Part 5 out of 7
Odes of Horace; of which the third of the First Book is happily applied
to Lord Roscommon, and the twenty-ninth to Lawrence Hyde, Earl of
Rochester. Upon these and his other translations Garth has the following
striking and forcible observations, though expressed in language
somewhat quaint. "I cannot pass by that admirable English poet, without
endeavouring to make his country sensible of the obligations they have
to his Muse. Whether they consider the flowing grace of his
versification, the vigorous sallies of his fancy, or the peculiar
delicacy of his periods, they all discover excellencies never to be
enough admired. If they trace him from the first productions of his
youth to the last performances of his age, they will find, that as the
tyranny of rhyme never imposed on the perspicuity of sense, so a languid
sense never wanted to be set off by the harmony of rhyme. And, as his
early works wanted no maturity, so his latter wanted no force or spirit.
The falling off of his hair had no other consequence than to make his
laurels be seen the more.
"As a translator, he was just; as an inventor, he was rich. His versions
of some parts of Lucretius, Horace, Homer, and Virgil, throughout gave
him a just pretence to that compliment which was made to Monsieur
d'Ablancourt, a celebrated French translator. _It is uncertain who have
the greatest obligation to him, the dead or the living._
"With all these wondrous talents, he was libelled, in his lifetime, by
the very men who had no other excellencies but as they were his
imitators Where he was allowed to have sentiments superior to all
others, they charged him with theft. But how did he steal? no otherwise
than like those who steal beggars' children, only to clothe them the
In this reign Dryden wrote the first Ode to St. Cecilia, for her
festival, in 1687. This and the Ode to the Memory of Mrs. Anne
Killigrew, a performance much in the manner of Cowley, and which has
been admired perhaps fully as much as it merits, were the only pieces of
general poetry which he produced between the accession of James and the
Revolution. It was, however, about this time, that the poet became
acquainted with the simple and beautiful hymns of the Catholic ritual,
the only pieces of uninspired sacred poetry which are worthy of the
purpose to which they are dedicated. It is impossible to hear the "_Dies
Irae_;" or the "_Stabat Mater dolorosa_," without feeling, that the
stately simplicity of the language, differing almost as widely from
classical poetry as from that of modern nations, awes the congregation,
like the architecture of the Gothic cathedrals in which they are
chanted. The ornaments which are wanting to these striking effusions of
devotion, are precisely such as would diminish their grand and solemn
effect; and nothing but the cogent and irresistible propriety of
addressing the Divinity in a language understood by the whole
worshipping assembly, could have justified the discarding these
magnificent hymns from the reformed worship. We must suppose that
Dryden, as a poet, was interested in the poetical part of the religion
which he had chosen; and his translation of "_Veni, Creator Spiritus_,"
which was probably recommended to him as being the favourite hymn of St.
Francis Xavier, shows that they did so. But it is less generally
known, that the English Catholics have preserved two other translations
ascribed to Dryden; one of the "_Te Deum_," the other of the hymn for
St. John's Eve; with which the public are here, for the first time,
presented, as the transcripts with which I have been favoured reached me
too late to be inserted in the poet's works. I think most of my
readers will join with me in opinion, that both their beauties and
faults are such as ascertain their authenticity.
THE TE DEUM.
Thee, Sovereign God, our grateful accents praise;
We own thee Lord, and bless thy wondrous ways;
To thee, Eternal Father, earth's whole frame
With loudest trumpets sounds immortal fame.
Lord God of Hosts! for thee the heavenly powers,
With sounding anthems, fill the vaulted towers.
Thy Cherubims thee Holy, Holy, Holy, cry;
Thrice Holy, all the Seraphims reply,
And thrice returning echoes endless songs supply.
Both heaven and earth thy majesty display;
They owe their beauty to thy glorious ray.
Thy praises fill the loud apostles' quire:
The train of prophets in the song conspire.
Legions of martyrs in the chorus shine,
And vocal blood with vocal music join.
By these thy church, inspired by heavenly art,
Around the world maintains a second part,
And tunes her sweetest notes, O God, to thee,
The Father of unbounded majesty;
The Son, adored co-partner of thy seat,
And equal everlasting Paraclete.
Thou King of Glory, Christ, of the Most High,
Thou co-eternal filial Deity;
Thou who, to save the world's impending doom,
Vouchsafst to dwell within a virgin's womb;
Old tyrant Death disarmed, before thee flew
The bolts of heaven, and back the foldings drew,
To give access, and make thy faithful way;
From God's right hand thy filial beams display.
Thou art to judge the living and the dead;
Then spare those souls for whom thy veins have bled.
O take us up amongst thy bless'd above,
To share with them thy everlasting love.
Preserve, O Lord! thy people, and enhance
Thy blessing on thine own inheritance.
For ever raise their hearts, and rule their ways,
Each day we bless thee, and proclaim thy praise;
No age shall fail to celebrate thy name,
No hour neglect thy everlasting fame.
Preserve our souls, O Lord, this day from ill;
Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy still:
As we have hoped, do thou reward our pain;
We've hoped in thee--let not our hope be vain.
HYMN FOR ST. JOHN'S EVE.
O sylvan prophet! whose eternal fame
Echoes from Judah's hills and Jordan's stream;
The music of our numbers raise,
And tune our voices to thy praise.
A messenger from high Olympus came
To bear the tidings of thy life and name,
And told thy sire each prodigy
That Heaven designed to work in thee.
Hearing the news, and doubting in surprise,
His falt'ring speech in fettered accent dies;
But Providence, with happy choice,
In thee restored thy father's voice.
In the recess of Nature's dark abode,
Though still enclosed, yet knewest thou thy God;
Whilst each glad parent told and blessed
The secrets of each other's breast.
A characteristic of James's administration was rigid economy, not only
in ordinary matters, but towards his own partisans;--a wretched quality
in a prince, who was attempting a great and unpopular revolution both in
religion and politics, and ought, by his liberality, and even profusion,
to have attached the hearts and excited the hopes of those fiery and
unsettled spirits, who are ever foremost in times of national tumult.
Dryden, one of his most efficient and zealous supporters, and who had
taken the step which of all others was calculated to please James,
received only, as we have seen, after the interval of nearly a year from
that prince's accession, an addition of L100 to his yearly pension.
There may, however, on occasion of "The Hind and the Panther," the
controversy with Stillingfleet, and other works undertaken with an
express view to the royal interest, have been private communications of
James's favour. But Dryden, always ready to supply with hope the
deficiency of present possession, went on his literary course rejoicing.
A lively epistle to his friend Etherege, then envoy for James at
Ratisbon, shows the lightness and buoyancy of his spirits at this
supposed auspicious period.
An event, deemed of the utmost and most beneficial importance to the
family of Stuart, but which, according to their usual ill-fortune,
helped to precipitate their ruin, next called forth the public
gratulation of the poet-laureate. This was the birth of that "son of
prayers" prophesied in the dedication to Xavier, whom the English, with
obstinate incredulity, long chose to consider as an impostor, grafted
upon the royal line to the prejudice of the Protestant succession.
Dryden's "Britannia Rediviva" hailed, with the enthusiasm of a Catholic
and a poet, the very event which, removing all hope of succession in the
course of nature, precipitated the measures of the Prince of Orange,
exhausted the patience of the exasperated people, and led them violently
to extirpate a hated dynasty, which seemed likely to be protracted by a
new reign. The merits of the poem have been considered in the
introductory remarks prefixed in this edition.
Whatever hopes Dryden may have conceived in consequence of "The Hind and
the Panther," "Britannia Rediviva," and other works favourable to the
cause of James and of his religion, they were suddenly and for ever
blighted by the REVOLUTION. It cannot be supposed that the poet viewed
without anxiety the crisis while yet at a distance; and perhaps his own
tale of the Swallows may have begun to bear, even to the author, the air
of a prophecy. He is said, in an obscure libel, to have been among those
courtiers who encouraged, by frequent visits, the camp on Hounslow
Heath, upon which the king had grounded his hopes of subduing the
contumacy of his subjects, and repelling the invasion of the Prince of
Orange. If so, he must there have learned how unwilling the troops were
to second their monarch in his unpopular and unconstitutional attempts;
and must have sadly anticipated the event of a struggle between a king
and his whole people. When this memorable catastrophe had taken place,
our author found himself at once exposed to all the insult, calumny, and
sarcasm with which a successful party in politics never fail to
overwhelm their discomfited adversaries But, what he must have felt yet
more severely, the unpopularity of his religion and principles rendered
it not merely unsafe, but absolutely impossible, for him to make
retaliation His powers of satire, at this period, were of no more use to
Dryden than a sword to a man who cannot draw it; only serving to render
the pleasure of insulting him more poignant to his enemies, and the
necessity of passive submission more bitter to himself. Of the numerous
satires, libels, songs, parodies, and pasquinades, which solemnised the
downfall of Popery and of James, Dryden had not only some exclusively
dedicated to his case, but engaged a portion, more or less, of almost
every one which appeared. Scarce Father Petre, or the Papal envoy Adda,
themselves, were more distinguished, by these lampoons, than the
poet-laureate; the unsparing exertion of whose satirical powers, as well
as his unrivalled literary pre-eminence, had excited a strong party
against him among the inferior wits, whose political antipathy was
aggravated by ancient resentment and literary envy. An extract from one
of each kind may serve to show how very little wit was judged necessary
by Dryden's contemporaries to a successful attack upon him. Nor was
the "pelting of this pitiless storm" of abusive raillery the worst evil
to which our author was subjected. The religion which he professed
rendered him incapable of holding any office under the new government,
even if he could have bended his political principles to take the oaths
to William and Mary. We may easily believe that Dryden's old friend
Dorset, now lord high-chamberlain, felt repugnance to vacate the places
of poet-laureate and royal historiographer by removing the man in
England most capable of filling them; but the sacrifice was inevitable.
Dryden's own feelings, on losing the situation of poet-laureate, must
have been greatly aggravated by the selection of his despised opponent
Shadwell as his successor; a scribbler whom, in "Mac-Flecknoe," he had
himself placed pre-eminent in the regions of dulness, being now, so far
as royal mandate can arrange such precedence, raised in his stead as
chief among English poets. This very remarkable coincidence has led
several of Dryden's biographers, and Dr. Johnson among others, to
suppose, that the satire was actually written to ridicule Shadwell's
elevation to the honours of the laurel; though nothing is more certain
than that it was published while Dryden was himself laureate, and could
be hardly supposed to anticipate the object of his satire becoming his
successor. Shadwell, however, possessed merits with King William, which
were probably deemed by that prince of more importance than all the
genius of Shakespeare, Milton, and Dryden if it could have been combined
in one individual. He was a staunch Whig, and had suffered under the
former government, being "silenced as a non-conforming poet;" the doors
of the theatre closed against his plays; and, if he may himself be
believed, even his life endangered, not only by the slow process of
starving, but some more active proceeding of his powerful enemies.
Shadwell, moreover, had not failed to hail the dawn of the Revolution by
a congratulatory poem to the Prince of Orange, and to gratulate its
completion by another inscribed to Queen Mary on her arrival. In every
point of view, his principles, fidelity, and alacrity, claimed William's
countenance; he was presented to him by Dorset, not as the best poet,
but as the most honest man, politically speaking, among the
competitors; and accordingly succeeded to Dryden's situation as
poet-laureate and royal historiographer, with the appointment of L300 a
year. Shadwell, as might have been expected, triumphed in his success
over his great antagonist; but his triumph was expressed in strains
which showed he was totally unworthy of it.
