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But Dryden's character was a mixed one, and faults must be mentioned. His indecent writing, his changes in politics and in religion, and his unscrupulousness in praise and blame, are parts of his life and character which cannot be explained away or defended. If on some occasions, after Jeremy Collier's severe rebukes, he has made in his last years some apology for indecencies in his plays, it cannot be said that he has ever expressed himself with becoming contrition. Nor is his gross writing confined to his plays. Lord Macaulay has most truly ! said that many of his translations, whether from Virgil or Boccaccio, are full of interpolated and exaggerated indecencies, The translations from Lucretius deserve the same reproof. In his very last work, the volume of Fables, his tale from Boccaccio of Sigismunda and Guiscardo, beautifully told in verse the most melodious, is overcharged with licentious sentiments which are not Boccaccio's, but Dryden's: and yet in the preface to these Fables he could write: 'In general, I will only say that I have written nothing which savours of immorality or profaneness, at least, I am not conscious to myself of any such intention. If there happen to be found an immoral expression or a thought too wanton, they all crept into my verses through ' inadvertency.' | Indecent thoughts came to him naturally, and he could not restrain the prurient impulse. There are many passages of contemporary writers, more or less unfriendly, which, after due allowance for spite and exaggeration, render certain what would otherwise be probable, that Dryden's licentious writing was a sign of licentiousness of life. He knew not political consistency, and he did not regard decency in some of his transitions. His sudden change at the Restoration from flattery of the Protectorate to adulation of the Stuarts cannot possibly be explained by honest conviction. To acquiesce as a good subject in the new order of things, and make the best of the monarchy which the national will had restored, would have been becoming ; but for the poetical eulogist of the Commonwealth and of Cromwell to devote himself immediately to poetical praises of Charles and Clarendon, and to laments over the Commonwealth, which but a year
before he had lauded and rejoiced in, is discreditable, and must have been an interested change. Almost all his virulent abuse of Shaftesbury, the great leader of opposition in the latter years of the reign of Charles the Second, is in flagrant contradiction to his former praises of the policy of the Cabal Ministry, the war with Holland, and Clifford, Shaftesbury's colleague of the Cabal government. It would be difficult in any case to give Dryden credit for perfect sincerity and disinterestedness in his adoption of the Roman Catholic religion, after James the Second became king; but his antecedents and general character make this altogether impossible. Dryden's temperament was by no means of that sort which engenders sudden conversions. He was not impulsive, and he had no enthusiasm. His clear sharp intellect, and his strong critical faculty, made it easy for him to see faults and flaws, and protected him against all fanaticism. His ' Religio Laici,' is the mature expression of a faith which is more of the head than of the heart: it is the religion of a calm and clear-sighted man, who has reasoned himself into accepting a quantum of theology, and desires as little dogma as possible. How great the leap from this philosophical religion to Romanism, when a Roman Catholic king ascended the throne!
Dryden, in his literary character, is known to the multitude chiefly as a poet, but he is to be regarded and remembered also as a prose writer, as a translator, and as the leading wit in his own age of London literary society. His place among English poets is high, if not the highest, in the second class, the first being that of Chaucer and Spenser, Shakespeare and Milton, in whom genius transcends art, and the 'faculty divine’ is ever apparent above subject and execution, and whose poetry streams from a 'full-welling fountain-head' of inner imagination. In Dryden, as in Pope, we admire reason, language, argument, wit, and art. Dryden is a great master of language and of verse. He is the most vigorous and polished of satirists, combining subtle refinement with fervour; and he is unequalled as a reasoner in rhyme. 'Absalom and Achitophel,' superior as a poem, yet presents no samples of his satirical invective equal to “The Medal, and • Mac Flecknoe.' Religio Laici," "The Hind and the Panther,' and likewise "Absalom and Achitophel,' display his power of arguing in verse, another fine example of which is to be found in the theological discussion of Maximin, Apollonius, and St. Catherine, in “Tyrannic Love.' The fierce satirist was an exquisite song-writer; some of the songs interspersed in his plays are gems of art, which have been much hidden from view by the deterring grossness of many of the plays, and of many of the songs themselves, which has prevented them from being separately collected. Dryden as an author would seem to have had two natures. He could be correct and dignified when he chose, and it was easy and seemed pleasant to him to be gross and coarse. The polished style of most of his Prologues and Epilogues for the academical audience of Oxford University is in marked contrast with the purient indecency of the addresses which he prepared for the loose, dissolute courtiers and vulgar cits of London. Gracefully in one of the Oxford Prologues has he discriminated between the University and the Town.
Our poet, could he find forgiveness here,
The plays of Dryden, as plays, contribute little to his fame. They were mostly hastily composed, and written as moneymaking tasks. But there are scattered through them many beautiful passages of pure and noble thought, and many lines which fasten on the memory and are quoted from mouth to mouth, often without its being known whence they comean unfailing test of poetic power. The following, which has been often quoted, and cannot be quoted too often, is one of many beauties' of 'Aurengzebe':
m Prologue to the University of Oxford, 1673, p. 420 of Globe edition.
• When I consider life, 'tis all a cheat,
Which fools us young and beggars us when old.' To one of Dryden's plays, the Second Part of “The Conquest of Granada,' we owe
• Forgiveness to the injured does belong,
But they ne'er pardon who have done the wrong.'
• Men are but children of a larger growth:
And full as craving too, and full as vain.'
• Obeyed as sovereign by thy subjects be,
When wild in woods the noble savage ran.' Candiope, in “The Maiden Queen,' describes the retired courtier longing to return to court
• Those who like you have once in courts been great,
Maximin says, in ‘Tyrannic Love,'
• Fate's dark recesses we can never find,
The unlucky have but hours, and these they lose.' These are a few specimens of many passages of power and beauty in Dryden's little-read and generally inferior plays. His faculty of placing words is wonderful, and conspicuous in prose as well as in poetry. He was specially fitted for a translator. The faults of his translation of Virgil are mostly faults of haste and carelessness. Wanting money, he finished in three years what he rightly told Tonson that it would require seven years to do well.
We learn from Pope, through Dean Lockier, that Dryden made Will's coffee-house, in Russell Street, Covent Garden, the great resort of all the wits in London, and that some years after his death Addison carried the wits away from Will's to another coffee-house in the same street, and on the opposite side of it, Button's n. Pope, who was but twelve years old when Dryden died, had been taken once to Wills in Dryden's last year to get a sight of the poet. Addison succeeded to Dryden's critical chair, and the mantle of the poet fell in a little time on Pope, who regarded Dryden as his teacher of versification, and whose first poems, the Pastorals, were published nine years after Dryden's death.
Notices of the early editions of the poems comprised in this volume are subjoined, as important in connexion with the history of the text :
Heroic Stanzas on Oliver Cromwell. The date on the title-page of the first edition is 1659, but it was doubtless published before the end of 1658. There are two editions of 1659. The first was probably published with two other
* Spence's Anecdotes, p. 113.