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and the other for the honour (as he called it) of God's church ;
which ended in the murder of the Prelate, and in the whipping of his
Majesty from post to pillar for his penance. The learned and in-
genious Dr. Drake has saved me the labour of enquiring into the
esteem and reverence which the priests have had of old ; and I would
rather extend than diminish any part of it; yet I must needs say
that, when a priest provokes me without any occasion given him, I
have no reason, unless it be the charity of a Christian, to forgive
him : prior fcesit is justification sufficient in the civil law. If I an-
swer him in his own language, self-defence, I am sure, must be allow-
ed me ; and if I carry it farther, even to a sharp recrimination, some-
what may be indulged to human frailty. Yet my resentment has not
wrought so far, but that I have followed Chaucer in his character of
a holy man, and have enlarged on that subject with some pleasure,
reserving to myself the right, if I shall think fit hereafter, to describe
another sort of priests, such as are more easily to be found than the
Good Parson ; such as have given the last blow to Christianity in
this age, by a practice so contrary to their doctrine. But this will
keep cold till another time. In the mean while I take up Chaucer
where I left him."

These must suffice for examples of the matter as well
as of the manner of the literary criticism which forms


the chief and certainly the most valuable part of Dryden's
prose works. The great value of that criticism consists
in its extremely appreciative character, and in its constant
connexion with the poet's own constructive work. There
is much in it which might seem to expose Dry den to the
charge of inconsistency. But the truth is, that his literary

134 DRYDEX. [CRAP. vi.

opinions were in a, perpetual state of progress, and there-
fore "f apparent tlux. Sometimes he wrote with defective
knowledge, sometimes, though not often, without think-
ing the subject out, sometimes (and this very often) with a
certain one-sidedness of view having reference rather to the


bearing of the point on experiments he was then trying or
about to try, than to any more abstract considerations. He
never aimed at paradox for its own sake, but he never
shrank from it ; and, on the whole, his criticisms, though
perhaps nowadays they appeal rather to the expert and
the student than to the general reader, are at least as in-
teresting for their matter as for their form. The impor-
tance of the study of that form in the cultivation cf a vo-
bust English style has never been denied.



J.T is in most cases a decidedly difficult problem to settle
the exact influence which any writer's life and circum-
stances have upon his literary performances and career.
Although there are probably few natures so absolutely
self-sufficing and so imperial in their individuality that
they take no imprint from the form and pressure of the
time, the exact force which that pressure exercises is near-
ly always very hard to calculate. In the case of Dryden,
however, the difficulty is fortunately minimized. There
was never, it may safely be said, so great a writer who was
so thorouo'hlv occasional in the character of his greatness.


The one thing which to all appearance he could not do,
was to originate a theme. His second best play, accord-
ing to the general judgment, his best as I venture to
think, is built, with an audacity to which only great genius
or great folly could lead, on the lines of Shakspeare. His
longest and most ambitious poem follows, with a surpris-
ing faithfulness, the lines of Chaucer. His most effective
piece of tragic description is a versified paraphrase the
most magnificent paraphrase, perhaps, ever written of
the prose of Boccaccio. Even in his splendid satires he is
rarely successful, unless he has what is called in modern
literary slang a very definite "peg" given him to hang his


verse upon. A/>x/</i nd Achitopliel is little more than
a l.M.srly connected string of characters, each owing no
doubt something, and what is more, a great deal, to the

, hut originally given to, and not invented by him.

fa-hioii <>f poetry can be farther aloof from Dryden's
than that which, as in the case of Shelley, spins great
poems purely out of its own brain. His strong and pow-
erful mind could grind the corn supplied to it into the
line>t flour, but the corn must always be supplied. The
exquisite perfection of his smaller lyrics forbids us to set
this down as in any sense a drawback. It was rather a
strong inclination to the one office than an incapacity for
the other. What is more to the purpose, this peculiarity
i- \ ery closely connected with Dryden's fitness for the posi-
tion which he held. The man who is to control the peace-
able revolution of a literature, who is to shape a language
to new uses, and help writers for a century after his death
to vocabulary, rhythm, and style, in prose as well as in
verse, is perhaps all the better off for not being too spon-
taneous <.r original in his choice of subjects. But however
this may be, there is no doubt that outward circumstances
always had a great, and the greatest, influence upon the de-
velopment of Dryden's genius. There was in some respects
a Duality about this genius for which it would be hard to
find an appropriate name. To call such a mind and such
a talent as Dryden's parasitic would be ridiculous. Yet in
any lesser man the same characteristics would undoubtedly
receive that appellation. It seems always to have been, if
not necessary, at any rate satisfactory to him, to follow some
lines which had been already laid down, to accept a depart-
ure from some previous work, to match himself closely with
some .-xi>iing performance. It appears almost as if, in his
traordinary care for the manner of his poetical work, he