Dryden, deprived by the Revolution of present possession and future
hope, was now reduced to the same, or a worse situation, than he had
occupied in the year of the Restoration, his income resting almost
entirely upon his literary exertions, his expenses increased by the
necessity of providing and educating his family, and the advantage of
his high reputation perhaps more than counterbalanced by the popular
prejudice against his religion and party. So situated, he patiently and
prudently bent to the storm which he could not resist; and though he
might privately circulate a few light pieces in favour of the exiled
family, as the "Lady's Song," and the translation of Pitcairn's
beautiful Epitaph on the Viscount of Dundee, it seems certain that
he made no formal attack on the government either in verse or prose.
Those who imputed to him the satires on the Revolution, called "_Suum
Cuique_," and "Tarquin and Tullia," did injustice both to his prudence
and his poetry. The last, and probably both satires, were written by
Mainwaring, who lived to be sorry for what he had done.
The theatre again became Dryden's immediate resource. Indeed, the very
first play Queen Mary attended was one of our poet's, which had been
prohibited during the reign of James II. But the revival of the "Spanish
Friar" could afford but little gratification to the author, whose
newly-adopted religion is so severely satirised in the person of Father
Dominic. Nor was this ill-fated representation doomed to afford more
pleasure to the personage by whom it was appointed. For the audience
applied the numerous passages, concerning the deposing the old king and
planting a female usurper on the throne, to the memorable change which
had just taken place; and all eyes were fixed upon Queen Mary, with an
expression which threw her into extreme confusion.
Dryden, after the Revolution, began to lay the foundation for a new
structure of fame and popularity in the tragedy of "Don Sebastian." This
tragedy, which has been justly regarded as the _chef-d'oeuvre_ of his
plays, was not, he has informed us, "huddled up in haste." The author
knew the circumstances in which he stood, while, as he expresses it, his
ungenerous enemies were taking advantage of the times to ruin his
reputation; and was conscious, that the full exertion of his genius was
necessary to secure a favourable reception from an audience prepossessed
against him and his tenets. Nor did he neglect to smooth the way, by
inscribing the piece to the Earl of Leicester, brother of Algernon
Sidney, who had borne arms against Charles in the civil war; and yet,
Whig or republican as he was, had taste and feeling enough to patronise
the degraded laureate and proscribed Catholic. The dedication turns upon
the philosophical and moderate use of political victory, the liberality
of considering the friend rather than the cause, the dignity of
forgiving and relieving the fallen adversary; themes, upon which the
eloquence of the suffering party is usually unbounded although sometimes
forgotten when they come again into power. With all this deprecatory
reasoning, Dryden does not recede, or hint at receding, one inch from
his principles, but concludes his preface with a resolution to adopt the
counsel of the classic:
"_Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito._"
The merits of this beautiful tragedy I have attempted to analyse in
another place, and at considerable length. It was brought forward in
1690 with great theatrical pomp. But with all these advantages, the
first reception of "Don Sebastian" was but cool; nor was it until
several retrenchments and alterations had been made, that it rose to the
high pitch in public favour which it maintained for many years, and
deserved to maintain for ever.
In the same year, "Amphitryon," in which Dryden displays his comic
powers to more advantage than anywhere, excepting in the "Spanish
Friar," was acted with great applause, calling forth the gratulations
even of Milbourne, who afterwards made so violent an attack upon the
translation of Virgil. The comedy was inscribed to Sir William Leveson
Gower, whose name, well known in the history of the Revolution, may be
supposed to have been invoked as a talisman against misconstructions, to
which Dryden's situation so peculiarly exposed him, and to which he
plainly alludes in the prologue. Our author's choice of this patron
was probably dictated by Sir William Gower's connection with the Earl of
Rochester, whose grand-daughter he had married.
Encouraged by the revival of his popularity, Dryden now ventured to
bring forward the opera of "King Arthur," originally designed as an
entertainment to Charles II; "Albion and Albanius" being written as a
sort of introductory masque upon the occasion. When we consider the
strong and even violent political tendency of that prefatory piece, we
may readily suppose, that the opera was originally written in a strain
very different from the present; and that much must have been softened,
altered, and erased, ere a play, designed to gratulate the discovery of
the Rye-house Plot, could, without hazard, be acted after the
Revolution. The odious, though necessary, task of defacing his own
labours, was sufficiently disgusting to the poet, who complains, that
"not to offend the present times, nor a government which has hitherto
protected me, I have been obliged so much to alter the first design, and
take away so many beauties from the writing, that it is now no more what
it was formerly, than the present ship of the Royal Sovereign, after so
often taking down and altering is the vessel it was at the first
building." Persevering in the prudent system of seeking patrons among
those whose patronage was rendered effectual by their influence with the
prevailing party, Dryden prefixed to "King Arthur" a beautiful
dedication to the Marquis of Halifax, to whose cautious and nice policy
he ascribes the nation's escape from the horrors of civil war, which
seemed impending in the latter years of Charles II; and he has not
failed, at the same time, to pay a passing tribute to the merits of his
original and good-humoured master. The music of "King Arthur" being
composed by Purcel, gave Dryden occasion to make that eminent musician
some well-deserved compliments which were probably designed as a
peace-offering for the injudicious preference given to Grabut in the
introduction to "Albion and Albanius." The dances were composed by
Priest; and the whole piece was eminently successful. Its good fortune,
however, was imputed, by the envious, to a lively song in the last
act, which had little or nothing to do with the business of the
piece. In this opera ended all the hopes which the world might entertain
of an epic poem from Dryden on the subject of King Arthur.
Our author was by no means so fortunate in "Cleomenes," his next
dramatic effort. The times were something changed since the Revolution
The Tories, who had originally contributed greatly to that event, had
repented them of abandoning the Stuart family, and, one after another,
were returning to their attachment to James. It is probable that this
gave new courage to Dryden, who although upon the accession of King
William he saw himself a member of an odious and proscribed sect, now
belonged to a broad political faction, which a variety of events was
daily increasing. Hence his former caution was diminished, and the
suspicion of his enemies increased in proportion. The choice of the
subject, the history of a Spartan prince exiled from his kingdom, and
waiting the assistance of a foreign monarch to regain it, corresponded
too nearly with that of the unfortunate James. The scene of a popular
insurrection, where the minds of a whole people were inflamed, was
liable to misinterpretation. In short, the whole story of the Spartan
Cleomenes was capable of being wrested to political and Jacobitic
purposes; and there wanted not many to aver, that to such purposes it
had been actually applied by Dryden. Neither was the state of our author
such at the time as to permit his pleading his own cause. The completion
of the piece having been interrupted by indisposition, was devolved upon
his friend Southerne, who revised and concluded the last act. The whispers
of the author's enemies in the meantime procured a prohibition, at least
a suspension, of the representation of "Cleomenes" from the lord
chamberlain. The exertions of Hyde, Earl of Rochester, who, although a
Tory, was possessed necessarily of some influence as maternal uncle to
the queen, procured a recall of this award against a play which was in
every respect truly inoffensive. But there was still a more insuperable
obstacle to its success. The plot is flat and unsatisfactory involving
no great event, and in truth being only the question, whether Cleomenes
should or should not depart upon an expedition, which appears far more
hazardous than remaining where he was. The grave and stoical character
of the hero is more suitable to the French than the English stage; nor
had the general conduct of the play that interest, or perhaps bustle,
which is necessary to fix the attention of the promiscuous audience of
London. In a theatre, where every man may, if he will, express his
dissatisfaction, in defiance of _beaux-esprits, nobles_, or
_mousquetaires_, that which is dull will seldom be long fashionable:
"Cleomenes" was accordingly coldly received. Dryden published it with a
dedication to Lord Rochester, and the Life of Cleomenes prefixed, as
translated from Plutarch by Creech, that it might appear how false those
reports were, which imputed to him the composing a Jacobite play.
Omitting, for the present, Dryden's intermediate employments, I hasten
to close his dramatic career, by mentioning, that "Love Triumphant," his
last play, was acted in 1692 with very bad success. Those who look over
this piece, which is in truth one of the worst our author ever wrote,
can be at no loss to discover sufficient reason for its condemnation.
The comic part approaches to farce, and the tragic unites the wild and
unnatural changes and counter-changes of the Spanish tragedy, with the
involutions of unnatural and incestuous passion, which the British
audience has been always averse to admit as a legitimate subject of
dramatic pity or terror. But it cannot be supposed that Dryden received
the failure with anything like an admission of its justice. He was a
veteran foiled in the last of his theatrical trials of skill, and
retreated forever from the stage, with expressions which transferred the
blame from himself to his judges; for, in the dedication to James, the
fourth Earl of Salisbury, a relation of Lady Elizabeth, and connected
with the poet by a similarity of religious and political opinions, he
declares, that the characters of the persons in the drama are truly
drawn, the fable not injudiciously contrived, the changes of fortune not
unartfully managed, and the catastrophe happily introduced: thus
leaving, were the author's opinion to be admitted as decisive, no
grounds upon which the critics could ground their opposition. The
enemies of Dryden, as usual, triumphed greatly in the fall of this
piece; and thus the dramatic career of Dryden began and closed with
This Section cannot be more properly concluded than with the list
which Mr. Malone has drawn out of Dryden's plays, with the respective
dates of their being acted and published; which is a correction and
enlargement of that subjoined by the author himself to the opera of
"Prince Arthur." Henceforward we are to consider Dryden as unconnected
with the stage.
PLAYS. Acted by Entered at Published
1. THE WILD GALLANT. C. The King's Aug. 7, 1667. 1669.
2. THE RIVAL LADIES. T.C. K.S. June 27, 1661. 1664.
3. THE INDIAN EMPEROR. T. K.S. May 26, 1665. 1667.
4. SECRET LOVE, OR K.S. Aug. 7, 1667. 1668.
THE MAIDEN QUEEN. C.
5. SIR MARTIN MAR-ALL. C. The Duke June 24, 1668. 1668.
6. THE TEMPEST. C. D.S. Jan. 8, 1669-70. 1670.
7. AN EVENING'S LOVE, OR K.S. Nov. 20, 1668. Q also
THE MOCK ASTROLOGER. C. 1668.
8. TYRANNIC LOVE, OR K.S. July 14, 1669 1670.
THE ROYAL MARTYR, T.
9.} THE CONQUEST OF K.S. Feb. 20, 1670-1 1672.
10.} GRANADA, TWO PARTS. T.
11. MARRIAGE A-LA-MODE. C. K.S. Mar. 18, 1672-3. 1673.
12. THE ASSIGNATION OR, K.S. Mar. 18, 1672-3. 1673.
LOVE IN A NUNNERY. C.
13. AMBOYNA. T. K.S. June 26, 1673. 1673.
14. The State of Innocence. O. April 17, 1674. 1674.
15. Aureng-Zebe T. K.S. Nov. 29, 1675. 1676.
16. All For Love. T. K.S. Jan. 31, 1677-8. 1678.
17. The Kind Keeper, or
Mr. Limberham. C. D.S. ................ 1678.
18. Oedipus. T. D.S. ................ 1679.
19. Troilus and Cressida. T. D.S. April 11, 1679. 1679.
20. The Spanish Friar. T.C. D.S. ................ 1681.
21. The Duke of Guise. T. The United ................ 1683.
22. Albion and Albanius. O. U.C. ................ 1685.
23. Don Sebastian. T. U.C. ................ 1690.
24. Amphitryon. C. U.C. ................ 1690.
25. King Arthur. O. U.C. ................ 1691.
26. Cleomenes. T. U.C. ................ 1692.
27. Love Triumphant. T.C. U.C. ................ 1694.
 It formed the machine on which Iris appeared (vol. vii.). I have
been favoured by Samuel Egerton Brydges, Esq., with the following
"Extract from the Journal of Captain Christopher Gunman, commander of
his Royal Highness's yacht the Mary, lying in Calais pier, Tuesday, 18th
"March 18th. It was variable cloudy weather: this morning about seven
o'clock saw in the firmament three suns, with two demi-rainbows; and
all within one whole rainbow, in form and shape as here pourtrayed:
The sun towards the left hand bore east, and that on the right hand
bore south-east of me. I did sit and draw it as well as the time and
place would permit me; for it was seen in its full form about the
space of half an hour; but part of the rainbow did see above two
hours. It appeared first at three-quarters past six, and was
over-clouded at a quarter past seven. The wind north-by-west."
