Palamon and Arcite by John Dryden

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To edit an English classic for study in secondary schools is difficult. The lack of anything like uniformity in the type of examination required by the colleges and universities complicates treatment. Not only do two distinct institutions differ in the scope and character of their questions, but the same university varies its demands from year to year. The only safe course to pursue is, therefore, a generally comprehensive one. But here, again, we are hampered by limited space, and are forced to content ourselves with a bare outline, which the individual instructor can fill in as much or as little as he pleases.

The ignorance of most of our classical students in regard to the history of English literature is appalling; and yet it is impossible properly to study a given work of a given author without some knowledge of the background against which that particular writer stands. I have, therefore, sketched the politics, society, and literature of the age in which Dryden lived, and during which he gave to the world his _Palamon and Arcite_. In the critical comments of the introduction I have contented myself with little more than hints. That particular line of study, whether it concerns the poet’s style, his verse forms, or the possession of the divine instinct itself, can be much more satisfactorily developed by the instructor, as the student’s knowledge of the poem grows.

It is certainly a subject for congratulation that so many youth will be introduced, through the medium of Dryden’s crisp and vigorous verse, to one of the tales of Chaucer. May it now, as in his own century, accomplish the poet’s desire, and awaken in them appreciative admiration for the old bard, the best story-teller in the English language.

G. E. E. CLINTON, CONN., July 26, 1897.



The fifty years of Dryden’s literary production just fill the last half of the seventeenth century. It was a period bristling with violent political and religious prejudices, provocative of strife that amounted to revolution. Its social life ran the gamut from the severity of the Commonwealth Puritan to the unbridled debauchery of the Restoration Courtier. In literature it experienced a remarkable transformation in poetry, and developed modern prose, watched the production of the greatest English epics, smarted under the lash of the greatest English satires, blushed at the brilliant wit of unspeakable comedies, and applauded the beginnings of English criticism.

When the period began, England was a Commonwealth. Charles I., by obstinate insistence upon absolutism, by fickleness and faithlessness, had increased and strengthened his enemies. Parliament had seized the reins of government in 1642, had completely established its authority at Naseby in 1645, and had beheaded the king in front of his own palace in 1649. The army had accomplished these results, and the army proposed to enjoy the reward. Cromwell, the idolized commander of the Ironsides, was placed at the head of the new-formed state with the title of Lord Protector; and for five years he ruled England, as she had been ruled by no sovereign since Elizabeth. He suppressed Parliamentary dissensions and royalist uprisings, humbled the Dutch, took vengeance on the Spaniard, and made England indisputably mistress of the ocean. He was succeeded, at his death in 1658, by his son Richard; but the father’s strong instinct for government had not been inherited by the son. The nation, homesick for monarchy, was tiring of dissension and bickering, and by the Restoration of 1660 the son of Charles I became Charles II of England.

Scarcely had the demonstrations of joy at the Restoration subsided when London was visited by the devouring plague of 1665. All who could fled from the stricken city where thousands died in a day. In 1666 came the great fire which swept from the Tower to the Temple; but, while it destroyed a vast deal of property, it prevented by its violent purification a recurrence of the plague, and made possible the rebuilding of the city with great sanitary and architectural improvements.

Charles possessed some of the virtues of the Stuarts and most of their faults. His arbitrary irresponsibility shook the confidence of the nation in his sincerity. Two parties, the Whigs and the Tories, came into being, and party spirit and party strife ran high. The question at issue was chiefly one of religion. The rank and file of Protestant England was determined against the revival of Romanism, which a continuation of the Stuart line seemed to threaten. Charles was a Protestant only from expediency, and on his deathbed accepted the Roman Catholic faith; his brother James, Duke of York, the heir apparent, was a professed Romanist.

Such an outlook incited the Whigs, under the leadership of Shaftesbury, to support the claims of Charles’ eldest illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, who, on the death of his father in 1685, landed in England; but the promised uprising was scarcely more than a rabble of peasantry, and was easily suppressed. Then came the vengeance of James, as foolish as it was tyrannical. Judge Jeffries and his bloody assizes sent scores of Protestants to the block or to the gallows, till England would endure no more. William, Prince of Orange, who had married Mary, the eldest daughter of James, was invited to accept the English crown. He landed at Torbay, was joined by Churchill, the commander of the king’s forces, and, on the precipitate flight of James, mounted the throne of England. This event stands in history as the Protestant Revolution of 1688.

During William’s reign, which terminated in 1702, Stuart uprisings were successfully suppressed, English liberties were guaranteed by the famous Bill of Rights, Protestant succession was assured, and liberal toleration was extended to the various dissenting sects.

Society had passed through quite as great variations as had politics during this half-century. The roistering Cavalier of the first Charles, with his flowing locks and plumed hat, with his maypoles and morrice dances, with his stage plays and bear-baitings, with his carousals and gallantries, had given way to the Puritan Roundhead. It was a serious, sober-minded England in which the youth Dryden found himself. If the Puritan differed from the Cavalier in political principles, they were even more diametrically opposed in mode of life. An Act of Parliament closed the theaters in 1642. Amusements of all kinds were frowned upon as frivolous, and many were suppressed by law. The old English feasts at Michaelmas, Christmas, Twelfth Night, and Candlemas were regarded as relics of popery and were condemned. The Puritan took his religion seriously, so seriously that it overpowered him. The energy and fervor of his religious life were illustrated in the work performed by Cromwell’s chaplain, John Howe, on any one of the countless fast days. “He began with his flock at nine in the morning, prayed during a quarter of an hour for blessing upon the day’s work, then read and explained a chapter for three-quarters of an hour, then prayed for an hour, preached for an hour, and prayed again for a half an hour, then retired for a quarter of an hour’s refreshment–the people singing all the while– returned to his pulpit, prayed for another hour, preached for another hour, and finished at four P.M.”

At the Restoration the pendulum swung back again. From the strained morality of the Puritans there was a sudden leap to the most extravagant license and the grossest immorality, with the king and the court in the van. The theaters were thrown wide open, women for the first time went upon the stage, and they acted in plays whose moral tone is so low that they cannot now be presented on the stage or read in the drawing-room. Of course they voiced the social conditions of the time. Marriage ties were lightly regarded; no gallant but boasted his amours. Revelry ran riot; drunkenness became a habit and gambling a craze. The court scintillated with brilliant wits, conscienceless libertines, and scoffing atheists. It was an age of debauchery and disbelief.

The splendor of this life sometimes dazzles, the lack of conveniences appalls. The post left London once a week. A journey to the country must be made in your own lumbering carriage, or on the snail-slow stagecoach over miserable roads, beset with highwaymen. The narrow, ill-lighted streets, even of London, could not be traversed safely at night; and ladies, borne to routs and levees in their sedan chairs, were lighted by link-boys, and were carried by stalwart, broad-shouldered bearers who could wield well the staves in a street fight. Such were the conditions of life and society which Dryden found in the last fifty years of the seventeenth century.

Strong as were the contrasts in politics and manners during Dryden’s lifetime, they were paralleled by contrasts in literature no less marked. Dryden was born in 1631; he died in 1700. In the year of his birth died John Donne, the father of the Metaphysical bards, or Marinists; in the year of his death was born James Thomson, who was to give the first real start to the Romantic movement; while between these two dates lies the period devoted to the development of French Classicism in English literature.

At Dryden’s birth Ben Jonson was the only one of the great Elizabethan dramatists still living, and of the lesser stars in the same galaxy, Chapman, Massinger, Ford, Webster, and Heywood all died during his boyhood and youth, while Shirley, the last of his line, lingered till 1667. Of the older writers in prose, Selden alone remained; but as Dryden grew to manhood, he had at hand, fresh from the printers, the whole wealth of Commonwealth prose, still somewhat clumsy with Latinism or tainted with Euphuism, but working steadily toward that simple strength and graceful fluency with which he was himself to mark the beginning of modern English prose.

Clarendon, with his magnificently involved style, began his famous _History of the Great Rebellion_ in 1641. Ten years later Hobbes published the _Leviathan_, a sketch of an ideal commonwealth. Baxter, with his _Saints’ Everlasting Rest_ sent a book of religious consolation into every household. In 1642 Dr. Thomas Browne, with the simplicity of a child and a quaintness that fascinates, published his _Religio Medici_; and in 1653 dear old simple-hearted Isaak Walton told us in his _Compleat Angler_ how to catch, dress, and cook fish. Thomas Fuller, born a score or more of years before Dryden, in the same town, Aldwinkle, published in 1642 his _Holy and Profane State_, a collection of brief and brisk character sketches, which come nearer modern prose than anything of that time; while for inspired thought and purity of diction the _Holy Living_, 1650, and the _Holy Dying_, 1651, of Jeremy Taylor, a gifted young divine, rank preeminent in the prose of the Commonwealth.

But without question the ablest prose of the period came from the pen of Cromwell’s Latin Secretary of State, John Milton. Milton stands in his own time a peculiarly isolated figure. We never in thought associate him with his contemporaries. Dryden had become the leading literary figure in London before Milton wrote his great epic; yet, were it not for definite chronology, we should scarcely realize that they worked in the same century. While, therefore, no sketch of seventeenth-century literature can exclude Milton, he must be taken by himself, without relation to the development, forms, and spirit of his age, and must be regarded, rather, as a late-born Elizabethan.

