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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
John Dryden (1631–1700)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Thomas Raynesford Lounsbury (1838–1915)
 
JOHN DRYDEN, the foremost man of letters of the period following the Restoration, was born at Aldwinkle, a village of Northamptonshire, on August 9th, 1631. He died May 1st, 1700. His life was therefore coeval with the closing period of the fierce controversies which culminated in the civil war and the triumph of the Parliamentary party; that, in turn, to be followed successively by the iron rule of Cromwell, by the restoration of the exiled Stuarts, and the reactionary tendencies in politics that accompanied that event; and finally with the effectual exclusion from the throne of this same family by the revolution of 1688, leaving behind, however, to their successors a smoldering Jacobite hostility that perpetually plotted the overthrow of the new government and later broke out twice into open revolt. All these changes of fortune, with their changes of opinion, are faithfully reflected in the productions of Dryden. To understand him thoroughly requires therefore an intimate familiarity with the civil and religious movements which characterize the whole period. Equally also do his writings, both creative and critical, represent the revolution of literary taste that took place in the latter half of the seventeenth century. It was while he was in the midst of his intellectual activity that French canons of criticism became largely the accepted rules, by which the value of English productions was tested. This was especially true of the drama. The study of Dryden is accordingly a study of the political and literary history of his times to an extent that is correspondingly true of no other English author before or since.  1
  His family, both on the father’s and the mother’s side, was in full sympathy with the party opposed to the court. The son was educated at Westminster, then under the mastership of Richard Busby, whose relentless use of the rod has made his name famous in that long line of flagellants who have been at the head of the great English public schools. From Westminster he went to Trinity College, Cambridge. There he received the degree of A. B. in January 1654. Later in that same decade—the precise date is not known—he took up his residence in London; and in London the rest of his life was almost entirely spent.  2
  Dryden’s first published literary effort appeared in a little volume made up of thirty-three elegies, by various authors, on the death of a youth of great promise who had been educated at Westminster. This was Lord Hastings, the eldest son of the Earl of Huntingdon. He had died of the small-pox. Dryden’s contribution was written in 1649, and consisted of but little over a hundred lines. No one expects great verse from a boy of eighteen; but the most extravagant anticipations of sorry performance will fail to come up to the reality of the wretchedness which was here attained. It was in words like these that the future laureate bewailed the death of the young nobleman and depicted the disease of which he died:—
  Was there no milder way but the small-pox,
        The very filthiness of Pandora’s box?
        So many spots, like næves, our Venus soil?
        One jewel set off with so many a foil?
Blisters with pride swelled, which through his flesh did sprout
        Like rosebuds, stuck in the lily-skin about.
        Each little pimple had a tear in it,
        To wail the fault its rising did commit;
        Which, rebel-like, with its own lord at strife,
        Thus made an insurrection ’gainst his life.
        Or were these gems sent to adorn his skin,
        The cabinet of a richer soul within?
        No comet need foretell his change drew on,
        Whose corps might seem a constellation.”
  3
  Criticism cannot be rendered sufficiently vituperative to characterize properly such a passage. It is fuller of conceits than ever Cowley crowded into the same space; and lines more crabbed and inharmonious Donne never succeeded in perpetrating. Its production upsets all principles of prophecy. The wretchedest of poetasters can take courage, when he contemplates the profundity of the depth out of which uprose the greatest poet of his time.  4
  Dryden is, in fact, an example of that somewhat rare class of writers who steadily improve with advancing years. Most poets write their best verse before middle life. Many of them after that time go through a period of decline, and sometimes of rapid decline; and if they live to reach old age, they add to the quantity of their production without sensibly increasing its value. This general truth is conspicuously untrue of Dryden. His first work gave no promise of his future excellence, and it was by very slow degrees that he attained to the mastery of his art. But the older he grew, the better he wrote; and the volume published a few months before his death, and largely composed almost under its shadow, so far from showing the slightest sign of failing power, contains a great deal of the best poetry he ever produced.  5
