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He would have liv'd more free; but many a guest,
It hapt one morning, as his fancy led,
To walk within a lonely lawn, that stood
On every side surrounded by a wood:
'T was in a grove of spreading pines he stray'd;
Whilst listening to the murmuring leaves he stood,
More than a mile immers'd within the wood,
At once the wind was laid, the whispering sound
A sudden horror seiz'd his giddy head,
Seem'd threaten'd, though unseen to mortal eye.
And fill'd with loud laments the secret shade.
Besides contributing more, perhaps, than any other English writer to improve the poetical diction of his native tongue, Dryden performed also essential service of the same kind with respect to the quality of English prose. Throwing off, still more than Cowley had done, those inversions and other forms of Latin idiom which abound in the pages of his most distinguished predecessors, he speaks in the language of one addressing, in easy yet dignified conversational phraseology, an assemblage of polite and well-educated men. Strength, ease, copiousness, variety, and animation, are the predominant qualities of his style; but the haste with which he composed often betrayed him into negligence, and even carelessness in the construction of his sentences. Notwithstanding this defect, however, to the prose of Dryden may be assigned the foremost place among the specimens which can be furnished of vigorous and genuine idiomatic English. The following brief specimen, though far from being one of his happiest prosaic productions, is sufficient to justify these remarks :—
In a word, that former sort of satire, which is known in England by the name of lampoon, is a dangerous sort of weapon, and for the most part unlawful. We have no moral right on the reputation of other men. It is taking from them what we can not restore to them. There are only two reasons for which we may be permitted to write lampoons; and I will not promise that they can always justify us. The first is revenge, when we have been affronted in the same nature, or have been any ways notoriously abused, and can make ourselves no other reparation. And yet we know, that, in christian charity, all offences are to be forgiven, as we expect the like pardon for those which we daily commit against Almighty God. And this consideration has often made me tremble when I was saying our Saviour's prayer; for the plain condition of the forgiveness which we beg, is the pardoning of others the offences they have done to us; for which reason I have many times avoided the commission of that fault, even when I have been notoriously provoked. Let not this, my lord, pass for vanity in me, for it is truth. More libels have been written against me than almost any man now living; and I had reason on my side to have defended my own innocence. I speak not of my poetry, which I have wholly given up to the critics: let them use it as they please: posterity, perhaps, may be more favourable to me; for interest and passion will lie buried in another age, and partiality and prejudice be forgotten. I speak of my morals, which have been sufficiently aspersed: that only sort of reputation ought to be dear to every honest man, and is to me. But let the world witness for me, that I have been often wanting to myself in that particular: I have seldom answered any scurrilous lampoon, when it was in my power to have exposed my enemies: and, being naturally vindictive, have suffered in silence, and possessed my soul in quiet.
Any thing, though never so little, which a man speaks of himself, in my opinion, is still too much; and therefore I will waive this subject, and proceed to give the second reason which may justify a poet when he writes against a particular person; and that is, when he is become a public nuisance. All those, whom Horace in his Satires, and Persius and Juvenal have mentioned in theirs, with a brand of infamy, are wholly such. It is an action of virtue to make examples of vicious men. They may and ought to be upbraided with their crimes and follies, both for their amendment, if they are not yet incorrigible, and for the terror of others, to hinder them from falling into those enormities, which they see are so severely punished in the persons of others. The first reason was only an excuse for revenge; but this second is absolutely of a poet's office to perform: but how few lampooners are now living who are capable of this duty! When they come in my way, it is impossible sometimes to avoid reading them. But, good God! how remote they are, in common justice, from the choice of such persons as are the proper subject of satire! And how little wit they bring for the support of their injustice! The weaker sex is their most ordinary theme; and the best and fairest are sure to be the most severely handled. Amongst men, those who are prosperously unjust are entitled to pangyric; but afflicted virtue is insolently stabbed with all manner of reproaches; no decency is considered, no fulsomeness is omitted; no venom is wanting, as far as dullness can supply it; for there is a perpetual dearth of wit; a barrenness of good sense and entertainment. The neglect of the readers will soon put an end to this sort of scribbling. There can be no pleasantry where there is no wit; no impression can be made where there is no truth for the foundation. To conclude: they are like the fruits of the earth in this unnatural season; the corn which held up its head is spoiled with rankness; but the greater part of the harvest is laid along, and little of good income and wholesome nourishment is received into the barns. This is almost a digression, I confess to your lordship; but a just indignation forced it from
Lecture the Twenty-Fourth.
