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tic imagination; so that it is very possible, that the Ode to St Cecilia may have been the work of twenty-four hours, whilst corrections and emendations, perhaps of no very great consequence, occupied the author as many days.'
The poet survived but a few months the publication of his Fables. A variety of chronic diseases brought him to the grave, on the 1st of May 1700. He was buried, after the fashion of staryed poets, with great pomp and parade in Westminster Abbey; a fact which we mention only for two reasons; first, to remind our readers that the story told, in almost all books of biography, of the insulting manner of his interment, is totally fabulous; and, secondly, to introduce this elegant sentence- It must be a well conducted and uncommon public ceremony, where the philosoper can find nothing to condemn, nor the satirist to ridicule; yet, to our imagination, what can be more striking, than the procession of talent and rank which escorted the remains of Dryden to the tomb of Chaucer?'
We are enabled,' says Mr Scott, from the various paintings and engrayings of Dryden, as well as from the less flattering delineations of the satirists of his time, to form a tolerable idea of his face and person. In youth, he appears to have been handsome, and of a pleasing conntenance; when his age was more advanced, he was corpulent and florid, which procured him the nickname attached to him by Rochester. In his latter days, distress and disappointment probably chilled the fire of his eye, and the advance of age destroyed the animation of his countenance. Still, however, his portraits, bespeak the look and features of genius; especially that in which he is drawn with his waving grey hairs.' Vol. I. p. 444.
Far less than could be expected is known of Dryden's character and customs of life. The patrons whom he flattered, and the wits who courted his company, have been negligent in preserving any particular memorials of one whose acquaintance did them so much honour. Congreve is an exception, who has drawn his character with elegance and in the spirit of friendship, but not with sufficient minuteness to satisfy curiosity. It is lamentable that our biographical antiquaries, who are so very learned in epitaphs and extracts from parish registers, are seldom so lucky as to bring any thing to light, by which a man's real character is distinguished. How much has been written upon Shakespeare and Shakspere,—what long pedigrees of the Halls, Harts, and Hathaways,-while the reader, amidst the profusion of learning, searches in vain for a vestige of the manners and opinions of him, in whom alone he is interested! Pars minima est ipse poeta sui. We cannot mean to blame any writer, for not giving us what is not to be found; but a barren soil cannot yield the most abundant harvest: and lives of this class will never pass with the public, as very amusing speci mens of biography. Dryden, in the latter part of his life, spent
most of his evenings at Wills's coffee-house, near Covent-Garden. A very little has been gleaned from persons who remembered him there in their youth. One, professes to go higher; a correspondent of the Gentleman's Magazine for 1745, (we are rather startled, by the way at this chronology), who remembers plain John Dryden, before he paid his court to the great, and has eat tarts with him and Madam Reeve at the Mulberry Garden;" which Mr Scott with truth and gravity calis a moderate, though not inelegant pleasure.'
Our editor evinces in behalf of Dryden's moral character, a bias excusable enough in him, but by which we are not so forcibly swayed. The meekness and modesty which Congreve and others largely ascribe to him, must be taken, we conceive, with some allowance. Neither of these qualities is easily discoverable in his writings. The best part of his character seems to have been his gratitude, which, though servile, was sincere. In other respects, there is little enough to praise. The indelicacy of his dramatic writings is ingeniously shifted upon the age in which he lived; but we fear this apology leaves something wanting. He has not left this fault at the doors of the theatre; it runs through almost all his poems; and indicates, not so much a voluptuous fancy, as a radical depravation and coarseness of feeling. It is indeed this moral apathy, this ignorance of virtuous emotions, which is the cardinal defect of his poetry. He seems not to plead that excuse which men of genius ordinarily make for the errors of their lives; video meliora proboque, Deteriora sequor. There is rarely any thing refined, any thing ennobled in his sentiments; for surely the insipid love of Palemon, is as far from the one, as the fustian of Almanzor is from the other. In practical virtue, we would not rate the character of Pope very high; but with what dignified feelings must he have been invested for the moment, when he wrote the epistle to Lord Oxford! This tone was quite unknown to Dryden; it was a strain of a higher mood: and he could as easily have reached the pathos of Eloisa, as the moral sublime of this epistle.
The distinguishing characteristic of Dryden's genius,' says Mr Scott, seems to have been the power of reasoning, and of expressing the result in appropriate language. This may seem slender praise; yet these were the talents that led Bacon into the recesses of philosophy; and conducted Newton to the cabinet of Nature.' p. 481,
There is nothing very happy in these allusions. Neither Bacon nor Newton were poets; and it is of poets alone that such praise could possibly appear slender. To us, we own, it appears both slender in itself, and defective with respect to Dryden: in a character of Sir John Davis, no better terms could have been chosen
The leading feature of this great poet's mind was its rapidity of conception, combined with that, which is the excellence of some great painters, a readiness of expressing every idea, without losing any thing by the way. Whatever he does, whether he reasons, relates or describes, he is never, to use his own phrase, cursedly confined; never loiters about a single thought or image, or seems to labour about the turn of a phrase. Though he has many slovenly and feeble lines, perhaps scarce any poet has so few which have failed for want of power to make them better. He never, like Pope, forces an awkward rhyme, or spins out a couplet for the sake of a pointed conclusion. His thoughts, his language, his versification, have all a certain animation and elasticity, which no one else has ever equally possessed. Those who analyze the principles of poetical pleasure will find, we think, the confirmation of these remarks in Alexander's Feast. Every one places this ode among the first of its class, and many allow it no rival. In what does this superiority consist? Not in the sublimity of its conceptions; or the richness of its language, the passage about Jupiter and Olympia alone excepted. Some lines are little better than a common drinking song, and few of them have singly any great merit. It must be the rapid transitions, the mastery of language, the springiness of the whole manner, which hurries us away, and leaves so little room for minute criticism, that no one has ever qualified his admiration of this noble poem.
