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The Dramatic Works of John Dryden Vol. I. by Sir Walter Scott

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of the dialogue; and, finally, rather upon extravagant and grotesque
conception of character, than upon its being pointedly delineated, and
accurately supported through the representation. These particulars, in
which the comedies of Charles the Second's reign differ from the example
set by Shakespeare, Massinger and Beaumont and Fletcher, seem to have
been derived from the Spanish model. But the taste of the age was too
cultivated to follow the stage of Madrid, in introducing, or, to speak
more accurately, in reviving, the character of the _gracioso_, or clown,
upon that of London.[9] Something of foreign manners may be traced in
the licence assumed by valets and domestics in the English comedy; a
freedom which at no time made a part of our national manners, though
something like it may still be traced upon the Continent. These seem to
be the leading characteristics of the comedies of Charles the Second's
reign, in which the rules of the ancients were totally disregarded. It
were to be wished that the authors could have been exculpated from an
heavier charge,--that of assisting to corrupt the nation, by nourishing
and fomenting their evil passions, as well as by indulging and pandering
to their vices.

The theatres, after the Restoration, were limited to two in number; a
restriction perhaps necessary, as the exclusive patent expresses it, in
regard of the extraordinary licentiousness then used in dramatic
representation; but for which no very good reason can be shown, when
they are at least harmless, if not laudable places of amusement. One of
these privileged theatres was placed under the direction of Sir William
Davenant, whose sufferings in the royal cause merited a provision, and
whose taste and talents had been directed towards the drama even during
its proscription. He is said to have introduced moveable scenes upon the
English stage; and, without entering into the dispute of how closely
this is to be interpreted, we are certain that he added much to its
splendour and decoration. His set of performers, which contained the
famous Betterton, and others of great merit, was called the Duke's
Company. The other licensed theatre was placed under the direction of
Thomas Killigrew, much famed by tradition for his colloquial wit, but
the merit of whose good things evaporated so soon as he attempted to
interweave them with comedy.[10] His performers formed what was entitled
the King's Company. With this last theatre Dryden particularly connected
himself, by a contract to be hereafter mentioned. None of his earlier
plays were acted by the Duke's Company, unless those in which he had
received assistance from others, whom he might think as well entitled as
himself to prescribe the place of representation.

Such was the state of the English drama when Dryden became a candidate
for theatrical laurels. So early as the year of the Restoration, he had
meditated a tragedy upon the fate of the Duke of Guise; but this, he has
informed us, was suppressed by the advice of some friends, who told him,
that it was an excellent subject, but not so artificially managed as to
render it fit for the stage. It were to be wished these scenes had been
preserved, since it may be that the very want of artifice, alleged by
the critics of the day, would have recommended them to our more simple
taste. We might at least have learned from them, whether Dryden, in his
first essay, leant to the heroic, or to the ancient English tragedy. But
the scene of Guise's return to Paris, is the only part of the original
sketch which Dryden thought fit to interweave with the play, as acted in
1682; and as that scene is rendered literally from Davila, upon the
principle that, in so remarkable an action, the poet was not at liberty
to change the words actually used by the persons interested, we only
learn from it, that the piece was composed in blank verse, not rhyme.

In the course of the year 1661-2, our author composed the "Wild
Gallant," which was acted about February 1662-3 without success. The
beautiful Countess of Castlemaine, afterwards Duchess of Cleveland,
extended her protection to the unfortunate performance, and received the
incense of the author; who boasts,

"Posterity will judge by my success,
I had the Grecian poet's happiness,
Who, waving plots, found out a better way,--
Some god descended, and preserved the play."

It was probably by the influence of this royal favourite, that the "Wild
Gallant" was more than once performed before Charles by his own command.
But the author, his piece, and his poetical compliment, were hardly
treated in a Session of the Poets, which appeared about 1670. Nor did
Sir Robert Howard, his associate, escape without his share of ridicule:

"Sir Robert Howard, called for over and over,
At length sent in Teague with a packet of news,
Wherein the sad knight, to his grief did discover
How Dryden had lately robbed him of his Muse.

Each man in the court was pleased with the theft,
Which made the whole family swear and rant,
Desiring, their Robin in the lurch being left,
The thief might be punished for his 'Wild Gallant.'

Dryden, who one would have thought had more wit,
The censure of every man did disdain,
Pleading some pitiful rhymes he had writ
In praise of the Countess of Castlemaine."

The play itself contained too many of those prize-fights of wit, as
Buckingham called them, in which the plot stood absolutely still, while
two of the characters were showing the audience their dexterity at
repartee. This error furnishes matter for a lively scene in the

The "Rival Ladies," acted in 1663, and published in the year following,
was our author's next dramatic essay. It is a tragi-comedy; and the
tragic scenes are executed in rhyme,--a style which Dryden anxiously
defended, in a Dedication addressed to the Earl of Orrery, who had
himself written several heroic plays. He cites against blank verse the
universal practice of the most polished and civilised nations, the
Spanish, the Italian, and the French; enumerates its advantages in
restraining the luxuriance of the poet's imagination, and compelling him
to labour long upon his clearest and richest thoughts: but he qualifies
his general assertion by affirming, that heroic verse ought only to be
applied to heroic situations and personages; and shows to most advantage
in the scenes of argumentation, on which the doing or forbearing some
considerable action should depend. Accordingly, in the "Rival Ladies,"
those scenes of the play which approach to comedy (for it contains none
properly comic) are written in blank verse. The Dedication contains two
remarkable errors: The author mistakes the title of "Ferrex and Porrex,"
a play written by Sackville Lord Buckhurst, and Norton; and he ascribes
to Shakespeare the first introduction of blank verse. The "Rival Ladies"
seems to have been well received, and was probably of some advantage to
the author.

In 1663-4, we find Dryden assisting Sir Robert Howard, who must be
termed his friend, if not his patron, in the composition of a rhyming
play, called the "Indian Queen." The versification of this piece, which
is far more harmonious than that generally used by Howard, shows
evidently, that our author had assiduously corrected the whole play,
though it may be difficult to say how much of it was written by him.
Clifford afterwards upbraided Dryden with having copied his Almanzor
from the character of Montezuma;[11] and it must be allowed, there is a
striking resemblance between these two outrageous heroes, who carry
conquest to any side they choose, and are restrained by no human
consideration, excepting the tears or commands of their mistress. But
whatever share Dryden had in this piece, Sir Robert Howard retained
possession of the title-page without acknowledgment, and Dryden nowhere
gives himself the trouble of reclaiming his property, except in a sketch
of the connection between the "Indian Queen," and "Indian Emperor,"
where he simply states, that he wrote a part of the former. The "Indian
Queen" was acted with very great applause, to which, doubtless, the
scenery and dresses contributed not a little. Moreover, it presented
battles and sacrifices on the stage, aerial demons singing in the air,
and the god of dreams ascending through a trap; the least of which has
often saved a worse tragedy.

The "Indian Queen" having been thus successful, Dryden was encouraged to
engraft upon it another drama, entitled, the "Indian Emperor." It is
seldom that the continuation of a concluded tale is acceptable to the
public. The present case was an exception, perhaps because the
connection between the "Indian Emperor" and its predecessor was neither
close nor necessary. Indeed, the whole persons of the "Indian Queen" are
disposed of by the bowl and dagger, at the conclusion of that tragedy,
excepting Montezuma, who, with a second set of characters, the sons and
daughters of those deceased in the first part, occupies the stage in the
second play. The author might, therefore, have safely left the audience
to discover the plot of the "Indian Emperor," without embarrassing them
with that of the "Indian Queen." But to prevent mistakes, and
principally, I should think, to explain the appearance of three ghosts,
the only persons (if they can be termed such) who have any connection
with the former drama, Dryden took the precaution to print and disperse
an argument of the play, in order, as the "Rehearsal" intimated, to
insinuate into the audience some conception of his plot. The "Indian
Emperor" was probably the first of Dryden's performances which drew upon
him, in an eminent degree, the attention of the public. It was dedicated
to Anne, Duchess of Monmouth, whom long afterward our author styled his
first and best patroness.[12] This lady, in the bloom of youth and
beauty, and married to a nobleman no less the darling of his father than
of the nation, had it in her power effectually to serve Dryden, and
doubtless exerted her influence in procuring him that rank in public
opinion, which is seldom early attained without the sanction of those
who lead the fashion in literature. The Duchess of Monmouth probably
liked in the "Indian Emperor," not only the beauty of the numbers, and
the frequently exquisite turn of the description, but also the
introduction of incantations and apparitions, of which romantic style of
writing she was a professed admirer. The "Indian Emperor" had the most
ample success; and from the time of its representation, till the day of
his death, our author, though often rudely assailed, maintained the very
pinnacle of poetical superiority, against all his contemporaries.

The dreadful fire of London, in 1666, put a temporary stop to theatrical
exhibitions, which were not permitted till the following Christmas. We
may take this opportunity to review the effect which the rise of
Dryden's reputation had upon his private fortune and habits of life.

While our author was the literary assistant of Sir Robert Howard, and
the hired labourer of Herringman the bookseller, we may readily presume
that his pretensions and mode of living were necessarily adapted to that
mode of life, into which he had descended by the unpopularity of his
puritanical connections. Even for some time after his connection with
the theatre, we learn, from a contemporary, that his dress was plain at
least, if not mean, and his pleasures moderate, though not
inelegant.[13] But as his reputation advanced, he naturally glided into
more expensive habits, and began to avail himself of the licence, as
well as to partake of the pleasures, of the time. We learn, from a poem
of his enemy Milbourne, that Dryden's person was advantageous; and that,
in the younger part of his life, he was distinguished by the emulous
favour of the fair sex.[14] And although it would not be edifying, were
it possible, to trace instances of his success in gallantry, we may
barely notice his intrigue with Mrs. Reeve, a beautiful actress, who
performed in many of his plays. This amour was probably terminated
before the fair lady's retreat to a cloister, which seems to have taken
place before the representation of Otway's "Don Carlos," in 1676.[15]
Their connection is alluded to in the "Rehearsal," which was acted in
1671. Bayes, talking of Amarillis, actually represented by Mrs. Reeve,
says, "Ay, 'tis a pretty little rogue; she's my mistress: I knew her
face would set off armour extremely; and to tell you true, I writ that
part only for her." There follows an obscure allusion to some gallantry
of our author in another quarter. But Dryden's amours were interrupted,
if not terminated, in 1665, by his marriage.

Our author's friendship with Sir Robert Howard and his increasing
reputation, had introduced him to the family of the Earl of Berkshire,
father to his friend. In the course of this intimacy, the poet gained
the affections of Lady Elizabeth Howard, the Earl's eldest daughter,
whom he soon afterwards married.[16] The lampoons, by which Dryden's
private character was assailed in all points, allege, that this marriage
was formed under circumstances dishonourable to the lady. But of this
there is no evidence; while the malignity of the reporters is evident
and undisguised. We may however believe, that the match was not
altogether agreeable to the noble family of Berkshire. Dryden, it is
true, might, in point of descent, be admitted to form pretensions to
Lady Elizabeth Howard; but his family, though honourable, was in a kind
of disgrace, from the part which Sir Gilbert Pickering and Sir John
Driden had taken in the civil wars: while the Berkshire family were
remarkable for their attachment to the royal cause. Besides, many of the
poet's relations were engaged in trade; and the alliance of his
brothers-in-law, the tobacconist and stationer, if it was then formed,
could not sound dignified in the ears of a Howard. Add to this a very
important consideration,--Dryden had no chance of sharing the wealth of
his principal relations, which might otherwise have been received as an
atonement for the guilty confiscations by which it was procured. He had
quarrelled with them, or they with him; his present possession was a
narrow independence; and his prospects were founded upon literary
success, always precarious, and then connected with circumstances of
personal abasement, which rendered it almost disreputable. A noble
family might be allowed to regret, that one of their members was chiefly
to rely for the maintenance of her husband, her family, and herself,
upon the fees of dedications, and occasional pieces of poetry, and the
uncertain profits of the theatre.

