« AnteriorContinua »
« March 24th, 1699. " Received then of Mr. Jacob Tonson the sum of two hundred sixty" eight pounds fifteen shillings, in pursuance of an agreement forten thousand
verses, to be delivered by me to the said Jacob Tongon, whereof I have " already delivered to him about seven thousand five hundred, more or less ; "he the said Jacob Tonson being obliged to make up the aforesaid sum of two "hundred sixty-eight pounds fifteen shillings three hundred pounds, at the beginning of the second impression of the aforesaid ten thousand verses;
“ I say, received by me
“ John Dryden. “Witness Charles Dryden." Two hundred and fifty guineas, at 11. Is. 6d. is 2681. 15s. It is manifest, from the dates of this contract, that it relates to the volume of Fables, which contains about twelve thousand verses, and for which therefore the payment must have been afterwards enlarged.
I have been told of another letter yet remaining, in which he desires Tonson to bring him money, to pay for a watch which he had ordered for his son, and which the maker would not leave without the price.
The inevitable consequence of poverty is dependence. Dryden had probably no recourse in his exigencies but to his bookseller. The particular character of Tonson I do not know; but the general conduct of traders was much less liberal in those times than in our own; their views were narrower, and their manners grosser. To the mercantile ruggedness of that race, the delicacy of the poet was sometimes exposed. Lord Bolingbroke, who in his youth had cultivated poetry, related to Dr. King of Oxford, that one day, when he visited Dryden, they heard, as they were conversing, another person entering the house. “ This,” said Dryden, “is Tonson. You will take
care not to depart before he goes away: for I have not completed the shect "which I promised him; and if you leave me unprotected, I must suffer 4)| " the rudeness to which his resentment can prompt his tongue.”
What rewards he obtained for his poems, besides the payment of the booke seller, cannot be known: Mr. Derrick, who consulted some of his relations, was informed that his Fables obtained five hundred pounds froin the dutchess of Ormond; a present not unsuitable to the magnificence of that splendid family; and he quotes Moyle, as relating that forty pounds were paid by a musical society for the use of Alexander's Feast.
In those days the economy of government was yet unsettled, and the payments of the Exchequer were dilatory and uncertain: of this disorder there is Teason to believe that the Laureat sometimes felt the effects; for in one of his prefaces he complains of those, who, being intrusted with the distribution of the Prince's bounty, suffer those that depend upon it to languish in penury.
Of his petty babits or slight amusements, tradition has retained little. Of the only two men whom I have found to whom he was personally known, one told me, that at the house which he frequented, called Will's Coffee-house, the appeal upon any literary dispute was made to him; and the other related, that his armed chair, which in the winter had a settled and prescriptive place by the fire, was in the summer placed in the balcony, and that he called the two places his winter and his summer seat. This is all the intelligence which his two survivors afforded mc.,
One of his opinions will do him no honour in the present age, though in his own time, at least in the beginning of it, he was far from having it confined to himself. He put great confidence in the prognostications of judiciai astrology. In the Appendix to the Life of Congreve is a narrative of some of his predictions wonderfully fulfilled; but I know not the writer's means of information, or character of veracity. That he had the configurations of the horo-scope in his mind, and considered them as influencing the affairs of men, he does not forbear to bint. The utmost malice of the stars is
Will gloriously the new-laid works succeed. He has elsewhere shewn his attention to the planetary powers; and in the preface to his Fables has endeavoured obliquely to justify his superstition, by attributing the same to some of the Ancients. The latter, added to this narracive, leaves no doubt of his notions or practice.
So slight and so scanty is the knowledge which I bave been able to collect concerning the private life and domestick manners of a man, whom every English generarion must mention with reverence as a critick and a poet.
DRYDEN may be properly considered as the father of English criticism, as the writer who first taught us to determine upon principles the merit of composition. Of our former poets, the greatest dramatist wrote without roles, conducted through life and nature by a genius that rarely misled, and rarely deserted him. Of the rest, those who knew the laws of propriety had neglected to icach them.
