Page images

fing Dryden, and Congreve, to madnesst.” Dryden himself, it may be noticed, says nothing in the preface concerning the reception of the piece: all authorities, however, state it to have been unfavourable; and thus, as Dr Johnson has remarked, this great poet opened and closed his theatrical career with bad success; a fact, which may secure the inexperienced author from despondence, and teach him who has gained reputation, how little he ought to presume on its stability.

“Love Triumphant" was first acted and published in 1693-4.

+ « The second play is Mr Dryden's, called “ Love Triumphant, or 'Nature will prevail." It is a tragi-comedy; but, in my opinion, one of the worst he ever writ, if not the very worst : the coinical part descends beneath the style and show of a Bartholomew-Fair droll. It was damned by the universal cry of the town, nemine contradicente but the conceited poet. He says in his prologue, that this is the last the town must expect from him; he bad done himself a kindness, had he taken his leave before.





MY LORD, This poem, being the last which I intend for the theatre, ought to have the same provision made for it, which old men make for their youngest child, which is commonly a favourite. They, who were born before it, carry away the patrimony by right of eldership; this is to make its fortune in the world, and since I can do little for it, natural affection calls upon me to put it out, at least, into the best service which I can procure for it; and, as it is the usual practice of our decayed gentry to look about them for some illustrious family, and their

[ocr errors]

James, the fourth Earl of Salisbury, was strongly attached to the religion and cause of his former master, James II., a reason, doubtless, tor Dryden inscribing to him his last dramatic offspring. There was also a connection betwixt our poet's lady and the Earl, which is aliuded to in the dedication. The Earl succeeded to the title in :683.


endeavour to fix their young darling, where he may be both well educated and supported; * I have herein also followed the custom of the world, and am satisfied in my judgment, that I could not have

* It was an ancient custom derived from the days of chivalry, but which long survived them, that, as formerly the future knight had to go through a preliminary course of education, as page and squire to some person of rank and valour ; so the pages of the quality, so late as the Revolution, were the sons of gentlemen, and in no way derogated from their birth by accepting that menial situation. This is often alluded to in the old plays. In the “ New Inn” for example, when Lovel asks of the Host his son for a page, we have an account of the decay of the institution from its original purposes and respectability.

Lovel. Call you that desperate, which by a line
Of institution from our ancestors
Hath been derived down to us, and received
In a succession, tor the noblest way
Of breeding up our youth in letters, arms,
Fair mien, discourses, civil exercise,
* And all the blazon of a gentleman ?
Where can he learn to vault, to ride, to fence,
To move his body gracefuller ? to speak
His language purer? or tune his mind
And manners more to the harmony of nature,
Than in these nurseries of nobility ?-

Host. Aye, that was when the nurseries self was noble,
And only virtue made it, not the market,
That titles were not vented at the drum
Or common outcry : Goodness gave the greatness,
And greatness worship : Every house became
An academy of honour, and those parts
We see departed in the practice now
Quite from the institution.

Lovel. Why do you say so,
Or think so enviously? do they not still
Learn there the centaur's skill, the art of Thrace,
To ride? or Pollux' mystery, to fence ?
The Pyrrhick gesture, both to dance and spring
In armour ? to be active for the wars?
To study figures, numbers, and proportions,
May yield them great in counsel ? and the arts,
Grave Nestor and the wise Ulysses practised,
To make their English sweet upon their tongue,
As reverend Chaucer says ?

Host. Sir, you mistake.
To play Sir Pandarus my copy hath it,
And carry messages to Madam Cresside;

made a more worthy choice. It is true, I am not vain enough to think that any thing of mine can in any measure be worthy of your lordship's patronage ; and yet I should be ashamed to leave the stage, without some acknowledgment of your

former favours, which I have more than once experienced Besides the honour of my wife's relation to your noble house, * to which my sons may plead some title, though I cannot; you have been pleased to take a particular notice of me, even in this lowness of my fortunes, to which I have voluntarily reduced myself; and of which I have no reason to be ashamed. This condescension, my lord, is not only becoming of your antient family, but of your personal character in the world; and, if I value myself the more for your indulgence to me, and your opinion of me, it is because any thing which you like, ought to be considered as something in itself;

Instead of backing the brave steed o' mornings,
To mount the chambermaid, and, for a leap
O' the vaulting horse, to ply the vaulting house;
For exercise of arms, a bale of dice,
Or two or three packs of cards, to shew the cheat,
And nimbleness of hand; mistake a cloak
From my lord's back, and pawn it; ease his pockets
Of a superfluous watch ; or geld a jewel
Of an odd stone or so ; twinge two or three buttons
From off my lady's gown. These are the arts,
Or seven liberal deadly sciences
Of pagery, or rather paganism,
As the udes run; to which if he apply him,

may perhaps take a degree at 1vburn
A year the earlier ; come to read a lecture
Upon Aquinas at St Thomas a watering's,
And so go forth a laureat in hemp circle.

New Inn. Act I. Scene 3d. * The second earl of Salisbury married an aunt of Lady Elizabeth Dryden; his son, lord Cranbourne, was grandfather of James, the fourth earl; and therein consisted the relationship between Dryden's sons, and the family of his patron, to which it is somewhat difficult, in modern days, to give an exact name.


and therefore I must not undervalue my present labours, because I have presumed to make you my patron. A man may be just to himself, though he ought not to be partial ; and I dare affirm, that the several manners which I have given to the persons of this drama, are truly drawn from nature, all perfectly distinguished from each other; that the fable is not injudiciously contrived; that the turns of fortune are not managed unartfully; and that the last revolution is happily enough invented. Aristotle, I acknowledge, has declared, that the catastrophe which is made from the change of will, is not of the first order of beauty ; but it may reasonably be alledged, in defence of this play, as well as of the“Cinna," (which I take to be the very best of Corneille's,) that the philosopher, who made the rule, copied all the laws, which he gave for the theatre, from the authorities and examples of the Greek poets, which he had read; and from their poverty of invention, he could get nothing but mean conclusions of wretched tales : where the mind of the chief actor was, for the most part, changed without art or preparation; only because the poet could not otherwise end his play. Had it been possible for Aristotle to have seen the “Cinna,” I am confident he would have altered his opinion; and concluded, that a simple change of will might be managed with so much judgment, as to render it the most agreeable, as well as the most surprising part of the whole fable; let Dacier, and all the rest of the modern critics, who are too much bigotted to the ancients, contend ever so much to the contrary. I was afraid that I had been the inventor of a new sort of designing, when, in my third act, I make a discovery of my Alphonso's true parentage. If it were so, what wonder had it been, that dramatic poetry, though a limited art, yet might be capable

« PreviousContinue »