Imágenes de páginas

a fall. His own admirable good sense pre- ' flowers with the bee; or the little bower-women
served him from this error, and taught him to of Titania, driving the spiders from the couch
cultivate a style in which excellence «was of the Queen! Dryden truly said, that
within his reach. Dryden had not the same

“ Shakspeare's magic could not copied be ;
sell-knowledge. He saw that the greatest

Within the circle uone durst walk but be.poets were never so successful as when they rushed beyond the ordinary bounds, and that It would have been well if he had not himself some inexplicable good fortune preserved dared to step within the enchanted line, and them from iripping even when they staggered drawn on himself a sate similar to that which, on the brink of nonsense. He did not per-, according to the old superstition, punished ceive that they were guided and sustained by such presumptuous interferences. The followa power denied to himself. They wrote froin ing lines are parts of the song of his fairies : the dictation of the imagination, and they found a response in the imaginations of others. " Merry, merry, merry, we sail from the East,

Half-rippled at a rainbow feasi. He, on the contrary, sat down to work him- In the bright inoonshine, while winds whistle loud, self, by reflection and argument, into a deli

Tivy, livy, tivy, we mount and we fly,

All racking along in a downy white cloud; berate wildness, a rational frenzy.

And lest our leap froni the sky prove loo far, In looking over the admirable designs which We slide on the back of a new falling star, accompany the Faust, we have always been

And drop from above

In a jelly of love." much struck by one which represents the wizard and the tempter riding at full speed. The These are very favourable instances. Those demon sits on his furious horse as heedlessly who wish for a bad one may read the dying as if he were reposing on a chair. That he speeches of Maximin, and may conpare them should keep his saddle in such a posture, with the last scenes of Othello and Lear. would seem impossible to any who did not If Dryden had died before the expiration of know that he was secure in the privileges of the first of the periods into which we have dia superhuman nature. T'he attitude of Faust, vided his literary life, he would have left a reon the contrary, is the perfection of horseman- putation, at best, little higher than that of Lee ship. Poets of the first order might safely or Navenant. He would have been known only write as desperately as Mephistopheles rode. to men of letters; and by them he would have But Dryden, though admitted to communion been mentioned as a writer who threw away, with higher spirits, though armed with a por- on subjects which he was incompetent to treat, tion of their power, and intrusted with some powers which, judiciously employed, might of their secrets, was of another race. What have raised him to eminence; whose diction they might securely venture to do, it was mad- and whose numbers had sometimes very high ness in him to attempt. It was necessary that merit, but all whose works were blemished by taste and critical science should supply its a false taste and by errors of gross negligence. deficiencies.

A few of his prologues and epilogues might perWe will give a few examples. Nothing can haps still have been remembered and quoted. be finer than the description of Hector at the In these little pieces, he early showed all the Grecian wall.

powers which afterwards rendered him the ο δ' αρ' εσθoρε φαιδιμος Εκτωρ,

greatest of modern satirists. But during the Νυκτι θαη αταλαντος υπωπια: λαμπε δε χαλκω

latter part of his life, he gradually abandoned Σμερδαλεω, τον εεστο περι χροι δοια δε χερσιν

the drama. His plays appeared at longer inΔουρ' εχεν ουκ αν τις μιν ερυκακοι αντιβολησις,

tervals. He renounced rhyme in tragedy. His Νοσφι 9εων, οτ' εσαλτο πυλας" πυρι δ' οσσε δεόηει language became less turgid, his characters Αντικα δ' οι μεν τειχος υπερβασαν, οι δε κατ' less exaggerated. He did not indeed produce Ποιητας εσεχυντο πυλας. Δαναοι δ' εφοβηθεν correct representations of human nature ; but Νηας ανα γλαφυρας" ομαδος δ' αλιαστος ετυχθη. he ceased to daub such monstrous chimeras as

those which abound in his earlier pieces. Here What daring expressions! Yet how signi- and there passages occur worthy of the best ficant! How picturesque! Hector seems to ages of the British stage. The style which the rise up in his strength and fury; The gloom drama requires changes with every change of of night in his frown-the fire burning in his character and situation. He who can vary his eyes—the javelins and the blazing armour-manner to suit the variation is the great dramathe mighty rush through the gates and down tist; but he who excels in one manner only, the battlements—the trampling and the infinite will, when that manner happens to be approroar of the multitude—every thing is with us; priate, appear to be a great dramatist ; as the every thing is real.

hands of a watch, which does not go, point Dryden has described a very similar event right once in the twelve hours.

