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“ I must acknowledge that there are abundance of fine things in my hands, and such as do honour to the personages who penned them ; but I am under the indispensable necessity of giving the preference to Lord Dorset. I must request you will hear it yourselves, gentlemen, and I believe you will all then approve my judgment :- I promise to pay to John Dryden, Esq., or order, on demand, the sum of Five hundred pounds. — Dorset.' I must confess,” continued Dryden, “that I am equally charmed with the style and the subject; and I fatter myself, gentlemen, that I stand in need of no argument to induce you to acquiesce in opinion, even against yourselves. This style of writing excels any other, ancient or modern: it is not the essence, but the quintessence of language, and is, in fact, reason and argument surpassing every thing in letters.” Of course, the company cordially concurred with the bard, and complimented the superior penetration of the noble donor.
When Dryden was a boy at Westminster School, he was put, with others, to write a copy of verses on the miracle of the conversion of water into wine. Being a great truant, he had not time to compose his verses ; and when brought up, he had only made one line of Latin, and two of English :
“Vidit et erubuit lympha pudica Deum !”!
Beheld its God, and blushed itself to wine ;” which so pleased the master, that instead of being angry, he said it was a presage of future greatness, and gave the youth a crown on the occasion. What a contrast this first outburst of poetic power presents with the closing days of his literary career! when in his seventieth year he complains that, “worn out with study, and oppressed with fortune, he was compelled to contract with his publisher to furnish ten thousand verses at sixpence per line !”
Macaulay thus writes of Dryden :—“His command of language was immense. With him died the secret of the old poetic diction
? This may be a plagiarism from Crashaw's—“ Nympha pudica Deum vidit, et erubuit.”.
of England,—the art of producing rich effects by familiar words. On the other hand, he was the first writer under whose skilful management the scientific vocabulary fell into natural and pleasing verse :
“The varying verse, the full-resounding line,
The long majestic march, and energy divine.'”
Warton says, the most splendid and sublime passage that Dryden ever wrote is the following :
So when of old the Almighty Father sate
Then, not till then, the Eternal Son from high
Addison's poetry is generally considered cold and artificial, although his graver productions are harmonious and beautiful; they are, indeed, accepted as his best compositions. His well-known Hymn, says Thackeray, “shines like the stars.” Here it is :
The spacious firmament on high,
Soon as the evening shades prevail,
Confirm the tidings as they roll,
One of Addison's best pieces is that written at the tomb of Virgil, in 1741: he also achieved a dramatic triumph in his celebrated tragedy of Cato. Let us rehearse his grand soliloquy :
It must be so. Plato, thou reason’st well!
The soul, secured in her existence, smiles
Pope was a precocious genius ; for when only in his thirteenth year, he wrote these pleasing lines on Solitude :
Happy the man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
In his own ground.
Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose Aocks supply him with attire,
In winter fire.
Blest, who can unconcern’dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
Quiet by day,
Sound sleep by night ; study and ease,
Together mixt; sweet recreation ;
Thus let me live unseen, unknown,
Thus unlamented let me die,
Tell where I lie.