« PredošláPokračovať »
THE following effusion of spleen, which is altogether unworthy of Dryden, took its rise in the animosity of literary rivalship.
About 1673, the Earl of Rochester, who had been formerly on good terms with Dryden, had received a dedication from him, and made a suitable return of compliment, became his bitter oppo nent and enemy. This was probably owing to Dryden's intimacy with Sheffield, Earl Mulgrave, who had challenged Rochester, and publicly branded him with cowardice for his refusal to fight him. The witty and profligate courtier turned that resentment against the poet, which he durst not shew to the patron, and endeavoured to injure him on every opportunity.
Elkanah Settle, whom we have had former opportunities to commemorate, was now rising into notice. He was the son of Joseph Settle, of Dunstable, in Bedfordshire, and had distinguished himself by a tragedy, called "Cambyses, King of Persia," which was acted for three weeks together. Emboldened by this
See Vol. IV. p. 235.
† See the story as told by Sheffield himself, p. 215.
success, he produced a second play, entitled "The Empress of Morocco." Upon this tragedy, and its author, Rochester fixed, as the implements of his plan, to humble and mostify Dryden. He made use of his influence to introduce Settle at court as a poet greatly superior to our bard; and he was received at least upon equal terms with him. Even Sheffield contributed to Dryden's mortification, and, perhaps in obedience to the king, graced "The Empress of Morocco" with a prologue of his own writing, which was spoken by Lady Betty Howard, when the piece was presented at Whitehall, by the gentlemen and ladies of the court. Rochester wrote a second prologue, which was spoken by the same lady, on a second representation of the same distinguishsd kind. The bookseller contributed his share of celebrity to the piece, by decorating it with four engravings, each representing a scene in the play; an honour which had not hitherto been conferred on any single play with these decorations it sold for two shillings, being double the common price. Lastly, the public bought up the edition with great rapidity, and very naturally employed themselves in weighing the merits of the new bard against those of our author, who had hitherto reigned paramount over the drama.
All these circumstances combined to vex the spirit of Dryden. There was not only a vile bombastic production publicly weighed against his most laboured plays, but the author, presuming upon the countenance of a numerous party among the public, had openly bid him defiance, by sundry irreverend sneers at him in the prefatory epistle of his garnished and bedizened performance. This Dryden termed, "a most arrogant, calumniating, ill-natured, and scandalous preface."
It is addressed to Henry Earl of Norwich, and is obviously levelled against the manner of our author's dedications. "The impudence of scribblers in this age has so corrupted the original design of dedications, that before I dare tell you this trifle begs your lordship's protection, I ought first to examine on what grounds I make the attack; for now every thing that ere saw the stage, how modest soever it has been there, without daring to shew its face above three days, has yet the arrogance to thrust itself into the world in print, with a great name before it: When the fawning scribbler shall compendiously say,---The factions of critics, the ill time of the year, and the worse acting of the players, has prejudiced his play; but he doubts not, but his grace, or his honour's more impartial judgment will find that pardonable, which the world has so maliciously censured; that is as much as to say,-Sir, you are the only person at court, whose blind side I dare venture on; not doubting, but your good nature will excuse what all the world (except the author) has justly condemned. Thus a dedication, which was formerly a present to a person of quality, is now made a libel on him; whilst the poet either supposes his patron to be so great a sot to defend that in print, which he hist off
It had been undoubtedly wise in Dryden to have disdained to enter the arena with such an antagonist. Settle must soon have sunk by his own weight, to the dishonour and confusion of his supporters; but the spirit of controversy and party were to buoy him up a little longer. Our author, irritated and imprudent, entered into a league with Shadwell, (afterwards a hostile name,) and with John Crowne, another dramatist of the day, to humble at once the pride of Settle, by such a criticism as should make his party ashamed of their poet, and the poet of his own production. Accordingly, "The Notes and Observations on the Empress of Morocco," the work of the three allies, came forth in 4to, in 1674. None of the consequences followed which Dryden had probably expected. Settle retorted, and stupid and vulgar as he was, it was hardly possible for him to fall beneath the Billingsgate with which he had been assailed. * On the contrary, he rather
the stage; or else makes himself a greater, in asking a favour from him, which he never expects to obtain. However, that which is abuse to the patron, is a compliment to the bookseller, who whispers the poet, and tells him, sir, your play had misfortune, and all that---but if you'd but write a dedication, or preface.---The poet takes the hint, picks out a person of honour, tells him he has a great deal of wit, gives us an account who writ sense in the last age, supposing we cannot be ignorant who writes it in this; disputes the nature of verse, answers a cavil or two, quibbles upon the court, huffs the critics, and the work's done. 'Tis not to be imagined how far a sheet of this goes to make a bookseller rich, and a poet famous.
