Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

In dreams they fearful precipices tread,

Or, shipwreck'd, labout to some distant shore :
Or, in dark churches, walk among the dead;

They wake with horros, and dare sleep no more. It is a general rule in poetry, that all appropriated terms of art should be sunk in general expressions, because poetry is to speak an universal language. This rule is still stronger with regard to arts not liberal, or confined to feu, and therefore far removed from common knowledge ; and of this kind, certainly, is technical navigation. Yet Dryden was of opinion, that a sea-fight ought to be described i;. the nautical language ; " and certainly,” says he, as those, who in a logical disputation keep to general terms would hide a “ fallacy, so those who do it in poetical description would yeil their ignorance.”

Let us then appeal to experience ; for by experience at last we learn as well what will please as ú'hat will profit. In the battle, his terms seem to have been blown away; but he deals them liberally in the dock :

So here some pick out bullets from the side,

Some drive old okum thro' each seam and rift :
Their left-hand does the calking-iron guide,

The rattling mallet with the right they lift.
With boiling pitch another near at hand

(From friendly Sweden brought) the seams instops;
Which, well laid o'er, the salt-sea waves withstand,

And shake them from the rising beak in drops.
Some the galld ropes with dawby marling bind,

Or sear-cloth masts with strong tarpawling coats :
To try new shrouds one mounts into the wind,

And one below, their ease or stiffness notes.
I suppose there is not one term which every reader does not wish away.

His digression to the original and progress of navigation, with his prospect of the advancement which it shall receive from the Royal Society, then newly instituted, may be considered as an example seldom equalled of sea sonable excursion and artful return,

One line, however, leaves me discontented; he says, that by the help of the philosophers,

Instructed ships shall sail to quick commerce,

By which remotest regions are allied. Which he is constrained to explain in a note By a more exact measure of “ longitude.” It had better become Dryden's learning and genius to have laboured science into poetry, and have shewn, by explaining longitude, that verse did not refuse the ideas of philosophy.

His description of the Fire is painted by resolute meditation, out of a mind better formed to reason than to feel. The conflagration of a city, with all its tumults of concomitant distress, is one of the most dreadful spectacles which

this

[ocr errors]

this world can offer to human eyes ; yet it seems to raise little emotion in the breast of the poet; he watches the flame coolly from street to street, withi now a reflection, and now a siinile, till at last he meets the king, for whóm he makes a speech, rather tedious in a time so busy ; and then follows again the progress of the fire.

There are, however, in this part some passages that deserve attention ; as in the beginning :

Thediligence of trades and noiseful gain

And luxury more late asleep were laid !
All was the night's, and in her silent reign

No sound the rest of Nature did invade

In this deep quiet The expression “ All was the night's" is taken from Seneca, who remarks on Virgil's line :

Omnia noctis erant placida composta quiete, that he might have concluded better,

Omnia noctis erant.
The following quatrain is vigorous and animated :

The ghosts of traytors from the bridge descend

With bold fanatic spectres to rejoice;
About the fire into a dance they bend,

And sing their sabbath notes with feeble voice. His prediction of the improvements which shall be made in the new city is elegant and poetical, and, with an event which Poets cannot always boast, has been happily verified. The poem concludes with a simile that might have better been omitted.

Dryden, when he wrote this poem, seems not yet fully to have formed his versification, or settled his system of propriety.. From this time, he addicted himself almost wholly to the stage,

to " which," says he," my genius never much inclined me," merely as the most profitable market for poetry. By writing tragedies in Dhyme, he continued to improve his diction and his numbers. According to the opinion of Harte, who had studied his works with great attention, he settled his principles of versification in 1676, when he produced the play of Aureng Zeb; and according to his own account of the short time in which he wrote Tyrannick Love, and the State of Innocence, he soon obtained the full effect of diligence, and added facility to exactness.

Rhyme has been so long banished from the theatre, that we know not its effect upon the passions of an audience ; but it has this convenience, that sentençes stand more independent on each other, and striking passages are therefore easily selected and retained. Thus the description of Night in the Indian Emperor, and the rise and fall of empire in the Conquest of Granada, are more frequently repeated than any lines in All for Love, or Don Sebastian.

To

To searck bis plays for vigorous sallies, and sententious elegances, or to fix the dates of any little pieces which he wrote by chance, or by solicitation, were labour too tedious and minute.

His dramatick labours did not so wholly absorb bis thoughts, but that he promulgated the laws of translation in a preface to the English Epistles of Ovid ; one of which he translated himself, and another in conjunction with the earl of Mulgrave. ·

Absalom and Achitophel is a work so well known, that particular criticism is superfluous. If it be considered as a poem political and controversial, ir will be found to comprise all the excellences of which the subject is susceptible; acrimony of censure, elegance of praise, artful delineation of characters, variety and vigour of sentiment, happy turns of language, and pleasing harinony of numbers; and all these raised to such a height as can scarcely be found in any other English composition.

It is not however, without faults ; some lines are inelegant or improper, and too many are irreligiously licentious. The original structure of the poerd was defective ; allegories drawn to great length will always break; Charles could not run continually paralled with David.

