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and that of agreeable imitation. The works of Shakspeare, which were not appreciated with any degree of justice before the middle of the eighteenth century, might then have been the recognised standards of excellence during the latter part of the seventeenth; and he and the great Elizabethan writers might have been almost immediately succeeded by a generation of poets, similar to those who adorn our own times.
ness. Most of the characters of the French terval between the age of sublime invention stage resemble the waxen gentlemen and ladies in the window of a perfumer, rouged, curled, and bedizened, but fixed in such stiff attitudes, and staring with eyes expressive of such utter unmeaningness, that they cannot produce an illusion for a single moment. In the English plays alone is to be found the warmth, the mellowness, and the reality of painting. We know the minds of the men and women, as we know the faces of the men and women of Vandyke.
in the writers whom they reprobated; but whether they took the best measures for stopping the evil, appears to us very doubtful, and must, we think, have appeared doubtful to themselves, when, after the lapse of a few years, they saw the unclean spirit whom they had cast out, return to his old haunts, with seven others fouler than himself.
By the extinction of the drama, the fashionable school of poetry-a school without truth of sentiment or harmony of versificationwithout the powers of an earlier or the correctness of a later age—was left to enjoy undisputed ascendency. A vicious ingenuity, a morbid quickness to perceive resemblances and analogies between things apparently hete rogeneous, constituted almost its only claim to admiration. Suckling was dead. Milton was absorbed in political and theological contro
But the Puritans drove imagination from its The excellence of these works is in a great last asylum. They prohibited theatrical repremeasure the result of two peculiarities, which sentations, and stigmatized the whole race of the critics of the French school consider as dramatists as enemies of morality and relidefects-from the mixture of tragedy and co-gion. Much that is objectionable may be found medy, and from the length and extent of the action. The former is necessary to render the drama a just representation of a world, in which the laughers and the weepers are perpetually jostling each other-in which every event has its serious and its ludicrous side. The latter enables us to form an intimate acquaintance with characters, with which we could not possibly become familiar during the few hours to which the unities restrict the poet. In this respect the works of Shakspeare, in particular, are miracies of art. In a piece, which may be read aloud in three hours, we see a character gradually unfold all its recesses to us. We see it change with the change of circumstances. The petulant youth rises into the politic and warlike sovereign. The profuse and courteous philanthropist sours into a hater and scorner of his kind. The tyrant is altered, by the chastening of af-versy. If Waller differed from the Cowleian fliction, into a pensive moralist. The veteran general, distinguished by coolness, sagacity, and self-command, sinks under a conflict between love, strong as death, and jealousy, cruel as the grave. The brave and loyal subject passes, step by step, to the extremities of human depravity. We trace his progress from the first dawnings of unlawful ambition, to the cynical melancholy of his impenitent remorse. Yet, in these pieces, there are no unnatural transitions. Nothing is omitted: nothing is crowded. Great as are the changes, narrow as is the compass within which they are exhibited, they shock us as little as the gradual alterations of those familiar faces which we see every evening and every morning. The magical skill of the poet resembles that of the Dervise in the Spectator, who condensed all the events of seven years into the single moment during which the king held his head under the water.
It is deserving of remark, that at the time of which we speak, the plays even of men not eminently distinguished by genius-such, for example, as Jonson-were far superior to the best works of imagination in other departments. Therefore, though we conceive that, from causes which we have already investigated, our poetry must necessarily have declined, we think that, unless its fate had been accelerated by external attacks, it might have enjoyed an euthanasia-that genius might have been kept alive by the drama till its place could, in some degree, be supplied by tastethat there would have been scarcely any in
sect of writers, he differed for the worse. He had as little poetry as they, and much less wit: nor is the languor of his verses less offensive than the ruggedness of theirs. In Denham alone the faint dawn of a better manner was discernible.
