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Beason, and find that they also have their place in the literary banquet; and that if they are not worth as much as the substantial joints, the natural and generous wines of the first course, at least they furnish the dessert.
The dessert over, we must leave the able. After Sheridan, we leave it forthwith. Henceforth comedy lan guishes, fails; there is nothing left but farce, such as Townley's High Life Below Stairs, the burlesques of George Colman, a tutor, an old maid, countrynen and their dialect; caricature suceeds painting; Punch raises a laugh when the days of Reynolds and Gainsborough are over. There is nowhere
Blisters with pride swell'd, which through's flesh did sprout
Like rose-buds, stuck i' the lily skin about.
To wail the fault its rising did commit....
No comet need foretel his change drew on
With such a pretty morsel, Dryden, the greatest poet of the classical age. makes his debut.
Such enormities indicate the close of a literary age. Excess of folly in poetry, as excess of injustice in political matters, lead up to and foretell revolutions.
in Europe, at the present time, a more harren stage; the higher classes abandon it to the people. This is because the form of society and of intellect which had called it into being, have disappeared. Vivacity, and the abundance of original conceptions, had peopled the stage of the Renaissance in England,-a surfeit which, unable to display itself in systematic argument, or to express itself in philosophical ideas, found its natural outlet only in mimic action and talking characters. The wants of polished society had The Renaissance, unnourished the English comedy of the checked and original, abandoned the seventeenth century,-a society which, minds of men to the excitement and accustomed to the representations of caprice of imagination, the eccentricithe court and the displays of the world, ties, curiosities, outbreaks of a fancy sought on the stage a copy of its con- which only cares to content itself, versation and its drawing-rooms. breaks out into singularities, has need With the decline of the court and the of novelties, and loves audacity and excheck of mimic invention, the genuine travagance, as reason loves justice and drama and the genuine comedy dis- truth. After the extinction of genius appeared; they passed from the stage folly remained; after the removal of into books. The reason of it is, that inspiration nothing was left but absurd. people no longer live in public, like the ity. Formerly disorder and internal embroidered dukes of Louis XIV. and enthusiasm produced and excused com Charles II., but in their families, or at|cetti and wild flights; thenceforth mes the writing-table; the novel replaces threw them out in cold blood, by cal the theatre at the same time that citi. culation and without excuse. Formerly zen life replaces the life of the court. they expressed the state of the mind, now they belie it. So are literary revolutions accomplished. The form, no longer original or spontaneous, but imitated and passed from hand to hand, outlives the old spirit which had cre ated it, and is in opposition to the new spirit which destroys it. This prelim inary strife and progressive transfor * Dryden's Works, ed. Sir Walter Scott, ad ed., 18 vols., 1821, xi. 94.
COMEDY has led us a long way; we must return on our steps and consider other kind of writings. A higher
mation make up the life of Dryden, and account for his impotence and his failures, his talent and his success.
Dryden's beginnings are in striking contrast with those of the poets of the Renaissance, actors, vagabonds, soldiers, who were tossed about from the first in all the contrasts and miseries of active fe. He was born in 1631, of a good family; his grandfather and uncle were baronets; Sir Gilbert Pickering, his first cousin, was created a baronet uy Charles the First, was a member of Parliament, chamberlain to the Protector, and one of his Peers. Dryden was brought up in an excellent school, ander Dr. Busby, then in high repute; after which he passed four years at Cambridge. Having inherited by his father's death a small estate, he used his liberty and fortune only to remain in his studious life, and continued in seclusion at the University for three years more. These are the regular habits of an honorable and well-to-do family, the discipline of a connected and solid education, the taste for classical and complete studies. Such circumstances announce and prepare, not an artist, but a man of letters.