Mr. Gunman, the descendant of the captain, has lately had a picture on
the subject painted by Serres, the marine painter; which makes an
interesting history-piece. It represents the phenomenon in the heavens--
the harbour of Calais--and the yacht lying off it, etc. etc.
 This tradition is thus critically examined, and proved by Mr.
"From a letter written by King James to the Prince of Orange, June 15,
1685, it appears, that though the Duke of Monmouth landed at Lyme, in
Dorsetshire, on Thursday evening, June 11th, an account of his landing
did not reach the King at Whitehall till _Saturday_ morning the 13th.
The House of Commons, having met on that day at the usual hour, between
nine and ten o'clock, the news was soon afterwards communicated to them
by a Message from the King, delivered by the Earl of Middleton (to whom
Etheredge afterwards wrote two poetical Epistles from Ratisbon). Having
voted and drawn up an Address to his Majesty, desiring him to take care
of his royal person, they adjourned to _four o'clock_; in which interval
they went to Whitehall, presented their Address, and then met again.
_Com. Jour._ vol. ix. p. 735. About this time, therefore, it may be
presumed, the news transpired, and in an hour afterwards probably
reached the Theatre, where an audience was assembled at the
representation of the opera of 'Albion and Albanius;' for pays at that
time began at four o'clock. It seems from Mr. Luttrell's MS. note, that
the first representation of this opera was on Saturday the 6th of June;
and Downes (_Roscius Ang._ p. 40) says, that in consequence of
Monmouth's invasion, it was only performed _six_ times; so that the
sixth representation was, without doubt, on Saturday, the 13th of June.
An examination of dates is generally fatal to tales of this kind: here,
however, they certainly support the tradition mentioned in the text."--
_Life of Dryden_, page 188.
 The expressions in the dedication are such as to preclude all idea
but of profound respect: "Sir, The value I have ever had for your
writings, makes me impatient to peruse all treatises that are crowned
with your name; whereof, the last that fell into my hands was your
'_Religio Laici_;' which expresses as well your great judgment in, as
value for, religion: a thing too rarely found in this age among
gentlemen of your parts; and, I am confident (with the blessing of God
upon your endeavours), not unlikely to prove of great advantage to the
public; since, as Mr. Herbert well observes,
"A verse may find him who a sermon flies,
And turn delight into a sacrifice."
 Blount preserves indeed that affectation of respect for the
doctrines of the established church which decency imposes; but the
tendency of his work is to decry all revelation. It is founded on the
noted work of Lord Herbert of Cherbury, "_De Veritate_."
 "I was unable to resist the weight of historical evidence, that
within the same period most of the loading doctrines of Popery were
already introduced in theory and practice; nor was my conclusion absurd,
that miracles are the test of truth, and that the Church must be
orthodox and pure, which was so often approved by the visible
interposition of the Deity. The marvellous tales which are so boldly
attested by the Basils and Chrysostoms, the Austins and Jeroms,
compelled me to embrace the superior merits of celibacy, the institution
of the monastic life, the use of the sign of the cross, of holy oil, and
even of images, the invocation of saints, the worship of relics, the
rudiments of purgatory in prayers for the dead, and the tremendous
mystery of the sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ, which
insensibly swelled into the prodigy of transubstantiation. In these
dispositions, and already more than half a convert, I formed an unlucky
intimacy with a young gentleman of our college, whose name I shall
spare. With a character less resolute, Mr. ---- had imbibed the same
religious opinions; and some Popish books, I know not through what
channel, were conveyed into his possession. I read, I applauded, I
believed; the English translations of two famous works of Bossuet,
Bishop of Meaux, the 'Exposition of the Catholic Doctrine,' and the
'History of the Protestant Variations,' achieved my conversion; and I
surely fell by a noble hand. I have since examined the originals with a
more discerning eye, and shall not hesitate to pronounce, that Bossuet
is indeed a master of all the weapons of controversy. In the
'Exposition,' a specious apology, the orator assumes, with consummate
art, the tone of candour and simplicity; and the ten-horned monster is
transformed, at his magic touch, into the milk-white Hind, who must be
loved as soon as she is seen. In the 'History,' a bold and well-aimed
attack, he displays, with a happy mixture of narrative and argument, the
faults and follies, the changes and contradictions of our first
reformers: whose variations (as he dexterously contends) are the mark of
historical error, while the perpetual unity of the Catholic Church is
the sign and test of infallible truth. To my present feelings, it seems
incredible, that I should ever believe that I believed in
transubstantiation. But my conqueror oppressed me with the sacramental
words, '_Hoc est corpus meum_,' and dashed against each other the
figurative half-meanings of the Protestant sects; every objection was
resolved into omnipotence; and, after repeating at St. Mary's the
Athanasian creed, I humbly acquiesced in the mystery of the real
"To take up half on trust, and half to try,
Name it not faith, but bungling bigotry,
Both knave and fool, the merchant we may call,
To pay great sums, and to compound the small;
For who would break with heaven, and would not break for all?"
GIBBON'S _Memoirs of his own Life_.
 In a libel in the "State Poems," vol. iii., Dryden is made to say,
"One son turned me, I turned the other two,
But had not an indulgence, sir, like you"--Page 244
 Vol. xviii.
 [Grounds have already been shown for thinking that Scott is mistaken
here. I owe it to an accomplished critic of my former work in the
_Saturday Review_ to take more notice than I did in that work of
Evelyn's entry in his diary, January 19, 1686. "Dryden, the famous
play-writer and his two sons, and Mrs. Nelly, miss to the late king,
were said to go to mass. Such proselytes are no great loss to the
Church." I need only say, first, that it is obviously a mere rumour;
secondly, that it is known to be false as to Nell Gwynne, who abode in
that purity of the Protestant faith which had already differentiated her
from others of Charles's favourites. As Evelyn's anonymous informer was
wrong in one part of his evidence, the error vitiates the other. It may
perhaps be noted here that Scott's positive assertion that Lady
Elizabeth had been converted before her husband is based only on a
supposition of Malone's.--ED.]
 The grant bears this honourable consideration, which I extract from
Mr. Malone's work: "Pat. 2. Jac. p. 4. n. 1. Know ye, that we, for and
in consideration of the many good and acceptable services done by John
Dryden, Master of Arts, to our late dearest brother King Charles the
Second, as also to us done and performed, and taking notice of the
learning and eminent abilities of the said J.D." etc.
 "Absalom and Achitophel," Part i. vol. ix.
 I am indebted for this anecdote to Mr. Octavius Gilchrist, the
editor of the poems of the witty Bishop Corbet. [No solid foundation for
this tradition is known, though there is a certain circumstantial
verisimilitude about it. Rushton was and is in the midst of forest
scenery such as the poem describes, and it had been the seat of the
persecuted Roman Catholic family of Tresham, some of whose buildings,
covered with emblems of their faith, survive to this day. Here perhaps
maybe mentioned another of the few local traditions respecting Dryden,
one too which has, I think, escaped mention as a rule hitherto. It was
brought to my notice by my friends Mrs. Hubbard and Dr. Sebastian Evans
that there is a "Dryden's Walk" at Croxall near Lichfield. I consulted
guide-books and county histories in vain. But Lysons' "Magna Britannia"
informed me that Croxall passed from the Curzons to the Sackvilles early
in the seventeenth century, that the family occasionally lived there,
and that Dryden is traditionally said to have visited Dorset there.
Croxall is now a station on the Midland Railway between Burton and
 See a long note upon this subject, vol. x.
 That Prior was discontented with his share of preferment, appears
from the verses entitled, "Earl Robert's Mice," and an angry
"My friend Charles Montague's preferred;
Nor would I have it long observed,
That one mouse eats while t'other's starved.'
There is a popular tradition, but no farther to be relied on than as
showing the importance attached to the "Town and Country Mouse," which
says, that Dorset, in presenting Montague to King William, said, "I have
brought a _Mouse_ to wait on your Majesty." "I will make a man of him,"
said the king; and settled a pension of L500 upon the fortunate
 The passage, as quoted at length by Mr. Malone, removes an
obscurity which puzzled former biographers, at least as far as anything
can be made clear, which must ultimately depend upon such clumsy diction
as the following. "It (the answer of Burnet) will perhaps be a little
longer a digesting to Mons. Varillas, than it was a preparing to me. One
proof will quickly appear, whether the world is so satisfied with his
Answer, as upon that to return to any thoughts of his history; for I
have been informed from England, that a gentleman, who is known both for
poetry and other things, had spent three months in translating M.
Varillas's History; but that, as soon as my Reflections appeared, he
discontinued his labour, finding the credit of his author was gone. Now,
if he thinks it is recovered by his answer, he will perhaps go on with
his translation; and this may be, for aught I know, as good an
entertainment for him as the conversation that he had set on between the
Hinds and Panthers, and all the rest of animals, for whom M. Varillas
may serve well enough for an author: and this history and that poem are
such extraordinary things of their kind, that it will be but suitable to
see the author of the worst poem, become likewise the translator of the
worst history, that the age has produced. If his grace and his wit
improve both proportionably, he will hardly find that he has gained much
by the change he has made, from having no religion to choose one of the
worst. It is true, he had something to sink from, in matter of wit; but
as for his morals, it is scarce possible for him to grow a worse man
than he was. He has lately wreaked his malice on me for spoiling his
three months' labour; but in it he has done me all the honour that any
man can receive from him, which is to be railed at by him. If I had
ill-nature enough to prompt me to wish a very bad wish for him, it
should be, that he would go on and finish his translation. By that it
will appear, whether the English nation, which is the most competent
judge in this matter, has, upon the seeing our debate, pronounced in M.
Varillas's favour or in mine. It is true, Mr. D. will suffer a little by
it; but at least it will serve to keep him in from other extravagancies;
and if he gains little honour by this work, yet he cannot lose so much
by it, as he has done by his last employment."
 In the "Staple of News," act iii. scene 2, Jonson talks of the
miracles done by the Jesuits in Japan and China, as current articles of
 In the Dedication to the Queen, this is stated with a gravity
suitable to the occasion. "The reverend author of this Life, in his
dedication to his Most Christian Majesty, affirms, that France was owing
for him to the intercession of St. Francis Xavier. That Anne of Austria,
his mother, after twenty years of barrenness, had recourse to heaven, by
her fervent prayers, to draw down that blessing, and addressed her
devotions, in a particular manner, to this holy apostle of the Indies. I
know not, madam, whether I may presume to tell the world, that your
Majesty has chosen this great saint for one of your celestial patrons,
though I am sure you will never be ashamed of owning so glorious an
intercessor; not even in a country where the doctrine of the holy church
is questioned, and those religious addresses ridiculed. Your Majesty, I
doubt not, has the inward satisfaction of knowing, that such pious
prayers have not been unprofitable to you; and the nation may one day
come to understand, how happy it will be for them to have a son of
prayers ruling over them."
 Vol. xvi.
 "In the Bodleian Catalogue another work is attributed to our
author, on very slight grounds: 'An Exposition of the Doctrine of the
Catholic Church,' translated from Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux, and
published at London in 1685. The only authority for attributing this
translation to Dryden, should seem to have been the following note in
Bishop Barlow's handwriting, at the bottom of the title-page of the copy
belonging to the Bodleian Library:
"'By Mr. Dryden, then only a poet, now a papist too: may be, he was a
papist before, but not known till of late.'
"This book had belonged to Bishop Barlow, who died in 1691."--MALONE.
 "Before the beginning of every canonical hour, he always said the
hymn of '_Veni, Creator Spiritus_;' and it was observed that while he
said it, his countenance was enlightened, as if the Holy Ghost, whom he
invoked, was visibly descended on him."--Vol. xvi.
