John Dryden.

The Poetical Works of John Dryden, Volume 2 With Life, Critical Dissertation, and Explanatory Notes online

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writings, if, at least, they live long enough to deserve correction. It
was also necessary sometimes to restore the sense of Chaucer, which was
lost or mangled in the errors of the press. Let this example suffice at
present. In the story of Palamon and Arcite, where the temple of Diana
is described, you find these verses in all the editions of our author: -

"There saw I Danè turned into a tree,
I mean not the goddess Diane,
But Venus' daughter, which that hight Danè:"

Which, after a little consideration, I knew was to be reformed into this
sense, that Daphne, the daughter of Peneus, was turned into a tree. I
durst not make thus bold with Ovid, lest some future Milbourn should
arise, and say I varied from my author because I understood him not.

But there are other judges who think I ought not to have translated
Chaucer into English, out of a quite contrary notion. They suppose there
is a certain veneration due to his old language, and that it is little
less than profanation and sacrilege to alter it. They are farther of
opinion, that somewhat of his good sense will suffer in this
transfusion, and much of the beauty of his thoughts will infallibly be
lost, which appear with more grace in their old habit. Of this opinion
was that excellent person whom I mentioned, the late Earl of Leicester,
who valued Chaucer as much as Mr Cowley despised him. My lord dissuaded
me from this attempt (for I was thinking of it some years before his
death), and his authority prevailed so far with me, as to defer my
undertaking while he lived, in deference to him; yet my reason was not
convinced with what he urged against it. If the first end of a writer be
to be understood, then, as his language grows obsolete, his thoughts
must grow obscure: _multa renascentur quæ nunc cecidere, cadentque,
quæ nunc sunt in honore vocabula, si volet usus, quem penes arbitrium
est et jus et norma loquendi._ When an ancient word for its sound and
significancy deserves to be revived, I have that reasonable veneration
for antiquity to restore it. All beyond this is superstition. Words are
not like landmarks, so sacred as never to be removed; customs are
changed, and even statutes are silently repealed, when the reason ceases
for which they were enacted. As for the other part of the argument,
that his thoughts will lose their original beauty by the innovation of
words; in the first place, not only their beauty, but their being is
lost, where they are no longer understood, which is the present case. I
grant that something must be lost in all transfusion, that is, in all
translations; but the sense will remain, which would otherwise be lost,
or at least be maimed, when it is scarce intelligible, and that but to a
few. How few are there who can read Chaucer, so as to understand him
perfectly! And if imperfectly, then with less profit and no pleasure.
'Tis not for the use of some old Saxon friends that I have taken these
pains with him: let them neglect my version, because they have no need
of it. I made it for their sakes who understand sense and poetry as well
as they, when that poetry and sense is put into words which they
understand. I will go further, and dare to add, that what beauties I
lose in some places, I give to others which had them not originally; but
in this I may be partial to myself; let the reader judge, and I submit
to his decision. Yet I think I have just occasion to complain of them,
who, because they understand Chaucer, would deprive the greater part of
their countrymen of the same advantage, and hoard him up, as misers do
their grandam, gold, only to look on it themselves, and hinder others
from making use of it. In sum, I seriously protest that no man ever had,
or can have, a greater veneration for Chaucer than myself. I have
translated some part of his works, only that I might perpetuate his
memory, or at least refresh it, amongst my countrymen. If I have altered
him anywhere for the better, I must at the same time acknowledge that I
could have done nothing without him: _Facile est inventis addere_ is no
great commendation, and I am not so vain to think I have deserved a
greater. I will conclude what I have to say of him singly, with this one
remark: a lady of my acquaintance, who keeps a kind of correspondence
with some authors of the fair sex in France, has been informed by them
that Mademoiselle de Scudery, who is as old as Sibyl, and inspired like
her by the same god of poetry, is at this time translating Chaucer into
modern French; from which I gather that he has been formerly translated
into the old Provençal, (for how she should come to understand old
English I know not). But the matter of fact being true, it makes me
think that there is something in it like fatality; that, after certain
periods of time, the fame and memory of great wits should be renewed, as
Chaucer is both in France and England. If this be wholly chance, 'tis
extraordinary, and I dare not call it more for fear of being taxed with