thoughtfully, seldom fails to arrange some good theory to justify each of his new works. He knew very well the lit erature of his own country, though some times not very accurately, gave to au thors their due rank, classifed the different kinds of writing, went back as far as old Chaucer, whom he translated and put into a modern dress. His mind thus filled, he would go in the afternoon to Will's coffee-house, the great literary rendezvous: young poets, students fresh from the University, literary dilettante crowded round his chair, carefully placed in summer on the balcony, in winter by the fire, thinking themselves fortunate to listen to him, or to extract a pinch of snuff respectfully from his learned snuff-box. For indeed he was the monarch of taste and the umpire of letters; he criticised novelties-Racine's last tragedy, Blackmore's heavy epic, Swift's first poems; slightly vain, praising his own writings, to the extent of saying that "no.one had ever composed or will ever compose a finer ode" than his own Alexander's Feast; but full of information, fond of that interchange of ideas which discussion、 never fails to produce, capable of enduring contradiction, and admitting his adversary to be in the right. These manners show that literature had be come a matter of study rather than ei inspiration, an employment for taste rather than for enthusiasm, a source of amusement rather than of emotion.
His audience, his friendship, his actions, his quarrels, had the same tendency. He lived amongst great men and courtiers, in a society of artificial manners and measured language. He had married the daughter of Thomas, Earl of Berkshire; he was historiogra pher-royal and poet-laureate. He of ten saw the king and the princes He dedicated each of his works to some lord, in a laudatory, flunkeyish preface, bearing witness to his intimate acquaintance with the great. He received a purse of gold for each dedication, went to return thanks; introduces some of these Lords under pseudɔ
I find the same inclination and the same signs in the remainder of his life, private or public. He regularly spends his mornings in writing or reading, then dines with his family. His reading was that of a man of culture and a critical mind, who does not think of amusing or exciting himself, but who learns and judges. Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Juvenal, and Persius were his favorite authors; he translated several; their names were always on his pen; he discusses their opinions and their merits, feeding himself on that reasonIng which oratorical customs had im. printed on all the works of the Roman mind. He is familiar with the new French literature, the heir of the Latin, with Corneille and Racine, Boileau, Rapin, and Bossu; *he reasons with them, often in their spirit, writes * Rapin (1621-1687), a French Jesuit, a mod-nyms in his Essay on the Dramatic Art. ern Latin poet and literary critic. Bossu, or properly Lebossu (1631-1680), wrote a Traité du Poème épique, which had a great success in its day. Both crities are now completely for. gotten.-TR.
wrote introductions for the works of others, called them Mæcenas, Tibullus, or Pollio; discussed with them literary works and opinions. The re-establish
ment of the court had brought back the | ty, the heroic and Ronan spirit, an art of conversation, vanity, the necessi-nounce a classic genius, the relative not ty for appearing to be a man of letters of Shakspeare, but of Corneille, capaand of possessing good taste, all the ble not of dramas, but of discussions. company-manners which are the source
of classical literature, and which teach men the art of speaking well.* On the other hand, literature, brought under the influence of society, entered into society's interests, and first of all in petty private quarrels. Whilst men of letters learned etiquette, courtiers learned how to write. They soon became jumbled together, and naturally fell to blows. The Duke of Buckingham wrote a parody on Dryden, The Rehearsal, and took infinite pains to teach the chief actor Dryden's tone and gestures. Later, Rochester took up the cudgels against the poet, supported a cabal in favor of Settle against him, and hired a band of ruffians to cudgel him. Besides this, Dryden had quarrels with Shadwell and a crowd of others, and finally with Blackmore and Jeremy Collier. To crown all, he entered into the strife of political parties and religious sects, fought for the Tories and Anglicans, then for the Roman Catholics; wrote The Medal, Absalom and Achitophel against the Whigs: Religio Laici against Dissenters and Papists; then The Hind and Panther for James II., with the logic of controversy and the bitterness of party. It is a long way from this combative and argumentative existence to the reveries and seclusion of the true poet. Such circumstances teach the art of writing clearly and soundly, methodical and connected discussion, strong and exact style, baner and refutation, eloquence and saire; these gifts are necessary to make ♦ man of letters heard or believed, and the mind enters compulsorily upon a track when it is the only one that can conduct it to its goal. Dryden entered pon it spontaneously. In his second production, † the abundance of wellordered ideas, the energy and oratoricai harmony, the simplicity, the gravi
In his Defence of the Epilogue of the Secand Part of the Conquest of Granada, iv. 226, Dryden says: "Now, if they ask me, whence it is that our conversation is so much refined? I must freely, and without flattery,
ascribe it to the court.'"