felt it an advantage to be relieved of much trouble about


the matter. The accusations of plagiarism which his fran-
tic enemies constantly brought against him were, in any
discreditable sense, as idle as accusations of plagiarism
usually are ; but they had considerably more foundation
in literal fact than is usual with such accusations. He
had a habit of catching up phrases sometimes from the
works of men to whom he was anything but compliment-
ary, and inserting them, much improved, it is true, for the
most part, in his own work. I have come across a curi-
ous instance of this, which I do not remember to have seen
anywhere noticed. One of the most mortifying incidents
in Dryden's literary career was the already mentioned com-
position by his rival, though not exactly enemy, Crowne,
of the Masque of Calisto. There seems to be little doubt,
though the evidence is not entirely conclusive, that
Crowne's share in this work was due to Rochester, who
afterwards made himself obnoxious to Dryden's wrath in
a still more unpardonable manner. Under these circum-
stances we certainly should not expect to find Drydcn
borrowing from Calisto. Yet a whole line in Macflecknoe,
" The fair Augusta much to fears inclined," is taken, with
the addition of the adjective and the adverb, from a song
of Crowne's: "Augusta is to fears inclined." This tem-
perament made the work of translation one peculiarly
suitable to Dry den. He had, as early as 1684, included
several translations in his first volume of Miscellanies, and
he soon perceived that there was plenty of demand for
more of the same ware. Except his great editor, it is
doubtful whether any man of letters ever knew the pub-
lic taste better than Dryden. The call for translations of
the ancients was quite natural and intelligible. Direct
classical study was considerably on the wane. So far, iu-
K 7 10


<l.T.l, as Miu- ><-'.\ was concerned, it had practically gone
cut f fashion altogether, and women of the accomplish-
ments of Ladv Jam- Grey or Queen Elizabeth were now
inou.-ters. Even as regards men, a much smaller
of the upper classes were able to read the
-l;is>i(.-s in the original than had once been the case. Busi-
ness, court life, employment in a standing army and navy,
and many other distractions called men early away from
their studies. Yet the interest felt, or supposed to be felt,
in classical literature \vas at least as great as ever. The
classics were still considered as literary models and pat-
terns ; and the famous controversy between the ancients
and the moderns which arose about this time helped to
inspire a desire for some acquaintance with the former in
the easy, fashionable verse which Dryden had himself
created. In 1693 he gave to the world the whole of Per-
sius and much of Juvenal, the latter being completed by
his sons and some friends. In the same year some more
versions of Ovid and a little of Homer appeared ; and in
1693 also his greatest work of translation, the Virgil, was
begun. This was the only one of Dryden 1 s works for
whirh he received not wholly inadequate remuneration,
and this remuneration was attained chiefly by the method
of subscription. Besides these authors, his translations
include extracts from Theocritus and Lucretius, a very few
Odes of Horace, and a considerable portion of the Meta-
morphoses of Ovid, which appeared last of all in the well-
known volume of Fables. The merits and peculiarities of
I M-ydrn's translation arc easily estimated. It has been ex-
cellently remarked in the Preface of a recent prose trans-
lation of the Odyssey, that there can be no final translation
of Bomer, because the taste and literary habits of each age
tl.-niand different qualities in poetry. There is no need to


limit this remark to Homer, or indeed to poetry. The
work of the translator is to bridge over the interval be-