[I have received a valuable communication as to Dryden's Hymns,
which will be noticed in its proper place.--ED.]
 This line alone speaks Dryden in every syllable.
 I subjoin the original hymn, which is supposed to have been
composed by Lactantius.
_Ut queant, laxis resonare fibris,
Mira gestorum, famuli, tuorum,
Solve polluti labii meatum,
_Nunciens, celso veniens Olympo,
Te, Patri, magnum fore nasciturum,
Nomen, et vitae seriem gerendae,
_Ille promissi dubius superni,
Perdidit promptae modulos loquelae;
Sed reformasti gemitus peremptae
_Ventris abstruso recubans cubili,
Senseras regem, thalamo manentem;
Hinc Parens nati meritis uterque
 [Some matter concerning Dryden and Etherege will find, perhaps,
most appropriate place in commenting on this Poem, vol. xi.--ED.]
 Vol. x.
"Here duly swarm prodigious wights,
And strange variety of sights,
As ladies lewd, and foppish knights,
Priests, poets, pimps, and parasites;
Which now we'll spare, and only mention
The hungry bard that writes for pension;
Old Squib (who's sometimes here, I'm told),
That oft has with his prince made bold,
Called the late king a saunt'ring cully,
To magnify the Gallic bully,
Who lately put a senseless banter
Upon the world, with Hind and Panther,
Making the beasts and birds o'the wood
Doubt, what he ne'er understood,
Deep secrets in philosophy,
And mysteries in theology,
All sung in wretched poetry;
Which rumbling piece is as much farce all,
As his true mirror, the "Rehearsal;"
For which he has been soundly banged,
But ha'n't his just reward till hanged."
_Poem on the Camp at Hounslow_.
 Extracts from "The Address of John Dryden, Laureat, to his Highness
the Prince of Orange:"
"In all the hosannas our whole world's applause,
Illustrious champion of our church and laws!
Accept, great Nassau! from unworthy me,
Amongst the adoring crowd, a bonded knee;
Nor scruple, sir, to hear my echoing lyre,
Strung, tuned, and joined to the universal choir;
From my suspected mouth thy glories told,
A known out-lyer from the English fold."
After renewing the old reproach about Cromwell:
"If thus all this I could unblushing write,
Fear not that pen that shall thy praise indite,
When high-born blood my adoration draws,
Exalted glory and unblemished cause;
A theme so all divine my muse shall wing,
What is't for thee, great prince, I will not sing?
No bounds shall stop my Pegasean flight,
I'll spot my Hind, and make my Panther white.
* * * * *
But if, great prince, my feeble strength shall fail,
Thy theme I'll to my successors entail;
My heirs the unfinished subject shall complete:
I have a son, and he, by all that's great,
That very son (and trust my oaths, I swore
As much to my great master James before)
Shall, by his sire's example, Rome renounce,
For he, young stripling, has turned but once;
That Oxford nursling, that sweet hopeful boy,
His father's and that once Ignatian joy,
Designed for a new Bellarmin Goliah,
Under the great Gamaliel, Obadiah!
This youth, great sir, shall your fame's trumpets blow,
And soar when my dull wings shall flag below.
* * * * *
Why should I blush to turn, when my defence
And plea's so plain?--for if Omnipotence
Be the highest attribute that heaven can boast,
That's the truest church that heaven resembles most.
The tables then are turned: and 'tis confest,
The strongest and the mightiest is the best:
In all my changes I'm on the right side,
And by the same great reason justified.
When the bold Crescent late attacked the Cross,
Resolved the empire of the world to engross,
Had tottering Vienna's walls but failed,
And Turkey over Christendom prevailed,
Long ere this I had crossed the Dardanello,
And reigned the mighty Mahomet's hail fellow;
Quitting my duller hopes, the poor renown
Of Eton College, or a Dublin gown,
And commenced graduate in the grand divan,
Had reigned a more immortal Mussulman."
The lines which follow are taken from "The Deliverance," a poem to the
Prince of Orange, by a Person of Quality. 9th February, 1688-9.
"Alas! how cruel is a poet's fate!
Or who indeed would be a laureate,
That must or fall or turn with every change of state?
Poor bard! if thy hot zeal for loyal Wem[29a]
Forbids thy tacking, sing his requiem;
Sing something, prithee, to ensure thy thumb;
Nothing but conscience strikes a poet dumb.
Conscience, that dull chimera of the schools,
A learned imposition upon fools,
Thou, Dryden, art not silenced with such stuff,
Egad thy conscience has been large enough.
But here are loyal subjects still, and foes,
Many to mourn, for many to oppose.
Shall thy great master, thy almighty Jove,
Whom thou to place above the gods bust strove,
Shall be from David's throne so early fall,
And laureate Dryden not one tear let fall;
Nor sings the bard his exit in one poor pastoral?
Thee fear confines, thee, Dryden, fear confines,
And grief, not shame, stops thy recanting lines.
Our Damon is as generous as great,
And well could pardon tears that love create,
Shouldst thou, in justice to thy vexed soul,
Not sing to him but thy lost lord condole.
But silence is a damning error, John;
I'd or my master or myself bemoan."
[29a] _Lord Jeffries, Baron of Wem._
 In the dedication of "Bury-Fair" to his patron the Earl of Dorset,
he claims the merit due to his political constancy and sufferings: "I
never could recant in the worst of times, when my ruin was designed, and
my life was sought, and for near ten years I was kept from the exercise
of that profession which had afforded me a competent subsistence; and
surely I shall not now do it, when there is a liberty of speaking common
sense, which, though not long since forbidden, is now grown current."
 See Cibber or Shiels's Life of Shadwell.
"These wretched poetitos, who got praise
For writing most confounded loyal plays,
With viler, coarser jests than at Bear-garden,
And silly Grub-street songs worse than Tom-farthing.
If any noble patriot did excel,
His own and country's rights defending well,
These yelping curs were straight loo'd on to bark,
On the deserving man to set a mark.
These abject, fawning parasites and knaves,
Since they were such, would have all others slaves.
'Twas precious loyalty that was thought fit
To atone for want of honesty and wit.
No wonder common-sense was all cried down,
And noise and nonsense swaggered through the town.
Our author, then opprest, would have you know it,
Was silenced for a nonconformist poet;
In those hard times he bore the utmost test,
And now he swears he's loyal as the best.
Now, sirs, since common-sense has won the day,
Be kind to this, as to his last year's play.
His friends stood firmly to him when distressed;
He hopes the number is not now decreased.
He found esteem from those he valued most;
Proud of his friends, he of his foes could boast."
_Prologue to Bury-Fair._
 Vol. xi.
 Introduct. to "Spanish Friar," vol. vi.
 Vol. vii.
 "A play well-dressed, you know, is half in half, as a great writer
says. The Morocco dresses when new, formerly for 'Sebastian,' they say,
enlivened the play as much as the 'pudding and dumpling' song did
Merlin."--_The Female Wits_, a comedy by Mountfort.
"The labouring bee, when his sharp sting is gone,
Forgets his golden work, and turns a drone:
Such is a satire, when you take away
That rage, in which his noble vigour lay.
What gain you by not suffering him to tease ye?
He neither can offend you now, nor please ye.
The honey-bag and venom lay so near,
That both together you resolved to tear;
And lost your pleasure to secure your fear.
How can he show his manhood, if you bind him
To box, like boys, with one hand tied behind him?
This is plain levelling of wit; in which
The poor has all the advantage, not the rich.
The blockhead stands excused, for wanting sense;
And wits turn blockheads in their own defence."
 [Transcriber's note: "See page 251" in original. This approximates
to paragraphs preceding reference  in text, Section VI.]
 [Transcriber's note: "See page 253" in original. This approximates
to paragraphs preceding reference  in text, Section VI.]
 [Transcriber's note: "See a preceding note, p. 300" in original.
This note is Footnote 37 above.]
 For example, in a Session of the Poets, under the fictitious name
of Matthew Coppinger, Dryden is thus irreverently introduced:
"A reverend grisly elder first appeared,
With solemn pace through the divided herd;
Apollo, laughing at his clumsy mien,
Pronounced him straight the poets' alderman.
His labouring muse did many years excel
In ill inventing, and translating well,
Till 'Love Triumphant' did the cheat reveal.
* * * * *
So when appears, midst sprightly births, a sot,
Whatever was the other offspring's lot,
This we are sure was lawfully begot."
 [This list requires a certain amount of correction and completion.
In the Appendix to the present edition (vol. xviii.) a separate article
will be given to it.--ED.]
_State of Dryden's Connections in Society after the Revolution--Juvenal
and Persius--Smaller Pieces--Eleonora--Third Miscellany--Virgil--Ode to
St. Cecilia--Dispute with Milbourne--With Blackmore--Fables--The
Author's Death and Funeral--His private Character--Notices of his
The evil consequences of the Revolution upon Dryden's character and
fortunes began to abate sensibly within a year or two after that event.
It is well known, that King William's popularity was as short-lived as
it had been universal. All parties gradually drew off from the king,
under their ancient standards. The clergy returned to their maxims of
hereditary right, the Tories to their attachment to the house of Stuart,
the Whigs to their jealousy of the royal authority. Dryden, we have
already observed, so lately left in a small and detested party, was now
among multitudes who, from whatever contradictory motives, were joined
in opposition to the government and some of his kinsmen; particularly
with John Driden of Chesterton, his first cousin; with whom, till his
death, he lived upon terms of uninterrupted friendship. The influence of
Clarendon and Rochester, the Queen's uncles, were, we have seen, often
exerted in the poet's favour; and through them, he became connected with
the powerful families with which they were allied. Dorset, by whom he
had been deprived of his office, seems to have softened this harsh,
though indispensable, exertion of authority, by a liberal present; and
to his bounty Dryden had frequently recourse in cases of emergency.
Indeed, upon one occasion it is said to have been administered in a mode
savouring more of ostentation than delicacy; for there is a tradition
that Dryden and Tom Brown, being invited to dine with the lord
chamberlain, found under their covers, the one a bank-note for L100, the
other for L50. I have already noticed, that these pecuniary benefactions
were not held so degrading in that age as at present; and, probably,
many of Dryden's opulent and noble friends, took, like Dorset,
occasional opportunities of supplying wants, which neither royal
munificence, nor the favour of the public, now enabled the poet fully to
If Dryden's critical empire over literature was at any time interrupted
by the mischances of his political party, it was in _abeyance_ for a
very short period; since, soon after the Revolution, he appears to have
regained, and maintained till his death, that sort of authority in
Will's coffeehouse, to which we have frequently had occasion to allude.