  As Dryden’s relatives were Puritans, and some of them held place under the government, it was natural that upon coming to London he should attach himself to that party. Accordingly it is no surprise to find him duly mourning the death of the great Protector in certain ‘Heroic Stanzas Consecrated to the Memory of Oliver Cromwell.’ The first edition bears the date of 1659, and so far as we know, the production was Dryden’s second venture in poetry. It was written in the measure of Davenant’s ‘Gondibert,’ and is by no means a poor piece of work, though it has been sometimes so styled. It certainly pays not simply a high but a discerning tribute to the genius of Cromwell. Before two years had gone by, we find its author greeting the return of Charles with effusive loyalty, and with predictions of prosperity and honor to attend his reign, which events were soon woefully to belie. The poet has been severely censured for this change of attitude. It is a censure which might be bestowed with as much propriety upon the whole population of England. The joyful expectations to which he gave utterance were almost universal; and no other charge can well be brought against him than that he had the ability and took the occasion to express sentiments which were felt by nearly the entire nation.  6
  From this time on, Dryden appears more and more in the public eye, and slowly but steadily forged his way to the front as the representative man of letters of his time. In 1670 he was appointed to the two distinct offices of poet laureate and historiographer royal. Thenceforward his relations with the court became close, and so they did not cease to be until the expulsion of James II. In 1683 he received a further mark of royal favor, in being made collector of customs of the port of London. In the political controversies which subsequently arose, Dryden’s writings faithfully represented the sentiments of the side he had chosen, and expressed their prejudices and aversions not merely with force but also with virulence. His first literary activity, however, was on neutral ground. After eighteen years of compulsory closing, the Restoration opened wide once more the doors of the theatre. Dryden, like every one else possessed of literary ability, began to write for the stage. His first play, a comedy entitled ‘The Wild Gallant,’ was brought out in February 1663; and for the eighteen years following, it was compositions of such nature that occupied the main portion of his literary life. During that time he produced wholly or in part twenty-two comedies and tragedies. His pieces must from the outset have met with a fair degree of success, otherwise the King’s Company would not have entered into a contract with him, as it did in 1667, to furnish for them each year a fixed number of plays, in consideration of his receiving a certain share of the profits of the theatre.  7
  Yet it cannot be said that Dryden was in any respect a dramatist of a high order. As a writer of comedy he was not only inferior to contemporaries and immediate successors like Wycherley, Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Farquhar, but in certain ways he was surpassed by Shadwell, the very man whom he himself has consigned to a disagreeable immortality as the hero of the ‘MacFlecknoe.’ His comedies are not merely full of obscenity,—which seems to have been a necessary ingredient to suit them to the taste of the age,—but they are full of a peculiarly disagreeable obscenity. One of his worst offenses in this direction, and altogether his most impudent one, was his adaptation for the stage of Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest.’ The two plays are worth reading together for the sake of seeing how easily a pure and perfect creation of genius can be vulgarized in language and spirit almost beyond the possibility of recognition. In his tragedies, however, Dryden was much more successful. Yet even these, in spite of the excellence of occasional passages, do not attain to a high rank. Indeed, thought and expression are at times extravagant, not to say stilted, to an extent which afterward led him himself to make them the subject of ridicule. It was in them, however, during these years that he perfected by degrees his mastery of heroic verse, of which later he was to display the capabilities in a way that had never previously been seen and has never since been surpassed.  8
  A controversy in regard to the proper method of composing plays brought forward Dryden, at an early period in his literary career, as a writer of prose. In this he at once attained unusual eminence. In him appear for the first time united the two characters of poet and of critic. Ben Jonson had in a measure preceded him in this respect; but Jonson’s criticism was not so much devoted to the examination of general principles as to the exposure of the hopeless, helpless obtuseness of the men who had a different opinion of his works from what he himself entertained. The questions discussed by Dryden were of a more general nature. With the Stuarts had come in French literary tastes and French literary methods. The age was supposed to be too refined to be pleased with what had satisfied the coarse palates of preceding generations. In stage-writing in particular, the doctrine of the unities, almost uniformly violated by Shakespeare and most of the Elizabethans, was now held up as the only correct method of composition that could be employed by any writer who sought to conform to the true principles of art. Along with this came the substitution in the drama of rhyme for blank verse. Upon the comparative merits of these two as employed in tragedy, arose the first controversy in which Dryden was engaged. This one was with his brother-in-law, Sir Robert Howard; for in 1663 Dryden had become the husband of the daughter of the Earl of Berkshire, thus marrying, as Pope expressed it, “misery in a noble wife.” Dryden was an advocate of rhyme; and the controversy on this point began with the publication in 1668 of his ‘Essay of Dramatic Poesy.’ It was afterward carried on by both parties, in prefaces to the plays they successively published. The prefaces to these productions regularly became later the place where Dryden laid down his critical doctrines on all points that engaged his attention; and whether we agree with his views or not, we are always sure to be charmed with the manner in which they are expressed.  9
