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When I would praise an author, the untoward
Damned sense says Virgil, but the rhyme says Howard.' This is undoubtedly Boileau's ‘La raison dit Virgile, et la rime Quinault.' In Cat and Puss, on the other hand, an amusing parody of the rhyming tragedy of his day, he observes of the feline Lothario :
'At once his passion was both false and true,
Can Tennyson, who borrowed and improved so much, have been to Butler for
His honour rooted in dishonour stood,
It is entirely in keeping with the solid and terrestrial character of Restoration literature in general, that no description of poetry should manifest so grievous a lapse from the standard of the preceding age as the lyrical. The decline of the drama has attracted more attention, partly from the violent contrast of two schools which had hardly one principle or one method in common, partly because our own age had but imperfectly realized the exceeding wealth in song of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, until Mr. Arthur Bullen showed what unsuspected treasures of poetry were hidden in old music books. Whatever else an Elizabethan or Jacobean lyric may be, it is almost certain to be melodious. The average Restoration lyric is correct enough in scansion, but the melody is conventional, poor and thin. Here and there, and
especially in Dryden, we are surprised by a fine exception; but as a rule the Restoration song is deficient alike in the simple spontaneity which inspired such pieces as Come live with me and be my love, and in the more intricate harmonies of its predecessors. It was as though a blight had suddenly fallen upon the nation, and men's ears had become incapable of distinguishing between sweetness and smoothness. So, indeed, they had as respected the music of verse; but how little technical music, whether vocal or
instrumental, was neglected, even in private circles, we may learn from Pepys's Diary, and it is a remarkable proof how little this music and the music of poetry have to do with each other, that this age of degeneracy in the one produced the greatest of all English masters, Purcell, in the other; while the still more hopelessly unmelodious age of the first Georges was the age of Handel. Poetry makes melody, not melody poetry; and the only explanation is, that the age preceding that of the Restoration was poetical, and the Restoration age was prosaic. It could not well have been otherwise if, as all critics agree, the special literary mission of the Restoration period was to prune the luxuriance of English prose, and by introducing conciseness, perspicuity, and logical order, to render it a fit instrument for narrative, reasoning, and the despatch of business.
Such lyric as the age possessed is almost entirely comprehended in Dryden; for Marvell, of whom we must nevertheless speak, belongs in spirit to a former age.
The songs in Dryden's plays, to be mentioned shortly, prove that he was by no means destitute of spontaneous lyrical feeling ; but he no doubt succeeded best when, having first penetrated himself with a theme sufficiently stirring to generate theenthusiastic mood which finds its naturalexpression in song, he sat down to frame a fitting accompaniment by the aid of all the resources of metrical art. The principal examples of this lyrical magnificence which he has given us are the elegy on Anne Killigrew and the two 'odes on St. Cecilia's Day. Of the first of these two latter, Johnson says that it is lost in the splendour of the second, and such is the fact; but had Dryden produced no other lyric, he would still have ranked as a fine lyrical poet. Of the second ode, better known as Alexander's Feast, it is needless to say anything, for all readers of poetry have it by heart, and all recognize its claim to rank among the greatest odes in the language-the greatest, perhaps, until Wordsworth and Shelley wrote, and little, if at all, behind even them. Johnson, indeed, prefers the memorial ode on Anne Killigrew, and if all the stanzas equalled the first he would be right; but this is impossible; as he himself remarks, “An imperial crown cannot be one continued diamond.' The inevitable falling off, nevertheless, would have been less apparent if Dryden had shown more judgment in the selection of his topics, or at least more tact in handling them. The morals of the age were, indeed, bad enough, as he well knew who had helped to make them SO; but such frank treatment of a disagreeable theme jars exceedingly with an ode devoted to the celebration of chastity and virtue. Notwithstanding this flaw, the entire ode deserves Mr. Saintsbury's eulogy, 'As a piece of concerted music in verse it has not a superior.' The hyperbolical praise of Anne Killigrew's now forgotten poems is explained, and in some measure excused, by the fact that it was written to be prefixed to them. The first stanza, appropriate to thousands beside its ostensible subject, appeals to the general human heart, and indicates the highwater mark of Restoration poetry:
• Thou youngest virgin-daughter of the skies,
Made in the last promotion of the blest,
Whose palms, new-plucked from Paradise,
Rich with immortal green above the rest :
Or in procession fixed and regular
Or, called to more superior bliss,
Thou wilt have time enough for hymns divine,
Since Heaven's eternal year is thine.
In no ignoble verse ;
And candidate of heaven.'
The poet who so excelled in majestic artificial harmonies was also the one poet of his day who could occasionally sing' as the bird sings. Dryden has never received suffi. cient praise for his songs, inasmuch as these are mostly hidden away in his dramas, and not always adapted for quotation. The following, with a manifest political meaning, is a good example of his simple ease and melody:
• A choir of bright beauties in spring did appear
• While Pan and fair Syrinx are fled from our shore,
addresses and court us no more,
The following song is from The Mock Astrologer :