalry would have appeared on the
persons of the actors. The following lines of the Prologue to
"Aureng-Zebe," although prefixed to a rhyming play, the last which he
ever wrote, express Dryden's change of sentiment on these points:
"Our author, by experience, finds it true,
'Tis much more hard to please himself than you:
And, out of no feigned modesty, this day
Damns his laborious trifle of a play:
Not that it's worse than what before he writ,
But he has now another taste of wit;
And, to confess a truth, though out of time,
Grows weary of his long-loved mistress, Rhyme.
Passion's too fierce to be in fetters bound,
And Nature flies him like enchanted ground:
What verse can do, he has performed in this,
Which he presumes the most correct of his;
But spite of all his pride, a secret shame
Invades his breast at Shakespeare's sacred name:
Awed when he hears his godlike Romans rage,
He, in a just despair, would quit the stage;
And to an age less polished, more unskilled,
Does, with disdain, the foremost honours yield."
It is remarkable, as a trait of character, that, though our author
admitted his change of opinion on this long disputed point, he would not
consent that it should be imputed to any arguments which his opponents
had the wit to bring against him. On this subject he enters a protest in
the Preface to his revised edition of the "Essay of Dramatic Poesy" in
1684:--"I confess, I find many things in this discourse which I do not
now approve; my judgment being not a little altered since the writing of
it; but whether for the better or the worse, I know not: neither indeed
is it much material, in an essay, where all I have said is
problematical. For the way of writing plays in verse, which I have
seemed to favour, I have, since that time, laid the practice of it
aside, till I have more leisure, because I find it troublesome and slow:
but I am no way altered from my opinion of it, _at least with any
reasons which have opposed it_; for your lordship may easily observe,
that none are very violent against it, but those who either have not
attempted it, or who have succeeded ill in their attempt." Thus
cautious was Dryden in not admitting a victory, even in a cause which,
he had surrendered.
But although the poet had admitted, that, with powers of versification
superior to those possessed by any earlier English author, and a taste
corrected by the laborious study both of the language and those who had
used it, he found rhyme unfit for the use of the drama, he at the same
time discovered a province where it might be employed in all its
splendour. We have the mortification to learn, from the Dedication of
"Aureng-Zebe," that Dryden only wanted encouragement to enter upon the
composition of an epic poem, and to abandon the thriftless task of
writing for the promiscuous audience of the theatre,--a task which,
rivalled as he had lately been by Crowne and Settle, he most justly
compares to the labour of Sisyphus. His plot, he elsewhere explains, was
to be founded either upon the story of Arthur, or of Edward the Black
Prince; and he mentions it to Mulgrave in the following remarkable
passage, which argues great dissatisfaction with dramatic labour,
arising perhaps from a combined feeling of the bad taste of rhyming
plays, the degrading dispute with Settle, and the failure of the
"Assignation," his last theatrical attempt:--"If I must be condemned to
rhyme, I should find some ease in my change of punishment. I desire to
be no longer the Sisyphus of the stage; to roll up a stone with endless
labour, which, to follow the proverb, _gathers no moss_; and which is
perpetually falling down again. I never thought myself very fit for an
employment, where many of my predecessors have excelled me in all kinds;
and some of my contemporaries, even in my own partial judgment, have
outdone me in comedy. Some little hopes I have yet remaining (and those
too, considering my abilities, may be vain), that I may make the world
some part of amends for my ill plays, by an heroic poem. Your lordship
has been long acquainted with my design; the subject of which you know
is great, the story English, and neither too far distant from the
present age, nor too near approaching it. Such it is in my opinion, that
I could not have wished a nobler occasion to do honour by it to my king,
my country, and my friends; most of our ancient nobility being concerned
in the action. And your lordship has one particular reason to promote
this undertaking because you were the first who gave me the opportunity
of discoursing it to his majesty, and his royal highness; they were then
pleased both to commend the design, and to encourage it by their
commands; but the unsettledness of my condition has hitherto put a stop
to my thoughts concerning it. As I am no successor to Homer in his wit,
so neither do I desire to be in his poverty. I can make no rhapsodies,
nor go a begging at the Grecian doors, while I sing the praises of their
ancestors. The times of Virgil please me better, because he had an
Augustus for his patron; and, to draw the allegory nearer you, I am sure
I shall not want a Maecenas with him. It is for your lordship to stir up
that remembrance in his majesty, which his many avocations of business
have caused him, I fear, to lay aside; and, as himself and his royal
brother are the heroes of the poem, to represent to them the images of
their warlike predecessors; as Achilles is said to be roused to glory
with the sight of the combat before the ships. For my own part, I am
satisfied to have offered the design; and it may be to the advantage of
my reputation to have it refused me."
Dr. Johnson and Mr. Malone remark, that Dryden observes a mystery
concerning the subject of his intended epic, to prevent the risk of
being anticipated, as he finally was by Sir Richard Blackmore on the
topic of Arthur. This, as well as other passages in Dryden's life,
allows us the pleasing indulgence of praising the decency of our own
time. Were an author of distinguished merit to announce his having made
choice of a subject for a large poem, the writer would have more than
common confidence who should venture to forestall his labours. But, in
the seventeenth century, such an intimation would, it seems, have been
an instant signal for the herd of scribblers to souse upon it, like the
harpies on the feast of the Trojans, and leave its mangled relics too
polluted for the use of genius:--
"_Turba sonans praedam pedibus circumvolat uncis;
Polluit ore dopes_.