When Dryden was born, Milton at twenty-three was just completing his seven years at Cambridge, and as the younger poet grew through boyhood, the elder was enriching English verse with his _Juvenilia_. Then came the twenty years of strife. As Secretary of the Commonwealth, he threw himself into controversial prose. His _Iconoclast_, the _Divorce_ pamphlets, the _Smectymnuus_ tracts, and the _Areopagitica_ date from this period. A strong partisan of the Commonwealth, he was in emphatic disfavor at the Restoration. Blind and in hiding, deserted by one-time friends, out of sympathy with his age, he fulfilled the promise of his youth: he turned again to poetry; and in _Paradise Lost_, _Paradise Regained_, and _Samson Agonistes_ he has left us “something so written that the world shall not willingly let it die.”

I have said that Milton’s poetry differed distinctly from the poetry of his age. The verse that Dryden was reading as a schoolboy was quite other than _L’Allegro_ and _Lycidas_. In the closing years of the preceding century, John Donne had traveled in Italy. There the poet Marino was developing fantastic eccentricities in verse. Donne under similar influences adopted similar methods.

To seize upon the quaintest possible thought and then to express it in as quaint a manner as possible became the chief aim of English poets during the first three-quarters of the seventeenth century. Donne had encountered trouble in obtaining his wife from her father. Finding one morning a flea that had feasted during the night on his wife and himself, he was overcome by its poetic possibilities, and wrote:

“This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed and temple is;
Tho’ parents frown, and you, we’re met And cloister’d in these living walls of jet.”

To strain after conceits, to strive for quaintness of thought and expression, was the striking characteristic of all the poets of the generation, to whom Dr. Johnson gave the title Metaphysical, and who are now known as the Marinists. There were Quarles, with his Dutch _Emblems_; Vaughan, Sandys, Crashaw, and pure-souled George Herbert, with his _Temple_. There were Carew, with the _Rapture_; Wither and his “Shall I wasting in despair”; the two dashing Cavaliers Suckling and Lovelace, the latter the only man who ever received an M.A. for his personal beauty. There was Herrick, the dispossessed Devonshire rector, with _Hesperides_ and _Noble Numbers_, freer than were the others from the beauty-marring conceits of the time. There, too, were to be found the gallant love-maker Waller, Cowley, the queen’s secretary during her exile, and Marvell, Milton’s assistant Secretary of State. But these three men were to pledge allegiance to a new sovereignty in English verse.

In the civil strife, Waller had at first sided with Parliament, had later engaged in a plot against it, and after a year’s imprisonment was exiled to France. At this time the Academy, organized to introduce form and method in the French language and literature, held full sway. Malherbe was inculcating its principles, Corneille and Moliere were practicing its tenets in their plays, and Boileau was following its rules in his satires, when Waller and his associates came in contact with this influence. The tendency was distinctly toward formality and conventionality. Surfeited with the eccentricities and far-fetched conceits of the Marinists, the exiled Englishmen welcomed the change; they espoused the French principles; and when at the Restoration they returned to England with their king, whose taste had been trained in the same school, they began at once to formalize and conventionalize English poetry. The writers of the past, even the greatest writers of the past, were regarded as men of genius, but without art; and English poetry was thenceforth, in Dryden’s own words, to start with Waller.

Under the newly adopted canons of French taste, narrative and didactic verse, or satire, took first place. Blank verse was tabooed as too prose-like; so, too, were the enjambed rhymes. A succession of rhymed pentameter couplets, with the sense complete in each couplet, was set forth as the proper vehicle for poetry; and this unenjambed distich fettered English verse for three-quarters of a century. In the drama the characters must be noble, the language dignified; the metrical form must be the rhymed couplet, and the unities of time, place, and action must be observed.

Such, in brief, were the principles of French Classicism as applied to English poetry, principles of which Dryden was the first great exponent, and which Pope in the next generation carried to absolute perfection. Waller, Marvell, and Cowley all tried their pens in the new method, Cowley with least success; and they were the poets in vogue when Dryden himself first attracted attention. Denham quite caught the favor of the critics with his mild conventionalities; the Earl of Roscommon delighted them with his rhymed _Essay on Translated Verse_; the brilliant court wits, Rochester, Dorset, and Sedley, who were writing for pleasure and not for publication, still clung to the frivolous lyric; but the most- read and worst-treated poet of the Restoration was Butler. He published his _Hudibras_, a sharp satire on the extreme Puritans, in 1663. Every one read the book, laughed uproariously, and left the author to starve in a garret. Of Dryden’s contemporaries in prose, there were Sir William Temple, later the patron of Swift, John Locke who contributed to philosophy his _Essay Concerning the Human Understanding_, the two diarists Evelyn and Pepys, and the critics Rymer and Langbaine; there was Isaac Newton, who expounded in his _Principia_, 1687, the laws of gravitation; and there was the preaching tinker, who, confined in Bedford jail, gave to the world in 1678 one of its greatest allegories, _Pilgrim’s Progress_.

Dryden was nearly thirty before the production of the drama was resumed in England. Parliament had closed the theaters in 1642, and that was an extinguisher of dramatic genius. Davenant had vainly tried to elude the law, and finally succeeded in evading it by setting his _Siege of Rhodes_ to music, and producing the first English opera. At the Restoration, when the theaters were reopened, the dramas then produced reflected most vividly the looseness and immorality of the times. Their worst feature was that “they possessed not wit enough to keep the mass of moral putrefaction sweet.”

Davenant was prolific, Crowne wallowed in tragedy, Tate remodeled Shakspere; so did Shadwell, who was later to measure swords with Dryden, and receive for his rashness an unmerciful castigation. But by all odds the strongest name in tragedy was Thomas Otway, who smacks of true Elizabethan genius in the _Orphan_ and _Venice Preserved_. In comedy we receive the brilliant work of Etheridge, the vigor of Wycherley, and, as the century drew near its close, the dashing wit of Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Farquhar. This burst of brilliancy, in which the Restoration drama closes, was the prelude to the Augustan Age of Queen Anne and the first Georges, the period wherein flourished that group of self-satisfied, exceptionally clever, ultra-classical wits who added a peculiar zest and charm to our literature. As Dryden grew to old age, these younger men were already beginning to make themselves heard, though none had done great work. In poetry there were Prior, Gay, and Pope, while in prose we find names that stand high in the roll of fame,–the story-teller Defoe, the bitter Swift, the rollicking Dick Steele, and delightful Addison.

This is the background in politics, society, and letters on which the life of Dryden was laid during the last half of the seventeenth century. There were conditions in his environment which materially modified his life and affected his literary form, and without a knowledge of these conditions no study of the man or his works can be effective or satisfactory. Dryden was preeminently a man of his times.

* * * * *


John Dryden was born at the vicarage of Aldwinkle, All Saints, in Northamptonshire, August 9, 1631. His father, Erasmus Dryden, was the third son of Sir Erasmus Dryden of Cannons Ashby. The estate descended to Dryden’s uncle, John, and is still in the family. His mother was Mary Pickering. Both the Drydens and Pickerings were Puritans, and were ranged on the side of Parliament in its struggle with Charles I. As a boy Dryden received his elementary education at Tichmarsh, and went thence to Westminster School, where he studied under the famous Dr. Busby. Here he first appeared in print with an elegiac poem on the death of a schoolfellow, Lord Hastings. It possesses the peculiarities of the extreme Marinists. The boy had died from smallpox, and Dryden writes:

“Each little pimple had a tear in it To wail the fault its rising did commit.”

He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, May 18, 1650, took his B.A. in 1654, and then, though he received no fellowship, lingered at the university for three years. Tradition tells us that he had no fondness for his Alma Mater, and certainly his verse contains compliments only for Oxford.

His father had died in 1654 and had bequeathed him a small estate. When, in 1657, he finally left the university, he attached himself to his uncle, Sir Gilbert Pickering, a general of the Commonwealth. In 1658 he wrote _Heroic Stanzas on Cromwell’s Death;_ but shortly thereafter he went to London, threw himself into the life of literary Bohemia, and at the Restoration, in 1660, wrote his _Astroea Redux_, as enthusiastically as the veriest royalist of them all. This sudden transformation of the eulogist of Cromwell to the panegyrist of Charles won for Dryden in some quarters the name of a political turncoat; but such criticism was unjust. He was by birth and early training a Puritan; add to this a poet’s admiration for a truly great character, and the lines on Cromwell are explained; but during his London life he rubbed elbows with the world, early prejudices vanished, his true nature asserted itself, and it was John Dryden himself, not merely the son of his father, who celebrated Charles’ return.

On December 1, 1663, he married Lady Elizabeth Howard, eldest daughter of the Earl of Berkshire, and the sister of a literary intimate. Tradition has pronounced the marriage an unhappy one, but facts do not bear out tradition. He nowhere referred other than affectionately to his wife, and always displayed a father’s warm affection for his sons, John, Charles, and Erasmus. Lady Elizabeth outlived her husband and eventually died insane.

