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HISTORY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE.
THE CLASSIC AGE.
I. Dryden's beginnings—Close of the poetic age-Cause of literary decline
and regeneration, II. Family--Education-Studies — Reading - Habits — Position-Character
Audience-Friendships—Quarrels—Harmony of his life and talent. III. The theatres re-opened and transformed—The new public and the new
taste—Dramatic theories of Dryden—His judgment of the old English theatre-His judgment of the new French theatre-Composite worksIncongruities of his drama—Tyrannic Love-Grossness of his characters
The Indian Emperor, Aureng-zebe, Almanzor.
Want of agreement between the classical style and romantic events-
-Why this drama fell to the ground.
Life-Works. VI. Dryden as a writer-Kind, scope, and limits of his mind-Clumsiness in
flattery and obscenity-Heaviness in dissertation and discussion-Vigour
and fundamental uprightness. VII. How literature in England is occupied with politics and religion-Political
poems of Dryden, Absalom and Achitophel, The Medal — Religious poems, Religio Laici, The Hind and the Panther-Bitterness and viru
lence of these poems-Mac Flecknoe. VIII. Rise of the art of writing-Difference between the stamp of mind of the
artistic and classic ages-Dryden's manner of writing-Sustained and
oratorical diction. IX. Lack of general ideas in this age and this stamp of mind — Dryden's transla
tions— Adaptations-Imitations - Tales and letters — Faults—MeritsVOL. II.
Gravity of his character, brilliancy of his inspiration, fits and starts of poetic eloquence-Alexander's Feast, a song in honour of S. Cecilia's
Day. X. Dryden's latter days—Wretchedness—Poverty-Wherein his work is in
(OMEDY has led us a long way; we must return and consider
other kind of writings. A higher spirit moves amidst the great current. In the history of this talent we shall find the history of the English classical spirit, its structure, its gaps and its powers, its formation and its development.
I. The subject is a young man, Lord Hastings, who died of smallpox at the age of nineteen:
* His body was an orb, his sublime soul
Whose corpse might seem a constellation.'1 With such a fine specimen, Dryden, the greatest poet of the classical age, made his appearance.
Such enormities indicate the close of a literary age. Excess of folly in poetry, like excess of injustice in political matters, lead up to and foretell revolutions. The Renaissance, unchecked and original, abandoned the minds of men to the fire and caprices of imagination, the oddities, curiosities, outbreaks of an inspiration which cares only to content itself, breaks out into singularities, has need of novelties, and loves audacity and extravagance, as reason loves justice and truth. After the extinction of genius folly remained; after the removal of inspiration nothing was left but absurdity. Formerly the internal disorder and dash produced and excused concetti and wild flights; thenceforth men threw them out in cold blood, by calculation and without excuse. Formerly 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 created it,
Dryden's Works, ed. Sir Walter Scott, 2d ed., 18 vols., 1821, xi. 94.