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force his virtues or his failings into notice. We can only say that there is no proof of his having been a bad husband; that there is clear evidence of his having been a good father; and that, although he took the wrong side in the political and religious controversies of his day, this is no reason why he may not, according to his light, have been a good citizen. His references to illustrious predecessors like Shakespeare and Milton, and promising young men like Congreve, indicate a real generosity of character. The moral defects of his writings, coarse licentiousness, unmeasured invective, and equally unmeasured adulation, belong to the age rather than to the man. On the whole, we may say that he was one whom we should probably have esteemed if we could have known him; but in whom, apart from his writings, we should not have discovered the first literary figure of his generation.
Dryden's early poems, the Heroic Stanzas on the death of Cromwell, tbe Astraea Redux on the Restoration, the panegyric of Clarendon, and the verses on the Coronation, are greatly marred for modern readers by extravagant conceits, but are sobriety itself compared to the exploits of contemporary poets, especially the Pindaric. In a more important particular, Dryden, as Scott remarks, has observed a singular and happy delicacy. The topic of the Civil War is but slightly dwelt on; and, although Cromwell is extolled, his eulogist abstains from any reflections against those through whom he cut his way to greatness. Isolated couplets in the other poems occasionally display that perfection of condensed and pointed expression which Dryden habitually attained in his later poems :
*Spain to your gift alone her Indies owes ;
These early attempts, however, were completely thrown into the shade by the Annus Mirabilis, a poem on the memory able events of 1666, written at Charlton, near Malmesbury, the seat of Lord Berkeley, where Dryden and his family had resorted in 1665 to escape the plague, and published in February, 1667. The author was then thirtyfive, and, judged in the light of his subsequent celebrity, had as yet achieved surprisingly little either in quantity or quality. Youth is generally the most affluent season of poetical activity ; and those poets whose claim to inspiration is the most unimpeachable--Spenser, Milton, Wordsworth, Shelley–have irradiated their early writings with flashes of genius which their maturer skill hardly enabled them to eclipse. This cannot be said of Dryden, who of our great poets, unless Pope be an exception, probably owed least to inspiration and most to pains and practice. Even Pope at this age had produced The Rape of the Lock, The Temple of Fame, Eloisa to Abelard, and his translation of the Iliad, enough to have given him a high place among English poets. The Annus Mirabilis was the first production of Dryden that could have insured him remembrance with posterity, and even this is sadly disfigured with conceits. After all, the poet finds only two marvels of his wonderful year worthy of record—the Dutch war, which had been going on for two years, and which produced a much greater wonder in the year ensuing, when the Dutch sailed up to Gravesend and burned the English fleet; and the Great Fire of London. The treatment of the former is very tedious and dragging; there are many striking lines, but more conceits like the following, descriptive of the English attack upon the Dutch East Indiamen:
• Amidst whole heaps of spices lights a ball,
And now their odours armed against them fly;
Some preciously by shattered porcelain fall,
And some by aromatic splinters die.'
The second part, treating of the Fire of London, is in. finitely better. Dryden exhibits one of the most certain marks of a good writer, he rises with his subject. Yet there is no lack of absurdities. The Deity extinguishes the conflagration precisely in the manner in which Dryden would have put out his own candle :
An hollow crystal pyranid he takes,
In firmamental waters dipt above;
And hoods the flames that to their quarry drove.'
Nothing in Dryden is more amazing than his inequality. This stanza is succeeded by the following:
The vanquished fires withdraw from every place,
Or, full with feeding, sink into a sleep;
And from the hearths the little Lares creep.'
Other quatrains are still better, as, for instance, this on the burning of St. Paul's:
*The daring flames peeped in, and saw from far
The awful beauties of the sacred quire;
Heaven thought it fit to have it purged by fire.'
A thought so striking, that the reader does not pause to reflect that the celestial sentence would have been equally applicable to every cathedral in the country. Perhaps the following stanzas compose the passage of most sustained excellence. In them, as in the apostrophe to the Royal Society, in an earlier part of the poem, Dryden appears truly the vates sacer, and his poetry becomes prophecy:
Methinks already from this chymic flame
I see a city of more precious mould ;
With silver paved, and all divine with gold.
Already labouring with a mighty fate
She shakes the rubbish from her mounting brow,
Which heaven will to the death of Time allow.
*More great than human now, and more august,
Now deified she from her fires doth rise ;
And opening into larger parts she flies.
* Before, she like some shepherdess did show,
Who sat to bathe her by a river's side;
Nor taught the beauteous arts of modern pride.
Now like a Maiden Queen she will behold
From her high turrets hourly suitors come;
Will stand like suppliants to receive her doom.
The silver Thames, her own domestic flood,
Shall bear her vessels like a sweeping train ;
With longing eyes to meet her face again.
*The wealthy Tagus, and the wealthier Rhine,
The glory of their towns no more shall boast;
Shall find her lustre stained and traffic lost.
The venturous merchant, who designed more far,
And touches on our hospitable shore,
Shall here unlade him, and depart no more.'
For several years after Annus Mirabilis, Dryden produced but little poetry apart from his dramas. Fashion, Court encouragement, and the necessity of providing for his family, had bound him to what was then the most conspicuous and lucrative form of authorship.' In one point of view he committed a great error in addicting himself to the drama. He was not naturally qualified to excel in it, and could only obtain even a temporary success by condescending to the prevalent faults of the contemporary stage, its_bombast and its indecency. The latter transgression was eventually so handsomely confessed by himself that but little need be said of it. Bombast is natural to two classes of writers, the ardent and the phlegmatic, and those whose emotions require the most working up are frequently the worst offenders. Such was Dryden's case, and his natural proclivity was much enhanced by his adoption of the new fashion of writing in rhyme, beloved at Court, but affording every temptation and every facility for straining after effect in the place of Nature. Mr. Saintsbury justly reminds us that Dryden was not forsaking the blank verse of Shakespeare and Fletcher, the secret of whieh had long been lost; nevertheless, although, as we shall see when we come to his critical writings, he pleaded very ingeniously for rhyme in 1665, his adoption of it was condemned by his maturer judgment and practice. It was, however, fortunate in the long run; his rhyming plays, of which we shall speak in another place, would not have been great successes in any metre, while practice in their composition, and the necessity of expressing the multitude of diverse sentiments required by bustling scenes and crowds of characters, gradually gave him that command of the heroic couplet which bestows such strength and brilliancy on his later writings. His fourteen years of dramatic practice,' as Mr. Saintsbury justly says, 'acted as a filtering reservoir for his poetical powers, so that the stream, which, when it ran into them, was the turbid and