But, low as was the state of our poetry during the civil war and the Protectorate, a still deeper fall was at hand. Hitherto our literature had been idiomatic. In mind as in situation, we had been islanders. The revolutions in our taste, like the revolutions in our government, had been settled without the interference of strangers. Had this state of things continued, the same just principles of reasoning, which, about this time, were applied with unprecedented success to every part of philosophy, would soon have conducted our ancestors to a sounder code of criticism. There were already strong signs of improve ment. Our prose had at length worked itself clear from those quaint conceits which still deformed almost every metrical composition. The parliamentary debates and the diplomatic correspondence of that eventful period had contributed much to this reform. In such bustling times, it was absolutely necessary to speak and write to the purpose. The absurdities of Puritanism had, perhaps, done more. At the time when that odious style, which deforms the writings of Hall and of Lord Bacon, was almost universal, had appeared that stupendous work, the English Bible-a book which, if every thing else in our language should perish, would alone suffice to show the
whole extent of its beauty and power. The respect which the translators felt for the original prevented them from adding any of the hideous decorations then in fashion. The groundwork of the version, indeed, was of an earlier age. The familiarity with which the
Puritans, on almost every occasion, used the scriptural phrases, was no doubt very ridiculous; but it produced good effects. It was a cant; but it drove out a cant far more offensive.
against their will, been forced to flatter-of
Swifter than those who cannot swim at all; So, in this way of writing without thinking, Thou hast a strange alacrity in sinking." From this reproach some clever men of the world must be expected, and among them The highest kind of poetry is, in a great Dorset himself. Though by no means great measure, independent of those circumstances poets, or even good versifiers, they always which regulate the style of composition in wrote with meaning, and sometimes with wit. prose. But with that inferior species of poe- Nothing indeed more strongly shows to what try which succeeds to it, the case is widely a miserable state literature had fallen, than different. In a few years, the good sense and the immense superiority which the occasional good taste which had weeded out affectation rhymes, carelessly thrown on paper by men from moral and political treatises would, in of this class, possess over the elaborate prothe natural course of things, have effected a ductions of almost all the professed authors. similar reform in the sonnet and the ode. The The reigning taste was so bad, that the success rigour of the victorious sectaries had relaxed. of a writer was in inverse proportion to his A dominant religion is never ascetic. The labour, and to his desire of excellence. An government connived at theatrical representa- exception must be made for Butler, who had as tions. The influence of Shakspeare was once much wit and learning as Cowley, and who more felt. But darker days were approaching. knew, what Cowley never knew, how to use A foreign yoke was to be imposed on our lite-them. A great command of good homely rature. Charles, surrounded by the compa-English distinguishes him still more from the nions of his long exile, returned to govern a other writers of the time. As for Gondibert nation which ought never to have cast him out, or never to have received him back. Every year which he had passed among strangers had rendered him more unfit to rule his countrymen. In France he had seen the refractory magistracy humbled, and royal prerogative though exercised by a foreign priest in the name of a child, victorious over all opposition. This spectacle naturally gratified a prince to whose family the opposition of parliaments had been so fatal. Politeness was his solitary good quality. The insults which he had suffered in Scotland had taught him to prize it. The effeminacy and apathy of his disposition fitted him to excel in it. The elegance and vivacity of the French manners fascinated him. With the political maxims and the social habits of his favourite people, he adopted their taste in composition; and, when seated on the throne, soon rendered it fashionable, partly by direct patronage, but still more by that contemptible policy which, for a time, made England the last of the nations, and raised Louis the Fourteenth to a height of power and fame, such as no French sovereign had ever before attained.
those may criticise it who can read it. Ima gination was extinct. Taste was depraved. Poetry, driven from palaces, colleges, and the atres, had found an asylum in the obscure dwelling, where a great man, born out of due season, in disgrace, penury, pain, and blind ness, still kept uncontaminated a character and a genius worthy of a better age.