Sometimes in Maximin ; and has done his best to be sub- there is a scene of solemn debate. This a mere lime, as follows:

rhetorician may write as well as the greatest " There with a forest of their darts he strove, tragedian that ever lived. We confess that la And stood like Capaneus defying Jove;

us the speech of Sempronius in Calo seems
With his broad sword the boldest beating down,
Till Fate grew pale, lest he should win the town, very nearly as good as Shakspeare could have
And turned the iron leaves of its dark book made it. But when the senate breaks up, and
To make new dooms, or mend what it mistook."

we find that the lovers and their mistresses, the How exquisite is the imagery of the fairy- hero, the villain, and the deputy villain, all songs in the Tempest and the Midsummer continue to harangue in the same style, Night's Dream; Ariel riding through the iwi- we perceive the difference between a man. light on the bal, or sucking in the bells of / who can write a play and a man thu can




write a speech. In the same manner, wit, a fell into natural and pleasing verse. In this talent for description, or a talent for narration, department, he succeeded as completely as his may, for a time, pass for dramatic genius. contemporary Gibbons succeeded in the similar Dryden was an incomparable reasoner in verse. enterprise of carving the most delicate flowers He was conscious of his power; he was proud from heart of oak. The toughest and most of it; and the authors of the Rehearsal justly knotly parts of language became ductile at his charged him with abusing it. His warriors and touch. His versification in the same manner, princesses are fond of discussing points of while it gave the first model of thai neatness amorous casuistry, such as would have de- and precision which the following generation lighted a Parliament of Love. They frequently esteemed so highly, exhibited, at the same go still deeper, and speculate on philosophical time, the last examples of nobleness, freedom, necessity and the origin of evil.

variety of pause and cadence. His tragedies There were, however, some occasions which in rhyme, however worthless in themselves, absolutely required this peculiar talent. Then had at least served the purpose of nonsenseDryden was indeed at home. All his best verses: they had taught him all the arts of mescenes are of this description. They are all lody which the heroic couplet admits. For between men; for the heroes of Dryden, like bombast, his prevailing vice, his new subjects many other gentlemen, can never talk sense gave little opportunity; his better taste grawhen ladies are in company. They are all dually discarded it. intended to exhibit the empire of reason over He possessed, as we have said, in a previolent passion. We have two interlocutors, eminent degree, the power of reasoning in the one eager and impassioned, the other high, verse; and this power was now peculiarly use. cool, and judicious. The composed and ra- ful to him. His logic is by no means unitional character gradually acquires the ascend- formly sound. On points of criticism, he alency. His fierce companion is first inflamed ways reasons ingeniously; and, when he is to rage by his reproaches, then overawed by disposed to be honest, correctly. But the theohis equanimity, convinced by his arguments, logical and political questions, which he underand soothed by his persuasions. This is the took to treat in verse, were precisely those case in the scene between Hector and Troilus, which he understood least. His arguments, in that between Antony and Ventidius, and in therefore, are often worthless. But the manthat between Sebastian and Dorax. Nothing ner in which they are stated is beyond all of the same kind in Shakspeare is equal to praise. The style is transparent. The topics them, except the quarrel between Brutus and follow each other in the happiest order. The Cassius, which is worth the all three. objections are drawn up in such a manner,

