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by the economical and pious rulers of England. But of
any particular benefit reaped by him from his conversion
there is no hint whatever; in some respects, indeed, it did
him harm. His two youngest sons, who had followed their
father's change of faith, were elected about this time to
scholarships at the universities, but were prevented, appar-
ently by their religion, from going into residence.

The mere loss of education and prospects for his children
was, however, a trifle to what Dryden had to undergo at
the Revolution. It is probable that this event was almost
as much a surprise to him as to James himself. But how-
ever severe the blow might be, it was steadily borne. The
period at which the oaths had to be taken to the new

Government came, and Drvden did not take them. This


vacated at once his literary posts and his place in the Cus-
toms, if, as there seems every reason to believe, he held it
up to the time. His position was now exceedingly serious.
He was nearly sixty years of age. His patrimony was


but small, and such addition to it as be had received with
Ladv Elizabeth did not exceed a few scores of pounds an-
nually. He had three sons grown to man's estate, and all
tin.- more difficult to provide for that their religion inca-
pacitated them from almost every profitable pursuit in their
native country. He himself had long, save in one trifling
instance, broken his relation with the stage, the most lu-
crative opening for literary work. He was a marked man,
far more obnoxious personally to many of the ruling party
than Milton had been thirty years before, when he thought
it necessary to go into " abscondence." The very gains of
the theatre were not what they had been, unless they were
enhanced by assiduous visits to patrons and dedicatees, a
degrading performance to which Dryden never would con-
sent. Loss of fortune, of prospects, and of powerful friends
was accompanied in Dryden's case by the most galling an-
noyances to his self-love. His successor in the laureateship
was none other than Shadwell, whom he had so bitterly
satirized, whom he had justly enough declared able to do
anything but write, and who was certain to exult over


him with all the triumph of a coarse and vindictive nature.
Drvden, however, came out of the trial admirably. He had.


indeed, some staunch friends in both political parties the
Dorsets and the Leveson-Gowers beino- as true to him as


the Rochesters and the Ormonds. But his main resource
now, as all through his life, was his incomparable literary
faculty, his splendid capacity for work, and his dogged op-
position to the assaults of fortune. In the twelve years
of life which remained to him he built up his fortune and
maintained it anew, not merely by assiduous practice of
those forms of literature in which he had already won


ivnown, but by exercising yet again his marvellous talent
for guessing the taste of the time, and striking out new

v.] LIFE FROM 1680 TO 1G88. Kjy

lines to please it. Just as no one from Annus
and Aurengzele could have divined Absalom and Achito-
phel and the Hind and the Panther, so no one, except on
the principle that all things were now possible to Dry den,
could have divined from Absalom and Ackitophcl and the
Hind and the Panther either Palamon and Arcite or the
translation of Virgil.


Some minor works of Dryden's not mentioned in the
last chapter, nor falling- under the heads to be noticed in
subsequent chapters, may here deserve notice. Some time
or other in the reign of James the Second, Dryden wrote
to Etherege a poetical epistle, which is its author's only
attempt in the easy octosyllabic verse, which Butler had
just used with such brilliant success, and which Prior was
in a more polished if less vigorous form to use with suc-
cess almost equally brilliant a few years later. "Gentle
George" Etherege deserved the compliments which Dry-
den paid him more than once, and it is only to be wished
that the poet's communications with him, whether in verse
or prose, had been more frequent. Had they been so, we
might have been able to solve what is now one of the
most curious problems of English literary history. Though
Etherege was a man of fashion, of literary importance, and
of a distinguished position in diplomacy he was English
minister at Ratisbon, where Dryden addresses him only
the circumstances and not the date of his death are known.
It is said that in seeing his friends downstairs he over-
balanced himself and was taken up dead ; but when this
happened no one seems to know. 1 A line in the epistle

1 In reply to a request of mine, Mr.W.Xoel Sainsbury has brought
to my notice letters of Etherege in the Record Office and in the Re-
ports of the Historical MSS. Commission. In January, 1688-9, Ethe-
rege wrote to Lord Preston from Ratisbon. The first letter from his


MIS to show that Etlicrcge had been obliged to take to
lu-avv drinking as a compliment to liis German friends,
and tlms indirectly prophesies the circumstances of his
d.-ath. But the author or Sir Fopling Flutter and She

