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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 poer 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 com“ pleted the sheet which I promised him; and if you “ leave me unprotected, I must suffer all the rudeness “ to which his resentment can prompt his tongue.”
What rewards he obtained for his poems, besides the payment of the bookseller, cannot be known : Mr. Derrick, who consulted some of his relations, was informed that his Fables obtained five hundred pounds from 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 Feaft.
In those days the æconomy of government was yet unsettled, and the payments of the Exchequer were dilatory and uncertain : of this disorder there is reason 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 languh in penury.
Of his petty habits or flight amusements, tradition has retained little. Of the only two men whom I have found to whoin 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 me.
One of his opinions will do hiin 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 hinself. He put great confidence in the prognostications of judicial 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 horoscope in his mind, and considered them as influencing the affairs of men, he does not forbear to hint.
The utmost malice of the stars is paft.-
Will gloriously the new-laid works fucceed. 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 narrative, leaves no doubt of his notions or practice,
So flight and so scanty is the knowledge which I have been able to collect concerning the private life and domestick manners of a man, whom every English generation 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 rules, 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 teach them.
Two Aris of English Poctry 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 Elvy 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 instruction; but he is to remember that critical principles were then in the hands of a few, who had gathered them partly from the Ancients, and partly from the Italians and French. The structure of dramatick poems was not then 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 an opinion which is no longer doubted, the evidence ceases to be examined.
art universally practised, the first teacher is forgotten. Learning once made popular is no longer learning; it has the appearance of something which we have beftowed upon ourselves, as the dew appears to rise from the field which it refrethes.
To judge rightly of an author, we must transport ourselves to his time, and examine what were the wants of his contemporaries, and what were his means of supplying them. That which is easy at one time was difficult at another. Dryden at least imported his science,
what it wanted before; or rather, he imported only the materials, and manufactured them by his own skill.
The dialogue on the Drama was one of his first essays of criticism, written when he was yet a timorous candidate for reputation, and therefore laboured with that diligence which he might allow himself somewhạt to remit, when his name gave fanction 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 fo artfully variegated with successive representations of opposite probabilities, fo enlivened with imagery, fo 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 model of encomiaftick criticism ; exact with; out 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, fo ex, tensive in its comprehension, and so curicus in its limitations, that nothing can be added, diminished, or
reformed; nor can the editors and adınirers 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 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 theorems, nor a rụde detection of faults, which perhaps the censor was not able to have committed; but a gay and vigorous differtation, where delight is mingled with instruction, and where the author proves his right of judgement, 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 Rymer and Dryden. It was said of a dispute between two mathematicians, “ malim cum Scaligero errare, quam
cum Clavio recte fapere;” that it was more eligible to go wrong with one than right with the other. A tendency of the same kind every mind must feel at the perusal of Dryden's prefaces and Rymer's discourses. With Dryden, we are wandering in quest of Truth; whom we find, if we find her at all, drest in the graces of elegance; and if we miss her, the labour of the pursuit rewards itself; we are led only through fragrance and flowers: Rymer, without taking a nearer, takes a rougher way; every step is to be made through thorns and brambles; and Truth, if we meet her, appears repulsive by her mien, and ungraceful by her habit. Dryden's criticism has the majesty of a queen; Rymer's has the ferocity of a tyrant.