  In 1667 Dryden published a long poem entitled ‘Annus Mirabilis.’ It was in the same measure as the stanzas on Oliver Cromwell. It gave him a good deal of reputation at the time; but though it is far from being a despicable performance, few there are now who read it and still fewer who re-read it. Far different has been the fate of his next work. It was not until 1681, when England was beginning to emerge slowly from the excitement and agitation growing out of the alleged Popish plot, that he brought out his ‘Absalom and Achitophel,’ without question the greatest combined poetical and political satire to be found in our tongue. Here it was that for the first time he fully displayed his mastery over heroic verse. The notion once so widely prevalent—for the vogue of which, indeed, Dryden himself is mainly responsible—that Waller and Denham brought this verse to perfection, it now requires both extensive and special ignorance of our earlier authors to entertain; but on the other hand, there is no question that he himself imparted to the line a variety, vigor, and sustained majesty of movement such as the verse in its modern form had never previously received. There is therefore a fairly full measure of truth in the lines in which he was characterized by Pope:—
  “Waller was smooth; but Dryden taught to join
The varying verse, the full resounding line,
The long majestic march and energy divine.”
These lines of Pope, it may be added, exemplify purposely two peculiarities of Dryden’s versification,—the occasional use of the triplet instead of the regular couplet, and of the Alexandrine, or line of six feet, in place of the usual line of five.
  10
  The poem is largely an attack upon the Earl of Shaftesbury, who in it bears the title of Achitophel. The portrayal of this statesman, which is given in this volume, is ample evidence of that skill of the poet in characterization which has made the pictures he drew immortal. Perhaps even more effective was the description of the Duke of Buckingham, under the designation of Zimri. For attacking that nobleman Dryden had both political and personal reasons. Buckingham had now joined the opponents of the court. Ten years previously the poet himself had been brought by him on the stage, with the aid of others, in the play called “The Rehearsal.” His usual actions had been mimicked, his usual expressions had been put into the mouth of the character created to represent him, who was styled Bayes. This title had been given him because Dryden figuratively wore the bays, or laurel, as poet laureate. The name henceforward stuck. Dryden’s turn had now come; and it was in these following lines that he drew the unfaded and fadeless picture of this nobleman, whose reputation even then was notorious rather than famous, and whose intellect was motley-minded rather than versatile:—
  Some of their chiefs were princes of the land;
In the front rank of these did Zimri stand,
A man so various that he seemed to be
Not one, but all mankind’s epitome:
Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong,
Was everything by starts and nothing long,
But in the course of one revolving moon
Was chymist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon;
Then all for women, painting, rhyming, drinking,
Besides ten thousand freaks that died in thinking.
Blest madman, who could every hour employ
With something new to wish or to enjoy!
Railing and praising were his usual themes,
And both, to show his judgment, in extremes:
So over-violent or over-civil
That every man with him was God or Devil.
In squandering wealth was his peculiar art:
Nothing went unrewarded but desert.
Beggared by fools whom still he found too late,
He had his jest, and they had his estate.”
  11
  As an example of the loftier and more majestic style occasionally found in this poem, is the powerful appeal of Achitophel to Absalom. The latter, it is to be said, stands for the Duke of Monmouth, the eldest of the illegitimate sons of Charles II. Him many of the so-called country party, now beginning to be styled Whigs, were endeavoring to have recognized as the next successor to the throne, in place of the Roman Catholic brother of the king, James, Duke of York. As a favorite son of the monarch, he, though then in opposition, is treated tenderly by Dryden throughout; and this feeling is plainly visible in the opening of the address to him put into the mouth of Achitophel, in these words:—
  “Auspicious prince, at whose nativity
Some royal planet ruled the southern sky,
Thy longing country’s darling and desire,
Their cloudy pillar and their guardian fire,
Their second Moses, whose extended wand
Divides the seas and shows the promised land,
Whose dawning day in every distant age
Has exercised the sacred prophet’s rage,
The people’s prayer, the glad diviner’s theme,
The young men’s vision and the old men’s dream,—
Thee savior, thee the nation’s vows confess,
And never satisfied with seeing, bless.”
