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laws of pure and disciplined imagination, to the age of Milton, would be an incongruity as flagrant as the Roman usage of dating the age of their casks of wine by a reference to the date of the magistracy of a consul,-a cask of Falernian stamped with a name, perhaps, as stern as Caius Marius.

The period I am about entering upon in this lecture forms a striking exception to these remarks; for, if we seek a title to designate the last quarter of the seventeenth century, there need not be a moment's hesitation in appropriating to it the name of Dryden. From the year 1674, when the death of Milton took place, down to the year 1700,-the date of Dryden's death,--Dryden held in English poetry an absolute and exclusive supremacy. He and the age were suited to each other. He was the fit representative of the times of Charles II. With talents which might, by moral chastening and intellectual discipline, have secured to him a pure fame, he prostituted the poet's sacred endowment to unholy and base purposes. Now, this is lamentable. It would be so in the annals of the poetry of any people; but in those of English poetry it is doubly, deeply deplorable. Think for a moment of the mighty minds I have been contemplating in the previous lectures,— mighty, I mean, in their purity as well as in their power,—indeed, their purity was part of their power; think of Spenser's spotless spirit, knowing no debasement in years either of prosperity or adversity; of Shakspeare's gentle and gigantic genius, uncontaminated even by the courses into which his life was cast; and of Milton, with all his partisanship in a fierce warfare, still keeping his imagination insphered in regions of serene air,—

"Above the smoke and stir of this dim spot
Which men call earth,"

What mortal monarch seated on earthly throne, though, like Satan's throne in Pandemonium, it

"Outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,

Or where the gorgeous East, with richest hand,
Showers on her kings barbaric pearl and gold,"-

What king, I say, could, either by kingly power or by kingly frown, have extorted from John Milton a single line profaning the sacred trust of his precious talent, held "ever in his great Taskmaster's eye"? Remember how, as we have been considering one great name after another on the register of England's mighty poets, we have thus far found the genius of all of them enlisted in the cause of virtue, militant on the side of truth, nobly fulfilling their destiny, and leaving behind them



undying words which wing their flight over each generation as it rises and passes away; so that we, I hope, may have caught some enthusiasm from their sound, centuries after those words were first uttered :

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This benediction is not due to all, however rightfully they may claim the title of poet. There is one principle I shall cling to at every part of these lectures, because I am deeply convinced of its truth, and because, too, the annals of English poetry will sustain me in it :-that one inseparable attribute of all the highest poetry is alliance with virtue; that its tendency, mute though it be to the sensual and the dark, is to make the wise and the good still wiser, still better, still happier. Has it not been so, even after making full allowance for all violations of propriety in less refined states of society, with every one of the great poets we have been considering? Let their pure, imaginative morality be remembered, both because I do not wish to lead you unadvised into a different poetic atmosphere, and because, before this course is closed, I must apply this principle to other eminent names besides that of Dryden.

I am anxious to render justice to Dryden's powers, and shall strive to do so. Neither do I wish to limit literary research or taste to the productions of the great masters; for English poetry abounds with poems of unnumbered degrees of merit: its secondary poetry is rich; so is its minor poetry; and even from the poetry of writers whose names are unknown to fame, as fragrant an anthology could be culled as in the literature of any language. But when I hear people talk of the poets carelessly or ignorantly, or, it may be, intentionally, coupling in an indiscriminate șeries Spenser, Milton, Dryden, and Pope, every principle of judgment and feeling and taste revolts. When taking Milton's standard, and acknowledging for the greatest poetry only that which is full of religious, of glorious and magnificent uses, and then looking at the uses to which Dryden debased his imagination, the question as to his poetic rank becomes simply a question how can this corruption put on the incorruption of a great poet's glory. In the course of these lectures I have had occasion to remark the influence exercised on the genius of the poets by the spirit of the times they lived in, but never finding that influence acquiring an ascendency over their innate powers. Passing events seemed to float over their lives, as on a sunny day the shadow of a floating cloud is seen to speed over the surface of

the fields, giving, indeed, different hues and tints, but not changing native and unalterable colours. Whatever adaptation the great poets made to their respective times, they ever kept that independence which gives to genius its home amid many generations. With Dryden a different relation began; for he sought a habitation steaming with a thousand vices, and there he dwelt till his garland and singing-robes were polluted by the contagion. Throughout Dryden's poems may be traced, in a distinct reflection, the character of the times of Charles II.; and each should, therefore, be examined by the literary or historical student, for they are reciprocally illustrative. The temper of that time is stamped upon its literature. The poets, instead of their high office of allaying the perturbations of the mind and setting the affections in right tune," had no worthier charge than to pamper the low passions of a worthless and adulterate generation. There probably never was a period of literature when it was more affected by extrinsic agencies than that now under review, -the age of the second Charles. Let us look, therefore, for a moment or two, at its characteristics.


Memory may run over the whole period of more than two thousand years, the life of our British ancestry, -and not find any portion of it so loathsome as those twenty years during which Charles Stuart the younger was restored to the throne of his fathers.