_Semesam praedam et vestigia foeda relinquunt._"
"Aureng-Zebe" was followed, in 1678, by "All for Love," the only play
Dryden ever wrote for himself; the rest, he says, were given to the
people. The habitual study of Shakespeare, which seems lately to have
occasioned, at least greatly aided, the revolution in his taste, induced
him, among a crowd of emulous shooters, to try his strength in this bow
of Ulysses. I have, in some preliminary remarks to the play, endeavoured
to point out the difference between the manner of these great artists in
treating the misfortunes of Antony and Cleopatra. If these are just,
we must allow Dryden the praise of greater regularity of plot, and a
happier combination of scene; but in sketching the character of Antony,
he loses the majestic and heroic tone which Shakespeare has assigned
him. There is too much of the love-lorn knight-errant, and too little of
the Roman warrior, in Dryden's hero. The love of Antony, however
overpowering and destructive in its effects, ought not to have resembled
the love of a sighing swain of Arcadia. This error in the original
conception of the character must doubtless be ascribed to Dryden's habit
of romantic composition. Montezuma and Almanzor were, like the prophet's
image, formed of a mixture of iron and clay; of stern and rigid
demeanour to all the universe, but unbounded devotion to the ladies of
their affections. In Antony, the first class of attributes are
discarded: he has none of that tumid and outrageous dignity which
characterised the heroes of the rhyming plays, and in its stead is
gifted with even more than an usual share of devoted attachment to his
mistress. In the preface, Dryden piques himself upon venturing to
introduce the quarrelling scene between Octavia and Cleopatra, which a
French writer would have rejected, as contrary to the decorum of the
theatre. But our author's idea of female character was at all times low;
and the coarse, indecent violence, which he has thrown into the
expressions of a queen and a Roman matron, is misplaced and disgusting,
and contradicts the general and well-founded observation on the address
and self-command with which even women of ordinary dispositions can veil
mutual dislike and hatred, and the extreme keenness with which they can
arm their satire, while preserving all the external forms of civil
demeanour. But Dryden more than redeemed this error in the scene between
Antony and Ventidius, which he himself preferred to any that he ever
wrote, and perhaps with justice, if we except that between Dorax and
Sebastian: both are avowedly written in imitation of the quarrel between
Brutus and Cassius. "All for Love" was received by the public with
universal applause. Its success, with that of "Aureng-Zebe," gave fresh
lustre to the author's reputation, which had been somewhat tarnished by
the failure of the "Assignation," and the rise of so many rival
dramatists. We learn from the Players' petition to the Lord Chamberlain,
that "All for Love" was of service to the author's fortune as well as to
his fame, as he was permitted the benefit of a third night, in addition
to his profits as a sharer with the company. The play was dedicated
to the Earl of Danby, then a minister in high power, but who, in the
course of a few months, was disgraced and imprisoned at the suit of the
Commons. As Danby was a great advocate for prerogative, Dryden fails not
to approach him with an encomium on monarchical government, as regulated
and circumscribed by law. In reprobating the schemes of those
innovators, who, surfeiting on happiness, endeavoured to persuade their
fellow-subjects to risk a change, he has a pointed allusion to the Earl
of Shaftesbury, who, having left the royal councils in disgrace, was now
at the head of the popular faction.
In 1678 Dryden's next play, a comedy, entitled "Limberham," was acted at
Dorset-garden theatre, but was endured for three nights only. It was
designed, the author informs us, as a satire on "the crying sin of
keeping;" and the crime for which it suffered was, that "it expressed
too much of the vice which it decried." Grossly indelicate as this play
still is, it would seem, from the Dedication to Lord Vaughan, that much
which offended on the stage was altered, or omitted, in the press;
yet more than enough remains to justify the sentence pronounced against
it by the public. Mr. Malone seems to suppose Shaftesbury's party had
some share in its fate, supposing that the character of Limberham had
reference to their leader. Yet surely, although Shaftesbury was
ridiculous for aiming at gallantry, from which his age and personal
infirmity should have deterred him, Dryden would never have drawn the
witty, artful politician, as a silly, henpecked cully. Besides, Dryden
was about this time supposed even himself to have some leaning to the
popular cause; a supposition irreconcilable with his caricaturing the
foibles of Shaftesbury.
The tragedy of "Oedipus" was written by Dryden in conjunction with Lee;
the entire first and third acts were the work of our author, who also
arranged the general plan, and corrected the whole piece. Having offered
some observations elsewhere upon this play, and the mode in which
its celebrated theme has been treated by the dramatists of different
nations, I need not here resume the subject. The time of the first
representation is fixed to the beginning of the playing season, in
winter 1678-9, although it was not printed until 1679. Both
"Limberham" and "Oedipus" were acted at the Duke's theatre; so that it
would seem that our author was relieved from his contract with the
King's house, probably because the shares were so much diminished in
value, that his appointment was now no adequate compensation for his
labour. The managers of the King's company complained to the Lord
Chamberlain, and endeavoured, as we have seen, by pleading upon the
contract, to assert their right to the play of "Oedipus." But their
claim to reclaim the poet and the play appears to have been set aside,
and Dryden continued to give his performances to the Duke's theatre
until the union of the two companies.
Dryden was now to do a new homage to Shakespeare, by refitting for the
stage the play of "Troilus and Cressida," which the author left in a
state of strange imperfection, resembling more a chronicle, or legend,
than a dramatic piece. Yet it may be disputed whether Dryden has greatly
improved it even in the particulars which he censures in his original.