Some years before his death, Dryden alto- that the whole fire of the reply may be brought gether ceased to write for the stage. He had to bear on them. The circumlocutions which turned his powers in a new direction, with are substituted for technical phrases, are clear, success the most splendid and decisive. His neat, and exact. The illustrations at once taste had gradually awakened his creative fa- adorn and elucidate the reasoning. The sparkculties. The first rank in poetry was beyond ling epigrams of Cowley, and the simple garruhis reach, but he challenged and secured the lity of the burlesque poets of Italy, are alter. most honourable place in the second. His nately employed, in the happiest manner, to imagination resembled the wings of an ostrich. give effect to what is obvious; or clearness to It enabled him to run, though not to soar. what is obscure. When he attempted the highest flights, he be- His literary creed was catholic, even to lati. came ridiculous; but while he remained in a tudinarianism; not from any want of acutelower region, he outstripped all competitors. ness, but from a disposition to be easily satis

All his natural and all his acquired powers fied. He was quick to discern the smallest fitied hini to found a good critical school of glimpse of merit; he was indulgent even to poetry. Indeed, he carried his reforms too far gross improprieties, when accompanied by any ior his age. After his death, our literature re- redeeming talent. When he said a severe trograded; and a century was necessary to bring thing, it was to serve a temporary purpose, -it back to the point at which he left it. The to support an argument, or to tease a rival. general soundness and healthfulness of his Never was so able a critic so free from fastidi. mental constitution; his information, of vast ousness. He loved the old poets, especially superficies, though of small volume ; his wit, Shakspeare. He admired the ingenuity which scarcely inferior to that of the most distinguish- Donne and Cowley had so wildly abused. He ed followers of Donne; his eloquence, grave, did justice, amidst the general silence, to the deliberate, and commanding, could not save memory of Milton. He praised to the skies him from disgraceful failure as a rival of the schoolboy lines of Addison. Always lookShakspeare, but raised him far above the level ing on the fair side of every object, he admired of Boileau. His command of language was extravagance on account of the invention uinmense. With him died the secret of the old which he supposed it to indicate; he excused poetical diction of England—the art of pro- affectation in favour of wit; he tolerated even ducing rich effects by familiar words. In the tameness for the sake of the correctness which following century, it was as completely lost as was its concomitant. ine Gothic method of painting glass, and was It was probably to this turn of mind, rather wur poorly supplied by the laborious and tesse- than to the more disgraceful causes which iated imitations of Mason and Gray. On the Johnson has assigned, that we are to attribute other hand, he was the first writer under whose the exaggeration which disfigures the paneskilful management the scientific vocabulary gyrics of Dryden. No writer, it must be


owned, has carried the fiattery of dedication to his writings exhibit the sluggish magnificence a greater length. But this was not, we sus- of a Russian noble, all vermin and diamonds, pect, merely interested servility; it was the dirty linen and inestimable sables. Those overflowing of a mind singularly disposed to faults which spring from affectation, time and admiration,-of a mind which diminished thought in a great measure removed from his vices, and magnified virtues and obligations. poems. But his carelessness he retained 10 The most adulatory of his addresses is that in ihe last. If towards the close of his life he which he dedicates the State of Innocence to less frequently went wrong from negligence, Mary of Modena. Johnson thinks it strange it was only because long habits of composition that any man should use such language witho | rendered it more easy to go right. In his best out self-detestation. But he has not re- pieces, we find false rhymes-iriplets, in which marked that to the very same work is pre- the third line appears to be a inere intruder, fixed an eulogium on Milton, which certainly and, while it breaks the music, adds nothing to could not have been acceptable at the court the meaning-gigantic Alexandrines of fourof Charles the Second. Many years later, teen and sixteen syllables, and truncated verses when Whig principles were in a great mea- for which he never troubled himself to find a sure triumphant, Sprat refused to admit a mo- termination or a partner. nument of John Philips into Westminster Ab- Such are the beauties and the faults which bey, because, in the epitaph, the name of Mil- may be found in profusion throughout the later ton incidentally occurred. The walls of his works of Dryden. A more just and complete church, he declared, should not be polluted by estimate of his natural and acquired powers, the name of a republican! Dryden was at- of the merits of his style and of its blemishes, tached, both by principle and interest to the may be formed from the Hind and Panther, court. But nothing could deaden his sensibi- than from any of his other writings. As a lity to excellence. We are unwilling to accuse didactic poem, it is far superior to the Religio him severely, because the same disposition, Laici. The satirical parts, particularly the which prompted him to pay so generous a character of Burnet, are scarcely inferior to tribute to the memory of a poei whom his pa- the best passages in Absalom and Achitophel. trons detested, hurried him into extravagance There are, moreover, occasional touches of a when he described a princess, distinguished by tenderness which affects us more, because it the splendour of her beauty, and the gracious- is decent, rational, and manly, and reminds us ness of her manners.

