Page images
PDF
EPUB

stant exertion of what cannot be considered as less than creative power, employed in producing existences that, for a limited time, are to be useful, and, through all the rest of infinite duration, are to serve no purpose whatsoever! This difficulty is indeed great ; and we are still brought in sight of the CAUSE to which all others are subordinate, the cause which all rational systems must acknowledge, and can only differ about the point where its immediate action begins, and beyond which secondary causes cannot be traced. It is proved, however, by this system, that the limit, beyond which second causes cannot be traced, does not lye where Mr Vince supposes ; that a mechanical cause of gravity may exist, contrary to what he has asserted ; and that the incomprehensible operation of divine power may be more distant, by one step at least, than he has endeavoured to demonstrate. It may therefore be distant by many such steps; and the poin: at which it is placed, is not yet to be considered as given in position. We are, probably, never destined to discover the limit beyond which physical knowledge cannot be extended.

In treating of the systems imagined to explain gravitation, it is somewhat surprising that our author has made no mention of that of Boscovich, which has been so much celebrated. This omission may indeed be defended, on the plea, that Boscovich does not, strictly speaking, assign the cause of gravity, but only generalizes the facts concerning the action of bodies on one another, and reduces them all to one. This may be admitted as a ground for not entering into much detail on the subject of the theory just mentioned, but not as a reason for passing it over entirely. The leading principle in Boscovich's system is, that the particles of body are not in contact; that motion from one body to another is not communicated by the actual touching of their solid parts; and that it is not to be admitted as an axiom in physics, that bodies cannot act but where they are. He argues, that it is impossible to conceive the particles of elastic fluids to be in contact with one another; and that if, in any one instance, action takes place, without contact, it may do so in all cases whatever. Thus, we are led to a very different conclusion concerning material substances; and, instead of reducing attraction, and the laws by which distant bodies seem to act on one another, to impulse, we find impulse itself reduced either to attraction or repulsion. The result of all this is, to throw considerable uncertainty over all our speculations concerning the cause of gravitation, and, what is more, concerning the essence of body, and the substratum in which its properties are conceived to be united. To know the laws of the phenomena of body, is all that science has yet attained with certainty,-- perhaps is all that it is ever destined to at H2;

сам

tain. What lies beyond that point, may exercise the ingenuity, and amuse the fancy of speculative men ; but whether it will lead to more substantial acquisitions, must be left for futurity to determine. In the mean time, the objects to be aimed at are, to leave the matter open to inquiry ; to abstain from dogmatizing ; and to avoid whatever can narrow the field of philosophical investigation.

ART. VIII. The Works of John Dryden, now first collected inz

Eighteen Volumes : Illustrated with Notes, Historical, Critical, and Explanatory ; and a Life of the Author By Walter Scott, Esq. 8vo. London. Miller. 1808.

THAT a poet should relate the life of a poet, is both a natura!

and pleasing species of biography. It leads one to reckon upon more of keen interest in the subject, and more deiicate cria ticism, than we should look for in an ordinary writer. A mere narrative it is easy to give : any one is competent to detail a pedigree; to fix the date of a publication ; to illustrate, by a studious research into contemporary writers; those trivial occurren. ces of life, which a great man partakes in common with the vul. gar. Something more exquisite, more inaccessible to common Hookmakers, might justly be required of one, whose fame was' already ripe for eminent, and perhaps we might say, kindred excellences in the same art.

There are two sorts of biography, and two styles of annotation-one which exhibits the talents, and one which proves the laboriousness of the writer. It would be idle petulance to depreciate altogether what falls under the latter description, and to forbid that patient research to the biographer, which is inposed as a duty upon the historian. In the case of neither, can the limits between essential accuracy, and frivolous minuteness, be defined by any written canons. Though the usefulness of every literary inquiry is in fact the standard by which it must be tried, yet is it a vague and relative one. Nor are we desirous to repress (coldly prejudiced in favour of general principles of philosophy, as we may have been deemed) all indulgence of curiosity, as to the petty occurrences of past times. Literary anecdote furnishes at least a grace and ornament to society ; it displays the retentiveness of memory, which, though certainly not the most excellent, is the least invidious of our faculties; and, in superior minds, is often 'made subservient to the powers of sagacity and combination. But it is wefully liable to

degenerate

elegenerate (and every reader, unless the beam is in his own eye, will acknowledge the truth of the observation) into a mere mate ter of recollection ; a title-page acquaintance with books, or gossiping tales of their authors, upon the credit of which many a dall fellow assumes the credit of a literary man, and passes muster in the shops of the booksellers, which in truth are his proper arena, more readily than a real scholar. Even, however, where the labour of illustration would be necessarily and profitably employed, we cannot help wishing that it had not fallen to the share of the present editor. These things, we might say with Terence, are worthy to be done ; tu indignus, qui faceres tamen. Learning has its pioneers, to dig wells, and hew down obstructions, as it has its generals for eminence and renown. Mr Scott is certainly the most interested of any one in his own reputation ; and it may seem presumptuous in strangers to be more alarmed for him than he is for himself. But fame is riever stationary; and a name which is always in the world's mouth for some new project or other, and breathed upon by every publisher in London, can hardly keep its lustre uncontaminated. This is not said harshly towards Mr Scott; it is the language of reverence and admiration. He has raised two adamantine pillars, his noble poems, which will perpetuate his glory. From this he will, we hope, detract little, but he certainly can add little to it, by compiling biographical anecdotes. There is no man living, probably, who could have written Marmion; but how many hundreds might have put together this edition of Dryden!