tween his author and his public, and therefore the con-
struction and character of the bridge must necessarily dif-
fer, according to the instruction and demands of the pub-
lic. Dryden could not give exact accuracy, though he
was by no means such a bad scholar as Pope. But his
public did not want exact accuracy, and would not have
been grateful for it. He did not whether he was or was
not able give them classical flavour and local colour, but
for these they would have been still less grateful. What
they wanted, and what he could give them as no other
man then living could, was the matter of the original, tol-
erably unadulterated, and dressed up in the splendid dic-
tion and nervous verse which he had himself taught them
to love. The parallel between the characteristics of the
translation and the simple device whereby Jacob Tonson
strove to propitiate the ruling powers in the illustrations
to the Virgil is indeed obvious enough. Those illustra-
tions displayed " old Nassau's hook-nosed head on pious
^Eneas' shoulders." The text itself displayed the head of
Dryden on the shoulders of Virgil.

Even before the Miscellany of 1684, translations from
Dryden's hands had been published. There appeared in
1680 a version of Ovid's Heroides,iQ which he gave a
preface and a translation of two epistles, besides collabo-
rating with Mulgrave in a third. The preface contains
some good criticism of Ovid, and a defence of the man-
ner of translation which with little change Dryden himself
constantly employed. This he defines as being equally
remote from verbal fidelity and from mere imitation. He
also lays dow r n a canon as to the necessary equipment of
a translator, which, if it could be despotically enforced,


would be a remarkable boon to reviewers. " No man is
rnpable of translating poetry who, besides a genius to that
art, is not a master both of his author's language and of
his own. Nor must we understand the language only of
the poet, but his particular turn of thoughts and expres-
sions, which are the characters that distinguish, and as it
were individuate him from all other writers." These first
translations are interesting because they are the first, and
for the sake of contrast with the later and more perfect
work of the same kind. In some respects Ovid was an
unfortunate author for Dryden to select, because his pe-
culiarities tempted a relapse into the faults of the heroic-
play style. But, on the other hand, Dryden's practice in
the heroic play fitted him very well to translate Ovid. A
few lines from the close of Canace to Macareus may be
given as an instance

" And now appeared the messenger of death ;
Sad were his looks, and scarce he drew his breath,
To say, 'Your father sends you' (with that word
His trembling hands presented me a sword ;)
' Your father sends you this ; and lets you know
That your own crimes the use of it will show.'
Too well I know the sense those words impart ;
His present shall be treasured in my heart.
Are these the nuptial gifts a bride receives?
And this the fatal dower a father gives ?
Thou God of marriage, shun thv own disgrace,

o / o

And take thy torch from this detested place !

Instead of that, let furies light their brands,

And fire my pile with their infernal hands!

With happier fortune may my sisters wed,

Wiirm-il by tin- dire example of the dead.

For thce, poor babe, what crime could they pretend?

How could thv infant innocence offend?


A guilt there was ; but, oh, that guilt was mine !

Thou suffer'st for a sin that was not thine.

Thy mother's grief and crime ! but just enjoyed,

Shewn to my sight, and born to be destroyed !

Unhappy offspring of my teeming womb !

Dragged headlong from thy cradle to thy tomb I

Thy unoffending life I could not save,

Nor weeping could I follow to thy grave ;

Nor on thy tomb could offer my shorn hair,

Nor shew the grief which tender mothers bear.

Yet long thou shalt not from my arms be lost

For soon I will o'ertake thy infant ghost.

But thou, my love, and now my love's despair,

Perform his funerals with paternal care ;

His scattered limbs with my dead body burn,

And once more join us in the pious urn.

If on my wounded breast thou droppest a tear,

Think for whose sake my breast that wound aid bear;

And faithfully my last desires fulfil,

As I perform my cruel father's will."

The Miscellanies of 1684 and 1685 contained a con-
siderable number of translations from many different au-
thors, and those of 1693 and 1694 added yet more. Al-
together, besides Ovid and Virgil, specimens of Horace,
Homer, Theocritus, and Lucretius are in these translations,
while the more ambitious and complete versions of Juve-
nal and Virgil swell the total (in Scott's edition) to four
volumes, containing perhaps some 30,000 lines.

