« PreviousContinue »
So, when a lion shakes his dreadful mane,
As the vex'd world, to find repose, at last
Then let the Muses, with such notes as these,
Tell of towns storm'd, of armies over-run,
Illustrious acts high raptures do infuse,
To crown your head, while you in triumph ride
Verse, thus design'd, has no ill fate,
THE STORY OF
PHOEBUS AND DAPHNE
THYRSIS, a youth of the inspired train,
Or form some image of his cruel fair.
Beauty like a shadow flies,
Phyllis! to this truth we owe
For the joys we now may prove,
ON A GIRDLE.
THAT, which her slender waist confin'd,
It was my Heaven's extremest sphere, The pale which held that lovely deer: My joy, my grief, my hope. my love, Did all within this circle move!
A narrow compass! and yet there
FAIREST piece of well-form'd earth!
Nor all appear, among those few,
I can describe the shady grove,
TO A LADY,
SINGING A SONG OF HIS COMPOSING.
CHLORIS, yourself you so excel,
When you vouchsafe to breathe my thought, That, like a spirit, with this spell
Of my own teaching, I am caught.
That eagle's fate and mine are one,
Wherewith he wont to soar so high.
Had Echo with so sweet a grace Narcissus' loud complaints return'd, Not for reflection of his face,
But of his voice, the boy had burn'd.
JOHN DRYDEN was born, probably. in 1631, in post of poet-laureate, to which was added the sine. the parish of Aldwincle-Allsaints, in Northampton-cure place of historiographer royal; the joint salashire. His father possessed a small estate, acted ries of which amounted to 2007.
The tragedies composed by Dryden were written as a justice of the peace during the usurpation, and seems to have been a Presbyterian. John, at a in his earlier periods, in rhyme, which circumstance proper age, was sent to Westminster school, of which probably contributed to the poetical rant by which Busby was then master; and was thence elected they were too much characterized. For the corto a scholarship in Trinity college, Cambridge. rection of this fault, Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, He took his degrees of Bachelor and Master of Arts in conjunction with other wits, wrote the celebrated in the university; but though he had written two burlesque drama, entitled "The Rehearsal," of short copies of verses about the time of his admis- which Dryden, under the name of Bayes, was made sion, his name does not occur among the academi- the hero; and, in order to point the ridicule, his cal poets of this period. By his father's death, in dress, phraseology, and mode of recitation, were 1654, he succeeded to the estate, and, removing to exactly imitated by the actor. It does not, however, the metropolis, he made his entrance into public appear that his solid reputation as a poet was injured life, under the auspices of his kinsman, Sir Gilbert by this attack. He had the candor to acknowledge Pickering, one of Cromwell's council and house that several of the strokes were just, and he wisely of lords, and staunch to the principles then predom- refrained from making any direct reply. inant. On the death of Cromwell, Dryden wrote some "Heroic Stanzas," strongly marked by the loftiness of expression and variety of imagery which characterized his more mature efforts. They were, however, criticised with some severity.
In 1681, and, as it is asserted, at the king's express desire, he wrote his famous political poem, entitled "Absalom and Achitophel;" in which the those of Charles II. in relation to the Duke of incidents in the life of David were adapted to At the Restoration, Dryden lost no time in oblit- Monmouth and the Earl of Shaftesbury. Its poetry raised the author to high favor erating former stains; and, as far as it was possible, and its severity caused it to be read with great rendered himself peculiarly distinguished for the eagerness; and as base servility of his strains. He greeted the king's with the court party, so it involved him in irreconreturn by a poem, entitled "Astrea Redux," which cilable enmity with its opponents. These feelings A Panegyric on the Corona- were rendered more acute by his "Medal, a Satire was followed by tion:" nor did Lord Chancellor Clarendon escape on Sedition," written in the same year, on occasion his encomiastic lines. His marriage with Lady of a medal struck by the whigs, when a grand Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the Earl of Berk- jury returned Ignoramus to an indictment preferred shire, is supposed to have taken place in 1665. against Lord Shaftesbury, for high treason. The In 1682 he published "MacAbout this time he first appears as a writer for the rancor of this piece is not easily to be paralleled stage, in which quality he composed several pieces; among party poems. and though he did not display himself as a prime Flecknoe," a short piece, throwing ridicule upon favorite of the dramatic muse, his facility of har- his very unequal rival, Shadwell. In the same monious versification, and his splendor of poetic year, one of his most serious poems, the "Religio diction, gained him admirers. In 1667 he publish- Laici," made its appearance. Its purpose was "Annus Mirabilis," to give a compendious view of the arguments for ed a singular poem, entitled the subjects of which were, the naval war with revealed religion, and to ascertain in what the auSoon after this time, he ceased to write for the the Dutch, and the fire of London. It was written thority of revelation essentially consists. in four-line stanzas, a form which has since gone into disuse in heroic subjects; but the piece stage. His dramatic vein was probably exhausted, abounded in images of genuine poetry, though intermixed with many extravagances.
