Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

ders of his mind through the whole series of his dramatick performances; it will be fit, however to enumerate them, and to take especial notice of those that are distinguished by any peculiarity, intrinsick or concomitant ; for the composition and fate of eight-andtwenty dramas include too much of a poetical life to be omitted.

In 1664, he published The Rival Ladies, which he dedicated to the earl of Orrery, a man of high reputation, both as a writer, and as a statesman. In this play he made his essay of dramatick rhyme, which he defends, in his dedication, with sufficient certainty of a favourable hearing; for Orrery was himself a writer of rhyming tragedies.

He then joined with sir Robert Howard in The Indian Queen, a tragedy in rhyme. The parts which either of them wrote are not distinguished.

The Indian Emperor was published in 1667. It is a tragedy in rhyme, intended for a sequel to Howard's Indian Queen. Of this connexion notice was given to the audience by printed bills, distributed at the door; an expedient supposed to be ridiculed in The Rehearsal, where Bayes tells how many reams he has printed, to instil into the audience some conception of his plot.

In this play is the description of night, which Rymer has made famous by preferring it to those of all other poets.

The practice of making tragedies in rhyme was introduced soon after the Restoration, as it seems by the earl of Orrery, in compliance with the opinion of Charles the Second, who had formed his taste by the French theatre; and Dryden, who wrote, and made no difficulty of declaring that he wrote only to please, and who perhaps knew that by his dexterity of versification he was more likely to excel others in rhyme, than without it, very readily adopted his master's preference.

ven

He therefore made rhyming tragedies, till, by the prevalence of manifest propriety, he seems to have grown ashamed of making them any longer.

To this play is prefixed a very vehement defence of dramatick rhyme, in confutation of the preface to The Duke of Lerma, in which sir Robert Howard had censured it.

In 1667, he published Annus Mirabilis, the Year of Wonders, which may be esteemed one of his most elaborate works.

It is addressed to sir Robert Howard by a letter, which is not properly a dedication ; and, writing to a poet, he has interspersed many critical observations, of which some are common, and some perhaps ventured without much consideration. He began,

exercise the domination of conscious genius, by recommending his own performance: “I am satisfied that as the prince and general [Rupert and Monk] are incomparably the best subjects I ever had, so what I have written on them is much better than what I have performed on any other. As I have endeavoured to adorn my poem with noble thoughts, so much more to express those thoughts with elocution."

It is written in quatrins, or heriock stanzas of four lines ; a measure which he had learned from the Gondivert of Davenant, and which he then thought the most inajestick that the English language affords. Of this stanza he mentions the incumbrances, increased as they were by the exactness which the age required. It was, throughout his life, very much his custom to recommend his works by representation of the difficulties that he had encountered, without appearing to have sufficiently considered, that where there is no difficulty there is no praise.

There seems to be, in the conduct of sir Robert Howard and Dryden towards each other, something

that is not now easily to be explained. Dryden, in his dedication to the earl of Orrery, had defended dramatick rhyme ; and Howard, in the preface to a collection of plays, had censured his opinion. Dryden vindicated himself in his dialogue on dramatick poetry : Howard, in his preface to The Duke of Lere ma, animadverted on the vindication ; and Dryden, in a preface to The Indian Emperor, replied to the animadversions with great asperity, and alniost with contumely. The dedication to this play is dated the year in which the Annus Mirabilis was published. Here appears a strange inconsistency; but Langbaine affords some help, by relating that the answer to Howard was not published in the first edition of the play, but was added when it was afterwards reprinted; and as the Duke of Lerma did not appear till 1868, the same year in which the dialogue was published, there was time enough for enmity to grow up between authors, who writing both for the theatre, were naturally rivals.

He was now so much distinguished, that in 1668* he succeeded sir William Davenant as poet-laureat. The salary of the laureat had been raised in favour of Jonson, by Charles the First, from an hundred marks to one hundred pounds a year, and a tierce of * vine'; a* revenue in those days not inadequate to the conveniencies of life.

The same year, he published his essay on Dramatick Poetry, an elegant and instructive dialogue, in which we are told, by Prior, that the principal character is meant to represent the duke of Dorset. This work seems to have given Addison a model for his Dialogues upon Medals.

* He did not obtain the laurel till Aug. 18, 1670; but, Mr. Malone informs us, that the patent had a retrospect, and the salary commenced from the midsummer after D'Avenant's death. C.

Secret Love, or the Maiden Queen, (1668) is a tragi-comedy. In the preface he discusses a curious question, whether a poet can judge well of his own productions ? and determinęs very justly, that, of the plan and disposition, and all that can be reduced to principles of science, the author may depend upon his own opinion; but that, in those parts where fancy predominates, self-love may easily deceive. He might have observed, that what is good only because it pleases, cannot be pronounced good till it has been found to please.

Sir Martin Mar-all (1668) is a comedy, published without preface or dedication, and at first without the name of the author. Langbaine charges it like most of the rest, with plagiarism ; and observes, that the song is translated from Voiture, allowing however that both the sense and measure are exactly observed.

The Tempest (1670) is an alteration of Shakspeare's play, made by Dryden in conjunction with Davenant ; « whom,” says he, “I found of so quick a fancy, that nothing was proposed to him in which he could not suddenly produce a thought extremely pleasant and surprising; and those first thoughts of his, contrary to the Latin proverb, were not always the least happy ; and as his fancy was quick, so likewise were the products of it remote and new. He borrowed not of any other; and his imaginations were such as could not easily enter into any other man."

The effect produced by the conjunction of these two powerful minds was, that to Shakspeare's mon. ster, Caliban, is added a sister-monster, Sycorax ; and a woman, who, in the original play, had never seen a man, is in this brought acquainted with a man that had never seen a woman..

About this time, in 1673, Dryden seems to have had his quiet much disturbed by the success of The Empress of Morocco, a tragedy written in rhyme by Elkanah Settle ; which was so much applauded, as to make him think his supremacy of reputation in some danger. Settle had not only been prosperous on the stage, but, in the confidence of success, had published his play, with sculptures and a preface of defiance. Here was one offence added to another; and, for the last blast of inflammation, it was acted at Whitehall by the court ladies.

Dryden could not now repress those emotions, which he called indignation, and others jealousy ; but wrote upon the play and the dedication such criticism as malignant impatience could pour out in haste.

Of Settle he gives this character: "He's an animal of a most deplored understanding, without reading and conversation. His being is in a twilight of sense, and some glimmering of thought which he can never fashion into wit or English. His style is boisterous and rough-hewn, his rhyme incorrigibly lewd, and his numbers perpetually harsh and ill-sounding. The little talent which he has, is fancy. He sometimes dabours with a thought ; but, with the pudder he makes to bring it into the world, 'tis commonly stillborn ; so that, for want of learning and elocution, he will never be able to express any thing either naturally or justly.”

This is not very decent; yet this is one of the pages in which criticism prevails over brutal fury. He proceeds : " He has a heavy hand at fools, and a great felicity in writing nonsense for them. Fools they will be in spite of him. His king, his two empresses, his villain and his sub-villain, nay his hero, have all a certain natural cast of the father-their

« AnteriorContinua »