His plot, though more artificial, is at the same time more trite than
that of Shakespeare. The device by which Troilus is led to doubt the
constancy of Cressida is much less natural than that she should have
been actually inconstant; her vindication by suicide is a clumsy, as
well as a hackneyed expedient; and there is too much drum and trumpet in
the grand _finale_, where "Troilus and Diomede fight, and both parties
engage at the same time. The Trojans make the Greeks retire, and Troilus
makes Diomede give ground, and hurts him. Trumpets sound. Achilles
enters with his Myrmidons, on the backs of the Trojans, who fight in a
ring, encompassed round. Troilus, singling Diomede, gets him down, and
kills him; and Achilles kills Troilus upon him. All the Trojans die upon
the place, Troilus last." Such a _bellum internecinum_ can never be
waged to advantage upon the stage. One extravagant passage in this play
serves strongly to evince Dryden's rooted dislike to the clergy. Troilus
"That I should trust the daughter of a priest!
Priesthood, that makes a merchandise of heaven!
Priesthood, that sells even to their prayers and blessings,
And forces us to pay for our own cozenage!
_Thersites_. Nay, cheats heaven too with entrails and with offals;
Gives it the garbage of a sacrifice,
And keeps the best for private luxury.
Troilus_. Thou hast deserved thy life for cursing priests.
Let me embrace thee; thou art beautiful:
That back, that nose, those eyes are beautiful:
Live; thou art honest, for thou hat'st a priest."
Dryden prefixed to "Troilus and Cressida" his excellent remarks on the
Grounds of Criticism in Tragedy, giving up, with dignified indifference
the faults even of his own pieces, when they contradict the rules his
later judgment had adopted. How much his taste had altered since his
"Essay of Dramatic Poesy," or at least since his "Remarks on Heroic
Plays," will appear from the following abridgment of his new maxims. The
plot, according to these remarks, ought to be simply and naturally
detailed from its commencement to its conclusion,--a rule which excluded
the crowded incidents of the Spanish drama; and the personages ought to
be dignified and virtuous, that their misfortunes might at once excite
pity and terror. The plots of Shakespeare and Fletcher are meted by this
rule, and pronounced inferior in mechanic regularity to those of Ben
Jonson. The character of the agents, or persons, are next to be
considered; and it is required that their manner shall be at once
marked, dramatic, consistent, and natural. And here the supereminent
power of Shakespeare, in displaying the manners, bent, and inclination
of his characters, is pointed out to the reader's admiration. The
copiousness of his invention, and his judgment in sustaining the ideas
which he started, are illustrated by referring to Caliban, a creature of
the fancy, begot by an incubus upon a witch, and furnished with a
person, language, and character befitting his pedigree on both sides.
The passions are then considered as included in the manners; and Dryden,
at once and peremptorily, condemns both the extravagance of language,
which substitutes noise for feeling, and those points and turns of wit,
which misbecome one actuated by real and deep emotion. He candidly gives
an example of the last error from his own Montezuma who, pursued by his
enemies, and excluded from the fort, describes his situation in a long
simile, taken besides from the sea, which he had only heard of for the
first time in the first act. As a description of natural passion, the
famous procession of King Richard in the train of the fortunate usurper
is quoted, in justice to the divine author. From these just and liberal
rules of criticism, it is easy to discover that Dryden had already
adopted a better taste, and was disgusted with comedies, where the
entertainment arose from bustling incident, and tragedies, where
sounding verse was substituted for the delineation of manners and
expression of feeling. These opinions he pointedly expresses in the
Prologue to "Troilus and Cressida," which was spoken by Betterton,
representing the ghost of Shakespeare:
"See, my loved Britons, see your Shakespeare rise,
An awful ghost confessed to human eyes!
Unnamed, methinks, distinguished I had been,
From other shades, by this eternal green,
About whose wreaths the vulgar poets strive,
And, with a touch, their withered bays revive.
Untaught, unpractised, in a barbarous age,
I found not, but created first the stage.
And if I drained no Greek or Latin store,
'Twas that my own abundance gave me more.
On foreign trade I needed not rely,
Like fruitful Britain, rich without supply.
In this, my rough-drawn play, you shall behold
Some master-strokes, so manly and so bold,
That he who meant to alter, found 'em such;
He shook, and thought it sacrilege to touch.
Now, where are the successors to my name?
What bring they to fill out a poet's fame?
Weak, short-lived issues of a feeble age;
Scarce living to be christened on the stage!
For humour _farce_, for love they _rhyme_ dispense,
That tolls the knell for their departed sense."
It is impossible to read these lines, remembering Dryden's earlier
opinions, without acknowledging the truth of the ancient proverb, _Magna
est veritas, et praevalebit_.
The "Spanish Friar," our author's most successful comedy, succeeded
"Troilus and Cressida." Without repeating the remarks which are prefixed
to the play in the present edition, we may briefly notice, that in
the tragic scenes our author has attained that better strain of dramatic
poetry which he afterwards evinced in "Sebastian." In the comic part,
the well-known character of Father Dominic, though the conception only
embodies the abstract idea which the ignorant and prejudiced fanatics of
the day formed to themselves of a Romish priest, is brought out and
illustrated with peculiar spirit. The gluttony, avarice, debauchery, and
meanness of Dominic are qualified with the talent and wit necessary to
save him from being utterly detestable; and, from the beginning to the
end of the piece, these qualities are so happily tinged with insolence
hypocrisy, and irritability, that they cannot be mistaken for the
avarice, debauchery, gluttony, and meanness of any other profession than
that of a bad churchman. In the tragic plot, we principally admire the
general management of the opening, and chiefly censure the cold-blooded
barbarity and perfidy of the young queen, in instigating the murder of
the deposed sovereign, and then attempting to turn the guilt on her
accomplice. I fear Dryden here forgot his own general rule, that the
tragic hero and heroine should have so much virtue as to entitle their
distress to the tribute of compassion. Altogether, however, the "Spanish
Friar," in both its parts, is an interesting, and almost a fascinating
play; although the tendency, even of the tragic scenes, is not laudable,
and the comedy, though more decent in language, is not less immoral in
tendency than was usual in that loose age.
