Part 1 out of 7
Produced by Jonathan Ingram, Jayam Subramanian and PG Distributed
With Life, Critical Dissertation, and Explanatory Notes,
REV. GEORGE GILFILLAN.
M. DCCC. LV.
GENIUS AND POETICAL WORKS OF JOHN DRYDEN.
In our Life of Dryden we promised to say something about the question,
how far is a poet, particularly in the moral tendency and taste of his
writings, to be tried--and either condemned or justified--by the
character and spirit of his age? To a rapid consideration of this
question we now proceed, before examining the constituent elements or
the varied fruits of the poet's genius.
And here, unquestionably, there are extremes, which every critic should
avoid. Some imagine that a writer of a former century should be tried,
either by the standard which prevails in the cultured and civilised
nineteenth, or by the exposition of moral principles and practice which
is to be found in the Scriptures. Now, it is obviously, so far as taste
is concerned, as unjust to judge a book written in the style and manner
of one age by the merely arbitrary and conventional rules established in
another, as to judge the dress of our ancestors by the fashions of the
present day. And in respect of morality, it is as unfair to visit with
the same measure of condemnation offences against decorum or decency,
committed by writers living before or living after the promulgation of
the Christian code, as it would be to class the Satyrs, Priapi, and
Bacchantes of an antique sculptor, with their imitations, by inferior
and coarser artists, in later times. There must be a certain measure of
allowance made for the errors of Genius when it was working as the
galley-slave of its tradition and period, and when it had not yet
received the Divine Light which, shining into the world from above, has
supplied men with higher aesthetic as well as spiritual models of
principles, and revealed man's body to be the temple of the Holy Ghost.
To look for our modern philanthropy in that "Greek Gazette," the Iliad
of Homer--to expect that reverence for the Supreme Being which the Bible
has taught us in the Metamorphoses of Ovid--or to seek that refinement
of manners and language which has only of late prevailed amongst us, in
the plays of Aristophanes and Plautus--were very foolish and very vain.
In ages not so ancient, and which have revolved since the dawn of
Christianity, a certain coarseness of thought and language has been
prevalent; and for it still larger allowance should be made, because it
has been applied to simplicity rather than to sensuality--to rustic
barbarism, not to civilised corruption--and carries along with it a
rough raciness, and a reference to the sturdy aboriginal beast--just as
acorns in the trough suggest the immemorial forests where they grew, and
the rich greenswards on which they fell.
In two cases, it thus appears, should the severest censor be prepared to
modify his condemnation of the bad taste or the impurity to be found in
writers of genius--first, in that of a civilization, perfect in its
kind, but destitute of the refining and sublimating element which a
revelation only can supply; and, secondly, in that of those ages in
which the lights of knowledge and religion are contending with the gloom
of barbarian rudeness. Perhaps there are still two other cases capable
of palliation--that of a mind so constituted as to be nothing, if not a
mirror of its age, and faithfully and irresistibly reflecting even its
vices and pollutions; or that of a mind morbidly in love with the
morbidities and the vile passages of human nature. But suppose the case
of a writer, sitting under the full blaze of Gospel truth, professedly a
believer in the Gospel, and intimately acquainted with its oracles,
living in a late and dissipated, not a rude and simple age--possessed of
varied and splendid talents, which qualified him to make as well as to
mirror, and with a taste naturally sound and manly, who should yet seek
to shock the feelings of the pious, to gratify the low tendencies, and
fire to frenzy the evil passions of his period--he is not to be shielded
by the apology that he has only conformed to the bad age on which he was
so unfortunate as to fall. Prejudice may, indeed, put in such a plea in
his defence; but the inevitable eye of common sense, distinguishing
between necessity and choice, between coarseness and corruption, between
a man's passively yielding to and actively inviting and encouraging the
currents of false taste and immorality which he must encounter, will
find that plea nugatory, and bring in against the author a verdict of
Now this, we fear, is exactly the case of Dryden. He was neither a
"barbarian" nor a "Scythian." He was a conscious artist, not a high
though helpless reflector of his age. He had not, we think, like his
relative, Swift, originally any diseased delight in filth for its own
sake; was not--shall we say?--a natural, but an artificial _Yahoo_. He
wielded a power over the public mind, approaching the absolute, and
which he could have turned to virtuous, instead of vicious account--at
first, it might have been amidst considerable resistance and obloquy,
but ultimately with triumphant success. This, however, he never
attempted, and must therefore be classed, in this respect, with such
writers as Byron, whose powers gilded their pollutions, less than their
pollutions degraded and defiled their powers; nay, perhaps he should be
ranked even lower than the noble bard, whose obscenities are not so
gross, and who had, besides, to account for them the double palliations
of passion and of despair.
In these remarks we refer principally to Dryden's plays; for his poems,
as we remarked in the Life, are (with the exception of a few of the
Prologues, which we print under protest) in a great measure free from
impurity. We pass gladly to consider him in his genius and his poetical
works. The most obvious, and among the most remarkable characteristics
of his poetic style, are its wondrous elasticity and ease of movement.
There is never for an instant any real or apparent effort, any
straining for effect, any of that "double, double, toil and trouble," by
which many even of the weird cauldrons in which Genius forms her
creations are disturbed and bedimmed. That power of doing everything
with perfect and _conscious_ ease, which Dugald Stewart has ascribed to
Barrow and to Horsley in prose, distinguished Dryden in poetry. Whether
he discusses the deep questions of fate and foreknowledge in "Religio
Laici," or lashes Shaftesbury in the "Medal," or pours a torrent of
contempt on Shadwell in "MacFlecknoe," or describes the fire of London
in the "Annus Mirabilis," or soars into lyric enthusiasm in his "Ode on
the Death of Mrs Killigrew," and "Alexander's Feast," or paints a
tournament in "Palamon and Arcite," or a fairy dance in the "Flower and
the Leaf,"--he is always at home, and always aware that he is. His
consciousness of his own powers amounts to exultation. He is like the
steed who glories in that tremendous gallop which affects the spectator
with fear. Indeed, we never can separate our conception of Dryden's
vigorous and vaulting style from the image of a noble horse, devouring
the dust of the field, clearing obstacles at a bound, taking up long
leagues as a little thing, and the very strength and speed of whose
motion give it at a distance the appearance of smoothness. Pope speaks
"Long resounding march, and energy divine."
Perhaps "_ease_ divine" had been words more characteristic of that
almost superhuman power of language by which he makes the most obstinate
materials pliant, melts down difficulties as if by the touch of magic,
and, to resume the former figure, comes into the goal without a hair
turned on his mane, or a single sweat-drop confessing effort or
extraordinary exertion. We know no poet since Homer who can be compared
to Dryden in this respect, except Scott, who occasionally, in "Marmion,"
and the "Lay of the Last Minstrel," exhibits the same impetuous ease and
fiery fluent movement. Scott does not, however, in general, carry the
same weight as the other; and the species of verse he uses, in
comparison to the heroic rhyme of Dryden, gives you often the impression
of a hard trot, rather than of a "long-resounding" and magnificent
gallop. Scott exhibits in his poetry the soul of a warrior; but it is of
a warrior of the Border--somewhat savage and coarse. Dryden can, for the
nonce at least, assume the appearance, and display the spirit, of a
knight of ancient chivalry--gallant, accomplished, elegant, and gay.
Next to this poet's astonishing ease, spirit, and elastic vigour, may be
ranked his clear, sharp intellect. He may be called more a logician than
a poet. He reasons often, and always acutely, and his rhyme, instead of
shackling, strengthens the movement of his argumentation. Parts of his
"Religio Laici" and the "Hind and Panther" resemble portions of Duns
Scotus or Aquinas set on fire. Indeed, keen, strong intellect, inflamed
with passion, and inspirited by that "ardour and impetuosity of mind"
which Wordsworth is compelled to allow to him, rather than creative or
original genius, is the differentia of Dryden. We have compared him to a
courser, but he was not one of those coursers of Achilles, who fed on no
earthly food, but on the golden barley of heaven, having sprung from the
[Greek: Xanthon kai Balion, to ama pnoiaesi, petesthaen.
Tous eteke Zephuro anemo Arpua Podargae.]
Dryden resembled rather the mortal steed which was yoked with these
immortal twain, the brood of Zephyr and the Harpy Podarga; only we can
hardly say of the poet what Homer says of Pedasus--
[Greek: Os kai thnaetos eon, epeth ippois athanatoisi.]
