« PreviousContinue »
HOLLAND AND THE DUTCH.
A country that draws fifty foot of water ;
! Our great satirist is here indulging himself in one of the pleasant “extravagances” which he recommends as refresh. ments of thought: but it is impossible to take leave of extracts from such a writer without expressing a kind of transport at the perfection of his wit and good sense.
DR Y DEN.
BORN, 1631-DIED, 1701.
If Dryden had been cast in a somewhat finer mould, and addea sentiment to his other qualifications, he would have been almost as great a poet in the world of nature, as he was in that of art and the town. He had force, expression, scholarship, geniality, admirable good sense, musical enthusiasm. The rhymed heroic couplet in his hands continues still to be the finest in the language. But his perceptions were more acute than subtle ; more sensual, by far, than spiritual. The delicacy of them had no proportion to the strength. He prized the flower, but had little sense of the fragrance; was gross as well as generous in his intellectual diet; and if it had not been genuine and hearty, would have shown an almost impudent delight in doing justice to the least refined of Nature's impressions. His Venus was not the Celestial. He would as soon have described the coarsest flower, as a rose; sooner, if it was large and luxuriant. His very repentance has more relish of sin, than regret; though, indeed, he was too honest a man to have reason to regret anything very strongly; for his faults were those of temperament and an easy disposition. Even his enmities, powerfully as he could word them, were but those of the poet and partizan, not of the human being. They required a public cause or repeated private offence to provoke them. Ilo had all the goodnature and placability of a child of nature.
Agreeably to this character of his genius, Dryden's wit is less airy than masculine ; less quick to move than eloquent when roused ; less productive of pleasure and love than admiration and a sense of his mastery. His satire, if not so learned and univer.
sal as Butler's, is aimed more at the individual and his public standing, and therefore comes more home to us. The titled wits of the day, who affected alternately to patronize and to correct him, he generally submitted to with his natural modesty, and with the policy of a poor man; but when the humor or party necessity came upon him, he seized the unlucky individual, as Gulliver might have done a lord of Lilliput; and gripping him, and holding him up by the ribs, exposed his pretensions, limb by limb, to the spectator. Still it was rather in vindication of a power derided, or of a sense of justice provoked, than from an ungenerous desire to give pain. He could bestow commendation on the offender; and was always ready to break off into some enthusiastic strain of verse or reflection.
The famous satire on Shadwell entitled Mac Flecnoe (that is to say, Flecnoe's son) is, for the most part, so coarse, that I can only quote a few lines from it, which I have accordingly put in this place. But they are the best. They are comprised in the exordium. Flecnoe, the bad poet indicated by Marvel (see p. 174), is supposed to abdicate the throne of Dulness in favor of its heir. apparent Shadwell. Shadwell had repeatedly intimated his own superiority compared with Dryden, as a writer of plays; and he was newly appointed laureate to King William, who had ousted James the Second and his greater laureate; so that Dryden had every provocation against him, political and poetical.
All human things are subject to decay,
Shadwell alone, of all my sons, is he
Heywood and Shirley were dramatic writers of the past age, both superior to what Dryden here intimates of them ; but he saw their tediousness and commonplace, and did not feel their sentiment. Shadwell was a great fat debauchee, who mistook will for genius; and because he enjoyed the humor of Ben Jonson, and was not indeed altogether destitute of humor himself, poured forth a profusion of shallow dialogue, which was the very dotage of pertness. As to his “ poetry,” the reader may see a specimen of it in “ Imagination and Fancy," p. 31.
It is a curious oversight of Dryden's in this satire, that he should put the best wit of it into the mouth of Flecnoe himself.
CHARACTER OF LORD SHAFTESBURY."
From the poem of “ ABSALOM AND ACHITOPHEL."*
• “ Absalom and Achitophel" is a satire, under Jewish names, upon the intrigues of Lord Shaftesbury and the Duke of Monmouth against the Catholic and Court interest,
† The Popish Plot, real or pretended, which was sworn to by the infa mous Titus Oates.
And every hostile humor, which before
of these the false Achitophel was first, -
In friendship false, implacable in bate,