John Morley.

English men of letters (Volume 3) online

. (page 4 of 44)
Online LibraryJohn MorleyEnglish men of letters (Volume 3) → online text (page 4 of 44)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Davenant himself, by Sir Aston Cokain, and by Wilson, a
writer of great merit who rather unaccountably abandoned
the stage very soon, while in a year or two Shadwell, the
actor Lacy, and several others were to take it up and carry
it on. It had frequently been combined with the embroil-
ed and complicated plots of the Spanish comedy of intrigue,
the adapters usually allowing these plots to conduct them-
selves much more irregularly than was the case in the
originals, while the deficiencies were made up, or supposed
to be made up, by a liberal allowance of " humours." The
danger of this sort of work was perhaps never better illus-
trated than by Shadwell, when he boasted in one of his
prefaces that " four of the humours were entirely new,"
and appeared to consider this a sufficient claim to respect-
ful reception. .Dry den in his first play fell to the fullest
extent into the blunder of this combined Spanish-English
style, though on no subsequent occasion did he repeat
the mistake. By degrees the example and influence of
Moliere sent complicated plots and " humours " alike out


of fashion, though the national taste and temperament
were too strongly in favour of the latter to allow them to
be totally banished. In our very best plays of the so-call-
ed artificial style, such as Love for Love, and the master-
pieces of Sheridan, character sketches to which Ben Jonson
himself would certainly not refuse the title of humours
appear, and contribute a large portion of the interest.
Dryden, however, was not likely to anticipate this better
time, or even to distinguish himself in the older form of
the humour-comedy. He had little aptitude for the odd
and quaint, nor had he any faculty of devising or picking
up strokes of extravagance, such as those which his enemy
Shad well could command, though he could make no very
good use of them. The humours of Trice and Bibber
and Lord Nonsuch in the Wild Gallant are forced and
too often feeble, though there are flashes here and there,
especially in the part of Sir Timorous, a weakling of the
tribe of Aguecheek ; but in this first attempt, the one
situation and the one pair of characters which Dryden
was to treat with tolerable success are already faintly
sketched. In Constance and Loveby, the pair of light-
hearted lovers who carry on a flirtation without too much
modesty certainly, and with a remarkable absence of re-
finement, but at the same time with some genuine affec-
tion for one another, and in a hearty, natural manner,
make their first appearance. It is to be noted in Drydcn's
favour that these lovers of his are for the most part free
from the charge of brutal heartlessness and cruelty, which
has been justly brought against those of Etherege, of
Wycherley, and, at least in the case of the Old Bachelor,
of Congreve. The men are rakes, and rather vulgar rakes,
but they are nothing worse. The women have too many
of the characteristics of Charles the Second's maids of
D 3 4


honour; but they have at the same time a certain health-
iness and sweetness of the older days, which bring them,
if not close to Rosalind and Beatrice, at any rate pretty
near to Fletcher's heroines, such as Dorothea and Mary.
Still, the Wild Gallant can by no possibility be called a
good play. It was followed at no long interval by the
Rival Ladies, a tragicomedy, which is chiefly remarkable
for containing some heroic scenes in rhyme, for imitating
closely the tangled and improbable plot of its Spanish
original, for being tolerably decent, and I fear it must
be added, for being intolerably dull. The third venture
was in every way more important. The Indian Emper-
or (1665) was Dry den's first original play, his first heroic
play, and indirectly formed part of a curious literary dis-
pute, one of many in which he was engaged, but which
in this case proved fertile in critical studies of his best
brand. Sir Robert Howard, Dryden's brother-in-law, had,
with the assistance of Dry den himself, produced a play
called the Indian Queen, and to this the Indian Emper-
or was nominally a sequel. But as Dry den remarks, with
a quaintness which may or may not be satirical, the con-
clusion of the Indian Queen "left but little matter to
build upon, there remaining but two of the considerable
characters alive." The good Sir Robert had indeed heap-
ed the stage with dead in his last act in a manner which
must have confirmed anv French critic who saw or read


the play in his belief of the bloodthirstiness of the Eng-
lish drama. The field was thus completely clear, and
Dryden, retaining only Montezuma as his hero, used his
own fancy and invention without restraint in constructing
the plot and arranging the characters. The play was ex-
tremely popular, and it divides with Tyrannic Love and the
Conquest of Granada the merit of being the best of all