He was _not_, although a mortal, able to keep up with the immortal
coursers. His path was on the plains or table-lands of earth--never or
seldom in "cloudland, gorgeous land," or through the aerial altitudes
which stretch away and above the clouds to the gates of heaven. He can
hardly be said to have possessed the power of sublimity, in the high
sense of that term, as the power of sympathising with the feeling of the
Infinite. Often he gives us the impression of the picturesque, of the
beautiful, of the heroic, of the nobly disdainful--but never (when
writing, at least, entirely from his own mind) of that infinite and
nameless grandeur which the imaginative soul feels shed on it from the
multitudinous waves of ocean--from the cataract leaping from his rock,
as if to consummate an act of prayer to God--from the hum of great
assemblies of men--from the sight of far-extended wastes and
wildernesses--and from the awful silence, and the still more mysterious
sparkle of the midnight stars. This sense of the presence of the
_shadow_ of immensity--immensity itself cannot be felt any more than
measured--this sight like that vouchsafed to Moses of the "backparts" of
the Divine--the Divine itself cannot be seen--has been the inspiration
of all the highest poetry of the world--of the "Paradise Lost," of the
"Divina Commedia," of the "Night Thoughts," of Wordsworth and Coleridge,
of "Festus," and, highest far, of the Hebrew Prophets, as they cry,
"Whither can we go from Thy presence? whither can we flee from Thy
Spirit?" Such poets have resembled a blind man, who feels, although he
cannot see, that a stranger of commanding air is in the room beside him;
so they stand awe-struck in the "wind of the going" of a majestic and
unseen Being. This feeling differs from mysticism, inasmuch as it is
connected with a reality, while the mystic dreams a vague and
unsupported dream, and the poetry it produces is simply the irresistible
cry springing from the perception of this wondrous Some One who is
actually near them. The feeling is connected, in general, with a lofty
moral and religious nature; and yet not always, since, while wanting in
Dryden, we find it intensely discovered, although in an imperfect and
perverted shape, in Byron and Rousseau.
In Dryden certainly it exists not. We do not--and in this we have
Jeffrey's opinion to back us--remember a single line in his poetry that
can be called sublime, or, which is the same thing, that gives us a
thrilling shudder, as if a god or a ghost were passing by. Pleasure,
high excitement,--rapture even, he often produces; but such a feeling as
is created by that line of Milton,
"To bellow through the vast and boundless deep,"
never. Compare, in proof of this, the description of the tournament in
"Palamon and Arcite"--amazingly spirited as it is--to the description of
the war-horse in Job; or, if that appear too high a test, to the
contest of Achilles with the rivers in Homer; to the war of the Angels,
and the interrupted preparations for contest between Gabriel and Satan
in Milton; to the contest between Apollyon and Christian in the
"Pilgrim's Progress;" to some of the combats in Spenser; and to that
wonderful one of the Princess and the Magician in midair in the "Arabian
Nights," in order to understand the distinction between the most
animated literal pictures of battle and those into which the element of
imagination is strongly injected by the poet, who can, to the inevitable
shiver of human nature at the sight of struggle and carnage, add the far
more profound and terrible shiver, only created by a vision of the
concomitants, the consequences--the UNSEEN BORDERS of the bloody scene.
Take these lines, for instance:--
"They look anew: the beauteous form of fight
Is changed, and war appears a grisly sight;
Two troops in fair array one moment showed--
The next, a field with fallen bodies strowed;
Not half the number in their seats are found,
But men and steeds lie grovelling on the ground.
The points of spears are stuck within the shield,
The steeds without their riders scour the field;
The knights, unhorsed, on foot renew the fight--
The glittering faulchions cast a gleaming light;
Hauberks and helms are hew'd with many a wound,
Out-spins the streaming blood, and dyes the ground."
This is vigorous and vivid, but is not imaginative or suggestive. It
does not carry away the mind from the field to bring back thoughts and
images, which shall, so to speak, brood over, and aggravate the general
horror. It is, in a word, plain, good painting, but it is not poetry.
There is not a metaphor, such as "he _laugheth_ at the shaking of a
spear," in it all.
In connexion with this defect in imagination is the lack of natural
imagery in Dryden's poetry. Wordsworth, indeed, greatly overcharges the
case, when he says (in a letter to Scott), "that there is not a single
image from nature in the whole body of his poetry." We have this minute
taken up the "Hind and the Panther," and find two images from nature in
"As where in fields the fairy rounds are seen,
A rank sour herbage rises on the green;
And a few lines down:--
"As where the lightning runs along the ground,
No husbandry can heal the blasting wound."
And some pages farther on occurs a description of Spring, not unworthy
of Wordsworth himself; beginning--
"New blossoms flourish and new flowers arise,
As _God had been abroad_, and walking there,
Had left his footsteps, and reform'd the year."
Still it is true, that, taking his writings as a whole, they are thin in
natural images; and even those which occur, are often rather the echoes
of his reading, than the results of his observation. And what Wordsworth
adds is, we fear, true; in his translation of Virgil, where Virgil can
be fairly said to have his eye upon his object, Dryden always spoils the
passage. The reason of this, apart from his want of high imaginative
sympathy, may be found in his long residence in London; and his lack of
that intimate daily familiarity with natural scenes, which can alone
supply thorough knowledge, or enkindle thorough love. Nature is not like
the majority of other mistresses. Her charms deepen the longer she is
known; and he that loves her most warmly, has watched her with the
narrowest inspection. She can bear the keenest glances of the
microscope, and to see all her glory would exhaust an antediluvian life.
The appetite, in her case, "grows with what it feeds on;" but such an
appetite was not Dryden's.
Another of his great defects is, in true tenderness of feeling. He has
very few passages which can be called pathetic. His Elegies and funeral
Odes, such as those on "Mrs Killigrew" and "Eleonora," are eloquent; but
they move you to admiration, not to tears. Dryden's long immersion in
the pollutions of the playhouses, had combined, with his long course of
domestic infelicity, and his employments as a hack author, a party
scribe, and a satirist, to harden his heart, to brush away whatever fine
bloom of feeling there had been originally on his mind, and to render
him incapable of even simulating the softer emotions of the soul. But
for the discovered fact, that he was in early life a lover of his
relative, Honor Driden, you would have judged him from his works
incapable of a pure passion. "Lust hard by Hate," being his twin idols,
how could he represent human, far less ethereal love; and how could he
touch those springs of holy tears, which lie deep in man's heart, and
which are connected with all that is dignified, and all that is divine
in man's nature? What could the author of "Limberham" know of love, or
the author of "MacFlecknoe" of pity?
Wordsworth, in that admirable letter to which we have repeatedly
referred, says, "Whenever his language is poetically impassioned, it is
mostly upon unpleasing subjects, such as the follies, vices, and crimes
of classes of men, or individuals." This is unquestionable. He never so
nearly reaches the sublime, as when he is expressing contempt. He never
rises so high, as in the act of trampling. He is a "good hater," and
expresses his hatred with a mixture of _animus_ and ease, of fierceness
and of trenchant rapidity, which makes it very formidable. He only, as
it were, waves off his adversaries disdainfully, but the very wave of
his hand cuts like a sabre. His satire is not savage and furious, like
Juvenal's; not cool, collected, and infernal, like that of Junius; not
rabid and reckless, like that of Swift; and never darkens into the
unearthly grandeur of Byron's: but it is strong, swift, dashing, and
decisive. Nor does it want deep and subtle touches. His pictures of
Shaftesbury and Buckingham are as delicately finished, as they are
powerfully conceived. He flies best at the highest game; but even in
dealing with Settles and Shadwells, he can be as felicitous as he is
fierce. No satire in the world contains lines more exquisitely inverted,
more ingeniously burlesqued, more artfully turned out of their
apparently proper course, like rays at once refracted and cooled, than
those which thus ominously panegyrise Shadwell:--
"His brows thick fogs, instead of glories grace,
And _lambent dulness_ play'd about his face.
As Hannibal did to the altar come,
Sworn by his sire, a mortal foe to Rome;
So Shadwell swore, nor should his vow be vain,
That he till death true dulness would maintain."
Better still the following picture, in imitation of the Homeric or
"The Sire then shook the honours of his head,
And from his brows damps of oblivion shed
Full on the _filial dulness_--long he stood
Repelling from his breast the _raging_ God."
What inimitable irony in this epithet! The God of dulness _raging_! A
stagnant pool in a passion; a canal insane; a _mouton enrage_, as the
French says; or a snail in a tumultuous state of excitement, were but
types of the satirical ideas implied in these words. What a description
of labouring nonsense--of the Pythonic genius of absurdity, panting and
heaving on his solemnly ridiculous tripod!
The language and versification of Dryden have been praised, and justly.
His style is worthy of a still more powerful and original vein of genius
than his own. It is a masculine, clear, elastic, and varied diction,
fitted to express all feelings, save the deepest; all fancies, save the
subtlest; all passions, save the loftiest; all moods of mind, save the
most disinterested and rapt; to represent incidents, however strange;
characters, however contradictory to each other; shades of meaning,
however evasive: and to do all this, as if it were doing nothing, in
point of ease, and as if it were doing everything in point of felt and
rejoicing energy. No poetic style since can, in such respects, be
compared to Dryden's. Pope's to his is feeble--and Byron's forced. He
can say the strongest things in the swiftest way, and the most
felicitous expressions seem to fall unconsciously from his lips. Had his
matter, you say, but been equal to his manner, his thought in
originality and imaginative power but commensurate with the boundless
quantity, and no less admirable quality, of his words! His versification
deserves a commendation scarcely inferior. It is "all ear," if we may so
apply an expression of Shakspeare's. No studied rules,--no elaborate
complication of harmonies,--it is the mere sinking and swelling of the
wave of his thought as it moves onward to the shore of his purpose. And,
as in the sea, there are no furrows absolutely isolated from each other,
but each leans on, or melts into each, and the subsidence of the one is
the rise of the other--so with the versification of his better poetry.