His supremacy, indeed, seems to have been so effectually established,
that a "pinch out of Dryden's snuff-box" was equal to taking a degree
in that academy of wit. Among those by whom it was frequented, Southerne
and Congreve were principally distinguished by Dryden's friendship. His
intimacy with the former, though oddly commenced, seems soon to have
ripened into such sincere friendship, that the aged poet selected
Southerne to finish "Cleomenes," and addressed to him an epistle of
condolence on the failure of "The Wives' Excuse," which, as he
delicately expresses it, "was with a kind civility dismissed" from the
scene. This was indeed an occasion in which even Dryden could tell, from
experience, how much the sympathy of friends was necessary to soothe the
injured feelings of an author. But Congreve seems to have gained yet
further than Southerne upon Dryden's friendship. He was introduced to
him by his first play, the celebrated "Old Bachelor," being put into the
poet's hands to be revised. Dryden, after making a few alterations to
fit it for the stage, returned it to the author with the high and just
commendation that it was the best first play he had ever seen. In truth,
it was impossible that Dryden could be insensible to the brilliancy of
Congreve's comic dialogue, which has never been equalled by any English
dramatist, unless by Mr. Sheridan. Less can be said for the tragedies of
Southerne, and for "The Mourning Bride." Although these pieces contain
many passages of great interest, and of beautiful poetry, I know not but
they contributed more than even the subsequent homilies of Rowe, to
chase natural and powerful expression of passion from the English stage,
and to sink it into that maudlin, and affected, and pedantic style of
tragedy, which haunted the stage till Shakespeare awakened at the call
of Garrick. "The Fatal Marriage" of Southerne is an exception to this
false taste; for no one who has seen Mrs. Siddons in Isabella, can deny
Southerne the power of moving the passions, till amusement becomes
bitter and almost insupportable distress. But these observations are
here out of place. Addison paid an early tribute to Dryden's fame, by
the verses addressed to him on his translations. Among Dryden's less
distinguished intimates, we observe Sir Henry Shere, Dennis the critic,
Moyle, Motteux, Walsh, who lived to distinguish the youthful merit of
Pope, and other men of the second rank in literature. These, as his
works testify, he frequently assisted with prefaces, occasional verses,
or similar contributions. But among our author's followers and admirers,
we must not reckon Swift, although related to him, and now coming
into notice. It is said, that Swift had subjected to his cousin's
perusal, some of those performances, entitled _Odes_, which appear in
the seventh volume of the last edition of his works. Even the eye of
Dryden was unable to discover the wit and the satirist in the clouds of
incomprehensible pindaric obscurity in which he was enveloped; and the
aged bard pronounced the hasty, and never to be pardoned sentence,--
"Cousin Swift, you will never be a poet." A doom which he, on whom it
was passed, attempted to repay, by repeated, although impotent, attacks
upon the fame of Dryden, everywhere scattered through his works. With
the exception of Swift, no author of eminence, whose labours are still
in request, has ventured to assail the poetical fame of Dryden.
Shortly after the Revolution, Dryden had translated several satires of
Juvenal; and calling in the aid of his two sons, of Congreve, Creech,
Tate, and others, he was enabled, in 1692, to give a complete version
both of that satirist, and of Persius. In this undertaking he himself
bore a large share, translating the whole of Persius, with the first,
third, sixth, tenth, and sixteenth satires of Juvenal. To this version
is prefixed the noted Essay on Satire, inscribed to the Earl of Dorset
and Middlesex. In that treatise, our author exhibits a good deal of that
sort of learning which was in fashion among the French critics; and, I
suspect, was contented rather to borrow something from them, than put
himself to the trouble of compiling more valuable materials. Such is the
disquisition concerning the origin of the word _Satire_, which is
chiefly extracted from Casaubon, Dacier, and Rigault. But the poet's own
incidental remarks upon the comparative merits of Horace, Juvenal, and
Persius, his declamation against the abuse of satire, his incidental
notices respecting epic poetry, translation, and English literature in
general, render this introduction highly valuable.
Without noticing the short prefaces to Walsh's "Essay upon Woman," a
meagre and stiff composition, and to Sir Henry Shere's wretched
translation of Polybius, published in 1691 and 1692, we hasten to the
elegy on the Countess of Abingdon, entitled Eleonora. This lady died
suddenly, 31st May 1691, in a ball-room in her own house, just then
prepared for an entertainment. The disconsolate husband, who seems to
have been a patron of the Muses, not satisfied with the volunteer
effusions of some minor poets, employed a mutual friend to engage Dryden
to compose a more beautiful tribute to his consort's memory. The poet,
it would seem, neither knew the lord nor the lady, but was doubtless
propitiated upon the mournful occasion; nor was the application and
fee judged more extraordinary than that probably offered, on the same
occasion, to the divine who was to preach the Countess's funeral sermon.
The leading and most characteristic features of the lady's character
were doubtless pointed out to our author as subjects for illustration;
yet so difficult is it, even for the best poet, to feign a sorrow which
he feels not, or to describe with appropriate and animated colouring a
person whom he has never seen, that Dryden's poem resembles rather an
abstract panegyric on an imaginary being, than an elegy on a real
character. The elegy was published early in 1692.
In 1693, Tonson's Third Miscellany made its appearance, with a
dedication to Lord Ratcliffe, eldest son of the Earl of Derwentwater,
who was himself a pretender to poetry, though our author thought so
slightly of his attempts in that way, that he does not even deign to
make them enter into his panegyric, but contents himself with saying,
"what you will be hereafter, may be more than guessed by what you are at
present." It is probable that the rhyming peer was dissatisfied with
Dryden's unusual economy of adulation; at least he disappointed some
expectations which the poet and bookseller seem to have entertained of
his liberality. This dedication indicates, that a quarrel was
commenced between our author and the critic Rymer. It appears from a
passage in a letter to Tonson, that Rymer had spoken lightly of him in
his last critique (probably in the short view of tragedy), and that the
poet took this opportunity, as he himself expresses it, to snarl again.
He therefore acquaints us roundly, that the corruption of a poet was the
generation of a critic; exults a little over the memory of Rymer's
"Edgar," a tragedy just reeking from damnation; and hints at the
difference which the public is likely to experience between the present
royal historiographer and him whose room he occupied. In his epistle to
Congreve, alluding to the same circumstance of Rymer's succeeding to the
office of historiographer, as Tate did to the laurel, on the death of
Thomas Shadwell, in 1692, Dryden has these humorous lines:
"O that your brows my laurel had sustained!
Well had I been deposed, if you had reigned:
The father had descended for the son;
For only you are lineal to the throne.
Thus, when the state one Edward did depose,
A greater Edward in his room arose:
But now not I, but poetry, is cursed;
For Tom the second reigns like Tom the first.
But let them not mistake my patron's part,
Nor call his charity their own desert."
From the letter to Tonson above referred to, it would seem that the
dedication of the Third Miscellany gave offence to Queen Mary, being
understood to reflect upon her government, and that she had commanded
Rymer to return to the charge, by a criticism on Dryden's plays. But the
breach does not appear to have become wider; and Dryden has elsewhere
mentioned Rymer with civility.
The Third Miscellany contained, of Dryden's poetry, a few songs, the
first book, with part of the ninth and sixteenth books of the
Metamorphoses, and the parting of Hector and Andromache, from the Iliad.
It was also to have had the poem of Hero and Leander, from the Greek;
but none such appeared, nor is it clear whether Dryden ever executed the
version, or only had it in contemplation. The contribution, although
ample, was not satisfactory to old Jacob Tonson, who wrote on the
subject a most mercantile expostulatory letter to Dryden, which is
fortunately the minutiae of a literary bargain in the 17th century.
Tonson, with reference to Dryden having offered a strange bookseller six
hundred lines for twenty guineas, enters into a question in the rule of
three, by which he discovers, and proves, that for fifty guineas he has
only 1446 lines, which he seems to take more unkindly, as he had not
_counted_ the lines until he had paid the money; from all which Jacob
infers, that Dryden ought, out of generosity, at least to throw him in
something to the bargain, especially as he had used him more kindly in
Juvenal, which, saith the said Jacob, is not reckoned so easy to
translate as Ovid. What weight was given to this supplication does not
appear; probably very little, for the translations were not extended,
and as to getting back any part of the copy-money, it is not probable
Tonson's most sanguine expectation ever reached that point. Perhaps the
songs were thrown in as a make-weight. There was a Fourth Miscellany
published in 1694; but to this Dryden only gave a version of the third
Georgic, and his Epistle to Sir Godfrey Kneller, the requital of a copy
of the portrait of Shakespeare.
In 1963, Dryden addressed the beautiful lines to Congreve, on the cold
reception of his "Double Dealer." He was himself under a similar cloud,
from the failure of "Love Triumphant," and therefore in a fit mood to
administer consolation to his friend. The epistle contains, among other
striking passages, the affecting charge of the care of his posthumous
fame, which Congreve did not forget when Dryden was no more.
But, independently of occasional exertions, our author, now retired from
the stage, had bent his thoughts upon one great literary task, the
translation of Virgil. This weighty and important undertaking was
probably suggested by the experience of Tonson, the success of whose
"Miscellanies" had taught him the value placed by the public on Dryden's
translations from the classics. From hints thrown out by contemporary
scheme was meditated, even before 1964; but in that year the poet, in a
letter to Dennis, speaks of it as under his immediate contemplation. The
names of Virgil and Dryden were talismans powerful to arrest the eyes of
all that were literary in England, upon the progress of the work. Mr.
Malone has recorded the following particulars concerning it, with pious
"Dr. Johnson has justly remarked, that the nation seemed to consider its
honour interested in the event. Mr. Gilbert Dolben gave him the various
editions of his author: Dr. Knightly Chetwood furnished him with the
life of Virgil, and the Preface to the Pastorals; and Addison supplied
the arguments of the several books, and an Essay on the Georgics. The
first lines of this great poet which he translated, he wrote with a
diamond on a pane of glass in one of the windows of Chesterton House, in
Huntingdonshire, the residence of his kinsman and namesake, John Driden,
Esq. The version of the first Georgic, and a great part of the last
Aeneid, was made at Denham Court, in Buckinghamshire, the seat of Sir
William Bowyer, Baronet; and the seventh AEneid was translated at
Burleigh, the noble mansion of the Earl of Exeter. These circumstances,
which must be acknowledged to be of no great importance, I yet have
thought it proper to record, because they will for ever endear those
places to the votaries of the Muses, and add to them a kind of
celebrity, which neither the beauties of nature, nor the exertions of
art, can bestow."
Neither was the liberality of the nation entirely disproportioned to the
general importance attached to the translation of Virgil, by so eminent
a poet. The researches of Mr. Malone have ascertained, in some degree,
the terms. There were two classes of subscribers, the first set of whom
paid five guineas apiece to adorn the work with engravings; beneath each
of which, in due and grateful remembrance, was blazoned the arms of a
subscriber: this class amounted to one hundred and one persons, a list
of whom appears in this edition, in vol. xiii., and presents an
assemblage of noble names, few of whom are distinguished more to their
credit than by the place they there occupy. The second subscribers were
two hundred and fifty in number, at two guineas each. But from these
sums was to be deducted the expense of the engravings, though these were
only the plates used for Ogilby's Virgil, a little retouched. Besides
the subscriptions, it would seem, that Dryden received from Tonson fifty
pounds for each Book of the "Georgics" and "AEneid," and probably the
same for the Pastorals collectively. On the other hand, it is
probable that Jacob charged a price for the copies delivered to the
subscribers, which, with the expense of the plates, reduced Dryden's
profit to about twelve or thirteen hundred pounds;--a trifling sum when
compared to what Pope received for the "Iliad," which was certainly
between L5,000 and L6,000; yet great in proportion to what the age of
Dryden had ever afforded, as an encouragement to literature. It must
indeed be confessed, that the Revolution had given a new impulse and
superior importance to literary pursuits. The semi-barbarous age, which
succeeded the great civil war, had been civilised by slow degrees. It is
true, the king and courtiers, among their disorderly and dissolute
pleasures, enumerated songs and plays, and, in the course of their
political intrigues, held satires in request; but they had neither money
nor time to spare for the encouragement or study of any of the higher
and more elaborate departments of poetry. Meanwhile, the bulk of the
nation neglected verse, as what they could not understand, or, with
puritanical bigotry, detested as sinful the use, as well as the abuse,
of poetical talent. But the lapse of thirty years made a material change
in the manners of the English people. Instances began to occur of
individuals, who, rising at first into notice for their proficience in
the fine arts, were finally promoted for the active and penetrating
talents, which necessarily accompany a turn towards them. An outward
reformation of manners, at least the general abjuration of grosser
profligacy, was also favourable to poetry,--
Still first to fly where
sensual joys invade.
