« PreviousContinue »
John DRYDEN was born, probably. in 1631, in post of poet-laureate, to which was added the sinethe parish of Aldwincle-Allsaints, in Northampton-cure place of historiographer royal; the joint sala. shire. His father possessed a small estate, acted ries of which amounted to 2001. as a justice of the peace during the usurpation, and The tragedies composed by Dryden were written 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 In 1681, and, as it is asserted, at the king's exsome “Heroic Stanzas," strongly marked by the press desire, he wrote his famous political poem, loftiness of expression and variety of imagery which entitled “Absalom and Achitophel ;" in which the characterized his more mature efforts. They were, incidents in the life of David were adapted to however, criticised with some severity.
those of Charles II. in relation to the Duke of At the Restoration, Dryden lost no time in oblit- Monmouth and the Earl of Shaftesbury. Its poetry 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 it raised the author to high favor base servility of his strains. He greeted the king's with the court party, so it involved him in irrecon. return by a poem, entitled “Astræa Redux,” which cilable enmity with its opponents. These feelings was followed by “A Panegyric on the Corona- were rendered more acute by his “Medal, a Satire 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 About 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. In 1682 he published “Macand 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 ed a singular poem, entitled “Annus Mirabilis," to give a compendious view of the arguments for the subjects of which were, the naval war with revealed religion, and to ascertain in whal the authe Dutch, and the fire of London. It was written thority of revelation essentially consists. in four-line stanzas, a form which has since gone Soon after this time, he ceased to write for the into disuse in heroic subjects; but the piece stage. His dramatic vein was probably exhausted, abounded in images of genuine poetry, though in- and his circumstances were distressed. To this pe. termixed with many extravagances.
riod Mr. Malone refers a letter written by him to 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 soine 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 necescne 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 brulher 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 Jure. have 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 cele. The reward he obtained for his compliance was an brated Alexander's Feast; and of his Fables, conaddition to his pension of 1001. 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.
What peace can be, where both to one pretend ?
(But they more diligent, and we more strong) Or if a peace, it soon must have an end;
For they would grow too powerful were it long
THE YEAR OF WONDERS, 1666.
IN thriving arts long time had Holland grown, Behold two nations, then, engag'd so far,
Crouching at home and cruel when abroad : That each seven years the fitmust shake each land Scarce leaving us the means to claim our own; Where France will side to weaken us by war,
Our king they courted, and our merchants aw'd. Who only can his vast designs withstand.
Trade, which like blood should circularly flow, See how he feeds th' Iberian with delays,
Stopp'd in their channels, found its freedom lost : To render us his timely friendship vain : Thither the wealth of all the world did go, And while his secret soul on Flanders preys,
And seem'd but shipwreck'd on so base a coast. He rocks the cradle of the babe of Spain. For them alone the Heavens had kindly heat; Such deep designs of empire does he lay
In eastern quarries ripening precious dew: O'er them, whose cause he seems to take in hand For them the Idumean balm did sweat,
And prudently would make them lords at sea, And in hot Ceilon spicy forests grew.
To whom with ease he can give laws by land The Sun but seem'd the laborer of the year ; This saw our king; and long within his breast
Each waxing Moon supplied her watery store, His pensive counsels balanc'd to and fro: To swell those tides which from the line did bear He griev'd the land he freed should be oppress'd
Their brim-full vessels to the Belgian shore. And he less for it than usurpers do.
Thus, mighty in her ships, stood Carthage long, His generous mind the fair ideas drew
And swept the riches of the world from far; Of fame and honor, which in dangers lay; Yet stoop'd to Rome, less wealthy, but more strong : Where wealth, like fruit on precipices, grew And this may prove our second Punic war. Not to be gather'd but by birds of prey
The loss and gain each fatally were great ;
And still his subjecte call'd aloud for war: But peaceful kings, o'er martial people set,
Each other's poise and counterbalance are.
By the rich scent we found our perfura'd prey.
Which, fank'd with rocks, did close in roven lje And round about their murdering cannun lay,
At once to threaten and invite the eye.
He first survey'd the charge with careful eyes, Fiercer than cannon, and than rocks more hand
Which none but mighty monarchs could maintain; The English undertake th' unequal war: Yet judg’d, like vapors that from lisabecs rise, Seven ships alone, by which the port is barr'd,
It would in richer showers descend again. Besiege the Indies, and all Denmark dare.
Or one, that bright companion of the Sun, Go, mortals, now, and vex yourselves in vain
Whose glorious aspect seald our new-born king; For wealth, which so uncertainly must come : And now, a round of greater years begun, When what was brought so far, and with such pain
New influence from his walks of light did bring. Was only kept to lose it nearer home.
Victorious York did first with fam'd success, The son, who twice three months on th' ocean tost,
To his known valor make the Dutch give place : Prepar'd to tell what ne had pass'd before, Thus Heaven our monarch's fortune did confess, Now sees in English ships the Holland coast, Beginning conquest from his royal race.