Two Arts of English Poetry were written in the days of Elizabeth by Webb and Puttenham, from which something might be learned, and a few hints had been given by Jonson and Cowley; but Dryden's Essay on Dramatick Poetry was the first regular and valuable treatise on the art of writing.
He who having formed his opinions in the present age of English literature, turns back to peruse this dialogue, will not perhaps find much increase of knowledge, or much novelty of instructions, but be is to remember that critical rinciples were then in the bands of a few, who had gathered them partly
from the Ancients, and partly from the ítalians and French. The structure of dramátic poems was then not generally understood. Audiences applauded by instinct ; and poets perhaps often pleased by chance.
A writer who obtains his full purpose loses himself in his own lustre. Of is opinion which is no longer doubted, the evidence ceases to be examined. Of an art universally practised, the first teacher is forgétten. Learning once made popular is no longer learning; it has the appearance of something which we have bestowed upon ourselves as the dew appears to rise from the field which it refreshes.
To judge rightly of an author, we must tiansport ourselves to his time, and examine what were the wants of his contemporaries, and what were his incans of supplying them. That which is easy at one time was difficult at another. Dryden at least imported his science, and gave his country what it wanted before; or rather, he imported only the materials, and manufactured them by his own skill.
The dialogue on the Dráma was one of his first essays of criticism, written when he was yet a timorous candidate for reputation, andtherefore laboured with thar diligence which he might allow himself somewhat to remit, when his name gave sanction to his positions, and his awe of the public was abated, partly by custom, and partly by success. It will not be easy to find, in all the opulence of our language, a treatise so artfully variegated with successive representations of opposite probabilities, so enlivenedwith imagery, so brightened with illustrations. His portraits of the English dramatists are wrought with great spirit and diligence. The account of Shakspeare may stand as a perpetual mcdel cf encomiástick criticism; exact without minuteness, and lofty without exaggeration. The praise lavished by Longinus, on the attestation of the heroes of Marathon, by Demosthenes, fades away before it. In a few lines is exhibited a character, so extensive in its comprehension, and so curious in its limitations, that nothing can be added, diminished, or reformed; nor can the editors and admirers of Shakspeare, in all their emulation of reverence, boast of much more than of having diffused and paraphrased this epitome of excellence, of having changed Dryden's gold for baser metal, of lower value though of greater bulk.
In this, and in all his other essays on the same subject, the criticism of Dryden is the criticism of a poet; not a dull collection of theorem:, nor a rude detection of faults, which perhaps the censor was not able to have committed ; but a gay and vigorous dissertation, where delight is mingled with instruction, and where the author proves his right of judgment, by his power of performance.
The different manner and effect with which critical knowledge may be conveyed, was perhaps never more clearly exemplified than in the performances of Vol. I. D:d
Rymer and Dryden. It was said of a dispute between two mathematiciant "malim cum Scaligero errare, quam cum Clavio recte sapere;" that "it wa
more eligible to go wrong with one, than right with the other.” A tendenc of the same kind every mind must feel at the perusal of Dryden's prefaces am fymer's discourses. With Dryden we are wandering in quest of Truth; whom we find, if we find her at all, diest in the graces of elegance; and if we mis lier, the labour of the pursuit rewards itself; we are led only through fragrant and flowers. Rymer, without taking a nearer, takes a rougher way; ever step is to be made through thorns and brambles; and Truth, if we meet her appears i epulsive by her mien, and ungraceful by her habit. Dryden's cii ticism has the majesty of a queen; Rymer's has the ferocity of a tyrant
As he had studied with great diligence the art of poetry, and enlarged or ret tified his notions, by experience perpetually increasing, he had his mind store with principles and observations; he poured out his knowledge with little lo bour; for, of labour notwithstanding the multiplicity of his productions, they is sufficient reason to suspect that he was not a lover. To write con a more, vi fondness forthcomployment, with perpetual touches and retuches, with unwil lingness to take leave of his own idea, and an unwearied pursuit of unattainab perfection, was, I think, no part of his character.