This was wrought, partly by the religious manners of Mary; partly by
the cold and unsocial temper of William, who shunned excess, not
perhaps because it was criminal, but because it was derogatory; partly
by the political fashion of the day, which was to disown the profligacy
that marked the partisans of the Stuarts; but, most of all, by the
general increase of good taste, and the improvement of education. All
these contributed to the encouragement of Dryden's great undertaking,
which promised to rescue Virgil from the degraded version of Ogilby, and
present him in a becoming form to a public, now prepared to receive him
with merited admiration.
While our author was labouring in this great work, and the public were
waiting the issue with impatience and attention, a feud, of which it is
now impossible to trace the cause, arose between the bard and his
publisher. Their union before seems to have been of a nature more
friendly than interest alone could have begotten; for Dryden, in one
letter, talks with gratitude of Tonson's affording him his company down
to Northamptonshire; and this friendly intimacy Jacob neglected not to
cultivate, by those occasional compliments of fruit and wine, which are
often acknowledged in the course of their correspondence. But a quarrel
broke out between them, when the translation of Virgil had advanced so
far as the completion of the seventh Aeneid; at which period Dryden
charges Tonson bitterly, with an intention, from the very beginning, to
deprive him of all profit by the second subscriptions; alluding, I
presume, to the price which the bookseller charged him upon the volumes
delivered to the subscribers. The bibliopolist seems to have bent before
the storm, and pacified the incensed bard, by verbal submission, though
probably without relaxing his exactions and drawbacks in any material
degree. Another cause of this dissension appears to have been the Notes
upon "Virgil," for which Tonson would allow no additional emolument to
the author, although Dryden says, "that to make them good, would cost
six months' labour at least," and elsewhere tells Tonson ironically,
that, since not to be paid, they shall be short, "for the saving of the
paper." I cannot think that we have sustained any great loss by Tonson's
penurious economy on this occasion. In his prefaces and dedications,
Dryden let his own ideas freely forth to the public; but in his Notes
upon the Classics, witness those on "Juvenal" and "Persius," he neither
indulged in critical dissertations on particular beauties and defects,
nor in general remarks upon the kind of poetry before him; but contented
himself with rendering into English the antiquarian dissertations of
Dacier and other foreign commentators, with now and then an explanatory
paraphrase of an obscure passage. The parodies of Martin Scriblerus had
not yet consigned to ridicule the verbal criticism, and solemn trifling,
with which the ancient schoolmen pretended to illustrate the classics.
But beside the dispute about the notes in particular, and the various
advantages which Dryden suspected Tonson of attempting in the course of
the transaction, he seems to have been particularly affronted at a
presumptuous plan of that publisher (a keen Whig, and secretary of the
Kit-cat club) to drive him into inscribing the translation of Virgil to
King William. With this view, Tonson had an especial care to make the
engraver aggravate the nose of Aeneas in the plates into a sufficient
resemblance of the hooked promontory of the Deliverer's countenance;
and, foreseeing Dryden's repugnance to this favourite plan, he had
recourse, it would seem, to more unjustifiable means to further it; for
the poet expresses himself as convinced that, through Tonson's means,
his correspondence with his sons, then at Rome, was intercepted. I
suppose Jacob, having fairly laid siege to his author's conscience, had
no scruple to intercept all foreign supplies, which might have confirmed
him in his pertinacity. But Dryden, although thus closely beleaguered,
held fast his integrity; and no prospect of personal advantage, or
importunity on the part of Tonson, could induce him to take a step
inconsistent with his religious and political sentiments. It was
probably during the course of these bickerings with his publisher, that
Dryden, incensed at some refusal of accommodation on the part of Tonson,
sent him three well-known coarse and forcible satirical lines,
descriptive of his personal appearance:
"With leering looks, bull-faced, and freckled fair,
With two left legs, and Judas-coloured hair,
And frowzy pores, that taint the ambient air."
"Tell the dog," said the poet to the messenger, "that he who wrote these
can write more." But Tonson, perfectly satisfied with this single
triplet, hastened to comply with the author's request, without requiring
any further specimen of his poetical powers. It would seem, however,
that when Dryden neglected his stipulated labour, Tonson possessed
powers of animadversion, which, though exercised in plain prose, were
not a little dreaded by the poet. Lord Bolingbroke, already a votary of
the Muses, and admitted to visit their high priest, was wont to relate,
that one day he heard another person enter the house. "This," said
Dryden, "is Tonson: you will take care not to depart before he goes
away: for I have not completed the sheet which I promised him; and if
you leave me unprotected, I shall suffer all the rudeness to which his
resentment can prompt his tongue." But whatever occasional subjects
of dissension arose between Dryden and his bookseller appears always to
have brought them together, after the first ebullition of displeasure
had subsided. There might, on such occasions, be room for acknowledging
faults on both sides; for, if we admit that the bookseller was penurious
and churlish, we cannot deny that Dryden seems often to have been
abundantly captious, and irascible. Indeed, as the poet placed, and
justly, more than a mercantile value upon what he sold, the trader, on
his part, was necessarily cautious not to afford a price which his
returns could not pay; so that while, in one point of view, the author
sold at an inadequate price, the purchaser, in another, really got no
more than value for his money. That literature is ill recompensed, is
usually rather the fault of the public than the bookseller, whose trade
can only exist by buying that which can be sold to advantage. The
trader, who purchased the "Paradise Lost" for ten pounds, had probably
no very good bargain.
However fretted by these teasing and almost humiliating discussions,
Dryden continued steadily advancing in his great labour; and about three
years after it had been undertaken, the translation of Virgil, "the most
noble and spirited," said Pope, "which I know in any language," was
given to the public in July 1697. So eager was the general expectation,
that the first edition was exhausted in a few months, and a second
published early in the next year. "It satisfied," says Johnson, "his
friends, and, for the most part, silenced his enemies." But, although
this was generally the case, there wanted not some to exercise the
invidious task of criticism, or rather of malevolent detraction. Among
those, the highest name is that of Swift; the most distinguished for
venomous and persevering malignity, that of Milbourne.
In his Epistle to Prince Posterity, prefixed to the "Tale of a Tub,"
Swift, in the character of the dedicator, declares, "upon the word of a
sincere man, that there is now actually in being a certain poet called
John Dryden, whose translation of Virgil was lately printed in a large
folio, well-bound, and, if diligent search were made, for aught I know,
is yet to be seen." In his "Battle of the Books," he tells us, "that
Dryden, who encountered Virgil, soothed the good ancient by the
endearing title of 'father,' and, by a large deduction of genealogies,
made it appear, that they were nearly related, and humbly proposed an
exchange of armour; as a mark of hospitality, Virgil consented, though
his was of gold, and cost an hundred beeves, the other's but of rusty
iron. However, this glittering armour became the modern still worse than
his own. Then they agreed to exchange horses; but, when it came to the
trial, Dryden was afraid, and utterly unable to mount." A yet more
bitter reproach is levelled by the wit against the poet, for his triple
dedication of the Pastorals, Georgics, and Aeneid, to three several
patrons, Clifford, Chesterfield, and Mulgrave. But, though the
recollection of the contemned Odes, like the _spretae injuria formae_ of
Juno, still continued to prompt these overflowings of Swift's satire, he
had too much taste and perception of poetry to attempt, gravely, to
undermine, by a formal criticism, the merits of Dryden's Virgil.
This was reserved for Luke Milbourne, a clergyman, who, by that
assurance, has consigned his name to no very honourable immortality.
This person appears to have had a living at Great Yarmouth, which,
Dryden hints, he forfeited by writing libels on his parishioners; and
from another testimony, he seems to have been a person of no very strict
morals. Milbourne was once an admirer of our poet, as appears from
his letter concerning "Amphitryon," vol. viii. But either poetical
rivalry, for he had also thought of translating Virgil himself, or
political animosity, for he seems to have held revolution principles, or
deep resentment for Dryden's sarcasms against the clergy, or, most
probably, all these united, impelled Milbourne to publish a most furious
criticism, entitled, "Notes on Dryden's Virgil, in a Letter to a
Friend." "And here," said he, "in the first place, I must needs own
Jacob Tonson's ingenuity to be greater than the translator's, who, in
the inscription of his fine gay (title) in the front of the book, calls
it very honestly Dryden's Virgil, to let the reader know, that this is
not that Virgil so much admired in the Augustaean age, an author whom
Mr. Dryden once thought untranslatable, but a Virgil of another stamp,
of a coarser allay; a silly, impertinent, nonsensical writer, of a
various and uncertain style, a mere Alexander Ross, or somebody inferior
to him; who could never have been known again in the translation, if the
name of Virgil had not been bestowed upon him in large characters in the
frontispiece, and in the running title. Indeed, there is scarce the
_magni nominis umbra_ to be met with in this translation, which being
fairly intimated by Jacob, he needs add no more, but _si populus vult
With an assurance which induced Pope to call him the fairest of critics,
not content with criticising the production of Dryden, Milbourne was so
ill advised as to produce, and place in opposition to it, a rickety
translation of his own, probably the fragments of that which had been
suppressed by Dryden's version. A short specimen, both of his criticism
and poetry, will convince the reader, that the powers of the former
were, as has been often the case, neutralised by the insipidity of the
latter; for who can rely on the judgment of a critic so ill qualified to
illustrate his own precepts? I take the remarks on the tenth Eclogue, as
a specimen, at hazard. "This eclogue is translated in a strain too
luscious and effeminate for Virgil, who might bemoan his friend, but
does it in a noble and a manly style, which Mr. Ogilby answers better
than Mr. D., whose paraphrase looks like one of Mrs. Behn's, when
somebody had turned the original into English prose before.
"Where Virgil says,
_Lauri et myricae flevere_,
the figure's beautiful; where Mr. D. says,
the laurel stands in tears,
And hung with humid pearls, the lowly shrub appears,
the figure is lost, and a foolish and impertinent representation comes
in its place; an ordinary dewy morning might fill the laurels and shrubs
with Mr. D.'s tears, though Gallus had not been concerned in it.
And yet the queen of beauty blest his bed--
"Here Mr. D. comes with his ugly patch upon a beautiful face: what had
the queen of beauty to do here? Lycoris did not despise her lover for
his meanness, but because she had a mind to be a Catholic whore. Gallus
was of quality, but her spark a poor inferior fellow. And yet the queen
of beauty, etc., would have followed there very well, but not where
wanton Mr. D. has fixt her."
Flushed were his cheeks, and glowing were his eyes.
"This character is fitter for one that is drunk than one in an
amazement, and is a thought unbecoming Virgil."
And for thy rival, tempts the raging sea,
The forms of horrid war, and heaven's inclemency.
"Lycoris, doubtless, was a jilting baggage, but why should Mr. D. belie
her? Virgil talks nothing of her going to sea, and perhaps she had a
mind to be only a camp laundress, which office she might be advanced to
without going to sea: 'the forms of horrid war,' for _horrida castra_,
his brows, a country crown
Of fennel, and of nodding lilies drown,
"is a very odd figure: Sylvanus had swinging brows to drown such a crown
as that, _i.e._ to make it invisible, to swallow it up; if it be a
country crown, drown his brows, it is false English."
The meads are sooner drunk with morning dews.
"_Rivi_ signifies no such thing; but then, that bees should be drunk
with flowery shrubs, or goats be drunk with brouze, for drunk's the
verb, is a very quaint thought."
After much more to the same purpose, Milbourne thus introduces his own
version of the first Eclogue, with a confidence worthy of a better
cause:--"That Mr. Dryden might be satisfied that I'd offer no foul play,
nor find faults in him, without giving him an opportunity of
retaliation, I have subjoined another metaphrase or translation of the
first and fourth pastoral, which I desire may be read with his by the
_Mel._ Beneath a spreading beech you, Tityrus, lie,
And country songs to humble reeds apply;
We our sweet fields, our native country fly,
We leave our country; you in shades may lie,
And Amaryllis fair and blythe proclaim,
And make the woods repeat her buxom name.
