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Jons DnTDKif, the celebrated English poet, Wjis born in Aldwinkle, in Northamptonshire, 1G31. He was educated in Westminster school, and in Trinity College, Cambridge. His first ]>oom that attracted notice was his Manzas on Cromwell's death; but so exceedingly pliable was he, that, in 1660, he wrote a congratulatory address to Charles II., on his restoration to the throne of his ancestors. But this did not "put money in his purse," and he was soon obliged to betake himself to what was then a more profitable department of poetry, and write for the stnge, which he continued to do for many years. In these literary labors he debused his genius to an extent which no "circumstances of the times" can excuse, by writing in a manner and style that entirely harmonized with the licentious spirit and taste of the court and age of Charles II.
In 1GGS he succeeded Davcnant as poet-laureate, which excited the envy of those who aspired to the same royal distinction. The most powerful of his enemies were the Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Rochester, the former of whom ridiculed the poet in that well-known force called "The Rehearsal." In return, Dryden, in 1681, published his satire of "Absalom and Achitophel,1' perhaps the most vigorous as well as the most popular of all his poetical writings. This was speedily followed by "The JVlednl," a bitter lampoon on Shaftesbury, and was followed up the next year by " Mac Flecknoe,1'1 and the second part of "Absalom and Achitophel." These were all most bitter satires upon his personal enemies, Buckingham, Monmouth, Shaftesbury, Settie, Shad well, and others. In "Absalom and Achitophel," Monmouth figures under the former, and Shaftesbury under the latter name.
After the accession of James, (HSS5,) when Popery became the chief qualification for court favor, Dryden renounced Protestantism and turned Papist. He gained but little by it, though he wrote in defence of the Romish faith in "The Hind and die Panther/'2 In 1G80, one year after the abdication of James, he would not take the required oaths to the government of William and Mary, and was therefore compelled to resign his office of poet-laureate, which, with a salary increased to .£300, was conferred on Thomas Shad well, whom Dryden thus satirized in his "Mac Flecknoe::'
The rest to some faint meaning make pretence,
1 Mac li the Celtic for ion ; and Richard Flecknoe was an Irish Roman Catholic priest, and a wellknown hackneyed poetaster. The lending Idea of the poem, therefore, is, to represent the *olrntn Inauguration of one Inferior poet ft* the successor (" son") of another, in the monarchy of nonsense.
2 The idea of two beasta discussing arguments in theology, and quoting the Father*, excited disgust or merriment. so that, as a work of controversy, it proved a complete failure.
3 That this ts the language of bitter personal enmity, no one can doubt, from the fact that such n one an Dryden describes would not be honored with such a post. Accordingly, a modern criUc (Retrospective Review, xvt. 56) »aya of Shod well, "He was an accomplished observer of human nature, had a ready power of seizing the ridiculous in tlie manners of the times, was a man of sens* and information, and displayed in Ida writings a very considerable fund of humor."
The latter years of his life were devoted to the truncation of Juvenal and Perseus, and of the JEneid, by which he is more known than by any of his original poetry, if we except the "Ode on St. Cecilia's Day,'' which he "finished at one sitting/' as he himself said, while he was engaged in translating the Mantuan bard. This ode ranks among the best lyrical pieces in our language; but it contains some licentiousness of imagery and description which justly detracts from its general popularity. His last work was a Masque, composed about three weeks before his death, which took place on the 1st of May, 1700. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.
The character of Dryden is not such as to command our respect or esteem. He seems to have had no sound principles, cither in morals or in religion. His movements were those of the weathercock, showing the current of the popular breeze. He wrote for llic clay, and he had his reward,—popularity for the time, but comparative neglect with posterity. As a poet he cannot take rank in the first class. A writer in the Retrospective Review1 very justly remarks, that "it is well that his fame has become a settled conviction in the public mind, for were a man carnally called upon to prove the truth of the position, though secure of ultimate victory, he would find the task not unencumbered with difficulty—he could not appeal to any particular work, as being universally read, and as universally admired and approved. His translations, it is true, are spirited, and convey all, and frequently more than the writer's meaning; but then, he has taken improper liberties with his author, and fills the mind of the reader with emotions of a diflerent character than would be produced by the original. Then his plays are bombastic, and as a proof of their worthlessness, it may be alleged they are forgotten. His fables, his odes, his tales, his satires remain; all of which, it is clear, on the reading, could only be written by a man of gigantic genius, but are, as wholes, from the lapse of time and the occasional nature of many, and from the imperfections of haste and carelessness, far from being among the choice favorites of the common reader."