  12
  Dryden followed up the attack upon Shaftesbury with a poem entitled ‘The Medal.’ This satire, which appeared in March 1682, was called forth by the action of the partisans of the Whig leader in having a medal struck commemorating his release from the Tower, after the grand jury had thrown out the charge of treason which had been brought against him. Both of these pieces were followed by a host of replies. Some of them did not refrain from personal attack, which indeed had a certain justification in the poet’s own violence of denunciation. The most abusive of these was a poem by Thomas Shadwell, entitled ‘The Medal of John Bayes.’ Such persons as fancy Dryden’s subsequent punishment of that dramatist unwarranted in its severity should in justice read this ferociously scurrilous diatribe, in which every charge against the poet that malice or envy had concocted and rumor had set afloat, was here industriously raked together; and to the muck-heap thus collected, the intimacy of previous acquaintance was doubtless enabled to contribute its due quota of malignant assertion and more malignant insinuation. Shadwell was soon supplied, however, with ample reason to regret his action. Dryden’s first and best-known rejoinder is ‘MacFlecknoe, or a Satire on the True Blue Protestant Poet T. S.’ This production has always had the reputation in literature of being the severest personal satire in the language; but it requires now for its appreciation an intimate acquaintance with Shadwell’s plays, which very few possess. It is further disfigured in places by a coarseness from which, indeed, none of the poet’s writings were certain to be free. Its general spirit can be indicated by a brief extract from its opening paragraph. Flecknoe, it is to be said, was a feeble poet who had died a few years before. He is here represented as having long reigned over the kingdom of dullness, but knowing that his end was close at hand, determines to settle the succession to the State. Accordingly he fixes upon his son Shadwell as the one best fitted to take his place in ruling over the realm of nonsense, and in continuing the war with wit and sense. The announcement of his intention he begins in the following words:—
    “—’Tis resolved, for Nature pleads that he
Should only rule who most resembles me.
Shadwell alone my perfect image bears,
Mature in dullness from his tender years;
Shadwell alone of all my sons is he
Who stands confirmed in full stupidity.
The rest to some faint meaning make pretense,
But Shadwell never deviates into sense.”
  13
  Far more bitter, however, was the renewed attack which a month later Dryden inserted in the two hundred lines he contributed to the continuation of ‘Absalom and Achitophel’ that was written by Nahum Tate. In this second part, which came out in November 1682, he devoted himself in particular to two of his opponents, Settle and Shadwell, under the names respectively of Doeg and Og—“two fools,” he says, in his energetic way,—
      “That crutch their feeble sense on verse;
Who by my Muse to all succeeding times
Shall live in spite of their own doggerel rhymes.”
  14
  Of Settle, whose poetry was possessed of much smoothness but little sense, he spoke in a tone of contemptuous good-nature, though the object of the attack must certainly have deemed the tender mercies of Dryden to be cruel. It was in this way he was described, to quote a few lines:—

  “Spiteful he is not, though he wrote a satire,
For still there goes some thinking to ill-nature.
*        *        *        *        *
Let him be gallows-free by my consent,
And nothing suffer, since he nothing meant;
Hanging supposes human soul and reason,—
This animal’s below committing treason:
Shall he be hanged who never could rebel?
That’s a preferment for Achitophel.
*        *        *        *        *
Let him rail on; let his invective Muse
Have four-and-twenty letters to abuse,
Which if he jumbles to one line of sense,
Indict him of a capital offense.”

But it was not till he came to the portraiture of Shadwell that he gave full vent to the ferocity of his satire. He taunted him with the unwieldiness of his bulk, the grossness of his habits, with his want of wealth, and finally closed up with some lines into which he concentrated all the venom of his previous attacks:—

  “But though Heaven made him poor, with reverence speaking,
He never was a poet of God’s making;
The midwife laid her hand on his thick skull,
With this prophetic blessing—Be thou dull;
Drink, swear, and roar, forbear no lewd delight
Fit for thy bulk; do anything but write.