“ But, my lord, whilst I trouble you with this kind of discourse, I beg you would not think I design to give rules to the press, as some of our tribe have done to the stage; or that I find fault with their dedications, in compliment to my own: no, that's a trick I do not pretend to."
*He thus characterizes his three antagonists.
"Thereupon, with very little conjuration, by those three remarkable qualities of railing, boasting, and thieving, I found a Dryden in the frontispiece; then going through the preface, I observed the drawing of a fool's picture to be the design of the whole piece; and reflecting on the painter, I considered that probably the pamphlet might be like his plays, not to be written without help and according to expectation, I discovered the author of "Epsom Wells," and the author of " Pandion and Amphigenia," lent their assistance. How! Three to one, thought I! and three gentlemen of such disagreeing qualifications in one club! The first, a man that has had wit, but is past it; the second, that has it, if he can keep it; and the third, that neither has, nor is ever like to have it. Then boldly on I went, and fortified with patience (as I found it required) for a full perusal, I wondered the less at the defor mity of the piece, when such different heads went to the composure. The first of these is the only person that pretends an injury, received from a satiric line or two in the " Epistle to Morocco;" and consequently I conclude him the promoter of so ill-natured a retort. The second, I suppose only putting his comical hand, to help forward with the mirth of so ridiculous a libel; and the third, perhaps out of a vain glory of being in print, knowing himself to be such a reptile in poetry, that he's beholding to lampoon for giving the world to know that there is such a writer in being.”
400 REMARKS ON THE EMPRESS OF MOROCCO.
gained reputation by the contest, and fairly divided with Dryden the applauses of the court and of the universities. It was not until the controversy subsided, that Elkanah lost his unnatural and unmerited literary importance. In the mean time, the feud between Dryden and him was inflamed by political hatred, and at length procured Elkanah the bitter distinction, of being described in "Absalom and Achitophel," under the name of Doeg. Vol. IX. pages 331. 373.
It were to be wished, our author could be exculpated from any share in the coarse and illiberal invective which follows these introductory remarks. But it is too certain, from the evidence of Dennis, as well as Settle's affirmation, that Dryden did stoop to revise the pamphlet, and probably to write the preface and postscript. These cannot therefore be rejected from a full edition of his works; but I willingly follow Mr Malone's authority in rejecting the rest of the pamphlet, excepting a small specimen.
Morally considered, the piece affords an useful lesson, how much irritation can debase even the composition of genius. The best satirist, like a fencer, loses the skill of his art when he loses his temper; and if Dryden afterwards succeeded in making a ridiculous portrait of Elkanah Settle, it was because he had lost apprehension of him as a rival, and cooled his indignation with a proportion of contempt suitable to its object.
NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS
THE EMPRESS OF MOROCCO.
WHEN I first saw "The Empress of Morocco," though I found it then to be a rhapsody of nonsense, I was very well contented to have let it pass, that the reputation of a new author might not be wholly damned; but that he might be encouraged to make his audience some part of amends another time. In order to this, I strained a point of conscience to cry up some passages of the play, which I hoped would recommend it to the liking of the more favourable judges; but the ill report it had from those that had seen it at Whitehall, had already done its business with judicious men. It was generally disliked by them; and but for the help of scenes, and ha