The beginning of the "Hind and Panther," we need not quote; but it will
be remembered, as a good specimen of that peculiar style of running the
lines into one another, and thereby producing a certain free and noble
effect, which the uniform tinkle of Pope and his school is altogether
unable to reach; a style which has since been copied by some of our
poets--by Churchill, by Cowper, and by Shelley. The lines of the
artificial school, on the other hand, may be compared to _rollers_, each
distinct from each other,--each being in itself a whole,--but altogether
forming none. Pope, says Hazlitt, has turned Pegasus into a
We are, perhaps, nearly right when we call Dryden the most _eloquent_
and _rhetorical_ of English poets. He bears in this respect an analogy
to Lucretius among the Romans, who, inferior in polish to Virgil, was
incomparably more animated and energetic in style; who exhibited,
besides, traits of lofty imagination rarely met with in Virgil, and
never in Dryden; and who equalled the English poet in the power of
reasoning in verse, and setting the severe abstractions of metaphysical
thought to music. With the Shakspeares, Chaucers, Spensers, Miltons,
Byrons, Wordsworths, and Coleridges, the _Dii majorum gentium_ of the
Poetic Pantheon of Britain, Dryden ranks not, although towering far
above the Moores, Goldsmiths, Gays, and Priors. He may be classed with a
middle, but still high order, in which we find the names of Scott, as a
_poet_, Johnson, Pope, Cowper, Southey, Crabbe, and two or three others,
who, while all excelling Dryden in some qualities, are all excelled by
him in others, and bulk on the whole about as largely as he on the
We come to make a few remarks, in addition to some we have already
incidentally made, on Dryden's separate works. And first of his Lyrics.
His songs, properly so called, are lively, buoyant, and elastic; yet,
compared to those of Shakspeare, they are of "the earth, earthy." They
are the down of the thistle, carried on a light breeze upwards.
Shakspeare's resemble aerial notes--snatches of superhuman
melody--descending from above. Compared to the warm-gushing songs of
Burns, Dryden's are cold. Better than his songs are his Odes. That on
the death of Mrs Killigrew has much divided the opinion of critics--Dr
Johnson calling it magnificent, and Warton denying it any merit. We
incline to a mediate view. It has bold passages; the first and the last
stanzas are very powerful, and the whole is full of that rushing
torrent-movement characteristic of the poet. But the sinkings are as
deep as the swellings, and the inequality disturbs the general effect.
This is still more true of "Threnodia Augustalis," the ode on the death
of Charles II. Not only is its spirit fulsome, and its statement of
facts grossly partial, but many of its lines are feeble, and the whole
is wire-spun. Yet what can be nobler in thought and language than the
following, descriptive of the joy at the king's partial recovery!--
"Men met each other with erected look,
The steps were higher that they took;
Each to congratulate his friend made haste,
And long inveterate foes saluted as they pass'd."
How admirably this last line describes that sudden solution of the
hostile elements in human nature-that swift sense of unity in society,
produced by some glad tidings or great public enthusiasm, when for an
hour the Millennium is anticipated, and the poet's wish, that
"Man wi' man, the warld o'er,
Shall brithers be, for a' that,"
The two odes on St Cecilia's Day are both admirable in different ways.
"Alexander's Feast," like Burns's "Tam o' Shanter," seems to come out at
once "as from a mould." It is pure inspiration, but of the second
order--rather that of the Greek Pythoness than of the Hebrew prophet.
Coleridge or Wordsworth makes the objection to it, that the Bacchus it
describes is the mere vulgar deity of drink--
"Flush'd with a purple grace,
He shows his honest face"--
not the ideal Bacchus, clad in vine-leaves, returning from the conquest
of India, and attended by a procession of the lions and tigers he had
tamed. But this, although a more imaginative representation of the god
of wine, had not been so suitably sung at an entertainment presided over
by an Alexander and a Thais, a drunk conqueror and a courtezan. Dryden
himself, we have seen, thought this the best ode that ever was or would
be written in the English language. In a certain sense he was right. For
vivacity, freedom of movement, and eloquence, it has never been
equalled. But there are some odes--such as Coleridge's "Ode to France"
and Wordsworth's "Power of Sound"--which as certainly excel it in
strength of imagination, grandeur of conception, and unity of execution
Of Dryden's Satires we have already spoken in a general way. "Absalom
and Achitophel" is of course the masterpiece, and cannot be too highly
praised as a gallery of portraits, and for the daring force and felicity
of its style. Why enlarge on a poem, almost every line of which has
become a proverb? "The Medal" is inferior only in condensation--in
spirit and energy it is quite equal. In "MacFlecknoe," the mock-heroic
is sustained with unparalleled vigour from the first line to the last.
Shadwell is a favourite of Dryden's ire. He _fancies_ him, and loves to
empty out on his head all the riches of his wrath. What can be more
terrible than the words occurring in the second part of "Absalom and
"When wine hath given him courage to blaspheme,
He curses God--but _God before curst him_!"
He has written two pieces, which may be called didactic or controversial
poems--"Religio Laici" and "The Hind and Panther." The chief power of
the former is in its admirable combination of two things, often
dissociated--reason and rhyme; and its chief interest lies in the light
it casts upon Dryden's uncertainty of religious view. The thought has
little originality, the versification less varied music than is his
wont, and no passage of transcendent power occurs. Far more faulty in
plan, and far more unequal, is "The Hind and Panther;" but it has, on
the other hand, many passages of amazing eloquence--some satirical
pictures equal to anything in "Absalom and Achitophel"--some vivid
natural descriptions; and even the absurdities of the fable, and the
sophistries of the argument add to its character as the most exquisitely
perverted piece of ingenuity in the language. Nothing but high genius,
very vigorously exerted, could reconcile us to a story so monstrous, and
to reasoning so palpably one-sided and weak.
His Epistles are of divers merit, but all discover Dryden's usual sense,
sarcastic observation, and sweeping force of style. The best are that to
Sir Godfrey Kneller--remarkable for its knowledge of, and graceful
tribute to, the "serene and silent art" of painting; and the very noble
epistle addressed to Congreve, which reminds you of one giant hand of
genius held out to welcome and embrace another. Gross flatterer as
Dryden often was, there is something in this epistle that rings true,
and the emotion in it you feel even all his powers could never have
enabled him to counterfeit. Such generous patronage of rising, by
acknowledged merit, was as rare then as it is still. The envy of the
literary man too often crowns his gray hairs with a chaplet of
nightshade, and pours its dark poison into the latest cup of existence.
His "Annus Mirabilis" is another instance of perverted power, and
ingenuity astray. Written in that bad style he found prevalent in his
early days--the style of the metaphysical poets, Cowley, Donne, and
Drayton--the author ever and anon soars out of his trammels into strong
and simple poetry, fervid description, and in one passage--that about
the future fortunes of London--into eloquent prophecy. The fire of
London is vigorously pictured, but its breath of flame should have
burned up petty conceit and tawdry ornament. He should have sternly
daguerreotyped the spectacle of the capital of the civilised world
burning--a spectacle awful, not only in the sight of men, but, as Hall
says of the French Revolution, in that of superior beings. We need not
dwell on the far-famed absurdities which the poem contains--about God
turning a "crystal pyramid into a broad extinguisher" to put out the
fire--of the ship compared to a sea-wasp floating on the waves--and of
men in the fight killed by "aromatic splinters" from the Spice Islands!
Criticism has long ago said its best and its worst about these early
escapades of a writer whose taste, to the last, was never commensurate
with his genius.
His Translations we have not included in this edition, as we reserve
them, along with other masterpieces of translated verse, for a separate
issue afterwards. That of the "Art of Poetry," sometimes included in
editions of his works, was not his, but only revised by him. We may say
here, in general, however, that although there are more learned and more
correct translators than Dryden, there are few who have produced
versions so vigorous, so full of exuberant life, and, in those parts of
the authors suitable to the peculiarities of the translator's own
genius, so faithful to their spirit and soul, if not to their letter and
their body, as he. Parts of Virgil he does not translate well; he has no
sympathy with Maro's elegance, _concinnitas_, chaste grandeur, and
minute knowledge of nature; but wherever Virgil begins to glow and
gallop, Dryden glows and gallops with him; and wherever Virgil is
nearest Homer, Dryden is nearest him.
We have reserved to the close his Fables, as, on the whole, forming the
culmination of Dryden the artist, if not, perhaps, of Dryden the poet.
In preparing his poems for publication, how refreshing we found it to
pass from a needful although cursory perusal of his plays, and a
revision of his prologues, to these comparatively pure, right-manly, and
eloquent compositions--the fables of Dryden! We do not, because it would
be hardly fair, with Wordsworth, seek to compare them with the
Chaucerian originals--a comparison under which they would be infallibly
crushed. We prefer looking at them as bearing only the relation to
Chaucer which Macpherson's, did to the original, Ossian. And regarding
them in this light, as adaptations, where the original author furnishes
only the ground-work, they are surely masterpieces and models of
composition, if not exemplars of creative power and genius. How free and
majestic their numbers! How bold and buoyant their language! How
interesting the stories they tell! How perfect the preservation, and
artful the presentment, of the various characters! What a fine
chivalrous spirit breathes in "Palamon and Arcite!" What a soft yet
purple, pure yet gorgeous, light of love hovers over the "Flower and the
Leaf!"--the only poem of Dryden's in which--thanks perhaps to his
master, Chaucer--the poet discovers the slightest perception of that
"Love which spirits feel
In climes where all is equable and pure."
