is yet sufficiently defective to vindicate the criticks.

I wish that there were no necessity of following the progress of his theatrical fame, or tracing the meanders of his mind through the whole series of his dramatick performances; it will be fit however to enumerate them, and to take especial notice of those that are distinguished by any peculiarity intrinsick or concomitant ; for the compofi-. tion and fate of eight and twenty dramas include too much of a poetical life to be omitted.

[ocr errors]

In 1664 he published the Rival Ladies, which he dedicated to the Earl of Orrery, a man of high reputation both as a writer and a statesman, In this play he made his essay of dramatick rhyme, which he defends in his dedication, with sufficient certainty of a favourable hearing; for Orrery was himself a writer of rhyming tragedies,

He then joined with Sir Robert Howard in the Indian Queen, a tragedy in rhyme. The parts which either of them wrote are not distinguished.


B 4

The Indian Emperor was published in 1667. It is a tragedy in rhyme, intended for a sequel to Howard's Indian Queen. Of this connection notice was given to the audience by printed bills, distributed at the door ; an expedient supposed to be ridiculed in the Rehearsal, when Bayes tells how many reams he has printed, to instill into the audience some conception of his plot.

In this play is the description of Night, which Rymer has made famous by preferring it to those of all other poets.

The practice of making tragedies in rhyme was introduced foon after the Restoration, as it seems, by the earl of Orrery, in compliance with the opinion of Charles the Second, who had formed his taste by the French theatre; and Dryden, who wrote, and made no difficulty of declaring that he wrote, only to please, and who perhaps knew that by his dexterity of versification he was more likely to excel others in rhyme than without it, very readily adopted his master's prefer

He therefore made rhyming tragedies, till, by the prevalence of manifest



propriety, he seems to have grown ashamed of making them any longer.

To this play is prefixed a very vehement defence of dramatick rhyme, in confutation of the preface to the Duke of Lerma, in which Sir Robert Howard had censured it.

In 1667, he published Annus Mirabilis, the Year of Wonders, which may be esteemed one of his most elaborate works.

It is addressed to Sir Robert Howard by a letter, which is not properly a dedication; and, writing to a poet, he has interspersed many critical observations, of which some are common, and some perhaps ventured without much consideration. He began, even now, to exercise the domination of conscious genius, hy recommending his own performance : “ I am fatisfied that as the “ Prince and General [Rupert and Monk] “ are incomparably the best subjects I ever " had, so what I have written on them is “ much better than what I have performed

on any other. As I have endeavoured to " adorn my poem with noble thoughts, so “ much more to express those thoughts with $6 elocution,'

It is written in quatrains, or heroick stanzas of four lines ; a measure which he had learned from the Gondibert of Davenant, and which he then thought the most majestick that the English language affords. Of this stanza he mentions the encumbrances, encreased as they were by the exactness which the age required. It was, throughout his life, very much his custom to recommend his works, by representation of the difficulties that he had encountered, without appearing to have sufficiently confidered, that where there is no difficulty there is no praise.

There seems to be in the conduct of Sir Robert Howard and Dryden towards each other, something that is not now easily to be explained. Dryden, in his dedication to the earl of Orrery, had defended dramatick rhyme ; and Howard, in the preface to a collection of plays, had censured his opinion. Dryden vindicated himself in his Dialogue on Dramatick Poetry; Howard, in his Preface to the Duke of Lerma, animadverted on the Vindication ; and Dryden, in a Preface to the Indian Emperor, replied to the Animadversions with great asperity, and


almost with contumely. The dedication to this play is dated the year in which the Annus Mirabilis was published. Here ap : pears a strange inconsistency; but Langbaine affords fome help, by relating that the answer to Howard was not published in the first edition of the play, but was added when it was afterwards - reprinted ; and as the Duke of Lerma did not appear till 1668, the same year in which the Dialogue was published, there was time enough for' enmity to grow up between authors, who, writing both for the theatre, were naturally rivals.

He was now so much distinguished, that in 1668 he succeeded Sir William Davenant as poet-laureat. The falary of the laureat had been raised in favour of Jonfon, by Charles the First, from an hundred marks to one hundred pounds a year, and a tierce of wine ; a revenue in those days not inadequate to the conveniencies of life.

The same year he published his Essay on Dramatick Poetry, an elegant and instructive dialogue ; in which we are told by Prior, that the principal character is meant to represent the duke of Dorset. This work


« VorigeDoorgaan »