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parts as wholes the Georgics are perhaps done best, the
Eclogues worst, the JEneid with most inequality. Yet the
best passages of the epic are the best, beyond all doubt, of
the whole version. A certain delicacy of touch, which Vir-
gil especially requires, and of which Dryden was sufficient-
ly master in his more original work, has often failed him
here, but the bolder and more masculine passages are rep-
resented with a great deal of success. Those who believe,
as I confess I myself believe, that all translation is nnsat-


isfactory, and that poetical translation of poetry is nearly
impossible, must of course always praise such work as this
with a very considerable reservation. But when that res-
ervation is made, there remains plenty of fairly disposa-
ble praise for this, Dryden's most considerable undertak-
ing of a single and complete kind. The older translations
have so far gone out of general reading in England that
citation is in this case almost indispensable, as well for the
purpose of showing what Dryden actually did give his
readers in this famous book, as for that of exhibiting the
progress he had made since the Ovid of sixteen years be-
fore. The passage I have chosen is the well-known open-
ino- of the descent into hell in the sixth book, which has

1 i x DKYDEX. [CHAP.

ii.t inanv superiors cither in the original or in the version.
The- subject was one that Dryden could handle well, where-
in his Dido sometimes shows traces of incongruity

" Sin- said, and passed along the gloomy space ;
The prince pursued her steps with equal pace.
Ye realms, yet unrevealed to human sight !
Ye gods, \vho rule the regions of the night !
Ye gliding ghosts ! permit me to relate
The mystic wonders of your silent state.
Obscure they went through dreary shades, that led
Along the waste dominions of the dead.
Thus wander travellers in woods by night,
By the moon's doubtful and malignant light,
\Y hen Jove in dusky clouds involves the skies,
And the faint crescent shoots by fits before their eyes.
Just in the gate, and in the jaws of hell,
Ke vengeful Cares and sullen Sorrows dwell,
And pale Diseases and repining Age,
\Vant, Fear, and Famine's unresisted rage ;
Here Toils, and Death, and Death's half-brother Sleep,
(Forms terrible to view) their centry keep ;
With anxious Pleasures of a guilty mind,
Deep Frauds before, and open Force behind ;
The Furies' iron beds ; and Strife, that shakes
Her hissing tresses, and unfolds her snakes.
Full in the midst of this infernal road,
An elm displays her dusky arms abroad :
The god of sleep there hides his heavy head,
And empty dreams on every leaf are spread.
Of various forms unnumbered spectres more,
< '''iituurs, and double shapes, besiege the door.
lli-fore the passage, horrid Hydra stands,
And Briareus with all his hundred hands;
Gorgons, Geryon with his triple frame ;
And vain Chiimera vomits empty flame.
The chief unsheathed his shining steel, prepared,
Though sei/ed with sudden fear, to force the guard,


Offering his brandished weapon at their face ;
Had not the Sibyl stopped his eager pace,
And told him what those empty phantoms were
Forms without bodies, and impassive air."

Owino; to the existence of some letters to Tonson,

O '

Walsh, and others, more is known about the pecuniary
side of this transaction than about most of Dryden's mon-
ey affairs. Tonson was an exceedingly hard bargain-
driver, and there is extant a curious letter of his, in which
he complains of the number of verses he has for his
money, a complaint which, as we shall see when we come
to the Fables, was at any rate in that case grossly unjust.
The book was published by subscription, as Pope's Homer
was subsequently, but the terms were not nearly so profit-
able to the poet. A hundred and two five -guinea sub-
scribers had each his arms printed at the foot of one of
the hundred and two plates. Others who subscribed only
two guineas merely figured in a list of names. But except
a statement by Drvden in a letter that " the thirty shil-

/ *. /

lings upon every book remains with me," the proportion in
which the subscriptions were divided between author and
publisher is unknown. He had, however, as Malone thinks,
50/. for each book of the ^Eneid as Mr. Christie and Mr.
Hooper think, 50/. for each tw r o books and no doubt
there was some similar payment for the Eclogues and
Georgics. Altogether Pope heard that he made 1200/. by
the Virqil. Presents too were doubtless sent him by Clif-

** *

ford and Mulgrave, as well as by Chesterfield. But Ton-
son's payments were anything but satisfactory, and Lord
Macaulay has extracted much evidence as to the state of
the coinage from Dryden's indignant letters on the subject.
At one time he complains that in some money changed
for Lady Elizabeth by Tonson, " besides the clipped money