Dryden attached considerable importance to the art with which the comic
and tragic scenes of the "Spanish Friar" are combined; and in doing so
he has received the sanction of Dr. Johnson. Indeed, as the ardour of
his mind ever led him to prize that task most highly, on which he had
most lately employed his energy, he has affirmed, in the dedication to
the "Spanish Friar," that there was an absolute necessity for combining
two actions in tragedy, for the sake of variety. "The truth is," he
adds, "the audience are grown weary of continued melancholy scenes; and
I dare venture to prophesy, that few tragedies, except those in verse,
shall succeed in this age, if they are not lightened with a course of
mirth; for the feast is too dull and solemn without the fiddles." The
necessity of the relief alluded to may be admitted, without allowing
that we must substitute either the misplaced charms of versification, or
a secondary comic plot, to relieve the solemn weight and monotony of
tragedy. It is no doubt true, that a highly-buskined tragedy, in which
all the personages maintain the funereal pomp usually required from the
victims of Melpomene, is apt to be intolerably tiresome, after all the
pains which a skilful and elegant poet can bestow upon finishing it. But
it is chiefly tiresome, because it is unnatural; and, in respect of
propriety, ought no more to be relieved by the introduction of a set of
comic scenes, independent of those of a mournful complexion, than the
_sombre_ air of a funeral should be enlivened by a concert of fiddles.
There appear to be two legitimate modes of interweaving tragedy with
something like comedy. The first and most easy, which has often been
resorted to, is to make the lower or less marked characters of the
drama, like the porter in "Macbeth," or the fool in "King Lear," speak
the language appropriated to their station, even in the midst of the
distresses of the piece; nay, they may be permitted to have some slight
under-intrigue of their own. This, however, requires the exertion of
much taste and discrimination; for if we are once seriously and deeply
interested in the distress of the play, the intervention of anything
like buffoonery may unloosen the hold which the author has gained on the
feelings of the audience. If such subordinate comic characters are of a
rank to intermix in the tragic dialogue, their mirth ought to be
chastened, till their language bears a relation to that of the higher
persons. For example, nothing can be more absurd than in "Don
Sebastian," and some of Southerne's tragedies, to hear the comic
character answer in prose, and with a would-be witticism, to the solemn,
unrelaxed blank verse of his tragic companion. Mercutio is, I think,
one of the best instances of such a comic person as may be reasonably
and with propriety admitted into tragedy: from which, however, I do not
exclude those lower characters, whose conversation appears absurd if
much elevated above their rank. There is, however, another mode, yet
more difficult to be used with address, but much more fortunate in
effect when it has been successfully employed. This is, when the
principal personages themselves do not always remain in the buckram of
tragedy, but reserve, as in common life, lofty expressions for great
occasions, and at other times evince themselves capable of feeling the
lighter, as well as the more violent or more deep, affections of the
mind. The shades of comic humour in Hamlet, in Hotspur, and in
Falconbridge, are so far from injuring, that they greatly aid the effect
of the tragic scenes, in which these same persons take a deep and
tragical share. We grieve with them, when grieved, still more because we
have rejoiced with them when they rejoiced; and, on the whole, we
acknowledge a deeper _frater feeling_, as Burns has termed it, in men
who are actuated by the usual changes of human temperament, than in
those who, contrary to the nature of humanity, are eternally actuated by
an unvaried strain of tragic feeling. But whether the poet diversifies
his melancholy scenes by the passing gaiety of subordinate characters;
or whether he qualifies the tragic state of his heroes by occasionally
assigning lighter tasks to them; or whether he chooses to employ both
modes of relieving the weight of misery through live long acts; it is
obviously unnecessary that he should distract the attention of his
audience, and destroy the regularity of his play, by introducing a comic
plot with personages and interest altogether distinct, and intrigue but
slightly connected with that of the tragedy. Dryden himself afterwards
acknowledged that though he was fond of the "Spanish Friar," he could
not defend it from the imputation of Gothic and unnatural irregularity;
"for mirth and gravity destroy each other, and are no more to be allowed
for decent, than a gay widow laughing in a mourning habit."
The "Spanish Friar" was brought out in 1681-2, when the nation was in a
ferment against the Catholics on account of the supposed plot. It is
dedicated to John, Lord Haughton, as _protestant play_ inscribed to a
_protestant patron_. It was also the last dramatic work, excepting the
political play of the "Duke of Guise," and the masque of "Albion and
Albanius," brought out by our author before the Revolution. And in
political tendency, the "Spanish Friar" has so different colouring from
these last pieces, that it is worth while to pause to examine the
private relations of the author when he composed it.
