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No comet need foretell his change drew on,
Whose corpse might seem a constellation. At the university he does not appear to have been eager of poetical distinction, or to have lavished his early wit either on fictitious subjects, or publick occasions. He probably considered, that he who proposed to be an author, ought first to be a student. He obtained, whatever was the reason, no fellowship in the College. Why he was excluded cannot now be known, and it is vain to guess ; had he thought himself injured, he knew how to complain. In the Life of Plutarch he mentions his education in the College with gratitude; but, in a prologue at Oxford, he has these lines :
Oxford to him a dearer name shall be
It was not till the death of Cromwell, in 1658, that he became a publick candidate for fame, by publishing Heroic Stanzas on the late Lord Protector*; which, compared with the verses of Sprat and Waller on the same occasion, were sufficient to raise great expectations of the rising poet.
When the King was restored, Dryden, like the other panegyrists of usurpation, changed his opinion, or his profession, and published “ Astrea Redux; a poem on the happy Restoration and Return of his most sacred Majesty King Charles the Second.”
The reproach of inconstancy was, on this occasion, * This is a mistake; his poem on the death of Lord Hastings appeared in a volume entitled “ Tears of the Muses on the Death of Henry Lord Hastings.” 8vo. 1649! M.
shared with such numbers, that it produced neither hatred nor disgrace; if he changed, he changed with the nation. It was, however, not totally forgotten when his reputation raised him enemies.
The same year he praised the new King in a second poem on his restoration. In the Astrea was the line,
An horrid stillness first invades the ear,
And in that silence we a tempest fearfor which he was persecuted with perpetual ridicule, perhaps with more than was deserved. Silence is indeed mere privation; and, so considered, cannot invade; but privation likewise certainly is darkness, and probably cold; yet poetry has never been refused the right of ascribing effects or agency to them as to positive powers. No man scruples to say that darkness hinders him from his work; or that cold has killed the plants. Death is also privation; yet who has made any difficulty of assigning to Death a dart and the power of striking ?
In settling the order of his works there is some difficulty; for, even when they are important enough to be formally offered to a patron, he does not commonly date his dedication; the time of writing and publishing is not always the same; nor can the first editions be easily found, if even from them could be obtained the necessary information.*
The time at which his first play was exhibited is not certainly known, because it was not printed till it was, some years afterwards, altered and revived; but since the plays are said to be printed in the order in
* The order of his plays has been accurately ascertained by Mr. Malone. C.
which they were written, from the dates of some, those of others may be inferred; and thus it may be collected, that in 1663, in the thirty-second year of his life, he commenced a writer for the stage; compelled undoubtedly by necessity, for he appears never to have loved that exercise of his genius, or to have much pleased himself with his own dramas.
Of the stage, when he had once invaded it, he kept possession for many years; not indeed without the competition of rivals who sometimes prevailed, or the censure of criticks, which was often poignant and often just; but with such a degree of reputation as made him at least secure of being heard, whatever might be the final determination of the publick.
His first piece was a comedy called the Wild Gallant*. He began with no happy auguries ; for his performance was so much disapproved, that he was compelled to recall it, and change it from its imperfect state to the form in which it now appears, and which is yet sufficiently defective to vindicate the criticks.
I wish that there were no necessity of following the progress of his theatrical fame, or tracing the meanders of his mind through the whole series of his dramatick performances ; it will be fit, however, to enumerate them, and to take especial notice of those that are distinguished by any peculiarity, intrinsick or concomitant; for the composition and fate of eightand-twenty dramas include too much of a poetical life to be omitted.
In 1664, he published the Rival Ladies, which he dedicated to the Earl of Orrery, a man of high
* The Duke of Guise was his first attempt in the drama, but laid aside, and afterwards new-modelled. See MALONE, p. 51.
reputation both as a writer and a statesman. In this play he made his essay of dramatick rhyme, which he defends in his dedication, with sufficient certainty of a favourable hearing; for Orrery was himself a writer of rhyming tragedies.
He then joined with Sir Robert Howard in the Indian Queen, a tragedy in rhyme. The parts which either of them wrote are not distinguished.
The Indian Emperor was published in 1667. It is a tragedy in rhyme, intended for a sequel to Howard's Indian Queen. Of this connection notice was given to the audience by printed bills, distributed at the door ; an expedient supposed to be ridiculed in the Rehearsal, where Bayes tells how many reams he has printed, to instill into the audience some conception of his plot.
In this play is the description of Night, which Rymer has made famous by preferring it to those of all other poets.
The practice of making tragedies in rhyme was introduced soon after the Restoration, as it seems, by the Earl of Orrery, in compliance with the opinion of Charles the Second, who had formed his taste by the French theatre; and Dryden, who wrote, and made no difficulty of declaring that he wrote, only to please, and who perhaps knew that by his dexterity of versification he was more likely to excel others in rhyme than without it, very readily adopted his master's preference. He therefore made rhyming tragedies, till, by the prevalence of manifest propriety, he seems to have grown ashamed of making them any longer.
To this play is prefixed a very vehement defence of dramatick rhyme, in confutation of the preface
to the Duke of Lerma, in which Sir Robert Howard had censured it.
In 1667 he published Annus Mirabilis, the Year of Wonders, which may be esteemed one of his most elaborate works.
It is addressed to Sir Robert Howard by a letter, which is not properly a dedication ; and, writing to a poet, he has interspersed many critical observations, of which some are common, and some perhaps ventured without much consideration. He began, even now, to exercise the domination of conscious genius, by recommending his own performance : “ I am satisfied that as the Prince and General [Rupert and Monk] are incomparably the best subjects I ever had, so what I have written on them is much better than what I have performed on any other. As I have endeavoured to adorn my poem with noble thoughts, so much more to express those thoughts with elocution.”
It is written in quatrains, or heroick stanzas of four lines ; a measure which he had learned from the Gondibert of Davenant, and which he then thought the most majestick that the English language affords. Of this stanza he mentions the incumbrances, encreased as they were by the exactness which the age required. It was, throughout his life, very much his custom to recommend his works, by representation of the difficulties that he had encountered, without appearing to have sufficiently considered, that where there is no difficulty there is no praise.
There seems to be, in the conduct of Sir Robert Howard and Dryden towards each other, something that is not now easily to be explained *. Dryden, in
* See Malone, p. 91. VOL. VI.