Thou art of lasting make, like thoughtless men;
A strong nativity—but for the pen;
Eat opium, mingle arsenic in thy drink,
Still thou mayest live, avoiding pen and ink.
I see, I see, ’tis counsel given in vain,
For treason, botched in rhyme, will be thy bane;
Rhyme is the rock on which thou art to wreck;
’Tis fatal to thy fame and to thy neck.
*        *        *        *        *
“A double noose thou on thy neck dost pull,
For writing treason and for writing dull;
To die for faction is a common evil,
But to be hanged for nonsense is the devil.
Hadst thou the glories of thy King exprest,
Thy praises had been satires at the best;
But thou in clumsy verse, unlicked, unpointed,
Hast shamefully defied the Lord’s anointed.
I will not rake the dunghill of thy crimes,
For who would read thy life that reads thy rhymes?
But of King David’s foes be this the doom,—
May all be like the young man Absalom;
And for my foes may this their blessing be,—
To talk like Doeg and to write like thee.”
  15
 
  Refinement of tone is not the distinguishing characteristic of satire of this sort. It does not attack its object by delicate insinuation or remote suggestion. It operates by heavy downright blows which crush by the mere weight and power of the stroke. There was in truth in those days a certain brutality not only permitted but expected in the way men spoke of each other, and Dryden conformed in this as in other respects to the manners and methods of his age. But of its kind the attack is perfect. The blows of a bludgeon which make of the victim a shapeless mass kill as effectively as the steel or poison which leaves every feature undisturbed, and to the common apprehension it serves to render the killing more manifest. At any rate, so long as a person has been done to death, it makes comparatively little difference how the death was brought about; and the object in this instance of Dryden’s attack, though a man of no mean abilities, has never recovered from the demolition which his reputation then underwent.  16
  In 1685 Charles II. died, and his brother James ascended the throne. In the following year Dryden went over to the Roman Catholic Church. No act of his life has met with severer censure. Nor can there be any doubt that the time he took to change his religion afforded ground for distrusting the sincerity of his motives. A king was on the throne who was straining every nerve to bring the Church of England once more under the sway of the Church of Rome. Obviously the adoption of the latter faith would recommend the poet to the favor of the bigoted monarch, and tend to advance his personal interests. There is no wonder, therefore, that he should at the time have been accused of being actuated by the unworthiest of reasons, and that the charge should continue to be repeated to our day. Yet a close study of Dryden’s life and writings indicates that the step he took was a natural if not an inevitable outcome of the processes through which his opinions had been passing. He had been early trained in the strict tenets of the Puritan party. From these he had been carried over to the loose beliefs and looser life that followed everywhere hard upon the Restoration. By the sentiments then prevailing he was profoundly affected. Nothing in the writings of the first half of his literary life is more marked—not even his flings at matrimony—than the scoffing way in which he usually spoke of the clergy. His tone towards them is almost always contemptuous, where it is not positively vituperative. His famous political satire began with this line—
  “In pious times, ere priestcraft did begin;”—
and a little later in the course of the same poem he observed that—
  “Fraud was used, the sacrificer’s trade,”
the “sacrificer” here denoting the priest. This feeling toward the clergy never in truth deserted him entirely. But no one who reads carefully his ‘Religio Laici,’ a poem published in 1682, can fail to perceive that even then he had not only drifted far away from the faith of his childhood, but had begun to be tormented and perplexed by the insoluble problems connected with the life and destiny of man, and with his relations to his Creator. The subject was not likely to weigh less heavily upon him in the years that followed. To Dryden, as to many before and since, it may have seemed the easiest method of deliverance from the difficulties in which he found himself involved, to cast the burden of doubts which disquieted the mind and depressed the heart, upon a Church that undertakes to assume the whole responsibility for the man’s future on condition of his yielding to it an unquestioning faith in the present.
