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The Spanish Friar,' fays Mr Scott, was brought out in 1681-2, when the nation was in a ferment against the Catholics, on account of the fuppofed plot. It is dedicated to John Lord Haughton, as a Proteftant play infcribed to a Proteftant patron;' vol. I. p. 233. Our editor then gives his reasons for afferting that Dry-. den had at this time deferted the court, and fhared the difcontent of his patron, Lord Mulgrave. In this, however, he has been totally inattentive to dates. If the Spanish Friar' was really brought out in February 1682, it is impoffible that Dryden fhould have defigned it against the court, fince he published Abfalom and Achitophel' but three months before, and the Medal' immediately afterwards. There is nothing in the play which could be taken amifs by the court party, or conftrued into an attack upon the Catholic religion. The character of Father Dominic is merely a ridicule of the fuppofed vices of the priesthood, which were always deemed fair game upon the ftage, and which Dryden was ready enough to ftigmatize, even when he had become a profeffed Catholic. The prologue and epilogue, however, fhow a good deal of virulence against popery; and we are inclined upon the whole to fuspect, that the play was reprefented one, if not two years earlier than the date commonly affigned to it. The allufion fuppofed to be intended in the prologue to the affaffination of Mr Thynne, is by no means unequivocal; while, in the last line, the Popish plot is fpoken of as if it was ftill the talk of the day. But this ferment had fubfided before 1682.
By the publication of Abfalom and Achitophel,' Dryden involved himself in the politics of Charles the II.'s court; a step probably difhoneft, and certainly ruinous. The anecdotes of this interefting period become, therefore, in fome degree, neceffary to the illuftration of the poet's works; and Mr Scott has diligently amaffed a ftore fufficient to fatisfy the strongest appetite for this fort of information. It is impoffible to pafs over thefe notes, or that part of the life which bears upon political affairs, without remarking the unusually vehement fpirit of Toryifm which prevails in them. Mr Scott will fay, probably, that he is free to choose his own creed in politics; and we certainly are equally free to cenfure it. It is at leaft impoffible not to regret, that a gentleman of high genius and accomplishments fhould hold up the conduct of thofe who withstood by far the worst government which this country ever knew, as the mere effect of factious turbulence. In fome hundred pages which Mr Scott has written upon the latter end of Charles the II.'s reign, though the perfonal vices of that monarch are fometimes feverely treated, we have not obferved a fingle hint that public liberty was endangered by his adminiftration. The Whigs are commonly called the faction, or fometimes,
for the fake of delectable variety, the fanatics; though Mr Scott muft know, that whatever might be the cafe with the Scotch, fanaticifm had very little to do with the proceedings of that party in England. In a paffage, to which we cannot immediately turn, it is faid, that poor College, the Proteftant joiner, who was hanged at Oxford, deferved to die. A moft inexcufable flip of precipitancy and prejudice! for it is quite notorious, and Mr Scott, in other places, feems aware of it, that College was convicted through falfe teftimony, and the violence of a corrupt, or at leaft bigotted judge, Lord Keeper North. Unlefs Mr Scott can render his principles rather ductile, we think he will find fome perplexity in managing his promifed life of Lord Somers.
Soon after the accession of James the Second, Dryden, as is well known, threw additional suspicion upon his character, by embracing, not only the politics, but the religion of the court. The grounds of this change are investigated by Mr Scott with much candour and ingenuity; and we concur with him in thinking, that a good deal of sincerity was mingled with a readiness to make use of the lucky opportunity. This opinion is founded upon the Religio Laici, published in 1682, three years before his conversion; a poem indicating a very vigorous, but a very sceptical mind; unable to solve the problems in religion which it raised to itself, and already willing to cut the knot, by resorting to an infallible director. There is much reason, therefore, to believe, that Dryden felt sincerely the conviction that he was right in his change of faith; though it would probably have never taken place in other times, and under another master. But we cannot coincide in laying any stress upon his continuing a Catholic, after the Revolution. Every man must keep some measures with public opinion; and so gross an avowal of want of principle, would have forfeited the esteem of his friends, and certainly not rendered his enemies less bitter. We do not know what law forbids a Catholic to be poet-laureat, nor why Dryden's expulsion from that place, which Mr Malone is absurd enough to call conscientiously relinquishing' it, should be ascribed merely to his religion. But he had gone all lengths, both of adulation and virulence, in support of a party now fallen; it was just, therefore, that he should share their fate; and though befriended by many Whigs, he must naturally have been obnoxious to the greater number.
All the sunshine of Dryden's prospects vanished at the Revolation. From 1668, he had enjoyed a salary of 2001. a year, as poet-laureat and historiographer, and had made a lucrative contract with the King's company of players. Mr Scott enters (p. 116.) into a calculation of his income, and thinks we shall All considerably under the mark, in computing it, during this pe
riod of prosperity, at 600% or 700%. annually; a sum more adequate to procure all the comforts, and many of the luxuries of life, than thrice the amount at present. This point has been investigated by Malone with a minuteness which, in this instance, we certainly think well employed, (Malone's Life, p. 444.) From his data, it seems that Mr Scott has rated Dryden's income rather too high; but if we suppose him to have possessed but 500% a year, equal at least to 1500%. at present, this is placing the circumstances of a poet, who has been a proverb even among his tribe for penury, in a very new light. Yet he has never been accused of extravagance, or over-stating his own distresses. We must suppose, therefore, that his income was irregular, and his salary not regularly forthcoming from the scanty exchequer of Charles. After the Revolution, his office of laureat ceased, and his theatrical profits became very small. He had now fallen upon evil days; and the remainder of his life was doubtless passed in comfortless poverty. This condition, though not borne without repining, did not overcome the spirit of Dryden. He is one of the few, who, reaching an advanced age, and never ceasing to write, have kept up an increasing reputation, and seemed almost to die prematurely, without accomplishing all which they were designed to do. Like many other men, he probably beguiled himself into a belief, that he had acted from none but the most conscientious motives, and clung to that consolation in the midst of disappointment. During the reign of William the Third, he published his Translations of Juvenal and Virgil, his Ode on St Cecilia's Day, and the Fables from Chaucer and Boccace. Of the celebrated ode, Mr Scott, adverting to the different accounts which have been given of the length of time taken in its composition, makes the following remarks, which we think highly judicious and acute in themselves, and of decisive authority when it is considered from what quarter they pro
off at once.
It is possible that Dryden may have completed, at one sitting, the whole ode, and yet have employed a fortnight, or much more, in correction. There is strong internal evidence to show, that the poem was, speaking with reference to its general structure, wrought A halt or pause, even of a day, would perhaps have injured that continuous flow of poetical language and description, argues the whole scene to have arisen at once upon the author's imagination. It seems possible, more especially in lyrical po etry, to discover where the author has paused for any length of time; for the union of the parts is rarely so perfect as not to show a different strain of thought and feeling. There may be something fanciful, however, in this reasoning, which I therefore abandon to the reader's mercy; only begging him to observe, that we have no mode of estimating the exertions of a quality so capricious as a poe
VOL. XIII. NO. 25.
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, occu-. pied the author as many days.'
The poet survived but a few months the publication of his Fabies. A variety of chronic diseases brought him to the grave, on the 1st of May 1700. He was buried, after the fashion of starved 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 engravings 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 specimens 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 calls 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. 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