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Who heaven's alternate beauty well display,
The blush of morning and the milky way.' Or the conclusion of his epistle to Kneller:
More cannot be by mortal art exprest,
And give more beauties than he takes away.' Or these from the epistle to his kinsman, John Driden, more likely than any of the others to have been the unbought manifestation of genuine regard :
O true descendant of a patriot line !
, And 'tis my praise to make thy praises last.' The last couplet, excellent in sense, is an example of Dryden's one metrical defect. He is not sufficiently careful to vary
Dryden's translations alone would give him a conspicuous place in English literature. The most important, his complete version of Virgil, has been improved upon in many ways, and yet after all it remains true, that Pitt is quoted, and Dryden read.' Had he never
translated Virgil, his renderings or imitations of Juvenal, Horace, and others, would suffice to entitle him to no inconsiderable rank among those who have enriched their native literature from foreign stores. His principle of translation was correct, and accords with that of the greatest of English critics. Coleridge assured Wordsworth that there were only two legitimate systems of metrical translation, strict literality, or compensation carried to its fullest extent. Dryden most probably had not sufficient Latin to be literal; but in any case his genius would have disdained such trammels, not to mention the more prosaic, but not less potent consideration, that what is written for bread must usually be written in haste-a fact which weighed with Dryden when he discontinued rhyme in his tragedies. Thus thrown back on the system of compensation, he has richly repaid his authors for the beauties of which he has bereaved them, by the beauties which he has bestowed—or which, as he maintains, were actually latent in them, and has expressed many of their thoughts with even enhanced energy. He has, in fact, made them write very much as they would have written if they had been English poets of the seventeenth century, and his work is less translation than transfusion. They necessarily appear much metamorphosed from the originals, but the fault is less that of Dryden than of his age. Could he have attempted the same task in our day with equal resources of genius, and on the same principles of workmanship, he would have succeeded much better, for he would have enjoyed more comprehension of the spirit of his originals than was possible in the seventeenth century. The scholarship of that age had not vivified the information which it had amassed; the idealized, but still vital conceptions of the Renaissance had given place to inanimate conventionality; the people of Greece and Rome appeared to the moderns like people in books; and such warm, affectionate contact between the souls of the present and the past as afterwards inspired Shelley's versions from Homer and Euripides was in that age impossible.
So great and versatile were Dryden's powers that, after all that has been said, his performances as a lyric poet, as a dramatist, and as a critic remain to be spoken of, and his rank in each has to be recognized as that of the foremost writer of his country in his own day. These will be treated in their appropriate places. The present is, perhaps, the most appropriate for a few words on his position as a poet. It is most difficult to determine whether he and his successor, Pope, should be placed at the bottom of the first class, or at the head of the second class of great English poets. If the very highest gifts of all-originality, creative imagination, unstudied music, unconscious inspiration, lofty ideal, the power to interpret nature, are essential conditions of rank in the first class, then assuredly Dryden and Pope must be contented with the second. If not positively excluded by the very nature of the case-if deficiency in the very highest qualities can be compensated by consummate excellence in all the rest—if intellect will supply the place of inspiration, and art that of naturethen they stand so high above the average of the second rank that it seems injurious not to place them in the first. The principle of exclusion, logically carried out, might involve the elevation above them of other writers whom we instinctively feel to be their inferiors; too absolute an insistence, on the other hand, upon the claims of intellectual power and perfect execution as qualifications for supreme poetical rank, must result in preferring Pope to Dryden. Inferior to his successor in both these respects, Dryden may still justly be preferred to him on the ground of his more ample endowment with that divine insanity without which, as Plato truly says, no one can be a poet. But this consideration cannot be invoked in his favour against Pope without admitting his inferiority to poets of the very first order; and it may be seriously questioned whether any poet can belong to the first order who is so exclusively a town poet as Dryden and Pope, and has so little knowledge of nature. The resemblances and contrasts between him and Pope have been frequently discussed; there are two other poets with whom comparison is less hackneyed and not unprofitable. In fecundity, in versatility, in energy, in the frequent application of his poetry to public affairs, in his influence on contemporary literature, position as head of a school, and incontestable superiority to all the poets around him, no less, unfortunately, in bombast and incomprehensible breaches of good taste, he strongly reminds us of Victor Hugo. Hugo, undoubtedly, was a much greater lyrical poet than Dryden, and was enkindled by spontaneous inspirations which never visited Dryden ; yet the two are essentially of the same genus ; the differences between them are rather characteristic of their eras than of themselves; and while Hugo's imagination would have pined in the seventeenth century, Dryden's intellect and Dryden's modesty would have been highly serviceable to Hugo in the nineteenth. Another poet, whose talent and career offer many analogies to Dryden’s, is one whom Dryden himself disparages upon metrical grounds. Claudian, like Dryden, is a remarkable instance of a poet owing a large portion of his fame to his dexterous treatment of occasional subjects. As Dryden drew material for his most powerful writings from the political and religious controversies of his day, so Claudian found his themes in the exploits of Stilicho and the misdeeds of Rufinus. Both
have made uninteresting subjects attractive by admirable treatment; both are greatly indebted to art and little to nature; both in their latter days' sought relief from politics in more ideal compositions, Dryden in his Fables, Claudian in his Rape of Proserpine, a poem imbued with the characteristic qualities of Dryden.
Among the greatest services which Dryden rendered to our language and literature are to be reckoned his improvements in heroic versification, of which he has left an unsurpassed model.
*Waller was smooth, but Dryden taught to join
His changes, nevertheless, were not always improvements. He is too uniform, though not absolutely uniform, in confining the sense to the couplet; and, in adding dignity to Chaucer's verse, he has lost something of its sweetness. Leigh Hunt well observes : Though Dryden's versification is noble, beautiful, and so complete of its kind that to an ear uninstructed in the metre of the old poet all comparison between the two in this respect seems out of the question and even ludicrous, yet the measure in which Dryden wrote not only originated, but attained to a considerable degree of its beauty in Chaucer ; and the old poet's im. measurable superiority in sentiment and imagination, not only to Dryden, but to all, up to a very late period, who have written in the same form of verse, left him in possession of beauties, even in versification, which it remains for
In his dedication to the second book of De Raptu Proserpinae, Claudian says:
"Tu mea plectra moves, Antraque Musarum longo torpentia somno
Excutis et placito ducis ab ore sonos.'