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satires from Juvenal, all of Persius, much from Ovid, and a little from Homer.
TRANSLATION OF VERGIL (1697). Dryden's most extended task, and famous in its time. Though he rarely reproduced the grace of classical writers, he caught their fire; and his scholarship and practised command of verse made him a fluent and usually accurate translator.
FABLES (1697). A collection of adaptations from Chaucer and Bocaccio, the best of which is Palamon and Arcite, besides other work, among which is a celebrated epistle to a cousin, Sir John Driden, and also his peerless Second Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day. This is not only the particular star of all Dryden's work, but one of the noblest pieces of verse in our tongue, and should be read by every student.
Besides these principal works, Dryden left many epistles, translations, and prefaces and prologues for the plays of others as well as for his own. His prefaces contain much excellent prose, which had a great influence in making for a higher standard of criticism and a vigorous prose style.
THE POETRY OF JOHN DRYDEN.
“ In a general survey of Dryden's labours, he appears to have a mind very comprehensive by nature, and much enriched with acquired knowledge. His compositions are the effects of a vigorous genius operating upon large materials.
Of Dryden's works it was said by Pope that he could select from them better specimens of every sort of poetry than any other English writer could supply. Perhaps no nation ever produced a writer that enriched his language with such variety of models.”
“ Educated in a pedantic taste and a fanatical religion, John Dryden was destined, if not to give laws to the stage of England, at least to defend its liberties; to improve burlesque into satire; to free translation from the fetters of verbal metaphrase, and exclude from it the license of paraphrase; to teach posterity the powerful and varied poetical barmony of which their language was capable; to give an example of the lyric ode of unapproached excellence, and to leave to English literature a name, second only to those of Milton and Shakespeare.”
“ It is allowed that even of the few who were his superiors in genius, none has exercised a more extensive or permanent influence on the national habits of thought and expression.”
“ Here you see the regular habits of an honorable and wellto-do family, the discipline of a connected and solid education, the taste for classical and exact studies. Such circumstances announce and prepare, not an artist, but a man of letters.”
“Dryden's peculiar gift, in which no poet of any language has surpassed him, is the faculty of treating any subject which he does treat poetically. His range is enormous, and wherever it is deficient, it is possible to see that external circumstances had to do with the limitation.”
“ Grace and lightness were with him much more a laborious achievement than a natural gift, and it is all the more remarkable that he should so often have attained to what seems such an easy perfection in both. He was not wholly and unconsciously a poet, but a thinker who sometimes lost himself on enchanted ground, and was transfigured by its touch.”
These six scholarly estimates give the basis for a composite impression which can hardly fail to be just and comprehensive. We see Dryden great in scholarship, vigor, and fluency ; and at the same time hampered as a poet by the very qualifications that made him masterly as a critic and controversialist. Macaulay has shown in his essay on Milton how mental training and acquirements are ordinarily a hindrance to the imaginative frenzy of poetic genius; and Taine, in commenting
on the religious, political, and personal strife in which Dryden was so much engaged, has sagely remarked that it is a long way from this combative and argumentative existence to the seclusion of the true poet. Add to all this the fact that Dryden wrote for a living, and was thus essentially the servant of his age, or, as he said, “ He who lives to please must please to live,” and the great unevenness which appears to so marked a degree as to make the reader feel at times that Dryden was a dual personage is accounted for.
Dryden was the first of a new school of poets, which left behind the natural poetry of the Elizabethan Age, with its expression of the passions, and the fanciful imaginings of the poets called “ metaphysical,” and passed on to the colder discussion of men's mental faculties and their social and political relations. The natural result was sententious verse, which brought with it exact mechanical forms; and the rhymed couplet suited its purpose. Dryden used this with power and richness. He never brought it to the polished nicety of Pope; he is liable to end with weak syllables, or introduce a third rhyming line that often seems superfluous, and pains the reader with the use of did and kindred auxiliaries to fill his metre, a practice supposed to belong to a poor order of writers. His violation of the perfected heroic couplet by the closing of a sentence within a line does not, however, seem a fault to us now. His lack of revision is responsible for many ugly places, but became an excellence as well as a demerit; for while, if he failed at the first cast, his lines are indifferent or even wretched, when he made a happy turn it was the touch of genius, and shone the brighter for betraying no mark of the file. Hence there is many a line or even passage that the painstaking art of Pope is unequal to; and Scott praises his
“ brave negligence ; ” while Johnson sees in Dryden's verse, as compared with Pope's, the superior charm which a diversified glade may have for the eye wearied with the smoothness of a well-trimmed lawn.
His faults must not be passed over in an impartial criticism; and while great allowance can be made for circumstances, there are defects other than crudeness of form that must be deplored. Chief among these is his unsympathetic treatment of the passions and emotions. Love becomes sensual with him, and his delineation of woman's character suffers in this way. His lack of tenderness is too great to be atoned for by his strength; but it is impossible not to admire the manly vigor of which he was oapable, and which at times reaches the sublime. A collection of gems, showing original power of thought joined to felicity of expression, might be made from Dryden's works, that with equivalent value could be excelled in number by no other poet save Shakespeare. It was the recognition of such beauties as these that made Gray impatient of criticism upon Dryden, and loath to notice his faults. A crowning honor to Dryden's verse is found in the oft-quoted tribute of his great disciple, Pope :
" Waller was
th; but Dryden taught to join