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Almanzor's scarf, as if she and her ghost were different beings; or Almanzor's astounding menace to his mother's spirit:
• I'll squeeze thee like a bladder there,
And make thee groan thyself away in air.' So unequal is Dryden's genius that the second of these monstrosities occurs in close proximity to the exquisite
"What precious drops are those Which silently each other's track pursue,
Bright as young diamonds in their infant dew?' and the burlesque threat to the ghost is immediately succeeded by the noble couplet:
'I am the ghost of her who gave thee birth,
The airy shadow of her mouldering earth.' The beauties which are thickly sown throughout the Conquest of Granada owe, perhaps, something of their effect as poetry to the utter want of nature in the characters and of reason in the conduct of the play. In a drama aiming at the delineation of real men and women they would frequently have appeared absurdly inappropriate, but when it is once understood that the personages are the puppets and mouthpieces of the author, the question of dramatic propriety becomes irrelevant. Yet The Conquest of Granada is something more than a heap of glittering morsels of sentiment and wit. It possesses a unity of feeling which serves as cement for these scattered jewels. The kind of generous and noble spirit animating it,' to employ Mr. Saintsbury's just description, maintains the reader at a level above the pitch of ordinary life. When he opens the book he rises, as he closes it he descends. He may laugh, but his amusement is unmingled with con
tempt; and ever and anon he comes upon the genuine heroic, unsuspected of sham, unspoiled by bombast. The soul of chivalry inspires the lines quoted with just applause by both Scott and Saintsbury:
• Fair though you are
'Tis that unchanged and deathless part of me.' Aurengzebe (1675), Mr. Saintsbury considers 'in some respects a very noble play. We should rather have called it an indifferent play with some noble passages more remarkable for eloquence than dramatic propriety. The characters, though by no means subtle or even natural, are better discriminated than in The Conquest of Granada ; there is much less rant and bustle, yet quite enough to make one cordially echo Indamora's naïve inquiry :
• Are there yet more Morats, more fighting kings ? ' Nor are choice examples of bathos wanting. Aurengzebe finely says:
'I need not haste the end of life to ineet,
The precipice is just beneath my feet.'
*Think not my sense of virtue is so small,
fall.' The first act opens with a striking couplet:
“The night seems doubled with the fear she brings,
To which immediately succeeds:
• The morning, as mistaken, turns about,
And all her early fires again go out.' Dryden was probably betrayed into these lapses, not so much by mere haste and carelessness, as by the trick of the heroic metre, which in dialogue almost enforces balanced antithesis.
Nearly all Aurengzebe is composed in this brilliant snipsnap, where the ball of a fine sentiment, tossed from one character to another, comes back in a retort, to be returned in a repartee. Of dramatic art as Shakespeare or the Greeks understood it there is not a trace; the pivot of the action is the property, fitter for a fairy tale than a tragedy, possessed by Indamora, of compelling every one who sees her to fall in love with her. Neither pity nor terror can be excited on such terms; if Aristotle's criterion be sound, Aurengzebe is no tragedy at all. If, however, we are content to regard it as a medley of fine things, a model of spirited declamation and sonorous versification, it claims high praise. Great must have been the intellectual strength which could thus thunder and dazzle through five acts of unabated energy: and the sentiments, considered merely as such, lose nothing of their effect from being placed in the mouths of puppets, and misplaced even there. Take, for instance, the most famous passage in the play, one of the finest in all Dryden:
"When I consider life, 'tis all a cheat ;
And from the dregs of life think to receive
This potent quintessence of the experience of age is ill assigned to Aurengzebe, a young prince at the outset of a splendid career; but the word remains while the lip is forgotten, and has taken its place among the treasures of English poetry. Among other claims to notice, Aurengzebe is remarkable as one of the few English dramas in which a living foreign potentate is brought upon the stage, and, less exceptionally, for its entire perversion of the truth of history. The generous and filial part here ascribed to the unnatural and cold-blooded Aurengzebe was really performed by his unfortunate brother Dara. To have crowned Dara, however, would have involved an equal violation of historical truth, to have killed him a violation of what the dramatists of Dryden's day considered more important, poetical justice.
Marriage à la Mode (1673), the first fair example of Dryden's comedy, is a more satisfactory exhibition of his power as a dramatist, if a piece adding little to his fame as a poet. Mr. Saintsbury justly remarks that “Scott's general undervaluing of Dryden's comic pieces is very evident' in his prefatory notice. Mr. Saintsbury himself, though warmly appreciative of Dryden's only original excursion into the realms of the higher comedy,' might, we think, have said even more in its favour. The situation of the spouses, fancying themselves tired of each other while their affection only needs the fillip of jealousy, is comic in a high degree, and the brisk intricacy of the action, with only four actors to sustain it, manifests great ingenuity and deftness in dramatic construction. The serious section of the play is certainly much less meritorious than the comic, to which it is a mere appendage. Written in most slovenly
blank verse, it entirely wants the fire and energy of Dryden's heroic plays. Its fault is rather sterility than extravagance; with some exceptions, it appears tame and bald. But these exceptions are very fine. The scene between Leonidas and Palmyra (act ii., sc. 1) is like a morsel of Theocritus, allying the charm of pastoral innocence to the wit and point of an accomplished court-poet. It is remarkable how surely, at this period of his career, Dryden rises when he resorts to rhyme; but even the careless blank verse of this play, in general merely a foil to the comic part, sometimes sparkles with strokes worthy of a great poet :
'Pol. He is a prince, and you are meanly born.
'For this glory, after I have seen
a thought borrowed from Menander.
Continuing our survey of Dryden's plays, rather according to subject than to chronological order, we arrive at the tragi-comedy of The Spanish Friar (1681), one of the most esteemed of his lighter pieces, but whose praise, we must agree with Mr. Saintsbury, has outstripped its desert. The comic portion is certainly very drastic, but it is not comedy of a high order. It exhibits a distinct declension from Marriage à la Mode, where the quartette of Mitschuldiger are well individualized personages. The sinners in The Spanish Friar are of the most ordinary type -a stage rake, a stage coquette, a stage miser, and a stage friar. Dominick is, indeed, exceedingly amusing, but is more farcical than truly comic. He is painted in broad, staring colours, without delicacy of gradation, with the same brush