racter of Charles, and a pleasing account of his latter life. When this was first brought upon the stage, news that the duke of Monmouth had landed was told in the theatre, upon which the company departed, and Arthur was exhibited no more.

His last drama was Love triumpbant, a tragi-comedy. In his dedication to the earl of Salisbury he mentions the lowness of fortune to which he has voluntarily reduced himself, and of which he has no reason to be akamed.

This play appeared in 1694. It is said to have been unsuccessful. The catastrophe, proceeding merely from a change of mind, is confessed by the author to be defective. Thus he began and ended his dramatick labours with ill success.

From such a number of theatrical pieces it will be supposed, by most readers, that he must have improved his fortune; at least, that such diligence with such abilities must have set penury at defiance. But in Dryden's time the drama was very far from that universal approbation which it has now obtained. The playhouse was abhorred by the Puritans, and avoided by those who desired the character of seriousness or decency. A grave lawyer would have debased his dignity, and a young trader would have impaired his credit, by appearing in those mansions of diffolute licentiousness. The profits of the theatre, when so many classes of the people were deducted from the audience, were not great; and the poet had for a long time but a single night. The first that had two nights was Southern; and the first that had three was Rowe. There were however, in those days, arts of improving a poet's profit, which Dryden forbore to practise; and a play therefore seldom produced him more than a hundred


[ocr errors]

pounds, by the accumulated gain of the third night, the dedication, and the copy.

Almost every piece had a dedication, written with such elegance and luxuriance of praise, as neither haughtiness nor avarice could be imagined able to resist. But he seems to have made flattery too cheap. That praise is worth nothing of which the price is known.

To increase the value of his copies, he often accompanied his work with a preface of criticism; a kind of learning then almost new in the English language, and which he, who had considered with great accuracy the principles of writing, was able to distribute copiously as occasions arose. By these dissertations the publick judgment must have been much improved ; and Swift, who conversed with Dryden, relates that he regretted the success of his own instructions, and found his readers made suddenly too skilful to be easily satisfied.

His prologues had such reputation, that for some time a play was considered as less likely to be well received, if some of his verses did not introduce it. The price of a prologue was two guineas, till being asked to write one for Mr. Southern, he demanded three; Not, said he, young man, out of disrespect to you, but the players have had my goods too cheap.

Though he declares, that in his own opinion his genius was not dramatick, he had great confidence in his own fertility; for he is said to have engaged, by contract, to furnish four plays a year.

It is certain that in one year, 1678, he published All for Love, Afgnation, two parts of the Conquest of Granada, Sir Martin Marr-all, and the State of Innocence, fix complete plays; with a celerity of performance, which, though all Langbaine's charges of plagiarism


2 3

should be allowed, shews such facility of compofition, such readiness of language, and such copiousness of sentiment, as, since the time of Lopez de Vega, pere haps no other author has ever poffeffed.

He did not enjoy his reputation, however great, nor his profits, however sınall, without molestation, He had criticks to endure, and rivals to oppose. The two most distinguished wits of the nobility, the duke of Buckingham and earl of Rochester, declared themselves his enemies.

Buckingham characterised him in 1671, by the name of Bayes in the Rehearsal; a farce which he is said tą have written with the affiftance of Butler the author of Hudibras, Martin Clifford of the Charterhouse, and Dr. Sprat, the friend of Cowley, then his chaplain.. Dryden and his friends laughed at the length of time, and the number of hands employed upon this performance; in which, though by some artifice of action it yet keeps possession of the stage, it is not possible now to find any thing that might not have been written without so long delay, or a confederacy so numerous.

To adjust the minute events of literary history, is tedious and troublesome ; it requires indeed no great force of understanding, but often depends upon enquiries which there is no opportunity of making, or is to be fetched from books and pamphlets not always at hand.

The Rehearsal was played in 1671, and yet is represented as ridiculing passages in the Conquest of Granada and Asignation, which were not published till 1678, in Marriage Alamode published in 1673, and in Tyrannick Love of 1677. These contradictions fhewhow rafhly satire is applied.

[ocr errors]

It is said that this farce was originally intended against Davenant, who in the first draught was characterised by the name of Bilboa. Davenant had been a soldier and an adventurer.

There is one passage in the Rehearsal still remaining, which seems to have related originally to Davenant. Bayes hurts his nose, and comes in with brown paper applied to the bruise; how this affected Dryden, does not appear. Davenant's nose had suffered such diminution by misliaps among the women, that a patch upon that part evidently denoted him.

It is said likewise that Sir Robert Howard was once meant. The design was probably to ridicule the reigning poet, whoever he might be.

Much of the personal satire, to which it might owe its first reception, is now lost or obscured. Bayes probably imitated the dress, and mimicked the manner, of Dryden ; the cant words which are fo often in his mouth may be supposed to have been Dryden's habitual phrases, or customary exclamations. Bayes, when he is to write, is blooded and purged : this, as Lamotte relates himself to have heard, was the real practice of the poet.

There were other strokes in the Rehearsal by which malice was gratified; the debate between Love and Honour, which keeps prince Volscius in a single boot, is said to have alluded to the misconduct of the duke of Ormond, who lost Dublin to the rebels while he was toying with a mistress.

The earl of Rochester, to suppress the reputation of Dryden, took Settle into his protection, and endeayoured to persuade the publick that its approbation had been to that time misplaced. Settle was a while in Z 4


high reputation; his Empress of Morocco, having first delighted the town, was carried in triumph to Whitehall, and played by the ladies of the court, Now was the poetical meteor at the highest; the next moment began its fall. Rochester withdrew his patronage ; seeming resolved, says one of his biographers, to have a judgement contrary to tbat of the town. Perhaps being unable to endure any reputation beyond a certain height, even when he had himself contributed to raise it.

Neither criticks nor rivals did Dryden much mischief, unless they gained from his own temper the power of vexing him, which his frequent bursts of resentment give reason to suspect. He is always angry at some past, or afraid of fome future censure ; but he leffens the smart of his wounds by the balm of his own approbation, and endeavours to repel the shafts of criticism by opposing a shield of adamantine confidence.

The perpetual accusation produced against him, was that of plagiarism, against which he never attempted any vigorous defence; for, though he was perhaps sometimes injuriously censured, he would by denying part of the charge have confessed the reft; and as his adversaries had the proof in their own hands, he, who knew that wit had little power against facts, wisely left, in that perplexity which generality produces, a question which it was his interest to suppress, and which, unless provoked by vindication, few were likely to examine.

Though the life of a writer, from about thirty-five to fixty-three, may be supposed to have been sufficiently bufied by the composition of eight and twenty pieces

[ocr errors]
« 前へ次へ »