The pleasure which we receive from Dryden's poetry is more exclusively due to him, because he was seldom much assisted by his subject. In varied and interesting narratives, in tragedies which excite emotion by their incidents, it is a matter of curious and difficult analysis, to separate the merit of the artist from the richness of the materials. But Dryden wrought commonly without much selection, and felt a confidence that any subject would become poetical under his hand. He had, indeed, no choice in his satires; yet there is surely nothing well conceived or well conducted in the allegory of Absalom and Achitophel. But of his fables, where he had freer range, how few seem inviting to a poet! Nobody, we suppose, finds much interest in the Cock and the Fox. Mr Scott has fairly given up Cymon and Iphigenia; and, though at the hazard of sinning mortally in the eyes of the zealots of romance, we must own that Palemon and Arcite appears to us a very dull story. The Wife of Bath's Tale is good; and that of Sigismunda and Guiscard afforded the finest mate-rials, which Dryden has debased by his own grossness and want of feeling. As to Theodore and Honoria, there is no proportion between the supernatural machinery and the groundwork upon
which it is raised;-the sublimity of the one leaves the other quite vapid.
But, of all the poems of Dryden, the most extraordinary in its plan is the Hind and Panther. Mr Scott offers an ingenious apology for this monstrous production, by precedents from Æsop, and Jotham's Parable of the Trees. But the most we could admit would be, that it was a kind of reductio ad absurdum of fablewriting; and rather, if we must choose, give up Æsop and Pilpay, than tolerate the Hind and Panther. Perhaps, however, we are not pushed so far. Fable, indeed, is the growth of more luxuriant climates than ours; and passes, we suspect, only by prescription, with our cold occidental understandings. Yet, as beasts have certainly something like human passions, and may be feigned, without any great license, to understand each other's voices, those fables may easily be allowed, in which such deviations alone are made from nature. The Wolf and the Lamb, one of the prettiest in Phædrus, with others that would readily occur, goes no further than this. Jotham's Parable is exceedingly harsh, like all apologues where inanimate beings bear a part. But, in every oriental fable we remember, there is some analogy, however remote and fanciful, between the actors concerned in it and human beings,-some allegory which, trespassing a good deal upon possibility, still wears the appearance of a double meaning. But nothing can be more preposterous than the allegory of the Hind and Panther; nor are the fancies of a dream more confused, than the continual changes to and fro between the language of wild beasts and of churchmen.
It would be superfluous to echo the praise of Dryden's prose style, which is in every one's mouth. Perhaps it may not be equally so, to suggest a limitation of it. Its excellence is an ease and apparent negligence of phrase, which shows, as it were, a powerful mind en deshabille, and free from the fetters of study. This is well fitted to the nature of Dryden's prose, consisting either of dedications, which are real letters, or of prefaces, which are a sort of letters to the public. Both of these, by their nature, announce somewhat of more promise, upon which we expect the labour of the author to have been employed, and readily · forgive a lively negligence in those accessary parts which seem to be written without effort. But we cannot think the style of Dryden adapted to an historical, much less to a didactic work. We should, indeed, strongly recommend the study of it to those engaged in such compositions, so far as to relieve, in some degree, by its variety and copiousness of English idiom, that stiffness and monotony, which habits of precise and laborious thinking, especially upon abstract subjects, are very apt to engender.
But no man, we suspect, could write altogether like Dryden, without falling into that vague way of expression, and those loose immethodical transitions, which give in fact the charm of ease and variety to his language. These, however, must not be bought at too high a price; change of measure may delight the fancy, but an equable sustained cadence will be found more effectual in keeping the attention steady through continued reasoning. We have said thus much, because Dryden's style is sometimes unfairly contrasted with that of writers, by whom his could not have been judiciously adopted; by those, in short, who meant to teach, which he scarce ever does, rather than to please, in which he seldom fails.
We must now return to take our leave of Mr Scott's edition. It will easily be credited, that it contains much which is lively in expression, and much which is just in criticism. If we have made fewer extracts from these than was expected, it is from the great want of compression in the style, and the unconquerable dulness of most of the facts. Through a series of uninteresting dates, and loads of contemporary trash, Mr Scott's genius sometimes gleams more or less, and sometimes is quite lost in the abyss. Of the discretion shown in this choice of materials, men of course will judge differently: we have little doubt that the public, on the whole, will sanction our opinion, that the editor has been by far too copious. The attacks upon Dryden, by Settle, Shadwell, Ravenscroft, Pordage, and fifty more, were unworthy of preservation; especially after Johnson and Malone had quoted encagh to show their unspeakable stupidity. From the remarks of one of these vermin, by name Clifford, Johnson,' that no man might ever want them more, extracted enough to satisfy all reasonable desire.' (Johnson's works, vol. 9. p. 333.) An unlucky prophecy! He knew not the voracity of those antiquaries, whose desires, we will not say how reasonable, know no stint or satiety. Mr Scott has republished and enlarged the very passage quoted by Johnson, though nothing is to be gleaned by it, but that this unknown Clifford was as vulgar a libeller as ten thousand others of his day. It is fair to give Mr Scott's apology for some of these insertions.
It is possible, that these researches may, by their very nature, have in some degree warped the editor's taste, and induced him to consider that as curious which was only scarce, and to reprint quotations, from the adversaries or contemporaries of Dryden, of a length more than sufficient to satisfy the reader of their unworthiness. But, as the painter places a human figure, to afford the means of computing the elevation of the principal object in his landscape, it seemed that the giant-height of Dryden, above the poets of his day, might be best ascertained by extracts from those, who