Every thing about Milton is wonderful; bu nothing is so wonderful as that, in an age so unfavourable to poetry, he should have pro duced the greatest of modern epic poems We are not sure that this is not in some du gree to be attributed to his want of sight. The imagination is notoriously most active when the external world is shut out. In sleep its illusions are perfect. They produce all the effect of realities. In darkness its visions are always more distinct than in the light. Every person who amuses himself with what is called building castles in the air, must have experienced this. We know artists, who, before they attempt to draw a face from memory, close their eyes, that they may recall a more perfect image of the features and the expres sion. We are therefore inclined to believe, It was to please Charles that rhyme was that the genius of Milton may have been prefirst introduced into our plays. Thus, a rising served from the influence of times sc unfablow, which would at any time have been vourable to it, by his infirmity. Be this as it mortal, was dealt to the English drama, then may, his works at first enjoyed a very small just recovering from its languishing condition. share of popularity. To be neglected by his Two detestable manners, the indigenous and contemporaries was the penalty which he paid the imported, were now in a state of alternate for surpassing them. His great poem was conflict and amalgamation. The bombastic not generally studied or admired, till writers meanness of the new style was blended with the far inferior to him had, by cbsequiously cring ingenious absurdity of the old; and the mix-ing to the public taste, acquired sufficient fa ture produced something which the world had never before seen, and which, we hope, it will never see again—something, by the side of which the worst nonsense of all other ages appears to advantage-something, which those who have attempted to caricature it, have,
vour to reform it.
Of these Dryden was the must eminent Amidst the crowd of authors, who, during the earlier years of Charles the Second, courted notoriety by every species of absurdity and affectation, he speedily became conspicuous
No man exercised so much influence on the age. The reason is obvious. On no man did the age exercise so much influence. He was perhaps the greatest of those whom we have designated as the critical poets; and his literary career exhibited, on a reduced scale, the whole history of the school to which he belonged, the rudeness and extravagance of its infancy, the propriety, the grace, the dignified good sense, the temperate splendour of its maturity. His imagination was torpid, till it was awakened by his judgment. He began with quaint parallels and empty mouthing. He gradually acquired the energy of the satirist, the gravity of the moralist, the rapture of the lyric poet. The revolution through which English literature has been passing, from the time of Cowley to that of Scott, may be seen in miniature within the compass of his volumes.
His life divides itself into two parts. There is some debatable ground on the common frontier; but the line may be drawn with tolerable accuracy. The year 1678 is that on which we should be inclined to fix as the date of a great change in his manner. During the preceding period appeared some of his courtly panegyrics-his Annus Mirabilis, and most of his plays; indeed, all his rhyming tragedies. To the subsequent period belong his best dramas-All for Love, The Spanish Friar, and Sebastian-his satires, his translations, his didactic poems, his fables, and his odes.
and his versification were already far supe rior to theirs.
The Annus Mirabilis shows great command of expression and a fine ear for heroic rhyme. Here its merits end. Not only has it no claim to be called poetry; but it seems to be the work of a man who could never, by any possibility, write poetry. Its affected similes are the best part of it. Gaudy weeds present a more encouraging spectacle than utter barrenness. There is scarcely a single stanza in this long work, to which the imagination seems to have contributed any thing. It is produced, not by creation, but by construction. It is made up, not of pictures, but of inferences. We will give a single instance, and certainly a favourable instance-a quatrain which Johnson has praised. Dryden is describing the sea-fight with the Dutch.
