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already remarked upon as characterizing all Dryden's di-
dactic work. The poem is not without touches of humour,
and winds up with a characteristic but not ill-humoured
fling at the unhappy Shadwell.

Dryden's next productions of importance were two odes
of the so-called Pindaric kind. The example of Cowley
had made this style very popular ; but Dry den himself had
not practised it. The years 1685-G gave him occasion to
do so. His Threnodia Augustalis, or funeral poem on
Charles the Second, may be taken as the chief official pro-
duction of his laureateship. The difficulties of such per-
formances are well known, and the reproaches brought
against their faults are pretty well stereotyped. Threno-
dia Augustalis is not exempt from the faults of its kind ;
but it has merits which for that kind are decidedly unu-
sual. The stanza which so adroitly at once praises and
satirizes Charles's patronage of literary men is perhaps the
best, and certainly the best known ; but the termination
is also fine. Of very different merit, however, is the Ode
to the Memory of Mrs. Anne Kilhgrew. This eleo-y is
among the best of many noble funeral poems which Dry-
den wrote. The few lines on the Marquis of Winchester,
the incomparable address to Oldham " Farewell, too little
and too lately known " and at a later date the translated
epitaph on Claverhouse, are all remarkable ; but the Kil-
legrew elegy is of far greater importance. It is curious
that in these days of selections no one has attempted a
collection of the best regular and irregular odes in English.
There are not many of them, but a small anthology could
be made, reaching from Milton to Mr. Swinburne, which
would contain some remarkable poetry. Among these
the ode to Anne Killegrcw would assuredly hold a high


place. Johnson pronounced it the noblest in the language,
and in his time it certainly was, unless Lycidas be called
an ode. Since its time there has been Wordsworth's great
immortality ode, and certain beautiful but fragmentary
pieces of Shelley which might be so classed ; but till our
own days nothing else which can match this. The first
stanza may be pronounced absolutely faultless, and inca-
pable of improvement. As a piece of concerted music in
verse it has not a superior, and Warton's depreciation of it
is a curious instance of the lack of catholic taste which
has so often marred English criticism of poetry :

" Thou youngest virgin-daughter of the skies,

Made in the last promotion of the blessed ;
Whose palms, new plucked from Paradise,
In spreading branches more sublimely rise,

Rich with immortal green above the rest :
Whether, adopted to some neighbouring star,
Thou rollest above us, in thy wandering race,

Or, in procession fixed and regular,

Movest with the heaven's majestic pace ;

Or, called to more superior bliss,
Thou treadest with seraphims the vast abyss :
Whatever happy region is thy place,
Cease thy celestial song a little space ;
Thou wilt have time enough for hymns divine,

Since Heaven's eternal year is thine.
Hear, then, a mortal Muse thy praise rehearse,

In no ignoble verse ;

But such as thy own voice did practise here,
When thy first fruits of Poesy were given,
To make thyself a welcome inmate there ;

While yet a young probationer,
And candidate of heaven."

These smaller pieces were followed at some interval by
the remarkable poem which is Dryden's chief work, if


bulk and originality of plan arc taken into consideration.
There is a tradition as to the place of composition of The
Hind and the Panther, which in many respects deserves
to be true, though there is apparently no direct testimo-
ny to its truth. It is said to have been written at Rush-
ton not far from Kettering, in the poet's native county.
Rushton had been (though it had passed from them at
this time) the scat of the Treshams, one of the staunchest
families to the old faith which Dryden had just embraced.
They had held another seat in Northamptonshire Lyve-
den, within a few miles of Aldwinkle and of all the scenes
of the poet's youth ; and both at Lyveden and Rushton,
architectural evidences of their devotion to the cause sur-
vive in the shape of buildings covered with symbolical
carvings. The neighbourhood of Rushton, too, is singu-
larly consonant to the scenery of the poem. It lay just
on the southern fringe of the great forest of Rocking-
ham, and the neighbourhood is still wonderfully timbered,
though most of the actual wood owes its existence to the


planting energy of Duke John of Montagu, half a century
after Dryden 1 s- time. It would certainly not have been
easy to conceive a better place for the conception and ex-
ecution of this sylvan poem ; but, as a matter of fact, it
seems impossible to obtain any definite evidence of the
connexion between the two.