1 ;,, . DRYDEN. [CHAP.

tin -re were at least forty shillings brass." Then he ex-
jM-.-t-s "good silver, not such as he had formerly," and will
nut take gold, of course because of the renewed risk of
li.-nl monev in change. Then complaints are made of Ton-
v,>n !'<>r refusing subscriptions (which shows that a consid-
erable- portion of the subscription-money must have gone
t" the poet), for declining to pay anything for notes,
and so on. The most complimentary thing to Tonson in
the correspondence is the remark, "All of your trade are
sharpers, and you not more than others." In the next
letter, however, the suspicion as to the goodness of Ton-
son's money returns "If you have any silver which will
cjo, my wife will be glad of it." Elsewhere there is a half-
apologetic allusion to a "sharp" letter which seems not to
have been preserved. But Dry den had confidence enough
in his publisher to make him do various pieces of fiduciary
business for him, such as to receive his rents which had
been brought up from Northamptonshire by the Towces-
t'-r carrier, to get bills to pay a suspicious watchmaker who
\\ould not take gold, and the like. He, too, was the in-
termediary by which Dryden sent letters to his sons who
\\ere now in Rome, and he is accused of great carelessness
and perhaps something worse in connexion with these let-
ters. In another epistle we hear that "the printer is a
hea>t," an accusation which it is to be feared has been
repeated frequently since by impatient authors. After-
wards, in rather Landorian style indeed, there are resem-
blances more than one between the two, and Landor was
a et.n^tant admirer of Dryden he "vows to God that if
Everingham, the printer, takes not care of this impression,
In- >hall never print anything more for him." These
ldtT> to Tonson about the Virgil and the Fables are
among the most interesting memorials of Drvden that we


possess, and they are, with those to Mrs. Steward, almost
the only letters of his winch give much personal detail. 1
Perhaps it is not superfluous to sav that allusions in them

11 V

to his wife are frequent, and show nothing either of any
ill-feeling between the two, or of any neglect of household
duty on her part. To one of the letters to his sons is a
long postscript from Lady Elizabeth, in perhaps the most
remarkable orthography that even English epistolary his-
tory has to show, but affectionate and motherly enough.

During the period which the last two chapters cover,
Dryden had as usual not failed to undertake several minor
and miscellaneous literary tasks. Eleonora, in 1692, was
one of his least successful pieces in a literary point of view,
but perhaps the most successful of all as a piece of journey-
work. The poem is an elegy on the Countess of Abing-
don ; it was ordered by her husband, and paid for munifi-
cently. There are but 3*77 verses, and the fee was five
hundred guineas, or on Tonson's method of calculation
some seven or eight-and-twenty shillings a line a rate
which would have seemed to Jacob sinful, as encouraging
poets to be extortionate with honest tradesmen. The
piece is laboured and ill -sustained. If it deserved five
hundred guineas, the Anne Killigrew ode would certainly
have been cheap at five thousand. But not long after-
wards a poem to Sir Godfrey Kneller, which may or may
not have been exchanged for something of the other ar-
tist's craft, showed that Dryden had in no way lost his fac-
ilty of splendid flattery. Perhaps before and perhaps af-
ter this came the incomparable address to Congreve on the

1 As, for instance, how (ho is writing from Northamptonshire) "
party of benighted strangers came in, and he had to give up his bed
to them, to which bed they would have gone supperless, had he not
" taken a very lusty pike that day."

l.vj DRYDEX. [CHAP. vii.

failure of the Double Dealer, which is and deserves to
be one of Drvden's best -known works. Conoreve and


Southern, the leading comic writer and the leading tragic
writer of the younger generation, were among the princi-
pal of the band of sons (in Ben Jonson's phrase) whom
Dryden had now gathered round him. In one of his let-
tris there is a very pleasant picture of the two young men
coming out four miles to meet the coach as he returned


from one of his Northamptonshire visits, and escorting him
to his house. This was in 1695, and in the same year
Dryden brought out a prose translation of Du Fresnoy's
Art of Painting, with a prefatory essay called a "Parallel
of Poetry and Painting." There is not very much in-
trinsic value in this parallel, but it has an accidental in-
terest of a curious kind. Dryden tells us that it occupied
him for twelve mornings, and we are therefore able to cal-

