« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
and humours than any of the other dramatists, and these are sometimes very happy; as when a promising scheme is said to be in danger of 'going souse into the water, like the Eddystone lighthouse,' or when an alarm is given by shouting, Thieves ! thieves! murder! popery!' Another peculiarity of all these dramatists, but especially Farquhar, is the constant use in serious passages of a broken blank verse, which continually seems upon the point of becoming regular ten-syllabled iambic, but never maintains this elevation for any considerable space. The extremely powerful scene between the two Fainalls, in Congreve's Love for Love, for example, which borders closely upon tragedy, is all but regular blank verse, which, if perfectly finished, would be much better than the verse of The Mourning Bride. It is difficult to determine whether this was intentional or accidental. Possibly the exigencies of the performers had something to do with it. It is by no ineans unlikely that prose, as well as verse, was then declaimed with more attention to rhythm than is now the custom. In estimating the merits of these dramas it must never be forgotten, as a point in their favour, that they were written for the stage, and that success in the closet was quite a secondary consideration with the authors; on the other hand, that they had the advantage of being produced when the histrionic art of England was probably at its zenith. This notice of the later Restoration comedy may
be pleted by the mention of three ladies who cultivated it with success during the latter part of the seventeenth century. How much of this success, in the case of one of them, was due to merit, and how much to indecency, is a difficult, though not in every sense of the term a nice or delicate question. Despite the offensiveness of her writings, Aphra Behn (1640-1689), whose maiden name was John
son, is personally a sympathetic figure. She was born in 1640, and as a girl went out with her family to Surinam, then an English possession. She there made the acquaintance of the Indian chief Oroonoko and his bride Imoinda, afterwards celebrated in the novel by her upon which Southern founded his popular play. Returning to England, she married a Dutch merchant of the name of Behn, and after his death was sent as a spy to Antwerp. A young Dutchman to whom she was engaged died; she was wrecked and nearly drowned upon her return to England; and, probably from necessity, as the English government appears to have refused to recompense or even to reimburse her, turned novelist and playwright. Her novels will be noticed in another place; her eighteen plays have, with few exceptions, sufficient merit to entitle her to a respectable place among the dramatists of her age, and sufficient indelicacy to be unreadable in this. It may well be believed, on the authority of a female friend, that the authoress • had wit, humour, good-nature, and judgment; was mistress of all the pleasing arts of conversation; was a woman of sense, and consequently a woman of pleasure.' She was buried in Westminster Abbey, but not in Poets' Corner. The plays of Mrs. Manley (1672-1724), though moderately successful, need not detain us here, but we shall have to speak of her as a writer of fiction. the daughter of a Cavalier knight, but became the mistress of Alderman Barber, and was concerned in several doubtful transactions. Swift, nevertheless, speaks of her as a good person ‘for one of her sort'-fat and forty, it seems, but not fair. Mrs. Susannah Centlivre (1667-1723) appears to have had her share of adventures in her youth, but survived to contract one of the most respectable unions imaginable, namely, with the queen's cook. She was a wholesale adapter from the French, and her lively comedies
possess little literary merit, but so much dramatic instinct that three of them, The Busy Body, The Wonder, and A Bold Stroke for a Wife, remained long upon the list of acting plays, and might be represented even now.
The age of the Restoration possessed many men qualified to shine in criticism, but their acumen is in general only indicated by casual remarks, and, setting aside the metrical prolusions of Roscommon and Sheffield, nearly all the serious criticism it has bequeathed to us proceeds from the pen of Dryden. No other of our poets except Coleridge and Wordsworth has given us anything so critically valuable, but Dryden's principal service is one which they could not render ; for, even if their style had equalled his—and this would be too much to say even of Wordsworth's—it could not have exerted the same wide and salutary influence. Dryden is entitled to be considered as the great reformer of English prose, the writer in whom the sound principles of the Restoration were above all others impersonated, and who above all others led the way to that clear, sane, and balanced method of writing which it was the especial mission of Restoration literature to introduce. We need only compare his style with Milton's to be sensible of the enormous progress in the direction of perspicuity and general utility. Milton is a far more eloquent writer, but his style is totally unfit for the close reasoning and accurate investigation which the pressure of politics and the development of science and philosophy were soon to require, and the rest of the prosaists of the time are, with few exceptions, either too pedantic or too commonplace. Dryden is lucid, easy, familiar, yet he can be august and splendid on occasion, and if he does not emulate Milton's dithyrambic, the dignity of English prose loses nothing in his hands. Take the opening of his Dialogue on Dramatic Poesy :
• It was that memorable day, in the first summer of the late war, when our nary engaged the Dutch ; a day wherein the two most mighty and best appointed fleets which any age had ever seen, disputed the command of the greater half of the globe, the commerce of nations, and the riches of the universe: while these vast Aoating bodies, on either side, moved against each other in parallel lines, and our countrymen, under the happy conduct of his royal highness, went breaking, by little and little, into the line of the enemies; the noise of the cannon from both navies reached our ears about the city, so that all men being alarmed with it, and in a dreadful suspense of the event, which they knew was then deciding, every one went following the sound as his fancy led him; and leaving the town almost empty, some took towards the park, some across the river, others down it; all seeking the noise in the depth of silence.
• Amongst the rest, it was the fortune of Eugenius, Crites, Lisideius, and Neander, to be in company together; three of them persons whom their wit and quality have made known to all the town;
and whom I have chose to hide under these borrowed names, that they may not suffer by so ill a relation as I am going to make of their discourse.
• Taking then a barge, which a servant of Lisideius had provided for them, they made haste to shoot the bridge, and left behind them that great fall of waters which hindered them from hearing what they desired : after which, having disengaged themselves from many vessels which rode at anchor in the Thames, and almost blocked up the passage towards Greenwich, they ordered the watermen to let fall their oars more gently, and then, every one favouring his own curiosity with a strict silence, it was not long ere they perceived the air to break about them like the