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• Vasg. Methinks, we walk in dreams on Fairy-land,
Ind. Emp. Act. I. Sc. I. The merits, however, of these lines, are far removed from the highest class of dramatic excellence. It is probable that a more intimate acquaintance with Shakespeare, induced Dryden, fortunately for his own glory, to forsake this corrupt imitation of the French stage, and to adopt a very different, though not altogether faultless, style of tragedy. His principal works of this latter class, are · All for Love' in 1678; the Spanish Friar,' in 1682; and Don Sebastian,' in 1690. Upon these the drainatic fame of Dryden is built, while the rants of Almanzor and Maximin are never mentioned but in ridicule. We would quote from Mr Scott's criticisms upon these plays, were they not too expanded for our limits. The chief excellence of “ All for Love,' appears to us to consist in the beauty of the language; that of the Spanish Friar,' in the interest of the story; and that of · Sebastian,' in the highly finished character of Dorax. The praise bestowed by our editor upon this part, though abundant, is not misplaced. Dorax is indeed the chef-d'æuvre of Dryden's tragic characters, and perhaps the only one, in which he has applied his great knowledge of human kind to actual delineation. It is highly dramatic, because formed of those complex feelings, which may readily lead either to virtue or vice, and which the poet can manage, so as to surprise the spectator, without transgressing consistency. The Zanga of Young, a part of great theatrical effect, has been compounded of this character and of that of Iago. But Don Sebastian is as imperfect as all plays must be, in which a single personage is thrown forward in too strong relief for the rest. The language is full of that rant which characterized Dryden's earlier tragedies, and to which a natural predilection seems, after some interval, to have brought him back. Sebastian himself may seem to have been intended as a contrast to Muley Moloch; but, if the author had any rule to distinguish the blustering of the hero from that of the tyrant, he has not left the use of it in his reader's hands. The plot of this tragedy is ill compacted, especially in the fifth act. Perhaps the delicacy of the present age has been too fastidious in excluding altogether from the drama this class of stories; because they may often excite great interest, give scope to impassioned poetry, and are admirably calculated for the avayogicis, or discovery, which is so much dwelt upon by the critics; nor can the story of dipus, which has furnished one of the finest and most artful tragedies ever written,
"The Spanish Friar,' says Mr Scott,' was brought out in 1681-2, when the nation was in a ferment againit the Catholics, on account of the supposed plot. It is dedicated to John Lord Haughton, as a Protestant play inscribed to a Protestant patron ; ' vol. I. p. 233. Our editor then gives his reasons for afferting that Dryden had at this time deserted the court, and shared the discontent of his patron, Lord Mulgrave. In this, however, he has been totally inattentive to dates. If the Spanish Friar' was really brought out in February 1682, it is impossible that Dryden should have designed it against the court, since he published · Abfalom and Achitophel' but three months before, and the 'Medal' immediately afterwards. There is nothing in the play which could be taken amiss by the court party, or construed into an attack upon the Catholic religion. The character of Father Dominic is merely a ridicule of the supposed vices of the priesthood, which were always deemed fair game upon the stage, and which Dryden was ready enough to stigmatize, even when he had become a professed Catholic. The prologue and epilogue, however, show a good deal of virulence against popery; and we are inclined upon the whole to suspect, that the play was represented one, if not two years earlier than the date commonly assigned to it. The allusion supposed to be intended in the prologue to the assassination of Mr Thynne, is by no means unequivocal ; while, in the last line, the Popish plot is spoken of as if it was still the talk of the day. But this ferment had subsided before 1682.
By the publication of ' Absalom and Achitophel,' Dryden involved himself in the politics of Charles the II.'s court; a step probably dishonest, and certainly ruinous. The anecdotes of this interesting period become, therefore, in some degree, necessary to the illustration of the poet's works; and Mr Scott has diligently amassed a store sufficient to satisfy the strongest appetite for this sort of information. It is impossible to pass over these notes, or that part of the life which bears upon political affairs, without remarking the unusually vehement fpirit of Toryism which prevails in them. Mr Scott will say, probably, that he is free to choose his own creed in politics; and we certainly are equally free to censure it. It is at least impossible not to regret, that a gentleman of high genius and accomplishments should hold up the conduct of those who withstood by far the worit government which this country ever knew, as the mere effect of factious turbulence. In some hundred pages which Mr Scott has written upon the latter end of Charles the II.'s reign, though the personal vices of that monarch are sometimes severely treated, we have not observed a single hint that public liberty was endangered by his administration. The Whigs are commonly called the fiction, or sometimes,
interesting period of the poet's watisfy the
Unletser corrupes convicted
for the sake of delectable variety, the fanatics; though Mr Scott must know, that whatever might be the case with the Scotch, fanaticism had very little to do with the proceedings of that party in England. In a paffage, to which we cannot immediately turn, it is said, that poor College, the Proteftant joiner, who was hanged at Oxford, 'deserves to die.' A most inexcusable flip of precipitancy and prejudice! for it is quite notorious, and Mr Scott, in other places, seems aware of it, that College was convicted through false testimony, and the violence of a corrupt, or at least bigotted judge, Lord Keeper North. Unless Mr Scott can render his principles rather ductile, we think he will find some perplexity in managing his promised life of Lord Somers.