And parents' arms, in vain, stretch'd from the shore
But since it was decreed, auspicious king, This careful husband had been long away,
In Britain's right that thou shouldst wed the main, Whom his chaste wife and little children mourn · Heaven, as a gage, would cast some precious thing, Who on their fingers learn’d to tell the day
And therefore doom'd that Lawson should be slain. On which their father promisd to return.
Lawson amongst the foremost met his fate,
Whom sea-green Sirens from the rocks lament: Thus as an offering for the Grecian state,
He first was kill'd who first to battle went.
Such are the proud designs of human-kind,
And so we suffer shipwreck everywhere!
Who in the night of Fate must blindly steer!
Their chief blown up in air, not waves, expir’d, The undistinguish'd seeds of good and ill,
To which his pride presum'd to give the law: Heaven in his bosom from our knowledge hides The Dutch consess'd Heaven present, and retir'd, And draws them in contempt of human skill,
And all was Britain's the wide ocean saw. Which oft for friends mistaken foes provides.
To nearest ports their shatter'd ships repair,
Where by our dreadful cannon they lay aw'd: So reverently men quit the open air,
When thunder speaks the angry gods abroad.
Let Munster's prelate ever be accurst,
In whom we seek the German faith in vain : Alas, that he should teach the English first,
That fraud and avarice in the church could reign
And now approach'd their fleet from India, fraught Happy, who never trust a stranger's will,
Whose friendship’s in his interest understood !
When power is too remote to make him good. Like hunted castors, conscious of their store, (bring: Till now, alone the mighty nations strore;
Their waylaid wealth to Norway's coasts they The rest, at gaze, without the lists did stand : There first the North's cold bosom spices bore, And threatening France, plac'd like a painted Jovo,
And Winter brooded on the eastern Spring. Kept idle thunder in his lifted hand.
That eunuch guardian of rich Holland's trade,
Who envies us what he wants power t'enjoy ; Whuse noiseful valor does no foe invade,
And weak assistance will his friends destroy.
Our feet divides, and straight the Dutch appear,
In number, and a fam'd commander, bold: The narrow seas can scarce their navy bear,
Or crowded vessels can their soldiers hold.
Offended that we fought without his leave, The duke, less numerons, but in courage more,
He takes this time his secret hate to show: On wings of all the winds to combat flies : Which Charles does with a mind so calm receive, His murdering guns a loud defiance roar,
As one that neither seeks nor shuns his foe. And bloody crosses on his flag-staffs rise.
With France, to aid the Dutch, the Danes unite :
France as their tyrant, Denmark as their slave. But when with one three nations join to fight,
They silently confess that one more brave.
Both furl their sails, and strip them for the fight;
Their folded sheets dismiss the useless air: Th' Elean plains could boast no nobler sight,
When struggling champions did their bodies bare
Lewis had chas'd the English from his shore ;
But Charles the French as subjects does invite : Would Heaven for each some Solomon restore,
Who, by their mercy, may decide their right!
Borne each by other in a distant line,
The sea-built forts in dreadful order move: So vast the noise, as if not fleets did join,
But lands unfix'd, and floating nations strove.
Were subjects so but only by their choice, Now pass'd, on either side they nimbly tack;
And not from birth did forc'd dominion take, Both strive to intercept and guide the wind : Our prince alone would have the public voice ; And, in its eye, more closely they come back,
And all his neighbors' realms would deserts make. To finish all the deaths they left behind
He without fear a dangerous war pursues,
Which without rashness he began before : As honor made him first the danger choose,
So still he makes it good on virtue's score.
On high-rais'd decks the haughty Belgians ride,
Beneath whose shade our humble frigates go Such port the elephant bears, and so defied
By the rhinoceros her unequal foe.
The doubled charge his subjects' love supplies,
Who in that bounty to themselves are kind : So glad Egyptians see their Nilus rise,
And in his plenty their abundance find.
And as the built, so different is the fight:
Their mounting shot is on our sails design'd ; Deep in their bulls our deadly bullets light,
And through the yielding planks a passage find
With equal power he does two chiefs create, Our dreaded admiral from far they threat,
Two such as each seem'd worthiest when alone; Whose batter'd rigging their whole war receives Each able to sustain a nation's fate,
All bare, like some old oak which tempests beat, Since both had found a greater in their own. He stands, and sees below his scatter'd leaves. Both great in courage, conduct, and in fame, Heroes of old, when wounded, shelter sought;
Yet neither envious of the other's praise ; But he who meets all danger with disdain, Their duty, faith, and interest to the same, Ev'n in their face his ship to anchor brought, Like mighty partners equally they raise.
And steeple-high stood propt upon the main.
The prince long time had courted Fortune's love, At this excess of courage, all amaz'd,
The foremost of his foes awhile withdraw : Thus with their Amazons the heroes stove, With such respect in enter'd Rome they gaz’d,
And conquer'd first those beauties they would gain. Who on high chairs the godlike fathers saw. The duke beheld, like Scipio, with disdain, And now, as where Patroclus' body lay,
That Carthage, which he ruin'd, rise once more ; Here Trojan chiefs advanc'd, and there the Greek And shook aloft the fasces of the main,
Ours o'er the duke their pious wings display, To fright those slaves with what they felt before. And theirs the noblest spoils of Britain seek.
