« הקודםהמשך »
Ev’n Congreve, Southern, manly Wycherley; .
And wicked mixture, shall be purg'd away! Thus stands the passage in the last edition ; but in the original there was an abatement of the censure, beginning thus :
But what remains will be so pure, twill bear
Th' examination of the most severe. Blackmore, finding the censure resented, and the civility disregarded, ungenerously omitted the softer part. Such variations discover a writer who consults his passions more than his virtue ; and it inay be reasonably supposed that Dryden imputes his enmity to its true cause.
Of Milbourne he wrote only in general terms, such as are alrays ready at the call of anger, whether just or not: a short extract will be sufficient. “ He “ pretends a quarrel to me, that I have fallen foul upon priesthood; if I have, “ I am only to ask pardon of good priests, and am afraid his share of the “ reparation will come to little, Lot him be satisfied that he shall never be so able to force himself upon me for an adversary; I contemn him too much " to enter into competition with him.
6c As for the rest of those who have written against me, they are such si gcoundrels, that they deserve not the least notice to be taken of them. “ Blackmore and Milbourne are only distinguished from the crowd by being $c remembered to their infamy."
Dryden indeed discovered, in many of his writings, an affected and absurd malignity to priests and priesthood, which naturally raised him many enemies, and which was sometimes as unseasonably resented as it was exerted. Trapp is angry that he calls the sacrificer in the Georgicks “ the holy butcher :" the translation is not indeed ridiculous; but Trapp's anger arises from his zeal, not for the author, but the priest ; as if any reproach of the follies of Paganism could be extended to the preachers of truth.
Dryden's dislike of the priesthood is imputed by Langbaine, and I think by Brown, to a repulse which he suffered when he solicited ordination; but he denies, in the preface to his Fables, that he ever designed to enter into the church ; and such a denial he would not have hazarded, if he could have been convicted of falsehood.
Malevolence to the clergy is seldom at a great distance from irreverence of religion, and Dryden affords no exception to this observation. His writings exhibit many passages, which, with all the allowance that can be made for characters and occasions, are such as piety would not have admitted, and such as may vitiate light and unprincipled minds. But there is no reason for supposing that he disbelieved the religion which he disobeyed. He forgot his duty
rather rather than disowned it. His tendency to profaneness is the effect of levity, negligence, and loose conversation, with a desire of accommodating himself to the corruption of the times, by venturing to be wicked as far as he durst. When he professed himself a convert to Popery, he did not pretend to have received any new conviction of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.
The persecution of criticks was not the worst of his vexations ; he was much more disturbed by the importunities of want. His complaints of poverty are so frequently repeated, either with the dejection of weakness sinking in helpless misery, or the indignation of merit claiming its tribute from mankind, that it is impossible not to detest the age which could impose on such a man the necessity of such solicitations, or not to despise the man who could submit to such solicitations without necessity. .
Whether by the world's neglect, or his own imprudence, I am afraid that the greatest part of his life was passed in exigencies. Such outcries were surely never uttered but in severe pain. Of his supplies or his expences no probable estimate can now be made. Except the salary of the Laureat, to which king James added the office of Historiographer, perhaps with some additional emoluments, his whole revenue seems to have been casual ; and it is well known that he seldom lives frugally who lives by chance. Hope is always liberal; and they that trust her promises make little scruple of revelling to-day on the profits of the morrow.
Of his plays the profit was not great, and of the produce of his other works very little intelligence can be had. By discoursing with the late amiable Mr. Tonson, I could not find that any memorials of the transactions between his predecessor and Dryden had been preserved, except the following papers :
“I do hereby promise to pay John Dryden, Esq. or order, on the 25th of “ March, 1999; the sum of two hundred and fifty guineas, in consideration - of ten thousand verses, which the said John Dryden, Esq. is to deliver to « me Jacob Tonson, when finished, whereof seven thousand five hundred “ verses, more or less, are already in the said Jacob Tonson's possession. " And I do hereby farther promise, and engage myself, to make up the said co sum of two hundred and fifty guineas three hundred pounds sterling to the " said John Dryden, Esq. his executors, administrators, or assigns, at the " beginning of the second impression of the said ten thousand verses.
" In witness whereof I have here unto set my hand and seal, this 20th day of March, 1698-9.
« Jacob Tonson. “ Sealed and delivered, being first duly stampt, pursuant
" to the acts of parliament, for that purpose, in the .." presence of
- Ben. Portlock.
« March 24th, 1698. to Received then of Mr. Jacob Tonson the sum of two hundred sixty
eight pounds fifteen shillings, in pursuance of an agreement for ten thousand “ verses, to be delivered by me to the said Jacob Tonson, whereof I have " already delivered to him about seven thousand five hundred, more or less; er he the said Jacob Tonson being obliged to make up the aforesaid sum of two * hundred sixty-eight pounds fifteen shillings three hundred pounds, at the beis ginning of the second impression of the aforesaid ten thousand verses;
." I say, received by me
“ John Dryden, “ Witness Charles Dryden." · Two hundred and fifty guineas, at 11. ls. 6d. is 2681. 15s.
It is manifest, from the dates of this contract, that it relates to the volume of Fables, which contains about twelve thousand verses, and for which therefore the payment must have been afterwards enlarged.
I have been told of another letter yet remaining, in which he desires Tonson to bring him money, to pay for a watch which he had ordered for his son, and which the maker would not leave without the price.
