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they have nothing yet uncouth or obsolete.' Perhaps the only abatements that need be made from this elaborate eulogy are contained in the admissions that in his prose writings, as in his poems, he is sometimes coarse and vulgar, that the play of images' of which Johnson speaks, arises not so much from a fervid imagination as from a well-stored mind familiar with its own resources, and that now, at the distance of a second century, the absence of uncouth or obsolete expressions cannot be affirmed quite so unhesitatingly as when Johnson wrote.
Dryden attached himself to the Court party in the reigns of Charles II and James II, in the latter of which he left the Church of England for the Church of Rome. At the Revolution he was dismissed from the place of Poet Laureate, which he had held since 1668, and lived in comparative obscurity, though he was still patronized by several of the nobility. He died in 1700.
DIONYSIUS and Nero had the same longing, but with all their power they could never bring their business well about. 'Tis true, they proclaimed themselves poets by sound of trumpet; and poets they were, upon pain of death to any man who durst call them otherwise. The audience had a fine time on't, you may imagine ; they sat in a bodily fear, and looked as demurely as they could: for it was a hanging matter to laugh unseasonably; and the tyrants were suspicious, as they had reason, that their subjects had them in the wind; so, every man, in his own defence, set as good a face upon the business as he could. It was known beforehand that the monarchs were to be crowned laureats; but when the show was over, and an honest man was suffered to depart quietly, he took out his laughter which he had stifled; with a firm resolution never more to see an emperor's play, though he had been ten years a making it. In the meantime the true poets were they who made the best markets, for they had wit enough to yield the prize with a good grace, and not contend with him who had thirty legions. They were sure to be rewarded, if they confessed themselves bad writers, and that was somewhat better than to be martyrs for their reputation. Lucan's example was enough to teach them manners; and after he was put to death, for overcoming Nero, the emperor carried it without dispute for the best poet in his dominions. No man was ambitious of that grinning honour; for if he heard the malicious trumpeter proclaiming his name before his betters, he knew there was but one way with him. Mecaenas took another course, and we know he was more than a great man, for he was witty too: but finding himself far gone in poetry, which Seneca assures us was not his talent, he thought it his best way to be well with Virgil and with Horace; that at least he might be a poet at the second hand: and we
see how happily it has succeeded with him; for his own bad poetry is forgotten, and their panegyrics of him still remain. But they who should be our patrons, are for no such expensive ways to fame; they have much of the poetry of Mecaenas, but little of his liberality.
They are for persecuting Horace and Virgil, in the persons of their successors; for such is every man, who has any part of their soul and fire, though in a less degree. Some of their little zanies yet go farther; for they are persecutors even of Horace himself, as far as they are able, by their ignorant and vile imitations of him ; by making an unjust use of his authority, and turning his artillery against his friends. But how would he disdain to be copied by such hands! I dare
answer for him, he would be more uneasy in their company, than he was with Crispinus, their forefather, in the Holy Way; and would no more have allowed them a place amongst the critics, than he would Demetrius the mimic, and Tigellius the buffoon;
-Demetri, teque, Tigelli,
Discipularum inter jubeo plorare cathedras. With what scorn would he look down upon such miserable translators, who make doggrel of his Latin, mistake his meaning, misapply his censures, and often contradict their own? He is fixed as a landmark to set out the bounds of poetry:
-Saxum antiquum, ingens,—
Limes agro positus, litem ut discerneret arvis. But other arms than theirs, and other sinews are required, to raise the weight of such an author; and when they would toss him against their enemies,
Genua labant, gelidus concrevit frigore sanguis.
This last consideration seems to incline the balance on the side of Horace, and to give him the preference to Juvenal, not only in profit, but in pleasure. But, after all, I must confess, that the delight which Horace gives me is but languishing. Be pleased still to understand, that I speak of my own taste only: he may ravish other men; but I am too stupid and insensible to be tickled. Where he barely grins himself, and, as Scaliger says, only shows his white teeth, he cannot provoke me to any laughter. His urbanity, that is, his good manners, are to be commended, but his wit is faint; and his salt, if I may dare to say so, almost insipid. Juvenal is of a more vigorous and masculine wit; he gives me as much pleasure as I can bear; he fully satisfies my expectation; he treats his subject home; his spleen is raised, and he raises mine: I have the pleasure of concernment in all he says; he drives his reader along with him; and when he is at the end of his way, I willingly stop with him. If he went another stage, it would be too far: it would make a journey of a progress, and turn delight into fatigue. When he gives over, it is a sign the subject is exhausted, and the wit of man can carry it no farther. If a fault can be justly found in him, it is, that he is sometimes too luxuriant, too redundant; says more than he needs, like my friend the Plain Dealer, but never more than pleases. Add to this, that his thoughts are as just as those of Horace, and much more elevated. His expressions are sonorous and more noble; his verse more numerous, and his words are suitable to his thoughts, sublime and lofty. All these contribute to the pleasure of the reader; and the greater the soul of him who reads, his transports are the greater. Horace is always on the amble, Juvenal on the gallop; but his way is perpetually on carpetground. He goes with more impetuosity than Horace, but as securely; and the swiftness adds a more lively agitation to the spirits.
To be nobly born, and of an ancient family, is in the extremes of fortune, either good or bad; for virtue and descent are no inheritance. A long series of ancestors shews the native with great advantage at the first; but, if he any way degenerate from his line, the least spot is visible on ermine. But, to preserve this whiteness in its original purity, you, my lord, have, like that ermine, forsaken the common tract of business, which is not always clean: you have chosen for yourself a private greatness, and will not be polluted with ambition. It has been observed in former times, that none have been so greedy of employments, and of managing the public, as they who have least deserved their stations. But such only merit to be called patriots, under whom we see their country flourish. I have laughed sometimes, (for who would always be a Heraclitus ?) when I have reflected on those men, who from time to time have shot themselves into the world. I have seen many successions of them; some bolting out upon the stage with vast applause, and others hissed off, and quitting it with disgrace. But, while they were in action, I have constantly observed, that they seemed desirous to retreat from business: greatness, they said, was nauseous, and a crowd was troublesome : a quiet privacy was their ambition. Some few of them, I believe, said this in earnest, and were making a provision against future want, that they might enjoy their age with ease. They saw the happiness of a private life, and promised to themselves a blessing, which every day it was in their power to possess. But they deferred it, and lingered still at court, because they thought they had not yet enough to make them happy: they would have more, and laid in, to make their solitude luxurious :- a wretched philosophy, which Epicurus never taught them in his garden. They loved the prospect of this quiet in reversion, but were not willing to have it in possession : they would first be old, and make as sure of health and life, as if both of them were at their dispose. But put them to the necessity of a present choice, and they preferred continuance in power; like the wretch who called Death to his assistance, but refused him when he came.