Boccace comes last to be considered, who, living in the same age with
Chaucer, had the same genius, and followed the same studies. Both writ
novels, and each of them cultivated his mother tongue. But the greatest
resemblance of our two modern authors being in their familiar style, and
pleasing way of relating comical adventures, I may pass it over, because
I have translated nothing from Boccace of that nature. In the serious
part of poetry, the advantage is wholly on Chaucer's side; for though
the Englishman has borrowed many tales from the Italian, yet it appears
that those of Boccace were not generally of his own making, but taken
from authors of former ages, and by him only modelled; so that what
there was of invention in either of them may be judged equal. But
Chaucer has refined on Boccace, and has mended the stories which he has
borrowed, in his way of telling; though prose allows more liberty of
thought, and the expression is more easy when unconfined by numbers.
Our countryman carries weight, and yet wins the race at disadvantage. I
desire not the reader should take my word, and, therefore, I will set
two of their discourses on the same subject, in the same light, for
every man to judge betwixt them. I translated Chaucer first, and,
amongst the rest, pitched on the Wife of Bath's tale, not daring, as I
have said, to adventure on her prologue, because it is too licentious.
There Chaucer introduces an old woman of mean parentage, whom a youthful
knight of noble blood was forced to marry, and consequently loathed her.
The crone being in bed with him on the wedding night, and finding his
aversion, endeavours to win his affection by reason, and speaks a good
word for herself, (as who could blame her?) in hope to mollify the
sullen bridegroom. She takes her topics from the benefits of poverty,
the advantages of old age and ugliness, the vanity of youth, and the
silly pride of ancestry and titles without inherent virtue, which is the
true nobility. When I had closed Chaucer I returned to Ovid and
translated some more of his fables, and by this time had so far
forgotten the Wife of Bath's tale, that, when I took up Boccace,
unawares I fell on the same argument of preferring virtue to nobility of
blood and titles, in the story of Sigismunda, which I had certainly
avoided for the resemblance of the two discourses, if my memory had not
failed me. Let the reader weigh them both, and if he thinks me partial
to Chaucer, it is in him to right Boccace.

I prefer in our countryman, far above all his other stories, the noble
poem of Palamon and Arcite, which is of the Epic kind, and perhaps not
much inferior to the Ilias, or the Æneis. The story is more pleasing
than either of them, the manners as perfect, the diction as poetical,
the learning as deep and various, and the disposition full as
artful, - only it includes a greater length of time, as taking up seven
years at least; but Aristotle has left undecided the duration of the
action, which, yet, is easily reduced into the compass of a year by a
narration of what preceded the return of Palamon to Athens. I had
thought, for the honour of our nation, and more particularly for his,
whose laurel, though unworthy, I have worn after him, that this story
was of English growth, and Chaucer's own; but I was undeceived by
Boccace, for, casually looking on the end of his seventh Giornata, I
found Dioneo (under which name he shadows himself) and Fiametta (who
represents his mistress, the natural daughter of Robert king of Naples)
of whom these words are spoken: _Dioneo e la Fiametta granpezza
contarono insieme d'Arcita e di Palamone_: by which it appears that this
story was written before the time of Boccace, but the name of its author
being wholly lost, Chaucer is now become an original, and I question not
but the poem has received many beauties by passing through his noble
hands. Besides this tale, there is another of his own invention, after
the manner of the Provençals, called "The Flower and the Leaf," with
which I was so particularly pleased, both for the invention and the
moral, that I cannot hinder myself from recommending it to the reader.

