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noise of distant thunder, or of swallows in a chimney :' those little undulations of sound, though almost vanishing before they reached them, yet still seeming to retain somewhat of their first horror, which they had betwixt the fleets. After they had attentively listened till such time as the sound by little and little went from them, Eugenius, lifting up his head, and taking notice of it, was the first who congratulated to the rest that happy omen of our nation's victory: adding, that we had but this to desire in confirmation of it, that we might hear no more of that noise, which was now leaving the English coast.'
This fine induction can hardly have formed part of the original essay, which, Dryden tells us, was written in the country in 1665, since the naval battle, which was fought on June 3rd, 1665, is described as having taken place in 'the first summer of the late war. One extraordinary passage must have been left uncorrected by oversight, at least we cannot well suppose that Dryden would have printed Blank verse is acknowledged to be too low for a poem' after the appearance of Paradise Lost, which was published on the day after the conclusion of the Peace of Breda, not then known in England. The essay has two objects not very compatible: to defend the English stage against the French, and to advocate the use of rhyme in tragedy, which necessarily gives the piece a French air, and makes it appear imitative, when it is in truth original. Dryden points out with considerable force the restrictions which French dramatists of the classical school impose upon themselves by servile adherence to the unities of time and place, and in a well-known passage which does honour to his taste sets Shakespeare above Ben Jonson. His criticism of Troilus and Cressida, in his essay on The Grounds of Criticism in Tragedy (1679), is instructive as
1 An instance of the observation of nature as unusual with Dryden as chimneys of the size required are unusual with us.
illustrating by force of contrast that enlarged view of Shakespeare for which we are indebted to Goethe and Coleridge. He justly censures Troilus and Cressida as a play; it does not occur to him that Shakespeare may have intended a satire. All his essays, which consist principally of prefaces and dedications to his own works, are worth reading ; none more so than his defence of Virgil in the dedication to his translation of his poems, and the remarks on Horace and Juvenal in his Essay on Satire. Everywhere we must admire his sanity, penetration, and massive common sense ; his chief defects are conventional prejudice, negligence (as when he ascribes the invention of blank verse to Shakespeare), and the parade of secondhand learning. It may be said of his criticisms, as truly as of his poems or plays, that his merits are his own, his faults those of his age.
Another critic of the stage only deserves notice in this capacity from his connection with Dryden. Thomas Rymer (1639-1714) will be mentioned again as a meritorious antiquary. As a critic he is remarkable for having by his Tragedies of the Last Age (1673) drawn some judicious remarks from Dryden, and for having analyzed Othello as a pattern of a bad play. He has consequently beep unanimously hooted by his countrymen, for it passes belief that Pope should have praised him to Spence, though Spence affirms it. It was his misfortune to be an Englishman ; in France
; at the time his views would have been thought very correct; in fact, he criticises Shakespeare much in the style of Voltaire. He is a votary of decorum and dignity, and would no more than Voltaire have let a mouse into a tragedy. He discusses with imperturbable gravity, 'Who and who may kill one another with decency ?' and decides, ‘In poetry no woman is to kill a man, except her quality gives her the advantage above him. Poetical decency will not suffer
death to be dealt to each other by such persons, whom the laws of duel allow not to enter the lists together. And Rymer would have been content to have dwelt in such decencies for ever.
Jeremy Collier, a Nonjuring clergyman (1650-1726), attained fame, not as the advocate of decencies, but of decency. His Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698) occasioned a great sensation, and was efficacious in abating the evils against which it was directed, although it is probable that Addison's mild rebuke and better example accomplished even more. As the adversary of men of wit and genius, Collier has become obnoxious to their representatives, and has been unfairly reviled as a sour fanatic. In fact he is very moderate, admits that the stage may be a valuable medium of instruction, and only denounces its abuse. Scott and Macaulay have done him justice, and Mr. Gosse gives an excellent analysis of his work in his biography of Congreve. His wit is as unquestionable as his zeal, but his argument is not everywhere equally cogent. On the chapter of profaneness he is fantastic and straitlaced, and so tender of dignities that he will not allow even the god Apis to be disrespectfully mentioned. On that of immorality he is unanswerable, and unless the incriminated dramatists were prepared to say, ' Evil, be thou my good,' they could but
Pudet haec opprobria nobis Et dici potuisse, et non potuisse refelli.' Congreve and Vanbrugh attempted to reply, but to little purpose. Dryden kissed the rod. Collier's volume is said to have been conceived, disposed, transcribed, and printed in a month. He had previously achieved notoriety as a Jacobite pamphleteer, and in his old age became the official head of the decaying sect of the Nonjurors.
Although Richard Bentley (1662-1743) belongs mainly to the eighteenth century, his dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris (1699) falls within the seventeenth, and an account of the literary criticism of this age would be incomplete without some mention of the one epoch-making critical work it produced. There is no need to tell again the story of the Bentley-Boyle controversy, so admirably narrated by Macaulay and Jebb; but it may be observed here that it marks an era in criticism as the first example of the testimony of antiquity being irretrievably overthrown by internal evidence. It was not the first time that the genuineness of attested ancient writings had been disputed. Valla had waged war upon the forged donation of Constantine, but his case was so very clear that he had not been answered, but as far as possible ignored. Phalaris had found defenders, and this controversy was perhaps the first in which tradition and authority were fairly vanquished in a pitched battle. Bentley's extraordinary powers of mind were almost equally evinced in his Boyle Lectures, also a production of the seventeenth century, which will be noticed in their place.
From the criticism of books we pass, by no violent transition, to the criticism of principles-moral science. The latter half of the seventeenth century is a distinguished period in the history of English philosophy, for in it the most distinctively national of all systems which have obtained currency in this country was fully formulated. It is remarkable that while both empirical and transcendental views in philosophy found supporters, the champions of the latter comprised several illustrious names, and that of the former only one, while nevertheless empiricism obtained as complete a triumph as has ever been recorded in the history of opinion. The principal reason, no doubt, is the natural attractiveness to the solid homely understanding of the Englishman of conclusions based on experience and common sense; ' but partly also to the fact that the illustrious man by whom the empirical philosophy was mainly upheld carried his speculations into practical life, and be. came foremost among the defenders of civil and religious liberty. If Locke, like his forerunner Hobbes, had employed his acuteness in defence of absolute power, he
i Coleridge told Crabb Robinson that he considered Locke as having led to the destruction of metaphysical science, by encouraging the unlearned public to think that with mere common sense they might dispense with disciplined study.”