Yet, as Dryden's manners were amiable, his reputation high, and his
moral character unexceptionable the Earl of Berkshire was probably soon
reconciled to the match; and Dryden seems to have resided with his
father-in-law for some time, since it is from the Earl's seat of
Charlton, in Wiltshire, that he dates the introduction to the "_Annus
Mirabilis_," published in the end of 1667.[17]

So honourable a connection might have been expected to have advanced our
author's prospects in a degree beyond what he experienced; but his
father-in-law was poor, considering his rank, and had a large family, so
that the portion of Lady Elizabeth was inconsiderable. Nor was her want
of fortune supplied by patronage, or family influence. Dryden's
preferment, as poet laureate, was due to, and probably obtained by, his
literary character; nor did he ever receive any boon suitable to his
rank, as son-in-law to an earl. But, what was worst of all, the parties
did not find mutual happiness in the engagement they had formed. It is
difficult for a woman of a violent temper and weak intellects, and such
the lady seems to have been, to endure the apparently causeless
fluctuation of spirits incident to one doomed to labour incessantly in
the feverish exercise of the imagination. Unintentional neglect, and the
inevitable relaxation, or rather sinking of spirit, which follows
violent mental exertion, are easily misconstrued into capricious
rudeness, or intentional offence; and life is embittered by mutual
accusation, not the less intolerable because reciprocally just. The wife
of one who is to gain his livelihood by poetry, or by any labour (if any
there be) equally exhausting, must either have taste enough to relish
her husband's performances, or good-nature sufficient to pardon his
infirmities. It was Dryden's misfortune, that Lady Elizabeth had neither
the one nor the other; and I dismiss the disagreeable subject by
observing, that on no one occasion, when a sarcasm against matrimony
could be introduced, has our author failed to season it with such
bitterness as spoke an inward consciousness of domestic misery.[18]

During the period when the theatres were closed, Dryden seems to have
written and published the "_Annus Mirabilis_" of which we spoke at the
close of the last Section. But he was also then labouring upon his
"Essay of Dramatic Poesy." It was a singular trait in the character of
our author, that by whatever motive he was directed in his choice of a
subject, and his manner of treating it, he was upon all occasions, alike
anxious to persuade the public, that both the one and the other were the
object of his free choice, founded upon the most rational grounds of
preference. He had, therefore, no sooner seriously bent his thoughts to
the stage, and distinguished himself as a composer of heroic plays, than
he wrote his "Essay of Dramatic Poesy," in which he assumes, that the
drama was the highest department of poetry; and endeavours to prove,
that rhyming or heroic tragedies are the most legitimate offspring of
the drama.

The subject is agitated in a dialogue between Lord Buckhurst, Sir
Charles Sedley, Sir Robert Howard, and the author himself, under the
feigned names of Eugenius, Lisideius, Crites, and Neander. This
celebrated Essay was first published in the end of 1667, or beginning of
1668. The author revised it with an unusual degree of care, and
published it anew in 1684, with a Dedication to Lord Buckhurst.

In the introduction of the dialogue, our author artfully solicits the
attention of the public to the improved versification, in which he
himself so completely excelled all his contemporaries; and contrasts the
rugged lines and barbarous conceits of Cleveland with the more modern
style of composition, where the thoughts were moulded into easy and
significant words, superfluities of expression retrenched, and the rhyme
rendered so properly a part of the verse, that it was led and guided by
the sense, which was formerly sacrificed in attaining it. This point
being previously settled, a dispute occurs concerning the alleged
superiority of the ancient classic models of dramatic composition. This
is resolutely denied by all the speakers, excepting Crites; the
regulation of the unities is condemned, as often leading to greater
absurdities than those they were designed to obviate; and the classic
authors are censured for the cold and trite subjects of their comedies,
the bloody and horrible topics of many of their tragedies, and their
deficiency in painting the passion of love. From all this, it is justly
gathered, that the moderns, though with less regularity, possess a
greater scope for invention, and have discovered, as it were, a new
perfection in writing. This debated point being abandoned by Crites (or
Howard), the partisan of the ancients, a comparison between the French
and English drama is next introduced. Sedley, the celebrated wit and
courtier, pleads the cause of the French, an opinion which perhaps was
not singular among the favourites of Charles II. But the rest of the
speakers unite in condemning the extolled simplicity of the French
plots, as actual barrenness, compared to the variety and copiousness of
the English stage; and their authors' limiting the attention of the
audience and interest of the piece to a single principal personage, is
censured as poverty of imagination, when opposed to the diversification
of characters exhibited in the _dramatis personae_ of the English poets.
Shakespeare and Jonson are then brought forward, and contrasted with the
French dramatists, and with each other. The former is extolled, as the
man of all modern, and perhaps ancient, poets, who had the largest and
most comprehensive soul, and intuitive knowledge of human nature; and
the latter, as the most learned and judicious writer which any theatre
ever had. But to Shakespeare, Dryden objects, that his comic sometimes
degenerates into _clenches_, and his serious into bombast; to Jonson,
the sullen and saturnine character of his genius, his borrowing from the
ancients, and the insipidity of his latter plays. The examen leads to
the discussion of a point, in which Dryden had differed with Sir Robert
Howard. This was the use of rhyme in tragedy. Our author had, it will be
remembered, maintained the superiority of rhyming plays, in the
Introduction to the "Rival Ladies." Sir Robert Howard, the catalogue of
whose virtues did not include that of forbearance made a direct answer
to the arguments used in that Introduction; and while he studiously
extolled the plays of Lord Orrery, as affording an exception to his
general sentence against rhyming plays, he does not extend the
compliment to Dryden, whose defence of rhyme was expressly dedicated to
that noble author. Dryden, not much pleased, perhaps, at being left
undistinguished in the general censure passed upon rhyming plays by his
friend and ally, retaliates in the Essay, by placing in the mouth of
Crites the arguments urged by Sir Robert Howard, and replying to them in
the person of Neander. To the charge, that rhyme is unnatural, in
consequence of the inverted arrangement of the words necessary to
produce it, he replies, that, duly ordered, it may be natural in itself,
and therefore not unnatural in a play; and that, if the objection be
further insisted upon, it is equally conclusive against blank verse, or
measure without rhyme. To the objection founded on the formal and
uniform recurrence of the measure, he alleges the facility of varying
it, by throwing the cadence upon different parts of the line, by
breaking it into hemistichs, or by running the sense into another line,
so as to make art and order appear as loose and free as nature.[19]
Dryden even contends, that, for variety's sake, the pindaric measure
might be admitted, of which Davenant set an example in the "Siege of
Rhodes." But this licence, which was probably borrowed from the Spanish
stage, has never succeeded elsewhere, except in operas. Finally, it is
urged, that rhyme, the most noble verse, is alone fit for tragedies, the
most noble species of composition; that, far from injuring a scene, in
which quick repartee is necessary, it is the last perfection of wit to
put it into numbers; and that, even where a trivial and common
expression is placed, from necessity, in the mouth of an important
character, it receives, from the melody of versification, a dignity
befitting the person that is to pronounce it. With this keen and
animated defence of a mode of composition, in which he felt his own
excellence, Dryden concludes the "Essay of Dramatic Poesy."

The publication of this criticism, the first that contained an express
attempt to regulate dramatic writing, drew general attention, and gave
some offence. Sir Robert Howard felt noways flattered at being made,
through the whole dialogue, the champion of unsuccessful opinions: and a
partiality to the depreciated blank verse seems to have been hereditary
in his family.[20] He therefore hasted to assert his own opinion against
that of Dryden, in the preface to one of his plays, called the "Duke of
Lerma," published in the middle of the year 1668. It is difficult for
two friends to preserve their temper in a dispute of this nature; and
there may be reason to believe, that some dislike to the alliance of
Dryden, as a brother-in-law, mingled with the poetical jealousy of Sir
Robert Howard.[21] The Preface to the "Duke of Lerma" is written in the
tone of a man of quality and importance, who is conscious of stooping
beneath his own dignity, and neglecting his graver avocations, by
engaging in a literary dispute. Dryden was not likely, of many men, to
brook this tone of affected superiority. He retorted upon Sir Robert
Howard very severely, in a tract, entitled, the "Defence of the Essay on
Dramatic Poesy," which he prefixed to the second edition of the "Indian
Emperor," published in 1668. In this piece, the author mentions his
antagonist as master of more than twenty legions of arts and sciences,
in ironical allusion to Sir Robert's coxcombical affectation of
universal knowledge, which had already exposed him to the satire of
Shadwell.[22] He is also described in reference to some foolish
appearance in the House of Commons, as having maintained a contradiction
_in terminis_, in the face of three hundred persons. Neither does Dryden
neglect to hold up to ridicule the slips in Latin and English grammar,
which marked the offensive Preface to the "Duke of Lerma." And although
he concludes, that he honoured his adversary's parts and person as much
as any man living, and had so many particular obligations to him, that
he should be very ungrateful not to acknowledge them to the world, yet
the personal and contemptuous severity of the whole piece must have cut
to the heart so proud a man as Sir Robert Howard. This quarrel between
the baronet and the poet, who was suspected of having crutched-up many
of his lame performances, furnished food for lampoon and amusement to
the indolent wits of the day. But the breach between the
brothers-in-law, though wide, proved fortunately not irreconcilable; and
towards the end of Dryden's literary career, we find him again upon
terms of friendship with the person by whom he had been befriended at
its commencement.[23] Edward Howard, who, it appears, had entered as
warmly as his brother into the contest with Dryden about rhyming
tragedies, also seems to have been reconciled to our poet; at least, he
pronounced a panegyric on his translation of Virgil before it left the
press, in a passage which is also curious, from the author ranking in
the same line "the two elaborate poems of Milton and Blackmore."[24]

In testimony of total amnesty, the "Defence of the Essay" was cancelled;
and it must be rare indeed to meet with an original edition of it, since
Mr. Malone had never seen one.[25]

Dryden's fame, as an author, was doubtless exalted by the "Essay of
Dramatic Poesy;" which showed, that he could not only write plays, but
defend them when written. His circumstances rendered it necessary, that
he should take the full advantage of his reputation to meet the
increasing expense of a wife and family; and it was probably shortly
after the Essay appeared, that our author entered into his memorable
contract with the King's Company of players. The precise terms of this
agreement have been settled by Mr. Malone from unquestionable evidence,
after being the subject of much doubt and uncertainty. It is now
certain, that, confiding in the fertility of his genius, and the
readiness of his pen, Dryden undertook to write for the King's house no
less than three plays in the course of the year. In consideration of
this engagement, he was admitted to hold one share and a quarter in the
profits of the theatre, which was stated by the managers to have
produced him three or four hundred pounds, _communibus annis_. Either,
however, the players became sensible, that, by urging their pensioner to
continued drudgery, they in fact lessened the value of his labour, or
Dryden felt himself unequal to perform the task he had undertaken; for
the average number of plays which he produced, was only about half that
which had been contracted for. The company, though not without grudging,
paid the poet the stipulated share of profit; and the curious document,
recovered by Mr. Malone, not only establishes the terms of the bargain,
but that the players, although they complained of the laziness of their
indented author, were jealous of their right to his works, and anxious
to retain possession of him, and of them.[26] It would have been well
for Dryden's reputation, and perhaps not less productive to the company,
had the number of his plays been still further abridged; for, while we
admire the facility that could produce five or six plays in three years,
we lament to find it so often exerted to the sacrifice of the more
essential qualities of originality and correctness.

Dryden had, however, made his bargain, and was compelled to fulfil it
the best he might. As his last tragic piece, the "Indian Emperor," had
been eminently successful, he was next to show the public, that his
talents were not limited to the buskin; and accordingly, late in 1667,
was represented the "Maiden Queen," a tragi-comedy, in which, although
there is a comic plot separate from the tragic design, our author boasts
to have retained all that regularity and symmetry of parts which the
dramatic laws require. The tragic scenes of the "Maiden Queen" were
deservedly censured, as falling beneath the "Indian Emperor." They have
neither the stately march of the heroic dialogue, nor, what we would be
more pleased to have found in them, the truth of passion, and natural
colouring, which characterised the old English drama. But the credit of
the piece was redeemed by the comic part, which is a more light and airy
representation of the fashionable and licentious manners of the time
than Dryden could afterwards attain, excepting in "Marriage a la Mode."
The king, whose judgment on this subject was unquestionable graced the
"Maiden Queen" with the title of _his play_; and Dryden insinuates that
it would have been dedicated to him, had he had confidence to follow the
practice of the French poets in like cases. At least, he avoided the
solecism of inscribing the king's own play to a subject; and, instead of
a dedication, we have a preface, in which the sovereign's favourable
opinion of the piece is studiously insisted upon. Neither was the praise
of Charles conferred without critical consideration; for he justly
censured the concluding scene, in which Celadon and Florimel treat of
their marriage in very light terms in presence of the Queen, who stands
by, an idle spectator. This insult to Melpomene, and preference of her
comic sister, our author acknowledges to be a fault, but seemingly only
in deference to the royal opinion; for he instantly adds, that, in his
own judgment, the scene was necessary to make the piece go off smartly,
and was, in the estimation of good judges, the most diverting of the
whole comedy.