During the great plague in London, 1665, Dryden fled with his wife to Charleton. He lived there for two years, and during that time wrote three productions that illustrate the three departments of literature to which he devoted himself: _Annus Mirabilis_, a narrative and descriptive poem on the fire of 1666 and the sea fight with the Dutch, the _Essay on Dramatic Poesy_, his first attempt at literary criticism in prose, and the _Maiden Queen_, a drama. In _Annus Mirabilis_ we find the best work yet done by him. Marinist quaintness still clings here and there, and he has temporarily deserted the classical distich for a quatrain stanza; but here, for the first time, we taste the Dryden of the _Satires_ and the _Fables_. His _Essay on Dramatic Poesy_ started modern prose. Hitherto English prose had suffered from long sentences, from involved sentences, and from clumsy Latinisms or too bald vernacular. Dryden happily united simplicity with grace, and gave us plain, straightforward sentences, musically arranged in well-ordered periods. This was the vehicle in which he introduced literary criticism, and he continued it in prefaces to most of his plays and subsequent poems.

At this same time he not only discussed the drama, but indulged in its production; and for a score of years from the early sixties he devoted himself almost exclusively to the stage. It was the most popular and the most profitable mode of expression. He began with a comedy, the _Wild Gallant_, in 1662. It was a poor play and was incontinently condemned. He then developed a curious series of plays, of which the _Indian Emperor_, the _Conquest of Grenada_, and _Aurengzebe_ are examples. He professedly followed French methods, observed the unities, and used the rhymed couplet. But they were not French; they were a nondescript incubation by Dryden himself, and were called heroic dramas. They were ridiculed in the Duke of Buckingham’s farce, the _Rehearsal_; but their popularity was scarcely impaired.

In 1678 Dryden showed a return to common sense and to blank verse in _All for Love_, and, though it necessarily suffers from its comparison with the original, Shakspere’s _Antony and Cleopatra_, it nevertheless possesses enough dramatic power to make it his best play. He had preceded this by rewriting Milton’s _Paradise Lost_ as an opera, in the _State of Innocence_, and he followed it in 1681 with perhaps his best comedy, the _Spanish Friar_.

Dryden was now far the most prominent man of letters in London. In 1670 he had been appointed Poet Laureate and Historiographer Royal with a salary of two hundred pounds and a butt of sack. His connection with the stage had been a decided financial success, and he was in receipt of an income of about seven hundred pounds, which at modern values would approximate $15,000. His house on Gerard Street, Soho, backed upon Leicester’s gardens. There he spent his days in writing, but the evening found him at Will’s Coffee House. In this famous resort of the wits and writers of the day the literary dictator of his generation held his court. Seated in his particular armchair, on the balcony in summer, by the fire in winter, he discoursed on topics current in the literary world, pronounced his verdict of praise or condemnation, and woe to the unfortunate upon whom the latter fell. A week before Christmas, in 1679, as Dryden was walking home from an evening of this sort, he was waylaid by masked ruffians in Rose Alley and was beaten to unconsciousness. The attack was supposed to have been incited by Rochester, who smarted under an anonymous satire mistakenly attributed to Dryden.

Though wrongly accused of this particular satire, it was not long before he did turn his attention to that department of verse. It was the time of the restless dissent of the Whigs from the succession of James; and in 1681 Dryden launched _Absalom and Achitophel_, one of the most brilliant satires in our language, against Shaftesbury and his adherents, who were inciting Monmouth to revolt. He found an admirable parallel in Absalom’s revolt from his father David, and he sustained the comparison. The Scriptural names concealed living characters, and Shaftesbury masked as Achitophel, the evil counsellor, and Buckingham as Zimri. Feeling ran high. Shaftesbury was arrested and tried, but was acquitted, and his friends struck off a medal in commemoration. In 1682, therefore, came Dryden’s second satire, the _Medal_. These two political satires called forth in the fevered state of the times a host of replies, two of the most scurrilous from the pens of Shadwell and Settle. Of these two poor Whigs the first was drawn and quartered in _MacFlecnoe_, while the two were yoked for castigation in Part II. of _Absalom and Achitophel_, which appeared in 1682. Dryden possessed preeminently the faculty for satire. He did not devote himself exclusively to an abstract treatment, nor, like Pope, to bitter personalities; he blends and combines the two methods most effectively. Every one of his brisk, nervous couplets carries a sting; every distich is a sound box on the ear.

We reach now a most interesting period in Dryden’s career and one that has provoked much controversy. In 1681 he published a long argument in verse, entitled _Religio Laici_ (the Religion of a Layman), in which he states his religious faith and his adherence to the Church of England. When King James came to the throne in 1685 he made an immediate attempt to establish the Roman Catholic faith; and now Dryden, too, turned Romanist, and in 1687 supported his new faith in the long poetical allegory, the _Hind and the Panther_. Of course his enemies cried turncoat; and it certainly looked like it. Dryden was well into manhood before the religious instinct stirred in him, and then, once waking, he naturally walked in the beaten track. But these instincts, though roused late, possessed the poet’s impetuosity; and it was merely a natural intensifying of the same impulse that had brought him into the Church of England, which carried him to a more pronounced religious manifestation, and landed him in the Church of Rome. His sincerity is certainly backed by his acts, for when James had fled, and the staunch Protestants William and Mary held the throne, he absolutely refused to recant, and sacrificed his positions and emoluments. He was stripped of his royal offices and pensions, and, bitter humiliation, the laurel, torn from his brow, was placed on the head of that scorned jangler in verse, Shadwell.

Deprived now of royal patronage and pensions, Dryden turned again to the stage, his old-time purse-filler; and he produced two of his best plays, _Don Sebastian_ and _Amphitryon_. The rest of his life, however, was to be spent, not with the drama, but in translation and paraphrase. Since 1684 he had several times published _Miscellanies_, collections of verse in which had appeared fragments of translations. With that indefatigable energy which characterized him, he now devoted himself to sustained effort. In 1693 he published a translation of _Juvenal_, and in the same year began his translation of _Virgil_, which was published in 1697. The work was sold by subscription, and the poet was fairly well paid. Dryden’s translations are by no means exact; but he caught the spirit of his poet, and carried something of it into his own effective verse.

Dryden was not great in original work, but he was particularly happy in adaptation; and so it happened that his best play, _All for Love_, was modeled on Shakspere’s _Antony and Cleopatra_, and his best poem, _Palamon and Arcite_, was a paraphrase of the _Knight’s Tale_ of Chaucer. Contrary to the general taste of his age, he had long felt and often expressed great admiration for the fourteenth-century poet. His work on Ovid had first turned his thought to Chaucer, he tells us, and by association he linked with him Boccaccio. As his life drew near its close he turned to those famous old story-tellers, and in the _Fables_ gave us paraphrases in verse of eight of their most delightful tales, with translations from Homer and Ovid, a verse letter to his kinsman John Driden, his second _St. Cedlia’s Ode_, entitled _Alexander’s Feast_, and an _Epitaph_.

The _Fables_ were published in 1700. They were his last work. Friends of the poet, and they were legion, busied themselves at the beginning of that year in the arrangement of an elaborate benefit performance for him at the Duke’s Theater; but Dryden did not live to enjoy the compliment. He suffered severely from gout; a lack of proper treatment induced mortification, which spread rapidly, and in the early morning of the first of May, 1700, he died.

He had been the literary figurehead of his generation, and the elaborate pomp of his funeral attested his great popularity. His body lay in state for several days and then with a great procession was borne, on the 13th of May, to the Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey. The last years of his life had been spent in fond study of the work of Chaucer, and so it happened that just three hundred years after the death of elder bard Dryden was laid to rest by the side of his great master.


The _Fables_, in which this poem appears, were published in 1700. The word fable as here used by Dryden holds its original meaning of story or tale. Besides the _Palamon and Arcite_, he paraphrased from Chaucer the _Cock and the Fox_, the _Flower and the Leaf_, the _Wife of Bath’s Tale_, the _Character of the Good Parson_. From Boccaccio he gave us _Sigismonda and Guiscardo, Theodore and Honoria_, and _Cymon and Iphigenia_, while he completed the volume with the first book of the _Iliad_, certain of Ovid’s _Metamorphoses_, the _Epistle to John Driden, Alexander’s Feast_, and an _Epitaph_. The _Fables_ were dedicated to the Duke of Ormond, whose father and grandfather Dryden had previously honored in a prose epistle, full of the rather excessive compliment then in vogue. _Palamon and Arcite_ is itself preceded by a dedication in verse to the Duchess of Ormond. In the graceful flattery of this inscription Dryden excelled himself, and he was easily grand master of the art in that age of superlative gallantry. The Duke acknowledged the compliment by a gift of five hundred pounds. The preface to the volume is one of Dryden’s best efforts in prose. It is mainly concerned with critical comment on Chaucer and Boccaccio; and, though it lacks the accuracy of modern scholarship, it is full of a keen appreciation of his great forerunners.

The work of Dryden in _Palamon and Arcite_ may seem to us superfluous, for a well-educated man in the nineteenth century is familiar with his Chaucer in the original; but in the sixteenth century our early poets were regarded as little better than barbarians, and their language was quite unintelligible. It was, therefore, a distinct addition to the literature of his age when he rescued from oblivion the _Knight’s Tale_, the first of the _Canterbury Tales_, and gave it to his world as _Palamon and Arcite_.

