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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 materials, 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 Esop, 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 eyer 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 enough 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, yol. 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
judged themselves, and were sometimes deemed by others, his equals, or his superiors. For the same reason, there are thrown into the appendix a few indifferent verses to the poet's memory; which, while they show how much his loss was felt, point out, at the same time, the impossibility of supplying it.' (Advert. Vol. I. p. vi.)
It is hardly, however, good logic, to infer the superiority of Dryden above all the poets of his day, from his excelling some of the worst. If Shadwell was preferred to him, it was not for his rhymes, but his comedies; and perhaps the public were not wrong. The preference of Settle, indeed, so far as it existed, may be ascribed to bad taste, as well as envy. But there is a surer way of ascertaining Dryden's preeminence. We judge of the height of a giant, by comparing him with the tallest grenadiers, not with middle-sized mortals. To form a relative estimate of Dryden, we must look at the poets of his own time, Roscommon, Dorset, and Mulgrave, in the reign of Charles; Duke, Stepney, and Halifax, in that of William. These had credit enough, in their own times, to carry down their names to posterity, and pass in all our collections under the title of poets. Weigh one or all these against Dryden; what a preponderance in his scale! Few poets, in a cultivated age, have been so decidedly unrivalled by their contemporaries.
It will be replied, perhaps, that if all which we deem superfluous in this edition, does no good, at least it will do no harm that there are many tastes, and every one may pass over what does not interest him. This is the common plea of the bookmakers. But it is a grievous thing to see literature become daily more inaccessible; and books swelled in bulk as well as costliness, till few are able to purchase, and still fewer to peruse them. The trade, indeed, act as traders very reasonably will, for their own interest; it is a matter of speculation only to them, whether books circulate among none but wealthy amateurs, or the whole class of readers. But a man of letters, we think, who undertakes a new edition, or a new work, has a duty imposed upon him, to regard the commonweal of literature, and withstand that prodigal multiplication of printed paper, which is the vice of our age. In this edition of Dryden, we would have curtailed the life, in which, we think, after all, there is little new, to a short, and chiefly critical, memoir; omitted many of the notes, the original fables from Chaucer and Boccace, the reply of Stillingfleet to Dryden's controversy, and perhaps the translation of Xavier's life. But no alteration could have fitted the work to increase the renown of Mr Scott, or add one sprig to the wreath which he wears, as the author of those poems,
• Of which all Britain rings from side to side.'
ART. IX. Speeches of the Right Honourable John Philpot Curran, Mafter of the Rolls in Ireland, on the late very interefting State Trials, &c. Second Edition, with additions. 8vo. pp. 475. Dublin. 1808.
THE HERE is fomething very peculiar, and very well worth attending to, in the character of Irish eloquence. More vehement, and figured and poetical than any that is now attempted in this country, it aims almoft always at dazzling the imagination, or enflaming the paffions at leaft, as much as at enlightening the underftanding. On almost every subject, it afpires at being pathetic or magnificent; and, while it adorns what is grand, or kindles what is interefting with the rays of its genius, is apt to involve in the redundant veil of its imagery, what is either too low or too fimple to become fuch a drapery. Being the natural language of fearless genius and impaffioned feeling, it will not always be found to exprefs judicious fentiments or correct reafoning; but will ge nerally lead to lofty principles, and glimpfes of great theory. It is fometimes coarfe, and frequently noify and redundant; but it has ufually ftrength in its coarfenefs; and, for the most part, fancy if not reafon in its extravagance. Though the defign and the drawing may frequently be faulty, the colouring is always brilliant, and the expreffion, for the most part, original and powerful.
We have ventured to give this as the character of Irish elo. quence;-both becaufe fome portion of it feems to belong of right to every inhabitant of that country, and becaufe we really do not know any remarkable inftance of it that has not been produced by that people. The wits of Queen Anne's time practifed a fort of polite writing, characterifed by purity, fmoothnefs, and a kind of fimple and temperate elegance. Their reafoning was correct and luminous, and their raillery terfe and refined; but they never fo much as aimed at touching the greater paffions, or rifing to the loftier graces of compofition. Their fublimity was little more than a gentle and graceful folemnity; their invective went no further than polished farcafm, and their vehemence than pretty vivacity. Even the older writers who dealt in larger views and stronger language, the Hookers and Taylors, and Barrows and Miltons, although they poffeffed, beyond all doubt, an original and commanding eloquence, had little of nature or rapid movement of paffion about them, Their diction, though powerful, is loaded and laborious; and their imagination, though rich and copious, is neither playful nor popular. Even the celebrated orators of England have been deficient in fome of thefe characteristics. The rhetoric of Fox was his logic;-the eloquence of Pitt confifted mainly in his talent for farcafm and for founding amplification. Neither of them had much pathos,-and but little play of fancy.