« ForrigeFortsæt »
JOHN DRYDEN was born, probably in 1631, in post of poet-laureate, to which was added the sine. the parish of Aldwincle-Allsaints, in Northampton-cure place of historiographer royal; the joint sala shire. His father possessed a small estate, acted ries of which amounted to 2001.
as a justice of the peace during the usurpation, and The tragedies composed by Dryden were written seems to have been a Presbyterian. John, at a in his earlier periods, in rhyme, which circumstance proper age, was sent to Westminster school, of which probably contributed to the poetical rant by which Busby was then master; and was thence elected they were too much characterized. For the corto a scholarship in Trinity college, Cambridge. rection of this fault, Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, He took his degrees of Bachelor and Master of Arts in conjunction with other wits, wrote the celebrated in the university; but though he had written two burlesque drama, entitled "The Rehearsal," of short copies of verses about the time of his admis- which Dryden, under the name of Bayes, was made sion, his name does not occur among the academi- the hero; and, in order to point the ridicule, his cal poets of this period. By his father's death, in dress, phraseology, and mode of recitation, were 1654, he succeeded to the estate, and, removing to exactly imitated by the actor. It does not, however, the metropolis, he made his entrance into public appear that his solid reputation as a poet was injured life, under the auspices of his kinsman, Sir Gilbert by this attack. He had the candor to acknowledge Pickering, one of Cromwell's council and house that several of the strokes were just, and he wisely of lords, and staunch to the principles then predom- refrained from making any direct reply. inant. On the death of Cromwell, Dryden wrote some "Heroic Stanzas," strongly marked by the loftiness of expression and variety of imagery which characterized his more mature efforts. They were, however, criticised with some severity.
In 1681, and, as it is asserted, at the king's express desire, he wrote his famous political poem, entitled "Absalom and Achitophel;" in which the incidents in the life of David were adapted to those of Charles II. in relation to the Duke of At the Restoration, Dryden lost no time in oblit- Monmouth and the Earl of Shaftesbury. Its poetry erating former stains; and, as far as it was possible, and its severity caused it to be read with great rendered himself peculiarly distinguished for the eagerness; and as it raised the author to high favor bas servility of his strains. He greeted the king's with the court party, so it involved him in irreconreturn by a poem, entitled "Astræa Redux," which cilable enmity with its opponents. These feelings was followed by "A Panegyric on the Corona- were rendered more acute by his "Medal, a Satire tion:" nor did Lord Chancellor Clarendon escape on Sedition," written in the same year, on occasion his encomiastic lines. His marriage with Lady of a medal struck by the whigs, when a grand Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the Earl of Berk- jury returned Ignoramus to an indictment preferred shire, is supposed to have taken place in 1665. against Lord Shaftesbury, for high treason. The About this time he first appears as a writer for the rancor of this piece is not easily to be paralleled stage, in which quality he composed several pieces; among party poems. In 1682 he published "Macand though he did not display himself as a prime Flecknoe," a short piece, throwing ridicule upon favorite of the dramatic muse, his facility of har- his very unequal rival, Shadwell. In the same monious versification, and his splendor of poetic year, one of his most serious poems, the “Religio diction, gained him admirers. In 1667 he publish- Laici," made its appearance. Its purpose was ed a singular poem, entitled "Annus Mirabilis," to give a compendious view of the arguments for the subjects of which were, the naval war with revealed religion, and to ascertain in what the authe Dutch, and the fire of London. It was written thority of revelation essentially consists. in four-line stanzas, a form which has since gone Soon after this time, he ceased to write for the into disuse in heroic subjects; but the piece stage. His dramatic vein was probably exhausted, abounded in images of genuine poetry, though intermixed with many extravagances.
and his circumstances were distressed. To this pe riod Mr. Malone refers a letter written by him to At this period of his life, Dryden became pro- Hyde, Earl of Rochester, in which, with modest fessionally a writer for the stage, having entered dignity, he pleads merit enough not to deserve to into a contract with the patentees of the King's starve, and requests some small employment in the Theatre, to supply them with three plays in a year, customs or excise, or, at least, the payment of half upon the condition of being allowed the profit of a year's pension for the supply of his present necesone share and a quarter out of twelve shares and sities. He never obtained any of the requested three quarters, into which the theatrical stock was places, and was doomed to find the booksellers his divided. Of the plays written upon the above con- best patrons.
