Page images


This play,--for the two parts only constitute an entire drama betwixt them, --seems to have been a favourite with Dryden, as well as with the public. In the Essay upon Heroic Plays, as well as in the dedication, the character of Almanzor is dwelt upon with that degree of complacency which an author experiences in analysing a successful effort of his genius. Unquestionably the gross improbability of a hero, by his single arm, turning the tide of battle as he lists, did not appear so shocking in the age of Dryden, as in ours. There is no doubt, that, while personal strength and prowess were of more consequence than military skill and conduct, the feats of a single man were sometimes sufficient to determine the fate of an engagement, more especially when exerted by a knight, sheathed in complete mail, against the heartless and half-armed mass, which constituted the feudal infantry. Those, who have perused Barbour's History of Robert Bruce, Geoffrey de Vinsauf's account of the wars of Richard Cour de Lion, or even the battles detailed by Froissart and Joinville, are familiar with instances of breaches defended, and battles decided, by the prowess of a single arm. The leader of a feudal army was expected by his followers not only to point out the path to victory, but to lead the way in person. It is true, that the military art had been changed in this particular long before the days of Dryden. Complete armour was generally laid aside ; fire-arms had superseded the use of the lance and battle-axe ; and, above all, the universal institution of standing armies had given discipline and military skill their natural and decisive superiority over untaught strength, and enthusiastic valour. But the memory of what had been, was still familiar to the popular mind, and preserved not only by numerous legends and traditions, but also by the cast of the fashionable works of fiction. It is, indeed, curious to remark, how many minute remnants of a system of ancient manners can be traced long after it has become totally obsolete. Even down to the eighteenth century, the portrait of every soldier of rank was attired in complete armour, though, perhaps, he never saw a suit of mail excepting in the Tower of London; and on the same principle of prescriptive custom, Addison was the first poet who ventured to celebrate a victorious general for skill and conduct, instead of such feats as are appropriated to Guy of Warwick, or Bevis of Hampton. The fashion of attributing mighty effects to individual valour being thus prevalent, even in circumstances when every one knew the supposition to be entirely gratuitous, the same principle, with much greater propriety, continued to be applied in works of fiction, where the scene was usually carried back to times in which the personal strength of a champion really had some efficacy. It must be owned, however, that the authors of the French romances carried the influence of individual strength and courage beyond all bounds of modesty and reason. In the Grand Cyrus, Artamenes, upon a moderate computation, exterminates with his own hand, in the course of the work, at least a hundred thousand fighting men. These monstrous fictions, however, constituted the amusement of the young and the gay,* in the

of Charles II., and from one of these


books Dryden admits his having drawn, at least in part, the character of his Moorish warrior. The public was, therefore, every way familiarized with such chivalrous exploits as those of Almanzor; and if they did not altogether command the belief, at least they did not revolt the imagination, of an audience: And this must certainly be admitted as a fair apology for the extravagance of his heroic achievements.

But it is not only the actual effects of Almanzor's valour, which appear to us unnatural, but also the extraordinary principles and motives by which those exertions are guided. Here also, we must look back to the Gothic romances, and to those of Scudery and Calprenede. In fact, the extravagance of sentiment is no less necessary than the extravagance of achievement to constitute a true knight errant; and such is Almanzor. Honour and love were the sole deities worshipped by this extraordinary race, who, though their memory and manners are preserved chiefly in works of fiction, did once exist in real life, and actually conducted armies, and governed kingdoms, upon principles as strained and hyperbolical as those of the Moorish champion. If Almanzor, at the command of his mistress, aids his hated rival to the destruction of his own hopes, he only discharges the duty of a good knight, who was bound to sacrifice himself, and all his hopes and wishes, at the slightest command of her, to whom he had vowed his service, and who, in the language of chivalry, was to him as the soul is to the body. The reader may recollect the memorable invasion of

There is something ludicrous in the idea of a beauty, or a gallant, of that gay and licentious court, poring over a work of five or six folio volumes, by way of amusement; but such was the taste of the age, that Fynes Morison, in his precepts to travellers, can “ think no book better for his pupils' discourse than Amadis of Gaule ; for the knights errant and the ladies of court do therein exchange courtly speeches.”


England by James IV. of Scotland, in which he hazarded and actually lost his own life, and the flower of his nobility, because the Queen of France, who called him her knight, had commanded him to march three miles on English ground for her sake.

Less can be said to justify the extravagant language in which Almanzor threatens his enemies, and vaunts his own importance. This is not common in the heroes of romance, who are usually as rernarkable for their modesty of language as for their prowess; and still more seldom does, in real life, a vain-glorious boaster vindicate by his actions the threats of his tongue. It is true, that men of a fervent and glowing character are apt to strain their speech beyond the modesty of ordinary conversation, and display, in their language, the fire which glows in their bosoms; but the subject of their effusions is usually connected not with their own personal qualities, or feats, but with some extraneous object of their pursuit, or admiration. Thus, the burst of Hotspur concerning the pursuit of honour paints his enthusiastic character ; but it would be hard to point out a passage indicating that exuberant confidence in his own prowess, and contempt of every one else, so liberally exhibited by Almanzor. Instances of this defect are but too thickly sown through the piece ; for example the following rant :

If from thy hands alone my death can be,
I am immortal, and a God to thee.
If I would kill thee now, thy fate's so low,
That I must stoop ere I can give the blow.
But mine is fix'd so far above thy crown,
That all thy men,
Piled on thy back, can never pull it down.
But, at my ease, thy destiny I send,
By ceasing from this hour to be thy friend.
Like heaven, I need but only to stand still ;
And, not concurring to thy life, I kill.
Thou canst no title to my duty bring;
I am not thy subject, and my soul's thy king.
Farewell! When I am gone,
There's not a star of thine dare stay with thee :
I'll whistle thy tame fortune after me;
And whirl fate with me wheresoe'er I fly,
As winds drive storms before them in the sky.