Previous to 1678, Lord Mulgrave, our author's constant and probably
effectual patron, had given him an opportunity of discoursing over his
plan of an epic poem to the king and Duke of York; and in the preface to
"Aureng-Zebe" in that year, the poet intimates an indirect complaint
that the royal brothers had neglected his plan. About two years
afterwards, Mulgrave seems himself to have fallen into disgrace, and was
considered as in opposition to the court. Dryden was deprived of his
intercession, and seems in some degree to have shared his disgrace. The
"Essay on Satire" became public in November 1679, and being generally
imputed to Dryden, it is said distinctly by one libeller, that his
pension was for a time interrupted. This does not seem likely; it is
more probable, that Dryden shared the general fate of the household of
Charles II., whose appointments were but irregularly paid; but perhaps
his supposed delinquency made it more difficult for him than others to
obtain redress. At this period broke out the pretended discovery of the
Popish Plot, in which Dryden, even in "Absalom and Achitophel," evinces
a partial belief. Not encouraged, if not actually discountenanced,
at court; sharing in some degree the discontent of his patron Mulgrave;
above all, obliged by his situation to please the age in which he lived,
Dryden did not probably hold the reverence of the Duke of York so
sacred, as to prevent his making the ridicule of the Catholic religion
the means of recommending his play to the passions of the audience.
Neither was his situation at court in any danger from his closing on
this occasion with the popular tide. Charles, during the heat of the
Popish plot, was so far from being in a situation to incur odium by
dismissing a laureate for having written a _Protestant play_, that he
was obliged for a time to throw the reins of government into the hands
of those very persons to whom the Papists were most obnoxious. The
inference drawn from Dryden's performance was that he had deserted the
court; and the Duke of York was so much displeased with the tenor of the
play, that it was the only one of which, on acceding to the crown, he
prohibited the representation. The "Spanish Friar" was often objected to
the author by his opponents, after he had embraced the religion there
satirised. Nor was the idea of his apostasy from the court an invention
of his enemies after his conversion, for it prevailed at the
commencement of the party-disputes; and the name of Dryden is, by a
partisan of royalty, ranked with that of his bitter foe Shadwell, as
followers of Shaftesbury in 1680. But whatever cause of coolness or
disgust our author had received from Charles or his brother, was
removed, as usual, so soon as his services became necessary; and thus
the supposed author of a libel on the king became the ablest defender of
the cause of monarchy, and the author of the "Spanish Friar" the
advocate and convert of the Catholic religion.
In his private circumstances Dryden must have been even worse situated
than at the close of the last Section. His contract with the King's
Company was now ended, and long before seems to have produced him little
profit. If Southerne's biographer can be trusted, Dryden never made by a
single play more than one hundred pounds; so that, with all his
fertility, he could not, at his utmost exertion, make more than two
hundred a year by his theatrical labours. At the same time, they so
totally engrossed his leisure, that he produced no other work of
consequence after the "_Annus Mirabilis._" If, therefore, the
payment of his pension was withheld, whether from the resentment of the
court, or the poverty of the exchequer, he might well complain of the
"unsettled state" which doomed him to continue these irksome and
 Malone, vol. i. p. 124.
 Dennis's account of these feuds, though not strictly accurate is
lively, and too curious to be suppressed. "Nothing," says Dennis, "is
more certain, than that Mr. Settle, who is now (1717) the city poet, was
formerly a poet of the court. And at what time was he so? Why, in the
reign of King Charles the Second, when that court was more gallant and
more polite than ever the English court perhaps had been before; when
there was at court the present and the late Duke of Buckingham, the late
Earl of Dorset, Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, famous for his wit and
poetry, Sir Charles Sedley, Mr. Saville, Mr. Buckley, and several
"Mr. Settle's first tragedy, 'Cambyses, King of Persia,' was acted for
three weeks together. The second, which was 'The Empress of Morocco,'
was acted for a month together; and was in such high esteem both with
the court and town that it was acted at Whitehall before the king by the
gentlemen and ladies of the court; and the prologue, which was spoken by
the Lady Betty Howard, was writ by the famous Lord Rochester. The
bookseller who printed it, depending upon the prepossession of the town,
ventured to distinguish it from all the plays that had been ever
published before; for it was the first play that ever was sold in
England for two shillings, and the first that ever was printed with
cuts. The booksellers at that time of day had not discovered so much of
the weakness of their gentle readers as they have done since, nor so
plainly discovered that fools, like children, are to be drawn in by
gewgaws.--Well; but what was the event of this great success? Mr. Settle
began to grow insolent, as any one may see, who reads the epistle
dedicatory to 'The Empress of Morocco.' Mr. Dryden, Mr. Shadwell, and
Mr. Crowne, began to grow jealous; and they three in confederacy wrote
'Remarks on the Empress of Morocco.' Mr. Settle answered them; and,
according to the opinion which the town then had of the matter (for I
have utterly forgot the controversy), had by much the better of them
all. In short, Mr. Settle was then a formidable rival to Mr. Dryden; and
I remember very well, that not only the town, but the university of
Cambridge, was very much divided in their opinions about the preference
that ought to be given to them; and in both places the younger fry
inclined to Elkanah."
 Lord Mulgrave wrote the prologue when Settle's play was first acted
at court; Lord Rochester's was written for the second occasion; both
were spoken by the beautiful Lady Elizabeth Howard.
 See this offensive dedication in the account of Settle's controversy
 A copy of this rare edition (the gift of my learned friend, the Rev.
Henry White of Lichfield) is now before me. The engravings are
sufficiently paltry; and had the play been published even in the present
day, it would have been accounted dear at two shillings. The name of the
publisher is William Cademan, the date 1673. [See H. Morley, "English
Plays," pp. 351, 352.--ED.]
 This title is omitted in subsequent editions.
 Of whom it was said, that he spoke "to the tune of a good speech."
