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What are ten thousand subjects, such as they?
Dryden's apology for these extravagancies seems to be, that Almanzor is in a passion. But, although talking nonsense is a common effect of passion, it seems hardly one of those consequences adapted to shew forth the character of a hero in theatrical representation.
It must be owned, however, that although the part of Almanzor contains these and other bombastic passages, there are many also which convey what the poet desired to represent---the aspirations of a mind so heroic as almost to surmount the bonds of society, and even the very laws of the universe, leaving us often in doubt whether the vehemence of the wish does not even disguise the impossibility of its accomplishment.
Good heaven ! thy book of fate before me lay,
In the less inflated parts, the ideas are usually as just, as ingenious and beautiful; for example.
No; there is a necessity in fate,
The character of Almanzor is well known as the original of Drawcansir, in “The Rehearsal,” into whose mouth parodies ot some of Dryden's most extravagant flights have been put by the duke of Buckingham. Shaftesbury also, whose family had smarted under
Dryden's satire, attempts to trace the applause bestowed on the ** Conquest of Granada” to what he calls “ the correspondence and relation between our Royal Theatre and popular Circus, or Bear-Garden. For, in the former of these assemblys, 'tis undeniable, that, at least, the two upper regions, or galleries, contain such spectators as indifferently frequent cach place of sport. So that 'tis no wonder we hear such applause resounded on the victories of an Almanzor, when the same parties had possibly no later than the day before bestowed their applause as fieely on the victorious Butcher, the hero of another stage.” Miscellaneous Reflections. Miscell. 5.
The other personages of the drama sink into Lilliputians, beside the gigantic Almanzor, although the under plot of the loves of Ozmyn and Benzayda is beautiful in itself, and ingeniously managed. The virtuous Almahide is a fit object for the adoration of Almanzor; but her husband is a poor pageant of royalty. As for Lyndaraxa, her repeated and unparalleled treachery can only be justified by the extreme imbecility of her lovers.
The plot of the play is, in part, taken from history. During the last years of its existence, Granada, the poor remnant of the Moorish empire in Spain, was torn to pieces with intestine discord, and assailed without by the sword of the Christians. The history of the civil wars of Granada, affirmed to be translated into Spanish from the Arabian, gives a romantic, but not altogether fabulous, account of their discord. But a romance in the French tasté, called Almahide, seems to have been the chief source from which our author drew his plot.
In the conduct of the story there is much brilliancy of event. The reader, or spectator, is never allowed to repose on the scene before him; and although the changes of fortune are too rapid to be either probable, or altogether pleasing, yet they arrest the attention by their splendour and importance, and interest us in spite of our more sober judgment. The introduction of the ghost of Almanzor's mother seems to have been intended to shew how the bero could support even an interview with an inhabitant of the other world. At least, the professed purpose of her coming might have been safely trusted to the virtue of Almahide, and her power over her lover. It afforded an opportunity, however, to throw in some fine poetry, of which Dryden has not failed to avail himself. Were it not a peculiar attribute of the heroic drama, it might be mentioned as a defect, that during the siege of the last possession of the Spanish Moors, by an enemy lated for his religion, and for his success, the principle of patriotism is hardly once alluded to through the whole piece. The fate, or the wishes, of Almahide, Lyndaraxa, and Benzayda, are all that in
terest the Moorish warriors around them, as if the Christian was not thundering at their gates, to exterminate at, once their nation and religion. Indeed, so essentially necessary are the encouragements of beauty to military achievement, that we find queen Isabella ordering to the field of battle a corps de reserve of her maids of honour, to animate the fighting warriors with their smiles, and counteract the powerful charms of the Moorish damsels. Nor is it an inferior fault, that, although the characters are called Moors, there is scarce any expression, or allusion, which can fix the reader's attention upon their locality, except an occasional interjection to Alha, or Mahomet.
If, however, the reader can abstract his mind from the qualities now deemed essential to a play, and consider the Conquest of Granada as a piece of romantic poetry, there are few compositions in the English language, which convey a more lively and favourable display of the magnificence of fable, of language, and of action, proper to that style of composition. Amid the splendid ornaments of the structure we lose sight of occasional disproportion and incongruity; and, at an early age particularly, there are few poems which make a more deep impression upon the imagination, than the Conquest of Granada.
The two parts of this drama were brought out in the same season, probably in winter, 1669, or spring, 1670. They were received with such applause, that Langbaine conceives their success to have been the occasion of Dryden's undervaluing his predecessors in dramatic writing. The Conquest of Granada was not printed till 1672.
HEROIC poesy has always been sacred to princes, and to heroes. Thus Virgil inscribed his Æneids to Augustus Cæsar ; and of latter ages, Tasso and Ariosto dedicated their poems to the house of Este. It is indeed but justice, that the most excellent and most profitable kind of writing should be addressed by poets to such persons, whose characters have, for the most part, been the guides and patterns of their imitation; and poets, while they imitate, instruct. The feigned hero inflames the true; and the dead virtue animates the living. Since, therefore, the world is governed by precept and example, and both these can only have influence from those persons who are above us; that kind of poesy, which excites to virtue the greatest men, is of the greatest use to human kind.
* James Duke of York, afterwards James II.
It is from this consideration, that I have presumed to dedicate to your royal highness these faint representations of your own worth and valour in heroick poetry : Or, to speak more properly, not to dedicate, but to restore to you those ideas, which in the more perfect part of my characters I have taken from you. Heroes may lawfully be delighted with their own praises, both as they are farther incitements to their virtue, and as they are the highest returns which mankind can make them for it.
And certainly, if ever nation were obliged, either by the conduct, the personal * valour, or the good fortune of a leader, the English are acknowledging, in all of them, to your royal highness. Your whole life has been a continued series of heroick actions ; which you began so early, that you were no sooner named in the world, but it was with praise and admiration. Even the first blossoms of your youth paid us all that could be expected from a ripening manhood. While you practised but the rudiments of war, you out-went all other captains; and have since found none to surpass, but yourself alone, The opening of your glory was like that of light: You shone to us from afar; and disclosed your first beams on distant nations : Yet so, that the lustre of them was spread abroad, and reflected brightly on your native country. You were then an ho
* Although the valour of the unfortunate James II. seems to have sunk with his good fortune, there is no reason to question his having merited the compliment in the text. The Duke of Buckingham, in his memoirs, has borne witness to the intrepidity with which he encountered the dangers of his desperate naval actions with the Dutch. Captain Carlton, who was also an eye-witness of his deportment on that occasion, says, that while the balls were flying thickly around, the Duke of York was wont to rub his hands, and exclaim chearfully to his captain, “ Spragge, Spragge, they follow us fast.”