What gay and gallant badinage, exquisite irony, and interesting
narrative, in the story of "The Cock and Fox!" And what knowledge of
human nature and skilful construction in "The Wife of Bath's Tale!" We
are half inclined, with George Ellis, to call these fables the "noblest
specimen of versification to be found in any modern language." We
gather, too, from them a notion about Dryden's capabilities, which we
may state. It is, that had Dryden lived in a novel and romance-writing
age, and turned his great powers in that direction, he might have easily
become the best fictionist--next to Cervantes and Scott--that ever
lived, possessing, as he did, most of the qualities of a good
novelist--vigorous and facile diction; dramatic skill; an eye for
character; the power of graphic description, and rapid changeful
narrative; the command of the grave and the gay, the severe and the
lively; and a sympathy both with the bustling activities and the wild
romance of human life, if not with its more solemn aspects, its
transcendental references, and its aerial heights and giddy abysses of
imagination and poetry.
[We have followed the judicious example of Warton and Mitford in
excluding several Prologues which appear in some editions, but which
reflect no honour on their author.
Dryden's Translations will be published in the separate series of
"Translations," which it is the intention of the Publisher to issue,
independent of the "Poetical Works" of the various authors.]
I. To my honoured friend, Sir Robert Howard, on his excellent
II. To my honoured friend, Dr Charleton, on his learned and
useful Works; but more particularly his Treatise of Stonehenge,
by him restored to the true founder
III. To the Lady Castlemain, upon her encouraging his first play
IV. To Mr Lee, on his "Alexander"
V. To the Earl of Roscommon, on his excellent Essay on Translated
VI. To the Duchess of York, on her return from Scotland in the
VII. A Letter to Sir George Etherege
VIII. To Mr Southerne, on his Comedy called "The Wives' Excuse"
IX. To Henry Higden, Esq., on his translation of the Tenth
Satire of Juvenal
X. To my dear friend, Mr Congreve, on his Comedy called "The
XI. To Mr Granville, on his excellent Tragedy called "Heroic
XII. To my friend, Mr Motteux, on his Tragedy called "Beauty
XIII. To my honoured kinsman, John Dryden of Chesterton, in
the county of Huntingdon, Esq.
XIV. To Sir Godfrey Kneller, principal painter to his Majesty
XV. To his friend the author, John Hoddesdon, on his Divine
XVI. To my friend, Mr J. Northleigh, author of "The Parallel"
on his "Triumph of the British Monarchy"
ELEGIES AND EPITAPHS.
I. To the Memory of Mr Oldham
II. To the pious memory of the accomplished young lady, Mrs
Anne Killigrew, excellent in the two sister arts of Poesy
and Painting: an Ode
III. Upon the death of the Earl of Dundee
IV. Eleonora: a Panegyrical Poem, dedicated to the memory of
the late Countess of Abingdon
V. On the Death of Amyntas: a Pastoral Elegy
VI. On the Death of a very Young Gentleman
VII. Upon young Mr Rogers of Gloucestershire
VIII. On the Death of Mr Purcell
IX. Epitaph on the Lady Whitmore
X. Epitaph on Sir Palmes Fairbone's tomb in Westminster Abbey
XI. Under Mr Milton's picture, before his "Paradise Lost"
XII. On the monument of a fair Maiden Lady, who died at Bath,
and is there interred
XIII. Epitaph on Mrs Margaret Paston of Burningham, in Norfolk
XIV. On the monument of the Marquis of Winchester
SONGS, ODES, AND A MASQUE.
I. The Fair Stranger
II. On the Young Statesmen
III. A Song for St Cecilia's Day, 1687
IV. The Tears of Amynta for the death of Damon
V. The Lady's Song
VI. A Song
VII. A Song
IX. A Song
X. A Song to a fair Young Lady going out of town in Spring
XI. Song in the "Indian Emperor"
XII. Song in "The Maiden Queen"
XIII. Songs in "The Conquest of Granada"
XIV. Song of the Sea-fight in "Amboyna"
XV. Incantation in "Oedipus"
XVI. Songs in "Albion and Albanius"
XVII. Songs in "King Arthur"
XVIII. Song of Jealousy in "Love Triumphant"
XIX. Song--Farewell, fair Armida
XX. Alexander's Feast; or, the Power of Music: an Ode in
honour of St Cecilia's Day
XXI. The Secular Masque
XXII. Song of a Scholar and his Mistress
PROLOGUES AND EPILOGUES.
I. Prologue to "The Rival Ladies"
II. Prologue to "The Indian Queen"
III. Epilogue to "The Indian Queen"
IV. Epilogue to "The Indian Emperor"
V. Prologue to "Sir Martin Marr-all"
VI. Prologue to "The Tempest"
VII. Prologue to "Tyrannic Love"
VIII. Epilogue to "The Wild Gallant"
IX. Prologue, spoken the first day of the King's House acting
after the fire of London
X. Epilogue to the Second Part of the "Conquest of Granada"
XI. Prologue to "Aboyna"
XII. Epilogue to "Aboyna"
XIII. Prologue, spoken at the Opening of the New House,
March 26, 1674
XIV. Prologue to the University of Oxford, 1674
XV. Prologue to "Circe," a Tragic Opera
XVI. Epilogue, intended to have been spoken by the Lady
Hen. Mar. Wentworth, when "Calista" was acted at
XVII. Prologue to "Aurenzebe"
XVIII. Epilogue to "The Man of Mode; or, Sir Fopling Flutter"
XIX. Epilogue to "All for Love"
XX. Prologue to "Limberham"
XXI. Epilogue to "Mithridates, King of Pontus"
XXII. Prologue to "Oedipus"
XXIII. Epilogue to "Oedipus"
XXIV. Prologue to "Troilus and Cressida"
XXV. Prologue to "Caesar Borgia"
XXVI. Prologue to "Sophonisba"
XXVII. Prologue to "The Royal General"
XXVIII. Prologue to "The University of Oxford," 1681
XXIX. Prologue to his Royal Highness, upon his first appearance
at the Duke's Theatre, after his return from
XXX. Prologue to "The Earl of Essex; or, the Unhappy
XXXI. Epilogue for "The King's House"
XXXII. Prologue to "The Loyal Brother; or, the Persian
XXXIII. Prologue to "The King and Queen"
XXXIV. Prologue to the University of Oxford
XXXVI. Epilogue spoken at Oxford by Mrs Marshall
XXXVII. Prologue to the University of Oxford
XXXVIII. Prologue to the University of Oxford
XXXIX. Prologue to "Albion and Albanins"
XL. Epilogue to "Albion and Albanius"
XLI. Prologue to "Aviragus and Philicia Revived"
XLII. Prologue to "Don Sebastian"
XLIII. Prologue to "The Prophetess"
XLIV. Prologue to "The Mistakes"
XLV. Prologue to "King Arthur"
XLVI. Prologue to "Albumazar"
XLVII. An Epilogue
XLVIII. Prologue to "The Husband his own Cuckold"
XLIX. Prologue to "The Pilgrim"
L. Epilogue to "The Pilgrim"
TALES FROM CHAUCER.
To her Grace the Duchess of Ormond
Palamon and Arcite; or, the Knight's Tale
The Cock and the Fox; or, the Tale of the Nun's Priest
The Flower and the Leaf; or, the Lady in the Arbour: a Vision
The Wife of Bath, her Tale
The Character of a good Parson
TO MY HONOURED FRIEND SIR ROBERT HOWARD, ON HIS EXCELLENT POEMS.
As there is music uninform'd by art
In those wild notes, which, with a merry heart,
The birds in unfrequented shades express,
Who, better taught at home, yet please us less:
So in your verse a native sweetness dwells,
Which shames composure, and its art excels.
Singing no more can your soft numbers grace,
Than paint adds charms unto a beauteous face.
Yet as, when mighty rivers gently creep,
Their even calmness does suppose them deep; 10
Such is your muse: no metaphor swell'd high
With dangerous boldness lifts her to the sky:
Those mounting fancies, when they fall again,
Show sand and dirt at bottom do remain.
So firm a strength, and yet withal so sweet,
Did never but in Samson's riddle meet.
'Tis strange each line so great a weight should bear,
And yet no sign of toil, no sweat appear.
Either your art hides art, as Stoics feign
Then least to feel when most they suffer pain; 20
And we, dull souls, admire, but cannot see
What hidden springs within the engine be:
Or 'tis some happiness that still pursues
Each act and motion of your graceful muse.
Or is it fortune's work, that in your head
The curious net, that is for fancies spread,
Lets through its meshes every meaner thought,
While rich ideas there are only caught?