Here, as in his translations, Dryden catches the spirit of his original and follows it; but he does not track slavishly in its footprints. In this particular poem he follows his leader more closely than in some of his other paraphrases, and the three books in which he divides his _Palamon and Arcite_ scarcely exceed in length the original _Knight’s Tale_. The tendency toward diffuse expansion, an excess of diluting epithets, which became a feature of eighteenth-century poetry, Dryden has sensibly shunned, and has stuck close to the brisk narrative and pithy descriptions of Chaucer. If the subject in hand be concrete description, as in the Temple of Mars, Dryden is at his best, and surpasses his original; but if the abstract enters, as in the portraiture on the walls, he expands, and when he expands he weakens. To illustrate:

“The smiler with the knif under the cloke”

has lost force when Dryden stretches it into five verses:

“Next stood Hypocrisy, with holy leer; Soft smiling, and demurely looking down, But hid the dagger underneath the gown: The assassinating wife, the household fiend, And far the blackest there, the traitor- friend.”

The anachronisms in the poem are Chaucer’s. When he put this story of Greek love and jealousy and strife into the mouth of his Knight, he was living in the golden age of chivalry; and he simply transferred its setting to this chivalrous story of ancient Greece. The arms, the lists, the combat, the whole environment are those of the England of Edward III, not the Athens of Theseus. Dryden has left this unchanged, realizing the charm of its mediaeval simplicity. As Dryden gives it to us the poem is an example of narrative verse, brisk in its movement, dramatic in its action, and interspersed with descriptive passages that stimulate the imagination and satisfy the sense.

Coming as it did in the last years of his life, the poem found him with his vocabulary fully developed and his versification perfected; and these are points eminently essential in narrative verse. When Dryden began his literary career, he had but just left the university, and his speech smacked somewhat of the pedantry of the classical scholar of the times. Then came the Restoration with its worship of French phrase and its liberal importation. His easy-going life as a Bohemian in the early sixties strengthened his vernacular, and his association with the wits at Will’s Coffee House developed his literary English. A happy blending of all these elements, governed by his strong common sense, gave him at maturity a vocabulary not only of great scope, but of tremendous energy and vitality.

At the time of the production of _Palamon and Arcite_ Dryden had, by long practice, become an absolute master of the verse he used. As we have seen, his early work was impregnated with the peculiarities of the Marinists; and even after the ascendency of French taste at the Restoration he still dallied with the stanza, and was not free from conceits. But his work in the heroic drama and in satire had determined his verse form and developed his ability in its use. In this poem, as in the bulk of his work, he employs the unenjambed pentameter distich; that is, a couplet with five accented syllables in each verse and with the sense terminating with the couplet. Dryden’s mastery of this couplet was marvelous. He did not attain to the perfect polish of Pope a score of years later, but he possessed more vitality; and to this strength must be added a fluent grace and a ready sequence which increased the beauty of the measure and gave to it a nervous energy of movement. The great danger that attends the use of the distich is monotony; but Dryden avoided this. By a constant variation of cadence, he threw the natural pause now near the start, now near the close, and now in the midst of his verse, and in this way developed a rhythm that never wearies the ear with monotonous recurrence. He employed for this same purpose the hemistich or half-verse, the triplet or three consecutive verses with the same rhyme, and the Alexandrine with its six accents and its consequent well-rounded fullness.

So much for _Palamon and Arcite_. First put into English by the best story-teller in our literature, it was retold at the close of the seventeenth century by the greatest poet of his generation, one of whose chief claims to greatness lies in his marvelous ability for adaptation and paraphrase.

* * * * *


It remains to indicate briefly Dryden’s position in English literature. To the critics of his own time he was without question the greatest man of letters in his generation, and so he undeniably was after the death of Milton. We are not ready to say with Dr. Johnson that “he found English of brick and left it of marble,” for there was much marble before Dryden was dreamed of, and his own work is not entirely devoid of brick; but that Dryden rendered to English services of inestimable value is not to be questioned. For forty years the great aim of his life was, as he tells us himself, to improve the English language and English poetry, and by constant and tireless effort in a mass of production of antipodal types he accomplished his object. He enriched and extended our vocabulary, he modulated our meters, he developed new forms, and he purified and invigorated style.

There are a few poets in our literature who are better than Dryden; there are a great many who are worse; but there has been none who worked more constantly and more conscientiously for its improvement. Mr. Saintsbury has admirably summarized the situation: “He is not our greatest poet; far from it. But there is one point in which the superlative may safely be applied to him. Considering what he started with, what he accomplished, and what advantages he left to his successors, he must be pronounced, without exception, the greatest craftsman in English Letters.”


HISTORY: Green, _History of the English People_, vols. iii, iv; Knight, _Popular History of England_, vols. iii, iv, v; Gardiner, _The First Two Stuarts, and the Puritan Revolution_; Hale, _Fall of the Stuarts, and Western Europe_; Green, _Short History of the English People_; Ransome, _A Short History of England_; Montgomery, _English History_.

BIOGRAPHY: Lives of Dryden in the editions of his Works by Scott, Malone, Christie; Johnson, _Dryden (Lives of the Poets)_; Saintsbury, _Dryden (English Men of Letters)_.

CRITICISM: Mitchell, _English Lands, Letters, and Kings (Elizabeth to Anne)_; Gosse, _From Shakespeare to Pope_; Lowell, _Dryden (Among my Books)_; Garnett, _The Age of Dryden_; Masson, _Dryden and the Literature of the Restoration (Three Devils)_; Hamilton, _The Poets Laureate of England_; Hazlitt, _On Dryden and Pope_.

ROMANCE: Scott, _Woodstock, Peveril of the Peak_; Defoe, _The Plague in London_.

MYTHOLOGY: Bulfinch, _Age of Fable_; Gayley, Classic Myths in English Literature_; Smith, _Classical Dictionary_.


Dryden’s Life. History. English Literature. 1631, Born Aug. 9th. 1631, Herbert, Temple.

1632, Milton, L’Allegro and II Penseroso.

1633. Birth of Prince James. 1633, Massinger, New Way to Pay Old Debts. Ford, Broken Heart. Prynne, Histrio-mastix

1634. First Ship-money Writ. 1634, Fletcher, Purple Island. Cowley, Poetical Blossoms. Milton, Comus.

1635. Second Ship-money Writ. 1635, Quarles, Emblems.

1636, Sandys, Paraphrase of the Psalms.

1637, Riot in Edinburgh. 1637, Milton, Lycidas.

1638, Scottish National Covenant. Judgment against John Hampden.

1639. First Bishops’ War.

1640. Short Parliament. 1640, Suckling, Ballad of a Wedding. Second Bishops’ War.
Carew, Poems. Long Parliament assembled.

1641. Execution of Strafford. Constitutional

1641, Milton, Smectymnuus Tracts, Reforms. Debate
Clarendon begins History of on Grand Remonstrance.
Civil War.

1642. Committee of Public Safety. 1642, Fuller, Holy and Profane State. Battle of Edgehill.
Theaters closed. Browne, Religio Medici.

1643. Westminster Assembly. Solemn 1643, Denham,
Cooper’s Hill. League and Covenant taken by House.

1644. Scotch Army crosses Tweed. 1644, Milton,
Doctrine and Discipline
Royalist defeat
at Marston of Divorce, Areopagitica, On Moor. Education.

1645. Laud beheaded. 1645, Waller, Poems, lst edition. Royalists crushed
at Naseby.
1646, Charles surrendered to Scots.
1646, Crashaw, Steps to the
Temple. Browne, Vulgar Errors.

1647, Charles surrendered by Scots. Army in
possession of London. Charles’ flight from
Hampton Court.
1647, Cowley, The Mistress.

1648, Second Civil War. Pride’s Purge.
1648, Herrick, Hesperides.
Noble Numbers.

1649, Poem on Death of Lord Hastings. 1649, Charles beheaded.
Cromwell subdues Ireland. 1649, Lovelace, Lucasta. Gauden, Eikon Basilike. Milton,

1650, Entered Trinity, Cambridge.
1650, Battle of Dunbar. 1650, Baxter,
Saints’ Everlasting Rest. Taylor, Holy Living.

1651, Cromwell wins at
1651, Davenant, Gondibert. Taylor, Holy Dying.
Hobbes, Leviathan.

1652, Punished for disobedience, Cambridge.

1653, Cromwell dissolves Long Parliament.
Barebones Parliament. Made Lord Protector by
Little Parliament.
1653, Walton, Compleat Angler,

1654, Father died. Received B.A. from Cambridge. 1654, First Protectorate
Parliament, Dutch routed on the sea.

1655. Yreaty with France. Jamaica seized from Spain. 1656. Second Protectorate
1656, Cowley, Works, lst edition. Davenant, Siege of Rhodes.

1657. Left Cambridge. Attached to Sir Gilbert Pickering.

1658. Heroic Stanzas on Cromwell’s Death. 1658, Dunkirk seized from
Spain. Cromwell dies. His son Richard succeeds.

1659, Richard Cromwell resigns. Long Parliament restored. Military government.

1660, Astraea Redux.
1660, Long Parliament again restored.
Declaration of Breda. Convention Parliament.
Restoration Charles II. 1660, Milton, Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth. Pepys, Diary begun.

1661, Panegyric on Coronation. 1661, Meeting of Cavalier Parliament. Corporation Act.