To these remarks maybe added the discriminating criticism of Campbell:2 "He is a writer of manly and elastic character. His strong judgment gave force as well as direction to a flexible fancy; and his harmony is generally the echo of solid thoughts. But he was not gifted with intense or lolly sensibility; on the contrary, the grosser any idea is, the happier he seems to expatiate upon it. The transports of the heart, and the deep and varied delineations of the passions, arc strangers to his poetry. He could describe character in the abstract, but could not embody it in the drama, for he entered into character more from clear perception than fervid sympathy. This great High Priest of all the Nine was not a confessor to the liner secrets of the human breast. Had the subject of Eloisa fallen into his hands, he would have left but a coarse draft of her passion."
Such, I think, is a fair view of Drydcn's poetical character. True, Gray, in his " Progress of Poesy," alludes to " the stalely march and pounding energy of his rhymes;'' and these qualities they certainly possess: and the same fastidious critic has justly immortalized the ''thoughts that breathe, and words that burn,'1 in his celebrated lyric, "Alexander's Feast." But after all, he possesses in a slight degree, comparatively, those great qualities which make the true poet—imagination—fancy—invention—pathos—sublimity. That he might have done better than he has, 1 have not the least doubt. Hence, his case reads a most instructive lesson to men of intellect. Endowed with abi
litics of the highest order, he was clearly capable of producing such works as |>osterity would "not willingly let die." But instead of spending his mighty strength upon those principles of immutable truth and of universal human nature, which will ever find a response in the human heart as long as there are hearts to feel; he wasted his time and debased his genius, by writing too much upon subjects of merely temporal interest, and in such a manner as to be in keeping with the corrupt sentiments and the licentious spirit of the age. When will men of genius, capable of exerting a mighty influence for good, for all coming time, learn to trample under their feet the false and debasing sentiments, dishonoring to God and degrading to man, that exist around tern, and rise to immortality by the only sure paths,—virtue and truth'?1
ODE TO THi: MEMORY OF MRS. ANNE KIXI.F.GRKW.
Thou youngest virgin-daughter of the skies,
Or, in procession fix'd and regular,
Mov'st with the heaven-majestic pace;
Or, call'd to more superior bliss,
Since heaven's eternal year is thine.
In no ignoble verse;
If by traduction came thy mind,
Our wonder is the less to find
But if thy pre-existing soul
Was fortrfd at first with myriads more,
Who Greek or Latin laurels wore,
If so, then cease thy flight, 0 heaven-born mind1
Thou hast no dross to purge from thy rich ore:
Nor can thy soul a fairer mansion find
1 Read—two articles on Drydcn in the Retrospective Review, I. IIS, and iv. 5*: also, one to the Edinburgh xiit. and nnotlicr In Macunltiy'a Miscellanies, f. 127. Also, in Blair** lectures, teetxvlkl., and In llallam's Literature, pp. 377 and 378. The bed ediUon of Dryden'l works U that by Sir Walter Scott, is vols. svo. Edinburgh, 1321.
Than was the beauteous frame she left behind.
0 gracious God! how far have we
This lubrique and adulterate age,
T' increase the steaming ordures of the stage?
When in mid-air the golden trump shall sound,
To raise the nations under ground;
And there the last assizes keep
For those who wake, and those who sleep;
And foremost from the tomb shall bound,
Three poets, in three distant ages born,
VEXI CREATOR SP1RITUS,1
1 Come, Creator Spirit. 2 A Greek word signifying advocate, helper, comforter. Come, and tliy sacred unction bring
To sanctify us, while we sing.
Plenteous of grace, descend front high,
Rich in thy sevenfold energy!
Thou strength of his Almighty hand,
Whose power does heaven and earth command.
Proceeding Spirit, our defence,
Who dost the gift of tongues dispense,
And crown'st thy gift with eloquence!
Refine and purge our earthly parts;
But oh, inflame and fire our hearts!
Our frailties help, our vice control.
Submit the senses to the soul;
And when rebellious they are grown,
Then lay thy hand, and hold them down.
Chase from our minds the infernal foe,
And peace, die fruit of love, bestow;
And, lest our feet should step astray,
Protect and guide us in the way.
Make us eternal truths receive,
And practise all that we believe:
Give us thyself, diat we may see
The Father, and the Son, by thee.
Immortal honor, endless fame,
Attend the Almighty Father's name:
The Saviour Son be glorified,
Who for lost man's redemption died:
And equal adoration be,
Eternal Paraclete, to thee.
ENJOYMENT OF THE PRESENT HOUR RECOMMENDED.
Imitated from Horace.
Enjoy the present smiling hour,
And put it out of Fortune's power:
Is sometimes high, and sometimes low,
Now with a noiseless gentle course
It keeps within the middle bed;
Anon it lifts aloft the head,
Both house and homestead into seas are borne;
Anil rocks art; from their old foundations torn; And woods, made thin with winds, their scatter'd honors moi Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call to-day his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Be fair or foul, or rain or shine,
Not Heaven itself upon the past has power;