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brought Dryden an addition to his pension and a sinecure office in the Customs.
This was the most active period of Dryden's life as a poet. A personal altercation occasioned by an attack on The Medal by Thomas Shadwell produced MacFlecknoe, the bitterest of his satires, and in the same year of 1682 appeared the second part of Absalom and Achitophel, chiefly by Nahum Tate, but containing upwards of two hundred lines from Dryden's own pen, dealing with his literary antagonists in a style of sovereign mastery. Almost simultaneously appeared Religio Laici, a serious argument in verse on the credibility of the Christian religion and the merits of the Anglican form of doctrine and church government.' Dryden's mastery over metrical ratiocination made the subject attractive; but the Church of England had hardly done rejoicing in her champion when she was scandalized by his exodus to the Church of Rome. It is not likely that he was altogether insincere; but it can hardly be. doubted that the death of a monarch of taste and parts, who valued him for his genius, and the accession of a successor who valued men only for their theology, and gently hinted the fact by docking his salary of a hundred pounds, had more to do with his resolution than he quite acknowledged to himself. The position of the Protestant laureate of a Popish sovereign called upon to bid Protestants rejoice over the birth of a Popish Prince of Wales, generally in that age believed to have been smuggled into the palace in a warming-pan, would assuredly have presented difficulties even to those who found none in extolling George II.'s patronage of the arts. Dryden was too deeply committed to expect anything from the other side. The apology for his conversion was given to the world in his Hind and Panther (1687), a poem displaying even augmented power of reasoning in rhyme, and which might have ranked with
his best but for the absurdity of the machinery. Soon afterwards the unsoundness of the foundation on which he had built his fortunes was demonstrated by the Revolution, which deprived him of the laureateship and swept away all official sources of income. But for his change of religion he might have taken the oaths to the new government without censure, but he had broken down the bridges behind him, and seemed for a moment to have left himself no alternative between want and infamy. A third nevertheless remained, hard labour for the book. sellers. To his great honour, Dryden grappled with the situation with all the sturdy tenacity of his lymphatic temperament, and in the same spirit which Scott afterwards displayed under similar circumstances. probably have reformed his system of living, which can hardly have been other than extravagant; certain it is that if he could not keep entirely out of debt, he at least kept out of disgrace, and that the years which followed his apparent ruin, if not the most brilliant part of his life, were the most honourable and honoured. It should be added that he appears to have been largely assisted by the generosity of friends, especially Dorset.
The work which Dryden now found to do, for which he possessed extraordinary qualifications, and for which there was a genuine demand in the age, was that of translation from the Latin classics. The derivative character of Latin literature was not then recognized, and Roman authors received the veneration due of right only to the greatest of the Greeks. No one doubted that they gave unsurpassable models of style in their respective branches, and not many among Dryden's contemporaries questioned that he had given a definite and durable form to English poetry. In 1667, a few days before the publication of Paradise Lost, Pepys had overheard men saying that there would never be such another English poet as Cowley, and Dryden now stood in Cowley's place. It seemed then a highly desirable thing to bring these two classics together, and Dryden was perfectly competent to do whatever was expected of him. He would hardly have succeeded so well with the Greek writers, even had his knowledge of the language been more extensive; but he was well qualified to reproduce the more distinctive qualities of Roman poetry, its dignity, sometimes rising into majesty, its manly sense, its vehemence, pregnancy, and terseness. By 1693 he had rendered all Persius, much of Juvenal (the remainder was supplied by his sons), considerable portions of Ovid, the first book of Homer, and something from Theocritus, Horace, and Lucretius. In this year he commenced a more ambitious work, a complete ersion of Virgil. Of the merits of these works we shall speak hereafter;
it is sufficient to observe here that they for a long time prescribed the laws of metrical translation in English. It is pleasant to notice how many of them were executed at the country seats of friends, where the old man, discharged from the strife of faction and the noise and glare of theatres, relieved his intellectual toil by the simple amusements of a country life. Virgil was published in 1697, and remained, in the judgment of the age, at the head of all English translations until Pope's Homer came to dethrone it. It was immediately succeeded by a greater work still, his Fables from Chaucer and Boccaccio. Though the representative of the literary taste of his time, Dryden was by no means the representative of its prejudices. He saw much more in Chaucer than his contemporaries were capable of seeing, and, rightly judging that the antiquated style of the old poet (who, however, appeared to him much more uncouth than he really was) would effectually keep him out of readers' hands, be determined to modernize and
adapt some of his stories, to which narrative poems founded on Boccaccio were afterwards added. The undertaking precisely suited the genius of Dryden, which lay more in expressing and adorning what he found ready to hand than in original invention, and his Fables, published in 1699, are deservedly placed at the head of his works. It is of course impossible that they should exhibit the same intellectual strength as his argumentative and satirical poems, but this is more than compensated by their superior attractiveness, the additional scope offered for the display of art, and their comparative freedom from everything that can repel. The same volume contained his greatest lyrical effort, the universally known Alexander's Feast. He received forty pounds for it; the Virgil is said to have brought him twelve hundred; for the Fables he got only three hundred. From a private letter of about this date it
appears that there was some idea of his receiving assistance from the government, which he seems not unwilling to accept, provided that it proves to require no sacrifice of principle. It is not likely that he would have been allowed to die in want; and indeed, early in 1700, a dramatic performance was got up for þis benefit.
He died shortly afterwards (May 1st, 1700) in narrow pecuniary circumstances, but in the enjoyment of a more unquestioned literary supremacy among his contemporaries than any Englishman had held before him. The cause of his death was the mortification of a toe inflamed by gout. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. The funeral, for the splendour of which Farquhar vouches in a contemporary letter, is said to have been accompanied by tumultuary scenes, but the absence of any reference to these in a malevolent contemporary libel, ascribed to Thomas Brown, is sufficient evidence that they did not occur.
There are few English writers of eminence whom it is so
difficult to realize satisfactorily to the mind's eye as Dryden. Personal enough in one respect, his writings are singularly impersonal in another; he never paints, and seldom re
' veals himself, and the aid which letters or reminiscences might have afforded is almost entirely wanting. No one noted his conversation ; his enemies' attacks and his friends' panegyrics are equally devoid of those traits of character which might have invested a shadowy outline with life and substance. The nearest approach to a portrait is Con. greve’s, which leaves most of the character in the shade, and even this is somewhat suspicious, for Congreve was Dryden's debtor for noble praise, and the vindication of Dryden's repute had been imposed upon him by the poet himself. The qualities, however, which he commends are such as seem entirely reconcilable with the lymphatic temperament which, partly on his own authority (my conversation,' he says, “is slow and dull, my humour saturnine and reserved'), we have seen reason to attribute to Dryden. We are told of his humanity and compassion, of his readiness to forgive injuries, of a friendship that
exceeded his professions, of his diffidence in general society and horror of intrusiveness, of his patience in accepting corrections of his own errors, of which he must be allowed to have given a remarkable instance in his submission to Jeremy Collier. All these traits give the impression of one who, though by no means pedantic, was only a wit when he had the pen in his hand, and entirely correspond with his apparent aversion to intellectual labour, except under the pressure of want or the stimulus of Court favour. When at length he did warm to his work, we know from himself that thoughts crowded so rapidly upon him that his only difficulty was to decide what to reject. Such a man may
well have appeared a negative character to his contemporaries, and the events of his life were not of a nature to