 As, for example, this stage-direction: "Here a company of villains
in ambush from behind the scenes discharge their guns at Muly-Hamet; at
which Muly-Hamet starting and turning, Hametalhaz from under his
priest's habit draws a sword and passes at Muly-H., which pass is
intercepted by Abdeleader. They engage in a very fierce fight with the
villains, who also draw and assist Hametalhaz, and go off several ways
fighting; after the discharge of other guns heard from within, and the
clashing of swords, enter again Muly-Hamet, driving in some of the
former villains, which he kills."
 In the fifth act the scene draws and discovers Crimalhaz cast down
on the _guanches_, i.e. hung on a wall set with spikes, scythe-blades,
and hooks of iron; which scene (to judge from the engraving) exhibited
the mangled limbs and wasted bones of former sufferers, suspended in
agreeable confusion. With this pleasing display the piece concluded.
 Settle's pamphlet was contumaciously entitled, "Notes and
Observations on the Empress of Morocco revised, with some few erratas;
to be printed instead of the Postscript with the next Edition of the
Conquest of Granada, 1674." See some quotations from this piece, vol.
 His comedy of "Sir Courtly Nice" exhibits marks of comic power.
[The condemnation of his other work is a little too sweeping.--ED.]
 See vol. x.
 [As is the case with many other circumstances of the life of
Dryden, this business of _Calisto_ has been much exaggerated. The amount
of positive evidence of Rochester's interference is exceedingly small,
and of his ill offices in regard to the epilogue there is no proof
 So called, according to the communicative old correspondent of the
Gentleman's Magazine in 1745, from the unalterable stiffness of his long
 "I am well satisfied I had the greatest party of men of wit and
sense on my side: amongst which I can never enough acknowledge the
unspeakable obligations I received from the Earl of R., who, far above
what I am ever able to deserve from him, seemed almost to make it his
business to establish it in the good opinion of the king and his royal
highness; from both of which I have since received confirmations of
their good-liking of it, and encouragement to proceed. And it is to him,
I must, in all gratitude, confess, I owe the greatest part of my good
success in this and on whose indulgency I extremely build my hopes of a
next." Accordingly, next year, Otway's play of "Titus and Berenice" is
inscribed to Rochester, "his good and generous patron."
"Tom Otway came next, Tom Shailwell's dear zany,
And swears for heroics he writes best of any;
'Don Carlos' his pockets so amply had filled,
That his mange was quite cured, and his lice were all killed.
But Apollo had seen his face on the stage,
And prudently did not think fit to engage
The scum of a playhouse for the prop of an age."
 "Though a certain writer, that shall be nameless (but you may guess
at him by what follows), being ask'd his opinion of this play, very
gravely cock't, and cry'd, _I'gad_ he knew not a line in it he would be
authour of. But he is a fine facetious witty person, as my friend Sir
Formal has it; and to be even with him, I know a comedy of his, that has
not so much as a quibble in it which I would be authour of. And so,
reader, I bid him and thee farewell." The use of Dryden's interjection,
well known through Bayes's employing it, ascertains him to be the poet
"Well, sir, 'tis granted; I said Dryden's rhymes
Were stolen, unequal, nay dull many times;
What foolish patron is there found of his,
So blindly partial to deny me this?
But that his plays, embroidered up and down
With learning, justly pleased the town,
In the same paper I as freely own.
Yet, having this allowed, the heavy mass,
That stuffs up his loose volumes, must not pass;
For by that rule I might as well admit
Crowne's tedious scenes for poetry and wit.
'Tis therefore not enough when your false sense
Hits the false judgment of an audience
Of clapping fools assembling, a vast crowd,
Till the thronged playhouse cracked with the dull load;
Though even that talent merits, in some sort,
That can divert the rabble and the court;
Which blundering Settle never could obtain,
And puzzling Otway labours at in vain."
He afterwards mentions Etherege's seductive poetry, and adds:
"Dryden in vain tried this nice way of wit;
For he, to be a tearing blade, thought fit
To give the ladies a dry bawdy bob;
And thus he got the name of _Poet Squab_.
But to be just, 'twill to his praise be found,
His excellencies more than faults abound;
Nor dare I from his sacred temples tear
The laurel, which he best deserves to wear.
But does not Dryden find even Jonson dull?
Beaumont and Fletcher uncorrect, and full
Of lewd lines, as he calls them? Shakespeare's style
Stiff and affected? To his own the while
Allowing all the justice that his pride
So arrogantly had to these denied?
And may not I have leave impartially
To search and censure Dryden's works, and try
If those gross faults his choice pen doth commit,
Proceed from want of judgment, or of wit?
Or if his lumpish fancy does refuse
Spirit and grace, to his loose slattern muse?
Five hundred verses every morning writ,
Prove him no more a poet than a wit."
"Rochester I despise for's mere want of wit,
Though thought to have a tail and cloven feet;
For while he mischief means to all mankind,
Himself alone the ill effects does find;
And so, like witches, justly suffers shame,
Whose harmless malice is so much the same.
False are his words, affected is his wit,
So often does he aim, so seldom hit.
To every face he cringes while he speaks,
But when the back is turned, the head he breaks.
Mean in each action, lewd in every limb,
Manners themselves are mischievous in him;
A proof that chance alone makes every creature,--
A very Killigrew, without good-nature.
For what a [Transcriber's note: "Bessus?" Print unclear] has he always
And his own kickings notably contrived;
For (there's the folly that's still mixed with fear)
Cowards more blows than any hero bear.