The Hind and the Panther is in plan a sort of combina-
tion of Absalom and Achitophel, and of Reliyio Laid, but
its three parts are by no means homogeneous. The first
part, which is perhaps, on the whole, the best, contains the
well-known apportionment of the characters of different
beasts to the different churches and sects ; the second con-
tains the major part of the controversy between the Hind
and the Panther; the third, which is as long as the other


two put together, continues this controversy, but before
very long diverges into allegorical and personal satire.
The storv of the Swallows, which the Panther tells, is one


of the liveliest of all Dryden's pieces of narration, and it
is not easy to give the palm between it and the Hind's
retort, the famous fable of the Doves, in which Burnet is
caricatured with hardly less vigour and not much less truth
than Buckingham and Shadwcll in the satires proper.
This told, the poem ends abruptly.

The Hind and the Panther was certain to provoke con-
troversy, especially from the circumstances, presently to
be discussed, under which it was written. Dryden had
two points especially vulnerable, the one being personal,
the other literary. It was inevitable that his argument in
Religio Laid should be contrasted with his argument in
The Hind and the Panther. It was inevitable, on the
other hand, that the singularities of construction in the

' O

latter poem should meet with animadversion. No de-
fender of The Hind and the Panther, indeed, has ever at-
tempted to defend it as a regular or classically proportion-
ed piece of work. Its main theme is, as always with Dry-
den, merely a canvas whereon to embroider all sorts of
episodes, digressions, and ornaments. Yet his adversaries,
in their blind animosity, went a great deal too far in the
matter of condemnation, and showed themselves entirely
ignorant of the history and requirements of allegory in
general, and the beast -fable in particular. Dryden, like
many other great men of letters, had an admiration for
the incomparable story of Reynard the fox. It is charac-
teristic, both of his enemies and of the age, that this was
made a serious argument against him. This is specially
done in a celebrated little pamphlet which has perhaps had
the honour of being more overpraised than anything else


of its kind in English literature. If any one wishes to
appraise the value of the story that Dry den was serious-
ly vexed by The Hind and the Panther transversed to the
Story of the City and Country Mouse, he cannot do better
than read that production. It is difficult to say what was
or was not unworthy of Montague, whose published poems
certainly do not authorize us to say that he wrote below
himself on this occasion, but it assuredly is in the high-
est degree unworthy of Prior. Some tolerable parody of
Dryden's own work, a good deal of heavy joking closely
modelled on the Rehearsal, and assigning to Mr. Bayes
plenty of "i'gads" and the like catchwords, make up the
staple of this piece, in which Mr. Christie has discovered
" true wit," and the Quarterly Reviewer already cited,
" exquisite satire." Among the severest of Messrs. Mon-
tague and Prior's strictures is a sarcastic reference to Rey-
nard the fox. What was good enough for Dryden, for
Goethe, and for Mr. Carlyle was childish rubbish to these
brisk young critics. The story alluded to says that Dry-
den wept at the attack, and complained that two young
fellows to whom he had been civil should thus have treated
an old man. Now Dryden certainly did not consider him-
self an old man at this time, and he had " seen many others,"
as an admirable Gallicism has it, in the matter of attacks.

One more poem, and one only, remains to be noticed in
this division. This w r as the luckless Britannia Rcdiviva,
written on the birth of the most ill-starred of all Princes
of Wales, born in the purple. It is in couplets, and as no
work of Dryden's written at this time could be worthless,
it contains some vigorous verse, but on the whole it is by
far the worst of his serious, poems ; and it was no mis-
fortune for his fame that the Revolution left it out of
print for the rest of the author's life.


LIFE FROM 1680 TO 1688.

THAT portion of Drydcn's life which extends from the
Popish Plot to the Revolution is of so much more impor-
tance for the estimate of his personal character, as well as
for that of his literary genius, than any other period of
equal length, that it has seemed well to devote a separate
chapter to the account and discussion of it. The question
of Dryden's conversion, its motives and its sincerity, has
of itself been more discussed than any other point in his
life, and on the opinions to be formed of it must depend
the opinion which, on the whole, we form of him as a
man. According to one view his conduct during these
years places him among the class which paradox delights
to describe as the " greatest and meanest of mankind," the
men who compensate for the admirable qualities of their
heads by the despicable infirmities of their hearts. Ac-
cording to another, his conduct, if not altogether wise,
contains nothing discreditable to him, and some things
which may be reasonably described as very much the con-
trary. Twenty years of play-writing had, in all probabil-
ity, somewhat disgusted Dryden with the stage, and his
Rose- Alley misfortune had shown him that even a scrupu-
lous abstinence from meddling in politics or in personal
satire would not save him from awkw r ard consequences.


