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To try new fhrouds one mounts into the wind,
And one below, thcir ease or stiffness notes. I suppose here is not one term which every reader does not wish aways
His digression to the original and progress of navigation, with his prospect of the advancement which it Thall receive from the Royal Society, then newly inftituted, may be considered as an exaniple seldom equalled of seasonable excursion and artful return.
One line, however, leaves me discontented; he says, that by the help of the philosophers,
Instructed ships shall fail to quick commerce,
By which remotest regions are allied. Which he is constrained to explain in a note, By a more exact measure of longitude. It had better become Dryden's learning and genius to have laboured science into poetry, and have shewn, by explaining longitude, that verse did not refuse the ideas of philosophy.
His description of the Fire is painted by resolute meditation, out of a mind better formed to reason than to feel. The conflagration of a city, with all its tumults of concomitant distress, is one of the most dreadful spectacles which this world can offer to human eyes ; yet it seems to raise little emotion in the breast of the poet; he watches the flame coolly from street to street, with now a reflection, and now a fimile, till at last he meets the king, for whom he makes a speech, rather tedious in a time so busy; and then follows again the progress of the fire.
There are, however, in this part some passages that deferre attention; as in the beginning:
The diligence of trades and noiseful gain
All was the night's, and in her filent reigni
No found the rest of Nature did invade
The expression All was the night's is taken from Seheca, who remarks on Virgil's line,
Omnia noftis erant placida composta quietė, that he might have concluded better,
Omnia nofiis erant.
With bold fanatick spectres to rejoice ;
And sing their sabbath notes with feeble voice. His prediction of the improvements which shall be made in the new city, is elegant and poetical, and, with an event which Poets cannot always boast, has been happily verified. The poem concludes with a fimile that might have better been omitted.
Dryden, when he wrote this poem, seems not yet fully to have formed his versification, or settled his system of propriety.
From this time, he addicted himself almost wholly to the stage, to which, says he, my genius never much inclined me, merely as the most proficable market for poetry. By writing tragedies in rhyme, he continued to improve his diction and his numbers. According to the opinion of Harte, who had studied his works with great attention, he settled his principles of versification in 1676, when he produced the play of Aureng Zeb; and according to liis own account of the Thort time in which he wrote Tyrannick Love, and the State of Innocence, he soon obtained the full effect of diligence, and added facility to exactness. VOL. II. Dd
Rhyme has been so long banished from the theatre, that we know not its effect upon the passions of an audience; but it has this convenience, that sentences stand more independent on each other, and striking passages are therefore easily selected and retained. Thus the description of Night in the Indian Emperor, and the rise and fall of empire in the Conquest of Granada, are more frequently repeated than any lines in All for Love, or Don Sebastian.
To search his plays for vigorous fallies, and fententious elegances, or to fix the dates of any little pieces which he wrote by chance, or by solicitation, were labour too tedious and minute.
His dramatic labours did not fo wholly abforb his thoughts, but that he promulgated the laws of translątion in a preface to the English Epistles of Ovid; one of which he translated himself, and another in conjunction with the Earl of Mulgrave.
Absalom and Achitophel is a work so well known, that particular criticisın is superfluous. If it be confidered as a poem politicał and controversial, it will be found to comprise all the excellences of which the fub. ject is susceptible ; acrimony of censure, elegance of praise, artful delineation of characters, variety and vigoar of sentiment, happy turns of language, and pleasing harmony of numbers; and all these raised to such a height as can scarcely be found in
other English composition.
It is not, however, without faults ; some lines are inelegant or improper, and too many are irreligiously licentious. The original structure of the poem was defective; allegories drawn to great length will always break; Charles could not run continually parallel with David.
In the second part, written by Tate, there is a long
The subject had likewise another inconvenience : it admitted little imagery or description, and a long poem of mère sentiments easily becomes tedious; though all the parts are forcible, and every line kindles new rapture, the reader, if not relieved by the interposition of something that sooths the fancy, grows weary of adiniration, and defers the rest.
As an approach to historical truth was necessary, the action and catastrophe were not in the poet's power ; there is therefore an unpleasing disproportion between the beginning and the end. We are alarmed by a factipn formed out of many sečts various in their principles, but agreeing in their purpose of mischief, formidable for their numbers, and strong by their supports, while the king's friends are few and weak. The chiefs on either part are set forth to view; but when expectation is at the height, the king makes a speech, and
Henceforth a series of new times began. Who can forbear to think of an enchanted castle, with a wide moat and lofty battlements, walls of marble and gates of brass, which vanishes at once into air, when the destined knight blows his horn before it?
insertion, which, for poignancy of satire, exceeds any part of the former. Personal resentment, though no laudable motive to satire, can add great force to genetal principles. Self-love is a busy prompter.
The Medal, written upon the fame principles with Absulom and Achitophel, but upon a narrower plan, gives less pleasure, though it discovers equal abilities in the writer. The superstructure cannot extend beyond the foundation; a single character or incident cannot furD 2
nifh as many ideas, as a series of events, or multiplicity of agents. This poem therefore, since time has left it to itself, is not much read, nor perhaps generally understood; yet it abounds with touches both of humorous and serious fatire. The picture of a man whose propensions to mischief are such, that his best actions are but inability of wickedness, is very skillfully delineated and strongly coloured :
Power was his aim: but tbrown from that pretence,
The Thrcnodia, which, by a term I am afraid nei. ther authorized nor analogical, he calls Auguftalis, is not among his happicst productions. Its first and obvious defect is the irregularity of its metre, to which the ears of that age, however, were accustomed. What is worse, it has neither tenderness nor dignity, it is neither magnificent nor pathetick. He seems to look round him for images which he cannot find, and what he has he distorts by endeavouring to enlarge them. He is, he says, petrified with grief; but the marble sometimes relents, and trickles in a joke.