Of fighting sparks Fame may her pleasure say,
But 'tis a bolder thing to run away.
The world may well forgive him all his ill,
For every fault does prove his penance still.
Falsely he lulls into some dangerous noose,
And then as meanly labours to get loose.
A life so infamous is better quitting;
Spent in base injury and low submitting.--
I'd like to have left out his poetry,
Forgot by all almost as well as me.
Sometimes he has some humour, never wit,
And if it rarely, very rarely hit,
'Tis under such a nasty rubbish laid,
To find it out's the cinder-woman's trade;
Who for the wretched remnants of a fire,
Must toil all day in ashes and in mire.
So lewdly dull his idle works appear,
The wretched text deserves no comments here;
Where one poor thought sometime's left all alone,
For a whole page of dulness to atone:
'Mongst forty bad, one tolerable line,
Without expression, fancy, or design."
 "Whereas John Dryden, Esq., was on Monday the 18th instant, at
night, barbarously assaulted, and wounded in Rose-street, in
Covent-garden, by divers men unknown; if any person shall make
discovery of the said offenders to the said Mr. Dryden, or to any
justice of the peace, he shall not only receive fifty pounds, which is
deposited in the hands of Mr. Blanchard, goldsmith, next door to
Temple-bar, for the said purpose; but if he be a principal, or an
accessory, in the said fact, his Majesty is graciously pleased to
promise him his pardon for the same."--_London Gazette_, from December
18th to December 22d, 1679. Mr. Malone mentions the same advertisement
in a newspaper, entitled, "Domestic Intelligence or News from City and
 I might also mention the sentiment of Count Conigsmarck, who
allowed, that the barbarous assassination of Mr. Thynne by his bravoes
was a slain on his blood, but such a one as a good action in the wars,
or a lodging on a counterscarp, would easily wash out. See his Trial,
"State Trials," vol. iv. But Conigsmarck was a foreigner.
 For example, a rare broadside in ridicule of Benjamin Harris the
Whig publisher, entitled, "The Saint turned Courtezan, or a new Plot
discovered by a precious Zealot of an Assault and Battery designed upon
the Body of a sanctified Sister,
"Who, in her husband's absence, with a brother
Did often use to comfort one another,
Till wide-mouthed Crop, who is an old Italian,
Took his mare nappy, and surprised her stallion,
Who, steal of entertainment from his mistress,
Did meet a cudgelling not matched in histories."
"Who's there?" quoth watchful Argus.
"Tis I, in longing passion,
Give me a kiss."
Quoth Ben, "Take this,
_A Dryden salutation_."
"Help Care, Vile, Smith, and Curtes,
Each zealous covenanter!
What wonder the atheist
L'Estrange should turn papist,
When a zealot turns a ranter."
 Vol. xiii.
 Cibber's Apology, 4to, p. 74.
 Vol. xv.
 Vol. v.
 Vol. v.
 This distinction our author himself points out in the Prologue. The
poet there says,
"His hero, whom you wits his bully call,
Bates of his mettle, and scarce rants at all;
He's somewhat lewd, but a well-meaning mind,
Weeps much, fights little, but is wondrous kind."--Vol. v.
 See Footnote 26, Section II, this volume.
 Mr. Malone has seen a MS. copy of "Limberham" in its original
state, found by Bolingbroke in the sweepings of Pope's study. It
contained several exceptionable passages, afterwards erased or altered.
 Vol. vi.
 By allusion to the act for burying in woollen.
 [Transcriber's note: "See their Petition, page 88" in original.
This is to be found in Footnote 26, Section II.]
 Vol. vi.
 This is ridiculed in "Chrononhotonthologos."
 Parallel of Poetry and Painting, vol. xvii.
 [Transcriber's note: "See page 181" in original. This approximates
to paragraphs preceding reference  in text, Section IV.]
 He is said to have cast the eyes of ambitious affection on the Lady
Anne (afterwards queen), daughter of the Duke of York; at which
presumption Charles was so much offended, that when Mulgrave went to
relieve Tangier in 1680, he is said to have been appointed to a leaky
and frail vessel, in hopes that he might perish; an injury which he
resented so highly, as not to permit the king's health to be drunk at
his table till the voyage was over. On his return from Tangier he was
refused the regiment of the Earl of Plymouth; and, considering his
services as neglected, for a time joined those who were discontented
with the government. He was probably reclaimed by receiving the
government of Hull and lieutenancy of Yorkshire. See vol. ix.
 In a poem called "The Laureat," the satirist is so ill informed, as
still to make Dryden the author of the "Essay on Satire." Surely it is
unlikely to suppose, that he should have submitted to the loss of a
pension, which he so much needed, rather than justify himself, where
justification was so easy. Yet his resentment is said to have been
"For Pension lost, and justly, without doubt:
When servants snarl we ought to kick them out.
* * * * *
That lost, the visor changed, you turn about,
And straight a true-blue Protestant crept out.
The _Friar_ now was wrote; and some will say,
They smell a malcontent through all the play."
See the whole passage, vol. vi.
 See, for this point also, the volume last quoted.
 In "A Modest Vindication of Antony, Earl of Shaftesbury, in a
Letter to a Friend concerning his having been elected King of Poland,"
Dryden is named poet-laureate to the supposed king-elect, and Shadwell
his deputy. See vol. ix.