As a corollary to this preface, in which I have done justice to others,
I owe somewhat to myself: not that I think it worth my time to enter the
lists with one Milbourn, and one Blackmore, but barely to take notice,
that such men there are, who have written scurrilously against me
without any provocation. Milbourn, who is in orders, pretends, amongst
the rest, this quarrel to me, that I have fallen foul on priesthood. If
I have, I am only to ask pardon of good priests, and am afraid his part
of the reparation will come to little. Let him be satisfied that he
shall not be able to force himself upon me for an adversary. I contemn
him too much to enter into competition with him. His own translations of
Virgil have answered his criticisms on mine. If (as they say he has
declared in print) he prefers the version of Ogilby to mine, the world
has made him the same compliment: for it is agreed on all hands that he
writes even below Ogilby: that, you will say, is not easily to be done;
but what cannot Milbourn bring about? I am satisfied, however, that
while he and I live together, I shall not be thought the worst poet of
the age. It looks as if I had desired him underhand to write so ill
against me; but upon my honest word I have not bribed him to do me this
service, and am wholly guiltless of his pamphlet. 'Tis true, I should be
glad, if I could persuade him to continue his good offices, and write
such another critique on any thing of mine; for I find by experience he
has a great stroke with the reader, when he condemns any of my poems, to
make the world have a better opinion of them. He has taken some pains
with my poetry; but nobody will be persuaded to take the same with his.
If I had taken to the church (as he affirms, but which was never in my
thoughts), I should have had more sense, if not more grace, than to have
turned myself out of my benefice by writing libels on my parishioners.
But his account of my manners and my principles are of a piece with his
cavils and his poetry; and so I have done with him for ever.

As for the City Bard, or Knight Physician, I hear his quarrel to me is,
that I was the author of Absalom and Achitophel, which he thinks is a
little hard on his fanatic patrons in London.

But I will deal the more civilly with his two poems, because nothing ill
is to be spoken of the dead; and therefore peace be to the manes of his
Arthurs! I will only say, that it was not for this noble knight that I
drew the plan of an Epic poem on King Arthur, in my preface to the
translation of Juvenal. The guardian angels of kingdoms were machines
too ponderous for him to manage; and therefore he rejected them, as
Dares did the whirlbats of Eryx, when they were thrown before him by
Entellus. Yet from that preface he plainly took his hint; for he began
immediately upon the story, though he had the baseness not to
acknowledge his benefactor, but instead of it, to traduce me in a libel.

I shall say the less of Mr Collier, because in many things he has taxed
me justly; and I have pleaded guilty to all thoughts and expressions of
mine, which can be truly argued of obscenity, profaneness, or
immorality; and retract them. If he be my enemy, let him triumph; if he
be my friend, as I have given him no personal occasion to be otherwise,
he will be glad of my repentance. It becomes me not to draw my pen in
the defence of a bad cause, when I have so often drawn it for a good
one. Yet it were not difficult to prove, that in many places he has
perverted my meaning by his glosses; and interpreted my words into
blasphemy and bawdry, of which they were not guilty; besides that he is
too much given to horse-play in his raillery; and comes to battle like a
dictator from the plough. I will not say, the zeal of God's house has
eaten him up; but I am sure it has devoured some part of his
good-manners and civility. It might also be doubted whether it were
altogether zeal which prompted him to this rough manner of proceeding:
perhaps it became not one of his function to rake into the rubbish of
ancient and modern plays: a divine might have employed his pains to
better purpose than in the nastiness of Plautus and Aristophanes; whose
examples, as they excuse not me, so it might be possibly supposed that
he read them not without some pleasure. They who have written
commentaries on those poets, or on Horace, Juvenal, and Martial, have
explained some vices, which without their interpretation had been
unknown to modern times. Neither has he judged impartially betwixt the
former age and us.

There is more bawdry in one play of Fletcher's, called "The Custom of
the Country," than in all ours together. Yet this has been often acted
on the stage in my remembrance. Are the times so much more reformed now,
than they were five-and-twenty years ago? If they are, I congratulate
the amendment of our morals. But I am not to prejudice the cause of my
fellow-poets, though I abandon my own defence. They have some of them
answered for themselves, and neither they nor I can think Mr Collier so
formidable an enemy that we should shun him. He has lost ground at the
latter end of the day, by pursuing his point too far, like the Prince of
Conde at the battle of Senneffe: from immoral plays, to no plays; _ab
abusu ad usum non valet consequentia_. But being a party, I am not to
erect myself into a judge. As for the rest of those who have written
against me, they are such scoundrels, that they deserve not the least
notice to be taken of them. Blackmore and Milbourn are only
distinguished from the crowd, by being remembered to their infamy.