1662, Poem to Lord Clarendon.
1662, Act of Uniformity. Dissenting ministers expelled. Royal Society founded. King declares for Toleration. Dunkirk sold to France.
1662, Fuller, Worthies of

1663, Married Lady Elizabeth Howard. Poem to Dr. Charleton. Wild Gallant. 1663, Butler, Hudibras.

1664. Reference in Pepys to ‘Dryden, the poet.’ 1664, Repeal of Triennial Act. Conventicle Act.
1664, Etheridge, Comical Revenge. Evelyn, Sylva.

1665, Poem to the Duchess of York. Indian Emperor. Poem to Lady Castlemaine.
Left London for Charleton.
1665, First Dutch War of Restoration. Great Plague. Five-Mile Act.
1665, Dorset, Song at Sea.

1666, Essay on Dramatic Poesy. Son Charles born. 1666, Great Fire.

1667, Annus Mirabilis. Maiden Queen. Sir Martin Marall. Tempest. 1667, Dutch blockade Thames. Peace of Breda. Clarendon’s Fall. 1667, Milton, Paradise Lost.

1668, Mock Astrologer. Son John born. 1668, Etheridge, She Would if She Could. Sedley, A Mulberry Garden.

1669. Tyrannic Love. Son Erasmus born. 1669, Pepys, Diary closes. Shadwell, The Royal Shepherdess. Penn, No Cross, no Crown.

1670, Conquest of Granada. Appointed Poet Laureate and Historiographer Royal.
Mother died.
1670, Treaty of Dover. 1670, Shadwell, Sullen Lovers.

1671, Buckingham, Rehearsal. Milton, Paradise Regained. Samson Agonistes.

1672. Marriage a la Mode.
1672, Second Dutch War of Restoration. Declaration of Indulgence.

1673. Assignation, Amboyna.
1673, Test Act. Shaftesbury dismissed. 1673, Settle, Empress of Morocco.

1674, A State of Innocence.
1675. Aurengzebe.
1678, All for Love, Limberham.
1679. OEdipus. Additional Pension
of One Hundred
Pounds. Troilus and
Cressida. Cudgeled in
Rose Alley.
1680. Ovid’s Heroides.
1681, Spanish Friar. Absalom
and Achitophel, Part I.
1682. The Medal, MacFlecnoe,
Absalom and Achitophel,
Part II. Religio
1683. Collector of Customs at the
Port of London.
1684. Miscellanies, vol. i. Translates Maimbourg’s History
of League.
1685. Miscellanies, vol. ii. Albion and Albanius.
Threnodia Augustalis.
1686. Ode on Memory of Mrs.
1687. Hind and the Panther.
St. Cecilia Ode.

1674, Peace with the Dutch.
1675, Non-resistance Bill rejected. 1677, Marriage of William and Mary.
1678, Peace of Nymwegen.
Popish plot.
1679, Habeas Corpus Act. Dissolution Cavalier Parliament.
First Short Parliament.
1680, Second Short Parliament.
1681, Third Short Parliament.
Tory Reaction.
1682, Flight of Shaftesbury.
1683, London City forfeits Charter. Rye House Plot.
Russell and Sydney executed.
1685, Death of Charles II. Accession of James II.
Prorogation of Parliament.
Meeting of Parliament.
Battle of Edgemore.
Bloody Assizes.
1686, Judges allowed King’s Dispensing Power.
1687, First Declaration of Indulgence.

English Literature.

1675, Mulgrave, Essay on Satire.
1676, Etheridge, The Man of Mode.
1677, Crowne, Destruction of Jerusalem. Behn, The Rover.
Wycherley, Plain Dealer.
1678, Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress.
Rymer, Tragedies of the Last Age. 1679, Oldham, Satires upon the Jesuits.
1680, Otway, The Orphan.
1681, Marvell, Poems.
Roscommon, Essay on Translated Verse.
1682, Otway, Venice Preserved.
1687, Newton, Principia.
Prior and Montague, Country
Mouse and City Mouse.

1688, Britannia Rediviva.
1688, Second Declaration of Indulgence. Bishops sent to Tower. Birth of Prince of Wales. William and Mary invited to take English Throne. William lands at Torbay. James flees.

1689, Lost his offices and pensions.
1689, William and Mary crowned. Toleration Act. Bill of Rights. Grand Alliance. Jacobite Rebellion.
1689, Locke, Letters on Toleration, Treatise on Government.

1690, Don Sebastian. Amphitryon.
1690, Battle of the Boyne.
1690, Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

1691, King Arthur
1691, Treaty of Limerick.
1691, Langbane, Account of English Dramatic Poets. Rochester, Poems.

1692, Eleonora, Cleomines.
1692, Massacre of Glencoe. Churchill deprived of office. 1692, Dennis, The Impartial Critick.

1693, Miscellanies, vol. iii. Perseus and Juvenal. 1693, Beginning of National Debt.
1693, Congreve, Old Bachelor.

1694, Miscellanies, vol. iv.
1694, Bank of England established. Death of Queen Mary. 1694, Southern, The Fatal Marriage. Addison, Account of Greatest English Poets. Congreve, Double Dealer.

1695, Poems to Kneller and Congreve. Fresnoy’s Art of Painting. 1695, Censorship of Press removed.
1695, Congreve, Love for Love. Blackmore, Prince Arthur.

1696, Life of Lucian.
1696, Trials for Treason Act.
1696, Southern, Oroonoko.

1697, Virgil, Alexander’s Feast composed. 1697, Peace of Ryswick.
1697, Congreve, Mourning Bride. Vanbrugh, The Relapse.

1698, Partition Treaties.
1698, Swift begins Battle of Books. Farquhar, Love and a Bottle. Vanbrugh, Provoked Wife. Collier, Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage.

1700, Fables. Died May 1st.
1700, Severe Acts against Roman Catholics. 1700, Congreve, Way of the World. Prior, Carmen Seculare.



The bard who first adorned our native tongue Tuned to his British lyre this ancient song; Which Homer might without a blush reherse, And leaves a doubtful palm in Virgil’s verse: He matched their beauties, where they most excel; Of love sung better, and of-arms as well.

Vouchsafe, illustrious Ormond, to behold What power the charms of beauty had of old; Nor wonder if such deeds of arms were done, Inspired by two fair eyes that sparkled like your own.

If Chaucer by the best idea wrought, And poets can divine each other’s thought, The fairest nymph before his eyes he set; And then the fairest was Plantagenet,
Who three contending princes made her prize, And ruled the rival nations with her eyes; Who left immortal trophies of her fame, And to the noblest order gave the name.

Like her, of equal kindred to the throne, You keep her conquests, and extend your own:

As when the stars, in their etherial race, At length have rolled around the liquid space, At certain periods they resume their place, From the same point of heaven their course advance, And move in measures of their former dance; Thus, after length of ages, she returns, Restored in you, and the same place adorns: Or you perform her office in the sphere, Born of her blood, and make a new Platonic year.

O true Plantagenet, O race divine,
(For beauty still is fatal to the line,) Had Chaucer lived that angel-face to view, Sure he had drawn his Emily from you;
Or had you lived to judge the doubtful right, Your noble Palamon had been the knight; And conquering Theseus from his side had sent Your generous lord, to guide the Theban government.

Time shall accomplish that; and I shall see A Palamon in him, in you an Emily.

Already have the Fates your path prepared, And sure presage your future sway declared: When westward, like the sun, you took your way, And from benighted Britain bore the day, Blue Triton gave the signal from the shore, The ready Nereids heard, and swam before To smooth the seas; a soft Etesian gale But just inspired, and gently swelled the sail; Portunus took his turn, whose ample hand Heaved up the lightened keel, and sunk the sand, And steered the sacred vessel safe to land. The land, if not restrained, had met your way, Projected out a neck, and jutted to the sea. Hibernia, prostrate at your feet, adored In you the pledge of her expected lord,

Due to her isle; a venerable name;
His father and his grandsire known to fame; Awed by that house, accustomed to command, The sturdy kerns in due subjection stand, Nor bear the reins in any foreign hand.

At your approach, they crowded to the port; And scarcely landed, you create a court: As Ormond’s harbinger, to you they run, For Venus is the promise of the Sun.

The waste of civil wars, their towns destroyed, Pales unhonoured, Ceres unemployed,
Were all forgot; and one triumphant day Wiped all the tears of three campaigns away. Blood, rapines, massacres, were cheaply bought, So mighty recompense your beauty brought. As when the dove returning bore the mark Of earth restored to the long-labouring ark, The relics of mankind, secure of rest,
Oped every window to receive the guest, And the fair bearer of the message blessed: So, when you came, with loud repeated cries, The nation took an omen from your eyes, And God advanced his rainbow in the skies, To sign inviolable peace restored;
The saints with solemn shouts proclaimed the new accord.

When at your second coming you appear, (For I foretell that millenary year)
The sharpened share shall vex the soil no more, But earth unbidden shall produce her store; The land shall laugh, the circling ocean smile, And Heaven’s indulgence bless the holy isle.

Heaven from all ages has reserved for you That happy clime, which venom never knew; Or if it had been there, your eyes alone Have power to chase all poison, but their own.

Now in this interval, which Fate has cast Betwixt your future glories and your past, This pause of power, ’tis Ireland’s hour to mourn; While England celebrates your safe return, By which you seem the seasons to command, And bring our summers back to their forsaken land.