IIis criticism may be considered as general or occasional. In his general pre cepts, wlich depend upon the nature of things, and the structure of the huma mind, he may dub:less be sately recommended to the confidence of the reader but his occasional and particular positions were sometimes interested, sometime ncgligent, and sometimes capricious. It is not without reason that Trap, speak ing of the praises which he bestows on Palemon and Arcite, says, “ Novimi s. judicium Drydeni de poemate quodam Chauceri, pulchro sane illo, & admg Si dum laudando, nimirum quod non modo vere epicum sit, sed Iliada etiam atqu “Eneada equet, imo superet. Sed novimus eodem tempore viri illius maxim
non semper accuratissimas esse censuras, nec ad severissimain critices nor
mam cxactas: illo judice id plerumque optimum est, quod nunc præ mani l« bus habet, & in quo nunc occupatur."
Jle is therefore by no means constant to himself. Ilis defence and desertio « Jramatick rhyme is generally known. Spence, in his remarks on Pope .Oyssey, produces what he thinks an unconquerable quotation frou Dryden's preface to the Æneid, in favour of translating an epick poem inte hlank verse; but he forgets that when his author atteinpted the Iliad, some year: afterwards, he departed from his own decision, and translated into rhyme.
When he has any objection to obviate, or any licence to defend, he is not very scrupulous about what he asserts, nor very cautious, if the present purpose be crived, not to entangle himself in his own sophistries. But when all arts are exbausted, like other hunted animals, he sometimes stands at bay; when he
cannot disown the grossness of one of his plays, he declares that he knows not aný law that prescribes morality to a comick poer.
His remarks on ancient or modern writers are not always to be trusted. His parallel of the versification of Ovid with that of Claudian has been very justly censured by Sewel*. His comparison of the first line of Virgil with the first of Statius is not happier. Virgil, he says, is soft and gentle, and would have thought Statius mad, if he had heard him thundering out
Quæ super imposito moles gerninata.colosso. Statius perhaps heats himself, as he proceeds, to exaggerations somewhat hyperbolical; but undoub:euly Virgil would have been too hasty, if lie had condemned him to straw for one sounding line. Dryden wanted an instance, and the first that occurred was imprest into the service.
What he wishes to say, he says at hazard; he cited Gorbuduc, which be had never seen ; gives a false account of Chapman's versification, and discovers, in the preface to his Fables, that he translated the first book of the Iliad, without knowing what was in the second.
It will be difficult to prove that Dryden ever made any great advances in literature. As having distinguished himself at Westminster under the tuition of Busby, who advanced hisscholarstoa heightofknowledge very rarely attainedin grammar-schools, he resided afterwards at Cambridge, it is not to be supposed, that his skill in the ancient languages was deficient, compared with that of common students, but his scholastick acquisitions seem not proportionate to his opportunities and abilities. He could not, like Milton or Cowley, have made his name illustrious merely by his learning. He mentions but few books, and those such as lie in the beaten track of regular study; from which if ever he departs, he is in danger of losing himself in unknown regions,
In his dialogue on the Drama, he pronounces with great confidence that the Latin tragedy of Medea is not Ovids, because it is not sufficiently interesting and pathetick. le might have determined the question upon surer evidence; for it is quoted by Quintilian as the work of Seneca ; and the only line which remains of Ovid's play, for one line is left us, is not there to be found. There was therefore no need of the gravity of conjecture, or the discussion of plot or sentiment, to find what was already known upon liigher authority thian such discussions can ever reach.
His literature, though not always free from ostentation, will be commonly found either obvious, and made his own by the art of dressing ir; or superficial, which, by what he gives, shews what he wanted : or erroneous, hastily collected, and negligently scattered.
Yet it cannot be said that his genius is ever unprovided of matter, or that his fancy languishes in penury of ideas. His works abound with knowledge,
and * Prefice to Ovid's Metamorphoses. Dr. J.