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view of the revolution in popular taste, we must admit that, however deplorable in itself, it had some good sides. It tended to bring England more into harmony with the general current of European taste and thought, and repressed the tendency of our noble literature to fanciful and eccentric insularity. In the long run, moreover, it was serviceable to the English drama by providing a substitute, however inferior, for the old vein now unproductive. The want of such a resource killed the drama of Spain. Spanish dramatists, until the nineteenth century, were unable to accommodate themselves to any dramatic form but the national one, every phase of which had been completely exemplified before the end of the seventeenth century. In consequence, the Spanish theatre of the eighteenth century did not produce a single tolerable piece until, near the termination of the epoch, a playwright arose who was capable of profiting by French example.
Another extenuation of the departure of the Restoration dramatists from the better traditions of the English stage is the strength as well as the suddenness of the new influence to which they were subjected. It came from the Court, and the Court dispensed the playwright's daily bread. There is sufficient evidence that even Shakespeare was by no means indifferent to the good opinion of Elizabeth and James, but neither of these sovereigns was sufficiently the drama's patron to be the drama's legislator. It was otherwise with Charles II., a man of wit, taste, and polish, inaccessible to the deeper emotions of humanity, and without a grain of poetry in his composition. Such a man must have found the Elizabethan drama intolerable. He no doubt honestly agreed with his laureate, who coolly says: 'At his return he found a nation lost as much in barbarism as in rebellion ; and, as the excellency of his nature forgave the one, so the excellency of his manners
reformed the other. The desire of imitating so great a pattern first awakened the dull and heavy spirits of the English from their natural reservedness. With every allowance for adulation, there can be no doubt that Dryden in a considerable measure believed himself a reformer. Charles had his Paladins in the field of letters. •The favour,' says Dryden elsewhere, 'which heroic plays have lately found upon our theatres has been wholly derived to them from the countenance and approbation they have received at Court. We may well feel thankful that the experiment of Gallicizing the native genius of England should have been tried so fairly, and bave broken down so utterly, under such patronage as Charles's and in such hands as Dryden's. We have not quite seen the last of it, but where Corneille and Molière failed Goncourt and Zola are not likely to succeed.
This may at least be said for Dryden, that the romantic drama was for a time in a state of suspended animation, and that the only question was what successor should fill its place. For a short time two foreign schools seemed contending for the prize. Dryden's own allegiance in his first piece, The Wild Gallant, was given to the Spanish drama, a form exceedingly attractive from its brisk action, sudden vicissitudes, and dexterous development of intrigue. But the Spanish drama cannot be naturalized in England for two reasons, one creditable to English genius, the other the reverse. A play of intrigue is necessarily a play of
a incident, and allows little room for the development of character; but Englishmen are 'humoursome,' and enjoy the discrimination of character to the nicest shades. If we judged the two nations solely by their dramas, we should say that all Spaniards were exactly alike, and no two Englishmen. The other reason is that Englishmen do not particularly excel in the contrivance of incident, and
that few even of our best dramatists could rival the ingenuity of third-rate Spanish playwrights. The AngloSpanish drama soon disappeared, and its place in serious dramatic literature was taken by a genre most intimately associated with the name of Dryden, its most brilliant practitioner, and upon whose desertion it crumbled into dust.
Dryden himself has told us in few words what he understands by an heroic play, and the definition exempts him from much of the criticism to which he might otherwise have been held liable: “An heroic play ought to be an imitation, in little, of an heroic poem. In other words, it must have an epical element as well as a dramatic. The experiment was worth making, as it proved that neither branch of the poetic art gained anything by invading the other's territory. Compared with the art of Shakespeare or of Sophocles, the art of Dryden in this department seems a tawdry caricature. All the higher qualities of the dramatist are absent, being, in fact, inconsistent with the demands of epic poetry, while epic dignity is equally sacrificed to the exigencies of drama. Without constant hurry and bustle, such pieces would be intolerable. They require, as Dryden tacitly admits by the quotation from Ariosto, which he adduces as expressive of his guiding principle, a constant succession of adventures. Such incessant agitation leaves no place for the development of character ; the actors come on the stage ready labelled ; or if, like Nourmahal in Aurengzebe, they disclose a new trait, the sudden novelty produces the effect of complete metamorphosis. The pieces could only be regarded as splendid puppet-shows, were not the failings of the dramatist so frequently redeemed by the poet. It so chanced that the Coryphæus of this unnatural style was the most splendid poetical declaimer (unless Byron be excepted) that England ever produced, and his pieces resound with tirades not merely brilliant in diction and sonorous in versification, but now fiery with mettlesome spirit, now weighty with manly sense. And these qualities were aided by the otherwise objectionable form selected by the poet. His blankverse plays, far superior as works of art, contain few sucheloquent passages as his rhyming tragedies. Rhyme helped him on, as a riderless runaway horse is spurred by the thunder of his own hoofs. Even where his thought is poor, its poverty is veiled by the brilliancy of the diction-a brilliancy which he could hardly have attained by the use of any other form; and if the employment of rhyme seems, as it is, unnatural, the form at least harmonizes with the substance, and they produce between them an illusive effect of a species of art which may possibly be legitimate, as the ordinary rules evidently do not apply. We must also remember how this subornation of the judgment, not imperceptible or ineffective in the closet, was aided on the stage by the most potent appeals to the senses.
Tyrannic Love, Dryden's first considerable attempt in heroic tragedy,' is very remarkable as a proof of to what extraordinary absurdities a vigorous intellect may be liable, and also how these may be dignified by energy of expression. • The rants of Maximin,' says Johnson, ‘have long been the sport of criticism;' but so spirited and sonorous is the diction, that, inconsistent as seems the alliance of admiration with derision, such actually is the mingled feeling which they excite in the quiet of the closet. On the stage they must have passed off much better by the aid of scenery, costume, and emphatic declamation; and success on the boards, it must be remembered, was invariably Dryden's first object. The same consideration which explains, though it does not excuse, his indecency, palliates his bombast. He wrote to live, and could not afford to produce unactable dramas.
A much more interesting performance than Tyrannic Love is his Conquest of Granada (1669-1670). It is a touchstone of heroic tragedy,' a crucial test of what it can and what it cannot do. It renounces all pretence to nature, reason, and probability.; on the other hand, it delights with a crowd of striking sentiments and images, and enchains the attention with perpetual bustle and variety. It is to one of Shakespeare's plays as a bit of shining glass is to a plant of which every fibre is the creation of a natural law. Yet the glass is not a displeasing object, neither is the play.
The worst offence of The Conquest of Granada, after all, is not its bombast, but its bathos. It is true that both spring from the same root, that want of genuine creative imagination which in attempting the great only achieves the big, which a small oversight easily converts into the laughable. But apart from this failing, which Dryden shares with most epic poets of the second rank, it is difficult to acquit him of a singular insensibility to the ridiculous. This is evinced among other things by the entire conception of one of his most serious and elaborate works, The Hind and the Panther, and it requires all the gravity and obvious conviction of his preface to The Conquest of Granada to convince us that he did not occasionally mean to burlesque his own principles. The rapid changes of fortune, the constant fallings into and out of love, the odd predicaments in which heroes and heroines continually find themselves, frequently produce the effect of the broadest comedy—an effect much assisted by the extraordinary rants of the principal speakers; as when Lyndaraxa desires the personage who has first stabbed her and then himself to
'Die for us both, I have not leisure now ;?
or Almahide threatens to send her ghost to fetch back