ページの画像
PDF
ePub

larity of plot, and complication of incident. But the preliminary and more important part of the verses regards Jeremy Collier's violent attack upon the dramatic authors of the age for immorality and indecency. To this charge, our author, on this as on other occasions, seems to plead guilty, while he deprecates the virulence, and sometimes unfair severity of his adversary. The reader may compare the poetical defence here set up with that in the prose dedication to the “ Fables," and he will find in both the same grumbling, though subdued, acquiescence under the chastisement of the moralist; the poet much resembling an overmatched general, who is unwilling to surrender, though conscious of his inability to make an effectual resistance. See also Vol. VIII.

p. 462.

EPISTLE THE FOURTEENTH.

'Tis hard, my friend, to write in such an age,
As damns not only poets, but the stage.
That sacred art, by heaven itself infused,
Which Moses, David, Solomon, have used,
Is now to be no more: the Muses' foes
Would sink their Maker's praises into prose. .
Were they content to prune the lavish vine
Of straggling branches, and improve the wine,
Who, but a madman, would his thoughts defend ?
All would submit, for all but fools will mend.
But when to common sense they give the lie,
And turn distorted words to blasphemy,
They give the scandal; and the wise discern,
Their glosses teach an age, too apt to learn.
What I have loosely, or prophanely, writ,
Let them to fires, their due desert, commit:
Nor, when accused by me, let them complain ;
Their faults, and not their function, I arraign.*
Rebellion, worse than witchcraft, they pursued ;
The pulpit preach'd the crime, the people rued.
The stage was silenced; for the saints would see
In fields perform’d their plotted tragedy.

* The poet here endeavours to vindicate himselffrom thecharge of having often, and designedly, ridiculed the clerical function.

}

But let us first reform, and then so live,
That we may teach our teachers to forgive ;
Our desk be placed below their lofty chairs,
Ours be the practice, as the precept theirs.
The inoral part at least we may divide,
Humility reward, and punish pride ;
Ambition, interest, avarice, accuse ;
These are the province of a tragic muse.
These hast thou chosen ; and the public voice
Has equall'd thy performance with thy choice.
Time, action, place, are so preserved by thee,
That e’en Corneille might with envy see
The alliance of his tripled unity.
Thy incidents, perhaps, too thick are sown,
But too much plenty is thy fault alone.
At least but two can that good crime commit,
Thou in design, and Wycherly in wit.
Let thy own Gauls condemn thee, if they dare,
Contented to be thinly regular :
Born there, but not for them, our fruitful soil
With more increase rewards thy happy toil.
Their tongue, enfeebled, is refined too much,
And, like pure gold, it bends at every touch.
Our sturdy Teuton yet will art obey,
More fit for manly thought, and strengthen'd with

allay.
But whence art thou inspired, and thou alone,
To flourish in an idiom not thy own?
It moves our wonder, that a foreign guest
Should overmatch the most, and match the best.
In under-praising thy deserts, I wrong ;
Here find the first deficience of our tongue :
Words, once my stock, are wanting, to commend
So great a poet, and so good a friend.

9

EPISTLE THE FIFTEENTH.

TO MY HONOURED KINSMAN

JOHN DRIDEN,

OF

CHESTERTON, IN THE COUNTY OF

HUNTINGDON, ESQ.

The person to whom this epistle is addressed was Dryden's first cousin ; being the second son of Sir John Driden, elder brother of the poet's father, Erasmus. He derived from his maternal grandfather, Sir Robert Bevile, the valuable estate of Chesterton, near Stilton, where latterly our author frequently visited him, and where it is said he wrote the first four verses of his Virgil with a diamond on a glass pane. The mansion-house is at this time (spring, 1807,)

about to be pulled down, and the materials sold. The life of Mr John Driden, for he retained the ancient spelling of the name, seems to have been that of an opulent and respectable country gentleman, more happy, perhaps, in the quiet enjoyment of a large landed property, than his cousin in possession of his brilliant poetical genius. He represented the county of Huntingdon in parliament, in 1690, and from 1700 till his death in 1707-8.

The panegyric of our author is an instance, among a thousand, how genius can gild what it touches ; for the praise of this lofty rhyme, when minutely examined, details the qualities of that very ordinary, though very useful and respectable, character, a wealthy and sensible country squire. “Just, good, and wise," contending neighbours referred their disputes to his decision ; in humble prose, he was an active justice of peace. That he was hospitable, and kept a good pack of hounds, was a fox-hunter while young,

pen, shine

and now followed beagles or harriers, that he represented his county, and voted against ministry, sums up his excellencies ; for I will not follow my author, by numbering among them his living and dying a bachelor.* Yet these annals, however simple and vulgar, illuminated by the touch of our author's like the clouds under the influence of a setting sun. The greatest illustration of our author's genius is, that the praise, though unusually applied, is appropriate, and hardly exaggerated; we lay down the book, and recollect to how little this laboured character amounts; and when we resume it, are again hurried away by the magic of the poet. But in this epistle, besides the compliment to his cousin, Dryden had a further intention in view, which was, to illustrate the character of a good English member of Parliament, whom, in conformity with his own prejudice, he represents as inclining to oppose the ministry. It was coincidence in this sentiment which had done much to reconcile Dryden and his cousin ; and thus politics reunited relations, whom political disputes had long parted. At this time we learn from one of our author's letters, that Mr Driden of Chesterton, although upon different principles, was in as warm opposition as his cousin could have wished him.t Our poet, however, who had felt the hand of power, did not venture on this portrait without such an explanation to Charles Montague, afterwards Lord Halifax, as he thought sufficient to avert any risk of misconstruction. I

p. 324.

There is a report admitted into the “ Baronetage,” that this gentleman and his three brothers took upon them a vow to die unmarried ; and it must be own. ed, that the praises, of our author, on the score of celibacy, argue his cousin to have been a most obstinate and obdurate old bachelor. But Mr Malone produces the evidence of an old lady descended of the family, in disproof of this ungallant anecdote.-See Baronetage, Vol. II. p. 92. MALONE's Life of Dryder,

† “ 'Tis thought the king will endeavour to keep up a standing army, and make the stir in Scotland his pretence for it: My cousin Driden, and the coun. try party, will I suppose, be against it ; for when a spirit is raised, 'tis hard con. juring him down again.”

** In the description which I have made of a Parliament-man, I think I have not only drawn the features of my worthy kinsman, but have also given my own opinion of what an Englishman in Parliament ought to be: and deliver it as a memorial of my own principles to all posterity. I have consulted the judgment of my unbiassed friends, who have some of them the honour to be known to you ; and they think there is nothing which can justly give offence in that part of the poem. I say not this, to cast a blind on your judgment, (which I could not do if I endeavoured it,) but to aseure you, that nothing relating to the public shall stand without your permission ; for it were to want common sense to desire your patronage, and resolve to disoblige you : And as I will not hazard my hopes of your protection, by refusing to obey you in any thing which I can perform with my conscience, or my honour, so I am very confident you will never impose any other terms on me." Letter to the Honourable Charles Montague,

« 前へ次へ »