The life of Dryden, as is well known, was written by Johnson, with more copiousness of biography than was usual 'with him, and with peculiar vigour and justness of criticism. None, perhaps, of the Lives of the Poets, is entitled to so high a rank. No prejudice interfered with his judgment; he approved his politics; he could feel no envy of such established fame; he had a mind precisely formed to relish the excellences of Dryden-more vigorous than refined; more reasoning than inpassioned. A living author, Mr Malone, followed, a few years ago, with what he called « Some Account of the Life and Writings of John Dryden.' This was prefixed to his edition of the poet's prose Works; and is an eminent instance of that undistinguishing .collection of rubbish, which the amateurs of black-letter have priricipally introduced. All facts, great and small, to the purpose or not, are set down indiscriminately by these writers : but, if a choice must be made, the frivolousness of an anecdote seems to be its best recommendation. Like those young ladies at boarding, „schools, who are reported to prefer chalk and tobacco-pipes ro meat and pudding, a biographer of this class finds his appetite H 3

more

more ravenous, in proportion as the trash before him is less nourishing. To quit these remarks, it may be presumed, that the painful drudgery of Mr Malone did not leave much to do for the present editor. 'He has, however, acknowledged his obligation to the libraries of Mr Bindley and Mr Heber,-gentlemen in whom the love of collecting, which is an amusement to others, assumes the dignity of a virtue ; because it gives ampler scope to the exercise of friendship, and of a generous, sympathy with the common cause of literature.

The present edition is comprised in eighteen volumes. Of these, the first contains the Life of Dryden. His dramatic pieces are found in the next seven; his poems, from the ninth to the fifteenth inclusive, and some miscellaneous prose in the three last volumes. Great part of these has not been printed by Malone; especially a translation of the Life of St Francis Xavier, which Mr Scott has retained, on account of the curious and ininteresting character of the work itself. To all the plays and poems are prefixed introductory remarks; and notes are subjoined, sometimes exceedingly copious. Upon the two parts of Absalom and Ahitophel, they extend to 120 pages, closely printed. The Life itself is, in many places, but an abstract of what is said more at length in the notes.

Mr Scott professes it to be the object of this biographical me. moir, to connect, with the account of Dryden's life and publications, such a general view of the literature of the time, as may enable the reader to estimate, how far the age was indebted to the poet, and how far the poet was influenced by the taste and manners of the age. He begins with a sketch of the state of English poetry, both before, and immediately after the Restoration. This is somewhat more rapid than one might wish, from a writer so well qualified to dwell upon the subject; nor do we think he has done full justice to the merit of our elder poets. It is surely very lukewarn praise to say of Spenser, that his magic tale continues to interest us, in despite of the languor of a continued allegory;? and many will be dissatisfied with hearing, that ' nature had denied to Ben Johnson the flow of imagination, and a vivid perception of what is naturally beautiful.? In censuring the forced analogies of the metaphysical poets, and the $lightness of Waller and Suckling, has not Mr Scott overlooked the boldness and fertility of genius which not only Drayton, Crashaw, and Davenant, but many smaller poets of that age, exhibit? There seems, indeed, rather a tendency to represent the Restoration as a favourable epoch to literature. Nothing, however, can be more unfounded, than to make an Augustan age of The times of Charles II. Taste was then, in fact, at its lowest

ebb ; ebb; an assertion, of which the trash collected in this edition of Dryden would furnish abundant proof. We are told, indeed, by the present editor, that the critical judgment of Charles II. was by no means contemptible; but he has not endeavoured to reconcile this loyal position with the awkward fact of the high admiration shown to Elkanah Settle's Einpress of Morocco. Before we proceed, it may be noticed, that Mr Scott appears to have forgotten (p. 48.), that Gondibert was published many years before the Restoration.

Dryden's family pedigree has been illustrated, with all his usual patience about trifles, by Mr Malone ; who does not even hesitate to transcribe the epitaph upon one Pickering, his maternal grandfather. Mr Scott is not quite so luxuriant upon this dull subject. That he was of a baronet's family, born in Northamptonshire, and educated at Westminster, and Trinity College, Cambridge, is well known. It seems impossible to ascertain the laws of germination, if we may so speak, in the human faculties. No one, surely, would suspect Dryden of slow parts. His mind was d ligently enriched and cultivated ; but its vigour and animation must have been from nature. He did not pullulate, however, so early as is usual with poets. There is no reason to suppose that he wrote much in vouth; and what he wrote is indifferent enough. At an age, when Lucan and Tasso had run out their course, and Milton had given the most precious samples of his genius, Dryden had achieved nothing that could raise him much above ordinary men. The first of his poems which possesses any considerable merit, is the epistle to Dr Charlton, upon his treatise of Stonehenge, written in 1663, with great ease and elegance, and in a tone of versification, though not forcible, like that which he afterwards adopted, much more harmonious than that of most contemporary writers. But his effulgence broke out three years afterwards, in the Annus Mirabilis. Of this poem, Mr Scott says, although he allows it much praise, that it is not written in his later, better, and most peculiar style of poetry. It shows, however, we think, the full character of the author's mind, and differs less from his other works, than from those of any different hand. Variety is its chief want, as dignity is its greatest excellence; but in despite of this defect, and of much bad taste, we doubt whether so continued a strain of poetry could at that time be found in the language. Waller's Panegyric,' at least, and Denham's · Cooper's Hill,' the most celebrated poems of the age, are very inferior to it.

We come in the second, and two next chapters, to the theatrical works of Dryden. These are now for the first time collected, and give its chief value to the present edition. There cannot be a H 4

greater

« PreviousContinue »