† Heroic stanzas to the memory of Oliver
And yet, at first, he devoted himself to the drama: he wrote twenty seven pieces, and signed an agreement with the actors of the King's Theatre to supply them with three every year. The thea tre, forbidden under the Common wealth, had just re-opened with extraor dinary magnificence and success. The rich scenes made movable, the women's parts no longer played by boys, but by women, the novel and splendid wax lights, the machinery, the recent popu larity of actors who had become heroes of fashion, the scandalous importance of the actresses, who were mistresses of the aristocracy and of the king, the example of the court and the imitation of France, drew spectators in crowds The thirst for pleasure, long repressed, knew no bounds. Men indemnified themselves for the long abstinence imposed by fanatical Puritans; eyes and ear, disgusted with gloomy faces, nasal pronunciation, official ejaculations on sin and damnation, satiated themselves with sweet singing, sparkling dress, the seduction of voluptuous dances. They wished to enjoy life, and that in a new fashion; for a new world, that of the courtiers and the idle, had been formed. The abolition of feudal tenures, the vast increase of commerce and wealth. the concourse of landed proprietors, who let their lands and came to Lon don to enjoy the pleasures of the town and to court the favors of the king, had installed on the summit of society, in England as well as in France, rank, authority, the manners and tastes of the world of fashion, of the idle, the drawing-room frequenters, lovers of pleasure, conversation, wit, and polish, occupied with the piece in vogue, less to amuse themselves than to criticise it Thus was Dryden's drama built up the poet, greedy of glory and pressed for money, found here both money and glory, and was half an innovator, with a large reinforcement of theories and prefaces, diverging from the old English drama, approaching the new French | tragedy, attempting a compromise be
tween classical eloquence and romantic | All, in short, descend to quibbles, low truth, accommodating himself as well and common expressions: "In the age as he could to the new public, which paid and applauded him.
"The language, wit, and conversation of our age, are improved and refined above the
wherein those poets lived, there was less of gallantry than in ours. Besides the want of education and learning, they wanted the benefit of con
Let us consider in what the refine-verse. ment of a language principally consists; that is, either in rejecting such old words, or phates, which are ill-sounding or improper; or n admitting new, which are more proper, more sounding, and more significant." fat any man, who understands English, read diligently the works of Shakspeare and Fletcher, and I dare undertake, that he will find in very page either some solecism of speech, or some notorious flaw in sense. . . Many of (their plots) were made up of some ridiculous incoherent story, which in one play many times took up the business of an age. I suppose I need not name Pericles Prince of Tyre, for the historical plays of Shakspeare; besides nany of the rest, as the Winter's Tale, Love's Labour's Lost, Measure for Measure, which were either grounded on impossibilities, or at least so meanly written, that the comedy neither caused your mirth, nor the serious part your concernment. . I could easily demonstrate, that our admired Fletcher neither understood correct plotting, nor that which they call the decorum of the stage. The reader will see Philaster wounding his mistress, and afterwards his boy, to save himself. And for his shepherd he falls twice into the former indecency of wounding women."
Fletcher nowhere permits kings to retain a dignity suited to kings. More over, the action of these authors' plays is always barbarous. They introduce battles cn the stage; they transport the scene in a moinent to a distance of
Gentlemen will now be en
tertained with the follies of each other;
Yet it differs from it, and Dryden blame on the French stage. He says: enumerates all that an English pit can
twenty years or five hundred leagues, and a score of times consecutively in one act; they jumble together three "The beauties of the French poesy are the or four different actions, especially in beauties of a statue, but not of a man, because not animated with the soul of poesy, which is the historical dramas. But they sin imitation of humour and passions. He most in style Dryden says of Shak- who will look upon their plays which have speare:-" Many of his words, and been written till these last ten years, or theremore of his phrases, are scarce intelli- abouts, will find it an hard matter to pick out two or three passable humours amongst them. gible. And of those which we under- Corneille himself, their arch-poet, what has he stand, some are ingrammatical, oth- produced except the Liar? and you know how ers coarse; and his whole style is it was cried up in France; but when it came upon the English stage, though well translated so pestered with figurative expresthe most favourable to it would not put sions, that it is as affected as it is ob- in competition with many of Fletcher's or Ber scure." t Ben Jonson himself often Jonson's.. Their verses are to me the their speeches has bad plots, redundancies, barbar-coldest I have ever read, being so isms: When the many declamations. "Well-placing of words, for the sweetness of pronunciation, was not known till Mr. Waller introduced it." +
*Defence of the Epilogue of the Second Part of the Conquest of Granada, iv. 213.