O '

culate his average rate of working since neither the mat-

*_j ^j *

ter nor the manner of the work betokens any extraordina-


ry care, nor could it have required extraordinary research.
The essay would fill between thirty and forty pages of the
size of this present. Either in 1695 or in 1696 the poet
also wrote a life of Lucian, intended to accompany a trans-
lation of the Dialogues made by various hands. This too,
which did not appear till after the author's death, was
something of a " pot-boiler;" but the character of Dryden's
prose work was amply redeemed by the " Discourse on
Epic Poetry," which was the form that the dedication of
the ^Eneid to Mulgrave took. This is not unworthy to
rank with the "Essay on Dramatic Poesy" and the " Dis-
mi Satire."



IT was beyond a doubt his practice in translation, and the
remarkable success that attended it, which suggested to
Dryden the last, and one of the most singular, but at the
same time the most brilliantly successful of all his poetical
experiments. His translations themselves were in many
cases rather paraphrases than translations. He now con-
ceived the idea of a kind of composition which was to be
avowedly paraphrase. With the unfailing catholicity of
taste wnicb is one of his finest literary characteristics, he
had always avoided the ignorant contempt with which the
age was wont to look on medieval literature. Even Cow-
ley, we are told, when requested by one of his patrons to
give an opinion on Chaucer, confessed that he could not
relish him. If, when he planned an Arthurian epic, Dry-
den had happened to hit on the idea of "transversing"
Mallory, we might have had an additional star of the first
magnitude in English literature, though his ability to pro-
duce a wholly original epic may be doubted. At sixty-
seven, writing hard for subsistence, he could not think of
any such mighty attempt as this. But he took certain
tales of Chaucer, and certain novels of Chaucer's master,
Boccaccio, and applied his system to them. The result
was the book of poems to which, including as it did many

L n


Ovidian translations, and much other verse, he gave the
..f J-'ufflca, using that word in its simple sense of sto-
It i> n,.t -in-prising that this book took the town
l.y -torm. Enthusiastic critics, even at the beginning of
the present century, assigned to Theodore and Honoria " a
place on the very topmost shelf of English poetry/' Such
arrangements depend, of course, upon the definition of poe-
try itself. But I venture to think that it would be almost
sufficient case against any such definition, that it should
exclude the finest passages of the Fables from a position a
little lower than that which Ellis assigned to them. It so
happens that we are, at the present day, in a position to
put Prvden to a specially crucial test which his contempo-
raries were unable to apply. To us Chaucer is no longer
an ingenious and intelligent but illegible barbarian. AVe
read the Canterbury Tales with as much relish, and with
nearly as little difficulty, as we read Spenser, or Milton, or
Pope, or Byron, or our own living poets. Palamon and
Arctic has, therefore, to us the drawback if drawback it
be of being confronted on equal terms with its original.
Yet I venture to say that, except in the case of those un-
fortunate persons whose only way of showing appreciation
of one thing is by depreciation of something else, an ac-
quaintance with the KnighCs Tale injures Dryden's work
hardly at all. There could not possibly be a severer te>t
of at least formal excellence than this.

The Fables were published in a folio volume which, ac-
cording t<> the contract with Tonson, was to contain 10,000
vri- The payment was 300/., of which 250 guineas
were paid dwn at the time of agreement, when three-
fourths of the stipulated number of lines were actually
handed over to the publisher. On this occasion, at least,
.l.-tcob had not to complain of an unduly small considcra-

viii.] THE FABLES. 155

tion. For Dry den gave him not 2500, but nearly 5000
verses more, without, as far as is known, receiving any in-
crease of his fee. The remainder of the 300/. was not to
be paid till the appearance of a second edition, and this
did not actually take place until some years after the poet's
death. Pope's statement, therefore, that Dryden received
" sixpence a line " for his verses, though not formally ac-
curate, was sufficiently near the truth. It is odd that one
of the happiest humours of Tom the First (Shadwell) oc-
curring in a play written long before he quarrelled with
Dryden, concerns this very practice of payment by line.
In the Sullen Lovers one of the characters complains that
his bookseller has refused him twelvepence a line, when the
intrinsic worth of some verses is at least ten shillings, and
all can be proved to be worth three shillings " to the veri-
est Jew in Christendom." So that Tonson was not alone
in the adoption of the method. As the book finally ap-
peared, the Fables contained, besides prefatory matter and
dedications, five pieces from Chaucer (Palamon and Arcite,
the Cock and the Fox, the Flower and the Leaf, the Wife
of Bath's Tale, the Character of a Good Parson], three
from Boccaccio (Sigismonda and Guiscardo, Theodore and
Honoria, Cymon and Iphigenia), the first book of the Iliad,
some versions of Ovid's Metamorphoses in continuation of
others previously published, an Epistle to John Driden, the
second St. Cecilia Ode, commonly called Alexander's Feast,
and an Epitaph.

