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him to put on the incorruption of a great poet's glory.* In Walter Scott's indignant lines:
'Dryden, in immortal strain,
Had raised the table-round again,
But that a ribald king and court,
Fit for their souls, a looser lay,
The world defrauded of the high design,
Profaned the God-given strength, and marred the lofty line.”+
When we look at Dryden's vigorous command of language, in prose and verse, the poetic energy in those departments in which his genius moved most freely, we may well conceive that a higher region of authorship was in his reach, had he united with intellectual cultivation that moral discipline, which no endowment can dispense with, without grievous peril to its powers. In the following passage from his Edipus, there is a certain tone of reflection and imagery which is not without resemblance to the thought and language of Shakspeare:
* Dryden's intended epic was not a mere vision of youth, but, according to his best biographers, was in his mind at different periods of life, though always deferred by the low influences around him. At one time, King Arthur was the theme; at another, it was Edward the Black Prince subduing Spain. (Mitford's Life, Aldine Poets, p. 78.) Milton's young vision appears in his Epistle to Mansus:
"O mihi si mea sors talem concedat amicum
Frangam Saxonicas Britonum sub Marte phalanges!" W. B. R. † Introduction to Marmion., Canto i. Poetical Works, vol. vii. p. 36.
"Ha! again that scream of woe!
Thrice have I heard, thrice since the morning dawn'd,
When the sun sets, shadows that showed at noon
So when we think fate hovers o'er our heads,
That one fine stanza in the Ode for St. Cecelia's Day, shows what lyric grandeur Dryden might have attained to:
"What passion cannot Music raise and quell?
When Jubal struck the chorded shell,
His listening brethren stood around,
And wondering, on their faces fell,
To worship that celestial sound;
Less than a god they thought there could not dwell,
That spoke so sweetly and so well."
In no respect did Dryden more rashly and fatally abandon the authority of his great predecessors, than in his attempt to introduce rhymed tragedies. The introduction of rhyme into the dramatic poetry was a false substitute for that exquisite blank-verse which, in the hand of a great master, is at once so imaginative and natural, that it sounds like an ordinary speech idealized-the dialect of daily life in its highest perfection. But the rhymed dra
matic dialect stood in no such near and truthful relation to the realities of life, as I may show, perhaps, by a reference to a variety of language occurring in Shakspeare. It will be remembered that the chief and best reputation of Dryden lies in this, that he enlarged the domain of English poetry by the production of the most nervous satire in verse that English literature had yet known. It has been said by Milton, in one of his prose works, that "a satire, as it was born out of a tragedy, so ought to resemble his parentage, to strike high, and adventure dangerously, at the most eminent vices among the greatest persons.' Dryden's satire had this merit. It struck at Buckingham. It was also employed on the unworthy versifiers and scribblers, for authorship had degenerated to a low craft, with all its worst enviousness and meanness, in dismal contrast with that frank and hearty intercourse which distinguished the companionship of authors in an earlier generation, living in genial fellowship, and weaving even their inspirations together in partnership that was a brotherhood.
A literary life like Dryden's closed with an old age without dignity and without happiness-the remnant of life, worn out in his Egyptian bondage, embittered both by neglect and the memory of talents misspent in the service of a sensual and sordid king and corrupt courtiers. There was nothing of the grandeur of Milton's lonely old age; but, in the period of Dryden's desolation, we may trace the chastening of adversity in some strains of a higher mood, as in those admirable lines in which he tells of his effort at Christian forbearance when provoked to
* Milton's Apology for Smectymnuus, 2 vi. Prose Works, p. 88, 8 vo.
resent and retort.
This passage is worthy of all praise, especially when we remember his power of satire, his unimpaired poetic invective, now controlled by a higher principle:
"If joys hereafter must be purchased here
'Tis nothing yet, yet all thou hast to give:
Then add those maybe years thou hast to live;
Yet nothing still: then, poor and naked, come,
Thy Father will receive his unthrift, home,
And thy blest Saviour's blood discharge the mighty sin."*
The death of Dryden took place in the year 1700, and we pass into the literature of the eighteenth century, the first part of which is not unfrequently styled the Augustan age of Queen Anne. It was Augustan in that men of letters were basking in the sunshine of aristocratic patronage, and a courtly refinement succeeded to that grossness of manners and of speech which had disgraced society in the years just previous. Writers were no longer plunging in the mire of that obscenity which defiled the times of Charles the Second; but they were often walking in the dry places of an infidel philosophy. The religious agitation of the middle of the previous century had sunk
The Hind and Panther, part iii. v. 1575.
down from the high-wrought power of fanaticism, first, into indecent profanity, and then, by degrees, into a more decorous, but cold, self-complacent skepticism. Enthusiasm of all kinds had burned out, and there was a low tone of thought and feeling in church and state-in the people, and, of consequence, in literature. There was no great British statesman-I mean no genuine, magnanimous statesman-from the time of Strafford, and Clarendon, and Falkland, and the great republican statesmen of the seventeenth century, down to a century later, when the first William Pitt, "the great Commoner," breathed a spirit of magnanimity once more into British politics.
The prose literature developed, in the reign of Queen Anne, a new agency of social improvement in the periodical literature, destined to acquire such unbounded influence in later times in the newspaper press and the leading Reviews. There is much to show that a more correct and refined tone of society was rought about by the papers which, under the title of "The Tatler," from pen of Steele, began that series which became more famous in the "Spectator," and in connection with Addison. "It was said of Socrates," remarked Steele, "that he brought philosophy down from heaven to inhabit among men. I shall be ambitious to have it said of me that I have brought philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools, and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables, and in coffee-houses." Not many years ago, it was very generally the custom, I remember, for every young person, male and female, to go through a course of reading of the papers of the Spectator. This has fallen quite into disuse now-a-days, and I do not know that it is much to be regretted. The Spectator contains,