It could hardly be expected that in translating authors
of such different characters, and requiring in a poetical
translator so many different gifts, Dryden should be al-
together and equally successful. The Juvenal and the
Virgil deserve separate notice ; the others may be briefly
reviewed- All of them are, according to the o-eneral con-

' O O

ception of translation which Dryden had formed, decidedly


loose, ami bv no means adhere to the original. Indeed,
hrvd.-n not unfrecjuently inserts whole lines and passages
of hi- i\vn, a proceeding scarcely to be reconciled with the
just-mentioned conception. On the whole, he is perhaps
ii)<>-4 successful with Ovid. The versions of Horace are
few, and by no means excessively Horatian, but they are
almost all good poems in Dryden's statelier rhythm. The
\vr-ion into a kind of Pindaric of the twenty-ninth ode of
the third book is particularly good, and contains the well-
known paraphrase of resigno quce dedit (" I puff the pros-
titute- away "), which was such a favourite with Thackeray
that he puts it into the mouth, if I remember rightl} 7 , of
more than one of his characters. Indeed, the three last
stanzas of this are well worth quotation


u Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He, who can call to-day his own ;
He who, secure within, can say,
To-morrow do thy worst, for I have lived to-day ;
Be fair, or foul, or rain, or shine,
The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine .
Not heaven itself upon the past has power,
But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.


" Fortune, that with malicious joy
Does man, her slave, oppress,
Proud of her office to destroy,
I- seldom pleased to bless :
Still various and unconstant still,
l!ut \\itli an inclination to be ill,
lYoinotr.-. degrades, delights in strife,
And makes a lottery of life.
I can enjoy her while she's kind ;
But when she dances in the wind,


And sliakcs the wings and will not stay,

I puff the prostitute away :

The little or the much she gave is quietly resigned ;

Content with poverty, my soul I arm,

And virtue, though in rags, will keep me warm.


" What is't to me,

Who never sail in her unfaithful sea,
If storms arise and clouds grow black,
If the mast split, and threaten wreck ?
Then let the greedy merchant fear

For his ill-gotten gain ;
And pray to gods that will not hear,
While the debating winds and billows bear

His wealth into the main.
For me, secure from fortune's blows,
Secure of what I cannot lose,

In my small pinnace I can sail,
Contemning all the blustering roar ;

And running with a merry gale,
With friendly stars my safety seek,
Within some little winding creek,
And see the storm ashore."

Least successful of all, perhaps, are the Thcocritean
translations. The idyllic spirit was not one of the many
which would come at Dry den's call, and certain peculiari-
ties of Theocritus, harmless enough in the original, arc

o o

accentuated and magnified in the copy in a manner by no
means pleasant. A thing more unfortunate still was the
selection made from Lucretius. No one was ever better
qualified to translate the greatest of Roman poets than
Dryden ; and had he given us the whole, it would probably
have been the best verse translation in the language. As
it is, he has done few things better than the selections


from the second and third books; but that from the fourth

1 i .| DllYDEX. [CHAP.

li;iS justly or unjustly, tainted the whole in the eyes of
m.'-t critics. It reproduces only too nakedly the original
where it would be better left alone, and it fails almost
eiitirelv even to attempt the sombre fury of sentiment, the
inr.\l>reible agony of regret, which transfuse and redeem
that original itself. The first book of Homer and part of
the sixth were avowedly done as an experiment, and it is
difficult to be very sorry that the experiment was not pur-
sued farther. But the versions of Ovid's Metamorphoses
are very good. They, however, belong more properly to
the next period, that of the Fables.

Dryden's Juvenal is not the least remarkable, and has
been in some ways among the most fortunate of his works.
It is still, if there be any such, the standard verse transla-
tion of the great Roman satirist, and this although much
of it is not Dryden's. His two elder sons assisted him in
the work, as well as some friends. But the first, third,
sixth, tenth, and sixteenth satires are his own, as well as
the whole of the Persius. The book was published in
1693, addressed to Dorset, with a prefatory essay or dis-
course on satire, which is of great interest and value. It
is somewhat discursive, as is Dryden's wont, and the erudi-
tion which it contains is, as is also his wont, anything
but invariably accurate. But it contains some precious
autobiographic information, much capital criticism, and
some of the best passages of its author's prose. He dis-
tinguishes between his own idea of satire and Juvenal's,
approaching the former to that of Horace, which, how-
ever, U scarcely a tenable position. But, as has been suf-
ficiently pointed out already, there are actually many and
grave differences between the satire of Dryden and that
<>f Ju venal. The former rarely or never even simulates
indignation ; the latter constantly and invariably expresses