His lucrative contract with the players had, beyond all
doubt, ceased, and his official salaries, as we shall see, were
paid with the usual irregularity. At the same time, as has
been already pointed out, his turn of thought probably led
him to take more interest in practical politics and in relig-
ious controversy than had been previously the case. The
additional pension, which as we have seen he had received,
made his nominal income sufficient, and instead of writing
plavs invitd Minerva he took to writing satires and ar<m-

1 , O O

mentative pieces to please himself. Other crumbs of royal
favour fell to his lot from time to time. The broad pieces
received for the Medal are very probably apocryphal, but
there is no doubt that his youngest son received, in Feb-
ruary, 1683, a presentation to the Charterhouse from the
king. This presentation it was which he was said to have
received from Shaftesbury, as the price of the mitigating
lines (" Yet fame deserved easy of access ") inserted in
the later edition of Absalom and Ackitophel. lie was
also indefatigable in undertaking and performing minor
literary work of various kinds, which will be noticed later.
Nor, indeed, could he afford to be idle ; his pensions were
often unpaid, and it is just after the great series of his
satires closed that we get a glimpse of this fact. A letter
is extant to Rochester Hyde, not Wilmot complaining
of long arrears, and entreating some compensation in the
shape of a place in the Customs, or the Excise, besides
an instalment at least of the debt. It is this letter which
contains the well-known phrase, " It is enough for one age
to have neglected Mr. Cowley and starved Mr. Butler." As
far as documentary evidence goes, the answer to the appeal
was a Treasury warrant for Vo/., the arrears being over
1000/., and an appointment to a collectorship of Customs
in the port of London, with unknown emoluments. The

T.j LIFE FROM 1680 TO 1G88. 101

only definite sum mentioned is a nominal one of ol. a year
as collector of duties on cloth. But it is not likely that
cloth was the only subject of Dryden's labours, and in
those days the system of fees and perquisites flourished.
This Customs appointment was given in 1683.

To the condition of Dryden's sentiments in the last
years of Charles' reign Religio Laid must be taken as the
surest, and, indeed, as the only clue. There is no proof
that this poem was composed to serve any political pur-
pose, and indeed it could not have served any, neither
James nor Charles being likely to be propitiated by a de-
fence, however moderate and rationalizing, of the Church
of England. It is not dedicated to any patron, and seems
to have been an altogether spontaneous expression of what
was passing in the poet's mind. A careful study of the
poem, instead of furnishing arguments against the sincer-
ity of his subsequent conduct, furnishes, I think, on the
contrary, arguments which are very strongly in its favour.
It could have, as has just been said, no purpose of pleasing
a lay patron, for there was none to be pleased by it. It is
not at all likely to have commended itself to a clerical pa-
tron, because of its rationalizing tone, its halting adop-
tion of the Anglican Church as a kind of makeshift, and its
heterodox yearnings after infallibility. These last, indeed,
are among the most strongly-marked features of the piece,
and point most clearly in the direction which the poet
afterwards took.

" Such an omniscient church we wish indeed,
'Twere worth both Testaments, cast in the Creed,"

is an awkward phrase for a sound divine, or a dutifully
acquiescing layman ; but it is exactly the phrase which
might be expected from a man who was on the slope from


placid caring for none of these things to a more or less
fervent condition of membership of an infallible church.
The tenor of the "whole poem, as it seems to me, is the
same. The author, in his character of high Tory and
orthodox Englishman, endeavours to stop himself at the
point which the Anglican Church marks with a thus far
and no farther ; but, in a phrase which has no exact Eng-
lish equivalent, nous le voyons venir. It is quite evident
that if he continues to feel anything like a lively interest
in the problems at stake, he will go farther still. He did
go farther, and has been accordingly railed against for
many generations. But I do not hesitate to put the ques-
tion to the present generation in a very concrete form.
Is Dryden's critic nowadays prepared to question the sin-
cerity of Cardinal Newman ? If he is, I have no objection
to his questioning the sincerity of Dryden. But what is
sauce for the nineteenth-century goose is surely sauce for
the seventeenth -century gander. The post -conversion
writings of the Cardinal are not less superficially incon-
sistent with the Tracts for the Times and the Oxford
Sermons, than the Hind and the Panther is with Reliyio