THE EARL OF ROSCOMMON-THE EARL OF DORSET-SIR CHARLES SEDLEY-THE EARL OF ROCHESTER-THE DUKE OP BUCKINGHAM-MATTHEW PRIOR-JOHN
HE reign of Charles the Second was a period fraught with evil and danger to all the sober restraints, the decencies, and the domestic virtues of life. It was natural, therefore, that poetry should suffer in the general deterioration; and we find, accordingly, that some of the most eminent wits of the age prostrated the noble attribute of poetic genius to the base purposes of vice and licentiousness. Unfortunately, too, many of the most prominent members of the 'Merry Monarch's' court, were noblemen whose influence over the literature of the age was such as to enable them to control, in a great measure, its entire tone and spirit. Of these, Roscommon, Dorset, Sedley, Rochester, and Buckingham occupy the foremost rank.
WENTWORTH DILLON, Earl of Roscommon, was born in Ireland, in 1633. He was the nephew of the celebrated Earl of Stratford, and after having passed the years of his childhood in his native country, was removed to the Earl's seat in Yorkshire, and placed under the tuition of Dr. Hall, afterward bishop of Norwich, by whom he was so thoroughly instructed in the Latin tongue, as to be able to write in that language with classical accuracy and elegance. When the cloud of civil strife began to gather over England, and the Earl of Stratford was singled out for an impeachment, young Dillon was, by the advice of the lord primate Usher, sent to finish his education at Caen, in Normandy, under the care and direction of the learned Bochart. He afterwards travelled over much of the continent, and at Rome remained until he had acquired so complete a knowledge of the Italian language, that he was frequently taken for a native of Italy.
Soon after the Restoration, Roscommon returned to England, and was received by Charles the Second, who made him captain of the band of pensioners, in the most gracious manner. Unfortunately, in the gayeties of that corrupt age, he was tempted to indulge a violent passion for gaming;
in consequence of which he frequently hazarded his life in duels, and exceeded the bounds of his moderate fortune. A dispute with the Lord Privy Seal, about part of his estate, compelled him to revisit his native country, where he had designed to remain; but the pleasures of the English court, and the friendships which he had there contracted, finally induced him to return to London. Soon after his arrival he was made master of the horse to the Duchess of York, and married the lady Frances, eldest daughter of the Earl of Burlington. Roscommon was now settled in life; and though still addicted to the vice of gambling, yet he found time to cultivate his taste for literature, and to produce a poetical Essay on Translated Verse, a translation of Horace's Art of Poetry,' and some minor poems. He also planned, in conjunction with Dryden, a scheme for refining the English language, and fixing its standard. But while he was meditating on this and similar topics connected with literature, the arbitrary measures of James the Second, threw the whole nation into a state of alarm; and Roscommon, dreading the result, prepared to retire to Rome, saying, 'It was best to sit near the chimney when the chamber smoked.' An attack of the gout, however, prevented his departure, and he died on the seventeenth of January, 1684, in the fifty-second year of his age. At the moment in which he expired,' says Johnson, he uttered, with an energy of voice that expressed the most fervent devotion, two lines of his own version of 'Dies Iræ':
My God, my Father, and my Friend,
Roscommon's 'Essay on Translated Verse,' is his only production which may be said to elevate him above mediocrity. In it he inculcates, in didactic poetry, the rational principles of translation previously laid down by Cowley and Denham; and it is worthy of remark, that though Milton's 'Paradise Lost' had then been published only four years, Roscommon notices the sixth book of that great poem for its sublimity. Dryden has heaped on this poet the most lavish praise, and Pope has said that 'every author's merit was his own;' but posterity has not confirmed these judgments. Roscommon stands on the same ground with Denham-elegant and sensible, but cold and unimpassioned. We subjoin a single passage from his Essay on Translated Verse,' and his version of the 'Dies Iræ.'
CAUTION AGAINST FALSE PRIDE.
On sure foundations let your fabric rise,
Not by affected meretricious arts,
But strict harmonious symmetry of parts;
Which through the whole insensibly must pass
With vital heat, to animate the mass.
A pure, an active, an auspicious flame,
And bright as heaven, from whence the blessing came.