Encouraged by the success of the "Maiden Queen," Dryden proceeded to
revive the "Wild Gallant;" and, in deference to his reputation, it seems
now to have been more favourably received than at its first

The "Maiden Queen" was followed by the "Tempest," an alteration of
Shakespeare's play of the same name, in which Dryden assisted Sir
William Davenant. It seems probable that Dryden furnished the language,
and Davenant the plan of the new characters introduced. They do but
little honour to his invention, although Dryden has highly extolled it
in his preface. The idea of a counterpart to Shakespeare's plot, by
introducing a man who had never seen a woman, as a contrast to a woman
who had never seen a man, and by furnishing Caliban with a sister
monster, seems hardly worthy of the delight with which Dryden says he
filled up the characters so sketched. In mixing his tints, Dryden did
not omit that peculiar colouring, in which his age delighted. Miranda's
simplicity is converted into indelicacy, and Dorinda talks the language
of prostitution before she has ever seen a man. But the play seems to
have succeeded to the utmost wish of the authors. It was brought out in
the Duke's house, of which Davenant was manager, with all the splendour
of scenic decoration, of which he was inventor. The opening scene is
described as being particularly splendid, and the performance of the
spirits, "with mops and mows," excited general applause. Davenant died
before the publication of this piece, and his memory is celebrated in
the preface.

Our author's next play, if it could be properly called his, was "Sir
Martin Mar-all." This was originally a translation of "_L'Etourdi_" of
Moliere, executed by the Duke of Newcastle, famous for his loyalty, and
his skill of horsemanship. Dryden availed himself of the noble
translator's permission to improve and bring "Sir Martin Mar-all"
forward for his own benefit. It was attended with the most complete
success, being played four times at court, and above thirty times at the
theatre in Lincoln's-Inn Fields; a run chiefly attributed to the
excellent performance of Nokes, who represented Sir Martin.[27] The
"Tempest" and "Sir Martin Mar-all" were both acted by the Duke's
Company, probably because Dryden was in the one assisted by Sir William
Davenant the manager, and because the other was entered in the name of
the Duke of Newcastle. Of these two plays, "Sir Martin Mar-all" was
printed anonymously in 1668. It did not appear with Dryden's name until
1697. The "Tempest," though acted before "Sir Martin Mar-all," was not
printed until 1669-70. They are in the present, as in former editions,
arranged according to the date of publication, which gives the
precedence to "Sir Martin Mar-all," though last acted.

The "Evening's Love, or the Mock Astrologer," was Dryden's next
composition. It is an imitation of "_Le Feint Astrologue_" of [T.]
Corneille, which is founded upon Calderon's "_El Astrologo Fingido_."
Several of the scenes are closely imitated from Moliere's "_Depit
Amoureux_." Having that lively bustle, intricacy of plot, and surprising
situation, which the taste of the time required, and being enlivened by
the characters of Wildblood and Jacinta, the "Mock Astrologer" seems to
have met a favourable reception in 1668, when it first appeared. It was
printed in the same, or in the following year, and inscribed to the Duke
of Newcastle, to whom Dryden had been indebted for the sketch of "Sir
Martin Mar-all." It would seem, that this gallant and chivalrous peer
was then a protector of Dryden, though he afterwards seems more
especially to have patronised his enemy Shadwell; upon whose _northern_
dedications, inscribed to the duke and his lady, our author is
particularly severe. In the preface to the "Evening's Love," Dryden
anxiously justifies himself from the charge of encouraging libertinism,
by crownings rake and coquette with success. But after he has arrayed
all the authority of the ancient and modern poets, and has pleaded that
these licentious characters are only made happy after being reclaimed in
the last scene, we may be permitted to think, that more proper heroes
may be selected than those, who, to merit the reward assigned them, must
announce a violent and sudden change from the character they have
sustained during five acts; and the attempt to shroud himself under
authority of others, is seldom resorted to by Dryden when a cause is
otherwise tenable. In this preface also he justified himself from the
charge of plagiarism by showing that the mere story is the least part
either of the labour of the poet, or of the graces of the poem; quoting
against his critics the expression of the king, who had said, he wished
those, who charged Dryden with theft, would always steal him plays like

The "Royal Martyr" was acted in 1668-9, and printed in 1670. It is, in
every respect, a proper heroic tragedy, and had a large share of the
applause with which those pieces were then received. It abounds in
bombast, but is not deficient in specimens of the sublime and of the
tender. The preface is distinguished by that tone of superiority, which
Dryden often assumed over the critics of the time. Their general
observations he cut short, by observing, that those who make them
produce nothing of their own, or only what is more ridiculous than any
thing they reprehend. Special objections are refuted, by an appeal to
classical authority. Thus the couplet,

"And he, who servilely creeps after sense,
Is safe, but ne'er will reach an excellence,"

is justified from the "_serpit humi tutus_" of Horace; and, by a
still more forced derivation, the line,

"And follow fate which does too fast pursue,"

is said to be borrowed from Virgil,

"_Eludit gyro interior sequiturque sequentem_."

And he concludes by exulting, that, though he might have written
nonsense, none of his critics had been so happy as to discover it. These
indications of superiority, being thought to savour of vanity, had their
share in exciting the storm of malevolent criticism, of which Dryden
afterwards so heavily complained. "Tyrannic Love" is dedicated to the
Duke of Monmouth; but it would seem the compliment was principally
designed to his duchess. The Duke, whom Dryden was afterwards to
celebrate in very different strains, is however compared to an Achilles,
or Rinaldo, who wanted only a Homer, or Tasso, to give him the fame due
to him.

It was in this period of prosperity, of general reputation, of
confidence in his genius, and perhaps of presumption, (if that word can
be applied to Dryden,) that he produced those two very singular plays,
the First and Second Parts of the "Conquest of Granada." In these models
of the pure heroic drama, the ruling sentiments of love and honour are
carried to the most passionate extravagance. And, to maintain the
legitimacy of this style of composition, our author, ever ready to
vindicate with his pen to be right, that which his timid critics
murmured at as wrong, threw the gauntlet down before the admirers of the
ancient English school, in the Epilogue to the "Second Part of the
Conquest of Granada," and in the Defence of that Epilogue. That these
plays might be introduced to the public with a solemnity corresponding
in all respects to models of the rhyming tragedy, they were inscribed to
the Duke of York, and prefaced by an "Essay upon Heroic Plays." They
were performed in 1669-70, and received with unbounded applause. Before
we consider the effect which they, and similar productions, produced on
the public, together with the progress and decay of the taste for heroic
dramas, we may first notice the effect which the ascendency of our
author's reputation had produced upon his situation and fortunes.

Whether we judge of the rank which Dryden held in society by the
splendour of his titled and powerful friends, or by his connections
among men of genius, we must consider him as occupying at this time, as
high a station in the very foremost circle as literary reputation could
gain for its owner. Independent of the notice with which he was honoured
by Charles himself, the poet numbered among his friends most of the
distinguished nobility. The great Duke of Ormond had already begun that
connection which subsisted between Dryden and three generations of the
house of Butler; Thomas Lord Clifford, one of the Cabal ministry, was
uniform in patronising the poet, and appears to have been active in
introducing him to the king's favour; the Duke of Newcastle, as we have
seen, loved him sufficiently to present him with a play for the stage;
the witty Earl of Dorset, then Lord Buckhurst, and Sir Charles Sedley,
admired in that loose age for the peculiar elegance of his loose poetry,
were his intimate associates, as is evident from the turn of the "Essay
of Dramatic Poesy," where they are speakers; Wilmot Earl of Rochester
(soon to act a very different part) was then anxious to vindicate
Dryden's writings, to mediate for him with those who distributed the
royal favour, and was thus careful, not only of his reputation, but his
fortune. In short, the first author of what was then held the first
style of poetry, was sought for by all among the great and gay who
wished to maintain some character for literary taste; a description
which included all of the court of Charles whom nature had not
positively incapacitated from such pretension. It was then Dryden
enjoyed those genial nights described in the dedication of the
"Assignation," when discourse was neither too serious nor too light, but
always pleasant, and for the most part instructive; the raillery neither
too sharp upon the present, nor too censorious upon the absent; and the
cups such only as raised the conversation of the night, without
disturbing the business of the morrow. He had not yet experienced the
disadvantages attendant on such society, or learned how soon literary
eminence becomes the object of detraction, of envy, of injury, even from
those who can best feel its merit, if they are discouraged by dissipated
habits from emulating its flight, or hardened by perverted feeling
against loving its possessors.

But, besides the society of these men of wit and pleasure, Dryden
enjoyed the affection and esteem of the ingenious Cowley, who wasted his
brilliant talents in the unprofitable paths of metaphysical poetry; of
Waller and of Denham, who had done so much for English versification; of
Davenant, as subtle as Cowley, and more harmonious than Denham, who,
with a happier model, would probably have excelled both. Dryden was also
known to Milton, though it may be doubted whether they justly
appreciated the talents of each other. Of all the men of genius at this
period, whose claims to immortality our age has admitted, Butler alone
seems to have been the adversary of our author's reputation.[28]

While Dryden was thus generally known and admired, the advancement of
his fortune bore no equal progress to the splendour of his literary
fame. Something was, however, done to assist it. The office of royal
historiographer had become vacant in 1666 by the decease of James
Howell, and in 1668 the death of Davenant opened the situation of
poet-laureate. These two offices, with a salary of L200 paid quarterly,
and the celebrated annual butt of canary, were conferred upon Dryden
18th August 1670.[29] The grant bore a retrospect to the term after
Davenant's demise, and is declared to be to "John Dryden, master of
arts, in consideration of his many acceptable services theretofore done
to his present Majesty, and from an observation of his learning and
eminent abilities, and his great skill and elegant style, both in verse
and prose."[30] Thus was our author placed at the head of the literary
class of his countrymen, so far as that high station could be conferred
by the favour of the monarch.

If we compute Dryden's share in the theatre at L300 annually, which is
lower than it was rated by the actors in their petition;[31] if we make,
at the same time, some allowance for those presents which authors of
that time received upon presenting dedications, or occasional pieces of
poetry; if we recollect, that Dryden had a small landed property, and
that his wife, Lady Elizabeth had probably some fortune or allowance,
however trifling, from her family,--I think we will fall considerably
under the mark in computing the poet's income, during this period of
prosperity, at L600 or L700 annually; a sum more adequate to procure all
the comforts, and many of the luxuries of life, than thrice the amount
at present. We must, at the same time, recollect that though Dryden is
nowhere censured for extravagance, poets are seldom capable of minute
economy, and that Lady Elizabeth was by education, and perhaps by
nature, unfitted for supplying her husband's deficiencies. These halcyon
days, too, were but of short duration. The burning of the theatre, in
1670,[32] greatly injured the poet's income from that quarter; his
pension, like other appointments of the household establishment of
Charles II., was very irregularly paid; and thus, if his income was
competent in amount, it was precarious and uncertain.

Leaving Dryden for the present in the situation which we have described,
and which he occupied during the most fortunate period of his life, the
next Section may open with an account of the public taste at this time,
and of the revolution in it which shortly took place.


[1] Malone's "History of the Stage."

[2] [Although criticism of the purely literary kind has been as much as
possible avoided in these notes, it seems necessary to say a few words
here to put the reader on his guard. Scott's acquaintance with the
English drama was extensive, but he was not equally well acquainted with
the French, and (as almost all persons in France as well as in England
were till recently) was all but ignorant of French drama before
Corneille The attribution of the French classical drama to the Scudery
romance and the influence of Louis XIV. is entirely erroneous. That
drama was introduced by Jodelle, the dramatic poet of the Pleiade in the
middle of the sixteenth century, and was strictly fashioned on the model
of Seneca. Successive improvements, culminating in those of Corneille,
were introduced in it, but its main lines continued the same. Scott has
also left out of sight a very important element in the constitution of
the English heroic play. When Davenant before the Restoration obtained
Cromwell's permission to reintroduce dramatic entertainments, if not
plays, music necessarily formed the chief part of the performance. It
was in fact an opera, and operatic peculiarities remained after all
restriction had been taken off. Scott assigns on the whole far too much
influence to the French drama and to the personal predilection of
Charles. The subject is a large one, and has never been fully handled,
but readers may be referred to the present editor's _Dryden_, pp. 18-20;
and still more to an essay on Sir George Etherege by Mr. E.W. Gosse in
the _Cornhill Magazine_ for March 1881.--ED.]