A hyperbole has been in some sort necessary in order to
rebut the very unjust aspersions which two of the most
popular historians of the last thirty years have thrown on
Dryden. But I need hardly say, that though the glory of
Oxford in the first half of the nineteenth century is a fair
argumentative parallel to the glory of Cambridge in the
second half of the seventeenth, the comparison is not in-
tended to be forced. I believe Drvden to have been, in


the transactions of the years 1685-7, thoroughly sincere
as far as conscious sincerity went, but of a certain amount
of unconscious insincerity I am by no means disposed to

v.] LIFE FROM 1680 TO 1688. 103

acquit him. If I judge his character aright, no English
man of letters was ever more thoroughly susceptible to
the spirit and influence of his time. Dryden was essen-
tially a literary man, and was disposed rather to throw
himself into the arms of any party than into those of one
so hopelessly unliterary as the ultra-Liberal and ultra-Prot-
estant party of the seventeenth century was. He was,
moreover, a professed servant of the public, or as we should
put it in these days, he had the journalist spirit. Fortu-
nately and it is for everybody who has to do with litera-
ture the most fortunate sign of the times it is not now
necessary for any one to do violence to a single opinion,
even to a single crotchet of his own, in order to make his
living by his pen. It was not so in Dryden's days, and
it is fully believable that a sense that he was about to be
on the winning side may have assisted his rapid determina-
tion from Hobbism or Halifaxism to Romanist orthodoxy.
I am the more disposed to this allowance because it seems
to me that Dryden's principal decrier was in need of a
similar charity. Lord Macaulay is at present a glory of
the Whigs. If there had been an equal opening when he
was a young man for distinction and profit as a Tory, for
early retirement on literary pursuits with a competence,
and for all the other things which he most desired, is it
quite so certain that he would not have been of the other
persuasion ? I have heard persons much more qualified
than I am to decide on the characteristics of pure Lib-
eralism energetically repudiate Macaulay's claim to be an
apostle thereof. Yet I, for my part, have not the least
idea of challenging his sincerity. It seems to me that he
would have been at least wise if he had refrained, consid-
ering the insufficiency of his knowledge, from challenging
the sincerity of Dryden.


How insufficient tlio knowledge was the labours of sub-
sequent investigators have sufficiently shown. Mr. Bell
proved that the pension supposed to be conferred by
James as a reward for Dryden's apostasy was simply a re-
newal of the pension granted by Charles years before ; that
it preceded instead of following the conversion ; and that
the sole reason of its having to be renewed at all was
technical merely. As for the argument about Dryden's
being previously indifferent to religion, and having written
indecent plays, the arguer has himself demolished his argu-
ment in a famous passage about James's own morals, and
the conduct of the non-resistance doctors of the Ano-lican


Church. Burnet's exaggerated denunciations of Dryden
as a " monster of impurity of all sorts," <fcc., are sufficiently
traceable to Shadwell's shameless libels and to the Char-
acter of the Buzzard. It is true that the allegations of
Malone and Scott, to the effect that Lady Elizabeth had
been alreadv converted, and Charles Drvden likewise, rest

*/ /

on a very slender foundation ; but these are matters which
have very little to do with the question in any case. The
real problem can be very easily stated. Given a man to
the general rectitude of whose private conduct all quali-
fied witnesses testify, while it is only questioned by un-
scrupulous libellers who gained, as can be proved, not
one penny by his conversion, and though he subsequently
lost heavilv by it, maintained it unswervingly who can

*/ / o v

be shown, from the most unbiassed of his previous writ-
ings, to have been in exactly the state of mind which was
likely to result in such a proceeding, and of whose insin-
cerity there is no proof of the smallest value what rea-
son is there for suspecting him ? The literary greatness
of the man has nothing to do with the question. The
fact is that he has been convicted, or rather sentenced, on

v.] LIFE FROM 1680 TO 1688. 105

evidence which would not suffice to convict Elkanah Settle
or Samuel Pordage.