Preface to Troilus and Cressida, vi. 239. Defence of the Epilogue of the Conquest of Granada, iv. 219.
French stage came to be reformed by Cardina! Richelieu, those long harangues were intruduced, to comply with the gravity of a churchman. Look upon the Cinna and the Pompey; they are not so properly to be called plays as long discourses of reasons of state; and P
lieucte, in matters of religion is as solemn as the long stops upon our organs. Since that time it is grown into a custom, and their actors speak by the hour-glass, like our parsons. I deny not but this may suit well enough with the French; for as we who are a more sullen people, come to be diverted at our plays, so they, who are of an airy and gay temper, come thither to make themselves more seri
As for the tumults and combats which
Contented to be thinly regular:
More fit for manly thought, and strength
ened with allay." §
Let them laugh as much as they like at Fletcher and Shakspeare; there is in them "a more masculine fancy and greater spirit in the writing than there is in any of the French."
Though exaggerated, this citicism is good; and because it is good. I mis. trust the works which the writer is to produce. It is dangerous for ar. artist to be excellent in theory; the creative spirit is hardly consonant with the criticizing spirit: he who, quietly seat. ed on the shore, discusses and com pares, is hardly capable of plunging straight and boldly into the stormy sea of invention. Moreover, Dryden holds himself too evenly poised betwixt the moods; original artists love exclusively and unjustly a certain idea and a certain world; the rest disappears from their eyes; confined to one region of art, they deny or scorn the other; it is because they are limited that they are strong. We see before. hand that Dryden, pushed one way by his English mind, will be drawn another by his French rules; that he will alternately venture and partly restrain himself; that he will attain mediocrity that is, platitude; that his faults will All original art is self-regulated, and no be incongruities, that is, absurdities. original art can be regulated from without: it carries its own counterpoise, and does not receive it from elsewhere; it constitutes an inviolable whole; it is an animated existence, which lives on its own blood, and
* An Essay of Dramatic Poesy, xv. 337- which languishes or dies if deprived of
↑ Ibid. 343.
In the preface of All for Love, v. 308, Dryden says: "In this nicety of manners does the excellency of French poetry consist. Their heroes are the most civil people breathing, but their good breeding seldom extends to a word of sense; all their wit is in their ceremony; they want the genius which animates our stage. Thus, their Hippolytus is so scrupulous in point of decency, that he will rather expose himself to death than accuse his step-mother to bis father; and my critics, I am sure, will commend him for it: But we of grosser apprehensions are apt to think that this excess of generosity is not practicable but with fools and madmen.... But take Hippolytus out of his poetic fit, and I suppose he would think it a wiser part to set the saddle on the right horse, and chuse rather to live with the reputation of plain-spoken honest man, than to die with the infamy of an incestuous villain. (The poet) has chosen to give him the turn of gallantry, sent him to travel from Athens to Paris, taught him to make love, and transformed the Hippolytus of Euripides into Monsieur Hippolite. This criticism shows in a small compass all the common sense and freedom of thought of Dryden; but, at the same time, all the coarseness of his education and of his age.
Epistle xiv., to Mr. Motteux, xi. 70.
some of its blood and supplied from the veins of another. Shakspeare's imagination cannot be guided by Racine's reason, nor Racine's reason be exalted by Shakspeare's imagina tion; each is good in itself, and excludes its rival; to unite them would be to produce a bastard, a weakling, and a monster. Disorder, violent and sudden action, harsh words, horror, depth, truth, exact imitation of reality, and the lawless outbursts of mad pas sions,-these features of Shakspeare be come each other. Order, measure, eloquence, aristocratic refinement, worldly urbanity, exquisite painting of delicacy and virtue, all Racine's features suit each other. It would destroy the one to attenuate, the other to inflame him. Their whole being and beauty consist in the agreement of their parts. to mar this agreement would be tc abolish their being and their beauty In order to produce, we must invent a