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and is in opposition to the new spirit which destroys it. This preliminary strife and progressive transformation make up the life of Dryden, and account for his impotence and bis falls, his talent and his success.
II. 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 life. He was born in 1631, of a good family; his grandfather and uncle were baronets; Sir Gilbert Pickering, his relative, was a knight, member of Parliament, one of Cromwell's council of twenty-one, one of the great officeholders of the new court. Dryden was brought up in an excellent school, under 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 maintain him in his studious life, and continued in seclusion at the University for three years more. Here you see the regular habits of an honourable and well-to-do family, the discipline of a connected and solid education, the taste for classical and exact studies. Such circumstances announce and prepare, not an artist, but a man of letters.
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 favourite authors; he translated several; their names were always on his pen; he discusses their opinions and their merits, feeding himself on this reasoning which oratorical customs bad imprinted 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 reflectively, seldom fails to arrange some good theory to justify each of his new works. He knew very well the literature of his own country, though sometimes not very accurately, gave to authors their due rank, classified the different kinds of writing, went back as far as old Chaucer, whom he transcribed and put into a modern dress. His mind thus filled, he would go in the afternoon to Will's coffeehouse, the great literary rendezvous: young poets, students fresh from the University, literary dilettante crowded round his chair, carefully placed in summer near the balcony,
1 Rapin (1621-1687), a French Jesuit, a modern 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 critics are now completely forgotten. -TR.
in winter by the fireside, thinking themselves fortunate to get in a word, or a pinch of snuff respectfully extracted 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 on Alexander's Feast; but gossipy, 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 become a matter of study rather than of inspiration, an employment for the taste rather than for the enthusiasm, a source of distraction rather than of emotion.
His audience, his friendships, his actions, his strifes, 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 historiographer, then poet-laureate. He often 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 pseudonyms in his Essay on the Dramatic Art; wrote introductions for the works of others, called them Mæcenas, Tibullus, or Pollio; discussed with them literary works and opinions. The re-establishment of the court had brought back the art of conversation, vanity, the necessity for appearing to be a man of letters and of possessing good taste, all the 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 Settle against him, and hired a band of ruffians to beat 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, banter and refutation, eloquence and satire: these gifts are necessary to make a 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 upon it spontaneously. In his second production, the abundance of well-ordered ideas, the oratorical energy and harmony, the simplicity, the gravity, the heroic and Roman spirit, announce a classic genius, the relative not of Shakspeare, but of Corneille, capable not of dramas, but of discussions.
1 In his Defence of the Epilogue of the Second 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.'
And yet, at first, he devoted himself to the drama: he wrote twentyseven pieces, and signed an agreement with the actors of the King's Theatre to supply them with three every year. The theatre, forbidden under the Commonwealth, had just re-opened with extraordinary magnificence and success. The rich scenes made moveable, the women's parts no longer played by boys, but by women, the novel and splendid waxlights, the machinery, the recent popularity 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 London to enjoy the pleasures of the town and to court the favours of the king, had installed on the summit of society, in England 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 breeding, 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 between classical eloquence and romantic truth, accommodating himself as well as he could to the new public, which paid and applauded him.
* Heroic stanzas to the memory of Oliver Cromwell.
• The language, wit, and conversation of our age, are improved and refined above the last. . . . Let us consider in what the refinement of a language principally consists ; that is, “either in rejecting such old words, or phrases, which are illsounding or improper; or in admitting new, which are more proper, more sounding, and more significant.” ... Let any man, who understands English, read diligently the works of Shakespeare and Fletcher, and I dare undertake, that he will find in every 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, nor the historical plays of Shakespeare ; besides many of the rest, as the Winter's Tale, Love's Labour 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. ... His shepherd falls twice into the former indecency of wounding women.'' Fletcher nowhere permits kings to retain the royal dignity. Moreover, the action of these authors' plays is always barbarous. They introduce battles on the stage; they transport the scene in a moment to a distance of twenty years or five hundred leagues, and a score of times consecutively in one act; they jumble together three or four different actions, especially in the historical dramas. But they sin most in style. Dryden says of Shakspeare:
*Many of his words, and more of his phrases, are scarce intelligible. And of those which we understand, some are ungrammatical, others coarse ; and his whole style is so pestered with figurative expressions, that it is as affected as it is obscure.'? Ben Jonson himself often has bad plots, redundancies, barbarisms :
"Well-placing of words, for the sweetness of pronunciation, was not known till Mr. Waller introduced it.'3 All, in short, descend to quibbles, low and common expressions : 'In the age 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
Gentlemen will now be entertained with the follies of each other; and, though they allow Cob and Tibb to speak properly, yet they are not much pleased with their tankard, or with their rags.'' For these gentlemen we must now write, and especially for reasonable men;' for it is not enough to have wit or to love tragedy, in order to be a good critic: we must possess a solid knowledge and a lofty reason, know Aristotle, Horace, Longinus, and pronounce judgment according to their rules. These rules, based upon observation and logic, prescribe unity of action; that this action should have a beginning, middle, and end; that its parts should proceed naturally one from the other; that it should excite terror and pity, so as to inform and improve us; that the characters should be distinct, harmonious, conformable with tradition or the design of the poet. Such, says Dryden, will be the new tragedy, closely allied, it seems, to the French, especially as he quotes Bossu and Rapin, as if he took them for instructors.
1 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. 4 Ibid. 225.
Preface to All for Love, v. 306.
Yet it differs from it, and Dryden enumerates all that an English pit can blame in the French stage. He says:
“The beauties of the French poesy are the beauties of a statue, but not of a man, because not animated with the soul of poesy, which is imitation of humour and passions. . . . He who will look upon their plays which have been written till these last ten years, or thereabouts, will find it an hard matter to pick out two or three passable humours amongst them. Corneille himself, their arch-poet, what has he produced except the Liar? and you know how it was cried up in France ; but when it came upon the English stage, though well translated, ... the most favourable to it would not put it in competition with many of Fletcher's or Ben Jonson's. . . . Their verses are to me the coldest I have ever read, . . . their speeches being so many declamations. When the French stage came to be reformed by Cardinal Richelieu, those long harangues were introduced, 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 Policucte, 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 serious.' As for the tumults and combats which they relegate behind the scenes, 'nature has so formed our countrymen to fierceness, ... they will scarcely suffer combats and other objects of horror to be taken from them. Thus the French, by fettering themselves with these scruples,
1 An Essay of Dramatic Poesy, xv. 337.
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 his 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 a 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.