Happier would it have been for any one having a man's heart within his breast to live in the barbaric age of British paganism, with all its ferocity, and the terrors of a hideous superstition,—when, in Cowper's fine lines,

"The Druids struck the well-strung harps they bore,
With fingers deeply dyed in human gore;

And, while the victim slowly bled to death,

Upon the tolling chords rung out his dying breath ;”

Better to have lived amid the wild consternation of the fiercest of Eng land's invasions or the bloodiest of its civil wars,—better in the dismay of Mary's martyrdoms, or beneath the iron rod of Cromwell's military usurpation, than to have pined heart-sick at the sight of all the debasing profligacy which burst upon England at the time of the Restoration. When Cowley, with the fervour of royalty upon him, gave vent to his indignation at the Protector's dynasty, it was in a strain which would have better fitted the lips of a generous Briton chafing under the abominations of his country,—its hereditary monarch restored :—

"Come the eleventh plague rather this should be ;

Come sink us rather in the sea:

Come rather pestilence and reap us down;

Come God's sword, rather than our own.


Let rather Roman come again,

Or Saxon, Norman, or the Dane.

In all the bonds we ever bore,

We grieved, we sigh'd, we wept; we never blush'd before."


Upon Charles Stuart the lesson of adversity was wasted. After a childhood and youth pampered with the perilous luxury that attends the footsteps of an heir to royalty, the full cup of his confident hopes was dashed from his lips, when calamities undreamed of were poured down upon the royal household. The only occasion when he showed a manly spirit—when, backed by Scottish courage, he staked his fortunes on the field of battle to gain the throne of his fathers--had been preceded by an act of perjured hypocrisy; for, kneeling on the spot where his royal Scottish ancestors had sworn their coronation-oath, he called God to witness his plighted faith to a covenant he both detested and despised. The mailed hand of Cromwell was still the hand of victory; and the defeat at Worcester left the young king an outcast and a fugitive, sheltered only by the indomitable loyalty of his adherents, whose devotion he had no heart to be grateful for, for he prized it at no dearer rate than the trunk of the oak which once hid him from his pursuers. He fled to France, abandoning himself to effeminate, vulgar, and vicious pleasures. Unhappily, the British blood that flowed in his veins was mingled with the blood of one of those licentious monarchs who had soiled the purity of the French monarchy: it will be remembered he was the grandson of Henry IV.

Let it not be thought that I am wandering from my subject. I seek to show that if the spirit of a nation goes down, its poetry, if suffered to sympathize with the causes of its degradation, will go down with it. In the spirit of those times, and of Charles II. as representing it, I can find ample explanation of the sinking of English poetry. Every pure and noble sentiment, every generous emotion, every lofty thought, became a jest. Now, these are the life of poetry, which in its best forms can breathe only in an atmosphere of purity; and whenever such cannot be found, it is the chief duty of poetry to create it,—to ventilate, as it were, a stagnant and corrupted air. The spirit of poetry—and, let me add, too, the love of it--is a spirit of enthusiasm. Amid the wide-spread corruption, the writings of a few poets and not a few of the clergy show that all hearts were not defiled; and that brazen age was well described by one of its divines, when he said, "To fight against religion by scoffing is the game the devil seems to be playing in the present age. He hath tryed the power and rage of the mighty and the wit and knowledge of the learned, but these have not succeeded for the destruction of religion;

and therefore now he is making an experiment by another sort of enemies, and sets the apes and drollers upon it. And certainly there was never any other age in which sacred things have been so rudely and impudently assaulted by the profane abuses of jesters and buffoons, who have been the contempt of all wise times, but are the darlings and wits of these." The severe discipline of Puritan morality once removed, there came quickly in its stead a lawlessness whose pride was its freedom from all restraint. Immorality was a thing men boasted of; they took a party-pride in vice. The civil wars had also demoralized the people, by breaking up the habits and regularity of domestic life. Households were destroyed, and their proprietors found a residence in taverns; and, when the causes of such disordered life had passed away, the low habits it had engendered were left behind. Often, beggared by the wars, the sufferers were driven, in the words of as gallant a cavalier as Lovelace, "to steep their thirsty grief in wine." During the Middle Ages, the miseries that followed in the train of war had been famine and pestilence; but after the civil wars in England came debauchery, licentiousness, riot, and blasphemy. To such a condition of public feeling the only poetry that could be welcome was that prostituted form of it which delights in loose lays or bacchanalian orgies. The intellectual tastes of Charles II. have been historically recorded, and are typical of his times. Mentally, he was by no means deficient, but, on the contrary, possessed of much quickness of mind. Quotations from Hudibras, with all the indecencies of its wit, were often on his lips; the bombastic tragedies and the obscene comedies of the Restoration were congenial to him, and doubtless, too, the songs of Sedley and Rochester. There was another taste of the monarch, illustrative also of the downward course of the spirit of the age,—a sort of zeal for material science, prosecuted to the exclusion of all spirituality. The king had his private laboratory, where he carried on experiments as far removed from a true love of science as the filthy chemistry in the cauldrons of the witches in "Macbeth.” Charles II. was a materialist in the grossest sense of the word :

"One all eyes
Philosopher! a fingering slave;

One that would peep and botanize
Upon his mother's grave!

It has been his good luck, however, to gain the epithet of the "merry monarch;" and thus has many a one been led to think that good-nature and a sportive temper, an amiable playfulness, were his attributes. The sport he made was with things he ought to have held in reverence; and he played with honour and justice, with womanly virtue and all

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