tract, a small proportion have kept their place Charles II. died in 1685, and was succeeded by on the stage, or in the closet. On the death of his brother James II., who openly declared his atSir W. Davenant, in 1668, Dryden obtained the tachment to the religion of Rome. It was not long
before Dryden conformed to the same religion. to be told, that the ten concluding years of his life, This step has been the cause of much obloquy on in which he wrote for bread, and composed at a cerone side, and has found much excuse on the other; tain rate per line, were those of many of the pieces but if it be considered, from a view of his past life, which have most contributed to immortalize his that, in changing his religious profession, he could name. They were those of his translation of Juvehave had little difficulty to encounter, it will appear nal and Persius; of that of Virgil entire, a work no breach of candor to suppose that his immediate which enriches the English language, and has motive was nothing more than personal interest. greatly promoted the author's fame; of his celeThe reward he obtained for his compliance was an brated Alexander's Feast; and of his Fables, conaddition to his pension of 100%. per annum. Some taining some of the richest and most truly poetical time after he was engaged in a work which was the pieces which he ever composed. Of these, several longest single piece he ever composed. This was will appear in the subsequent collection of his works. his elaborate controversial poem of "The Hind Nor ought his prose writings to be neglected, and Panther." When completed, notwithstanding which, chiefly consisting of the critical essays preits unpromising subject, and signal absurdity of fixed to his poems, are performances of extraordiplan, such was the power of Dryden's verse, that it nary vigor and comprehension of mind, and afford, was read with avidity, and bore every mark of oc- perhaps, the best specimens of genuine English. cupying the public attention. The birth of a Dryden died of a spreading inflammation in one prince called forth a congratulatory poem from Dry-of his toes, on the first of May, 1700, and was den, entitled "Britannia Rediviva," in which he buried in Westminster Abbey, next to the tomb of ventured to use a poet's privilege of prophecy, fore- Chaucer. No monument marked his grave, till a telling a commencing era of prosperity to the nation plain one, with his bust, was erected, at the expense and the church from this auspicious event; but in of Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham. He left behind vain! for the revolution took place within a few him three sons, all brought up to letters. His months, and the hopes of the party were blasted for own character was cold and reserved, backward in personal advances to the great, and rather heavy in Dryden was a severe sufferer from the change: conversation. In fact, he was too much engaged his posts and pensions were taken away, and the in literature to devote much of his time to society. poetical laurel was conferred upon his insignificant Few writers of his time delighted so much to aprival, Shadwell. He was now, in advanced life, to proach the verge of profaneness; whence it may depend upon his own exertions for a security from be inferred, that though religion was an interesting absolute indigence. His faculties were equal to topic of discussion to him, he had very little of its the emergency; and it will surprise some theorists spirit in his heart.
The loss and gain each fatally were great;
He first survey'd the charge with careful eyes,
At length resolv'd t' assert the watery ball,
It seems as every ship their sovereign knows,
To see this fleet upon the ocean move,
Angels drew wide the curtains of the skies; And Heaven, as if there wanted lights above, For tapers made two glaring comets rise.
Whether they unctuous exhalations are,
Fir'd by the Sun, or seeming so alone;
Or one, that bright companion of the Sun,
New influence from his walks of light did bring.
Victorious York did first with fam'd success,
To his known valor make the Dutch give place: Thus Heaven our monarch's fortune did confess, Beginning conquest from his royal race.
But since it was decreed, auspicious king,
In Britain's right that thou shouldst wed the main, Heaven, as a gage, would cast some precious thing, And therefore doom'd that Lawson should be slain.
Lawson amongst the foremost met his fate,
Whom sea-green Sirens from the rocks lament: Thus as an offering for the Grecian state,
He first was kill'd who first to battle went.
Their chief blown up in air, not waves, expir'd,
To nearest ports their shatter'd ships repair,
When thunder speaks the angry gods abroad.
By the rich scent we found our perfum'd prey.
Fiercer than cannon, and than rocks more hard
These fight like husbands, but like lovers those:
Amidst whole heaps of spices lights a ball,
And now their odors arm'd against them fly: Some preciously by shatter'd porcelain fall, And some by aromatic splinters die.
And though by tempests of the prize bereft,
And only yielded to the seas and wind.
Nor wholly lost we so deserv'd a prey;
For storms, repenting, part of it restor❜d: Which, as a tribute from the Baltic sea,
The British ocean sent her mighty lord.
Go, mortals, now, and vex yourselves in vain
For wealth, which so uncertainly must come :
The son, who twice three months on th' ocean tost,
Such are the proud designs of human-kind,
And so we suffer shipwreck everywhere!
The undistinguish'd seeds of good and ill,
Heaven in his bosom from our knowledge hides And draws them in contempt of human skill, Which oft for friends mistaken foes provides
Let Munster's prelate ever be accurst,
In whom we seek the German faith in vain: Alas, that he should teach the English first, That fraud and avarice in the church could reig
And now approach'd their fleet from India, fraught Happy, who never trust a stranger's will,
Like hunted castors, conscious of their store, [bring:
Whose friendship's in his interest understood! Since money given but tempts him to be ill. When power is too remote to make him good.
Till now, alone the mighty nations strove;
The rest, at gaze, without the lists did stand: And threatening France, plac'd like a painted Jove.. Kept idle thunder in his lifted hand.
Meantime the Belgians tack upon our rear, [send:
And raking chase-guns through our sterns they Close by, their fire-ships, like jackals, appear, Who on their lions for the prey attend.
Silent, in smoke of cannon they come on:
Sometimes from fighting squadrons of each fleet,
Now at each tack our little fleet grows less;
And, like maim'd fowl, swim lagging on the main: Their greater loss their numbers scarce confess, While they lose cheaper than the English gain.
Have you not seen, when, whistled from the fist, Some falcon stoops at what her eye design'd, And with her eagerness the quarry miss'd, Straight flies at check, and clips it down the wind!
The dastard crow, that to the wood made wing, And sees the groves no shelter can afford, With her loud kaws her craven kind does bring, Who safe in numbers cuff the noble bird.
Among the Dutch thus Albemarle did fare:
Yet pity did his manly spirit move,
To see those perish who so well had fought: And generously with his despair he strove, Resolv'd to live till he their safety wrought.
Let other Muses write his prosperous fate,
Of conquer'd nations tell, and kings restor❜d: But mine shall sing of his eclips'd estate, Which, like the Sun's, more wonders does afford.
He drew his mighty frigates all before,
His fiery cannon did their passage guide,
Which first the Asian empire overthrew.
The foe approach'd; and one for his bold sin Was sunk; as he that touch'd the ark was slain; The wild waves master'd him and suck'd him in. And smiling eddies dimpled on the main.
This seen, the rest at awful distance stood:
As if they had been there as servants set, To stay, or to go on, as he thought good, And not pursue, but wait on his retreat.