of the best scenes in his tragedies. His versiThis is an amiable temper; but it is not the fication sinks and swells in happy unison with temper of great men. Where there is eleva- the subject; and his wealth of language seems tion of character, there will be fastidiousness. to be unlimited. Yet the carelessness with It is only in novels, and on tombstones, that which he has constructed his plot, and the inwe meet with people who are indulgent to the numerable inconsistencies into which he is faults of others, and unmerciful to their own; every moment falling, detract much from the and Dryden, at all events, was not one of pleasure which such varied excellence affords. these paragons. His charity was extended In Absalom and Achitophel he hit upon a new most liberally to others, but it certainly began and rich vein, which he worked with signal at home. In taste he was by no means defi- success. The ancient satirists were the subcient. His critical works are, beyond all com-jects of a despotic government. They were parison, superior to any which had, till then, compelled to abstain from political topics, and appeared in England. They were generally to confine their attention to the frailties of pri. intended as apologies for his own poems, ra- vate life. They might, indeed, sometimes venther than as expositions of general principles; ture to take liberties with public men, he, therefore, often attempts to deceive the

“Quorum Flaminia tegitur cinis atque Latind." reader by sophistry, which could scarcely have deceived himself. His dicta are the dicta, not Thus Juvenal immortalized the obsequious of a judge, but of an advocate; often of an senators, who met to decide the fate of the advocate in an unsound cause. Yet, in the memorable turbot. His fourth satire frequently very act of misrepresenting the laws of com- reminds us of the great political poem of Dryposition, he shows how well he understands den; but it was not written till Domitian had them. But he was perpetually acting against fallen, and it wants something of the peculiar his better knowledge. His sins were sins against flavour which belongs to contemporary invec light. He trusted, that what was bad would live alone. His anger has stood so long, thai, be pardoned for the sake of what was good. though the body is not impaired, the efferves. What was goal, he took no pains to make bet-cence, the first cream, is gone. Boileau lay ter. He was not, like most persons who rise under similar restraints; and, if he had been

to eminence, dissatisfied even with his best free from all restraint, would have been no - productions. He had set up no unattainable match for our countryman.

standard of perfection, the contemplation of The advantages which Dryden derived from

which might at once improve and mortify him. the nature of his subj·ct he' improved to the 2 His path was not attended by an unapproach- very utmost. His manner is almost perfect.

able mirage of excellence, forever receding The style of Horace and Boileau is fit only for and forever pursued. He was not disgusted light subjects. The Frenchman did indeed by the negligence of others, and he extended attempt to turn the theological reasonings of the same toleration to himself. His mind was the Provincial Letters into verse, but with of a slovenly character-fond of splendour, very indifferent success. The glitter of Pope but indifferent to neatness. Hence most of l is cold. The ardour of Persius is without Vol. 17