//./ //' .s7/<? could hardly deserved such a hugger-mugger


To this time, too, belongs the first Ode on St. Cecilia's
Da >/. It is not a great production, and cannot pretend
comparison with the second and more famous piece com-
posed on a later occasion. But it is curious how many
lines and phrases it has contributed to the list of stock
quotations especially carious when it is remembered that
the whole piece is only sixty-three lines long. "A heap
of jarring atoms," "the diapason closing full in man,'
" the double, double, double beat of the thundering drum,"
and several other phrases, survive. The thing was set to
mii>ie by an Italian composer named Draghi, and seems
to have been popular. Besides these and other tasks, Dry-
den beo-an at this time a curious work or series of works,

O '

\\hieh was continued at intervals till his death, which was
imitated afterwards by many others, and which in some
sort was an ancestor of the modern literary magazine or
review. This was the Miscellany, the first volume of which
appeared in the beginning of 1684, and the second in the
bc^iiminnr of 1685. though a considerable interval occur-


! -d a third volume was brought out. These vol-


umes contained both old and new poems, mostly of the
occasional kind, by Prvden himself, besides many of his

J8or H dated April, 1089. If, then, he died at Ralisbon, this
hriiiLr- tin- date In-tn-een narrow limits. There is, however, a rival
nd that h<- followed James into exile. Since this note was wi it-
ten more letters have, I hear, been found in the British Museum, and
-Mi'. ' as the whole subject under treatment.

v.] LIFE FROM 1680 TO 1688. Ill

translations. But they were by no means limited to liis
own productions. Many other authors, old and new, were
admitted, and to the second volume Charles Dry den, his
eldest son, was a contributor. These two years (1684 and
1685), it will be observed, were not merely those in which,
owing to the non-payment of his appointments, his pe-
cuniary straits must have been considerable, but they were
also years in which there was a kind of lull between the
rapid series of his great satirical works and the collection
of verse and prose productions which owe their birth to
his conversion. It is somewhat remarkable that Dry-
den's abstinence from the stao-e durinff this time which

TJ ~

was broken only by the Duke of Guise and by the pro-
duction of the rather unsuccessful opera, Albion and Alba-
nius seems to have been accompanied by a cessation also
in his activity as a prologue writer. Both before and af-
ter this period prologue writing was a regular source of
income and employment to him. There is a famous story
of Southern and Dryden which is often quoted, both for
its intrinsic interest, and because the variety with which
its circumstances are related is rather an instructive com-
ment on the trustworthiness of such stories. Every one
is supposed to know Pope's reference to the author of
OroonoJco as

" Tom, -whom heaven sent down to raise
The price of prologues and of plays."

The story is that Southern in 1682 applied to Dryden
for a prologue (which is extant), and was told that the
tariff had gone np from two guineas to three " Not out
of any disrespect to you, young man, but the players have
had my goods too cheap." The figures two and three are
replaced in some versions by four and six, in others by

1 1 -j DRYDEX. [CHAP. v.

li\v and ten. This story gives the date of 1682, and it is
ivinnrkaMr that until 1(590, when Dryden once more came
ii tin- >t.T_:v himself with a new play, his prologues and
quickies arc MTV few. Possibly the increased price was
prohibitive, luit it is more likely that the political strug-
gles of the time put all but political verse out of fashion.
These compositions had always been famous, or rather in-
famous, for their licence of language, and the political ex-
of some of Drvden's few utterances of the kind at


this time are not creditable to his memory. Hallam's
phra>c of "virulent ribaldry " is absurd as applied to .,-16-
salout <nnl Achitophel, or to the Medal. It is only too
\\ell in place as applied to the stuff put in the mouth of
the actress who spoke the epilogue to the Duke of Guise.
The truth is that if they be taken as a whole these prol-
ogues and epilogues could be better spared by -lovers of
DrydfU from his works than any other section thereof;
and it is particularly to be regretted that Mr. Christie, in
his excellent Globe edition of the poems, has admitted
them, while excluding the always melodious, and some-
times exquisitely poetical songs from the plays, which cer-
tain Iv do not exceed the prologues in licence of language,

- 1 l O O O '

while their literary merit is incomparably greater.