Soon after the accession of James the Second, Dryden, as is well known, threw additional suspicion upon his character, by embracing, not only the politics, but the religion of the court.
The grounds of this change are investigated by Mr Scott with much candour and ingenuity; and we concur with him in thinking, that a good deal of sincerity was mingled with a readiness to make use of the lucky opportunity. This opinion is founded upon the Religio Laici, published in 1682, three years before his conversion ; a poem indicating a very vigorous, but a very sceptical mind; unable to solve the problems in religion which it raised to itself, and already willing to cut the knot, by resorting to an infallible director. There is much reason, therefore, to believe, that Dryden felt sincerely the conviction that he was right in his change of faith; though it would probably have never taken place in other times, and under another master. But we cannot coincide in laying any stress upon his continuing a Catholic, after the Revolution. Every man must keep some measures with public opinion; and so gross an avowal of want of principle, would have forfeited the esteem of his friends, and certainly not rendered his enemies less bitter. We do not know what law forbids a Catholic to be poet-laureat, nor why Dryden's expulsion from that place, which Mr Malone is absurd enough to call ' conscienLiously relinquishing' it, should be ascribed merely to his religion. But he had gone all lengths, both of adulation and virulence, in support of a party now fallen ; it was just, therefore, that he should share their fate; and though befriended by many Whigs, he must naturally have been obnoxious to the greater number.
All the sunshine of Dryden's prospects vanished at the Revolation. From 1668, he had enjoyed a salary of 2001. a year, as poet-laureat and historiographer, and had made a lucrative contract with the King's company of players. Mr Scott enters (p. 116.) into a calculation of his income, and thinks - we-shall fall considerably under the mark, in computing it, during this pe
vestigated think well Mr Scott
riod of prosperity, at 6001. or 7001. annually; a sum more adequate to procure all the comforts, and many of the luxuries of life, than thrice the amount at present.' This point has been investigated by Malone with a minuteness which, in this instance, we certainly think well employed, (Malone's Life, p. 444.) From his data, it seems that Mr Scott has rated Dryden's income rather too high ; but if we suppose him to have possessed but 500l. a year, equal at least to 1500l. at present, this is placing the circumstances of a poet, who has been a proverb even among his tribe for penury, in a very new light. Yet he has never been accused of extravagance, or over-stating his own distresses. We must suppose, therefore, that his income was irregular, and his salary not regularly forthcoming from the scanty exchequer of Charles. After the Revolution, his office of laureat ceased, and his theatrical profits became very small. He had now fallen upon evil days; and the remainder of his life was doubtless passed in comfortless poverty. This condition, though not borne without repining, did not overcome the spirit of Dryden. He is one of the few, who, reaching an advanced age, and never ceasing to write, have kept up an increasing reputation, and seemed almost to die prematurely, without accomplishing all which they were designed to do. Like many other men, he pro-bably beguiled himself into a belief, that he had acted from none but the most conscientious motives, and clung to that consolation in the midst of disappointment. During the reign of William the Third, he published his Translations of Juvenal and Virgil, his Ode on St Cecilia's Day, and the Fables from Chaucer and Boccace. Of the celebrated ode, Mr Scott, adverting to the different accounts which have been given of the length of time taken in its composition, makes the following remarks, which we think highly judicious and acute in themselves, and of decio sive authority when it is considered from what quarter they proceed.
It is possibie that Dryden may have completed, at one sitting, the whole ode, and yet have employed a fortnight, or much more, in correction. There is strong internal evidence to show, that the poem was, speaking with reference to its general structure, wrought off at once. A halt or pause, even of a day, would perhaps have injured that continuous flow of poetical language and description, which argues the whole scene to have arisen at once upon the author's imagination. It seems possible, more especially in lyrical po. etry, to discover where the author has paused for any length of time ; for the union of the parts is rarely so perfect as not to show 2 different strain of thought and feeling. There may be something fanciful, however, in this reasoning, which I therefore abandon to the reader's mercy; only begging him to observe, that ve have no mode of estimating the exertions of a quality so capricious as a poe
VOL. XIII. NO. 25.