brilliancy. Magnificent versification and in- parterres and the rectangular walks. He genious combinations rarely harmonize with rather resembled our Kents and Browns, the expression of deep feeling. In Juvenal and who, imitating the great features of landDryden alone we have the sparkle and the heat scape without emulating them, consulting the together. Those great satirists succeeded in genius of the place, assisting nature and carecommunicating the fervour of their feelings fully disguising their art, produced, not a to materials the most incombustible, and kin- Chamouni nor a Niagara, but a Stowe or a dled the whole mass into a blaze at once Hagley. dazzling and destructive. We cannot, indeed, We are, on the whole, inclined to regret that think, without regret, of the part which so emi- Dryden did not accomplish his purpose of nent a writer as Dryden took in the disputes writing an epic poem. It certainly would not of that period. There was, no doubt, madness have been a work of the highest rank. It and wickedness on both sides. But there was would not have rivalled the Iliad, the Odyssey, liberty on the one, and despotism on the other. or the Paradise Lost; but it would have been On this point, however, we will not dwell. At superior to the productions of Apollonius, Talavera the English and French troops for a Lucan, or Statius, and not inferior to the Jerumoment suspended their conflict, to drink of a salem Delivered. It would probably have been stream which flowed between them. The a vigorous narrative, animated with something shells were passed across from enemy to ene of the spirit of the old romances, enriched with my without apprehension or molestation. We, much splendid description, and interspersed in the same manner, would rather assist our with fine declamations and disquisitions. The political adversaries to drink with us of that danger of Dryden would have been from aimn. fountain of intellectual pleasure which should ing too high; from dwelling too much, for exbe the common refreshment of both parties, ample, on his angels of kingdoms, and attemptthan disturb and pollute it with the havoc of ing a competition with that great writer, who unseasonable hostilities.

in his own time had so incomparably succeedMacsecnoe is inferior to Absalom and ed in representing to us the sights and sounds Achitophel, only in the subject. In the execu- of another world. To Milton, and to Milton tion it is even superior. But the greatest work alone, belonged the secrets of the great deep, of Dryden was the last, the Ode on Saint Ce- the beach of sulphur, the ocean of fire; the cilia's day. It is the masterpiece of the second palaces of the fallen dominations, glimmer. class of poetry, and ranks but just below the ing through the everlasting shade, the silent great models of the first. It reminds us of the wilderness of verdure and fragrance where Pedasus of Achilles,

armed angels kept watch over the sleep of the ος, και θνητος εων, επεθ' ιπποις αθανατοισι.

first lovers, the portico of diamond, the sea of

jasper, the sapphire pavement empurpled with By comparing it with the impotent ravings celestial roses, and the infinite ranks of the of the heroic tragedies, we may measure the Cherubim, blazing with adamant and goid. progress which the mind of Dryden had made. The council, the tournament, the procession, He had learned to avoid a too audacious com- the crowded cathedral, the camp, the guardpetition with higher natures, to keep at a dis- room, the chase, were the proper scenes for tance from the verge of bombast or nonsense, Dryden. to venture on no expression which did not But we have not space to pass in review all convey a distinct idea to his own mind. the works which Dryden wrote. We, thereThere is none of that “darkness visible” of fore, will not speculate longer on those which style which he had formerly affected, and in he might possibly have written. He may, on which the greatest poets only can succeed. the whole, be pronounced to have been a man Everye thing is definite, significant, and pic-possessed of splendid talents, which he often iuresque. His early writings resembled the abused, and of a sound judgment, the admoni. gigantic works of those Chinese gardeners tions of which he often neglected; a man who who attempt to rival nature herself, to form succeeded only in an inferior department of cataracts of terrific height and sound, to raise his art, but who, in that department, succeeded precipitous ridges of mountains, and to imi- pre-eminently; and who, with a more indetate in artificial plantations the vastness and pendent spirit, a more anxious desire of excel. ine gloom of some primeval forest. This man- lence, and more respect for himself, would, in ner be abandoned; nor did he ever adopt the his own walk, have attained to absolute per Dutch taste which Pope affected, the trim'fection



(EDINBURGH Review, 1828.]