Sure that's not all; this is a piece too fair
To be the child of chance, and not of care. 30
No atoms casually together hurl'd
Could e'er produce so beautiful a world.
Nor dare I such a doctrine here admit,
As would destroy the providence of wit.
'Tis your strong genius, then, which does not feel
Those weights would make a weaker spirit reel.
To carry weight, and run so lightly too,
Is what alone your Pegasus can do.
Great Hercules himself could ne'er do more,
Than not to feel those heavens and gods he bore. 40
Your easier odes, which for delight were penn'd,
Yet our instruction make their second end:
We're both enrich'd and pleased, like them that woo
At once a beauty and a fortune too.
Of moral knowledge poesy was queen,
And still she might, had wanton wits not been;
Who, like ill guardians, lived themselves at large,
And, not content with that, debauch'd their charge.
Like some brave captain, your successful pen
Restores the exiled to her crown again: 50
And gives us hope, that having seen the days
When nothing flourish'd but fanatic bays,
All will at length in this opinion rest,--
"A sober prince's government is best."
This is not all: your art the way has found
To make the improvement of the richest ground;
That soil which those immortal laurels bore,
That once the sacred Maro's temples wore.
Eliza's griefs are so express'd by you,
They are too eloquent to have been true. 60
Had she so spoke, AEneas had obey'd
What Dido, rather than what Jove had said.
If funeral rites can give a ghost repose,
Your Muse so justly has discharged those;
Eliza's shade may now its wandering cease,
And claim a title to the fields of peace.
But if AEneas be obliged, no less
Your kindness great Achilles doth confess;
Who, dress'd by Statius in too bold a look,
Did ill become those virgin robes he took. 70
To understand how much we owe to you,
We must your numbers, with your author's, view:
Then we shall see his work was lamely rough,
Each figure stiff, as if design'd in buff:
His colours laid so thick on every place,
As only show'd the paint, but hid the face.
But as in perspective we beauties see,
Which in the glass, not in the picture, be;
So here our sight obligingly mistakes
That wealth, which his your bounty only makes. 80
Thus vulgar dishes are by cooks disguised,
More for their dressing than their substance prized.
Your curious notes so search into that age,
When all was fable but the sacred page,
That, since in that dark night we needs must stray,
We are at least misled in pleasant way.
But what we most admire, your verse no less
The prophet than the poet doth confess.
Ere our weak eyes discern'd the doubtful streak
Of light, you saw great Charles his morning break. 90
So skilful seamen ken the land from far,
Which shows like mists to the dull passenger.
To Charles your Muse first pays her duteous love,
As still the ancients did begin from Jove;
With Monk you end, whose name preserved shall be,
As Rome recorded Rufus'  memory,
Who thought it greater honour to obey
His country's interest, than the world to sway.
But to write worthy things of worthy men,
Is the peculiar talent of your pen: 100
Yet let me take your mantle up, and I
Will venture in your right to prophesy--
"This work, by merit first of fame secure,
Is likewise happy in its geniture:
For, since 'tis born when Charles ascends the throne,
It shares at once his fortune and its own."
* * * * *
[Footnote 1: 'Sir Robert Howard:' brother to Dryden's wife.]
[Footnote 2: 'The curious net,' &c.: a compliment to a poem of Sir
Robert's, called 'Rete Mirabile.']
[Footnote 3: 'Statius:' author of 'Thebaid' and the 'Achilleid;' the
latter translated by Sir Robert Howard.]
[Footnote 4: 'With Monk you end,' &c.: alluding to a poem of this
gentleman's on General Monk.]
[Footnote 5: 'Rufus:' a Roman consul, banished to Smyrna through
intrigues, but greatly respected.]LE II.
* * * * *
TO MY HONOURED FRIEND DR CHARLETON, ON HIS LEARNED AND USEFUL WORKS; BUT
MORE PARTICULARLY HIS TREATISE OF STONEHENGE, BY HIM RESTORED TO THE
The longest tyranny that ever sway'd,
Was that wherein our ancestors betray'd
Their free-born reason to the Stagyrite,
And made his torch their universal light.
So truth, while only one supplied the state,
Grew scarce, and dear, and yet sophisticate.
Still it was bought, like empiric wares, or charms,
Hard words seal'd up with Artistotle's arms.
Columbus was the first that shook his throne,
And found a temperate in a torrid zone, 10
The feverish air fann'd by a cooling breeze,
The fruitful vales set round with shady trees:
And guiltless men, who danced away their time,
Fresh as their groves, and happy as their clime.
Had we still paid that homage to a name,
Which only God and nature justly claim,
The western seas had been our utmost bound,
Where poets still might dream the sun was drown'd:
And all the stars that shine in southern skies,
Had been admired by none but savage eyes. 20
Among the asserters of free reason's claim,
Our nation's not the least in worth or fame.
The world to Bacon does not only owe
Its present knowledge, but its future too.
Gilbert shall live, till loadstones cease to draw,
Our British fleets the boundless ocean awe.
And noble Boyle, not less in nature seen,
Than his great brother read in states and men.
The circling streams, once thought but pools, of blood
(Whether life's fuel, or the body's food) 30
From dark oblivion Harvey's name shall save;
While Ent keeps all the honour that he gave.
Nor are you, learned friend, the least renown'd,
Whose fame, not circumscribed with English ground,
Flies like the nimble journeys of the light;
And is, like that, unspent too in its flight.
Whatever truths have been, by art or chance,
Redeem'd from error, or from ignorance,
Thin in their authors, like rich veins of ore,
Your works unite, and still discover more. 40
Such is the healing virtue of your pen,
To perfect cures on books, as well as men.
Nor is this work the least: you well may give
To men new vigour, who make stones to live.
Through you, the Danes, their short dominion lost,
A longer conquest than the Saxons boast.
Stonehenge, once thought a temple, you have found
A throne, where kings, our earthly gods, were crown'd;
Where by their wondering subjects they were seen,
Joy'd with their stature, and their princely mien. 50
Our sovereign here above the rest might stand,
And here be chose again to rule the land.
These ruins shelter'd once his sacred head,
When he from Worcester's fatal battle fled;
Watch'd by the genius of this royal place,
And mighty visions of the Danish race.
His refuge then was for a temple shown:
But, he restored, 'tis now become a throne.
* * * * *
[Footnote 6: 'Treatise of Stonehenge:' Charleton wrote a book proving,
against Inigo Jones, that Stonehenge was built by the Danes.]
[Footnote 7: 'Gilbert:' Dr William Gilbert, a physician both to Queen
Elizabeth and King James, and author of a treatise on the magnet.]
[Footnote 8: 'Harvey:' discoverer of the circulation of the blood.]
[Footnote 9: 'Ent:' a physician of the day.]
[Footnote 10: 'These ruins,' &c.: in the dedication of this book to
Charles II. is the following passage, which gave occasion to the last
six lines of this poem:--'I have had the honour to hear from your
majesty's own mouth, that you were pleased to visit this monument, and
entertain yourself with the delightful view thereof, after the defeat of
your army at Worcester.']
* * * * *
TO THE LADY CASTLEMAIN, UPON HER ENCOURAGING HIS FIRST PLAY.
As seamen, shipwreck'd on some happy shore,
Discover wealth in lands unknown before;
And, what their art had labour'd long in vain,
By their misfortunes happily obtain:
So my much-envied Muse, by storms long tost,
Is thrown upon your hospitable coast,
And finds more favour by her ill success,
Than she could hope for by her happiness.
Once Cato's virtue did the gods oppose;
While they the victor, he the vanquish'd chose: 10
But you have done what Cato could not do,
To choose the vanquish'd, and restore him too.
Let others triumph still, and gain their cause
By their deserts, or by the world's applause;
Let merit crowns, and justice laurels give,
But let me happy by your pity live.
True poets empty fame and praise despise;
Fame is the trumpet, but your smile the prize.
You sit above, and see vain men below
Contend for what you only can bestow: 20
But those great actions others do by chance,
Are, like your beauty, your inheritance;
So great a soul, such sweetness join'd in one,
Could only spring from noble Grandison.
You, like the stars, not by reflection bright,
Are born to your own heaven, and your own light;
Like them are good, but from a nobler cause,
From your own knowledge, not from nature's laws.
Your power you never use, but for defence,
To guard your own, or other's innocence: 30
Your foes are such as they, not you, have made,
And virtue may repel, though not invade.
Such courage did the ancient heroes show,
Who, when they might prevent, would wait the blow:
With such assurance as they meant to say,
We will o'ercome, but scorn the safest way.
What further fear of danger can there be?
Beauty, which captives all things, sets me free.
Posterity will judge by my success.
I had the Grecian poet's happiness, 40
Who, waving plots, found out a better way;
Some god descended, and preserved the play.
When first the triumphs of your sex were sung
By those old poets, beauty was but young,
And few admired the native red and white,
Till poets dress'd them up to charm the sight;
So beauty took on trust, and did engage
For sums of praises till she came to age.
But this long-growing debt to poetry
You justly, madam, have discharged to me, 50
When your applause and favour did infuse
New life to my condemn'd and dying Muse.
