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Dryden took it to the royal patron, who then gave him a hundred broad pieces for it. The whole story is possible, though not probable. The poem, containing but 322 lines, is not so personal in its denunciations as its predecessor. “Part of it is a bitter invective against Shaftesbury, part an argument as to the unfitness of republican institutions for England, and the rest an Address to the Whigs."
Mac Flecknoe.-The. Medal brought out replies. Among them was one by Thomas Shadwell, entitled The Medal of John Bayes, a savage personal onslaught on Dryden. It is to the credit of Dryden that he seldom paid any attention to the scurrilous attacks made on him by his enemies, but in this instance he made an exception. It has been suggested that Dryden poured out his wrath upon too insignificant a victim, but, as Oliver Goldsmith tells us in his Beauties of English Poetry, there was a time when Shadwell held divided reputation with Dryden himself. Mac Flecknoe had been a dull poet; Dryden treats Shadwell as the son and heir of Mac Flecknoe. The poem, consisting of but a few more than 200 lines, was published anonymously in March, 1682. It has a double interest — its own merit as a piece of brilliant satire, and that it suggested to Pope the writing of the Dunciad. These lines are among the best in the poem:
“Shadwell alone my perfect image bears,
Religio Laici.— A month after the appearance of Mac Flecknoe, a second part of Absalom and Achitophel was published. The principal part was written by Nahum Tate, but among the lines written by Dryden are some of his best. About
the same time that the second part of Absalom and Achitophel made its appearance, the Religio Laici was published, in November, 1682. The poem, 456 lines, is a theological discussion, concerning itself, as Dryden puts it in his prose preface, "with speculations that belong to the profession of divinity.” It is interesting to find the satirist, the lyrist, and the writer of loose comedies engaged in the serious task of finding out the ways of God to man.
His treatment is reverent, “I lay no unhallowed hand
upon the Ark, but wait on it with the reverence that becomes me at a distance,” he says in his preface.
To me the preface is far more interesting than the poem itself. The attempt to show the wisdom of the Established Church or that heathens who had not heard of Christ may yet be saved, does not lend itself readily to poetry. But that, of course, depends upon one's definition of poetry. To Dryden and his age versification lent the final art to argument. To quote from the concluding paragraph of the preface to this poem:
“The expressions of a poem designed purely for instruction ought to be plain and natural, and yet majestic: for here the poet is presumed to be a kind of lawgiver, and those qualities which I have named are proper to the legislative style. The florid, elevated, and figurative way is for the passions; for love and hatred, fear and anger, are begotten in the soul by showing their objects out of their true proportion, either greater than the life or less; but instruction is to be given by showing them what they naturally are. A man is to be cheated into passion, but to be reasoned into truth.”
The poetic introduction has been much admired, Landor saying to a friend, “Nothing was ever written in hymn equal to the beginning of Dryden's Religio Laici.” These are the opening lines:
“ Dim as the borrow'd beams of moon and stars
And as those nightly tapers disappear,
There is little satire in the poem, but these lines show that Dryden has not forgotten the satiric touch:
“The Book thus put in every vulgar hand,
The tender page with horny fists was gall’d;
And he was gifted most that loudest bawl'd.” The Hind and the Panther.— This poem was published in April, 1687. “If bulk and originality of plan are taken into consideration," thinks Saintsbury, this poem may be considered as Dryden's chief work. There are three parts, the total number of lines amounting to 2,592.
In February, 1685, James had become the ruling monarch, and with his ascension to the throne the Roman Catholic religion had regained its influential position. In Evelyn's Diary, under date of January 19, 1686, there is this entry, “Dryden, the famous play-writer, and his two sons ... were said to go to mass; such proselytes were no great loss to the church." It is not surprising that both at the time of his change of faith and during the years since then Dryden has been severely criticized, for the change was made to further his own temporal interests. Consistency is not a strong characteristic in the character of this poet. This is true of his poetic faith as well as of his religious. At one time we find him stoutly defending his use of rhyme in the drama, and then condemning it and favoring blank verse. As to his religious changes, it must be said to his great credit that with the accession of William of Orange, Dryden did not change his faith, but remained true to the religion which he had espoused, although another change of conviction would have been profitable. When the Revolution made Protestantism popular, he did not abjure his faith to save his office and pension as poet laureate and historiographer.
The Hind and the Panther is a defense of the Roman Catholic Church by means of a dialogue between a hind, who represents the Church of Rome, and a panther, who sustains the character of the Church of England. These beasts conduct a learned discussion on transubstantiation, infallibility, church authority, and other theological questions that then engaged the public mind. Sir Walter Scott has praised the poem in these words:
“ The verse in which these doctrines, polemical and political, are delivered, is among the finest specimens of the English heroic stanza. The introductory verses, in particular, are lofty and dignified in the highest degreee: as are those in which the splendour and majesty of the Church of Rome are set forth, in all the glowing colours of rich imagery and magnificent language. But the same praise extends to the versification of the whole poem. It never falls, never becomes rugged; rises with the dignified strain of the poetry; sinks into quaint familiarity, where sarcasm and humour are employed; and winds through all the mazes of theological argument without becoming either obscure or prosaic."
Translations and Odes. — Dryden's mind was well adapted for the work of translating. His was not the subjective tendency to spin poetic fancies from airy nothings. It has been estimated that the total of his translations of the classics amounts to about 30,000 lines. Among the authors whom he translated are Homer, Vergil, Ovid, Theocritus, Lucretius, Juvenal, and Horace. He also rendered some of the tales of Chaucer and Boccaccio into the language and verse of his own time.
His translations of the Eclogues, the Georgics, and the Æneid were done in a most acceptable manner; though, as Saintsbury points out, it seems ironical that Pope, who is most un-Homeric, should have won his reputation as a translator of Homer, and Dryden, one of the most un-Vergilian of poets, should have won praise for his Æneid. Pope should have given his finished art to Vergil, while Dryden's masculine force would have found its freest expression in translating the vigorous lines of the Greek bard.
The two Songs for St. Cecilia's Day are among the most notable poems of his entire career. The first was written in
1687; the second, the famous ode on Alexander's Feast, in 1697. St. Cecilia was a legendary Roman virgin of rank who embraced Christianity in the reign of Antoninus, and whose virtues obtained for her the honor of visits from angels.” As the supposed inventor of the organ, she was canonized as the saint of music. In 1683 a musical society began to celebrate St. Cecilia's Day. It was for the celebration of two of these festivals that Dryden's odes were composed. Concerning the composition of the Alexander's Feast ode, the story is told that he sat up the whole of one night to write it, finishing the ode at one sitting. The more probable version is that of Dr. Birch, who states that Dryden wrote to a friend that he was almost a fortnight in composing and correcting it. The lines of the chorus are known everywhere:
"Happy, happy, happy pair!
None but the brave,
None but the brave,
Of this ode the French critic Taine has written enthusiastically, “A masterpiece of rapture which Victor Hugo alone has come
More discriminatingly, John Henry Newman has said:
“Dryden's Alexander's Feast is a magnificent composition, and has high poetical beauties; but to a refined judgment there is something intrinsically unpoetical in the end to which it is devoted, the praises of revelry and sensuality.”
His Prose. -Poet, satirist, dramatist, and critic, he was also a master of vigorous prose. It may be no exaggeration to say that his influence upon our prose outweighs all his other contributions to English literature. The very quality of mind that makes him a poet of the second order, the absence of that wild frenzy which sweeps the soul of the poet into the empyrean, has made his
prose clear, orderly, and precise. In the striking phrase of Lowell, “English prose is indebted to Dryden for having freed