To write history respectably—that is, to ab- | talent for description and dialogue, and the breviate despatches, and make extracts from pure sweet flow of his language, place him at speeches, to intersperse in due proportion the head of narrators. He reminds us of a epithets of praise and abhorrence, to draw up delightful child. There is a grace beyond the antithetical characters of great men, setting reach of affectation in his awkwardness, a forth how many contradictory virtues and malice in his innocence, an intelligence in his vices they united, and abounding in withs and nonsense, an insinuating eloquence in his lisp. withouts; all this is very easy. But to be a We know of no writer who makes such in. really great historian is perhaps the rarest of Jterest for himself and his book in the heart of intellectual distinctions. Many Scientific works the reader. At the distance of three-and-twenty are, in their kind, absolutely perfect. There centuries, we feel for him the same sort of are Poems which we should be inclined to pitying fondness which Fontaine and Gay are designate as faultless, or as disfigured only by said to have inspired in society. He has blemishes which pass unnoticed in the general written an incomparable book. He has writ. blaze of excellence. There are Speeches, ten something better perhaps than the best some speeches of Demosthenes particularly, history; but he has not written a good history; in which it would be impossible to alter a he is, from the first to the last chapter, an inword, without altering it for the worse. But ventor. We do not here refer merely to those we are acquainted with no History which ap- gross fictions with which he has been reproachproaches to our notion of what a history ought ed by the critics of later times. We speak of to be; with no history which does not widely that colouring which is equally diffused over depart, either on the right hand or on the left, his whole narrative, and which perpetually from the exact line.

leaves the most sagacious reader in doubt The cause may easily be assigned. This what to reject and what to receive. The most province of literature is a debatable land. It authentic parts of his work bear the same relies on the confines of two distinct territories. lation to his wildest legends, which Henry the It is under the jurisdiction of two hostile Fifth bears to the Tempest. There was an powers; and, like other districts similarly expedition undertaken by Xerxes against situated, it is ill defined, ill cultivated, and ill Greece; and there was an invasion of France. regulated. Instead of being equally shared There was a battle at Platæa; and there was between its two rulers, the Reason and the a battle at Agincourt. Cambridge and Exeter, Imagination, it falls alternately under the sole the Constable and the Dauphin, were persons and absolute dominion of each. It is some- as real as Demaratus and Pausanias. times fiction. It is sometimes theory. harangue of the Archbishop on the Salic Law

History, it has been said, is philosophy and the Book of Numbers differs much less teaching by examples. Unhappily what the from the orations which have in all ages prophilosophy gains in soundness and depth, the ceeded from the Right Reverend bench, than examples generally lose in vividness. A per- the speeches of Mardonius and Artabanus, fect historian must possess an imagination from those which were delivered at the Counsufficiently powerful to make his narrative cil-board of Susa. Shakspeare gives us enuaffecting and picturesque. Yet he must con- merations of armies, and returns of killed and trol it so absolutely as to content himself with wounded, which are not, we suspect, much the materials which he finds, and to refrain less accurate than those of Herodotus. There from supplying deficiencies by additions of his are passages in Herodotus nearly as long as own. He must be a profound and ingenious acts of Shakspeare, in which every thing is reasoner. Yet he must possess sufficient self- told dramatically, and in which the narrative command to abstain from casting his facts in serves only the purpose of stage-directions. It the mould of his hypothesis. Those who can is possible, no doubt, that the substance of some justly estimate these almost insuperable diffi- real conversations may have been reported culties will not think it strange that every to the historian. But events which, if they writer should have failed, either in the narra- ever happened, happened in ages and nations tive or in the speculative department of his so remote that the particulars could never tory.

have been known to him, are related with the It may be laid down as a general rule, though greatest minuteness of detail. We have all subject to considerable qualifications and ex- that Candaules said to Gyges, and all that ceptions, that history oegins in Novel and ends passed between Astyages and Harpagus. W in Essay." or the romantic historians Herodo- are, therefore, unable to judge whether, in the tus is the earliest and the best. His animation, account which he gives of transactions, re. his simple-hearted tenderness, his wonderful specting which he might possibly have been

well informed, we can trust to any thing be * The Romance of History, England. By lexby yond the naked outline; whether, for example, NEELE. London, 1828.

the answer of Gelon to the ambassadors lishe


« AnteriorContinuar »