Together to the watery camp they haste,
Whom matrons passing to their children show: Infants' first vows for them to Heaven are cast,
And future people bless them as they go.
Meantime his busy mariners he hastes,
His shatter'd sails with rigging to restore ; And willing pines ascend his broken masts,
Whose lofty heads rise higher than before.
With them no riotous pomp, nor Asian train,
To infect a navy with their gaudy fears ; To make slow fights, and victories but vain:
But war severely like itself appears.
Straight to the Dutch he turns his dreadful prow,
More fierce th' important quarrel to decide : Like swans, in long array his vessels show,
Whose crests advancing do the waves divide. They charge, recharge, and all along the sea
They drive and squander the huge Belgian Acet Berkeley alone, who nearest danger lay,
Did a like fate with lost Creusa meet
Diffusive of themselves, where'er they pass,
They make that warmth in others they expect : Their valor works like bodies on a glass,
And does its image on their men project.
The night comes on, we eager to pursue
The combat still, and they asham’d to leave : Till the last streaks of dying day withdrew,
And doubtful moonlight did our rage deceive.
Meantime the Belgians tack upon our rear, (send :
And raking chase-guns through our sterns they
Who on their lions for the prey attend.
In th' English fleet each ship resounds with joy,
And loud applause of their great leader's fame : In fiery dreams the Dutch they still destroy,
And slumbering smile at the imagin'd flame.
Silent, in smoke of cannon they come on:
Such vapors once did fiery Cacus hide:
Who burn contented by another's side.
Not so the Holland feet, who, tir'd and done, Sometimes from fighting squadrons of each fleet,
Stretch'd on their decks like weary oxen lie: Deceiv'd themselves, or to preserve some friend, Faint sweats all down their mighty members run! Two grappling Etnas on the ocean meet,
Vast bulks, which little souls but ill supply. And English fires with Belgian flames contend.
In dreams they fearful precipices tread :
Now at each tack our little fleet grows less ; Or, shipwreck’d, labor to some distant shore : And, like maim'd fowl, swim lagging on the main : Or in dark churches walk among the dead ; Their greater loss their numbers scarce confess,
They wake with horror, and dare sleep no more. While they lose cheaper than the English gain.
The morn they look on with unwilling eyes, Have you not seen, when, whistled from the fist,
Till from their main-top joyful news they hear Some falcon stoops at what her eye design'd,
Straight flies at check, and clips it down the wind ?
Our watchful general had discern'd' from far The dastard crow, that to the wood made wing,
This mighty succor, which made glad the fue : And sees the groves no shelter can afford, He sigh'd, but like a father of the war,
With her loud kaws her craven kind does bring, His face spake hope, while deep his sorrows flow. Who safe in numbers cuff the noble bird.
His wounded men he first sends off to shore, Among the Dutch thus Albemarle did fare:
He could not conquer, and disdain'd to fly,
And think them happy who with him can stay. Like falling Cæsar, decently to die.
Then to the rest, “ Rejoice," said he, "to-day; Yet pity did his manly spirit move,
To see those perish who so well had fought.
And generously with his despair he strove, Whom Heaven has chose to fight for such a prize. Resolv'd to live till he their safety wrought.
“ If number English courages could quell, Let other Muses write his prosperous fate,
We should at first have shunn'd, not met our foes : Of conquer'd nations tell, and kings restor'd: Whose numerous sails the fearful only tell : But mine shall sing of his eclips'd estate,
Courage from hearts, and not from numbers grows." Which, like the Sun's, more wonders does afford
He said, nor needed more to say: with haste
To their known stations cheerfully they go;
Solicit every gale to meet the foe.
He drew his mighty frigates all before,
On which the foe his fruitless force employs His weak ones deep into his rear he bore
Remote from guns, as sick men from the noise.
Nor did th' encourag'd Belgians long delay,
But bold in others, not themselves, they stood:
But seem'd to wander in a moving wood.
His fiery cannon did their passage guide,
And following smoke obscur'd them from the foe, Thus Israel, safe from the Egyptian's pride,
By flaming pillars and by clouds did go.
Our little fleet was now engag'd so far,
Elsewhere the Belgian force we did defeat, That like the sword-fish in the whale they fought: But here our courages did theirs subdue : The combat only seem'd a civil war,
So Xenophon once led that fam'd retreat, Till through their bowels we our passage wrought: Which first the Asian empire overthrew.
Never had valor, no not ours, before
Done aught like this upon the land or main,
Than all the conquests former kings did gain.
The foe approach'd; and one for his bold sin
Was sunk; as he that touch'd the ark was slain; The wild waves master'd him and suck'd him in,
And smiling eddies dimpled on the main.
The mighty ghosts of our great Harries rose, This seen, the rest at awful distance stood :
And armed Edwards look'd with anxious eyes, As if they had been there as servants set, To see this fleet among unequal foes, (rise. To stay, or to go on, as he thought good,
Bv which Fate promis'd them their Charles should And not pursue, but wait on his retreat