The book was dedicated to the Duke of Ormond in a
prose epistle, than which even Dryden never did anything
better. It abounds with the fanciful expressions, just stop-
ping short of conceit, which were such favourites with him,
and which he managed perhaps better than any other writ-
er. He holds of the Ormond family, he tells the Duke,

1 .-; DRYDEN. [CHAP.

l>v a tenure of dedications, having paid that compliment to
his Grace's grandfather, the great Duke of Ormond, and
having celebrated Ossory in memorial verses. Livy, Pub-
licola, and the history of Peru are brought in perhaps
><>mr\vhat by the head and shoulders; but this was sim-
plv the fashion of the time, and the manner of the doing
fully excused it. Even this piece, however, falls short, in
jx>int of graceful flattery, of the verse dedication of Pala-
mon and Arcite to the Duchess. Between the two is the
preface, which contains a rather interesting history of the
genesis of the Fables. After doing the first book of
Homer "as an essay to the whole work," it struck Dry den
that he would try some of the passages on Homeric sub-
jects in the Metamorphoses, and these in their turn led to
others. When he had sufficiently extracted the sweets of
Ovid, " it came into my inind that our old English poet
< 'haucer in many things resembled him;" and then, "as
thoughts, according to Mr. Hobbes, have always some con-
nexion," he was led to think of Boccaccio. The preface
continues with critical remarks upon all three authors and
their position in the history of their respective literatures,
remarks which, despite some almost unavoidable ignorance
on the writer's part as to the early condition and mutual
relationship of modern languages, are still full of interest
and value. It ends a little harshly, but naturally enough,
in a polemic with Blackmore, Milbourn, and Collier. Not
much need be said about the causes of either of these de-
bates. Macaulay has told the Collier story well, and, on
tin- whole, fairly enough, though he is rather too compli-
mentary to the literary value of Collier's work. That
redoubtable divine had all the right on his side, beyond a
<l"iibt, but he sometimes carried his argument a good deal
far. Dryden, however, could not defend himself, and

vin.] THE FABLES. 157

he knew this, and did not attempt it, though he could not
always refrain, now and afterwards, from indulging in lit-
tle flings at Collier. Blackmore had two causes of quarrel
with Dryden one the same as Collier's, the other a polit-
ical one, the poetical knight being a staunch Whig. Mil-
bourn was an obscure country clergyman, who had at one
time been a great admirer of Dryden, as a letter of his still
extant, in which he orders the poet's works to be sent to
him, shows. He had, however, fallen foul of the Virgil,
for which he received from Dryden due and perhaps more
than due casti;ation.


Enough has been already said of the translations of
Homer and Ovid. The latter, however, are, as far as mere
verse goes, among the best of all the translations. Pala-
mon and Arcite, however, and all the other contents of the
book are of a very different order of interest. Dryden had
an extreme admiration for this story, which as the subject
for an epic he thought as good as either Homer's or Vir-
gil's. Nowadays most people have left off considering
the technical value of different subjects, which is no doubt
a misfortune. But it is easy to see that the legend, with
its interesting incidents, its contrast of character, its revo-
lutions, and so forth, does actually come very near to the
perfect idea of the artificial epic. The comparative nullity
of the heroine would have been thought no drawback in


ancient art. Dryden has divided the story into three
books, and has, as usual, paraphrased with the utmost free-
dom, but he has kept closer to the dimensions of the orig-
inal than is his wont. His three books do not much ex-
ceed the length of the original tale. In the different
parts, however, he has used his own discretion in amplifv-
ing or contracting exactly as he thinks proper, and the
comparison of different passages with the original thus


brings out in a manifold way the idiosyncrasies of the two
writers. Perhaps this is nowhere more marked than in
tin' famous description of the Temple of Mars. As far
a- tin.- temple itself goes, Dry den has the upper hand, but
lie i> beaten when it comes to "the portraiture which was
upon the wall." Sometimes he has simply adopted Chau-
cer's very words, sometimes he has done otherwise, and
then he has almost always done worse. The " smiler with
the knife under the cloak" is very inadequately replaced
by three whole lines about hypocrisy. If the couplet

