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And now, worshipful sirs,
Until you burn again, burn again.
OTHER MINOR POETS.
Of the other minor poets of this date we can only mention the names of a few of the most distinguished. Sir Charles Sedley is the Suckling of the time of Charles II., with less impulsiveness and more insinuation, but a kindred gayety and sprightliness of fancy, and an answering liveliness and at the same time courtly ease and elegance of diction. King Charles, a good judge of such matters, was accustomed to say that Sedley's style, either in writing or discourse, would be the standard of the English tongue; and his contemporary, the Duke of Buckingham (Villiers) used to call his exquisite art of expression Sedley's witchcraft. Sedley's genius early ripened and bore fruit : he was born only two or three years before the breaking out of the Civil War; and he was in high reputation as a poet and a wit within six or seven years after the Restoration. He survived both the Revolution and the century, dying in the year 1701. Sedley's fellow-debauchee, the celebrated Earl of Rochester (Wilmot), — although the brutal grossness of the greater part of his verse has deservedly made it and its author infamous, — was perhaps a still greater genius. There is immense strength and pregnancy of expression in some of the best of his compositions, careless and unfinished as they are. Rochester had not completed his thirty-third year when he died, in July 1680. Of the poetical productions of the other court-wits of Charles's reign the principal are, the Duke of Buck
To all you
ingham's satirical comedy of the Rehearsal, which was very effective when first produced, and still enjoys a great reputation, though it would probably be thought but a heavy joke now by most readers not carried away by the prejudice in its favor; the Earl of Roscommon's very commonplace Essay on Translated Verse ; and the Earl of Dorset's lively and well-known song, ladies now on land,” written at sea the night before the engagement with the Dutch on the 3d of June, 1665, or rather professing to have been then written, for the asserted poetic tranquillity of the noble author in expectation of the morrow's fight has been disputed. The Marquis of Halifax and Lord Godolphin were also writers of verse at this date; but neither of them has left anything worth remembering. Among the minor poets of the time, however, we ought not to forget Charles Cotton, best known for his humorous, though somewhat coarse, travesties of Virgil and Lucian, and for his continuation of Izaak Walton's Treatise on Angling, and his fine idiomatic translation of Montaigne's Essays, but also the author of some short original pieces in verse, of much fancy and liveliness. One entitled an Ode to Winter, in particular, has been highly praised by Wordsworth. We need scarcely mention Sir William Davenant's long and languid heroic poem of Gondibert, though Hobbes, equally eminent in poetry and the mathematics, has declared that he “never yet saw poem that had so much shape of art, health of morality, and vigour and beauty of expression ”; and has prophesied that, were it not for the mutability of modern tongues, “ it would last as long as either the Æneid or Iliad.” 2 The English of the reign of Charles II. is not yet obsolete, nor likely to become so; Homer and Virgil are also still read and admired; but men have forgotten Gondibert, almost as much as they have Hobbes's own Iliad and Odyssey.
1 See Preface to Lyrical Ballads, 1815.
By far the most illustrious name among the English poets of the latter half of the seventeenth century — if we exclude Milton as belonging properly to the preceding age - is that of John Dryden. Born in 1632, Dryden produced his first known composition in verse in 1649, his lines on the death of Lord Hastings, a young nobleman of great promise, who was suddenly cut off by smallpox, on the eve of his intended marriage, in that year. This earliest of Dryden's poems is in the most ambitious style of the school of Donne and Cowley : Donne himself, indeed, has scarcely penned anything quite so extravagant as one passage, in which the fancy of the young poet runs riot among the phenomena of the loathsome disease to which Lord Hastings had fallen a victim :
many spots, like naeves on Venus' soil,
To wail the fault its rising did commit:and so forth. Almost the only feature of the future Dryden which this production discloses is his deficiency in sensibility or heart; exciting as the occasion was, it does not contain an affecting line. Perhaps, on comparing his imitation with Donne's own poetry, so instinct with tenderness and passion, Dryden may have seen or felt that his own wanted the very quality which was the light and life of that.of his master; at any rate, wiser than Cowley, who had the same reason for shunning a competition with Donne, he abandoned this style with his first attempt, and, indeed, for anything that appears, gave up the writing of poetry for some years altogether. His next verses of any consequence are dated nine years later, — his Heroic Stanzas on the death of Oliver Cromwell, and, destitute as they are of the vigorous conception and full and easy flow of versification which he afterwards attained, they are free from any trace of the elaborate and grotesque absurdity of the Elegy on Lord Hastings. His Astræa Redux, or poem on the return of the king, produced two years after, evinces a growing freedom and command of style. But it is in his Annus Mirabilis, written in 1666, that his genius breaks forth for the first time with any
promise of that full effulgence at which it ultimately arrived; here, in spite of the incumbrance of a stanza (the quatrain of alternately rhyming heroics) which he afterwards wisely exchanged for a more manageable kind of verse, we have much both of the nervous diction and the fervid fancy which characterize his latest and best works. From this date to the end of his days Dryden's life was one long literary labor: eight original poems of considerable length, many shorter pieces, twenty-eight dramas, and several volumes of poetical translation from Chaucer, Boccaccio, Ovid, Theocritus, Lucretius, Horace, Juvenal, Persius, and Virgil, together with numerous discourses in prose, some of them very long and elaborate, attest the industry as well as the fertility of a mind which so much toil and so many draughts upon its resources were so far from exhausting, that its powers continued not only to exert themselves with unimpaired elasticity, but to grow stronger and brighter to the last. The genius of Dryden certainly did not, as that of Waller is said to have done, begin“ to decline apace from its meridian” after he had reached his fifty-fifth year. His famous Alexander's Feast and his Fables, which are among his happiest performances, were the last he produced, and were published together in the year 1700, only a few months before his death, at the age of sixty-eight."