  17
  An immediate result of his conversion was the production in 1687 of one of his most deservedly famous poems, ‘The Hind and the Panther.’ He began it with the idea of assisting in bringing about the reconciliation between the Panther, typifying the Church of England, and the Hind, typifying the Church of Rome. It is apparent that before he finished it he saw that the project was hopeless. It is a poem of over twenty-five hundred lines, of which the opening up to line 150 is here. Part of the passage here cited contains, without professing it as an object, and probably without intending it, the best defense that could be made for his change of religion. The production in its entirety is remarkable for the skill which its author displayed in carrying on an argument in verse. In this he certainly had no superior among poets, perhaps no equal. The work naturally created a great sensation in those days of fierce political and religious controversy. Both it and its writer were made the object of constant attack. A criticism, in particular, appeared upon it in the shape of a dialogue in prose with snatches of verse interspersed. It is usually known by the title of ‘The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse,’ and was exalted at the time by unreasoning partisanship into a wonderful performance. Even to the present day, this dreary specimen of polemics is described as a very witty work by those who have never struggled to read it. It was the production of Charles Montagu, the future Earl of Halifax, and of Matthew Prior. A story too is still constantly repeated that Dryden was much hurt by the attacks of these two young men, to whom he had been kind, and wept over their ingratitude. If he shed any tears at all upon the occasion, they must have been due to the mortification he felt that any two persons who had been admitted to his friendship should have been guilty of twaddle so desperately tedious.  18
  The flight of James and the accession of William and Mary threw Dryden at once out of the favor of the court, upon which to a large extent he had long depended for support. As a Jacobite he could not take the oath of allegiance; but there is hardly any doubt that under any circumstances he would have been deprived of the offices of place and profit he held. In the laureateship he was succeeded by his old antagonist Shadwell; and within a few years he saw the dignity of the position still further degraded by the appointment to it of Nahum Tate, one of the worst of the long procession of poetasters who have filled it. Dryden henceforth belonged to the party out of power. His feelings about his changed relations are shown plainly in the fine epistle with which he consoled Congreve for the failure of his comedy of the ‘Double Dealer.’ Yet displaced and unpensioned, and sometimes the object of hostile attack, his literary supremacy was more absolute than ever. All young authors, whether Whigs or Tories, sought his society and courted his favor; and his seat at Will’s coffee-house was the throne from which he swayed the literary sceptre of England.  19
  After the revolution of 1688 Dryden gave himself entirely up to authorship. He first turned to the stage; and between 1690 and 1694 he produced five plays. With the failure in the last-mentioned year of his tragicomedy called ‘Love Triumphant,’ he abandoned writing for the theatre. The period immediately following he devoted mainly to his translation of Virgil, which was published in 1697. It was highly successful; but far more reputation came to him from a large folio volume that was brought out in November 1699, under the title of ‘Fables.’ Its contents consisted mainly of poetical narratives founded upon certain stories of the ‘Decameron,’ and of the modernization of some of the ‘Canterbury Tales.’ In certain ways these have been his most successful pieces, and have made his name familiar to successive generations of readers. Of the tales from Boccaccio, that of ‘Cymon and Iphigenia’ is on the whole the most pleasing. The modernizations of Chaucer were long regarded as superior to the original; and though superior knowledge of the original has effectually banished that belief, there is on the other hand no justification for the derogatory terms which are now sometimes applied to Dryden’s versions.  20
  The verse in this volume was preceded by a long critical essay in prose. Many of its views, especially those about the language of Chaucer, have been long discarded; but the criticism will always be read with pleasure for the genial spirit and sound sense which pervade it, and the unstudied ease with which it is written. Cowley and Dryden are in fact the founders of modern English prose; and the influence of the latter has been much greater than that of the former, inasmuch as he touched upon a far wider variety of topics, and for that reason obtained a far larger circle of readers in the century following his death. There was also the same steady improvement in Dryden’s critical taste that there was in his poetical expression. His admiration for Shakespeare constantly improved during his whole life; and it is to be noticed that in what is generally regarded as the best of his plays—‘All for Love,’ brought out in the winter of 1677–78—he of his own accord abandoned rhyme for blank verse.  21
  The publication of the ‘Fables’ was Dryden’s last appearance before the public. In the following year he died, and was buried in Westminster Abbey by the side of Chaucer and Cowley. After his death his fame steadily increased instead of diminishing. For a long period his superiority in his particular line was ungrudgingly conceded by all, or if contested, was contested by Pope alone. His poetry indeed is not of the highest kind, though usually infinitely superior to that of his detractors. Still his excellences were those of the intellect and not of the spirit. On the higher planes of thought and feeling he rarely moves; to the highest he never aspires. The nearest he ever approaches to the former is in his later work, where religious emotion or religious zeal has lent to expression the aid of its intensity. There is a striking example of this in the personal references to his own experiences in the lines cited below from ‘The Hind and the Panther.’ Something too of the same spirit can be found, expressed in lofty language, in the following passage from the same poem, descriptive of the unity of the Church of Rome as contrasted with the numerous warring sects into which the Protestant body is divided:—

  “One in herself, not rent by schism, but sound,
Entire, one solid shining diamond,
Not sparkles shattered into sects like you:
One is the Church, and must be to be true,
One central principle of unity.