- Demetri, teque Tigelli
Discipulorum inter jubeo plorare cathedras.

* * * * *




The bard who first adorn'd our native tongue,
Tuned to his British lyre this ancient song:
Which Homer might without a blush rehearse,
And leaves a doubtful palm in Virgil's verse:
He match'd their beauties, where they most excel;
Of love sung better, and of arms as well.

Vouchsafe, illustrious Ormond! to behold
What power the charms of beauty had of old;
Nor wonder if such deeds of arms were done,
Inspired by two fair eyes that sparkled like your own. 10

If Chaucer by the best idea wrought,
And poets can divine each other's thought,
The fairest nymph before his eyes he set;
And then the fairest was Plantagenet;
Who three contending princes made her prize,
And ruled the rival nations with her eyes:
Who left immortal trophies of her fame,
And to the noblest order gave the name.

Like her, of equal kindred to the throne,
You keep her conquests, and extend your own: 20
As when the stars in their ethereal race,
At length have roll'd around the liquid space,
At certain periods they resume their place;
From the same point of heaven their course advance,
And move in measures of their former dance;
Thus, after length of ages, she returns,
Restored in you, and the same place adorns;
Or you perform her office in the sphere,
Born of her blood, and make a new Platonic year.
O true Plantagenet! O race divine! 30
(For beauty still is fatal to the line)
Had Chaucer lived that angel-face to view,
Sure he had drawn his Emily from you;
Or had you lived to judge the doubtful right,
Your noble Palamon had been the knight;
And conquering Theseus from his side had sent
Your generous lord, to guide the Theban government.
Time shall accomplish that; and I shall see
A Palamon in him, in you an Emily.
Already have the Fates your path prepared, 40
And sure presage your future sway declared:
When westward, like the sun, you took your way,
And from benighted Britain bore the day,
Blue Triton gave the signal from the shore,
The ready Nereids heard, and swam before,
To smooth the seas; a soft Etesian gale
But just inspired, and gently swell'd the sail;
Portunus took his turn, whose ample hand
Heaved up his lighten'd keel, and sunk the sand,
And steer'd the sacred vessel safe to land. 50
The land, if not restrain'd, had met your way,
Projected out a neck, and jutted to the sea.
Hibernia, prostrate at your feet, adored
In you the pledge of her expected lord;
Due to her isle; a venerable name;
His father and his grandsire known to fame;
Awed by that house, accustom'd to command,
The sturdy kerns in due subjection stand;
Nor bear the reins in any foreign hand.
At your approach, they crowded to the port; 60
And scarcely landed, you create a court:
As Ormond's harbinger, to you they run;
For Venus is the promise of the sun.
The waste of civil wars, their towns destroy'd,
Pales unhonour'd, Ceres unemploy'd,
Were all forgot; and one triumphant day
Wiped all the tears of three campaigns away.
Blood, rapines, massacres, were cheaply bought,
So mighty recompence your beauty brought.
As when the dove returning bore the mark 70
Of earth restored to the long labouring ark,
The relics of mankind, secure of rest,
Oped every window to receive the guest,
And the fair bearer of the message bless'd;
So, when you came, with loud repeated cries,
The nation took an omen from your eyes,
And God advanced his rainbow in the skies,
To sign inviolable peace restored;
The saints, with solemn shouts, proclaim'd the new accord.
When at your second coming you appear, 80
(For I foretell that millenary year)
The sharpen'd share shall vex the soil no more,
But earth unbidden shall produce her store;
The land shall laugh, the circling ocean smile,
And Heaven's indulgence bless the holy isle.
Heaven from all ages has reserved for you
That happy clime, which venom never knew;
Or if it had been there, your eyes alone
Have power to chase all poison, but their own.

Now in this interval, which Fate has cast 90
Betwixt your future glories, and your past,
This pause of power, 'tis Ireland's hour to mourn;
While England celebrates your safe return,
By which you seem the seasons to command,
And bring our summers back to their forsaken land.