English heroic plays. The origin of that singular growth
has been already given, and there is no need to repeat the
story, while the Conquest of Granada is so much more the
model play of the style, that anything like an analysis of a
heroic play had better be reserved for this. The Indian
Emperor was followed, iu 16G7, by the Maiden Queen, a
tragicomedy. The tragic or heroic part is very inferior
to its predecessor, but the comic part has merits which are
by no means inconsiderable. Celadon and Florimel are
the first finished specimens of that pair of practitioners of
light o' love flirtation which was Dryden's sole contribu-
tion of any value to the comic stage. Charles gave the
play particular commendation, and called it "his play," as
Dryden takes care to tell us. Still, in the same year came
Sir Martin Mar all, Dryden's second pure comedy. But
it is in no sense an original play, and Dryden was not even
the original adapter. The Duke of Newcastle, famous
equally for his own gallantry in the civil war, and for the
oddities of his second duchess, Margaret Lucas, translated
VEtourdi, and gave it to Dryden, who perhaps combined
with it some things taken from other French plays, added
not a little of his own, and had it acted. It was for
those days exceedingly successful, running more than thirty
nights at its first appearance. It is very coarse in parts,
but amusing enough. The English blunderer is a much
more contemptible person than his French original. He
is punished instead of being rewarded, and there is a great
deal of broad farce brought in. Drvden was about this

O !

time frequently engaged in this doubtful sort of collabo-
ration, and the very next play which he produced, also a
result of it, has done his reputation more harm than any
other. This was the disgusting burlesque of the Tempest,
which, happily, there is much reason for thinking belongs


almost wholly to Davenant. Besides degrading in every
way the poetical merit of the poem, Sir William, from
whom better things might have been expected, got into
his head what Dryden amiably calls the " excellent con-
trivance " of giving Miranda a sister, and inventing a boy
(Hippolito) who has never seen a woman. The excellent
contrivance gives rise to a good deal of extremely charac-
teristic wit. But here, too, there is little reason for giving
Dryden credit or discredit for anything more than a cer-
tain amount of arrangement and revision. His next ap-
pearance, in 1668, with the Mock Astrologer was a more
independent one. He was, indeed, as was very usual with
him, indebted to others for the main points of his play,
which comes partly from Thomas Corneille's Feint Astro-
logue, partly from the Depit Amoureux. But the play,
with the usual reservations, may be better spoken of than
any of Dryden's comedies, except Marriage a la Mode and
Amphitryon. Wildblood and Jacintha, who play the parts
of Celadon and Florimel in the Maiden Queen, are a very
lively pair. Much of the dialogue is smart, and the inci-
dents are stirring, while the play contains no less than four
of the admirable songs which Dryden now began to lavish
on his audiences. In the same year, or perhaps in 1669,
appeared the play of Tyrannic Love, or the Royal Martyr,
a compound of exquisite beauties and absurdities of the
most frantic description. The part of St. Catherine (very
inappropriately allotted to Mrs. Eleanor Gwyn) is beauti-
ful throughout, and that of Maximin is quite captivating
in its outrageousness. The Astral spirits who appear gave
occasion for some terrible parody in the Rehearsal, but
their verses are in themselves rather attractive. An ac-
count of the final scene of the play will perhaps show bet-
ter than anything else the rant and folly in which authors


indulged, and which audiences applauded in these plav.s.
The Emperor Maximin is dissatisfied with the conduct of
the upper powers in reference to his domestic peace. He
thus expresses his dissatisfaction :

a What had the gods to do with me or mine ?
Did I molest your heaven ?
Why should you then make Maximin your foe,
Who paid you tribute, which he need not do ?
Your altars I with smoke of rams did crown,
For which you leaned your hungry nostrils down,
All daily gaping for my incense there,
More than your sun could draw you in a year.
And you for this these plagues have on me sent.
But, by the gods (by Maximin, I meant),
Henceforth I and my world
Hostility with you and yours declare.
Look to it, gods ! for you the aggressors are,
Keep you your rain and sunshine in your skies,
And I'll keep back my flame and sacrifice.
Your trade of heaven shall soon be at a stand,
And all your goods lie dead upon your hand."