IT mio-ht have seemed, at first sio-ht, that the Revolution

O ' O '

would be a fatal blow to Drvden. Beino- unwilling to

V * J

take the oaths to the new Government, be lost at once the
places and the pensions which, irregularly as they had been
paid, had made up, since he ceased to write constantly for
the stage, by far the greater part of his income. He was
nearly sixty years old, his private fortune was, if not al-
together insignificant, quite insufficient for his wants, and
he had three sons to maintain and set out in the world.
But he faced the ruin of his fortunes, and, what must have
been bitterer to him, the promotion of his enemies into his
own place, with the steady courage and practical spirit of
resource which were among his most creditable character-


istics. Not all his friends deserted him, and from Dor-
set in particular he received great and apparently constant
assistance. The story that this generous patron actually
compensated Dryden by an annuity equal in value to his
former appointments seems to rest on insufficient founda-
tion. The story that when Dryden and Tom Brown dined
with Dorset the one found a hundred-pound note and the
other a fifty-pound note under his cover, does not do much
credit to Dorset's powers of literary arithmetic, nor, even
allowing for the simpler manners of the time, to his deli

1 1 1 DRYDEX. [CHAP.

cacy f fi -linu. I>ut Drydcn's own words are explicit on
the ji.tiut -f his having received assistance from this old
frii-nd, and it is said that in certain letters preserved at
Knolr, and not yet given to the world, there are still more
delimit- acknowledgments. Drydcn, however, was never
dispox-d to depend on patrons, even though, like Corneille,
he did not think it necessary to refuse their gifts when
thrv presented themselves. Theatrical gains had, it has
hern said, decreased, unless dramatists took pains to in-
ereasi- thnn by dedication or by the growing practice of
i)la-i;i'j,- .subscription copies among wealthy friends. Still,
a hundred pounds could be depended upon from a good
third ni^lit and from the bookseller's fee for the book,
and a hundred pounds was a matter of considerable im-
portance to Drydcn just now. For full seven years he
had all but abandoned dramatic composition. His con-
tributions to Lee's Duke of Guise, which probably brought
him no money, and certainly brought him a troublesome
controversy, and the opera of Albion and Albanius had
been his only attempts on the stage since the Spanish
/'//'//. The Duke of Guise, though Dryden's part in it is
<>f no little merit, hardly needs notice here, and Albion and
AllxiH'mx was a failure. It was rather a masque than an
opera, and depended, though there is some good verse in
it, rather on elaborate and spiteful gibbeting of the ene-
in ir- of the court than on poetical or dramatic merits.
l'ut 1 Myden's dramatic reputation was by no means im-
pahvd. The play ordered to be performed by Queen
Mary \\a> the Spanish Friar, and this Protestant drama
pi-o\.-d a most unfortunate one for her Majesty; for the
audience at that time were extraordinarily quick to seize
kind of political allusion, and, as it happened, there
were in the ^finish Friar many allusions of an acciden-


tal but unmistakable kind to ungrateful children, banished
monarchs, and so forth. The eyes of the whole audience
were fixed on Mary, and she probably repented of her choice.
But Dryden did not long depend on revivals of his old
plays. The second year of the new regime saw the pro-
duction of Don Sebastian, a traffi-comedy, one scene of

O V '

which, that between Sebastian and Dorax, is famous in
literature, and which as a whole is often ranked above all
Drydcn's other dramas, though for my own part I prefer
All for Love. The play, though at first received with a
certain lukewarmness, which may have been due to vari-
ous causes, soon became very popular. It was dedicated
to Lord Leicester, Algernon Sidney's eldest brother, a very
old man, who was probably almost alone among his con-
temporaries (with the exception of Dryden himself) in be-
ing an ardent admirer of Chaucer. In the preface to the
Fables the poet tells us that he had postponed his transla-
tion of the elder bard out of deference to Lord Leicester's
strongly expressed opinion that the text should be left
alone. In the same year was produced a play less origi-
nal, but perhaps almost better, and certainly more popular.
This was Amphitryon, which some critics have treated
most mistakenly as a mere translation of Moliere. The
truth is, that the three plays of Plautus, Moliere, and Dry-
den are remarkable examples of the power which great
writers have of treading in each other's steps without ser-
vile imitation. In a certain dry humour Dryden's play
is inferior to Plautus, but, as compared with Moliere, it
has two features which are decided improvements - the
introduction of the character of Judge Gripus and the
separation of the part of the Soubrctte into two. As Don
Sebastian had been dedicated to Lord Leicester, an old
Cromwellian, so Amphitryon was dedicated to Sir "William