The vanquished isle our leisure must attend, Till the fair blessing we vouchsafe to send; Nor can we spare you long, though often we may lend. The dove was twice employed abroad, before The world was dried, and she returned no more.

Nor dare we trust so soft a messenger, New from her sickness, to that northern air; Rest here awhile your lustre to restore, That they may see you, as you shone before; For yet, the eclipse not wholly past, you wade Through some remains and dimness of a shade.

A subject in his prince may claim a right, Nor suffer him with strength impaired to fight; Till force returns, his ardour we restrain, And curb his warlike wish to cross the main.

Now past the danger, let the learned begin The inquiry, where disease could enter in; How those malignant atoms forced their way, What in the faultless frame they found to make their prey, Where every element was weighed so well, That Heaven alone, who mixed the mass, could tell Which of the four ingredients could rebel; And where, imprisoned in so sweet a cage, A soul might well be pleased to pass an age.

And yet the fine materials made it weak; Porcelain by being pure is apt to break. Even to your breast the sickness durst aspire, And forced from that fair temple to retire, Profanely set the holy place on fire.
In vain your lord, like young Vespasian, mourned, When the fierce flames the sanctuary burned; And I prepared to pay in verses rude
A most detested act of gratitude:
Even this had been your Elegy, which now Is offered for your health, the table of my vow.

Your angel sure our Morley’s mind inspired, To find the remedy your ill required;
As once the Macedon, by Jove’s decree, Was taught to dream an herb for Ptolemy: Or Heaven, which had such over-cost bestowed As scarce it could afford to flesh and blood, So liked the frame, he would not work anew, To save the charges of another you;
Or by his middle science did he steer, And saw some great contingent good appear, Well worth a miracle to keep you here,
And for that end preserved the precious mould, Which all the future Ormonds was to hold; And meditated, in his better mind,
An heir from you who may redeem the failing kind.

Blessed be the power which has at once restored The hopes of lost succession to your lord; Joy to the first and last of each degree, Virtue to courts, and, what I longed to see, To you the Graces, and the Muse to me.

O daughter of the Rose, whose cheeks unite The differing titles of the Red and White; Who heaven’s alternate beauty well display, The blush of morning and the milky way; Whose face is Paradise, but fenced from sin; For God in either eye has placed a cherubin.

All is your lord’s alone; even absent, he Employs the care of chaste Penelope.
For him you waste in tears your widowed hours, For him your curious needle paints the flowers; Such works of old imperial dames were taught, Such for Ascanius fair Elisa wrought.
The soft recesses of your hours improve The three fair pledges of your happy love: All other parts of pious duty done,
You owe your Ormond nothing but a son, To fill in future times his father’s place, And wear the garter of his mother’s race.




In days of old there lived, of mighty fame, A valiant Prince, and Theseus was his name; A chief, who more in feats of arms excelled, The rising nor the setting sun beheld.
Of Athens he was lord; much land he won, And added foreign countries to his crown. In Scythia with the warrior Queen he strove, Whom first by force he conquered, then by love; He brought in triumph back the beauteous dame, With whom her sister, fair Emilia, came. With honour to his home let Theseus ride, With Love to friend, and Fortune for his guide, And his victorious army at his side.
I pass their warlike pomp, their proud array, Their shouts, their songs, their welcome on the way; But, were it not too long, I would recite The feats of Amazons, the fatal fight
Betwixt the hardy Queen and hero Knight; The town besieged, and how much blood it cost The female army, and the Athenian host; The spousals of Hippolyta the Queen;
What tilts and turneys at the feast were seen; The storm at their return, the ladies’ fear: But these and other things I must forbear.

The field is spacious I design to sow With oxen far unfit to draw the plough: The remnant of my tale is of a length
To tire your patience, and to waste my strength; And trivial accidents shall be forborn, That others may have time to take their turn, As was at first enjoined us by mine host, That he, whose tale is best and pleases most, Should win his supper at our common cost. And therefore where I left, I will pursue This ancient story, whether false or true, In hope it may be mended with a new.
The Prince I mentioned, full of high renown, In this array drew near the Athenian town; When, in his pomp and utmost of his pride Marching, he chanced to cast his eye aside, And saw a quire of mourning dames, who lay By two and two across the common way:
At his approach they raised a rueful cry, And beat their breasts, and held their hands on high, Creeping and crying, till they seized at last His courser’s bridle and his feet embraced. “Tell me,” said Theseus, “what and whence you are, “And why this funeral pageant you prepare? Is this the welcome of my worthy deeds, To meet my triumph in ill-omened weeds? Or envy you my praise, and would destroy With grief my pleasures, and pollute my joy? Or are you injured, and demand relief?
Name your request, and I will ease your grief.” The most in years of all the mourning train Began; but swounded first away for pain; Then scarce recovered spoke: “Nor envy we “Thy great renown, nor grudge thy victory; ‘Tis thine, O King, the afflicted to redress, And fame has filled the world with thy success: We wretched women sue for that alone,
Which of thy goodness is refused to none; Let fall some drops of pity on our grief, If what we beg be just, and we deserve relief; For none of us, who now thy grace implore, But held the rank of sovereign queen before; Till, thanks to giddy Chance, which never bears That mortal bliss should last for length of years, She cast us headlong from our high estate, And here in hope of thy return we wait, And long have waited in the temple nigh, Built to the gracious goddess Clemency. But reverence thou the power whose name it bears, Relieve the oppressed, and wipe the widows’ tears. I, wretched I, have other fortune seen, The wife of Capaneus, and once a Queen; At Thebes he fell; cursed be the fatal day! And all the rest thou seest in this array To make their moan their lords in battle lost, Before that town besieged by our confederate host. But Creon, old and impious, who commands The Theban city, and usurps the lands,
Denies the rites of funeral fires to those Whose breathless bodies yet he calls his foes. Unburned, unburied, on a heap they lie; Such is their fate, and such his tyranny; No friend has leave to bear away the dead, But with their lifeless limbs his hounds are fed.” At this she shrieked aloud; the mournful train Echoed her grief, and grovelling on the plain, With groans, and hands upheld, to move his mind, Besought his pity to their helpless kind.

The Prince was touched, his tears began to flow, And, as his tender heart would break in two, He sighed; and could not but their fate deplore, So wretched now, so fortunate before.
Then lightly from his lofty steed he flew, And raising one by one the suppliant crew, To comfort each, full solemnly he swore, That by the faith which knights to knighthood bore, And whate’er else to chivalry belongs,
He would not cease, till he revenged their wrongs; That Greece should see performed what he declared, And cruel Creon find his just reward.
He said no more, but shunning all delay Rode on, nor entered Athens on his way; But left his sister and his queen behind, And waved his royal banner in the wind, Where in an argent field the God of War Was drawn triumphant on his iron car.
Red was his sword, and shield, and whole attire, And all the godhead seemed to glow with fire; Even the ground glittered where the standard flew, And the green grass was dyed to sanguine hue. High on his pointed lance his pennon bore His Cretan fight, the conquered Minotaur: The soldiers shout around with generous rage, And in that victory their own presage.
He praised their ardour, inly pleased to see His host, the flower of Grecian chivalry. All day he marched, and all the ensuing night, And saw the city with returning light.
The process of the war I need not tell, How Theseus conquered, and how Creon fell; Or after, how by storm the walls were won, Or how the victor sacked and burned the town; How to the ladies he restored again
The bodies of their lords in battle slain; And with what ancient rites they were interred; All these to fitter time shall be deferred: I spare the widows’ tears, their woful cries, And howling at their husbands’ obsequies; How Theseus at these funerals did assist, And with what gifts the mourning dames dismissed.

Thus when the victor chief had Creon slain, And conquered Thebes, he pitched upon the plain His mighty camp, and when the day returned, The country wasted and the hamlets burned, And left the pillagers, to rapine bred, Without control to strip and spoil the dead.

There, in a heap of slain, among the rest Two youthful knights they found beneath a load oppressed Of slaughtered foes, whom first to death they sent, The trophies of their strength, a bloody monument. Both fair, and both of royal blood they seemed, Whom kinsmen to the crown the heralds deemed; That day in equal arms they fought for fame; Their swords, their shields, their surcoats were the same: Close by each other laid they pressed the ground, Their manly bosoms pierced with many a grisly wound; Nor well alive nor wholly dead they were, But some faint signs of feeble life appear; The wandering breath was on the wing to part, Weak was the pulse, and hardly heaved the heart. These two were sisters’ sons; and Arcite one, Much famed in fields, with valiant Palamon. From these their costly arms the spoilers rent, And softly both conveyed to Theseus’ tent: Whom, known of Creon’s line and cured with care, He to his city sent as prisoners of the war; Hopeless of ransom, and condemned to lie In durance, doomed a lingering death to die.

This done, he marched away with warlike sound, And to his Athens turned with laurels crowned, Where happy long he lived, much loved, and more renowned. But in a tower, and never to be loosed, The woful captive kinsmen are enclosed.