[3] _Haud inexperta loquitur._ "I have," she continues, "(and yet I am
still alive,) drudged through Le Grand Cyrus, in twelve huge volumes;
Cleopatra, in eight or ten; Polexander, Ibrahim, Clelie, and some
others, whose names, as well as all the rest of them, I have
forgotten."--_Letter of Mrs. Chapone to Mrs. Carter_.

[4] Dedication to the "Indian Emperor."

[5] In this particular a watch was kept over the stage. "The Maid's
Tragedy," which turns upon the seduction of Evadne by a licentious and
profligate king, was prohibited during the reign of Charles II., as
admitting certain unfavourable applications. The moral was not

"on lustful kings,
Unlooked-for sudden deaths from heaven are sent."

See Cibber's _Apology_, p. 199. Waller, in compliment to the court,
wrote a 5th Act, in which that admired drama is terminated less

[6] It was a part of the duty of the master of the revels to read over
and correct the improprieties of such plays as were to be brought
forward. Several instances occur, in Sir Henry Herbert's Office-book, of
the exercise of his authority in this point. See Malone's _History of
the Stage_.

[7] Lord Holland's "Life of Lope de Vega," p. 128.

[8] The "Wild Gallant," which Charles commanded to be performed before
him more than once, was of the class of Spanish comedies. The "Maiden
Queen," which the witty monarch honoured with the title of _his play_,
is in the same division. Sir Samuel Tuke's "Adventures of Five Hours,"
and Crowne's "Sir Courtly Nice," were both translated from the Spanish
by the king's express recommendation.

[9] The _gracioso_ or buffoon, according to Lord Holland, held an
intermediate character between a spectator and a character in the play;
interrupting with his remarks, at one time, the performance, of which he
forms an essential, but very defective part in another. His part was, I
presume, partly written, partly extempore. Something of the kind was
certainly known upon our stage. Wilson and Tarleton, in their capacity
of clowns, entered freely into a contest of wit with the spectators,
which was not at all held inconsistent with their having a share in the
performance. Nor was tragedy exempted from their interference. Hall,
after telling us of a tragic representation, informs us,

"Now least such frightful showes of fortunes fall,
And bloudy tyrants' rage, should chance appall
The dead-struck audience, 'midst the silent rout
Comes leaping in a selfe-misformed lout,
And laughes, and grins, and frames his mimick face,
And justles straight into the prince's place:
Then doth the theatre echo all aloud
With gladsome noyse of that applauding croud.
A goodly hoch-poch, when vile russetings
Are matcht with monarchs and with mighty kings."

This extemporal comic part seems to have been held essential to dramatic
representation, in most countries in Europe, during the infancy of the
art. Something of the same kind is still retained in the lower kinds of
popular exhibitions; and the clowns to the shows of tumbling and
horsemanship, with my much-respected friend Mr. Punch in a puppet-show,
bear a pretty close resemblance to the _gracioso_ of the Spaniards, the
_arlequino_ of the Italians, and the clown of the ancient English drama.
See Malone's _History of the Stage._

[10] [This is at least not true of the "Parson's Wedding."--ED.]

[11] Notes on Mr. Dryden's Poems, 1687.

[12] Preface to "King Arthur."

[13] "I remember," (says a correspondent of the 'Gentleman's Magazine,'
for 1745), "plain John Dryden, before he paid his court with success to
the great, in one uniform clothing of Norwich drugget. I have eat tarts
with him and Madam Reeve at the Mulberry Garden, when our author
advanced to a sword and a Chadreux wig."--Page 99 [This letter is a
famous _crux_ in the biography of Dryden. It has been suggested that the
writer was Southerne, but it is impossible to make things tally. As
Dryden certainly had paid his court to the great by 1670, if not by
1665, there is the almost insuperable difficulty of supposing that the
writer could have associated with Dryden in parties of pleasure
seventy-five years before date--a difficulty all the more difficult in
that he only claims to be in his eighty-seventh year. It would be worthy
of little attention, if the eager assailants of Dryden's moral character
had not sought to see evidence of the deepest turpitude in this
tart-eating with Mrs. Reeve and the anonymous letter-writer.--ED.]

[14] He describes him as,

"Still smooth, as when, adorned with youthful pride,
For thy dear sake the blushing virgins died,
When the kind gods of wit and love combined,
And with large gifts thy yielding soul refined."

[15] The epilogue has these lines:

"But now if by my suit you'll not be won,
You know what your unkindness oft has done,--
I'll e'en forsake the playhouse, and turn Nun."

[16] [Scott's account of the marriage is incorrect in one or two
particulars, and incomplete in others. It took place on the 1st of
December 1663, at St. Swithin's, and the licence, dated the day before,
removes all idea of a clandestine match or of family disapproval.

"Ultimo Novembris 1663

[Sidenote: Juratus Hen: Smyth: Jun:]

Which day appeared personally John Driden of St. Clemt. Danes in the
County of Midd Esqr aged about 30ty yeeres and a Batchelor and alledged
that hee intendeth to marry with Dame Elizabeth Howard of St. Martin in
the Fields in the County aforesaid aged about 25 yeeres with the consent
of her Father Thomas Earle of Berke not knowing nor believing any
impediment to hinder the intended marriage of the truth of the prmisses
he made faith and prayed Licence for them to bee married in the parish
church of St. Swithins London." [Transcriber's note: spelling as in the

While, however, this entry, discovered since Scott wrote, clears up one
part of the story, another discovery has been thought to darken it
again. The following letter from Lady Elizabeth Howard appears in the
letters of Philip, second Earl of Chesterfield:--

"_From the_ Lady Elizabeth Howard _Daughter to the_ Earle of Barksshire.


"My LORD,--I received yours, though not without great trouble, but am
not guilty of any thing you lay to my charge, nor will I ever alter from
the expressions I have formerly made, therefore I hope you will not be
so unjust as to beleive all that the world sayes of mee, but rather
credit my protestation of never having named you to my friends, being
allwayes carefull of that for my own sake as well as yours; and
therefore let it not be in the power of any, nor of your own
inclinations, to make mee less,

Your very humble Servant.

"If you will meet mee in the Old Exchange, about six a clock, I will
justify my selfe."--_Letters of Philip, second Earl of Chesterfield_,
1829, p. 95. This was the same Earl of Chesterfield to whom Dryden
dedicated the _Georgics_ thirty years later.

As Dryden's detractors have been nearly as anxious to blacken his wife's
character as his own, they have seized on this letter to confirm the
reckless and random assertions of contemporary libellers, that her
reputation was questionable. The matter may be left to readers to
decide,--I can see nothing in the phrases necessarily implying any
improper intimacy.

Perhaps it is not superfluous to observe that Scott has not shown his
accustomed judgment and knowledge of the seventeenth century in his
remark about the Howards and the tobacconists. The separation between
classes, as such, was indeed sharp; but it was probably rather more than
less usual then than now for scions of noble and gentle families to go
into retail trade. It may be added that the evidence of a quarrel
between Dryden and his own family is far from strong, and that one of
the causes assigned by Scott for that quarrel, the change of spelling,
is very dubious as a matter of fact. It has been seen that "Driden"
appears in the licence, and it is not certain that the poet invented the
_y_, or first used it.

Very shortly after the marriage occurs the first mention of Dryden of a
personal kind. Pepys writes, under date February 3d, 1664: "In Covent
Garden to-night at the great coffee-house, where Dryden the poet I knew
at Cambridge and all the wits of the town."--ED.]

[17] [To give exact dates, the preface to Sir R. Howard is dated
November 10th, 1666. The poem appeared immediately afterwards. Pepys
bought it on the 2d of February, and pronounced it "a very good poem."
Some other dates and facts of a more precise kind than those in the text
may be given here. Dryden left London in the summer of 1665, either from
dread of the plague, or because the playhouses were shut. The interval
of eighteen months seems to have been wholly spent at Charlton, and
Charles Dryden, his eldest son, was born during this time, though the
precise date is not known. Charlton is near Malmesbury in Wiltshire, and
as Dryden afterwards speaks of himself as possessed of some property in
that county, it has been reasonably conjectured that it was in virtue of
a settlement on his wife. But if so, it cannot have been freehold
property of Lord Berkshire's, as the poet says that he holds of the
Hydes. Lady Elizabeth had received a considerable grant (L3000) from the
Crown in recognition of her father's services, but it is not certain
that it was ever paid. No London domicile of his is known except the
house in Gerrard Street, now marked with a plate by the Society of Arts.
There is a house--now subdivided--in Fetter Lane which also has a plate
(the successor of a stone inscription) stating that Dryden lived there.
No biographer takes notice of this, and the topographers who do notice
it do not believe the story. If there be any foundation for it, the
period of his residence must probably have been before his marriage.--

[18] [I venture to think this last remark overstated. Sarcasms on
matrimony were the fashion, and Dryden followed it. The evidence of
mutual unhappiness is almost _nil_.--ED.]

[19] Sandford, a most judicious actor, is said, by Cibber, cautiously to
have observed this rule, in order to avoid surfeiting the audience by
the continual recurrence of rhyme.

[20] The Honourable Edward Howard, Sir Robert's brother, expresses
himself in the preface to the "Usurper," a play Published in 1668, "not
insensible to the disadvantage it may receive passing into the world
upon the naked feet of verse, with other works that have their measures
adorned with the trappings of rhyme, which, however they have succeeded
in wit or design, is still thought music, as the heroic tone now goes;
but whether so natural to a play, that should most nearly imitate, in
some cases, our familiar converse, the judicious may easily determine."

[21] [A dislike which was silent for five years, if it existed.--ED.]

[22] Who drew Sir Robert in the character of Sir Positive Atall in the
"Sullen Lovers;" "a foolish knight, that pretends to understand
everything in the world, and will suffer no man to understand anything
in his company; so foolishly positive, that he will never be convinced
of an error, though never so gross." This character is supported with
great humour.

[23] In a letter from Dryden to Tonson, dated 26th May 1696, in which he
reckons upon Sir Robert Howard's assistance in a pecuniary transaction.

[24] "I am informed Mr. Dryden is now translating of Virgil; and
although I must own it is a fault to forestall or anticipate the praise
of a man in his labours, yet, big with the greatness of the work, and
the vast capacity of the author, I cannot here forbear saying, that Mr.
Dryden, in the translating of Virgil, will of a certain make Maro speak
better than ever Maro thought. Besides those already mentioned, there
are other ingredients and essential parts of poetry, necessary for the
forming of a truly great and happy genius, viz. a free air and spirit, a
vigorous and well governed thought, which are, as it were, the soul
which inform and animate the whole mass and body of verse. But these are
such divine excellencies as are peculiar only to the brave and the wise.
The first chief in verse, who trode in this sweet and delightful path of
the Muses, was the renowned Earl of Roscommon, a great worthy, as well
as a great wit; and who is, in all respects, resembled by another great
Lord of this present age, viz. my Lord Cutts, a person whom all people
must allow to be an accomplished gentleman, a great general, and a fine

"The two elaborate poems of Blackmore and Milton, the which, for the
dignity of them, may very well be looked upon as the two grand exemplars
of poetry, do either of them exceed, and are more to be valued than all
the poets, both of the Romans and the Greeks put together. There are two
other incomparable pieces of poetry, viz. Mr. Dryden's 'Absalom and
Achitophel,' and the epistle of a known and celebrated wit (_Mr. Charles
Montague_) to my Lord of Dorset, the best judge in poetry, as well as
the best poet; the tutelar _numen_ o' the stage, and on whose breath all
the Muses have their dependence."--_Proem to an Essay on Pastoral, and
Elegy on Queen Mary, by the Honourable Edward Howard, 21st January_

[25] That now before me is prefixed to the second edition of the "Indian
Emperor," 1668.