"Amidst whole heaps of spices lights a ball; And now their odours armed against them fiy Some preciously by shattered porcelain fall, And some by aromatic splinters die.” The poet should place his readers, as nearly as possible, in the situation of the sufferers or the spectators. His narration ought to produce feelings similar to those which would be excited by the event itself. Is this the case here? Who, in a sea-fight, ever thought of the price of the china which beats out the brains of a sailor; or of the odour of the splinter which shatters his leg? It is not by an act of the imagination, at once calling up the scene be Of the small pieces which were presented fore the interior eye, but by painful meditation to chancellors and princes, it would scarcely-by turning the subject round and round-by be fair to speak. The greatest advantage which the fine arts derive from the extension of knowledge is, that the patronage of individuals becomes unnecessary. Some writers still affect to regret the age of patronage. None but bad writers have reason to regret it. It is always an age of general ignorance. Where ten thousand readers are eager for the appearance of a book, a small contribution from each makes up a splendid remuneration for the author. Where literature is a luxury, confined to few, each of them must pay high. If the Empress Catherine, for example, wanted an epic poem, she must have wholly supported the poet;-just as, in a remote country village, a man who wants a mutton-chop is sometimes forced to take the whole sheep ;-a thing which never happens where the demand is large. But men who pay largely for the gratification of their taste, will expect to have it united with some gratification to their vanity. Flattery is carried to a shameless extent; and the habit of flattery almost inevitably introduces a false taste into composition. Its language is made up of hyperbolical commonplacesoffensive from their triteness-and still more offensive from their extravagance. In no school is the trick of overstepping the modesty of nature so speedily acquired. The writer, accustomed to find exaggeration acceptable and necessary on one subject, uses it on all. It is not strange, therefore, that the early panegyrical verses of Dryden should be made up of meanness and bombast. They abound with the conceits which his immediate predecessors had brought into fashion. But his language
tracing out facts into remote consequences, that these incongruous topics are introduced into the description. Homer, it is true, per petually uses epithets which are not peculiarly appropriate. Achilles is the swift-footed, when he is sitting still. Ulysses is the much-enduring, when he has nothing to endure. Every spear casts a long shadow; every ox has crooked horns; and every woman a high bosom, though these particulars may be quite beside the purpose. In our old ballads a similar practice prevails. The gold is always red, and the ladies always gay, though nothing whatever may depend on the hue of gold, or the temper of the ladies. But these adjectives are mere customary additions. They merge in the sub stantives to which they are attached. If the at all colour the idea, it is with a tinge so sligh as in no respect to alter the general effect. In the passage which we have quoted from Dryden, the case is very different. Preciously and aromatic divert our whole attention to themselves, and dissolve the image of the battle in a moment. The whole poem reminds us of Lucan, and of the worst parts of Lucan, the sea-fight in the bay of Marseilles, for example. The description of the two fleets during the night is perhaps the only passage which ought to be exempted from this censure. If it was from the Annus Mirabilis that Milton formed his opinion, when he pronounced Dryden a good rhymer, but no poet, he certainly judged correctly. But Dryden was, as we have said, one of those writers, in whom the period of imagination does not precede, but follow, the period of observation and reflection.
We will give a few instances:-In Aurengzebe, Arimant, governor of Agra, falls in love with his prisoner Indamora. She rejects his suit with scorn; but assures him that she shall make great use of her power over him. He threatens to be angry. She answers, very coolly:
His plays, his rhyming plays in particular, | rested emotion-a loyalty extending to passive are admirable subjects for those who wish to obedience-a religion like that of the Quietists, study the morbid anatomy of the drama. He unsupported by any sanction of hope or fear. was utterly destitute of the power of exhibiting We see nothing but despotism without power, real human beings. Even in the far inferior and sacrifices without compensation. talent of composing characters out of those elements into which the imperfect process of our reason can resolve them, he was very deficient. His men are not even good personifications; they are not well-assorted assemblages of qualities. Now and then, indeed, he seizes a very coarse and marked distinction; and gives up, not a likeness, but a strong caricature, in which a single peculiarity is protruded, and every thing else neglected; like the Marquis of Granby at an inndoor, whom we know by nothing but his baldness; or Wilkes, who is Wilkes only in his squint. These are the best specimens of his skill. For most of his pictures seem, like Turkey carpets, to have been expressly designed not to resemble any thing in the heavens above, in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth.