I. JOB Gower, a prominent Williamite. Neither dedica-
tion contains the least truckling to the powers that were,
but iM'Y'len seems to have taken a pleasure in showing
that men .f l.oth parties were sensible of his merit and of
th- hardship of his position. Besides these two plays an
alteration of The Prophetess was produced in 1C90, in
which Drydt-n is said to have assisted Betterton. In 16^1
appeared K'uiy Arthur, a masque-opera on the plan of Al-
li'mn a ml Albanius. Unlike the latter, it has no political
nieanin^: indeed, Drvden confesses to having made con-

/ o

siderable alterations in it, in order to make it non-political.
The former piece had been set by a Frenchman, Grabut,
and the music had been little thought of. Purcell under-


took the music for Kiny Arthur with much better success.
Allowing for a certain absurdity which always besets the
musical drama, and which is particularly apparent in that
of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, King
Artlmr is a very good piece; the character of Emmeline
is attractive, the supernatural part is managed with a skill
which would have been almost proof against the wits of
the l!<hir*l, and many of the lyrics are excellent. Dry-
den \\as less fortunate with his two remaining dramas.
In writing the first, he showed himself, for so old a crafts-
man and courtier, very unskilful in the choice of a sub-
j - -t. ('/i-mienes, the banished King of Sparta, could not
but awaken the susceptibilities of zealous revolution cen-
sors. Aft-r some difficulties, in which Laurence Ilvde


"iii-i- niMiv did Dryden a good turn, the piece was licensed,

but it was not very successful. It contains some fine pas-

1'iit the movt remarkable tiling about it is that there


i- a -'iiM,l,.rablu relapse into rhyme, which Dryden had
:il'and..n,.d f,, r many years, It contains, also, one of the
last, not the lea>t beautiful, and fortunately almost the


most quotable of the exquisite lyrics which, while they
prove, perhaps, more fully than anything else, Dryden's al-
most unrivalled command of versification, disprove at the
same time his alleged incapacity to express true feeling.
Here it is :

" Xo, no, poor suffering heart, no change endeavour,
Choose to sustain the smart, rather than leave her ;
My ravished eyes behold such charms about her,
I can die with her, but not live without her ;
One tender sigh of hers to see me languish,
AVill more than pay the price of my past anguish :
Beware, cruel fair, how you smile on me,
'Twas a kind look of yours that has undone me.

" Love has in store for me one happy minute,
And she will end my pain who did begin it ;
Then no day void of bliss, of pleasure, leaving,
Ages shall slide away without perceiving :
Cupid shall guard the door, the more to please us,
And keep out time and death, when they would seize us :
Time and death shall depart, and say, in flying,
Love has found out a way to live by dying."

Last of all the long list came Love Triumphant, a tragi-
comedy, in 1694, which failed completely; why, it is not
very easy to say. It is probable that these four plays and
the opera did not by any means requite Dryden for his
trouble in writing them. The average literary worth of
them is, however, superior to that of his earlier dramas.
The remarkable thing, indeed, about this portion of his
work is not that it is not better, but that it is so good.
He can scarcely be said to have had la tete dramatique,
and yet in the Conquest of Granada, in Marriage a la
Mode, in Aurengzebe, in All for Love, in the Spanish
Friar, in Don Sebastian, and in Amphitryon he produced


play- \\liirli arc certainly worthy of no little admiration.
l-'.-r tin- rest, save in isolated scenes and characters, little
an he >aid. and even those just specified have to be praised
\\ith not a little allowance.

