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vein, appear not to have imitated any French poets, but to have gone to the fountain-head, and sought in the productions of the Roman poets themselves — in the plays of Terence and Seneca, and the satires of Juvenal and Persius — for examples and models. Nay, even Dryden, at a later period, probably formed himself almost exclusively upon the same originals and upon the works of these his predecessors among his own countrymen, and was little, if at all, indebted to or influenced by any French pattern. His poetry, unlike as it is to that of Milton or Spenser, has still a thoroughly English character — an English force and heartiness, and, with all its classicality, not a little even of the freedom and luxuriance of the more genuine English style. Smooth Waller, who preceded him, may have learned something from the modern French poets ; and so may Pope, who came after him ; but Dryden's fiery energy and “ full-resounding line” have nothing in common with them in spirit or manner.
Without either creative imagination or any power of pathos, he is in argument, in satire, and in declamatory magnificence, the greatest of our poets. His poetry, indeed, is not the highest kind of poetry, but in that kind he stands unrivalled and unapproached. Pope, his great disciple, who, in correctness, in neatness, and in the brilliancy of epigrammatic point, has outshone his master, has not come near him in easy flexible vigor, in indignant vehemence, in narrative rapidity, any more than he has in sweep and variety of versification. Dryden never writes coldly, or timidly, or drowsily. The movement of verse always sets him on fire, and whatever he produces is a coinage hot from the brain, not slowly scraped or pinched into shape, but struck out as from a die with a few stout blows or a single wrench of the
It is this fervor especially which gives to his personal sketches their wonderful life and force: his Absalom and Achitophel is the noblest portrait-gallery in poetry.
It is chiefly as a dramatic writer that Dryden can be charged with the imitation of French models. Of his plays, nearly thirty in number, the comedies for the most part in prose, the tragedies in rhyme, few have much merit considered as entire works, although there are brilliant passages and spirited scenes in most of them. Of the whole number, he has told us that his tragedy of All for Love, or the World well Lost (founded on the story of Antony and Cleopatra), was the only play he wrote for himself; the rest, he admits, were sacrifices to the vitiated taste of the
His Almanzor, or the Conquest of Granada (in two parts), although extravagant, is also full of genius. Of his comedies, the Spanish Friar is perhaps the best; it has some most effective scenes.
Many others of the poets of this age whose names have been already noticed were also dramatists. Milton's Comus was never acted publicly, nor his Samson Agonistes at all. Cowley's Love's Riddle and Cutter of Coleman Street were neither of them originally written for the stage ; but the latter was brought out in one of the London theatres after the Restoration, and was also revived about the middle of the last century. Waller altered the fifth act of Beaumont and Fletcher's Maid's Tragedy, making his additions to the blank verse of the old dramatists in rhyme, as he states in a prologue:
In this old play what's new we have expressed
Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, besides his Rehearsal, wrote a farce entitled the Battle of Sedgmoor, and also altered Beaumont and Fletcher's comedy of The Chances. The tragedy of Valentinian of the same writers was altered by the Earl of Rochester. Sedley wrote three comedies, mostly in prose, and three tragedies, one in rhyme and two in blank verse. And Davenant is the author of twenty-five tragedies, comedies, and masques, produced between 1629 and his death, in 1668. But the most eminent dramatic names of this era are those of Thomas Otway, Nathaniel Lee, John Crowne, Sir George Etherege, William Wycherley, and Thomas Southerne. Of six tragedies and four comedies written by Otway, his tragedies of the Orphan and Venice Preserved still sustain his fame and popularity as the most pathetic and teardrawing of all our dramatists. Their licentiousness has necessarily
banished his comedies from the stage, with most of those of his contemporaries. Lee has also great tenderness, with much more fire and imagination than Otway; of his pieces, eleven in number, — all tragedies, his Theodosius, or the Force of Love, and his Rival Queens, or Alexander the Great, are the most celebrated. Crowne, though several of his plays were highly successful when first produced, was almost forgotten, till Mr. Lamb reprinted some of his scenes in his Dramatic Specimens, and showed that no dramatist of that age had written finer things. Of seventeen pieces produced by Crowne between 1671 and 1698, his tragedy of Thyestes and his comedy of Sir Courtley Nice are in particular of eminent merit, the first for its poetry, the second for plot and character. Etherege is the author of only three comedies, the Comical Revenge (1664), She Would if She Could (1668), and the Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter (1676): all remarkable for the polish and fluency of the dialogue, and entitled to be regarded as having first set the example of that modern style of comedy which was afterwards cultivated by Wycherley, Farquhar, Vanbrugh, and Congreve. Wycherley, who was born in 1640, and lived till 