[26] [It seems to have been a memorial addressed to the Lord Chamberlain
for the time, and was long in the possession of the Killigrew family. It
was communicated by the learned Mr. Reed to Mr. Malone, and runs as

"Whereas, upon Mr. Dryden's binding himself to write _three playes_ a
yeere, the said Mr. Dryden, was admitted, and continued as a sharer, in
the King's Playhouse for diverse years, and received for his share and a
quarter, three or four hundred pounds, _communibus annis_; but though he
received the moneys, we received not the playes, not one in a yeare.
After which, the House being burnt, the Company, in building another,
contracted great debts, so that the shares fell much short of what they
were formerly. Thereupon, Mr. Dryden complaining to the Company of his
want of proffit, the Company was so kind to him, that they not only did
not presse him for the playes which he so engaged to write for them, and
for which he was paid beforehand, but they did also, at his earnest
request, give him a third day for his last new play, called 'All for
Love;' and at the receipt of the money of the said third day, he
acknowledged it as a guift, and a particular kindnesse of the Company.
Yet, notwithstanding this kind proceeding, Mr. Dryden has now, jointly
with Mr. Lee (who was in pension with us to the last day of our playing,
and shall continue), written a play, called 'Oedipus,' and given it to
the Duke's Company, contrary to his said agreement, his promise, and all
gratitude, to the great prejudice and almost undoing of the Company,
they being the only poets remaining to us. Mr. Crowne, being under the
like agreement with the Duke's House, writt a play, called the
'Destruction of Jerusalem,' and being forced, by their refusall of it,
to bring it to us, the said Company compelled us, after the studying of
it, and a vast expence in scenes and cloathes, to buy off their clayme,
by paying all the pension he had received from them, amounting to one
hundred and twelve pounds paid by the King's Company, besides neere
forty pounds he, the said Mr. Crowne, paid out of his owne pocket.

"These things considered, if, notwithstanding Mr. Dryden's said
agreement, promise, and moneys, freely given him for his said last new
play, and the many titles we have to his writings, this play be judged
away from us, we must submit.


Dryden also appears as a regular partner in the King's Company in an
agreement to repay money lent for the purpose of rebuilding the Theatre
after its burning in 1672.--_Shakespeare Society's Papers_, iv. 147.--

[27] Cibber, with his usual vivacity, thus describes the comic powers of
Nokes in this admired character:

"In the ludicrous distresses, which, by the laws of comedy, folly is
often involved in, he sunk into such a mixture of piteous pusillanimity,
and a consternation so ruefully ridiculous and inconsolable, that when
he had shook you to a fatigue of laughter, it became a moot point,
whether you ought not to have pity'd him. When he debated any matter by
himself, he would shut up his mouth with a dumb studious powt, and roll
his full eye into such a vacant amazement, such palpable ignorance of
what to think of it, that his silent perplexity (which would sometimes
hold him several minutes) gave your imagination as full content, as the
most absurd thing he could say upon it. In the character of Sir Martin
Mar-all, who is always committing blunders to the prejudice of his own
interest, when he had brought himself to a dilemma in his affairs, by
vainly proceeding upon his own head, and was afterwards afraid to look
his governing servant and counsellor in the face; what a copious and
distressful harangue have I seen him make with his looks (while the
house has been in one continued roar for several minutes) before he
could prevail with his courage to speak a word to him! Then might you
have, at once, read in his face vexation--that his own measures, which
he had piqued himself upon, had failed; envy of his servant's wit;
distress--to retrieve the occasion he had lost; shame--to confess his
folly; and yet a sullen desire to be reconciled, and better advised for
the future! What tragedy ever showed us such a tumult of passions
rising, at once, in one bosom! or what buskin hero, standing under the
load of them, could have more effectually moved his spectators by the
most pathetic speech, than poor miserable Nokes did by this silent
eloquence, and piteous plight of his features?"--CIBBER'S _Apology_, p.

[28] [This sentence rests on a rather slender basis of fact. Butler is
said to have had a share in the "Rehearsal," and certainly wrote a
charming parody of the usual heroic-play dialogue, in his scene between
"Cat and Puss." But this of itself can hardly be said to justify the
phrase "adversary of our author's reputation." As for Dryden, he nowhere
attacks Butler, and speaks honourably of him after his death in his
complaint to Lawrence Hyde.--ED.]

[29] [This is the correct date of the patent. There is however in the
Record Office an instruction for the preparation of a bill for the
purpose, dated April 13. This was pointed out to me by Mr. W. Noel

[30] Pat. 22 Car. 11. p. 6, ii. 6. Malone, i. p. 88.

[31] Their account was probably exaggerated. Upon a similar occasion,
the master of the revels stated the value of his winter and summer
benefit plays at L50 each; although, in reality, they did not, upon an
average, produce him L9. See Malone's _Historical Account of the Stage_.

[32] [1672.--ED.]


_Heroic Plays--The Rehearsal--Marriage a la Mode--The Assignation--
Controversy with Clifford--with Leigh--with Ravenscroft--Massacre of
Amboyna--State of Innocence_.

The rage for imitating the French stage, joined to the successful
efforts of our author, had now carried the heroic or rhyming tragedy to
its highest pitch of popularity. The principal requisites of such a
drama are summed up by Dryden in the first two lines of the "_Orlando

"_Le Donne, i cavalier, l'arme, gli amori
Le cortesie, l'audaci imprese_."

The story thus partaking of the nature of a romance of chivalry, the
whole interest of the play necessarily turned upon love and honour,
those supreme idols of the days of knight-errantry The love introduced
was not of that ordinary sort, which exists between persons of common
mould; it was the love of Amadis and Oriana, of Oroondates and Statira;
that love which required a sacrifice of every wish, hope, and feeling
unconnected with itself, and which was expressed in the language of
prayer and of adoration. It was that love which was neither to be
chilled by absence, nor wasted by time, nor quenched by infidelity. No
caprice in the object beloved entitled her slave to emancipate himself
from her fetters; no command, however unreasonable, was to be disobeyed;
if required by the fair mistress of his affections, the hero was not
only to sacrifice his interest, but his friend, his honour, his word,
his country, even the gratification of his love itself, to maintain the
character of a submissive and faithful adorer. Much of this mystery is
summed up in the following speech of Almahide to Almanzor, and his
answer, from which it appears, that a lover of the true heroic vein
never thought himself so happy, as when he had an opportunity of thus
showing the purity and disinterestedness of his passion. Almanzor is
commanded by his mistress to stay to assist his rival, the king, her
husband. The lover very naturally asks,

_Almanz_. What recompence attends me, if I stay?

_Almah_. You know I am from recompence debarred,
But I will grant your merit a reward;
Your flame's too noble to deserve a cheat,
And I too plain to practise a deceit.
I no return of love can ever make,
But what I ask is for my husband's sake;
He, I confess, has been ungrateful too,
But he and I are ruined if you go;
Your virtue to the hardest proof I bring;
Unbribed, preserve a mistress and a king.

_Almanz_. I'll stop at nothing that appears so brave:
I'll do't, and now I no reward will have.
You've given my honour such an ample field,
That I may die, but that shall never yield.

The king, however, not perhaps understanding this nice point of honour,
grows jealous, and wishes to dismiss the disinterested ally, whom his
spouse's beauty had enlisted in his service. But this did not depend
upon him; for Almanzor exclaims,

_Almanz_. I wonnot go; I'll not be forced away:
I came not for thy sake; nor do I stay.
It was the queen who for my aid did send;
And 'tis I only can the queen defend:
I, for her sake, thy sceptre will maintain;
And thou, by me, in spite of thee, shalt reign.

The most applauded scenes in these plays turned upon nice discussions of
metaphysical passion, such as in the days of yore were wont to be
agitated in the courts and parliaments of love. Some puzzling dilemma,
or metaphysical abstraction, is argued between the personages on the
stage, whose dialogue, instead of presenting a scene of natural passion,
exhibits a sort of pleading or combat of logic, in which each endeavours
to defend his own opinion by catching up the idea expressed by the
former speaker, and returning him his illustration, or simile, at the
rebound; and where the lover hopes everything from his ingenuity, and
trusts nothing to his passion. Thus, in the following scene between
Almanzor and Almahide, the solicitations of the lover, and the denials
of the queen, are expressed in the very carte and tierce of poetical

_Almah_. My light will sure discover those who talk.--
Who dares to interrupt my private walk?

_Almanz_. He, who dares love, and for that love must die.
And, knowing this, dares yet love on, am I.

_Almah_. That love which you can hope, and I can pay,
May be received and given in open day;
My praise and my esteem you had before;
And you have bound yourself to ask no more.

_Almanz_. Yes, I have bound myself; but will you take
The forfeit of that bond, which force did make?

_Almah_. You know you are from recompence debarred;
But purest love can live without reward.

_Almanz_. Pure love had need be to itself a feast;
For, like pure elements, 'twill nourish least.

_Almah_. It therefore yields the only pure content;
For it, like angels, needs no nourishment.
To eat and drink can no perfection be;
All appetite implies necessity.

_Almanz_. 'Twere well, if I could like a spirit live;
But, do not angels food to mortals give?
What if some demon should my death foreshow,
Or bid me change, and to the Christians go;
Will you not think I merit some reward,
When I my love above my life regard?

_Almah_. In such a case your change must be allowed:
I would myself dispense with what you vowed.

_Almanz_. Were I to die that hour when I possess,
This minute shall begin my happiness.

_Almah_. The thoughts of death your passion would remove;
Death is a cold encouragement to love.

_Almanz_. No; from my joys I to my death would run,
And think the business of my life well done:
But I should walk a discontented ghost,
If flesh and blood were to no purpose lost.

This kind of Amoebaean dialogue was early ridiculed by the ingenious
author of "Hudibras."[1]

It partakes more of the Spanish than of the French tragedy, although it
does not demand that the parody shall be so very strict, as to re-echo
noun for noun, or verb for verb, which Lord Holland gives us as a law of
the age of Lope de Vega.[2] The English heroic poet did enough if he
displayed sufficient point in the dialogue, and alertness in adopting
and retorting the image presented by the preceding speech; though, if he
could twist the speaker's own words into an answer to his argument, it
seems to have been held the more ingenious mode of confutation.

While the hero of a rhyming tragedy was thus unboundedly submissive in
love, and dexterous in applying the metaphysical logic of amorous
jurisprudence it was essential to his character that he should possess
all the irresistible courage, and fortune of a _preux chevalier_.
Numbers, however unequal, were to be as chaff before the whirlwind of
his valour; and nothing was to be so impossible that, at the command of
his mistress, he could not with ease achieve. When, in the various
changes of fortune which such tragedies demand, he quarrelled with those
whom he had before assisted to conquer,

"Then to the vanquished part his fate he led,
The vanquished triumphed, and the victor fled."

The language of such a personage, unless when engaged in argumentative
dialogue with his mistress, was, in all respects, as magnificent and
inflated as might beseem his irresistible prowess. Witness the famous
speech of Almanzor:

_Almanz_. To live!
If from thy hands alone my death can be,
I am immortal and a god to thee.
If I would kill thee now, thy fate's so low,
That I must stoop ere I can give the blow:
But mine is fixed so far above thy crown,
That all thy men,
Piled on thy back, can never pull it down:
But, at my ease, thy destiny I send,
By ceasing from this hour to be thy friend.
Like heaven I need but only to stand still,
And, not concurring to thy life, I kill,
Thou canst no title to my duty bring;
I'm not thy subject, and my soul's thy king.
Farewell. When I am gone,
There's not a star of thine dare stay with thee:
I'll whistle thy tame fortune after me;
And whirl fate with me wheresoe'er I fly,
As winds drive storms before them in the sky.

It was expected by the audience, that the pomp of scenery, and bustle of
action, in which such tremendous heroes were engaged, should in some
degree correspond with their lofty sentiments and superhuman valour.
Hence solemn feasts, processions, and battles by sea and land, filled
the theatre. Hence, also, the sudden and violent changes of fortune, by
which the hero and his antagonists are agitated through the whole piece.
Fortune has been often compared to the sea; but in a heroic play, her
course resembled an absolute Bay of Biscay, or Race of Portland,
disturbed by an hundred contending currents and eddies, and never
continuing a moment in one steady flow.