Thus year by year they pass, and day by day, Till once (’twas on the morn of cheerful May) The young Emilia, fairer to be seen
Than the fair lily on the flowery green, More fresh than May herself in blossoms new, (For with the rosy colour strove her hue,) Waked, as her custom was, before the day, To do the observance due to sprightly May; For sprightly May commands our youth to keep The vigils of her night, and breaks their sluggard sleep; Each gentle breast with kindly warmth she moves; Inspires new flames, revives extinguished loves. In this remembrance Emily ere day
Arose, and dressed herself in rich array; Fresh as the month, and as the morning fair, Adown her shoulders fell her length of hair: A ribband did the braided tresses bind, The rest was loose, and wantoned in the wind: Aurora had but newly chased the night,
And purpled o’er the sky with blushing light, When to the garden-walk she took her way, To sport and trip along in cool of day, And offer maiden vows in honour of the May. 190

At every turn she made a little stand, And thrust among the thorns her lily hand To draw the rose; and every rose she drew, She shook the stalk, and brushed away the dew;

Then party-coloured flowers of white and red She wove, to make a garland for her head: This done, she sung and carolled out so clear, That men and angels might rejoice to hear; Even wondering Philomel forgot to sing, And learned from her to welcome in the spring. The tower, of which before was mention made, Within whose keep the captive knights were laid, Built of a large extent, and strong withal, Was one partition of the palace wall;
The garden was enclosed within the square, Where young Emilia took the morning air.

It happened Palamon, the prisoner knight, Restless for woe, arose before the light, And with his jailor’s leave desired to breathe An air more wholesome than the damps beneath. This granted, to the tower he took his way, Cheered with the promise of a glorious day; Then cast a languishing regard around,
And saw with hateful eyes the temples crowned With golden spires, and all the hostile ground. He sighed, and turned his eyes, because he knew ‘Twas but a larger jail he had in view; Then looked below, and from the castle’s height Beheld a nearer and more pleasing sight; The garden, which before he had not seen, In spring’s new livery clad of white and green, Fresh flowers in wide parterres, and shady walks between. This viewed, but not enjoyed, with arms across He stood, reflecting on his country’s loss; Himself an object of the public scorn,
And often wished he never had been born. At last (for so his destiny required),
With walking giddy, and with thinking tired,

He through a little window cast his sight, Though thick of bars, that gave a scanty light; But even that glimmering served him to descry The inevitable charms of Emily.

Scarce had he seen, but, seized with sudden smart, Stung to the quick, he felt it at his heart; Struck blind with overpowering light he stood, Then started back amazed, and cried aloud.

Young Arcite heard; and up he ran with haste, To help his friend, and in his arms embraced; And asked him why he looked so deadly wan, And whence, and how, his change of cheer began? Or who had done the offence? “But if,” said he, “Your grief alone is hard captivity,
For love of Heaven with patience undergo A cureless ill, since Fate will have it so: So stood our horoscope in chains to lie, And Saturn in the dungeon of the sky,
Or other baleful aspect, ruled our birth, When all the friendly stars were under earth; Whate’er betides, by Destiny ’tis done; And better bear like men than vainly seek to shun.” Nor of my bonds,” said Palamon again,
Nor of unhappy planets I complain; But when my mortal anguish caused my cry, The moment I was hurt through either eye; Pierced with a random shaft, I faint away, And perish with insensible decay:
A glance of some new goddess gave the wound, Whom, like Actaeon, unaware I found.
Look how she walks along yon shady space; Not Juno moves with more majestic grace, And all the Cyprian queen is in her face. If thou art Venus (for thy charms confess That face was formed in heaven), nor art thou less, Disguised in habit, undisguised in shape, O help us captives from our chains to scape! But if our doom be past in bonds to lie For life, and in a loathsome dungeon die, Then be thy wrath appeased with our disgrace, And show compassion to the Theban race, Oppressed by tyrant power!”–While yet he spoke, Arcite on Emily had fixed his look;
The fatal dart a ready passage found And deep within his heart infixed the wound: So that if Palamon were wounded sore,
Arcite was hurt as much as he or more: Then from his inmost soul he sighed, and said, “The beauty I behold has struck me dead: Unknowingly she strikes, and kills by chance; Poison is in her eyes, and death in every glance. Oh, I must ask; nor ask alone, but move Her mind to mercy, or must die for love.”

Thus Arcite: and thus Palamon replies (Eager his tone, and ardent were his eyes,) “Speakest thou in earnest, or in jesting vein?” “Jesting,” said Arcite, “suits but ill with pain.” “It suits far worse,” (said Palamon again, And bent his brows,) “with men who honour weigh, Their faith to break, their friendship to betray; But worst with thee, of noble lineage born, My kinsman, and in arms my brother sworn. Have we not plighted each our holy oath, That one should be the common good of both; One soul should both inspire, and neither prove His fellow’s hindrance in pursuit of love? To this before the Gods we gave our hands, And nothing but our death can break the bands.

This binds thee, then, to farther my design, As I am bound by vow to farther thine:
Nor canst, nor darest thou, traitor, on the plain Appeach my honour, or thy own maintain, Since thou art of my council, and the friend Whose faith I trust, and on whose care depend. And wouldst thou court my lady’s love, which I Much rather than release, would choose to die? But thou, false Arcite, never shalt obtain, Thy bad pretence; I told thee first my pain: For first my love began ere thine was born; Thou as my council, and my brother sworn, Art bound to assist my eldership of right, Or justly to be deemed a perjured knight.”

Thus Palamon: but Arcite with disdain In haughty language thus replied again: “Forsworn thyself: the traitor’s odious name I first return, and then disprove thy claim. If love be passion, and that passion nurst With strong desires, I loved the lady first. Canst thou pretend desire, whom zeal inflamed To worship, and a power celestial named? Thine was devotion to the blest above,
I saw the woman, and desired her love; First owned my passion, and to thee commend The important secret, as my chosen friend. Suppose (which yet I grant not) thy desire A moment elder than my rival fire;
Can chance of seeing first thy title prove? And knowst thou not, no law is made for love? Law is to things which to free choice relate; Love is not in our choice, but in our fate; Laws are not positive; love’s power we see Is Nature’s sanction, and her first decree, Each day we break the bond of human laws For love, and vindicate the common cause. Laws for defence of civil rights are placed, Love throws the fences down, and makes a general waste. Maids, widows, wives without distinction fall; The sweeping deluge, love, comes on and covers all. If then the laws of friendship I transgress, I keep the greater, while I break the less; And both are mad alike, since neither can possess. Both hopeless to be ransomed, never more To see the sun, but as he passes o’er.
Like Asop’s hounds contending for the bone, Each pleaded right, and would be lord alone; The fruitless fight continued all the day, A cur came by and snatched the prize away. As courtiers therefore justle for a grant, And when they break their friendship, plead their want, So thou, if Fortune will thy suit advance, Love on, nor envy me my equal chance:
For I must love, and am resolved to try My fate, or failing in the adventure die.”

Great was their strife, which hourly was renewed, Till each with mortal hate his rival viewed: Now friends no more, nor walking hand in hand; But when they met they made a surly stand, And glared like Angry lions as they passed, And wished that every look might be their last.

It chanced at length, Pirithous came to attend This worthy Theseus, his familiar friend: Their love in early infancy began,
And rose as childhood ripened into man, Companions of the war; and loved so well, That when one died, as ancient stories tell, His fellow to redeem him went to hell.

But to pursue my tale: to welcome home His warlike brother is Pirithous come:
Arcite of Thebes was known in arms long since, And honoured by this young Thessalian prince. Theseus, to gratify his friend and guest, Who made our Arcite’s freedom his request, Restored to liberty the captive knight, But on these hard conditions I recite:
That if hereafter Arcite should be found Within the compass of Athenian ground,
By day or night, or on whate’er pretence, His head should pay the forfeit of the offence. To this Pirithous for his friend agreed, And on his promise was the prisoner freed.

Unpleased and pensive hence he takes his way, At his own peril; for his life must pay. Who now but Arcite mourns his bitter fate, Finds his dear purchase, and repents too late? “What have I gained,” he said, “in prison pent, If I but change my bonds for banishment? And banished from her sight, I suffer more In freedom than I felt in bonds before; Forced from her presence and condemned to live, Unwelcome freedom and unthanked reprieve: Heaven is not but where Emily abides,
And where she’s absent, all is hell besides. Next to my day of birth, was that accurst Which bound my friendship to Pirithous first: Had I not known that prince, I still had been In bondage and had still Emilia seen:
For though I never can her grace deserve, ‘Tis recompense enough to see and serve. O Palamon, my kinsman and my friend,
How much more happy fates thy love attend I

Thine is the adventure, thine the victory, Well has thy fortune turned the dice for thee: Thou on that angel’s face mayest feed thy eyes, In prison, no; but blissful paradise!
Thou daily seest that sun of beauty shine, And lovest at least in love’s extremest line. I mourn in absence, love’s eternal night; And who can tell but since thou hast her sight, And art a comely, young, and valiant knight, Fortune (a various power) may cease to frown, And by some ways unknown thy wishes crown? But I, the most forlorn of human kind,
Nor help can hope nor remedy can find; But doomed to drag my loathsome life in care, For my reward, must end it in despair.
Fire, water, air, and earth, and force of fates That governs all, and Heaven that all creates, Nor art, nor Nature’s hand can ease my grief; Nothing but death, the wretch’s last relief: Then farewell youth, and all the joys that dwell With youth and life, and life itself, farewell! But why, alas! do mortal men in vain
Of Fortune, Fate, or Providence complain? God gives us what he knows our wants require, And better things than those which we desire: Some pray for riches; riches they obtain; But, watched by robbers, for their wealth are slain; Some pray from prison to be freed; and come, When guilty of their vows, to fall at home; Murdered by those they trusted with their life, A favoured servant or a bosom wife.
Such dear-bought blessings happen every day, Because we know not for what things to pray. Like drunken sots about the streets we roam:

“Well knows the sot he has a certain home, Yet knows not how to find the uncertain place, And blunders on and staggers every pace. Thus all seek happiness; but few can find, For far the greater part of men are blind. This is my case, who thought our utmost good Was in one word of freedom understood:
The fatal blessing came: from prison free, I starve abroad, and lose the sight of Emily.”