The subject had likewise another inconvenience: it admitted little imagery or description, and a long poem of mere sentiments easily becomes tedious; though all the parts are forcible, and every line kindles new rapture, the reader, if not relieved by the interposition of something that sooths the fancy, grows weary of admiration, and defers the rest.

As an approach to historical truth was necessary, the action and catastrophe were not in the poet's power ; there is therefore an unpleasing disproportion between the beginning and the end. We are alarmed by a faction formed out of many sects various in their principles, but agreeing in their purpose of mischief, formidable for their numbers, and strong by their supports, while the king's friends are few and weak. The chiefs on either part are set forth to view; but when expectation is at the height, the king makes a speech, and

Henceforth a series of new times began. Who can forbear to think of an enchanted castle, with a wide moat and lofiý battlements, walls of marble and gates of brass, which vanishes at once into air, when the destined knight blows his horn before it?

In the second part, written by Tate, there is a long insertion, which, for its poignancy of satire, exceeds any part of the former. Personal resentment, though no laudable motive to satire, can add great forcé to general principles. Self-love is a busy prompter.

The Medal, written upon the same principles with Absalom and Achitophel, but upon a narrower plan, gives less pleasure, though it discovers equal abilities in the writer. The superstructure cannot extend beyond the foundation;

a single

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

a single character or incident cəhnot furnish as many ideas, as a series of events, or multiplicity of agents. This poem therefore, since time has left it to irself, is not much read, nor perhaps generally understood; yet it abounds with touches both of humorous and serious satire. The picture of a man whose propensions to mischief are such, that his best acions a xe but inability of wickedness, is very skilfully delineated and strongly coloured:

Power was his aim: but, chrown from that pretence,
The wretch turn'd loyal in his own defence,
And malice reconcil'd him to his Prince.
Him, in the anguish of his soul, he seri'd;
Kewarded faster still than he deserv'd :
Behold him now exalted into trust;
His counsels oft convenient, seldom just,
Evin in the most sincere advice he gave,
He had a grudging still to be a knave.
The frauds, he learnt in his fanatic years,
Made him uneasy in his lawful gears,
At least as líule honest as he cou'd,
And, like white witches, mischievously good.
To this first bias, longingly, he leans;

And rather would be great by wicked means. The Threnodia, which, by a term I am afiaid neither authorized nor analogical, he call Augustulis, is not among his happiest productions. Its first and obvious defect is the irregularity of its metre, to which the ears of that age however, were accustomed. What is worse, it has neither tenderness nor dignity, it is neither magnificent nor pathetick. He seems to look round him for images which he cannot find, and what he has he distorts by endeavouring to enlarge them. “ He is,” he says, “ petrified with grief,” but the marble sometimes relents, and trickles in a joke.”

The sons of art all med'cines try'd,
And ev'ry noble remedy apply'd ;

Wiih emulation each essay'd

His utmost skill; 7:2y more, they Aray'd:

Was never losing game with better conduct play'd. He had been a little inclined to merriment before, upon the prayers of a nation for their dying sovereign, nor was he serious enough to keep heathen fables out of his religion :

With bim th' innumerable crowd of arm'd prayers
Knock'd at the gates of heaven, and knock'd aloud;
Tie first well-meaning rule petitioners.

All for his life assail'd the throne,
All would have brib'd the skies by offering up their own.
So great a throny not heaven itself could bar;
'Twas almost borne by force as in the giants war.

The prayers, at least, for his reprieve were heard;
His dea:!i, like Hezekiah's, was deferr'd.
Ff

There

[ocr errors]

Vol. I.

- There is throughout the composition a desire of splendor without wealth. in the conclusion he seems too much pleased with the prospect of the new reign to have lamented his old master with much sincerity.

He did not miscarry in this attempt for want of skill either in lyrick or elegiack-poetry. His poem on the death of Mrs. Killigrew is undoubtedly the noblest ode that our language ever has produced. The first part flows with a torrent of enthusiasm. Fervet immensusque ruit." All the stanzas indeed are not equal. An imperial crown cannot be one continued diamond; the gems must be held together by some less valuable inatter.

In his first ode for Cecilia's day, which is lost in the splendor of the second, there are passages which would have dignified any other poet. The first stanza is vigorous and elegant, though the word diapason is too technical, and the rhymes are too remote from one another:

From harmony, from heavenly harmony,

This universal frame began :
When nature underneath a heap of jarring atoms laz,

And could not heave her head,
The tuneful voice was heard from high,

Arise ye more than dead.
Then cold and hot, and moist and dry,
In order to their stations leap,

And musick's power obey.
From harmony, from heavenly harmony,

This universal frame began :

From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,

The diapason closing full in man. The cenclusion is likewise striking, but it includes an image so awful in itself, that it can owe little to poetry ; and I could wish the antithesis of musick untuning had found some other place.

As from the power of sacred lays

The spheres began to move,
And sung the great Creator's praise

To all the bless'd above:
So when the last and dreadful hour
This crumbling pageant shall devour,
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And musick shall untune the sky.

Of his skill in Elegy, he has given a specimen in his Lleonoro, of which the following lines discover their author :

Thcugh

« AnteriorContinuar »