The vanquish'd isle our leisure must attend,
Till the fair blessing we vouchsafe to send;
Nor can we spare you long, though often we may lend.
The dove was twice employ'd abroad, before
The world was dried, and she return'd no more. 100

Nor dare we trust so soft a messenger,
New from her sickness, to that northern air:
Rest here a while, your lustre to restore,
That they may see you as you shone before;
For yet the eclipse not wholly past, you wade
Through some remains, and dimness of a shade.

A subject in his prince may claim a right,
Nor suffer him with strength impair'd to fight;
Till force returns, his ardour we restrain,
And curb his warlike wish to cross the main. 110

Now past the danger, let the learn'd begin
The inquiry where disease could enter in;
How those malignant atoms forced their way;
What in the faultless frame they found to make their prey,
Where every element was weigh'd so well,
That Heaven alone, who mix'd the mass, could tell
Which of the four ingredients could rebel;
And where, imprison'd in so sweet a cage,
A soul might well be pleased to pass an age.

And yet the fine materials made it weak: 120
Porcelain, by being pure, is apt to break:
Even to your breast the sickness durst aspire;
And, forced from that fair temple to retire,
Profanely set the holy place on fire.
In vain your lord, like young Vespasian, mourn'd
When the fierce flames the sanctuary burn'd:
And I prepared to pay in verses rude
A most detested act of gratitude:
Even this had been your elegy, which now
Is offer'd for your health, the table of my vow. 130

Your angel sure our Morley's mind inspired,
To find the remedy your ill required;
As once the Macedon, by Jove's decree,
Was taught to dream an herb for Ptolemy:
Or Heaven, which had such over-cost bestow'd,
As scarce it could afford to flesh and blood,
So liked the frame, he would not work anew,
To save the charges of another you.
Or by his middle science did he steer,
And saw some great contingent good appear, 140
Well worth a miracle to keep you here:
And for that end preserved the precious mould,
Which all the future Ormonds was to hold;
And meditated in his better mind
An heir from you, which may redeem the failing kind.

Blest be the Power which has at once restored
The hopes of lost succession to your lord!
Joy to the first and last of each degree -
Virtue to courts, and, what I long'd to see,
To you the Graces, and the Muse to me! 150
O daughter of the rose! whose cheeks unite
The differing titles of the red and white;
Who Heaven's alternate beauty well display,
The blush of morning, and the milky way;
Whose face is Paradise, but fenced from sin:
For God in either eye has placed a cherubin.

All is your lord's alone; even absent, he
Employs the care of chaste Penelope.
For him you waste in tears your widow'd hours,
For him your curious needle paints the flowers; 160
Such works of old imperial dames were taught;
Such, for Ascanius, fair Eliza wrought.
The soft recesses of your hours improve
The three fair pledges of your happy love:
All other parts of pious duty done,
You owe your Ormond nothing but a son;
To fill in future times his father's place,
And wear the garter of his mother's race.

* * * * *


[Footnote 71: 'Duchess of Ormond:' daughter of Duke of Bedford,
afterwards Lieutenant of Ireland, and who had recently visited it.]

* * * * *




In days of old, there lived, of mighty fame,
A valiant prince, and Theseus was his name:
A chief, who more in feats of arms excell'd,
The rising nor the setting sun beheld.
Of Athens he was lord; much land he won,
And added foreign countries to his crown.
In Scythia with the warrior queen he strove,
Whom first by force he conquer'd, then by love;
He brought in triumph back the beauteous dame,
With whom her sister, fair Emilia, came. 10
With honour to his home let Theseus ride,
With love to friend, and fortune for his guide,
And his victorious army at his side.
I pass their warlike pomp, their proud array,
Their shouts, their songs, their welcome on the way.
But, were it not too long, I would recite
The feats of Amazons, the fatal fight
Betwixt the hardy queen and hero knight;
The town besieged, and how much blood it cost
The female army, and the Athenian host; 20
The spousals of Hippolita the queen;
What tilts and tourneys at the feast were seen;
The storm at their return, the ladies' fear:
But these, and other things, I must forbear.
The field is spacious I design to sow,

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