it. Still, the poetical resemblances between the two men
are sufficiently close to make the expectation of a valuable
version pretty confident, nor is that expectation disap-
pointed. For a wonder Dryden resists, for the most part,
his unhappy tendency to exaggerate the coarseness of his
subjects, and to choose their coarsest parts in preference
to others. No version of Juvenal could be other than
shocking to those accustomed only to modern standards
of literary language ; but this version is perhaps less so
than might be expected. The vigorous stamp of Dryden's
verse is, moreover, admirably suited to represent the orig-
inal, and the chief fault noticeable in it a fault not un-
common with Dryden in translating is an occasional
lapse into an unpoetical vernacular, with the object, doubt-
less, of representing the text more vividly to English read-
ers. The Persius is in this respect better than the
Juvenal, though the peculiar dryness of flavour of the
singular original is scarcely retained.

It is not known exactly when Dryden first conceived
the idea of working up the scattered fragments of Yir-
gilian translation which he had as yet attempted into a
whole. The task, however, was regularly begun either at
the end of 1693 or the beginning of 1694, and it occupied
the best part of three years. A good deal of interest was
generally felt in the proceeding, and many friends helped
the poet with books or literary assistance of one kind or
another. A great deal of it, too, was written during
visits to hospitable acquaintances in the country. Much
of it was doubtless done in Northamptonshire and Hun-
tingdonshire, at the houses of Mrs. Creed and of Driden of


Chesterton. There is, indeed, a universally repeated tra-
dition that the first lines were written with a diamond on
a window in this latter mansion. The house was pulled

11,-, DRYDEX. [CHAP.

d'wii sonic seventy years ago, and a curious argument
against the truth of the legend has been made out of the
fart that the pane was not preserved. Demolition, how-
ever, is not usually careful of its prey. Much was certainly
written at Denham Court, in Buckinghamshire, the seat of
Sir William Bowyer, whose gardens are commemorated in
a note on the Geormcs. The seventh book of the ^Eneid


was done at Burleigh, Dryden having long had some con-
nexion with the Exeter family. He had, it may be men-
tioned, always been fond of writing in the country. Ton-
son, the publisher, was exceedingly anxious that the book
should be dedicated to William III., and Dryden speaks as
if certain anticipations of gain had been held out to him
in such a case. But he was unfalteringly determined to

O *

do nothing that would look like an abandonment of his
principles. No single person received the honor of the
dedication ; but each division of the work was inscribed
to a separate patron. The Eclogues fell to the lot of Lord
Clifford, Drvden's co-religionist, and son of the " fierce and


brave " if not very high-principled member of the Cabal
to whom Amhoyna had been dedicated long before. The
Georyics were inscribed to Lord Chesterfield, a dedication
which, with Drvden's subsequent reception and acknowl-
edgment of a present from Chesterfield, is at least deci-
sive against the supposed connexion between Lady Eliza-
beth and the Earl having been known to the poet. Mul-
-rave, now Marquis of Xormanby, had the ^Eneid. The
book was published in July, 1G97, and the edition was
-old off almost within the year. Dryden speaks to his
-"ii-. \vh<> were now at Rome, where they had employment
in tin- Pope's household, with great pleasure of its success.
It i-, in truth, a sufficiently remarkable book. It was, no
doubt, ratln-r ironical of fate to assign Homer to Pope,


who was of all poets the least Homeric, and Virgil to Dry-
den, than whom not many poets have been more un-Vir-
gilian. Pope would have done the Mantuan, whom in
many things he resembles, excellently. Dryden has done
him excellently too, only that the spirit of the translation
is entirely different from that of the original. To say
after \Vordsworth that Dryden " spoils" all the best pas-
sages is quite unfair. But Wordsworth had no special
faculty of criticism in the classical languages, and was
of all recorded poets the most niggardly of praise, and
the most prone to depreciation of others. Of the three

Online LibraryJohn MorleyEnglish men of letters (Volume 3) → online text (page 11 of 44)