_Tit._ O Melibaeus! 'twas a bounteous God,
These peaceful play-days on our muse bestowed;
At least, he'st alway be a God to me;
My lambs shall oft his grateful offerings be.
Thou seest, he lets my herds securely stray,
And me at pleasure on my pipe to play.
_Mel._ Your peace I don't with looks of envy view,
But I admire your happy state, and you.
In all our farms severe distraction reigns,
No ancient owner there in peace remains.
Sick, I, with much ado, my goats can drive,
This Tityrus, I scarce can lead alive;
On the bare stones, among yon hazels past,
Just now, alas! her hopeful twins she cast.
Yet had not all on's dull and senseless been,
We'd long agon this coming stroke foreseen.
Oft did the blasted oaks our fate unfold,
And boding choughs from hollow trees foretold.
But say, good Tityrus! tell me who's the God,
Who peace, so lost to us, on you bestow'd?"
Some critics there were, though but few, who joined Milbourne in his
abortive attempt to degrade our poet's translation. Oldmixon, celebrated
for his share in the games of the Dunciad, and Samuel Parker, a
yet more obscure name, have informed us of this, by volunteering in
Dryden's defence. But Dryden needed not their assistance. The real
excellencies of his version were before the public, and it was rather to
clear himself from the malignant charges against his moral principles,
which Melbourne had mingled with his criticism, than for any other
purpose, that the poet deemed his antagonist worthy of the following
animadversion:--"Milbourne, who is in orders, pretends amongst the rest
this quarrel to me, that I have fallen foul on priesthood: if I have, I
am only to ask pardon of good priests, and am afraid his part of the
reparation will come to little. Let him be satisfied, that he shall not
he able to force himself upon me for an adversary. I contemn him too
much to enter into competition with him. His own translations of Virgil
have answered his criticisms on mine. If (as they say he has declared in
print) he prefers the version of Ogilby to mine, the world has made him
the same compliment; for it is agreed on all hands, that he writes even
below Ogilby. That, you will say, is not easily to be done; but what
cannot Milbourne bring about? I am satisfied, however, that while he and
I live together, I shall not be thought the worst poet of the age. It
looks as if I had desired him underhand to write so ill against me; but
upon my honest word, I have not bribed him to do me this service, and am
wholly guiltless of his pamphlet. It is true, I should be glad if I
could persuade him to continue his good offices, and write such another
critique on anything of mine; for I find, by experience, he has a great
stroke with the reader, when he condemns any of my poems, to make the
world have a better opinion of them. He has taken some pains with my
poetry; but nobody will be persuaded to take the same with his. If I had
taken to the Church (as he affirms, but which was never in my thoughts),
I should have had more sense, if not more grace, than to have turned
myself out of my benefice by writing libels on my parishioners. But his
account of my manners, and my principles, are of a piece with his cavils
and his poetry; and so I have done with him for ever."
While Dryden was engaged with his great translation, he found two
months' leisure to execute a prose version of Fresnoy's "Art of
Painting," to which he added an ingenious Preface, the work of twelve
mornings, containing a parallel between that art and poetry; of which
Mason has said, that though too superficial to stand the test of strict
criticism, yet it will always give pleasure to readers of taste, even
when it fails to convince their judgment. This version appeared in 1695.
Mr. Malone conjectures that our author was engaged in this task by his
friends Closterman, and Sir Godfrey Kneller, artists, who had been
active in procuring subscriptions for his Virgil. He also wrote a "Life
of Lucian," for a translation of his works, by Mr. Walter Moyle, Sir
Henry Shere, and other gentlemen of pretension to learning. This
version, although it did not appear till after his death, and although
he executed no part of the translation, still retains the title of
There was one event of political importance which occurred in December
1695, and which the public seem to have expected should have employed
the pen of Dryden;--this was the death of Mary, wife of William the
Third. It is difficult to conceive in what manner the poet laureate of
the unfortunate James could have treated the memory of his daughter.
Satire was dangerous, and had indeed been renounced by the poet; and
panegyric was contrary to the principles for which he was suffering.
Yet, among the swarm of rhymers who thrust themselves upon the nation on
that mournful occasion, there are few who do not call, with friendly or
unfriendly voice, upon our poet to break silence. But the voice of
praise and censure was heard in vain, and Dryden's only interference
was, in character of the first judge of his time, to award the prize to
the Duke of Devonshire, as author of the best poem composed on occasion
of the Queen's death.
Virgil was hardly finished, when our author distinguished himself by the
immortal Ode to Saint Cecilia, commonly called "Alexander's Feast."
There is some difference of evidence concerning the time occupied in
this splendid task. He had been solicited to undertake it by the
stewards of the Musical Meeting, which had for several years met to
celebrate the feast of St. Cecilia, their patroness, and whom he had
formerly gratified by a similar performance. In September 1697, Dryden
writes to his son:--"In the meantime, I am writing a song for St.
Cecilia's feast; who, you know, is the patroness of music. This is
troublesome, and no way beneficial; but I could not deny the stewards,
who came in a body to my house to desire that kindness, one of them
being Mr. Bridgeman, whose parents are your mother's friends." This
account seems to imply, that the Ode was a work of some time; which is
countenanced by Dr. Birch's expression, that Dryden himself "observes,
in an original letter of his, that he was employed for almost a
fortnight in composing and correcting it." On the other hand, the
following anecdote is told upon very respectable authority. "Mr. St.
John, afterwards Lord Bolingbroke, happening to pay a morning visit to
Dryden, whom he always respected, found him in an unusual agitation of
spirits, even to a trembling. On inquiring the cause, 'I have been up
all night,' replied the old bard: 'my musical friends made me promise to
write them an Ode for their feast of St. Cecilia: I have been so struck
with the subject which occurred to me, that I could not leave it till I
had _completed_ it; here it is, _finished_ at one sitting.' And
immediately he showed him _this_ Ode, which places the British lyric
poetry above that of any other nation." These accounts are not,
however, so contradictory as they may at first sight appear. It is
possible that Dryden may have completed, at one sitting, the whole Ode,
and yet have employed a fortnight, or much more, in correction. There is
strong internal evidence to show that the poem was, speaking with
reference to its general structure, wrought off at once. A halt or
pause, even of a day, would perhaps have injured that continuous flow of
poetical language and description which argues the whole scene to have
arisen at once upon the author's imagination. It seems possible, more
especially in lyrical poetry, to discover where the author has paused
for any length of time; for the union of the parts is rarely so perfect
as not to show a different strain of thought and feeling. There may be
something fanciful, however, in this reasoning, which I therefore
abandon to the reader's mercy; only begging him to observe, that we have
no mode of estimating the exertions of a quality so capricious as a
poetic imagination; so that it is very possible, that the Ode to St.
Cecilia may have been the work of twenty-four hours, whilst correction
and emendations, perhaps of no very great consequence, occupied the
author as many days. Derrick, in his "Life of Dryden," tells us, upon
the authority of Walter Moyle, that the society paid Dryden L40 for this
sublime Ode, which, from the passage in his letter above quoted, seems
to have been more than the bard expected at commencing his labour. The
music for this celebrated poem was originally composed by Jeremiah
Clarke, one of the stewards of the festival, whose productions where
more remarkable for deep pathos and delicacy than for fire and energy.
It is probable that, with such a turn of mind and taste, he may have
failed in setting the sublime, lofty, and daring flights of the Ode to
St. Cecilia. Indeed his composition was not judged worthy of
publication. The Ode, after some impertinent alterations, made by
Hughes, at the request of Sir Richard Steele, was set to music by
Clayton, who, with Steele, managed a public concert in 1711; but neither
was this a successful essay to connect the poem with the art it
celebrated. At length, in 1736, "Alexander's Feast" was set by Handel,
and performed in the Theatre-Royal, Covent Garden, with the full success
which the combined talents of the poet and the musician seemed to
insure. Indeed, although the music was at first less successful, the
poetry received, even in the author's time, all the applause which its
unrivalled excellence demanded. "I am glad to hear from all hands," says
Dryden, in a letter to Tonson, "that my Ode is esteemed the best of all
my poetry, by all the town. I thought so myself when I writ it; but,
being old, I mistrusted my own judgment." Mr. Malone has preserved a
tradition, that the father of Lord Chief-Justice Marlay, then a Templar,
and frequenter of Will's coffeehouse, took an opportunity to pay his
court to Dryden, on the publication of "Alexander's Feast;" and,
happening to sit next him, congratulated him on having produced the
finest and noblest Ode that had ever been written in any language. "You
are right, young gentleman (replied Dryden), a nobler Ode never _was_
produced, nor ever _will_." This singularly strong expression cannot be
placed to the score of vanity. It was an inward consciousness of merit,
which burst forth, probably almost involuntarily, and I fear must be
admitted as prophetic.
The preparation of a new edition of the Virgil, which appeared in 1698,
occupied nine days only, after which Dryden began seriously to consider
to what he should next address his pen. The state of his circumstances
rendered constant literary labour indispensable to the support of his
family, although the exertion, and particularly the confinement,
occasioned by his studies, considerably impaired his health. His son
Charles had met with an accident at Rome, which was attended with a
train of consequences perilous to his health; and Dryden, anxious to
recall him to Britain, was obliged to make extraordinary exertions to
provide against this additional expense. "If it please God," he writes
to Tonson, "that I must die of over-study, I cannot spend my life better
than in preserving his." It is affecting to read such a passage in the
life of such a man; yet the necessities of the poet, like the
afflictions of the virtuous, smooth the road to immortality. While
Milton and Dryden were favoured by the rulers of the day, they were
involved in the religious and political controversies which raged around
them; it is to hours of seclusion, neglect, and even penury, that we owe
the Paradise Lost, the Virgil, and the Fables.
Among other projects, Dryden seems to have had thoughts of altering and
revising a tragedy called the "Conquest of China by the Tartars,"
written by his ancient friend and brother-in-law, Sir Robert Howard. The
unkindness which had arisen between them upon the subject of blank verse
and rhyme, seems to have long since passed away; and we observe, with
pleasure, that Dryden, in the course of the pecuniary transactions about
Virgil, reckons upon the assistance of Sir Robert Howard, and consults
his taste also in the revisal of the version. But Dryden never
altered the "Conquest of China," being first interrupted by the
necessity of revising Virgil, and afterwards, perhaps, by a sort of
quarrel which took place between him and the players, of whom he speaks
most resentfully in his "Epistle to Granville," upon his tragedy of
"Heroic Love," acted in the beginning of 1698.
The success of Virgil encouraged Dryden about this time to turn his eyes
upon Homer; and the general voice of the literary world called upon him
to do the venerable Grecian the same service which the Roman had
received from him. It was even believed that he had fixed upon the mode
of translation, and that he was, as he elsewhere expresses it, to "fight
unarmed, without his rhyme." A dubious anecdote bears, that he even
regretted he had not rendered Virgil into blank verse, and shows at the
same time, if genuine, how far he must now have disapproved of his own
attempt to turn into rhyme the Paradise Lost. The story is told by the
elder Richardson, in his remarks on the tardy progress of Milton's great
work in the public opinion. When Dryden did translate the First Book
of Homer, which he published with the Fables, he rendered it into rhyme;
nor have we sufficient ground to believe that he ever seriously
intended, in so large a work, to renounce the advantages which he
possessed, by his unequalled command of versification. That in other
respects the task was consonant to his temper, as well as talents, he
has himself informed us. "My thoughts," he says, in a letter to Halifax,
in 1699, "are at present fixed on Homer; and by my translation of the
first Iliad, I find him a poet more according to my genius than Virgil,
and consequently hope I may do him more justice, in his fiery way of
writing; which, as it is liable to more faults, so it is capable of more
beauties than the exactness and sobriety of Virgil. Since it is for my
country's honour, as well as for my own, that I am willing to undertake
this task, I despair not of being encouraged in it by your favour." But
this task Dryden was not destined to accomplish, although he had it so
much at heart as to speak of resuming it only three months before his
In the meanwhile, our author had engaged himself in making those
imitations of Boccacio and Chaucer, which have been since called the
"Fables;" and in spring 1699, he was in such forwardness, as to put into
Tonson's hands "seven thousand five hundred verses, more or less," as
the contract bears, being a partial delivery to account of ten thousand
verses, which by that deed he agreed to furnish, for the sum of two
hundred and fifty guineas, to be made up three hundred pounds upon
publication of the second edition. This second payment Dryden lived not
to receive. With the contents of this miscellaneous volume we are to
suppose him engaged, from the revisal of the Virgil, in 1697, to the
publication of the Fables, in March 1699-1700. This was the last period
of his labours, and of his life; and, like all the others, it did not
pass undisturbed by acrimonious criticism, and controversy. The dispute
with Milbourne we noticed, before dismissing the subject of Virgil; but
there were two other persons who, in their zeal for morality and
religion, chose to disturb the last years of the life of Dryden.
