The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.
§ 28. The Hind and the Panther
The Hind and the Panther was published in 1687, and is said to have been written at Rushton in Northamptonshire, a sylvan neighbourhood. If Dryden’s conversion does not present any psychological difficulties, it also seems natural that he should have speedily proceeded to explain to the world a position not new to it, but strange and, therefore, in a sense, new, to himself. That The Hind and the Panther cannot be harmonised with Religio Laici is, of course, part of the situation, although the two poems are not inconsistent with each other as stages of a mental evolution. To suggest that the later work was written to ensure the favour of James II (from whom it does not appear what Dryden had to expect beyond punctuality), is to ignore a very plain historical consideration. In April, 1687,—a fortnight before the publication of the poem,—James II put forth the declaration for liberty of conscience, which extended to nonconformists in general, and was, in fact, the catholic king’s bid for the support of the protestant dissenters in his struggle with the establishment. On the other hand, the convert Dryden’s personal confession of faith was, at the same time, an eirenicon to the church of England from the catholic side, and a summons to her to join hands with the church of Rome against the protestant nonconformists. Inasmuch as a similar royal declaration had been issued in Scotland two months earlier, and the dispensing power had received a solemn judicial affirmation in the previous year, Dryden could not have been taken by surprise by the king’s recent action. He could, therefore, hardly have put forth a “libel of policy” less likely to commend itself to the king and those who advised him in accordance with his wishes, or have given a more palpable proof either of obtuseness—a quality not characteristic of him—or of candour.
The poem is far the longest of Dryden’s original productions in verse; but it is carried on with unmistakable vigour to its somewhat abrupt close, and, in its concluding, as well as in its opening, part, displays the reverse of a falling off in power of either invention or expression. Criticism has chiefly directed itself against the plan of the work, which Johnson, for instance, terms injudicious and incommodious, rather than to the conduct of the arguments, which cannot be described as inadequate or uneven.
The Hind and the Panther (as would be obvious, even were it not made additionally clear by the first lines of part
Of the two justly celebrated “fables” proper included in part
The Hind and the Panther, for reasons which have been made apparent, could not bring the poet into favour with any party; and critics like Martin Clifford and “Tom” Brown could fall upon him as they pleased. When, in contravention of the hopes uttered in Britannia Rediviva, the change of régime ensued, and William and Mary held sway in her father’s stead, Dryden’s places and pensions were taken from him, and Shadwell wore the laurel. It seems to have been about this time that Dryden became indebted to Dorset for substantial support; but he manifestly continued to add to his income by literary labours. That the vitality and freshness of his powers still remained undiminished is shown by the variety of his productions in these years. Not long before the end of James II’s reign, he had written the playful Letter to Sir George Etherege, which alone among his complimentary epistles and addresses (extending over many years of his life) is in Hudibrastic metre. In 1690, as has been seen, he successfully resumed work for the stage. There does not seem to have been any indisposition on the part of the new court to show goodwill to him as a playwright; but, in commanding The Spanish Fryar to be performed on one of her first appearances in public, queen Mary chose more fortunately for him than for herself. Meanwhile, the connection between the publisher Jacob Tonson and Dryden was productive of much literary work, though, when there was a pecuniary pressure upon Dryden, the relations between them frequently tried his patience and, at times, roused him to wrath. Besides the translations from classical poets already mentioned as included in the earliest volumes of the Miscellany, Dryden, with the assistance of his two elder sons, brought out, in 1693, a complete translation of Juvenal and Persius, prefaced by one of the most delightful of his essays. In its earlier portions, A Discourse concerning the Original and Progress of Satire may, after the manner of such prolegomena, have been put together so as to suit the amount of information to the appetite of the reader; but the comparison between the three Roman satirists contains some admirable criticism, and the easy and graceful style is enjoyable from beginning to end. The essay prefixed to Dryden’s translation (1695) of Du Fresnoy’s Parallel of Poetry and Painting (the French prose version printed by the author with his original Latin poem De Arte Graphica) is, perhaps, more obviously written to order. It contains an elaboration of the theory that the true imitation of nature consists of the pursuit of the ideal in art—a view on which Dryden had insisted in his early disquisitions on dramatic poetry, but which, though it might have commended itself to Goethe, has until recently been regarded as out of date.