That no engine of romantic surprise might be wanting, Dryden contends,
that the dramatist, as he is not confined to the probable in character,
so he is not limited by the bounds of nature in the action, but may let
himself loose to visionary objects, and to the representation of such
things as, not depending upon sense, leave free exercise for the
imagination. Indeed, if ghosts, magicians, and demons, might with
propriety claim a place anywhere, it must be in plays which throughout
disclaim the common rules of nature, both in the incidents narrated, and
the agents interested.[3]

Lastly, the action of the heroic drama was to be laid, not merely in the
higher, but in the very highest walk of life. No one could with decorum
aspire to share the sublimities which it annexed to character, except
those made of the "porcelain clay of the earth," dukes, princes, kings,
and kaisars. The matters agitated must be of moment, proportioned to
their characters and elevated station, the fate of cities and the fall
of kingdoms.

That the language, as well as actions and character of the _dramatis
personae_, might be raised above the vulgar, their sentiments were
delivered in rhyme, the richest and most ornate kind of verse, and the
farthest removed from ordinary colloquial diction. Dryden has himself
assigned the following reasons:--"The plot, the characters, the wit, the
passions, the descriptions, are all exalted above the level of common
converse, as high as the imagination of the poet can carry them, with
proportion to verisimility. Tragedy, we know, is wont to image to us the
minds and fortunes of noble persons, and to portray these exactly;
heroic rhyme is nearest nature, as being the noblest kind of modern

_Indignatur enim priratis et prope socco
Dignis carminibus narrari coena Thyestae_--

says Horace: and in another place,

_Effutire leves indigna tragaedia versus_.--

Blank verse is acknowledged to be too low for a poem, nay more, for a
paper of verses; but if too low for an ordinary sonnet, how much more
for tragedy, which is by Aristotle, in the dispute betwixt the epic
poesy and the dramatic, for many reasons he there alleges, ranked above

When we consider these various essentials of a rhyming play, we may
perhaps, without impropriety define it to be a metrical romance of
chivalry in form of a drama. The hero is a perfect knight-errant,
invincible in battle, and devoted to his Dulcinea by a love, subtle,
metaphysical and abstracted from all the usual qualities of the
instinctive passion; his adventures diversified by splendid descriptions
of bull-feasts, battles, and tournaments; his fortune undergoing the
strangest, most causeless, and most unexpected varieties; his history
chequered by the marvellous interference of ghosts, spectres, and hell
itself; his actions effecting the change of empires, and his co-agents
being all lords, and dukes, and noble princes, in order that their rank
might, in some slight degree, correspond to the native exultation of the
champion's character.

The reader may smile at this description, and feel some surprise, how
compositions, involving such gross absurdities, were tolerated by an
audience having pretence to taste and civilisation But something may be
said for the heroic drama.

Although the manners were preposterous, and the changes of fortune rapid
and improbable, yet the former often attained a sublime, though forced
elevation of sentiment; and the latter, by rapidity of transition and of
contrast, served in no slight degree to interest as well as to surprise
the audience. If the spectators were occasionally stunned with bombast,
or hurried and confused by the accumulation of action and intrigue, they
escaped the languor of a creeping dialogue, and the taedium of a barren
plot, of which the termination is descried full three acts before it can
be attained. Besides, if these dramas were sometimes extravagant,
beautiful passages often occurred to atone for these sallies of fury. In
others, ingenuity makes some amends for the absence of natural feeling,
and the reader's fancy is pleased at the expense of his taste. In
representation, the beauty of the verse, assisted by the enunciation of
such actors as Betterton and Mohun, gilded over the defects of the
sense, and afforded a separate gratification. The splendour of scenery
also, in which these plays claimed a peculiar excellence, afforded a
different but certain road to popular favour; and thus this drama, with
all its faults, was very far from wanting the usual requisites for
success. But another reason for its general popularity may be sought in
a certain correspondence with the manners of the time.

Although in Charles the Second's reign the age of chivalry was totally
at an end, yet the sentiments, which had ceased to be motives of action,
were not so obsolete as to sound totally strange to the public ear. The
French romances of the lower class, such as "Cassandra," "Cleopatra,"
etc., were the favourite pastime of the ladies, and retained all the
extravagancies of chivalrous sentiment, with a double portion of tedious
form and metaphysical subtlety. There were occasionally individuals
romantic enough to manage their correspondence and amours on this
exploded system. The admired Mrs. Philips carried on an extensive
correspondence with ingenious persons of both sexes, in which she called
herself _Orinda_, and her husband, Mr. Wogan, by the title of _Antenor_.
Shadwell, an acute observer of nature, in one of his comedies describes
a formal coxcomb of this class, who courts his mistress out of the
"Grand Cyrus," and rejoices in an opportunity of showing, that his
passion could subsist in despite of her scorn.[4] It is probable he had
met with such an original in the course of his observation. The
_Precieuses_ of Moliere, who affected a strange mixture of the romantic
heroine and modern fine lady, belong to the same class of oddities, and
had their prototypes under the observation of the satirist. But even
those who were above such foppery had been early taught to read and
admire the conceits of Donne, and the metaphysical love-poems of Cowley.
They could not object to the quaint and argumentative dialogues which we
have described; for the course of their studies had formed their taste
upon a model equally artificial and fantastic: and thus, what between
real excellence, and false brilliancy, the age had been accustomed not
only to admit, but to admire heroic plays.

Perhaps even these favourable circumstances, of taste and opportunity,
would hardly have elevated the rhyming drama so high in the public
opinion, had it been supported by less powers than those of Dryden, or
even by equal talents less happily adapted to that style of composition.
His versification flowed so easily, as to lessen the bad effects of
rhyme in dialogue; and, at the same time, abounded with such splendid
and sonorous passages, as, in the mouth of a Betterton, awed into
silence even those critics, who could distinguish that the tumid and
unnatural was sometimes substituted for the heroic and sublime. The
felicity of his language, the richness of his illustrations, and the
depth of his reflections, often supplied what the scene wanted in
natural passion; and, while enjoying the beauty of his declamation, it
was only on cool reflection that the hearer discovered it had passed
upon him for the expression of genuine feeling. Even then, the pleasure
which he actually received from the representation, was accepted as an
apology for the more legitimate delight, which the rules of criticism
entitled him to have expected. To these considerations, the high rank
and consequent influence, which Dryden already held in the fashionable
and literary circles of the time, must unquestionably be added. Nor did
he fail to avail himself of his access to the great, whose applause was
often cheaply secured by a perusal of the piece, previous to its being
presented to the public; and thus it afterwards came forth with all the
support of a party eminent for rank and literature, already prepossessed
in its favour.[5]

For all these reasons, the heroic drama appears to have gradually risen
in reputation, from the return of Charles till about the year 1670-1,
when Dryden's "Conquest of Granada" was received with such enthusiastic
applause. The reputation of the poet himself kept pace with that of his
favourite style of composition; and though posterity has judged more
correctly, it may be questioned, whether "Tyrannic Love" and the
"Conquest of Granada" did not place Dryden higher in public esteem, in
1670, than his "Virgil" and "Fables" in 1700. He was, however, now to
experience the inconveniencies of elevation, and to sustain an attack
upon the style of writing which he had vindicated and practised, as well
as to repel the efforts of rivals, who boasted of outstripping him in
the very road to distinction, which he had himself pointed out. The Duke
of Buckingham attacked the system of rhyming plays from the foundation;
Leigh [Transcriber's note: Print unclear], Clifford, and other
scribblers, wrote criticisms [Transcriber's note: Print unclear] upon
those of our author in particular; and Elkanah Settle was able to form a
faction heretical enough to maintain, that he could write such
compositions better than Dryden.

The witty farce of the "Rehearsal" is said to have been meditated by its
authors (for it was the work of several hands) so early as a year or two
after the Restoration, when Sir William Davenant's operas and tragedies
were the favourite exhibitions. The ostensible author was the witty
George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham whose dissipation was marked with
shades of the darkest profligacy. He lived an unprincipled statesman, a
fickle projector, a wavering friend, a steady enemy; and died a
bankrupt, an outcast, and a proverb. The Duke was unequal to that
masculine satire, which depends for edge and vigour upon the conception
and expression of the author.[6] But he appears to have possessed
considerable powers of discerning what was ludicrous, and enough of
subordinate humour to achieve an imitation of colloquial peculiarities,
or a parody upon remarkable passages of poetry,--talents differing as
widely from real wit as mimicry does from true comic action. Besides,
Buckingham, as a man of fashion and a courtier, was master of the
_persiflage_, or jargon, of the day, so essentially useful as the medium
of conveying light humour. He early distinguished himself as an opponent
of the rhyming plays. Those of the Howards, of Davenant, and others, the
first which appeared after the Reformation, experienced his opposition.
At the representation of the "United Kingdoms," by the Honourable Edward
Howard, a brother of Sir Robert, the Duke's active share in damning the
piece was so far resented by the author and his friends that he narrowly
escaped sanguinary proofs of their displeasure.[7] This specimen of
irritation did not prevent his meditating an attack upon the whole body
of modern dramatists; in which he had the assistance of several wits,
who either respected the ancient drama, or condemned the modern style,
or were willing to make common cause with a Duke against a
poet-laureate. These were, the witty author of Hudibras, who, while
himself starving,[8] amused his misery by ridiculing his contemporaries;
Sprat, afterwards Bishop of Rochester, then Buckingham's chaplain; and
Martin Clifford, afterwards Master of the Charter-House the author of a
very scurrilous criticism upon some of Dryden's plays, to be mentioned
hereafter. By the joint efforts of this coalition, the "Rehearsal" was
produced; a lively piece, which continues to please, although the plays
which it parodies are no longer read or acted, and although the zest of
the personal satire which it contains has evaporated in the lapse of
time. This attack on the reigning taste was long threatened ere it was
made; and the precise quarter to be assailed was varied more than once.
Prior says, that Buckingham suspended his attack till he was certain
that the Earl of Dorset would not "rehearse on him again." The principal
character was termed, in the original sketch, Bilboa, a name expressing
a traveller and soldier, under which Sir Robert Howard, or Sir William
Davenant, was designated The author of the "Key to the Rehearsal"
affirms, that Sir Robert was the person meant; but Mr. Malone is of
opinion, that Davenant is clearly pointed out by the brown paper patch,
introduced in ridicule of that which Davenant really wore upon his nose.
Yet as this circumstance was retained when the character was assigned to
Dryden, the poet of the "Rehearsal" may be considered as in some degree
a knight of the shire, representing all the authors of the day, and
uniting in his person their several absurd peculiarities. The first
sketch of the "Rehearsal" was written about 1664, but the representation
was prevented by the theatres being shut upon the plague and fire of
London. When they were again opened, the plays of the Howards, of
Stapleton, etc., had fallen into contempt by their own demerit, and were
no longer a well-known or worthy object of ridicule. Perhaps also there
was a difficulty in bringing the piece forward, while, of the persons
against whom its satire was chiefly directed, Davenant was manager of
the one theatre, and Dryden a sharer in the other. The death of Davenant
probably removed this difficulty: and the success of Dryden in the
heroic drama; the boldness with which he stood forth, not only as a
practiser, but as the champion of that peculiar style; a certain
provoking tone of superiority in his critical essays, which, even when
flowing from conscious merit, is not easily tolerated by contemporaries;
and perhaps his situation as poet-laureate, a post which has been always
considered as a fair butt for the shafts of ridicule,--induced
Buckingham to resume the plan of his satire, and to place Dryden in the
situation designed originally for Davenant or Howard. That the public
might be at no loss to assign the character of Bayes to the laureate,
his peculiarities of language were strictly copied. Lacy the actor was
instructed by Buckingham himself how to mimic his voice and manner; and,
in performing the part, he wore a dress exactly resembling Dryden's
usual habit. With these ill-natured precautions, the "Rehearsal" was, in
1671, brought forward for the first time by the King's Company. As,
besides the reputation of Dryden, that of many inferior poets, but
greater men, was assailed by the Duke's satire, it would appear that the
play met a stormy reception on the first night of representation The
friends of the Earl of Orrery, of Sir Robert Howard and his brothers,
and other men of rank, who had produced heroic plays, were loud and
furious in their opposition. But, as usually happens, the party who
laughed, got the advantage over that which was angry, and finally drew
the audience to their side. When once received, the success of the
"Rehearsal" was unbounded. The very popularity of the plays ridiculed
aided the effect of the satire, since everybody had in their
recollection the originals of the passages parodied. Besides the
attraction of personal severity upon living and distinguished literary
characters, and the broad humour of the burlesque, the part of Bayes had
a claim to superior praise, as drawn with admirable attention to the
foibles of the poetic tribe. His greedy appetite for applause; his testy
repulse of censure or criticism; his inordinate and overwhelming vanity,
not unmixed with a vein of flattery to those who he hopes will gratify
him by returning it in kind; finally, that extreme, anxious, and
fidgeting attention to the minute parts of what even in whole is scarce
worthy of any,--are, I fear, but too appropriate qualities of the
"_genus vatum_"