 "Dryden being very desirous of knowing how much Southerne had made
by the profits of one of his plays, the other, conscious of the little
success Dryden had met with in theatrical compositions, declined the
question, and answered, he was really ashamed to acquaint him. Dryden
continuing to be solicitous to be informed, Southerne owned he had
cleared by his last play L700; which appeared astonishing to Dryden, who
was perhaps ashamed to confess, that he had never been able to acquire,
by any of his most successful pieces, more than L100."--_Life of
Southerne_ prefixed to his Plays.
 There was published, 1679, a translation of Appian, printed for
John Amery at the Peacock, against St. Dunstan's Church, Fleet-street.
It is inscribed by the translator, J.D., to the Earl of Ossory; and
seems to have been undertaken by his command. This work is usually
termed in catalogues, Dryden's Appian. I presume it may be the work of
that Jonathan Dryden who is mentioned in p 26.
_Dryden engages in Politics--Absalom and Achitophel, Part First--The
Medal--MacFlecknoe--Absalom and Achitophel, Part Second--The Duke of
The controversies, in which Dryden had hitherto been engaged, were of a
private complexion, arising out of literary disputes and rivalry. But
the country was now deeply agitated by political faction; and so
powerful an auxiliary was not permitted by his party to remain in a
state of inactivity. The religion of the Duke of York rendered him
obnoxious to a large proportion of the people, still agitated by the
terrors of the Popish Plot. The Duke of Monmouth, handsome, young,
brave, and courteous, had all the external requisites for a popular
idol; and what he wanted in mental qualities was amply supplied by the
Machiavel subtlety of Shaftesbury. The life of Charles was the only
isthmus between these contending tides, "which, mounting, viewed each
other from afar, and strove in vain to meet." It was already obvious,
that the king's death was to be the signal of civil war. His situation
was doubly embarrassing, because, in all probability, Monmouth, whose
claims were both unjust in themselves and highly derogatory to the
authority of the crown, was personally amiable, and more beloved by
Charles than was his inflexible and bigoted brother. But to consent to
the bill for excluding the lawful heir from the crown, would have been
at the same time putting himself in a state of pupillage for the rest of
his reign, and evincing to his subjects, that they had nothing to expect
from attachment to his person, or defence of his interest. This was a
sacrifice not to be thought of so long as the dreadful recollection of
the wars in the preceding reign determined a large party to support the
monarch, while he continued willing to accept of their assistance.
Charles accordingly adopted a determined course; and, to the rage rather
than confusion of his partisans, Monmouth was banished to Holland, from
whence he boldly returned without the king's licence, and openly assumed
the character of the leader of a party. Estranged from court, he made
various progresses through the country, and employed every art which the
genius of Shaftesbury could suggest, to stimulate the courage, and to
increase the number, of his partisans. The press, that awful power, so
often and so rashly misused, was not left idle. Numbers of the
booksellers were distinguished as Protestant or fanatical publishers;
and their shops teemed with the furious declamations of Ferguson, the
inflammatory sermons of Hickeringill, the political disquisitions of
Hunt, and the party plays and libellous poems of Settle and Shadwell. An
host of rhymers, inferior even to those last named, attacked the king,
the Duke of York, and the ministry, in songs and libels, which, however
paltry, were read, sung, rehearsed, and applauded. It was time that some
champion should appear in behalf of the crown, before the public should
have been irrecoverably alienated by the incessant and slanderous
clamour of its opponents. Dryden's place, talents, and mode of thinking,
qualified him for this task. He was the poet-laureate and household
servant of the king thus tumultuously assailed. His vein of satire was
keen, terse, and powerful, beyond any that has since been displayed.
From the time of the Restoration, he had been a favourer of monarchy,
perhaps more so, because the opinion divided him from his own family. If
he had been for a time neglected, the smiles of a sovereign soon make
his coldness forgotten; and if his narrow fortune was not increased, or
even rendered stable, he had promises of provision, which inclined him
to look to the future with hope, and endure the present with patience.
If he had shared in the discontent which for a time severed Mulgrave
from the royal party, that cause ceased to operate when his patron was
reconciled to the court, and received a share of the spoils of the
disgraced Monmouth. If there wanted further impulse to induce Dryden,
conscious of his strength, to mingle in an affray where it might be
displayed to advantage, he had the stimulus of personal attachment and
personal enmity, to sharpen his political animosity. Ormond, Halifax,
and Hyde, Earl of Rochester, among the nobles, were his patrons; Lee and
Southerne, among the poets, were his friends. These were partisans of
royalty. The Duke of York, whom the "Spanish Friar" probably had
offended, was conciliated by a prologue on his visiting the theatre at
his return from Scotland, and it is said, by the omission of certain
peculiarly offensive passages, so soon as the play was reprinted. The
opposite ranks contained Buckingham, author of the "Rehearsal;"
Shadwell, with whom our poet now urged open war; and Settle, the
insolence of whose rivalry was neither forgotten nor duly avenged. The
respect due to Monmouth was probably the only consideration to be
overcome: but his character was to be handled with peculiar lenity; and
his duchess, who, rather than himself, had patronised Dryden, was so
dissatisfied with the politics, as well as the other irregularities, of
her husband, that there was no danger of her taking a gentle correction
of his ambition as any affront to herself. Thus stimulated by every
motive, and withheld by none, Dryden composed, and on the 17th November
1681 published, the satire of "Absalom and Achitophel."
The plan of the satire was not new to the public. A Catholic poet had,
in 1679, paraphrased the scriptural story of Naboth's vine-yard and
applied it to the condemnation of Lord Stafford, on account of the
Popish Plot. This poem is written in the style of a scriptural
allusion; the names and situations of personages in the holy text being
applied to those contemporaries, to whom the author assigned a place in