As undivided, so from errors free;
As one in faith, so one in sanctity.
Thus she, and none but she, the insulting rage
Of heretics opposed from age to age;
Still when the giant brood invades her throne,
She stoops from heaven and meets them half-way down,
And with paternal thunders vindicates her crown.
*        *        *        *        *
“Thus one, thus pure, behold her largely spread,
Like the fair ocean from her mother-bed;
From east to west triumphantly she rides,
All shores are watered by her wealthy tides.
The gospel sound diffused from Pole to Pole,
Where winds can carry and where waves can roll,
The selfsame doctrine of the sacred page
Conveyed to every clime, in every age.”
  22
 
  But though Dryden’s poetry is not of the highest class, it is of the very highest kind in its class. Wherever the pure intellect comes into play, there he is invariably excellent. There is never any weakness; there is never any vagueness; there is never any deviation from the true path into aimless digression. His words invariably go straight to the mark, and not unfrequently with a directness and force that fully merit the epithet of “burning” applied to them by the poet Gray. His thoughts always rise naturally out of the matter in hand; and in the treatment of the meanest subjects he is not only never mean, but often falls without apparent effort into a felicity of phrase which holds the attention and implants itself in the memory. The benefit of exercise, for instance, is not a topic that can be deemed highly poetical; but in his epistle on country life addressed to his cousin John Driden, the moment he comes to speak of hunting and its salutary results his expression at once leaves the commonplace, and embodies the thought in these pointed lines:—

  “So lived our sires, ere doctors learned to kill,
And multiply with theirs the weekly bill.
The first physicians by debauch were made;
Excess began, and sloth sustains the trade.
*        *        *        *        *
By chase our long-lived fathers earned their food;
Toil strung the nerves and purified the blood:
But we their sons, a pampered race of men,
Are dwindled down to threescore years and ten.
Better to hunt in fields for health unbought
Than fee the doctor for a nauseous draught.
The wise for cure on exercise depend;
God never made his work for man to mend.”
  23
 
  In a similar way in ‘Cymon and Iphigenia’ the contempt which Dryden, in common with the Tories of his time, felt for the English militia force, found vent in the following vigorous passage, really descriptive of them and their conduct though the scene is laid in Rhodes:—
  “The country rings around with loud alarms,
And raw in fields the rude militia swarms;
Mouths without hands; maintained at vast expense,
In peace a charge, in war a weak defense;
Stout once a month they march, a blustering band,
And ever, but in times of need, at hand:
This was the morn when, issuing on the guard,
Drawn up in rank and file they stood prepared
Of seeming arms to make a short essay,
Then hasten to be drunk, the business of the day.”
  24
  In a world where what is feeble in expression is so often supposed to indicate peculiar delicacy; where what is vague is so often deemed peculiarly poetical; and where what is involved and crabbed and hard to comprehend is thought to denote peculiar profundity,—it is a pleasure to turn to a writer with a rank settled by the consensus of successive generations, who thought clearly and wrote forcibly, who knew always what he had to say and then said it with directness and power. There are greater poets than he; but so long as men continue to delight in vividness of expression, in majesty of numbers, in masculine strength and all-abounding vigor, so long will Dryden continue to hold his present high place among English authors.  25
  The writings of Dryden constitute of themselves a literature. They treat of a vast variety of topics in many different departments of intellectual activity. The completest edition of his works was first published in 1808 under the editorship of Walter Scott. It fills twenty-one volumes, the first of which however is devoted to a biography. The notes to this edition are generally excellent; the text is very indifferent. A revised edition of it has been recently published under the editorship of George Saintsbury. But easily accessible is a single-volume edition of the poems alone, edited by W. D. Christie, which furnishes a superior text, and is amply supplied with all necessary annotations.  26
 
 
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