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is much inferior, as an irresistible proof of this we need only compare Mr. Dryden's Ode on St. Cecilia's Day with Mr. Pope's; in which the disparity is so apparent that we know not if the most finished of Pope's compositions has discovered such a variety and command of numbers.
It hath been generally acknowledged that the Lyric is a more excellent kind of writing than the Satiric, and, consequently, he who excels in the most excellent species must undoubtedly be esteemed the greatest poet. Mr. Pope has very happily succeeded in many of his occasional pieces, such as Eloisa to Abelard, his Elegy on an unfortunate young Lady, and a variety of other performances deservedly celebrated. To these may be opposed Mr. Dryden's Fables, which though written in a very advanced age, are yet the most perfect of his works. In these Fables there is, perhaps, a greater variety than in Pope's occasional pieces: many of them, indeed, are translations, but such as are original shew a great extent of invention, and a large compass of genius.
There are not in Pope's works such poignant discoveries of wit, or such a general knowledge of the humours and characters of men, as in the Prologues and Epilogues of Dryden, which are the best records of the whims and capricious oddities of the times in which they are written.
When these two great geniuses are considered in the light of translators, it will, indeed, be difficult to determine into whose scale the balance should be thrown. That Mr. Pope had a more arduous province in doing justice to Homer, than Dryden with regard to Virgil, is certainly true; as Homer is a more various and diffuse poet than Virgil; and it is likewise true, that Pope has even exceeded Dryden in the execution, and none will deny that Pope's Homer's Iliad is a finer poem than Dryden's Eneid of Virgil, making a proper allowance for the disproportion of the original authors. But then a candid critic should reflect, that as Dryden was
prior in the great attempt of rendering Virgil into English, so did he perform the task under many disadvantages which Pope, by a happier situation in life, was enabled to avoid; and could not but improve upon Dryden's errors, though the authors translated were not the same: and it is much to be doubted if Dryden were to translate the Eneid now, with that attention which the correctness of the present age would force upon him, whether the preference would be due to Pope's Homer.
But supposing it to be yielded (as it certainly must) that the latter bard was the greatest translator, we are now to throw into Mr. Dryden's scale all his dramatic works; which, though not the most excellent of his writings, yet as nothing of Mr. Pope's can be opposed to them, they have an undoubted right to turn the balance greatly in favor of Mr. Dryden. -When the two poets are considered as critics, the comparison will very imperfectly hold. Dryden's Dedications and Prefaces, besides that they are more numerous, and are the best models for courtly panegyric, shew that he understood poetry as an art beyond any man that ever lived; and he explained this art so well, that he taught his antagonists to turn the tables against himself; for he so illuminated the mind by his clear and perspicuous reasoning, that dulness itself became capable of discerning; and when at any time his performances fell short of his own ideas of excellence, his enemies tried him by rules of his own establishing ; and though they owed to him the ability of judging, they seldom had candor enough to spare him. Perhaps it may be true that Pope's works are read with more appetite, as there is a greater evenness and correctness in them; but in perusing the works of Dryden, the mind will take a wider range, and be more fraught with poetical ideas. We admire Dryden as the greater genius, and Pope as the most pleasing versifier.-Cibber's Lives.
E comes, he comes ! bid every bard prepare
The song of triumph, and attend his car. Great Sheffield's muse the long procession heads, And throws a lustre o'er the pomp she leads; First gives the palm she fir'd him to obtain, Crowns his gay brow, and shews him how to reign. Thus young Alcides, by old Chiron taught, Was form'd for all the miracles he wrought: Thus Chiron did the youth he taught applaud, Pleas'd to behold the earnest of a god.
But hark! what shouts,what gath'ring crowds rejoice; Unstain'd their praise by any venal voice, Such as th' ambitious vainly think their due, When prostitutes or needy flatterers sue. And see the chief! before him laurels borne, Trophies from undeserving temples torn; Here rage enchain'd reluctant raves, and there Pale envy dumb, and sick'ning with despair, Prone to the earth she bends her loathing eye, Weak to support the blaze of majesty.
But what are they that turn the sacred page? Three lovely virgins, and of equal age; Intent they read, and all enamour'd seem, As he that met his likeness in the stream: The graces these; and see how they contend, Who most shall praise, who best shall recommend. The chariot now the painful steep ascends, The pæans cease; the glorious labor ends. Here fix'd, the bright eternal temple stands, Its prospect an unbounded view commands: Say, wondrous youth, what column wilt thou chuse, What laurell'd arch for thy triumphant muse? Though each great ancient court thee to his shrine, Though ev'ry laurel through the dome be thine (From the proud epic down to those that shade, The gentler brow of the soft Lesbian maid,) Go to the good and just, an awful train, Thy soul's delight, and glory of the fane; While thro' the earth thy dear remembrance flies, "Sweet to the world and grateful to the skies."