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lished with sculptures; those ornaments seem to have given poor Dryden great disturbance. He tries however to ease his pain by venting his malice in a parodv. "The poet has not only been so imprudent to "expose all this stuff, but so arrogant to defend it "with an epistle; like a saucy booth-keeper, that, "when he had put a cheat upon the people, would wrangle and fight with any that would not like "it, or would offer to discover it; for which arrogance our poet receives this correction; and, to jerk him a little the sharper, I will not transpose his verse, but by the help of his own words transnonsense sense, that, by my stuff, people may judge the better what his is:
"Great Boy, thy tragedy and sculptures done,
From press and plates, in fleets do homeward come;
And in ridiculous and humble pride,
Their course in ballad-singers' baskets guide,
Whose greasy twigs do all new beauties take,From the gay shews thy dainty sculptures make.
Thy lines a mess of rhyming nonsense yield,A senseless tale, with flattering fustian fill'd.No grain of sense does in one line appear,
Thy words big bulks of boisterous bombast bear.
With noise they move, and from players' mouths rebound,
When their tongues dance to thy words' empty sound.
By thee inspir'd the rumbling verses roll,As if that rhyme and bombast lent a soul:
And with that soul they seem taught duty too;To huffing words does humble nonsense bow,As if it would thy worthless worth enhance,To th' lowest rank of fops thy praise advance,To whom, by instinct, all thy stuff is dear:
Their loud claps echo to the theatre.From breaths of fools thy commendation spreads,Fame sings thy praise with mouths of loggerheads.
With noise and laughing each thy fustian greets,
"Thus I have daubed him with his own puddle: and now we are come from aboard his dancing, masking, rebounding, breathing fleet; and, as if we had landed at Gotham, we meet nothing but fools and nonsense."
Such was the criticism to which the genius of Dryden could be reduced, between rage and terrour; rage with little provocation, and terrour with little danger. To see the highest minds thus levelled with the meanest, may produce some solace to the consciousness of weakness, and some mortification to the pride of wisdom. But let it be remembered, that minds are not levelled in their powers but when they are first levelled in their desires. Dryden and Settle had both placed their happiness in the claps of multitudes.
An Evening's Love, or The Mock Astrologer, a comedy (1671), is dedicated to the illustrious Duke of Newcastle, whom he courts by adding to his praises those of his lady, not only as a lover but a partner of his studies. It is unpleasing to think how many names, once celebrated, are since forgotten. Of Newcastle's works nothing is now known but his Treatise on Horsemanship.
The Preface seems very elaborately written, and contains many just remarks on the Fathers of the English drama. Shakspeare's plots, he says, are in the hundred novels. of Cinthio; those of Beaumont and Fletcher in Spanish Stories; Jonson only made
them for himself. His criticisms upon tragedy, comedy, and farce, are judicious and profound. He endeavours to defend the immorality of some of his comedies by the example of former writers; which is only to say, that he was not the first nor perhaps the greatest offender. Against those that accused him of plagiarism he alleges a favourable expression of the King: "He only desired that they, who accuse me of thefts, would steal him plays like mine;" and then relates how much labour he spends in fitting for the English stage what he borrows from others.
Tyrannick Love, or the Virgin Martyr (1672), was another tragedy in rhyme, conspicuous for many passages of strength and elegance, and many of empty noise and ridiculous turbulence. The rants of Maximin have been always the sport of criticism; and were at length, if his own confession may be trusted, the shame of the writer.
Of this play he takes care to let the reader know, that it was contrived and written in seven weeks. Want of time was often his excuse, or perhaps shortness of time was his private boast in the form of an apology.
It was written before The Conquest of Granada, but published after it. The design is to recommend piety. "I considered that pleasure was not the "only end of Poesy; and that even the instructions of morality were not so wholly the business of a poet, as that precepts and examples of piety were to be omitted; for to leave that employment altogether to the clergy, were to forget that religion was first taught in verse, which the laziness or dullness of succeeding priesthood turned afterwards into prose." Thus foolishly could Dryden write, rather than not shew his malice to the parsons.
The two parts of The Conquest of Gra?iada (1672) are written with a seeming determination to glut the publick with dramatick wonders, to exhibit in its highest elevation a theatrical meteor of incredible love and impossible valour, and to leave no room for a wilder flight to the extravagance of posterity. All the rays of romantick heat, whether amorous or warlike, glow in Almanzor by a kind of concentration. He is above all laws; he is exempt from all restraints; he ranges the world at will, and governs wherever he appears. He fights without enquiring the cause, and loves in spight of the obligations of justice, of rejection by his mistress, and of prohibition from the dead. Yet the scenes are, for the most part, delightful; they exhibit a kind of illustrious depravity, and majestick madness: such as, if it is sometimes despised, is often reverenced, and in which the ridiculous is mingled with the astonishing.
In the Epilogue to the second part of The Conquest of Granada, Dryden indulges his favourite pleasure of discrediting his predecessors; and this Epilogue he has defended by a long postscript. He had promised a second dialogue, in which he should more fully treat of the virtues and faults of the English poets, who have written in the dramatick, epick, or lyrick way. This promise was never formally performed; but, with respect to the dramatick writers, he has given us in his prefaces, and in this postscript, something equivalent; but his purpose being to exalt himself by the comparison, he shews faults distinctly, and only praises excellence in general terms.
A play thus written, in professed defiance of probability, naturally drew upon itself the vultures of the theatre. One of the criticks that attacked it was Martin Clifford, to whom Sprat addressed the Life of Cowley, with such veneration of his critical powers as might naturally excite great expectations of instructions from his remarks. But let honest credulity beware of receiving characters from contemporary writers. Clifford's remarks, by the favour of Dr. Percy, were at last obtained; and, that no man may ever want them more, I will extract enough to satisfy all reasonable desire.
In the first Letter his observation is only general: "You do live," says he, "in as much ignorance "and darkness as you did in the womb: your writings are like a Jack-of-all-trades shop; they have "a variety, but nothing of value; and if thou art "not the dullest plant-animal that ever the earth "produced, all that I have conversed with are "strangely mistaken in thee."
In the second he tells him that Almanzor is not more copied from Achilles than from Ancient Pistol. "But I am," says he, "strangely mistaken if I "have not seen this very Almanzor of yours in some "disguise about this town, and passing under another name. Pr'ythee tell me true, was not this "Huffcap once the Indian Emperor f and at another "time did he not call himself Maximin f Was not "Lyndaraxa once called Almeira f I mean under Montezuma the Indian Emperor. I protest and "vow they are either the same, or so alike, that I "cannot, for my heart, distinguish one from the "other. You are therefore a strange unconscionable thief; thou art not