1 The modern editors have blundered strangely in regard to one of Dryden's gayest and most graceful compositions, his Dedication, which stands at the head of the Fables, of the poem of Palamon and Arcite, or The Knight's Tale, modernized from Chaucer, to the Duchess of Ormond. He there observes of his great predecessor, that, no doubt, in drawing his heroine,
“ The fairest nymph before his eyes he set,
And to the noblest order gave the name.”
“ Thus, after length of ages, she returns,
Restored in you, and the same place adorns;
Upon which Sir Walter Scott, in the standard edition of the poet's works, 18 vols. 8vo, Lond. 1808, thus comments (vol. xi. p. 246):-“The first patroness of Chaucer was Blanche, first wife of John, Duke of Gaunt (sic), whose death he has cele. brated in The Boke of the Duchesse. She was the second daughter of Henry, Duke of Lancaster, grandson of Edmund, surnamed Crouchback, brother of Ed.
Dryden has commonly been considered to have founded a new school of English poetry; but perhaps it would be more strictly correct to regard him as having only carried to higher perfection
perhaps to the highest to which it has yet been brought — a style of poetry which had been cultivated long before his day. The satires of Hall and of Marston, and also the Nosce Teipsum of Sir John Davies, all published before the end of the sixteenth century, not to refer to other less eminent examples, may be classed as of the same school with his poetry. It is a school very distinguishable from that to which Milton and the greatest of our elder poets belong, deriving its spirit and character, as it does, chiefly from the ancient Roman classic poetry, whereas the other is mainly the offspring of the middle ages, of Gothic manners and feelings and the Romance or Provençal literature. The one therefore may be called, with sufficient propriety, the classic, the other the romantic school of poetry. But it seems to be a mistake to assume that the former first arose in England after the Restoration, under the influence of the imitation of the French, which then became fashionable; the most that can be said is, that the French taste which then became prevalent among us may have encouraged its revival; for undoubtedly what has been called the classic school of poetry had been cultivated by English writers at a much earlier date; nor is there any reason to suppose that the example of the modern poetry of France had had any share in originally turning our own into that channel. Marston and Hall, and Sackville in his Ferrex and Porrex, and Ben Jonson in his comedies and tragedies, and the other early writers of English poetry in the classic
ward I. But I do not know how the Duchess of Ormond could be said to be born of her blood, since she was descended of John of Gaunt by his third, not his first, wife. Dryden, however, might not know, or might disregard, these minutiæ of genealogy.” Even by this showing the two ladies would be of the same blood; Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster, and Mary, second wife of James, second Duke of Ormond, who was a Somerset, daughter of the Duke of Beaufort, were both Plantagenets. But the explanation leaves the principal part of the passage entirely unexplained. Chaucer's Plantagenet here is clearly not the Duchess Blanche, but Joan, daughter of Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent, second son of Edward I. by his second wife, Margaret of France, famous as the Fair Maid of Kent, married for the third and last time to Edward the Black Prince, by whom she was the mother of Richard II., having been previously the wife, first (it is understood) of Thomas Holland, son of the Lord Holland, secondly, of William Montague, Earl of Salisbury (making the “ three contending princes”), and commonly believed to be the Countess of Salisbury from whom the Order of the Garter, according to the well-known story, derived its name.