Almost all Dryden's plays, including those on which he set the highest
value, and which he had produced, with confidence, as models of their
kind, were parodied in the "Rehearsal."[9] He alone contributed more to
the farce than all the other poets together. His favourite style of
comic dialogue, which he had declared to consist rather in a quick
sharpness of dialogue than in delineations of humour,[10] is paraphrased
in the scene between Tom Thimble and Prince Prettyman; the lyrics of his
astral spirits are cruelly burlesqued in the song of the two lawful
Kings of Brentford, as they descend to repossess their throne; above
all, Almanzor, his favourite hero, is parodied in the magnanimous
Drawcansir; and, to conclude, the whole scope of heroic plays, with
their combats, feasts, processions, sudden changes of fortune,
embarrassments of chivalrous love and honour, splendid verse and
unnatural rants, are so held up to ridicule, as usually to fix the
resemblance upon some one of his own dramas. The "Wild Gallant," the
"Maiden Queen," and "Tyrannic Love," all furnish parodies as do both
parts of the "Conquest of Granada," which had been frequently acted
before the representation of the "Rehearsal," though not printed till
after. What seems more strange, the play of "Marriage a la Mode" is also
alluded to, although it was neither acted nor printed till 1673, a year
after the appearance of the "Rehearsal". But there being no parody of
any particular passage, although the plot and conduct of the piece is
certainly ridiculed, it seems probable, that, as Dryden often showed his
plays in manuscript to those whom he accounted his patrons, the plan of
"Marriage a la Mode" may have transpired in the circles which Buckingham
frequented, who may thus have made it the subject of satire by

It is easy to conceive what Dryden must have felt, at beholding his
labours and even his person held up to public derision, on the theatre
where he had so often triumphed. But he was too prudent to show outward
signs of resentment; and in conversation allowed, that the farce had a
great many good things in it, though so severe against himself. "Yet I
cannot help saying," he added, in a well-judged tone of contempt, "that
Smith and Johnson are two of the coolest and most insignificant fellows
I ever met with upon the stage."[12] Many years afterwards he assigned
nearly the same reason to the public for not replying to the satire.[13]
But though he veiled his resentment under this mask of indifference at
the time, he afterwards avowed that the exquisite character of Zimri in
"Absalom and Achitophel" was laboured with so much felicitous skill as a
requital in kind to the author of the "Rehearsal."[14]

The ridicule cast upon heroic plays by the "Rehearsal" did not prevent
their being still exhibited. They contained many passages of splendid
poetry, which continued to delight the audience after they had laughed
at Buckingham's parody. But the charm began to dissolve; and from the
time of that representation, they seem gradually, but perceptibly, to
have declined in favour. Accordingly, Dryden did not trust to his powers
of numbers in his next play, but produced the "Marriage a la Mode," a
tragi-comedy or rather a tragedy and comedy, the plots and scenes of
which are intermingled, for they have no natural connection with each
other. The state-intrigue bears evident marks of hurry and inattention;
and it is at least possible, that Dryden originally intended it for the
subject of a proper heroic play, but, startled at the effect of
Buckingham's satire, hastily added to it some comic scenes, either lying
by him, or composed on purpose. The higher or tragic plot is not only
grossly inartificial and improbable, but its incidents are so perplexed
and obscure, that it would have required much more action to detail them
intelligibly. Even the language has an abridged appearance, and favours
the idea, that the tragic intrigue was to have been extended into a
proper heroic play, instead of occupying a spare corner in a comedy. But
to make amends, the comic scenes are executed with spirit, and in a
style resembling those in the "Maiden Queen."[15] They contained much
witty and fashionable raillery; and the character of Melantha is
pronounced by Cibber to exhibit the most complete system of female
foppery that could possibly be crowded into the tortured form of a fine
lady. It was admirably acted by Mrs. Montfort, afterwards Mrs.
Verbruggen. The piece thus supported was eminently successful; a
fortunate circumstance for the King's Company, who were then in
distressful circumstances. Their house in Drury-lane had been destroyed
by fire, after which disaster they were compelled to occupy the old
theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, lately deserted by the rival company
for a splendid one in Dorset Gardens. From a prologue which our author
furnished, to be spoken at the opening of this house of refuge, it would
seem that even the scenes and properties of the actors had been
furnished by the contributions of the nobility.[16] Perhaps their
present reduced situation was an additional reason with Dryden for
turning his attention to comedy, which required less splendour of
exhibition and decoration than the heroic plays.

"Marriage a la Mode" was inscribed to Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, in
strains of adulation not very honourable to the dedicator. But as he
expresses his gratitude for Rochester's care, not only of his reputation
but of his fortune; for his solicitude to overcome the fatal modesty of
poets, which leads them to prefer want to importunity; and, finally, for
the good effects of his mediation in all his concerns at court; it may
be supposed some recent benefit, perhaps an active share in procuring
the appointment of poet-laureate, had warmed the heart of the author
towards the patron. The dedication was well received, and the compliment
handsomely acknowledged as we learn from a letter from Dryden to
Rochester, where he says, that the shame of being so much overpaid for
an ill dedication made him almost repent of his address. But he had
shortly afterwards rather more substantial reasons for regretting his
choice of a patron.

The same cause for abstaining from tragic composition still remaining in
force, Dryden, in 1672, brought forward a comedy, called "The
Assignation, or Love in a Nunnery." The plot was after the Spanish
model. The author seems to have apprehended, and experienced, some
opposition on account of this second name; and although he deprecates,
in the epilogue, the idea of its being a party play, or written to
gratify the Puritans with satire at the expense of the Catholics;[17]
yet he complains, in the dedication, of the number of its enemies, who
came prepared to damn it on account of the title. The Duke of York
having just made public profession of the Roman faith, any reflections
upon it were doubtless watched with a jealous eye. But, though guiltless
in this respect, the "Assignation" had worse faults. The plot is but
indifferently conducted and was neither enlivened with gay dialogue, nor
with striking character: the play, accordingly, proved unsuccessful in
the representation. Yet although, upon reading the "Assignation," we
cannot greatly wonder at this failure, still, considering the plays
which succeeded about the same time, we may be disposed to admit that
the weight of a party was thrown into the scale against its reception.
Buckingham, who shortly afterwards published a revised edition of the
"Rehearsal," failed not to ridicule the absurd and coarse trick, by
which the enamoured prince prevents his father from discovering the
domino of his mistress, which had been left in his apartment.[18] And
Dryden's rivals and enemies, now a numerous body, hailed with malicious
glee an event which seemed to foretell the decay of his popularity.

The "Assignation" was published in 1673, and inscribed, by Dryden, to
his much honoured friend Sir Charles Sedley. There are some acrimonious
passages in this dedication, referring to the controversies in which the
author had been engaged; and, obscure as these have become, it is the
biographer's duty to detail and illustrate them.

It cannot be supposed that the authors of the time saw with indifference
Dryden's rapid success, and the measures which he had taken, by his
critical essays, to guide the public attention and to fix it upon
himself and the heroic plays, in which he felt his full superiority. But
no writer of the time could hope to be listened to by the public, if he
entered a claim of personal competition against a poet so celebrated.
The defence of the ancient poets afforded a less presumptuous and more
favourable pretext for taking the field, and for assailing Dryden's
writings, and avenging the slight notice he had afforded to his
contemporaries, under the colour of defending the ancients against his
criticism. The "Essay of Dramatic Poesy" afforded a pretence for
commencing this sort of warfare. In that piece, Dryden had pointed out
the faults of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Fletcher, with less ceremony than
the height of their established reputation appeared to demand from a
young author. But the precedence which he undauntedly claimed for the
heroic drama, and, more generally, the superiority of the plays of
Dryden's own age, whether tragic or comic, over those of the earlier
part of the seventeenth century, was asserted, not only distinctly, but
irreverently, in the Epilogue to the "Conquest of Granada:"

"They who have best succeeded on the stage,
Have still conformed their genius to their age.
Thus Jonson did mechanic humour show
When men were dull, and conversation low.
Then comedy was faultless, but 'twas coarse:
Cobb's tankard was a jest, and Otter's horse.
And, as their comedy, their love was mean;
Except, by chance, in some one laboured scene,
Which must atone for an ill-written play,
They rose, but at their height could seldom stay.
Fame then was cheap, and the first comer sped;
And they have kept it since, by being dead.
But, were they now to write, when critics weigh
Each line, and every word, throughout a play,
None of them, no, not Jonson in his height,
Could pass, without allowing grains for weight.
Think it not envy, that these truths are told;
Our poet's not malicious, though he's bold.
'Tis not to brand them that their faults are shown,
But by their errors to excuse his own.
If love and honour now are higher raised,
'Tis not the poet, but the age is praised.
Wit's now arrived to a more high degree;
Our native language more refined and free;
Our ladies and our men now speak more wit
In conversation than those poets writ.
Then, one of these is, consequently, true;
That what this poet writes comes short of you,
And imitates you ill (which most he fears),
Or else his writing is not worse than theirs.
Yet, though you judge (as sure the critics will),
That some before him writ with greater skill,
In this one praise he has their fame surpast,
To please an age more gallant than the last."

The daring doctrine laid down in these obnoxious lines, our author
ventured to maintain in what he has termed a "Defence of the Epilogue,
or an Essay on the Dramatic Poetry of the last age." It is subjoined to
the "Conquest of Granada;" and, as that play was not printed till after
the "Rehearsal," it serves to show how little Dryden's opinions were
altered, or his tone lowered, by the success of that witty satire. It
was necessary, he says, either not to print the bold epilogue, which we
have quoted, or to show that he could defend it. He censures decidedly
the antiquated language, irregular plots, and anachronisms of
Shakespeare and Fletcher; but his main strength seems directed against
Jonson. From his works he selects several instances of harsh, inelegant,
and even inaccurate diction. In describing manners, he claims for the
modern writers a decided superiority over the poets of the earlier age,
when there was less gallantry, and when the authors were not admitted to
the best society. The manners of their low, or Dutch school of comedy,
in which Jonson led the way, by his "Bartholomew Fair," and similar
pieces, are noticed, and censured, as unfit for a polished audience. The
characters in what may be termed genteel comedy are reviewed, and
restricted to the Truewit of Jonson's "Silent Woman," the Mercutio of
Shakespeare, and Fletcher's Don John in the "Chances." Even this last
celebrated character, he observes, is better carried on in the modern
alteration of the play, than in Fletcher's original; a singular instance
of Dryden's liberality of criticism, since the alteration of the
"Chances" was made by that very Duke of Buckingham, from whom he had
just received a bitter and personal offence. Dryden proceeds to contend,
that the living poets, from the example of a gallant king and sprightly
court, have learned, in their comedies, a tone of light discourse and
raillery, in which the solidity of English sense is blended with the air
and gaiety of their French neighbours; in short, that those who call
Jonson's the golden age of poetry, have only this reason, that the
audience were then content with acorns, because they knew not the use of
bread. In all this criticism there was much undeniable truth; but
sufficient weight was not given to the excellencies of the old school,
while their faults were ostentatiously and invidiously enumerated. It
would seem that Dryden, perhaps from the rigour of a puritanical
education, had not studied the ancient dramatic models in his youth, and
had only begun to read them with attention when it was his object rather
to depreciate than to emulate them. But the time came when he did due
homage to their genius.

Meanwhile, this avowed preference of his own period excited the
resentment of the older critics, who had looked up to the era of
Shakespeare as the golden age of poetry; and no less that of the
playwrights of his own standing, who pretended to discover that Dryden
designed to establish less the reputation of his age, than of himself
individually upon the ruined fame of the ancient poets. They complained
that, as the wild bull in the Vivarambla of Granada,

"monarch-like he ranged the listed field,
And some he trampled down, and some he kill'd."