Thereupon an aggrieved and possibly shocked follower,
of the name of Placidius, stabs him, but the Emperor wrests
the dagger from him and returns the blow. Then follows
this stage direction : " Placidius falls, and the Emperor
staggers after him and sits down upon him." From this
singular throne his guards offer to assist him. But he de-
clines help, and, having risen once, sits down again upon
Placidius, who, despite the stab and the weight of the
Emperor, is able to address an irreproachable decasyllabic
couplet to the audience. Thereupon Maximin again stabs
the person upon whom he is sitting, and they both expire
as follows :


" Plac. Oh ! I am gone. Max. And after thee I go,
Revenging still and following ev'n to the other world my blow,
And shoving back this earth on which I sit,

I'll mount and scatter all the gods I hit."

[Stabs him again.']

Tyrannic Love was followed by the two parts of Al-
manzor and Almahide, or the Conquest of Granada, the
triumph and at the same time the reductio ad absurdum
of the style. I cannot do better than give a full argument
of this famous production, which nobody now reads, and
which is full of lines that everybody habitually quotes.

The kingdom of Granada under its last monarch, Boab-
delin, is divided by the quarrels of factions, or rather fam-
ilies the Abencerrages and the Zegrys. At a festival
held in the capital this dissension breaks out. A stranger
interferes on v/hat appears to be the weaker side, and kills
a prominent leader of the opposite party, altogether dis-
regarding the king's injunctions to desist. He is seized
by the guards and ordered for execution, but is then dis-
covered to be Almanzor, a valiant person lately arrived
from Africa, who has rendered valuable assistance to the
Moors in their combat with the Spaniards. The king-
thereupon apologizes, and Almanzor addresses much out-
rageous language to the factions. This is successful, and
harmony is apparently restored. Then there enters the
Duke of Arcos, a Spanish envoy, who propounds hard con-
ditions ; but Almanzor remarks that " the Moors have
Heaven and me," and the duke retires. Almahide, the
king's betrothed, sends a messenger to invite him to a
dance ; but Almanzor insists upon a sally first, and the
first act ends with the acceptance of this order of amuse-
ment. The second opens with the triumphant return of
the Moors, the ever-victorious Almanzor having captured


the Duke of Arcos. Then is introduced the first female
character of importance, Lyndaraxa, sister of Zulema, the
Zegry chief, and representative throughout the drama of
the less amiable qualities of womankind. Abdalla, the
king's brother, makes love to her, and she very plainly
tells him that if he were kino; she might have something


to say to him. Zulema's factiousness strongly seconds
his sister's ambition and her jealousy of Almahide, and
the act ends by the formation of a conspiracy against
Boabdelin, the conspirators resolving to attach the invin-
cible Almanzor to their side. The third act borrows its
opening from the incident of Hotspur's wrath, Almanzor
being provoked with Boabdelin for the same cause as
Harry Percy with Henry IV. Thus he is disposed to join
Abdalla, while Abdelmelech, the chief of the Abencerrages,
is introduced in a scene full of " sighs and flames," as the
prince's rival for the hand of Lyndaraxa. The promised
dance takes place with one of Dryden's delightful, and,
alas ! scarcely ever wholly quotable lyrics. The first two
stanzas may however be given :

" Beneath a myrtle's shade,
Which love for none but happy lovers made,
I slept, and straight my love before me brought
Phyllis, the object of my waking thought.
Undressed she came my flame to meet,
While love strewed flowers beneath her feet,
Flowers which, so pressed by her, became more sweet.

"From the bright vision's head
A careless veil of lawn was loosely shed,
From her white temples fell her shaded hair,
Like cloudy sunshine, not too brown nor fair.
Her hands, her lips, did love inspire,
Her every grace my heart did fire,
But most her eyes, which languished with desire."


It is a thousand pities that the quotation cannot be con-
tinued ; but it cannot, though the verse is more artfully
beautiful even than here.

While, however, the king and his court are listening
and looking, mischief is brewing. Alnianzor, Abdalla, and
the Zegrys are in arms. The king is driven in ; Almahide
is captured. Then a scene takes place between Almanzor
and Almahide in the full spirit of the style. Almanzor
sues for Almahide as a prisoner that he may set her at
liberty ; but a rival appears in the powerful Zulema. Al-
manzor is disobliged bv Abdalla, and at once makes his


way to the citadel, whither Boabdelin has fled, and offers
him his services. At the beginning of the fourth act they
are of course accepted with joy, and equally of course ef-
fectual. Almanzor renews his suit, but Almahide refers
him to her father. The fifth act is still fuller of extrava-
gances. Lyndaraxa holds a fort which has been commit-
ted to her against both parties, and they discourse with
her from without the walls. The unlucky Almanzor pre-
fers his suit to the king and to AJmahide's father; has
recourse to violence on being refused, and is overpowered
for a wonder and bound. His life is, however, spared,
and after a parting scene with Almahide he withdraws
from the citv.