In particular, we have a right to insist upon the absolute
consistency of Dryden's subsequent conduct. Mr. Christie,
who, admirably as for the most part he judges Dryden's
literary work, was steeled against his personal character
by the fact that Dryden attacked his idol, Shaftcsbury,
thinks that a recantation would have done him no good
had he tried it. The opinion is, to say the least, hasty.
Had Dryden proffered the oaths to William and Mary, as
poet laureate and historiographer, it is very hard to see
what power could have deprived him of his two hundred
a year. The extra hundred of pension might have been
forfeited, but the revenues of these places and of that in
the Customs must have been safe, unless the new Govern-
ment chose to incur what it was of all things desirous to
prevent, the charge of persecution and intolerance. AY hen
the Whigs were so desperately hard up for literary talent
that Dorset, in presenting Shadwell for the laureateship,
had to pay him the very left-handed compliment of say-
ing that, if he was not the best poet, he was at least the
honestest i. e., the most orthodoxly Whiggish man, when
hardly a single distinguished man of letters save Locke,


who was nothing of a pamphleteer, was on their side, is
it to be supposed for a moment that Dryden would not
have been welcome? The argument against him recalls a
curious and honourable story which Johnson tells of Smith,
the Bohemian author of Phccdra and Hippolytus. Addi-
son, who, as all the world knows, was a friend of Smith's,
and who was always ready to do his friends good turns,
procured for Smith, from some Whig magnates, a commis-
sion for a History of the Revolution. To the disgust of

the mediator, Smith demurred. " What," he said, " am I
H 8


to do with the character of Lord Sunderland ?" Addison
is said to have replied, in deep but illogical wrath, '' When
wore you drunk last?" I feel extremely inclined to put
Smith's query to the persons who maintain that it would
have been impossible for Dryden to turn his coat at the
Revolution. What are they e'oino- to do with the charac-

*/ o o

ter of Lord Sunderland ? In the age not merely of Sun-
derland, but of Maryborough, of Godolphin, of Ru^oll, of
a hundred other treble-dyed traitors, it surely cannot be
contended that the first living writer of Eno-lish would

o n

have been rejected by those who had need of his services.
Now we know that, so far from making any overtures of
submission, Drvden was stiff in his Jacobitism and in his


faith. Nothing in his life is more celebrated than his per-
sistent refusal to give way to Tonson's entreaties to dedi-
cate the Virgil to William, and his whole post-Revolution
works may be searched in vain for a single stroke intended
to curry favour with the powers that were. If, as he puts
it in a letter still extant, they would take him on his lit-
erary merits, he would not refuse their offers ; but as to
yielding an inch of his principles, he would not. And his
works amply justify the brave words. It is surely hard
measure to go out of one's way to upbraid with wanton
or venal apostasy one to whose sincerity there is such
complete testimony, both a priori and a posteriori, as this.
Except the Hind and the Panther, no work inspired by
his new religious sentiments did Drvden much credit, or,

o .

it would appear, brought him much profit. James was not
a particularly generous master, though it is probable that
the laureate -historiographer -collector received his dues
much more punctually under his orderly administration
than in the days of his spendthrift brother. The works
upon which the court put Dryden were not very happily

v.J LIFE FROM 1G80 TO 1688. 107

chosen, nor in all cases very happily executed. Ilis defence
of the reasons which had converted Anne Hyde is about
the worst of his prose works, and was handled (in the
rough controversial fashion of the day) very damagingly
by Stillingfleet. A translation of a work of Varillas' on
ecclesiastical history was announced but never published ;
and, considering the worthlessness of Yarillas as a histori-
an, it is just as well. The Life of St. Francis Xavier, dedi-
cated to the queen, was better worth doing, and was well
done. It is curious that in this dedication occurs one of
those confident anticipations of the birth of the young
Pretender, which after the event were used by zealous
Protestants as arguments for the spuriousness of the child.
These and minor works show that Dryden, as indeed might
be expected, was in favour at court, and was made use of

Online LibraryJohn MorleyEnglish men of letters (Volume 3) → online text (page 8 of 44)