* * * * *
[Footnote 11: 'Lady Castlemain' this lady was for many years a favourite
mistress of Charles II., and was afterwards created Duchess of
[Footnote 12: 'Grandison:' her father, killed at Edgehill.]
* * * * *
TO MR LEE, ON HIS "ALEXANDER."
The blast of common censure could I fear,
Before your play my name should not appear;
For 'twill be thought, and with some colour too,
I pay the bribe I first received from you;
That mutual vouchers for our fame we stand,
And play the game into each other's hand;
And as cheap pen'orths to ourselves afford,
As Bessus and the brothers of the sword.
Such libels private men may well endure,
When states and kings themselves are not secure: 10
For ill men, conscious of their inward guilt,
Think the best actions on by-ends are built.
And yet my silence had not 'scaped their spite;
Then, envy had not suffer'd me to write;
For, since I could not ignorance pretend,
Such merit I must envy or commend.
So many candidates there stand for wit,
A place at court is scarce so hard to get:
In vain they crowd each other at the door;
For even reversions are all begg'd before: 20
Desert, how known soe'er, is long delay'd;
And then, too, fools and knaves are better paid.
Yet, as some actions bear so great a name,
That courts themselves are just, for fear of shame;
So has the mighty merit of your play
Extorted praise, and forced itself away.
'Tis here as 'tis at sea; who farthest goes,
Or dares the most, makes all the rest his foes.
Yet when some virtue much outgrows the rest,
It shoots too fast and high to be express'd; 30
As his heroic worth struck envy dumb,
Who took the Dutchman, and who cut the boom.
Such praise is yours, while you the passions move,
That 'tis no longer feign'd, 'tis real love,
Where nature triumphs over wretched art;
We only warm the head, but you the heart.
Always you warm; and if the rising year,
As in hot regions, brings the sun too near,
'Tis but to make your fragrant spices blow,
Which in our cooler climates will not grow. 40
They only think you animate your theme
With too much fire, who are themselves all phlegm.
Prizes would be for lags of slowest pace,
Were cripples made the judges of the race.
Despise those drones, who praise, while they accuse
The too much vigour of your youthful Muse.
That humble style which they your virtue make,
Is in your power; you need but stoop and take.
Your beauteous images must be allow'd
By all, but some vile poets of the crowd. 50
But how should any sign-post dauber know
The worth of Titian or of Angelo?
Hard features every bungler can command;
To draw true beauty shows a master's hand.
* * * * *
[Footnote 13: 'Bessus:' a cowardly character in Beaumont and Fletcher's
comedy of 'A King and no King.']
* * * * *
TO THE EARL OF ROSCOMMON, ON HIS EXCELLENT ESSAY ON TRANSLATED VERSE.
Whether the fruitful Nile, or Tyrian shore,
The seeds of arts and infant science bore,
'Tis sure the noble plant, translated first,
Advanced its head in Grecian gardens nursed.
The Grecians added verse: their tuneful tongue
Made Nature first, and Nature's God their song.
Nor stopp'd translation here: for conquering Rome,
With Grecian spoils, brought Grecian numbers home;
Enrich'd by those Athenian Muses more,
Than all the vanquish'd world could yield before. 10
Till barbarous nations, and more barbarous times,
Debased the majesty of verse to rhymes:
Those rude at first; a kind of hobbling prose,
That limp'd along, and tinkled in the close.
But Italy, reviving from the trance
Of Vandal, Goth, and Monkish ignorance,
With pauses, cadence, and well-vowell'd words,
And all the graces a good ear affords,
Made rhyme an art, and Dante's polish'd page
Restored a silver, not a golden age. 20
Then Petrarch follow'd, and in him we see
What rhyme improved in all its height can be:
At best a pleasing sound, and fair barbarity.
The French pursued their steps; and Britain, last,
In manly sweetness all the rest surpass'd.
The wit of Greece, the gravity of Rome,
Appear exalted in the British loom:
The Muses' empire is restored again,
In Charles' reign, and by Roscommon's pen.
Yet modestly he does his work survey, 30
And calls a finish'd Poem an Essay;
For all the needful rules are scatter'd here;
Truth smoothly told, and pleasantly severe;
So well is art disguised, for nature to appear.
Nor need those rules to give translation light:
His own example is a flame so bright,
That he who but arrives to copy well
Unguided will advance, unknowing will excel.
Scarce his own Horace could such rules ordain,
Or his own Virgil sing a nobler strain. 40
How much in him may rising Ireland boast--
How much in gaining him has Britain lost!
Their island in revenge has ours reclaim'd;
The more instructed we, the more we still are shamed.
'Tis well for us his generous blood did flow,
Derived from British channels long ago,
That here his conquering ancestors were nursed;
And Ireland but translated England first:
By this reprisal we regain our right,
Else must the two contending nations fight; 50
A nobler quarrel for his native earth,
Than what divided Greece for Homer's birth.
To what perfection will our tongue arrive,
How will invention and translation thrive,
When authors nobly born will bear their part,
And not disdain the inglorious praise of art!
Great generals thus, descending from command,
With their own toil provoke the soldier's hand.
How will sweet Ovid's ghost be pleased to hear
His fame augmented by an English peer; 60
How he embellishes his Helen's loves,
Outdoes his softness, and his sense improves;
When these translate, and teach translators too,
Nor firstling kid, nor any vulgar vow,
Should at Apollo's grateful altar stand.
Roscommon writes; to that auspicious hand,
Muse, feed the bull that spurns the yellow sand.
Roscommon, whom both court and camps commend,
True to his prince, and faithful to his friend;
Roscommon first in fields of honour known, 70
First in the peaceful triumphs of the gown;
Who both Minervas justly makes his own.
Now let the few beloved by Jove, and they
Whom infused Titan form'd of better clay,
On equal terms with ancient wit engage,
Nor mighty Homer fear, nor sacred Virgil's page:
Our English palace opens wide in state;
And without stooping they may pass the gate.
* * * * *
[Footnote 14: 'An English peer:' the Earl of Mulgrave.]
* * * * *
TO THE DUCHESS OF YORK, ON HER RETURN FROM SCOTLAND IN THE YEAR 1682.
When factious rage to cruel exile drove
The queen of beauty, and the court of love,
The Muses droop'd, with their forsaken arts,
And the sad Cupids broke their useless darts:
Our fruitful plains to wilds and deserts turn'd
Like Eden's face, when banish'd man it mourn'd,
Love was no more, when loyalty was gone,
The great supporter of his awful throne.
Love could no longer after beauty stay,
But wander'd northward to the verge of day, 10
As if the sun and he had lost their way.
But now the illustrious nymph, return'd again,
Brings every grace triumphant in her train.
The wondering Nereids, though they raised no storm,
Foreflow'd her passage, to behold her form:
Some cried, A Venus; some, A Thetis, pass'd;
But this was not so fair, nor that so chaste.
Far from her sight flew Faction, Strife, and Pride;
And Envy did but look on her, and died.
Whate'er we suffer'd from our sullen fate, 20
Her sight is purchased at an easy rate.
Three gloomy years against this day were set,
But this one mighty sum has clear'd the debt:
Like Joseph's dream, but with a better doom,
The famine past, the plenty still to come.
For her the weeping heavens become serene;
For her the ground is clad in cheerful green:
For her the nightingales are taught to sing,
And Nature has for her delay'd the spring.
The Muse resumes her long-forgotten lays; 30
And Love, restored his ancient realm surveys,
Recalls our beauties, and revives our plays;
His waste dominions peoples once again,
And from her presence dates his second reign.
But awful charms on her fair forehead sit,
Dispensing what she never will admit:
Pleasing, yet cold, like Cynthia's silver beam,
The people's wonder, and the poet's theme.
Distemper'd Zeal, Sedition, canker'd Hate,
No more shall vex the Church, and tear the State: 40
No more shall Faction civil discords move,
Or only discords of too tender love:
Discord, like that of music's various parts;
Discord, that makes the harmony of hearts;
Discord, that only this dispute shall bring,
Who best should love the Duke, and serve the King.
* * * * *
[Footnote 15: 'Queen of beauty:' Mary D'Este, the beautiful second wife
of the Duke of York; she had been banished to Scotland.]
* * * * *
A LETTER TO SIR GEORGE ETHEREGE.
To you who live in chill degree,
As map informs, of fifty-three,
And do not much for cold atone,
By bringing thither fifty-one,
Methinks all climes should be alike,
From tropic e'en to pole arctique;
Since you have such a constitution
As nowhere suffers diminution.
You can be old in grave debate,
And young in love-affairs of state; 10
And both to wives and husbands show
The vigour of a plenipo.
Like mighty missioner you come
"Ad Partes Infidelium."
A work of wondrous merit sure,
So far to go, so much t' endure;
And all to preach to German dame,
Where sound of Cupid never came.
Less had you done, had you been sent
As far as Drake or Pinto went, 20
For cloves or nutmegs to the line-a,
Or even for oranges to China.
That had indeed been charity;
Where love-sick ladies helpless lie,
Chapt, and for want of liquor dry.
But you have made your zeal appear
Within the circle of the Bear.
What region of the earth's so dull
That is not of your labours full?