The second part opens in the Spanish camp, but soon
shifts to Granada, where the unhappy Boabdelin has to
face the mutinies provoked by the expulsion of Almanzor.
The king has to stoop to entreat Almahide, now his
queen, to use her influence with her lover to come back.
An act of fine confused fighting follows, in which Lynda-
raxa' s castle is stormed, the stormers in their turn driven
out by the Duke of Arcos and Abdalla, who has joined the
Spaniards, and a general imbroylio created. But Almanzor


obeys Almahide's summons, with the result of more sighs
and flames. The conduct of Alinahide is unexceptiona-
ble; but Boabdelin's jealousy is inevitably aroused, ami
this in its turn mortally offends the queen, which again
offends Almanzor. More inexplicable embroilment follows,
and Lyndaraxa tries her charms vainly on the champion.
The war once more centres round the Albayzin, Lynda-
raxa's sometime fortress, and it is not flippant to say that
every one fights with every one else ; after which the hero
sees the ghost of his mother, and addresses it more suo.
Yet another love-scene follows, and then Zulema, who has
not forgotten his passion for Alinahide, brings a false ac-
cusation against her, the assumed partner of her guilt be-
ing, however, not Almanzor, but Abdelmeleeh. This leaves
the hero free to undertake the wager of battle for his mis-
tress, though he is distracted with jealous fear that Zule-
ma's tale is true. The result of the ordeal is a foregone


conclusion ; but Almahide, though her innocence is proved,
is too angry with her husband for doubting her to forgive
him, and solemnly forswears his society. She and Alman-
zor meet once more, and by this time even the convention-


alities of the heroic play allow him to kiss her hand. The
king is on the watch, and breaks in with fresh accusations;
but the Spaniards at the gates cut short the discussion, and
(at last) the embroilment and suffering of true love. The
catastrophe is arrived at in the most approved manner.
Boabdelin dies fighting; Lyndaraxa, who has given trai-
torous help with her Zegrys, is proclaimed queen by Fer-
dinand, but almost immediately stabbed by Abdelmelech.
Almanzor turns out to be the long-lost son of the Duke
of Arcos ; and Almahide, encouraged by Queen Isabella,
owns that when her year of widowhood is up she may
possibly be induced to crown his flames.


Such is the barest outline of this famous play, and I fear
that as it is it is too long, though much has been omit-
ted, including the whole of a pleasing underplot of love
between two very creditable lovers, Osmyn and Benzayda.
Its preposterous " revolutions and discoveries," the wild
bombast of Almanzor and others, the apparently purpose-
less embroilment of the action in ever- new turns and
twists are absurd enough ; but there is a kind of generous
and noble spirit animating it which could not fail to catch
an audience blinded by fashion to its absurdities. There
is a skilful sequence even in the most preposterous events,
which must have kept up the interest unfalteringly ; and
all over the dialogue are squandered and lavished flowers
of splendid verse. Many of its separate lines are, as has
been said, constantly quoted without the least idea on the
quoter's part of their origin, and many more are quotable.
Everybody, for instance, knows the vigorous couplet :

"Forgiveness to the injured does belong,
But they ne'er pardon who have done the wrong ;"

but everybody does not know the preceding couplet, which
is, perhaps, better still :

" A blush remains in a forgiven face ;
It wears the silent tokens of disgrace."

Almanzor's tribute to Lyndaraxa's beauty, at the same
time that he rejects her advances, is in little, perhaps, as
good an instance as could be given of the merits of the
poetry and of the stamp of its spirit, and with this T must
be content :

" Fair though you are

As summer mornings, and your eyes more bright
Than stars that twinkle on a winter's night ;


Though you have eloquence to warm :uul move
Cold age and fasting hermits into love ;
Though Almahide with scorn rewards my care,
Yet than to change 'tis nobler to despair.
My love's my soul, and that from fate is free
Tis that unchanged and deathless part of me."

The audience that cheered this was not wholly vile.