1715, produced his only four plays, Love in a Wood, The Gentleman Dancing Master, The Country Wife, and The Plain Dealer, all comedies, between the years 1672 and 1677. The two last of these pieces are written with more elaboration than anything of Etherege's, and both contain some bold delineation of character and strong satiric writing, reminding us at times of Ben Jonson; but, like him, too, Wycherley is deficient in ease and nature. Southerne, who was only born in the year of the Restoration, and lived till 1746, had produced no more than his two first plays before the Revolution of 1688, — his tragedy of the Loyal Brother in 1682, and his comedy of the Disappointment in 1684. Of ten dramatic pieces of which he is the author, five are comedies, and are of little value ; but his tragedies of The Fatal Marriage (1692), Oroonoko (1696), and The Spartan Dame (1719), are interesting and affecting
It is hardly worth while to mention, under the head of the literature of the age, the seventeen plays of King William's poetlaureate, Thomas Shadwell, better remembered by Dryden's immortal nickname of Mac Flecknoe; or the equally numerous brood of the muse of Elkanah Settle, the city poet, Dryden's
Doeg, whom God for mankind's mirth has made ;
or the nine of Shadwell's successor in the laureateship, Nahum Tate, the author of the worst alterations of Shakspeare, the worst version of the Psalms of David, and the worst continuation of a great poem (his second part of the Absalom and Achitophel), extant; or, lastly, although she had more talent than any of these, the seventeen pieces of the notorious Mrs. Aphra Behn — Pope's Astraea,
Who fairly puts all characters to bed. This Mrs. Behn, besides her plays, was the authoress of a number of novels and tales, which, amid great impetuosity and turbulence of style, contain some ingeniously contrived incidents and some rather effective painting of the passions.
PROSE WRITERS. — CLARENDON.
EMINENT as he is among the poets of his age, Dryden is also one of the greatest of its prose writers. In ease, flexibility, and variety, indeed, his English prose has scarcely ever been excelled. Cowley, too, is a charming writer of prose: the natural, pure, and flowing eloquence of his Essays is better than anything in his poetry. Waller, Suckling, and Sedley, also, wrote all well in prose; and Marvel's literary reputation is founded more upon his prose than upon his verse. Of writers exclusively in prose belonging to the space between the Restoration and the Revolution, Clarendon may be first mentioned, although his great work, his History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars, was not published till the year 1702, nor his Life and Continuation of his History, before 1759. His style cannot be commended for its correctness the manner in which he constructs his sentences, indeed, often sets at defiance all the rules of syntax; but yet he is never unintelligible or obscure with such admirable expository skill is the matter arranged and spread out, even where the mere verbal sentencemaking is the most negligent and entangled. The style, in fact, is that proper to speaking rather than to writing, and had, no doubt, been acquired by Clarendon, not so much from books as from his practice in speaking at the bar and in parliament; for, with great
natural abilities, he does not seem to have had much acquaintance with literature, or much acquired knowledge of any kind resulting from study. But his writing possesses the quality that interests above all the graces or artifices of rhetoric — the impress of a mind informed by its subject, and having a complete mastery over it; while the broad full stream in which it flows makes the reader feel as if he were borne along on its tide. The abundance, in particular, with which he pours out his stores of language and illustration in his characters of the eminent persons engaged on both sides of the great contest seems inexhaustible. The historical value of his history, however, is not very considerable; it has not preserved very many facts which are not to be found elsewhere; and, whatever may be thought of its general bias, the inaccuracy of its details is so great throughout, as demonstrated by the authentic evidences of the time, that there is scarcely any other contemporary history which is so little trustworthy as an authority with regard to minute particulars. Clarendon, in truth, was far from being placed in the most favorable circumstances for giving a perfectly correct account of many of the events he has undertaken to record : he was not, except for a very short time, in the midst of the busy scene : looking to it, as he did, from a distance, while the mighty drama was still only in progress, he was exposed to some chances of misconception to which even those removed from it by a long interval of time are not liable ; and, without imputing to
further intention to deceive than is implied in the purpose which we may suppose he chiefly had in view in writing his work, the vindication of his own side of the question, his position as a partisan, intimately mixed up with the affairs and interests of one of the two contending factions, could not fail both to bias his own judgment, and even in some measure to distort or color the reports made to him by others. On the whole, therefore, this celebrated work is rather a great literary performance than a very valuable historical monument.
ANOTHER royalist history of the same times and events to which Clarendon's work is dedicated, the Behemoth of Thomas Hobbes