The latter manner he practises most frequently in his tragedies, the former in his comedies. The comic characters are, without mixture, loathsome and despicable. The men of Etherege and Vanbrugh are bad enough. Those of Smollet are perhaps worse. But they do not approach to the Celadons, the Wildbloods, the Woodalls, and the Rhodophils of Dryden. The vices of these last are set off by a certain fierce, hard impudence, to which we know nothing comparable. Their love is the appetite of beasts; their friendship the confederacy of knaves. The ladies seem to have been expressly created to form helps meet for such gentlemen. In deceiving and insulting their old fathers, they do not perhaps exceed the license which, by immemorial prescription, has been allowed to heroines. But they also cheat at cards, rob strong boxes, put up their favours to auction, betray their friends, abuse their rivals in a style of Billingsgate, and invite their lovers in the language of the Piazza. These, it must be remembered, are not the valets and waiting-women, the Mascarilles and Nerines, but the recognised heroes and heroines, who appear as the representatives of good society, and who, at the end of the fifth act, marry and live very happily ever after. The sensuality, baseness, and malice of their natures are unredeemed by any quality of a differeat description, by any touch of kindness, or even by an honest burst of hearty hatred and revenge. We are in a world where there is no humanity, no veracity, no sense of shame a world for which any good-natured man would gladly take in exchange the society of Milton's devils. But as soon as we enter the regions of Tragedy, we find a great change. The is no lack of the fine sentiment there. Metastasio is surpassed in his own department. Scuderi is out-scuderied. We are introduced to people whose proceedings we can trace to no motive-of whose feelings we can form no more idea than of a sixth sense. We have eft a race of creatures, whose love is as delieate and affectionate as the passion which an alderman feels for a turtle. We find ourselves among beings, whose love is purely disinte
"Do not your anger, like your love, is vain :
This is no idle menace. She soon brings a
"This fatal paper rather let me tear,
Than, like Bellerophon, my sentence bear."
The answer of the lady is incomparable:
"You may; but 'twill not be your best advice;
Poor Arimant seems to be of the same opinion. He mutters something about fate and freewill, and walks off with the billet-doux.
In the Indian Emperor, Montezuma presents Almeria with a garland as a token of his love, and offers to make her his queen. She replies: "I take this garland, not as given by you; But as my merit's and my beauty's due As for the crown which you, my slave, possess, To share it with you would but make me less.'
In return for such proofs of tenderness as these, her admirer consents to murder his two sons, and a benefactor, to whom he feels the warmest gratitude. Lyndaraxa, in the Con quest of Granada, assumes the same lofty tone with Abdelmelech. He complains that she smiles upon his rival.
Lynd. And when did I my power so far resign,
That these passages violate all historica. propriety; that sentiments, to which nothing similar was ever even affected except by the cavaliers of Europe, are transferred to Mexico and Agra, is a light accusation. We have no objection to a conventional world, an Illyrian puritan, or a Bohemian seaport. While the faces are good, we care little about the background. Sir Joshua Reynolds says, that the curtains and hangings in an historical painting ought to be, not velvet or cotton, but merely drapery. The same principle should be ap plied to poetry and romance. The truth of character is the first object; the truth of place and time is to be considered only in the second place. Puff himself could tell the actor to turn
out his toes, and remind him that Keeper Hat- 'considered as his best, are in blank verse. Nɩ ton was a great dancer. We wish that, in our experiment can be more decisive. own time, a writer of a very different order from Puff had not too often forgotten human nature in the niceties of upholstery, millinery, and cookery.