Thus Arcite: but if Arcite thus deplore His sufferings, Palamon yet suffers more. For when he knew his rival freed and gone, He swells with wrath; he makes outrageous moan; He frets, he fumes, he stares, he stamps the ground; The hollow tower with clamours rings around: With briny tears he bathed his fettered feet, And dropped all o’er with agony of sweat. “Alas!” he cried, “I, wretch, in prison pine, Too happy rival, while the fruit is thine: Thou livest at large, thou drawest thy native air, Pleased with thy freedom, proud of my despair: Thou mayest, since thou hast youth and courage joined, A sweet behaviour and a solid mind,
Assemble ours, and all the Theban race, To vindicate on Athens thy disgrace;
And after (by some treaty made) possess Fair Emily, the pledge of lasting peace. So thine shall be the beauteous prize, while I Must languish in despair, in prison die. Thus all the advantage of the strife is thine, Thy portion double joys, and double sorrows mine.”

The rage of jealousy then fired his soul, And his face kindled like a burning coal Now cold despair, succeeding in her stead, To livid paleness turns the glowing red. His blood, scarce liquid, creeps within his veins, Like water which the freezing wind constrains. Then thus he said: “Eternal Deities,
“Who rule the world with absolute decrees, And write whatever time shall bring to pass With pens of adamant on plates of brass; What is the race of human kind your care Beyond what all his fellow-creatures are? He with the rest is liable to pain,
And like the sheep, his brother-beast, is slain. Cold, hunger, prisons, ills without a cure, All these he must, and guiltless oft, endure; Or does your justice, power, or prescience fail, When the good suffer and the bad prevail? What worse to wretched virtue could befal, If Fate or giddy Fortune governed all?
Nay, worse than other beasts is our estate: Them, to pursue their pleasures, you create; We, bound by harder laws, must curb our will, And your commands, not our desires, fulfil: Then, when the creature is unjustly slain, Yet, after death at least, he feels no pain; But man in life surcharged with woe before, Not freed when dead, is doomed to suffer more. A serpent shoots his sting at unaware;
An ambushed thief forelays a traveller; The man lies murdered, while the thief and snake, One gains the thickets, and one thrids the brake. This let divines decide; but well I know, Just or unjust, I have my share of woe, Through Saturn seated in a luckless place, And Juno’s wrath that persecutes my race; Or Mars and Venus in a quartil, move
My pangs of jealousy for Arcite’s love,”

Let Palamon oppressed in bondage mourn, While to his exited rival we return.
By this the sun, declining from his height, The day had shortened to prolong the night: The lengthened night gave length of misery, Both to the captive lover and the free: For Palamon in endless prison mourns,
And Arcite forfeits life if he returns; The banished never hopes his love to see, Nor hopes the captive lord his liberty. ‘Tis hard to say who suffers greater pains; One sees his love, but cannot break his chains; One free, and all his motions uncontrolled, Beholds whate’er he would but what he would behold. Judge as you please, for I will haste to tell What fortune to the banished knight befel. When Arcite was to Thebes returned again, The loss of her he loved renewed his pain; What could be worse than never more to see His life, his soul, his charming Emily? He raved with all the madness of despair, He roared, he beat his breast, he tore his hair. Dry sorrow in his stupid eyes appears,
For wanting nourishment, he wanted tears; His eyeballs in their hollow sockets sink, Bereft of sleep; he loathes his meat and drink; He withers at his heart, and looks as wan As the pale spectre of a murdered man:
That pale turns yellow, and his face receives The faded hue of sapless boxen leaves;
In solitary groves he makes his moan, Walks early out, and ever is alone;
Nor, mixed in mirth, in youthful pleasure shares, But sighs when songs and instruments he hears.

His spirits are so low, his voice is drowned, He hears as from afar, or in a swound,
Like the deaf murmurs of a distant sound: Uncombed his locks, and squalid his attire, Unlike the trim of love and gay desire; But full of museful mopings, which presage The loss of reason and conclude in rage.

This when he had endured a year and more, Now wholly changed from what he was before, It happened once, that, slumbering as he lay, He dreamt (his dream began at break of day) That Hermes o’er his head in air appeared, And with soft words his drooping spirits cheered; His hat adorned with wings disclosed the god, And in his hand he bore the sleep-compelling rod; Such as he seemed, when, at his sire’s command, On Argus’ head he laid the snaky wand.
“Arise,” he said, “to conquering Athens go; There Fate appoints an end of all thy woe.” The fright awakened Arcite with a start, Against his bosom bounced his heaving heart; But soon he said, with scarce recovered breath, “And thither will I go to meet my death, Sure to be slain; but death is my desire, Since in Emilia’s sight I shall expire.” By chance he spied a mirror while he spoke, And gazing there beheld his altered look; Wondering, he saw his features and his hue So much were changed, that scarce himself he knew. A sudden thought then starting in his mind, “Since I in Arcite cannot Arcite find,
The world may search in vain with all their eyes, But never penetrate through this disguise. Thanks to the change which grief and sickness give, In low estate I may securely live,
And see, unknown, my mistress day by day.” He said, and clothed himself in coarse array, A labouring hind in show; then forth he went, And to the Athenian towers his journey bent: One squire attended in the same disguise, Made conscious of his master’s enterprise. Arrived at Athens, soon he came to court, Unknown, unquestioned in that thick resort: Proffering for hire his service at the gate, To drudge, draw water, and to run or wait.

So fair befel him, that for little gain He served at first Emilia’s chamberlain; And, watchful all advantages to spy,
Was still at hand, and in his master’s eye; And as his bones were big, and sinews strong, Refused no toil that could to slaves belong; But from deep wells with engines water drew, And used his noble hands the wood to hew. He passed a year at least attending thus On Emily, and called Philostratus.
But never was there man of his degree So much esteemed, so well beloved as he. So gentle of condition was he known,
That through the court his courtesy was blown: All think him worthy of a greater place, And recommend him to the royal grace;
That exercised within a higher sphere, His virtues more conspicuous might appear. Thus by the general voice was Arcite praised, And by great Theseus to high favour raised; Among his menial servants first enrolled, And largely entertained with sums of gold: Besides what secretly from Thebes was sent,

Of his own income and his annual rent. This well employed, he purchased friends and fame, But cautiously concealed from whence it came. Thus for three years he lived with large increase In arms of honour, and esteem in peace; To Theseus’ person he was ever near,
And Theseus for his virtues held him dear.


While Arcite lives in bliss, the story turns Where hopeless Palamon in prison mourns. For six long years immured, the captive knight Had dragged his chains, and scarcely seen the light: Lost liberty and love at once he bore;
His prison pained him much, his passion more: Nor dares he hope his fetters to remove, Nor ever wishes to be free from love.
But when the sixth revolving year was run, And May within the Twins received the sun, Were it by Chance, or forceful Destiny, Which forms in causes first whate’er shall be, Assisted by a friend one moonless night, This Palamon from prison took his flight: A pleasant beverage he prepared before
Of wine and honey mixed, with added store Of opium; to his keeper this he brought, Who swallowed unaware the sleepy draught, And snored secure till morn, his senses bound In slumber, and in long oblivion drowned. Short was the night, and careful Palamon Sought the next covert ere the rising sun. A thick-spread forest near the city lay, To this with lengthened strides he took his way, (For far he could not fly, and feared the day.)

Safe from pursuit, he meant to shun the light, Till the brown shadows of the friendly night To Thebes might favour his intended flight. When to his country come, his next design Was all the Theban race in arms to join, And war on Theseus, till he lost his life, Or won the beauteous Emily to wife.
Thus while his thoughts the lingering day beguile, To gentle Arcite let us turn our style; Who little dreamt how nigh he was to care, Till treacherous fortune caught him in the snare. The morning-lark, the messenger of day, Saluted in her song the morning gray;
And soon the sun arose with beams so bright, That all the horizon laughed to see the joyous sight; He with his tepid rays the rose renews, And licks the dropping leaves, and dries the dews; When Arcite left his bed, resolved to pay Observance to the month of merry May,
Forth on his fiery steed betimes he rode, That scarcely prints the turf on which he trod: At ease he seemed, and prancing o’er the plains, Turned only to the grove his horse’s reins, The grove I named before, and, lighting there, A woodbind garland sought to crown his hair; Then turned his face against the rising day, And raised his voice to welcome in the May: “For thee, sweet month, the groves green liveries wear, If not the first, the fairest of the year: For thee the Graces lead the dancing hours,