riod Mr. Malone refers a letter written by him to and his circumstances were distressed. To this pe At this period of his life, Dryden became pro- Hyde, Earl of Rochester, in which, with modest fessionally a writer for the stage, having entered dignity, he pleads merit enough not to deserve to into a contract with the patentees of the King's starve, and requests some small employment in the Theatre, to supply them with three plays in a year, customs or excise, or, at least, the payment of half upon the condition of being allowed the profit of a year's pension for the supply of his present necesone share and a quarter out of twelve shares and sities. He never obtained any of the requested three quarters, into which the theatrical stock was places, and was doomed to find the booksellers his divided. Of the plays written upon the above con- best patrons. tract, a small proportion have kept their place
Charles II. died in 1685, and was succeeded by on the stage, or in the closet. On the death of his brother James II., who openly declared his at Sir W. Davenant, in 1668, Dryden obtained the tachment to the religion of Rome. It was not long
before Dryden conformed to the same religion. to be told, that the ten concluding years of his life, This step has been the cause of much obloquy on in which he wrote for bread, and composed at a cerone side, and has found much excuse on the other; tain rate per line, were those of many of the pieces but if it be considered, from a view of his past life, which have most contributed to immortalize his that, in changing his religious profession, he could name. They were those of his translation of Juvehave had little difficulty to encounter, it will appear nal and Persius; of that of Virgil entire, a work no breach of candor to suppose that his immediate which enriches the English language, and has motive was nothing more than personal interest. greatly promoted the author's fame; of his celeThe reward he obtained for his compliance was an brated Alexander's Feast; and of his Fables, conaddition to his pension of 100l. per annum. Some taining some of the richest and most truly poetical time after he was engaged in a work which was the pieces which he ever composed. Of these, several longest single piece he ever composed. This was will appear in the subsequent collection of his works. his elaborate controversial poem of "The Hind Nor ought his prose writings to be neglected, and Panther." When completed, notwithstanding which, chiefly consisting of the critical essays preits unpromising subject, and signal absurdity of fixed to his poems, are performances of extraordiplan, such was the power of Dryden's verse, that it nary vigor and comprehension of mind, and afford, was read with avidity, and bore every mark of oc- perhaps, the best specimens of genuine English. cupying the public attention. The birth of a Dryden died of a spreading inflammation in one prince called forth a congratulatory poem from Dry- of his toes, on the first of May, 1700, and was den, entitled "Britannia Rediviva," in which he buried in Westminster Abbey, next to the tomb of ventured to use a poet's privilege of prophecy, fore- Chaucer. No monument marked his grave, till a telling a commencing era of prosperity to the nation | plain one, with his bust, was erected, at the expense and the church from this auspicious event; but in of Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham. He left behind vain! for the revolution took place within a few him three sons, all brought up to letters. His months, and the hopes of the party were blasted for own character was cold and reserved, backward in personal advances to the great, and rather heavy in Dryden was a severe sufferer from the change: conversation. In fact, he was too much engaged his posts and pensions were taken away, and the in literature to devote much of his time to society. poetical laurel was conferred upon his insignificant Few writers of his time delighted so much to aprival, Shadwell. He was now, in advanced life, to proach the verge of profaneness; whence it may depend upon his own exertions for a security from be inferred, that though religion was an interesting absolute indigence. His faculties were equal to topic of discussion to him, he had very little of its the emergency; and it will surprise some theorists spirit in his heart.