It must be allowed, that the worst even of the rhyming tragedies contains good descrip tion and magnificent rhetoric. But, even when we forget that they are plays, and, passing by We blame Dryden, not because the persons their dramatic improprieties, consider them of his dramas are not Moors or Americans, with reference to the language, we are perpebut because they are not men and women; tually disgusted by passages which it is diffinot because love, such as he represents it, cult to conceive how any author could have could not exist in a harem or in a wigwam, written, or any audience have tolerated; rants but because it could not exist anywhere. As in which the raving violence of the manner is the love of his heroes, such are all their forms a strange contrast with the abject tameother emotions. All their qualities, their cou-ness of the thought. The author laid the whole rage, their generosity, their pride, are on the fault on the audience, and declared, that when same colossal scale. Justice and prudence he wrote them, he considered them bad enough are virtues which can exist only in a moderate to please. This defence is unworthy of a man degree, and which change their nature and of genius, and, after all, is no defence. Ottheir name if pushed to excess. Of justice and way pleased without rant; and so might Dryprudence, therefore, Dryden leaves his favour-den have done, if he had possessed the powers ites destitute. He did not care to give them of Otway. The fact is, that he had a tendency what he could not give without measure. The to bombast, which, though subsequently cortyrants and ruffians are merely the heroes al-rected by time and thought, was never wholly tered by a few touches, similar to those which removed, and which showed itself in performtransformed the honest face of Sir Roger de ances not designed to please the rude mob of Coverley into the Saracen's head. Through the theatre. the grin and frown, the original features are still perceptible.
It is in the tragicomedies that these absurdities strike us most. The two races of men, or rather the angels and the baboons, are there presented to us together. We meet in one scene with nothing but gross, selfish, unblushing, lying libertines of both sexes, who, as a punishment, we suppose, for their depravity, are condemned to talk nothing but prose. But as soon as we meet with people who speak in verse, we know that we are in society which would have enraptured the Cathos and Madelon of Molière, in society for which Oroondates would have too little of the lover, Clelia too much of the coquette.
Some indulgent critics have represented this failing as an indication of genius, as the pro fusion of unlimited wealth, the wantonness of exuberant vigour. To us it seems to bear a nearer affinity to the tawdriness of poverty, or the spasms and convulsions of weakness. Dryden surely had not more imagination than Homer, Dante, or Milton, who never fall into this vice. The swelling diction of Eschylus and Isaiah resembles that of Almanzor and Maximin no more than the tumidity of a mus cle resembles the tumidity of a boil. The former is symptomatic of health and strength, the latter of debility and disease. If ever Shakspeare rants, it is not when his imagination is hurrying him along, but when he is hur As Dryden was unable to render his plays rying his imagination along-when his mind interesting by means of that which is the pecu- is for a moment jaded-when, as was said of liar and appropriate excellence of the drama, Euripides, he resembles a lion, who excites it was necessary that he should find some his own fury by lashing himself with his tail. substitute for it. In his comedies he supplied What happened to Shakspeare from the occaits place, sometimes by wit, but more fre- sional suspension of his powers, happened to quently by intrigue, by disguises, mistakes of Dryden from constant impotence. He, like persons, dialogues at cross purposes, hair-his confederate Lee, had judgment enough to breadth escapes, perplexing concealments, and surprising disclosures. He thus succeeded at least in making these pieces very amusing.
In his tragedies he trusted, and not altogether without reason, to his diction and his versification. It was on this account, in all probability, that he so eagerly adopted, and so reluctantly abandoned, the practice of rhyming in his plays. What is unnatural appears less unnatural in that species of verse, than in lines which approach more nearly to common conversation; and in the management of the heroic couplet, Dryden has never been equalled. It is unnecessary to urge any arguments against a fashion now universally condemned. But it is worthy of observation, that though Dryden was deficient in that talent which blank verse exhibits to the greatest advantage, and was certainly the best writer of heroic rhyme in our language, yet the plays which have, from the time of their first appearance, been
appreciate the great poets of the preceding age, but not judgment enough to shun compe tition with them. He felt and admired their wild and daring sublimity. That it belonged to another age than that in which he lived, and required other talents than those which he possessed; that, in aspiring to emulate it, he was wasting, in a hopeless attempt, powers which might render him pre-eminent in a different career, was a lesson which he did not learn till late. As those knavish enthusiasts, the French prophets, courted inspiration, by mimicking the writhings, swoonings, and gaspings, which they considered as its symptoms, he attempted, by affected fits of poetical fury, to bring on a real paroxysm; and, like them, he got nothing but his distortions for his pains.
Horace very happily compares those who, in his time, imitated Pindar, to the youth who attempted to fly to heaven on waxen wings, and who experienced so fatal and ignominious