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of humorous and serious satire. The picture of a man whose propensions to mischief are such that his best actions are but inability of wickedness, is very skilfully delineated and strongly coloured:
Power was his aim; but, thrown from that pretence,
And rather would be great by wicked means. The " Threnodia," which, by a term I am afraid neither authorized nor analogical, he calls “Augustalis," is not among his happiest productions. Its first and obvious defect is the irregularity of its metre, to which the ears of that age, however, were accustomed. What is worse, it has neither tenderness nor dignity; it is neither magnificent nor pathetic. He seems to look round him for images which he cannot find, and what he has he distorts by endeavouring to enlarge them. “He is,” he says, “petrified with grief;" but the marble sometimes relents, and trickles in a joke:
The sons of art all med'cines try'd,
His utmost skill; nay, more, they pray'd :
Was never losing game with better conduct play'd, He had been a little inclined to merriment before, upon the prayers of a nation for their dying sovereign: nor was he serious enough to keep heathen fables out of his religion:
With him the innumerable crowd of armed prayers
Knock'd at the gates of heaven, and knock'd aloud:
All for his life assail'd the throne,
All would have brib'd the skies by offering up their own. Johnson's Lives. l.
So great a throng not Heaven itself could bar;
His death, like Hezekiah's, was deferred. There is throughout the composition a desire of splendour without wealth. In the conclusion he seems too much pleased with the prospect of the new reign to have lamented his old master with much sincerity.
He did not miscarry in this attempt for want of skill either in lyric or elegiac poetry. His poem on the death of Mrs. Killigrew is undoubtedly the noblest ode that our language ever has produced. The first part flows with a torrent of enthusiasm. Fervet immensusque ruit. All the stanzas indeed are not equal. An imperial crown cannot be one continued diamond: the gems must be held together by some less valuable matter.
In his first “Ode for Cecilia's Day," which is lost in the splendour of the second, there are passages which would have dignified any other poet. The first stanza is vigorous and elegant, though the word diapason is too technical, and the rhymes are too remote from one another.
The conclusion is likewise striking; but it includes an image so awful in itself, that it can owe little to poetry: and I could wish the antithesis of music untuning had found some other place.
As from the power of sacred lays
The spheres began to move,
To all the bless'd above:
So, when the last and dreadful hour
And music shall untune the sky.
Though all these rare endowments of the mind
And every act stood ready to repeat. This piece, however, is not without its faults; there is so much likeness in the initial comparison, that there is no illustration. As a king would be lamented, Eleonora was lamented:
As, when some great and gracious monarch dies
Till public as the loss the news became. This is little better than to say in praise of a shrub, that it is as green as a tree; or of a brook, that it waters a garden, as a river waters a country.
Dryden confesses that he did not know the lady whom he celebrates: the praise being therefore inevitably general, fixes no impression upon the reader, nor excites any tendency to love, nor much desire of imitation. Knowledge of the subject is to the poet what durable materials are to the architect.
The "Religio Laici," which borrows its title from the “Religio Medici” of Browne, is almost the only work of Dryden which can be considered as a voluntary effusion; in this, therefore, it might be hoped, that the full effulgence of his genius would be found. But unhappily the subject is rather argumentative than poetical; he intended only a specimen of metrical disputation:
And this unpolish'd rugged verse I chose,
As fittest for discourse, and nearest prose. This, however, is a composition of great excellence in its kind, in which the familiar is very properly diversified with the solemn, and the grave with the humorous; in which metre has neither weakened the force, nor clouded the perspicuity of argument; nor will it be easy to find another example equally happy of this middle kind of writing, which, though prosaic in some parts, rises to high poetry in others, and neither towers to the skies, nor creeps along the ground.
Of the same kind, or not far distant from it, is “The Hind and Panther," the longest of all Dryden's original poems; an allegory intended to comprise and to decide the controversy between the Romanists and protestants. The scheme of the work is injudicious and incommodious; for what can be more absurd than that one beast should counsel another to rest her faith upon a pope and council? He seems well enough skilled in the usual topics of argument, endeavours to shew the necessity of an infallible judge, and reproaches the reformers with want of unity: but is weak enough to ask, why, since we see without knowing how, we may not have an infallible judge without knowing where?
The Hind at one time is afraid to drink at the common brook, because she may be worried; but, walking home with the Panther, talks by the way of the Nicene fathers, and at last declares herself to be of the catholic church.
This absurdity was very properly ridiculed in the City Mouse” and “Country Mouse" of Montague and Prior; and in
the detection and censure of the incongruity of the fiction chiefly consists the value of their performance, which, whatever reputation it might obtain by the help of temporary passions, seems, to readers almost a century distant, not very forcible or animated.
Pope, whose judgment was perhaps a little bribed by the subject, used to mention this poem as the most correct specimen of Dryden's versification. It was indeed written when he had completely formed his manner, and may be supposed to exhibit, negligence excepted, his deliberate and ultimate scheme of métre.
We may therefore reasonably infer, that he did not approve the perpetual uniformity which confines the sense to couplets, since he has broken his lines in the initial paragraph.
A milk-white Hind, immortal and unchang'd,
And doom'd to death, though fated not to die. These lines are lofty, elegant, and musical, notwithstanding the interruption of the pause, of which the effect is rather increase of pleasure by variety, than offence by ruggedness.
To the first part it was his intention, he says, “to give the majestic turn of heroic poesy:” and perhaps he might have executed his design notunsuccessfully, had not an opportunity of satire, which he cannot forbear, fallen sometimes in his way. The character of a presbyterian, whose emblem is the Wolf, is not very heroically majestic:
More haughty than the rest, the wolfish race
And pricks up his predestinating ears. His general character of the other sorts of beasts that never go to church, though sprightly and keen, has, however, not much of heroic poesy:
These are the chief; to number o'er the rest,