"Amiddes of the temple sate Mischance,
And Discomfort and sory Countenance,"

be contrasted with

" In midst of all the dome Misfortune sate,
And gloomy Discontent and fell Debate,"

the comparatively otiose epithets which in the next cen-
tury were to be the curse of the style, strike the eye and
ear very forcibly. Indeed, in this most finished work of
Dryden's nothing is easier than to see the strength and the
weakness of the method he had introduced. In his hands
it turns almost always to strength. But in thus boldly
bringing his work side by side with Chaucer's, he had
indicated the divergence which was to be carried farther
and farther by his followers, until the mot propre was lost
altogether in a washy sea of elegant epithets and flowing
versification. That time, however, was far off, or might
have seemed to be far off, to a reader of the Fables. It is
only when Chaucer is actually compared that the defects,
T rather the possibilities of defect, rise to the eye. If
Palamon and Arcite be read by itself, it is almost entirely
delightful, and, as has been said already, it will even bear
the .-train of comparison. For the loss is counterbalanced


by gain, gain of sustained strength and greater perfection
of workmanship, even though we may know well enough
that Dryden's own idea of Chaucer's shortcomings in versi-
fication was a mere delusion.

The Nun's Priest' 's Tale was also not very much ex-
tended, though it was considerably altered in Dryden's
version, entitled The Cock and the Fox. Dryden's fond-
ness for the beast-story had, as we have seen already, drawn
upon him the reprehension of Messrs. Prior and Montague,
critics of severe and cultivated taste. It has just been sug-
gested that a great loss has been sustained by his not hav-

ino- taken the fancy to transverse some Arthurian stories.
3 j

In the same wav, if he had known the original Roman de

./ 7 O

Renart, he would doubtless have made good use of it. The
Cock and the Fox itself is inferior to many of the branches
of the old tree, but it has not a few merits, and the story
of the two friends is one of the very best things of the
kind. To this Dryden has done ample justice. But in
the original not the least attractive part is the solemn pro-
fusion of learned names and citations characteristic of the
fourteenth century, which the translator has in some cases

*/ '

thought it better to omit. It may not be quite clear
whether Chaucer, who generally had a kind of satirical un-
dercurrent of intention in him, was serious in putting these
into the mouths of Partlet and Chanticleer or not, but still
one misses them. On the other hand, Dryden has made
the most of the astrological allusions ; for it must be re-
membered that he had a decided hankering after astrology,
like many of the greatest men of his century. Of this
there is evidence quite apart from Mrs. Thomas's stories,
which also deal with the point.

The third of Dryden's Chaucerian versions is one of the
most charming of all, and this, though the variations from


the original are considerable, and though that original is

Z-j O O

itself one of the most delightful works of the kind. 1 I
have read, perhaps as much as most Englishmen, the French
fourteenth-century poetry on which so much of Chaucer's
is modelled, but I hardly know either in French or English
a poem more characteristic, and more delightfully charac-
teristic of the fourteenth century than the Flower and the
Leaf. The delight in a certain amiable kind of natural
beauty, the transference of the signs and symbols of that
beauty to the service of a fantastic and yet not unnatural
poetry of love, the introduction of abstract and supernatu-
ral beings to carry out, sometimes by allegory and some-
times by personification, the object of the poet, are all ex-
emplified in this little piece of some 500 or 600 lines, in
a manner which it would be hard to match in Froissart or
Guillaume de Machault. Yet Dryden has asserted his
power of equalling the virtue of the original in what may
be called an original translation. The two poems differ
from one another considerably in details of machinery and
imagery. Chaucer is happier in his descriptions of nature,
Dryden in the representation of the central personages.
But both alike have the power of transporting. Even now,
when so much of his language and machinery have become

O O v

hackneyed, Dryden can exert this power on those who are
well acquainted with mediasval literature, who have felt its

Online LibraryJohn MorleyEnglish men of letters (Volume 3) → online text (page 12 of 44)