The indelicacy of the stage, being, in its earliest period, merely the
coarse gross raillery of a barbarous age, was probably of no greater
injury to the morals of the audience, than it is to those of the lower
ranks of society, with whom similar language is everywhere admitted as
wit and humour. During the reigns of James I. and Charles I. this
licence was gradually disappearing. In the domination of the fanatics,
which succeeded, matters were so much changed, that, far from permitting
the use of indelicate or profane allusions, they wrapped up not only
their most common temporal affairs, but even their very crimes and
vices, in the language of their spiritual concerns. Luxury was _using
the creature_; avarice was _seeking experiences_; insurrection was
_putting the hand to the plough_; actual rebellion, _fighting the good
fight_; and regicide, _doing the great work of the Lord._ This
vocabulary became grievously unfashionable at the Reformation, and was
at once swept away by the torrent of irreligion, blasphemy, and
indecency, which were at that period deemed necessary to secure
conversation against the imputation of disloyalty and fanaticism. The
court of Cromwell, if lampoons can be believed, was not much less
vicious than that of Charles II., but it was less scandalous; and, as
Dryden himself expresses it,
"The sin was of our native growth, 'tis true;
The scandal of the sin was wholly new.
Misses there were, but modestly concealed,
Whitehall the naked Goddess first revealed;
Who standing, as at Cyprus, in her shrine,
The strumpet was adored with rites divine."
This torrent of licentiousness had begun in some degree to abate, even
upon the accession of James II., whose manners did not encourage the
same general licence as those of Charles. But after the Revolution, when
an affectation of profligacy was no longer deemed a necessary attribute
of loyalty, and when it began to be thought possible that a man might
have some respect for religion without being a republican, or even a
fanatic, the licence of the stage was generally esteemed a nuisance. It
then happened, as is not uncommon, that those, most bustling and active
to correct public abuses, were men whose intentions may, without doing
them injury, be estimated more highly than their talents. Thus, Sir
Richard Blackmore, a grave physician, residing and practising on the
sober side of Temple-Bar, was the first who professed to reform the
spreading pest of poetical licentiousness, and to correct such men as
Dryden, Congreve, and Wycherly. This worthy person, compassionating the
state to which poetry was reduced by his contemporaries, who used their
wit "in opposition to religion, and to the destruction of virtue and
good manners in the world," resolved to rescue the Muses from this
unworthy thraldom, "to restore them to their sweet and chaste mansions,
and to engage them in an employment suited to their dignity." With this
laudable view he wrote "Prince Arthur, an Epic Poem," published in 1695.
The preface contained a furious, though just, diatribe,
against the licence of modern comedy, with some personal reflections
aimed at Dry den directly. This the poet felt more unkindly, as Sir
Richard had, without acknowledgment, availed himself of the hints he had
thrown out in the "Essay upon Satire," for the management of an epic
poem on the subject of King Arthur. He bore, however, the attack,
without resenting it, until he was again assailed by Sir Richard in his
"Satire upon Wit," written expressly to correct the dissolute and
immoral performances of the writers of his time. With a ponderous
attempt at humour, the good knight proposes, that a _bank for wit_
should be established, and that all which had hitherto passed as
current, should be called in, purified in the mint, re-coined, and
issued forth anew, freed from alloy.
This satire was published in 1700, as the title-page bears; but Mr.
Luttrell marks his copy 23rd November 1699. It contains more than
one attack upon our author. Thus, we are told (wit being previously
described as a malady),
"Vanine, that looked on all the danger past,
Because he 'scaped so long, is seized at last;
By p----, by hunger, and by Dryden bit,
He grins and snarls, and, in his dogged fit,
Froths at the mouth, a certain sign of wit."
Elsewhere the poet complains, that the universities,
"debauched by Dryden and his crew,
Turn bawds to vice, and wicked aims pursue."
Again, p. 14--
"Dryden condemn, who taught men how to make,
Of dunces wits, an angel of a rake."
But the main offence lies in the following passage:--
"Set forth your edict; let it be enjoined,
That all defective species be recoined;
St. E--m--t and R--r both are fit
To oversee the coining of our wit.
Let these be made the masters of essay,
They'll every piece of metal touch and weigh,
And tell which is too light, which has too much allay.
'Tis true, that when the coarse and worthless dross
Is purged away, there will be mighty loss.
E'en Congreve, Southerne, manly Wycherly,
When thus refined, will grievous sufferers be.
Into the melting-pot when Dryden comes,
What horrid stench will rise, what noisome fumes!
How will he shrink, when all his lewd allay,
And wicked mixture, shall be purged away?
When once his boasted heaps are melted down,
A chest-full scarce will yield one sterling crown.
Those who will D--n--s melt, and think to find
A goodly mass of bullion left behind,
Do, as the Hibernian wit, who, as 'tis told,
Burnt his gilt feather, to collect the gold.
* * * * *
But what remains will be so pure, 'twill bear
The examination of the most severe;
'Twill S--r's scales, and Talbot's test abide,
And with their mark please all the world beside."
These repeated attacks at length called down the vengeance of Dryden.
who thus retorted upon him in the preface to the Fables:--
"As for the City Bard, or Knight Physician, I hear his quarrel to me is,
that I was the author of 'Absalom and Achitophel,' which he thinks, is
a little hard on his fanatic patrons in London.
"But I will deal the more civilly with his two poems, because nothing
ill is to be spoken of the dead; and, therefore, peace be to the manes
of his 'Arthurs.' I will only say, that it was not for this noble knight
that I drew the plan of an epic poem on King Arthur, in my preface to
the translation of Juvenal. The guardian angels of kingdoms were
machines too ponderous for him to manage; and therefore he rejected
them, as Dares did the whirl bats of Eryx, when they were thrown before
him by Entellus: yet from that preface, he plainly took his hint; for he
began immediately upon the story, though he had the baseness not to
acknowledge his benefactor, but, instead of it, to traduce me in a
Blackmore, who had perhaps thought the praise contained in his two last
couplets ought to have allayed Dryden's resentment, finding that they
failed in producing this effect, very unhandsomely omitted them in his
next edition, and received, as will presently be noticed, another
flagellation, in the last verses Dryden ever wrote.
But a more formidable champion than Blackmore had arisen, to scourge the
profligacy of the theatre. This was no other than the celebrated Jeremy
Collier, a nonjuring clergyman, who published, in 1698, "A Short View of
the Immorality and Profaneness of the Stage." His qualities as a
reformer are described by Dr. Johnson in language never to be amended.
"He was formed for a controvertist; with sufficient learning; with
diction vehement and pointed, though often vulgar and incorrect; with
unconquerable pertinacity; with wit in the highest degree keen and
sarcastic; and with all those powers exalted and invigorated by the just
confidence in his cause.
"Thus qualified, and thus incited, he walked out to battle, and assailed
at once most of the living writers, from Dryden to Durfey. His onset was
violent: those passages, which while they stood single, had passed with
little notice, when they were accumulated and exposed together caught
the alarm, and the nation wondered why it had so long suffered
irreligion and licentiousness charge."
Notwithstanding the justice of this description, there is a strange
mixture of sense and nonsense in Collier's celebrated treatise. Not
contented with resting his objections to dramatic immorality and
religion, Jeremy labours to confute the poets of the 17th century, by
drawing them into comparison with Plautus and Aristophanes, which is
certainly judging of one crooked line by another. Neither does he omit,
like his predecessor Prynne, to marshal against the British stage those
fulminations directed by the fathers of the Church against the Pagan
theatres; although Collier could not but know, that it was the
performance of the heathen ritual, and not merely the action of the
drama, which rendered it sinful for the early Christians to attend the
theatre. The book was, however, of great service to dramatic poetry,
which, from that time, was less degraded by licence and indelicacy.
Dryden, it may be believed, had, as his comedies well deserved, a
liberal share of the general censure; but, however he might have felt
the smart of Collier's severity, he had the magnanimity to acknowledge
its justice. In the preface to the Fables, he makes the _amende
honorable._ "I shall say the less of Mr. Collier, because in many things
he has taxed me justly; and I have pleaded guilty to all thoughts and
expressions of mine, which can be truly argued of obscenity,
profaneness, or immorality, and retract them. If he be my enemy, let him
triumph; if he be my friend, as I have given him no personal occasion to
be otherwise, he will be glad of my repentance. It becomes me not to
draw my pen in the defence of a bad cause, when I have so often drawn it
for a good one." To this manly and liberal admission, he has indeed
tacked a complaint, that Collier had sometimes, by a strained
interpretation, made the evil sense of which he complained; that he had
too much "horse-play in his raillery;" and that, "if the zeal for God's
house had not eaten him up, it had at least devoured some part of his
good manners and civility." Collier seems to have been somewhat pacified
by this qualified acknowledgment, and, during the rest of the
controversy, turned his arms chiefly against Congreve, who resisted, and
spared, comparatively at least, the sullen submission of Dryden.
While these controversies were raging, Dryden's time was occupied with
the translations or imitations of Chaucer and Boccacio. Among these, the
"Character of the Good Parson" is introduced, probably to confute
Milbourne, Blackmore, and Collier, who had severally charged our author
with the wilful and premeditated contumely thrown upon the clergy in
many passages of his satirical writings. This too seems to have inflamed
the hatred of Swift, who, with all his levities, was strictly attached
to his order, and keenly jealous of its honours. Dryden himself
seems to have been conscious of his propensity to assail churchmen. "I
remember," he writes to his sons, "the counsel you gave me in your
letter; but dissembling, although lawful in some cases, is not my
talent; yet, for your sake, I will struggle with the plain openness of
my nature, and keep in my just resentments against that _degenerate
order_." Milbourne, and other enemies of our author, imputed this
resentment against the clergy, to his being refused orders when he
wished to take them, in the reign of Charles, with a view to the
Provostship of Eton, or some Irish preferment. But Dryden assures
us, that he never had any thoughts of entering the Church. Indeed, his
original offences of this kind may be safely ascribed to the fashionable
practice, after the Restoration, of laughing at all that was accounted
serious before that period.
And when Dryden became a convert to the Catholic faith, he was, we have
seen, involved in an immediate and furious controversy with the clergy
of the Church of England. Thus, an unbeseeming strain of raillery,
adopted in wantonness, became aggravated, by controversy, into real
dislike and animosity. But Dryden, in the "Character of a Good Parson,"
seems determined to show that he could estimate the virtue of the
clerical order. He undertook the task at the instigation of Mr. Pepys,
the founder of the Library in Magdalen College, which bears his
name; and has accomplished it with equal spirit and elegance; not
forgetting, however, to make his pattern of clerical merit of his own
Another very pleasing performance, which entered [into] the Miscellany
called "The Fables," is the epistle to John Driden of Chesterton, the
poet's cousin. The letters to Mrs. Steward show the friendly intimacy in