Many, therefore, advancing, under pretence of vindicating the fame of
the ancients, gratified their spleen by attacking that of Dryden, and
strove less to combat his criticisms, than to criticise his productions.
We shall have too frequent occasion to observe, that there was, during
the reign of Charles II., a semi-barbarous virulence of controversy,
even upon abstract points of literature, which would be now thought
injudicious and unfair, even by the newspaper advocates of contending
factions. A critic of that time never deemed he had so effectually
refuted the reasoning of his adversary, as when he had said something
disrespectful of his talents, person, or moral character. Thus, literary
contest was embittered by personal hatred, and truth was so far from
being the object of the combatants that even victory was tasteless
unless obtained by the disgrace and degradation of the antagonist. This
reflection may serve to introduce a short detail of the abusive
controversies in which it was Dryden's lot to be engaged.

One of those who most fiercely attacked our author's system and opinions
was Matthew[19] Clifford, already mentioned as engaged in the
"Rehearsal." At what precise time he began his Notes upon Dryden's
Poems, in Four Letters, or how they were originally published, is
uncertain. The last of the letters is dated from the Charter-House 1st
July 1672, and is signed with his name: probably the others were written
shortly before. The only edition now known was printed along with some
"Reflections on the Hind and Panther, by another Hand" (Tom Brown), in
1687. If these letters were not actually printed in 1672, they were
probably successively made public by transcripts handed about in the
coffee-houses which was an usual mode of circulating lampoons and pieces
of satire. Although Clifford was esteemed a man of wit and a scholar,
his style is rude, coarse, and ungentlemanlike, and the criticism is
chiefly verbal. In the note the reader may peruse an ample specimen of
the kind of wit, or rather banter, employed by this facetious
person.[20] The letters were written successively at different periods;
for Clifford in the last complains that he cannot extort an answer, and
therefore seems to conceive that his arguments are unanswerable.

There were several other pamphlets, and fugitive pieces, published
against Dryden at the same time. One of them, entitled "The Censure of
the Rota on Mr. Dryden's Conquest of Granada," was printed at Oxford in
1673. This was followed by a similar piece, entitled, "A description of
the Academy of Athenian Virtuosi, with a Discourse held there in
Vindication of Mr. Dryden's Conquest of Granada against the Author of
the Censure of the Rota." And a third, called "A Friendly Vindication
of Mr. Dryden from the Author of the Censure of the Rota," was printed
at Cambridge. All these appeared previous to the publication of the
"Assignation." The first, as Wood informs us, was written by Richard
Leigh, educated at Queen's College, Oxford, where he entered in 1665,
and was probably resident when this piece was there published. He was
afterwards a player in the Duke's Company, but must be carefully
distinguished from the celebrated comedian of the same name. It seems
likely that he wrote also the second tract, which is a continuation of
the first. Both are in a frothy, flippant style of raillery, of which
the reader will find a specimen in the note.[21] The Cambridge
Vindication seems to have been written by a different hand, though in
the same taste. It is singular in bringing a charge against our author
which has been urged by no other antagonist; for he is there upbraided
with exhibiting in his comedies the persons and follies of living

The friends and admirers of Dryden did not see with indifference these
attacks upon his reputation for he congratulates[23] himself upon having
found defenders even among strangers alluding probably to a tract by Mr.
Charles Blount, entitled, "Mr. Dryden Vindicated, in answer to the
Friendly Vindication of Mr. Dryden, with reflections on the Rota." This
piece is written with all the honest enthusiasm of youth in defence of
that genius, which has excited its admiration. In his address to Sedley,
Dryden notices these attacks upon him with a supreme degree of
contempt[24]. In other respects, the dedication is drawn with the easy
indifference of one accustomed to the best society, towards the
authority of those who presumed to judge of modern manners, without
having access to see those of the higher circles. The picture which it
draws of the elegance of the convivial parties of the wits in that gay
time has been quoted a few pages higher.

I know not if it be here worth while to mention a pretty warfare between
Dryden and Edward Ravenscroft,[25] an unworthy scribbler, who wrote
plays, or rather altered those of Shakespeare, and imitated those of
Moliere. This person, whether from a feud which naturally subsisted
between the two rival theatres, or from envy and dislike to Dryden
personally, chose, in the Prologue to the "Citizen turned Gentleman,"
acted at the Duke's House in 1672, to level some sneers at the heroic
drama, which affected particularly the "Conquest of Granada," then
acting with great applause. Ravenscroft's play, which is a bald
translation from the "_Bourgeois Gentilhomme_" of Moliere, was
successful, chiefly owing to the burlesque procession of Turks employed
to dub the Citizen a _Mamamouchi_, or Paladin. Dryden, with more
indignation than the occasion warranted, retorted, in the Prologue to
the "Assignation," by the following attack on Ravenscroft's jargon and

"You must have Mamamouchi, such a fop
As would appear a monster in a shop;
He'll fill your pit and boxes to the brim,
Where, ramm'd in crowds, you see yourselves in him.
Sure there's some spell our poet never knew,
In _Hullibabilah de_, and _Chu, chu, chu_;
But _Marababah sahem_ most did touch you;
That is, Oh how we love the Mamamouchi!
Grimace and habit sent you pleased away;
You damned the poet, and cried up the play."

About this time, too, the actresses in the King's theatre, to vary the
amusements of the house, represented "Marriage a la Mode" in men's
dresses. The Prologue and Epilogue were furnished by Dryden; and in the
latter, mentioning the projected union of the theatres,--

"all the women most devoutly swear,
Each would be rather a poor actress here,
Than to be made a Mamamouchi there."

Ravenscroft, thus satirised, did not fail to exult in the bad success of
the "Assignation," and celebrated his triumph in some lines of a
Prologue to the "Careless Lovers," which was acted in the vacation
succeeding the ill fate of Dryden's play. They are thrown into the note,
that the reader may judge how very unworthy this scribbler was of the
slightest notice from the pen of Dryden.[26]

And with this _Te Deum_, on the part of Ravenscroft ended a petty
controversy, which gives him his only title to be named in the life of
an English classic.

From what has been detailed of these disputes we may learn that, even at
this period, the laureate's wreath was not unmingled with thorns; and
that if Dryden still maintained his due ascendancy over the common band
of authors, it was not without being occasionally under the necessity of
descending into the _arena_ against very inferior antagonists.

In the course of these controversies, Dryden was not idle, though he
cannot be said to have been worthily or fortunately employed; his muse
being lent to the court, who were at this time anxious to awake the
popular indignation against the Dutch. It is a characteristic of the
English nation, that their habitual dislike against their neighbours is
soon and easily blown into animosity. But, although Dryden chose for his
theme the horrid massacre of Amboyna, and fell to the task with such
zeal that he accomplished it in a month, his play was probably of little
service to the cause in which it was written. The story is too
disgusting to produce the legitimate feelings of pity and terror which
tragedy should excite: the black-hole of Calcutta would be as pleasing a
subject. The character of the Hollanders is too grossly vicious and
detestable to give the least pleasure. They are neither men, nor even
devils; but a sort of lubber fiends, compounded of cruelty, avarice, and
brutal debauchery, like Dutch swabbers possessed by demons. But of this
play the author has himself admitted, that the subject is barren, the
persons low, and the writing not heightened by any laboured scenes: and,
without attempting to contradict this modest description, we may dismiss
the tragedy of "Amboyna." It was dedicated to Lord Clifford of
Chudleigh, an active member of the Cabal administration of Charles II.;
but who, as a Catholic, on the test act being passed, resigned his post
of lord high treasurer, and died shortly afterwards. There is great
reason to think that this nobleman had essentially favoured Dryden's
views in life. On a former occasion, he had termed Lord Clifford a
better Maecenas than that of Horace;[27] and, in the present dedication,
he mentions the numerous favours received through so many years as
forming one continued act of his patron's generosity and goodness; so
that the excess of his gratitude had led the poet to receive those
benefits, as the Jews received their law, with mute wonder, rather than
with outward and ceremonious acclamation. These sentiments of obligation
he continued, long after Lord Clifford's death, to express in terms
equally glowing;[28] so that we may safely do this statesman's memory
the justice to record him as an active and discerning patron of Dryden's

In the course of 1673 our author's pen was engaged in a task, which may
be safely condemned as presumptuous, though that pen was Dryden's. It
was no other than that of new-modelling the "Paradise Lost" of Milton
into a dramatic poem, called the "State of Innocence, or the Fall of
Man." The coldness with which Milton's mighty epic was received upon the
first publication is almost proverbial. The character of the author,
obnoxious for his share in the usurped government; the turn of the
language, so different from that of the age; the seriousness of a
subject so discordant with its lively frivolities--gave to the author's
renown the slowness of growth with the permanency of the oak. Milton's
merit, however, had not escaped the eye of Dryden.[29] He was acquainted
with the author, perhaps even before the Restoration; and who can doubt
Dryden's power of feeling the sublimity of the "Paradise Lost," even had
he himself not assured us, in the prefatory essay to his own piece, that
he accounts it, "undoubtedly, one of the greatest, most noble, and most
sublime poems, which either this age or nation has produced"? We are,
therefore, to seek for the motive which could have induced him, holding
this opinion, "to gild pure gold, and set a perfume on the violet."
Dennis has left a curious record upon this subject:--"Dryden," he
observes, "in his Preface before the 'State of Innocence,' appears to
have been the first, those gentlemen excepted whose verses are before
Milton's poem, who discovered in so public a manner an extraordinary
opinion of Milton's extraordinary merit. And yet Mr. Dryden at that time
knew not half the extent of his excellence, as more than twenty years
afterwards he confessed to me, and is pretty plain from his writing the
'State of Innocence.'" Had he known the full extent of Milton's
excellence, Dennis thought he would not have ventured on this
undertaking, unless he designed to be a foil to him: "but they," he
adds, "who knew Mr. Dryden, know very well, that he was not of a temper
to design to be a foil to any one."[30] We are therefore to conclude,
that it was only the hope of excelling his original, admirable as he
allowed it to be, which impelled Dryden upon this unprofitable and
abortive labour; and we are to examine the improvements which Dryden
seemed to meditate, or, in other words, the differences between his
taste and that of Milton.

And first we may observe, that the difference in their situations
affected their habits of thinking upon poetical subjects. Milton had
retired into solitude, if not into obscurity, relieved from everything
like external agency either influencing his choice of a subject, or his
mode of treating it; and in consequence, instead of looking abroad to
consult the opinion of his age, he appealed only to the judge which
heaven had implanted within him, when he was endowed with severity of
judgment, and profusion of genius. But the taste of Dryden was not so
independent. Placed by his very office at the head of what was
fashionable in literature, he had to write for those around him, rather
than for posterity; was to support a brilliant reputation in the eye of
the world; and is frequently found boasting of his intimacy with those
who led the taste of the age, and frequently quoting the

"_tamen me
Cum magnis vixisse, invita falebitur usque

It followed, that Dryden could not struggle against the tide into which
he was launched, and that, although it might be expected from his
talents that he should ameliorate the reigning taste, or at least carry
those compositions which it approved to their utmost pitch of
perfection, it could not be hoped that he should altogether escape being
perverted by it, or should soar so superior to all its prejudices as at
once to admit the super-eminent excellence of a poem which ran counter
to these in so many particulars. The versification of Milton, according
to the taste of the times, was ignoble, from its supposed facility.
Dryden was, we have seen, so much possessed with this prejudice, as to
pronounce blank verse unfit even for a fugitive paper of verses. Even in
his later and riper judgment he affirms, that, whatever pretext Milton
might allege for the use of blank verse, "his own particular reason is
plainly this,--that rhyme was not his talent; he had neither the ease of
doing it, nor the graces of it: which is manifest in his 'Juvenilia,' or
verses written in his youth, where his rhyme is always constrained and
forced, and comes hardly from him, at an age when the soul is most
pliant, and the passion of love makes almost every man a rhymer, though
not a poet."

The want of the dignity of rhyme was therefore, according to his idea,
an essential deficiency in the "Paradise Lost." According to Aubrey,
Dryden communicated to Milton his intention of adding this grace to his
poem; to which the venerable bard gave a contemptuous consent, in these
words: "Ay, you may _tag_ my verses if you will." Perhaps few have read
so far into the "State of Innocence" as to discover that Dryden did not
use this licence to the uttermost and that several of the scenes are not
tagg'd with rhyme.

Dryden at this period engaged in a research recommended to him by "a

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