Triptolemus (so sung the Nine) 30
Strew'd plenty from his cart divine,
But spite of all these fable-makers,
He never sow'd on Almain acres:
No; that was left by Fate's decree,
To be perform'd and sung by thee.
Thou break'st through forms with as much ease
As the French king through articles.
In grand affairs thy days are spent,
In waging weighty compliment,
With such as monarchs represent. 40
They, whom such vast fatigues attend,
Want some soft minutes to unbend,
To show the world that now and then
Great ministers are mortal men.
Then Rhenish rammers walk the round;
In bumpers every king is crown'd;
Besides three holy mitred Hectors,
And the whole college of Electors,
No health of potentate is sunk,
That pays to make his envoy drunk. 50
These Dutch delights I mention'd last
Suit not, I know, your English taste:
For wine to leave a whore or play
Was ne'er your Excellency's way.
Nor need this title give offence,
For here you were your Excellence,
For gaming, writing, speaking, keeping,
His Excellence for all but sleeping.
Now if you tope in form, and treat,
'Tis the sour sauce to the sweet meat, 60
The fine you pay for being great.
Nay, here's a harder imposition,
Which is indeed the court's petition,
That setting worldly pomp aside,
Which poet has at font denied,
You would be pleased in humble way
To write a trifle call'd a play.
This truly is a degradation,
But would oblige the crown and nation
Next to your wise negotiation. 70
If you pretend, as well you may,
Your high degree, your friends will say,
The Duke St Aignon made a play.
If Gallic wit convince you scarce,
His Grace of Bucks has made a farce,
And you, whose comic wit is terse all,
Can hardly fall below rehearsal.
Then finish what you have began;
But scribble faster, if you can:
For yet no George, to our discerning, 80
Has writ without a ten years' warning.
* * * * *
[Footnote 16: Written to Etherege, then at Ratisbon, in reply to one
from Sir George to the Earl of Middleton, at the Earl's request.]
* * * * *
TO MR SOUTHERNE, ON HIS COMEDY CALLED "THE WIVES' EXCUSE."
Sure there's a fate in plays, and 'tis in vain
To write, while these malignant planets reign.
Some very foolish influence rules the pit,
Not always kind to sense, or just to wit:
And whilst it lasts, let buffoonry succeed
To make us laugh; for never was more need.
Farce, in itself, is of a nasty scent;
But the gain smells not of the excrement.
The Spanish nymph, a wit and beauty too,
With all her charms, bore but a single show: 10
But let a monster Muscovite appear,
He draws a crowded audience round the year.
May be thou hast not pleased the box and pit;
Yet those who blame thy tale applaud thy wit:
So Terence plotted, but so Terence writ.
Like his thy thoughts are true, thy language clean
Even lewdness is made moral in thy scene.
The hearers may for want of Nokes repine;
But rest secure, the readers will be thine.
Nor was thy labour'd drama damn'd or hiss'd, 20
But with a kind civility dismiss'd;
With such good manners, as the Wife did use,
Who, not accepting, did but just refuse.
There was a glance at parting; such a look,
As bids thee not give o'er, for one rebuke.
But if thou wouldst be seen, as well as read,
Copy one living author, and one dead:
The standard of thy style let Etherege be;
For wit, the immortal spring of Wycherly:
Learn, after both, to draw some just design, 30
And the next age will learn to copy thine.
* * * * *
[Footnote 17: 'Wife:' the wife in the play, Mrs Friendall.]
* * * * *
TO HENRY HIGDEN, ESQ., ON HIS TRANSLATION OF THE TENTH SATIRE OF
The Grecian wits, who Satire first began,
Were pleasant Pasquins on the life of man;
At mighty villains, who the state oppress'd,
They durst not rail, perhaps; they lash'd, at least,
And turn'd them out of office with a jest.
No fool could peep abroad, but ready stand
The drolls to clap a bauble in his hand.
Wise legislators never yet could draw
A fop within the reach of common law;
For posture, dress, grimace, and affectation, 10
Though foes to sense, are harmless to the nation.
Our last redress is dint of verse to try,
And Satire is our Court of Chancery.
This way took Horace to reform an age,
Not bad enough to need an author's rage:
But yours, who lived in more degenerate times,
Was forced to fasten deep, and worry crimes.
Yet you, my friend, have temper'd him so well,
You make him smile in spite of all his zeal:
An art peculiar to yourself alone, 20
To join the virtues of two styles in one.
Oh! were your author's principle received,
Half of the labouring world would be relieved:
For not to wish is not to be deceived.
Revenge would into charity be changed,
Because it costs too dear to be revenged:
It costs our quiet and content of mind,
And when 'tis compass'd leaves a sting behind.
Suppose I had the better end o' the staff,
Why should I help the ill-natured world to laugh? 30
'Tis all alike to them, who get the day;
They love the spite and mischief of the fray.
No; I have cured myself of that disease;
Nor will I be provoked, but when I please:
But let me half that cure to you restore;
You gave the salve, I laid it to the sore.
Our kind relief against a rainy day,
Beyond a tavern, or a tedious play,
We take your book, and laugh our spleen away.
If all your tribe, too studious of debate, 40
Would cease false hopes and titles to create,
Led by the rare example you begun,
Clients would fail, and lawyers be undone.
* * * * *
[Footnote 18: 'Higden:' author of a bad comedy, which was condemned.]
[Footnote 19: 'Yours:' Juvenal, the tenth satire of whom Higden had
* * * * *
TO MY DEAR FRIEND MR CONGREVE, ON HIS COMEDY CALLED "THE DOUBLE-DEALER."
Well, then, the promised hour is come at last,
The present age of wit obscures the past:
Strong were our sires, and as they fought they writ,
Conquering with force of arms, and dint of wit:
Theirs was the giant race, before the flood;
And thus, when Charles return'd, our empire stood.
Like Janus he the stubborn soil manured,
With rules of husbandry the rankness cured;
Tamed us to manners, when the stage was rude;
And boisterous English wit with art endued. 10
Our age was cultivated thus at length;
But what we gain'd in skill we lost in strength.
Our builders were with want of genius cursed;
The second temple was not like the first:
Till you, the best Vitruvius, come at length;
Our beauties equal, but excel our strength.
Firm Doric pillars found your solid base:
The fair Corinthian crowns the higher space:
Thus all below is strength, and all above is grace.
In easy dialogue is Fletcher's praise; 20
He moved the mind, but had not power to raise.
Great Jonson did by strength of judgment please;
Yet, doubling Fletcher's force, he wants his ease.
In differing talents both adorn'd their age;
One for the study, the other for the stage.
But both to Congreve justly shall submit--
One match'd in judgment, both o'ermatch'd in wit.
In him all beauties of this age we see,
Etherege's courtship, Southerne's purity,
The satire, wit, and strength of manly Wycherly. 30
All this in blooming youth you have achieved:
Nor are your foil'd contemporaries grieved.
So much the sweetness of your manners move,
We cannot envy you, because we love.
Fabius might joy in Scipio, when he saw
A beardless consul made against the law,
And join his suffrage to the votes of Rome;
Though he with Hannibal was overcome.
Thus old Romano bow'd to Raphael's fame,
And scholar to the youth he taught became. 40
O that your brows my laurel had sustain'd!
Well had I been deposed, if you had reign'd:
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. 50
Yet this I prophesy: Thou shalt be seen
(Though with some short parenthesis between)
High on the throne of wit, and, seated there,
Not mine, that's little, but thy laurel wear.
Thy first attempt an early promise made;
That early promise this has more than paid.
So bold, yet so judiciously you dare,
That your least praise is to be regular.
Time, place, and action, may with pains be wrought;
But genius must be born, and never can be taught, 60
This is your portion; this your native store;
Heaven, that but once was prodigal before,
To Shakspeare gave as much; she could not give him more.
Maintain your post: that's all the fame you need;
For 'tis impossible you should proceed.
Already I am worn with cares and age,
And just abandoning the ungrateful stage:
Unprofitably kept at Heaven's expense,
I live a rent-charge on his providence:
But you, whom every muse and grace adorn, 70
Whom I foresee to better fortune born,
Be kind to my remains; and O defend,
Against your judgment, your departed friend!
Let not the insulting foe my fame pursue,
But shade those laurels which descend to you:
And take for tribute what these lines express:
You merit more; nor could my love do less.
* * * * *
TO MR GRANVILLE, ON HIS EXCELLENT TRAGEDY CALLED "HEROIC LOVE."
Auspicious poet, wert thou not my friend,
How could I envy, what I must commend!
But since 'tis nature's law, in love and wit,
That youth should reign, and withering age submit,
With less regret those laurels I resign,
Which, dying on my brows, revive on thine.
With better grace an ancient chief may yield
The long-contended honours of the field,
Than venture all his fortune at a cast,
And fight, like Hannibal, to lose at last. 10
Young princes, obstinate to win the prize,
Though yearly beaten, yearly yet they rise:
Old monarchs, though successful, still in doubt,
Catch at a peace, and wisely turn devout.
Thine be the laurel, then; thy blooming age
Can best, if any can, support the stage;
Which so declines, that shortly we may see
Players and plays reduced to second infancy.
