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This piece, which concluded our author's labours as a dramatic poet, was unsuccessful when represented, and affords very little pleasure when perused. If we except“Amboyna,"our author never produced a play, where the tragic part had less interest, or the comic less humour. For the faults of “ Amboyna,” Dryden pleaded the barren nature of the subject, chosen not with a view to dramatic effect, but to attain a political purpose, and the hurry of writing upon a temporary theme. But that he should have failed, in a play avowed, ly intended to crown his dramatic labours, where the story was of his own device, and the composition at his own leisure, can only be imputed to that occasional fatness, or cessation of the divine influence, as an ancient would have expressed it, from which men of the highest poetic genius are not exempted. In despite of all cold reasoning upon this subject, the fact is irresistible, that our capacity of exerting mental talents, is not more absolute than that which we possess over our bodily powers.
We are in each case limited by a thousand external and internal circumstances, which occasion the greatest and most involuntary inequalities, between our happier and our inferior efforts, of mental abilities or of corporeal strength. It can only be to the temporary failure of the poetic inspiration, which, like the wind of heaven, bloweth where it listeth, and neither to want of labour, nor to impaired talents, that we are to attribute the inferiority of “ Love Triumphant," to almost all Dryden's other compositions.
The plot is unhappily chosen. For, as we have had already occasion to notice, stories turning, or appearing to turn, upon incestuous passion, have seldom been successtul upon the modern staget. Davies, in his“ Dramatic Miscellanies," attributes Garrick's renouncing hisin
tention of reviving the admirable old play of “King and no King," to the ardent passion which Arbaces conceives for his supposed sister; and which that excellent judge suspected would not be tolerated in our age. “Phædra and Hippolitus,” though most powerfully supported, both by actors and admirers, failed for the same reason; and, according to Davies, even the various excellencies of “Don Sebastian” were unable to expiate the disgust, excited by the unpleasing discovery of his relation to Almeyda. While “ Love Triumphant” labours under this capital and disagreeable defect, little ingenuity can be discovered in the story, abstracted from that consideration. The king of Castile suffers his sole and only offspring to remain in the court of a rival and hostile monarch, and even to head armies against him, supposing himself the son of his enemy. The virtuous Queen of Arragon cultivates and encourages a passion, having all the moral guilt of an incestuous attachment, between her own daughter and her supposed son. The tyrant Veramond is the only person who acts upon rational principles through the piece. He refuses the liberty of a rival king to the petulant demand of Alphonso; and not very unreasonably proposes to separate his son and daughter, before worse consequences arose from their infamous and impudently avowed passion. But by this very natural conduct, he gains the hatred of his wife, his children, and his subjects :
Miranda canit, sed non credenda, poeta. After so many and such violent stretches of probability, the author does not deign to wind up the plot, otherwise than by a sudden change in the temper and resolutions of Veramond, a conclusion which he himself admits in general to be grossly inartificial, and which in the present case is peculiarly infelicitous. The ruling passion of Veramond seems to be a hatred of his rival Ramirez, and a sort of instinctive antipathy to Alphonso, even when he believes him to be his own son, just arrived from conquest in his behalf. This hatred and aversion was not likely to be abated, by the objects of them turning out to be father and son ; nor much soothed, by the circumstance of their making him prisoner in his own metropolis. Yet, in this situation, moved by a few soft speeches from Celidea, who had taken a fancy to the intended husband of her sister, the tyrant of Arragon alters his whole family arrangements, and habits of mind; and takes his hated foes into his family and bosom, merely that the play may be concluded. The author of these inconsistencies can hardly escape the censure of Aristotle, against which he has pleaded in the preface.
With regard to the poetry of “ Love Triumphant," it is somewhat remarkable, that, in the most laboured scenes of this last effort of his tragic muse, Dryden has had recourse to his discarded mistress, Rhyme. As this could hardly arise from an alteration of his final opinion, it may have been owing to a consciousness, that there was some deficiency in the piece, which the harmony of numbers might veil, though it could not supply. The turn of the dialogue, also, is quite in our poet's early manner. The lovers, in the first scene of the second act, burning with a horrible passion, which they felt it death to conceal, and infamy and mortal sin to avow, communicate their feelings to each other in alternate couplets, like two contending Arcadians. Their horror evaporates in antithesis, and their passion in quaint prettinesses. Witness the speech of Alphonso :
Alph. Oh raging, impious, and yet hopeless fire !
If the tragic part of “Love Triumphant" have little merit, the comic has even less. The absurdity of the two gallants disguising themselves, in hopes to pass for the deceased Conde upon a mistress, who had borne him two children, is too gross for a puppetshow, or pantomime; and there is nothing in the dialogue to attone for the fatness, and extravagance of the plot.
It may, howbe remarked, that Sancho, a tawdry and conceited coxcomb, the son of a Jewish usurer, and favoured by the father of his mistress, only for his wealth, has some resemblance in manners and genealogy to a much more pleasant character, that of Isaac in the
It is impossible to dismiss a performance of Dryden, without some tribute of praise. The verse, where it is employed, pussesses, as usual, all the dignity which numbers can give to language ; and the Song upon Jealousy, as well as that in the character of a Girl, have superior merit.
The play was received as ill as might be; so at least we are ine formed by a curious letter, preserved by Mr Malone, dated 22d March 1673-4, in which the writer, after chuckling over the failure of the “ Double Dealer," and the absolute damnation of " Love Triumphant,” concludes, that the success of Southerne's " Fatal Marriage" will encourage the minor poets, “and vex huf