Nevertheless, great as are the drawbacks of these plays,
their position in the history of English dramatic literature
is still a hi->-h and remarkable one. It was Drvden who,


if he for the moment headed the desertion of the purely
English style of drama, authoritatively and finally ordered
and initiated the return to a saner tradition. Even in
his period of aberration he produced on his faulty plan
such work as few other men have produced on the best
plans \ct elaborated. The reader who, ignorant of the
English heroic play, goes to Dryden for information about
it, may be surprised and shocked at its inferiority to the
drama of the great masters. But he who goes to it know-
ing the contemporary work of Davenant and Boyle, of
Howard and Settle, will rather wonder at the unmatched
literary faculty which from such data could evolve such
a result. The one play in which he gave himself the
reins remains, as far as it appears to me, the only play,
with the exception of Venice Preserved, which was written
so as to be thoroughly worth reading now for 150, I had
almost said for 200 years. The Mourning Bride and the
/'/>'/ I'd'itiiit are worthless bv the side of it, and to


them may be added at one sweep every tragedy written
luring the whole eighteenth century. Since the begin-
ning >f the nineteenth we have indeed improved the poet-
i<-al Mandard of this most difficult, not to say hopeless, form
of composition; but at the same time we have in general
low. -iv.l the dramatic standard. Half the best plays writ-
Bince the year 1800 have been avowedly written with
hardly a thought of being acted; I should be sorry to say


how many of the other half have either failed to be acted
at all, or, having- been acted, have proved dead failures.
Now Dryden did so far manage to conciliate the gifts of
the play-wright and the poet, that he produced work which
was good poetry and good acting' material. It is idle to
dispute the deserts of his success, the fact remains.

Most, however, of his numerous hostile critics would
confess and avoid the tragedies, and would concentrate

O /

their attention on the comedies. It is impossible to help,
in part, imitating and transferring their tactics. No apol-
ogy for the offensive characteristics of these productions
is possible, and, if it were possible, I for one have no care
to attempt it. The coarseness of Dryden's plays is unpar-
donable. It does not come under any of the numerous
categories of excuse which can be devised for other offend-
ers in the same kind. It is deliberate, it is unnecessary,
it is a positive defect in art. When the culprit, in his oth-
erwise dignified and not unsuccessful confiteor to Collier,
endeavours to shield himself by the example of the elder
dramatists, the shield is seen at once, and, what is more,
we know that he must have seen it himself to be a mere
shield of paper. But in truth the heaviest punishment
that Dryden could possibly have suffered, the punishment
which Diderot has indicated as inevitably imminent on


this particular offence, has come upon him. The fouler
parts of his work have simply ceased to be read, and his
most thorough defenders can only read them for the pur-
pose of appreciation and defence at the price of being
queasy, and qualmish. He has exposed his legs to the ar-
rows of any criticaster who chooses to aim at him, and the
criticasters have not failed to jump at the chance of so no-
ble a quarry. Yet I, for my part, shall still maintain that
the merits of Dryden's comedies are by no means incon-


si.lerable ; indeed that, when Shakspeare, and Jonson, and
, and Etlicrege, and Wycherley, and Congrevc, and
, and Sheridan have been put aside, he has few
Mipt.-ri"rs. The unfailing thoroughness with which he did
cu-rv d'.x.Tiption of literary work has accompanied him
even ln-iv, where he worked, according to his own confes-
sion, against the grain, and where he was less gifted by
nature than scores of other facile workers who could be
named. The one situation which he could manage has


been already indicated, and it is surely not a thing to be
whollv neglected that his handlings of this situation un-
doubtedly preceded and probably suggested the crowning
triumph of English comedy the sublime apotheosis of
the coquette in Millamant. To produce that triumph Dry-
den himself was indeed unable. But from sheer literary
skill (the dominant faculty in him) he produced in Dora-
lice, and in Melantha, and in Florimel, something not
wholly unlike it. So, too, in the central figure of the
Xjxtii'txlt Fr'mr he achieved in the same way, by sheer lit-
erary faculty and by the skilful manipulation of his pred-
ecessors, something like an independent and an original
creation. The one disqualification under which Dryden
laboured, the disqualification to create a character, would
have been in any lesser man a hopeless bar even to the
mot moderate dramatic success. But the superhuman
derive in which he possessed the other and strictly litera-
ry gift <>f adoption and arrangement almost supplied the
place of what was wanting, and almost made him the
equal >{' the more facile makers. So close was his study,
untiring his experiments, so sure his command, by dint
"f practice, of language, and metre, and situation, that he
could, like the magicians of Egypt, make serpents almost
like, or quite like those of the true dramatic Moses.

Online LibraryJohn MorleyEnglish men of letters (Volume 3) → online text (page 9 of 44)