The Conquest of Granada appeared in 1670, and in
the following year the famous Rehearsal was brought out
at the King's Theatre. The importance of this event in
Dryden's life is considerable, but it has been somewhat
exaggerated. In the first place, the satire, keen as much
of it is, is only half directed against himself. The origi-
nal Bayes was beyond all doubt Davenant, to whom some
of the jokes directly apply, while they have no reference
to Dry den. In the second place, the examples of heroic
plays selected for parody and ridicule are by no means ex-
clusively drawn from Dryden's theatre. His brothers-in-
law, Edward and Robert Howard, and others, figure be-
side him, and the central character is, on the whole, as
composite as might be expected from the number of au-
thors whose plays are satirized. Although fathered by
Buckingham, it seems likely that not much of the play is
actually his. His coadjutors are said to have been Butler,
Sprat, and Martin Clifford, Master of the Charterhouse, au-
thor of some singularly ill-tempered if not very pointed
remarks on Dryden's plays, which were not published till
long afterwards. Butlers hand is, indeed, traceable in
many of the parodies of heroic diction, none of which are
so good as his acknowledged " Dialogue of Cat and Puss."
The wit and, for the most part, the justice of the satire are
indisputable ; and if it be true, as I am told, that the Re-
hearsal does not now make a good acting play, the fact


does not bear favourable testimony to the culture and re-
ceptive powers of modern audiences. But there were many
reasons why Dryden should take the satire very coolly, as
in fact he did. As he says, with his customary proud hu-
mility, " his betters were much more concerned than him-
self ;" and it seems highly probable that Buckingham's co-
adjutors, confiding in his good nature or his inability to
detect the liberty, had actually introduced not a few traits
of his own into this singularly composite portrait. In the
second place, the farce was what would be now called an
advertisement, and a very good one. Xothing can be a
greater mistake than to say or to think that the Rehearsal
killed heroic plavs. It did nothing of the kind, Drvden

L J *

himself e'oino- on writing them for some rears until his

cu cu o >

own fancy made him cease, and others continuing still
longer. There is a play of Crowne's, Caligula, in which
many of the scenes are rhymed, dating as late as 1698,
and the general character of the heroic play, if not the
rhymed form, continued almost unaltered. Certainly Dry-
den's equanimity was very little disturbed. Buckingham
he paid off in kind long afterwards, and his Grace im-
mediately proceeded, by his answer, to show how little he
can have had to do with the Rehearsal. To Sprat and
Clifford no allusions that I know of are to be found in
his writings. As for Butler, an honourable mention in a
letter to Lawrence Hyde shows how little acrimony he felt
towards him. Indeed, it may be said of Dryden that he
was at no time touchy about personal attacks. It was
only when, as Shadwell subsequently did, the assailants be-
came outrageous in their abuse, and outstepped the bounds
of fair literary warfare, or when, as in Blackmore's case
there was some singular ineptitude in the fashion of the
attack, that he condescended to reply.


It is all the more surprising he should, at no great
distance of time, have en^a^cd gratuitously in a contest

o o cj *

which brought him no honour, and in which his allies
were quite unworthy of him. Elkanah Settle was one of
Rochester's innumerable led-poets, and was too utterly be-
neath contempt to deserve even Rochester's spite. The
character of Doeg, ten years later, did Settle complete
justice. He had a " blundering kind of melody " about
him, but absolutely nothing else. However, a heroic play
of his, the impress of Morocco, had considerable vogue for
some incomprehensible reason. Dryden allowed himself
to be drawn by Crowne and Shadwell into writing with
them a pamphlet of criticisms on the piece. Settle re-
plied by a study, as we should say nowadays, of the very
vulnerable Conquest of Granada. This is the only in-
stance in which Dryden went out of his way to attack any
one ; and even in this instance Settle had given some
cause by an allusion of a contemptuous kind in his preface.
But as a rule the laureate showed himself proof against
much more venomous criticisms than any that Elkanah was


capable of. It is perhaps not uncharitable to suspect that
the preface of the Empress of Morocco bore to some ex-
tent the blame of the Rehearsal, which it must be remem-
bered was for years amplified and re-edited with parodies
of fresh plays of Dryden's as they appeared. If this were
the case it would not be the only instance of such a trans-
ference of irritation, and it would explain Dryden's other-

Online LibraryJohn MorleyEnglish men of letters (Volume 3) → online text (page 4 of 44)