Sharp to the world, but thoughtless of renown,
They plot not on the stage, but on the town, 20
And, in despair, their empty pit to fill,
Set up some foreign monster in a bill.
Thus they jog on, still tricking, never thriving,
And murdering plays, which they miscall reviving.
Our sense is nonsense, through their pipes convey'd:
Scarce can a poet know the play he made;
'Tis so disguised in death; nor thinks 'tis he
That suffers in the mangled tragedy.
Thus Itys first was kill'd, and after dress'd
For his own sire, the chief invited guest. 30
I say not this of thy successful scenes,
Where thine was all the glory, theirs the gains.
With length of time, much judgment, and more toil,
Not ill they acted, what they could not spoil.
Their setting sun still shoots a glimmering ray,
Like ancient Rome majestic in decay:
And better gleanings their worn soil can boast,
Than the crab-vintage of the neighbouring coast.
This difference yet the judging world will see;
Thou copiest Homer, and they copy thee. 40
* * * * *
[Footnote 20: 'Mr Granville:' Lord Lansdowne.]
[Footnote 21: 'Setting sun,' &c.: Betterton, who had mustered up a
company, and played in Lincoln's-Inn Fields.]
[Footnote 22: 'Neighbouring coast:' Drury Lane play-house.]
* * * * *
TO MY FRIEND MR MOTTEUX, ON HIS TRAGEDY CALLED "BEAUTY IN DISTRESS."
'Tis hard, my friend, to write in such an age,
As damns, not only poets, but the stage.
That sacred art, by Heaven itself infused,
Which Moses, David, Solomon have used,
Is now to be no more: the Muses' foes
Would sink their Maker's praises into prose.
Were they content to prune the lavish vine
Of straggling branches, and improve the wine,
Who but a madman would his thoughts defend?
All would submit; for all but fools will mend. 10
But when to common sense they give the lie,
And turn distorted words to blasphemy,
They give the scandal; and the wise discern,
Their glosses teach an age, too apt to learn.
What I have loosely, or profanely, writ,
Let them to fires, their due desert, commit:
Nor, when accused by me, let them complain:
Their faults, and not their function, I arraign.
Rebellion, worse than witchcraft, they pursued;
The pulpit preach'd the crime, the people rued. 20
The stage was silenced; for the saints would see
In fields perform'd their plotted tragedy.
But let us first reform, and then so live,
That we may teach our teachers to forgive:
Our desk be placed below their lofty chairs;
Ours be the practice, as the precept theirs.
The moral part, at least, we may divide,
Humility reward, and punish pride;
Ambition, interest, avarice, accuse:
These are the province of a tragic Muse. 30
These hast thou chosen; and the public voice
Has equall'd thy performance with thy choice.
Time, action, place, are so preserved by thee,
That even Corneille might with envy see
The alliance of his tripled Unity.
Thy incidents, perhaps, too thick are sown;
But too much plenty is thy fault alone.
At least but two can that good crime commit,
Thou in design, and Wycherly in wit.
Let thy own Gauls condemn thee, if they dare; 40
Contented to be thinly regular:
Born there, but not for them, our fruitful soil
With more increase rewards thy happy toil.
Their tongue, enfeebled, is refined too much;
And, like pure gold, it bends at every touch:
Our sturdy Teuton yet will art obey,
More fit for manly thought, and strengthen'd with allay.
But whence art thou inspired, and thou alone,
To flourish in an idiom not thy own?
It moves our wonder, that a foreign guest 50
Should over-match the most, and match the best.
In under-praising thy deserts, I wrong;
Here find the first deficience of our tongue:
Words, once my stock, are wanting, to commend
So great a poet, and so good a friend.
* * * * *
[Footnote 23: 'Motteux:' an exiled Frenchman, translator of 'Don
Quixote,' and a play-wright. Dryden alludes here to Collier's attacks on
* * * * *
TO MY HONOURED KINSMAN, JOHN DRYDEN, OF CHESTERTON, IN THE COUNTY OF
How bless'd is he who leads a country life,
Unvex'd with anxious cares, and void of strife!
Who studying peace, and shunning civil rage,
Enjoy'd his youth, and now enjoys his age:
All who deserve his love, he makes his own;
And, to be loved himself, needs only to be known.
Just, good, and wise, contending neighbours come,
From your award to wait their final doom;
And, foes before, return in friendship home.
Without their cost, you terminate the cause; 10
And save the expense of long litigious laws:
Where suits are traversed; and so little won,
That he who conquers, is but last undone:
Such are not your decrees; but so design'd,
The sanction leaves a lasting peace behind;
Like your own soul, serene; a pattern of your mind.
Promoting concord, and composing strife,
Lord of yourself, uncumber'd with a wife;
Where, for a year, a month, perhaps a night,
Long penitence succeeds a short delight: 20
Minds are so hardly match'd, that even the first,
Though pair'd by Heaven, in Paradise were cursed.
For man and woman, though in one they grow,
Yet, first or last, return again to two.
He to God's image, she to his was made;
So farther from the fount the stream at random stray'd.
How could he stand, when, put to double pain,
He must a weaker than himself sustain!
Each might have stood perhaps; but each alone;
Two wrestlers help to pull each other down. 30
Not that my verse would blemish all the fair;
But yet, if some be bad, 'tis wisdom to beware;
And better shun the bait, than struggle in the snare.
Thus have you shunn'd, and shun the married state,
Trusting as little as you can to fate.
No porter guards the passage of your door,
To admit the wealthy, and exclude the poor;
For God, who gave the riches, gave the heart,
To sanctify the whole, by giving part;
Heaven, who foresaw the will, the means has wrought, 40
And to the second son a blessing brought;
The first-begotten had his father's share:
But you, like Jacob, are Rebecca's heir.
So may your stores and fruitful fields increase;
And ever be you bless'd, who live to bless.
As Ceres sow'd, where'er her chariot flew;
As Heaven in deserts rain'd the bread of dew;
So free to many, to relations most,
You feed with manna your own Israel host.
With crowds attended of your ancient race, 50
You seek the champion sports, or sylvan chase:
With well-breath'd beagles you surround the wood,
Even then, industrious of the common good:
And often have you brought the wily fox
To suffer for the firstlings of the flocks;
Chased even amid the folds; and made to bleed,
Like felons, where they did the murderous deed.
This fiery game your active youth maintain'd;
Not yet by years extinguish'd, though restrain'd:
You season still with sports your serious hours: 60
For age but tastes of pleasures youth devours.
The hare in pastures or in plains is found,
Emblem of human life, who runs the round;
And, after all his wandering ways are done,
His circle fills, and ends where he begun--
Just as the setting meets the rising sun.
Thus princes ease their cares; but happier he,
Who seeks not pleasure through necessity,
Than such as once on slippery thrones were placed;
And chasing, sigh to think themselves are chased. 70
So lived our sires, ere doctors learn'd to kill,
And multiplied with theirs the weekly bill.
The first physicians by debauch were made:
Excess began, and sloth sustains the trade,
Pity the generous kind their cares bestow
To search forbidden truths (a sin to know),
To which, if human science could attain,
The doom of death, pronounced by God, were vain.
In vain the leech would interpose delay;
Fate fastens first, and vindicates the prey. 80
What help from art's endeavours can we have?
Gibbons but guesses, nor is sure to save:
But Maurus sweeps whole parishes, and peoples every grave;
And no more mercy to mankind will use,
Than when he robb'd and murder'd Maro's Muse.
Wouldst thou be soon despatch'd, and perish whole,
Trust Maurus with thy life, and Milbourn with thy soul.
By chase our long-lived fathers earn'd their food;
Toil strung the nerves, and purified the blood:
But we their sons, a pamper'd race of men, 90
Are dwindled down to threescore years and ten.
Better to hunt in fields for health unbought,
Than fee the doctor for a nauseous draught.
The wise, for cure, on exercise depend;
God never made his work for man to mend.
The tree of knowledge, once in Eden placed,
Was easy found, but was forbid the taste:
Oh, had our grandsire walk'd without his wife,
He first had sought the better plant of life!
Now both are lost: yet, wandering in the dark, 100
Physicians, for the tree, have found the bark:
They, labouring for relief of human kind,
With sharpen'd sight some remedies may find;
The apothecary-train is wholly blind,
From files a random recipe they take,
And many deaths of one prescription make.
Garth, generous as his Muse, prescribes and gives;
The shopman sells; and by destruction lives:
Ungrateful tribe! who, like the viper's brood,
From medicine issuing, suck their mother's blood! 110
Let these obey; and let the learn'd prescribe;
That men may die, without a double bribe:
Let them, but under their superiors, kill;
When doctors first have sign'd the bloody bill;
He 'scapes the best, who, nature to repair,
Draws physic from the fields, in draughts of vital air.
You hoard not health, for your own private use;
But on the public spend the rich produce.
When, often urged, unwilling to be great,
Your country calls you from your loved retreat, 120
And sends to senates, charged with common care,
Which none more shuns, and none can better bear;
Where could they find another form'd so fit,
To poise, with solid sense, a sprightly wit?
Were these both wanting, as they both abound,