The inevitable consequence of poverty is dependence. Dryden had probably no recourse in his exigencies but to his bookseller. The particular character of Tonson I do not know; but the general conduct of traders was much less liberal in those times than in our own; their views were narrower, and their manners grosser. To the mercantile ruggedness of that race, the delicacy of the poet was sometimes exposed. Lord Bolingbroke, wlio in his youth had cultivated poetry, related to Dr. King of Oxford, that one day, when he visited Dryden, they heard, as they were conversing, another person entering the house. “ This,” said Dryden, “ is Tonson. You will take « care not to depart before he goes away: for I have not completed the sheet " which I promised him; and if you leave me unprotected, I must suffer all "the rudeness to which his resentment can prompt his tongue.”
What rewards. he obtained for his poems, besides the payment of the bookseller, cannot be known: Mr. Derrick, who consulted some of his relations, was informed that his Fables obtained five hundred pounds from the dutchess of Ormond; a present not unsuitable to the magnificence of that splendid family; and he quotes Moyle, as relating that forty pounds were paid by a musical society for the use of Alexander's Feast.
In those days the economy of government was yet unsettled, and the payments of the Exchequer were dilatory and uncertain : of this disorder there is reason to believe that the Laureat sometimes felt the effects; for in one of his prefaces he complains of those, who, being intrusted with the distribution of the Prince's bounty, suffer those that depend upon it to languish in ponury. Of his petty habits or slight amusements, tradition has retained litele. Of the only two men whom I have found to whom he was personally known', one told me, that at the house which he frequented, called Will's Coffec-house, the appeal upon any literary dispute was made to him ; and the other relared, that his armed chair, which in the winter had a settled and prescriptive place by the fire; was in the summer placed in the balcony, and that he called the two places his, winter and his summer seat. This is all the intelligence which his two survivors afforded me.
One of his opinions will do him no honour in the present age, though in his own time, at least in the beginning of it, he was far from having it confined to himself. He put great confidence in the prognostications of judicial astrology. In the Appendix to the Life of Congreve is a narrative of some of his predictions wonderfully fulfilled; but I know not the writer's means of information, or character of veracity. That he had the configurations, of the horo-scope in his mind, and considered them as influencing the affairs of men, he does not forbear to hint.
The utmost malice of the stars is past.
Will gloriously the new-laid works succeed. He has elsewhere shew'n his attention to the planetary powers; and in the preface to his Fables has endeavoured obliquely to justify his superstition, by attributing the same to some of the Ancients. The latter, added to this narrative, leaves no doubt of his notions or practice. .
So slight and so scanty is the knowledge which I have been able to collect concerning the private life and domestick manners of a man, whom every English generation must mention with reverence as a critick and a poet.
DRYDEN inay be properly considered as the father of English criticism, as the writer who first taught us to determine upon principles the merit of coinposition. Of our former poets, the greatest dramatist wrote without rules, conducted through life and nature by a genius that rarely misled, and rarely deserted him. Of the rest, those who knew the laws of propriety had Beglected to teach them.
Two Arts of English Poetry, vere written in the days of Elizabeth by Webb and Puttenham, from which something might be learned, and a few hints had been given by Jonson and Cowley; but Dryden's Essay on Dramatick Poetry was the first regular and valuable treatise on the art of writing.
He who having formed his opinions in the present age of English literature, turns back to peruse his dialogue, will not perhaps find much increase of knowledge, or much novelty of instruction ; but he is to iemember that critical principles were shen in the hands of a few, who had gathered them partiy
from the Ancients, and partly from the Italians and French. The structure of dramatic poems was then not generally understood. Audiences applauded by instinct ; and poets perhaps often pleased by chance.
A writer who obtains his full purpose lose himself in his own lustre. Of an opinion which is no longer doubted, ihe evidence ceases to be examined. Of an art universally practised, the first teacher is forgotten. Leaning once made popular is no longer learning; it has the appearance of something which we have bestowed upon ourselves as the dew appears to rise from the field which it refresþes.
To judge rightly of an author, we must transport ourselves to his time, and examine what were the wants of his contemporaries, and what were his means of supplying them. That which is easy at one time was difficult at another. Dryden at least imported his science, and gave his country what it wanted before; or rather, he imported only the materials, and manufactured them by . his own skill.
The dialogue on the Drama was one of his first essays of criticism, written when he was yet a timorous candidate for reputation, andtherefore laboured with that diligence which he might allow himself somewhai toremit, when his name gave sanction to his positions, and his awe of the public was abated, partly by custom, and partly by success. It will not be easy to find, in all the opulence of our language, a treatise so artfully variegated with successive representations of opposite probabilities, so enlivened with imagery, so brightened with illustrations. His portraits of the English dramatists are wrought with great spirit and diligence. The account of Shakspeare may stand as a perpetual model of encomiastick criticism ; exact without minuteness, and lofty without exaggeration. The praise lavished by Longinus, on the attestation of the heroes of Marathon, by Demosthenes, fades away before it. In a few lines is exhibited a character, so extensive in its comprehension, and so curious in its limitations, that nothing can be added, diminished, or reformed; nor can the editors and admirers of Shakspeare, in all their emulation of reverence, boast of much more than of having diffused and paraphrased this epitome of excellence, of having changed Dryden's gold for baser metal, of lower value though of greater bulk.
In this, and in all his other essays on the same subject, the criticism of Dryden is the criticism of a poet; not a dull collection of theorems, nor a rude detection of faults, which perhaps the censor was not able to have committed ; but a gay and vigorous dissertation, where delight is mingled with instruction, and where the author proves his right of judgment, by his power of performance.
The different manner and effect with which critical knowledge may be con- ; veyed, was perhaps never more clearly exemplified than in the perforinances of Vol. I. Dd