This curious passage did not escape the malicious criticism of Settle, who, besides noticing the extravagant egotism of the hero, questions, with some probability, whether Abdalla would have chosen to scale Almanzor's fate, at the risk of the personal consequences of having all his men piled on his own back. In the same scene, Almanzor is so unreasonable as to tell his rival,

- Thou shalt not dare To be impudent as to de

And again,

What are ten thousand subjects, such as they ?
If I am scorn'd, I'll take myself away.

Dryden's apology for these extravagancies seems to be, that Almanzor is in a passion. But, although talking nonsense is a common effect of passion, it seems hardly one of those consequences adapted to shew forth the character of a hero in theatrical representation.

It must be owned, however, that although the part of Almanzor contains these and other bombastic passages, there are many also which convey what the poet desired to represent-the aspi. rations of a mind so heroic as almost to surmount the bonds of society, and even the very laws of the universe, leaving us often in doubt whether the vehemence of the wish does not even dis. guise the impossibility of its accomplishment.

Good heaven! thy book of fate before me lay,
But to tear out the journal of this day.
Or, if the order of the world below
Will not the gap of one whole day allow,
Give me that minute when she made her vow.
That minute, even the happy from their bliss might give,
And those, who live in grief, a shorter time would live.
So small a link, if broke, the eternal chain
Would, like divided waters, join again.“
It wonnot be; the fugitive is gone,
Press'd by the crowd of following minutes on :
That precious moment's out of nature fled,
And in the heap of common rubbish laid,
Of things that once have been, and now decay'd.

In the less inflated parts, the ideas are usually as just, as ingenious and beautiful; for example:

No; there is a necessity in fate,
Why still the brave bold man is fortunate ;
He keeps his object ever full in sight,
And that assurance holds him firm and right.
True, 'tis a narrow path that leads to bliss,
But right before there is no precipice :
Fear makes men look aside, and then their footing miss.


The character of Almanzor is well known as the original of Drawcansir, in “ The Rehearsal,” into whose mouth parodies of some of Dryden's most extravagant flights have been put by the Duke of Buckingham. Shaftesbury also, whose family had smarted under Dryden's satire, attempts to trace the applause bestowed on the “ Conquest of Granada” to what he calls “ the correspondence and relation between our Royal Theatre and popular Circus, or Bear-Garden. For, in the former of these assemblies, 'tis undeniable, that, at least, the two upper regions, or galleries, contain such spectators as indifferently frequent each place of sport. So that 'tis no wonder we hear such applause resounded on the victories of an Almanzor, when the same parties had possibly no later than the day before bestowed their applause as freely on the victorious Butcher, the hero of another stage.” Miscellaneous Reflections. Miscell. 5. · The other personages of the drama sink into Lilliputians beside the gigantic Almanzor, although the under plot of the loves of Ozmyn and Benzayda is beautiful in itself, and ingeniously managed. The virtuous Almahide is a fit object for the adoration of Almanzor; but her husband is a poor pageant of royalty. As for Lyndaraxa, her repeated and unparalleled treachery can only be justified by the extreme imbecility of her lovers.

The plot of the play is, in part, taken from history. During the last years of its existence, Granada, the poor remnant of the Moorish empire in Spain, was torn to pieces with intestine discord, and assailed without by the sword of the Christians. The history of the civil wars of Granada, affirmed to be translated into Spanish from the Arabian, gives a romantic, but not altogether fabulous, account of their discord. But a romance in the French taste, called Almahide, seems to have been the chief source from which our author drew his plot.

In the conduct of the story there is much brilliancy of event. The reader, or spectator, is never allowed to repose on the scene before him; and although the changes of fortune are too rapid to be either probable, or altogether pleasing, yet they arrest the attention by their splendour and importance, and interest us in spite of our more sober judgment. The introduction of the ghost of Almanzor's mother seems to have been intended to shew how the hero could support even an interview with an inhabitant of the other world. At least, the professed purpose of her coming might have been safely trusted to the virtue of Almahide, and her power over her lover. It afforded an opportunity, however, to throw in some fine poetry, of which Dryden has not failed to avail himself. Were it not a peculiar attribute of the heroic drama, it might be mentioned as a defect, that during the siege of the last possession of the Spanish Moors, by an enemy hated for his religion, and for his success, the principle of patriotism is hardly once alluded to through the whole piece. The fate, or the wishes, of Almahide, Lyndaraxa, and Benza yda, are

« PreviousContinue »