Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

"Tis hard to write on such a subject more,
Without repeating things oft said before.
Some vulgar errors only we'll remove,
That stain a beauty which we so much love.
Of chosen words some take not care enough,
And think they should be, as the subject, rough;
This poem must be more exactly made,
And sharpest thoughts in smoothest words convey'd.
Some think, if sharp enough, they cannot fail,
As if their only business was to rail;

But human frailty, nicely to unfold,
Distinguishes a satire from a scold.
Rage you must hide, and prejudice lay down;
A Satyr's smile is sharper than his frown;
So, while you seem to slight some rival youth,
Malice itself may pass sometimes for truth.

*

#

*

By painful steps at last we labour up
Parnassus' hill, on whose bright airy top
The epic poets so divinely show,

And with just pride behold the rest below.
Heroic poems have just a pretence

To be the utmost stretch of human sense;
A work of such inestimable worth,
There are but two the world has yet brought forth-
Homer and Virgil; with what sacred awe
Do those mere sounds the world's attention draw!
Just as a changeling seems below the rest
Of men, or rather as a two-legg'd beast,
So these gigantic souls, amaz'd we find
As much above the rest of human kind!
Nature's whole strength united! endless fame,
And universal shouts attend their name!
Read Homer once, and you can read no more,
For all books else appear so mean, so poor,
Verse will seem prose; but still persist to read,
And Homer will be all the books you need.
Had Bossu never writ, the world had still,
Like Indians, view'd this wondrous piece of skill;
As something of divine the work admir'd,
Not hope to be instructed, but inspir'd;
But he, disclosing sacred mysteries,
Has shown where all their mighty magic lies;
Describ'd the seeds, and in what order sown,
That have to such a vast proportion grown.
Sure from some angel he the secret knew,
Who through this labyrinth has lent the clue.

But what, alas! avails it, poor mankind,
To see this promis'd land, yet stay behind?
The way is shown, but who has strength to go?
Who can all sciences profoundly know?
Whose fancy flies beyond weak reason's sight,
And yet has judgment to direct it right?
Whose just discernment, Virgil-like, is such,
Never to say too little or too much?
Let such a man begin without delay;
But he must do beyond what I can say;
Must above Tasso's lofty heights prevail;
Succeed when Spenser, and ev'n Milton fail.

DRAMATISTS.

trical representation-the regular introduction of actresses, or female players, and the use of moveable scenery and appropriate decorations. Females had performed on the stage previous to the Restoration, and considerable splendour and variety of scenery had been exhibited in the Court Masques and Revels. Neither, however, had been familiar to the public, and they now formed a great attraction to the two patent theatres. Unfortunately, these powerful auxiliaries were not brought in aid of the good old dramas of the age of Elizabeth and James. Instead of adding grace and splendour to the creations of Shakspeare and Jonson, they were lavished to support a new and degenerate dramatic taste, which Charles II. had brought with him from the continent. Rhyming or heroic plays had long been fashionable in France, and were dignified by the genius of Corneille and Racine. They had little truth of colouring or natural passion, but dealt exclusively with personages in high life and of transcendent virtue or ambition; with fierce combats and splendid processions; with superhuman love and beauty; and with long dialogues alternately formed of metaphysical subtlety and the most extravagant and bombastic expression. 'Blank verse,' says Dryden, is acknowledged to be too low for a poem, nay more, for a paper of verses; but if too low for an ordinary sonnet, how much more for tragedy! Accordingly, the heroic plays were all in rhyme, set off not only with superb dresses and decorations, but with the richest and most ornate kind of verse, and the farthest removed from ordinary colloquial diction.' The comedies were degenerate in a different way. They were framed after the model of the Spanish stage, and adapted to the taste of the king, as exhibiting a variety of complicated intrigues, successful disguises, and constantly-shifting scenes and adventures. The old native English virtues of sincerity, conjugal fidelity, and prudence, were held up to constant ridicule, as if amusement could only be obtained by obliterating the moral feelings. Dryden ascribes the licentiousness of the stage to the example of the king. Part, however, must be assigned to the earlier comedies of Beaumont and Fletcher, and part to the ascetic puritanism and denial of all public amusements during the time of the commonwealth. If the Puritans had contented themselves with regulating and purifying the theatres, they would have conferred a benefit on the nation; but, by shutting them up entirely, and denouncing all public recreations, they provoked a counteraction in the taste and manners of the people. The over-austerity of one period led naturally to the shameless degeneracy of the succeeding period; and deeply is it to be deplored, that the great talents of Dryden were the most instrumental in extending and prolonging this depravation of the national taste.

The operas and comedies of Sir William Davenant were the first pieces brought out on the stage after the Restoration. He wrote twenty-five in all; but, notwithstanding the partial revival of the old dramatists, none of Davenant's productions have been reprinted. His last work,' says Southey, was his worst; it was an alteration of the Tempest, executed in conjunction with Dryden; and marvellous indeed it is, that two men of such great and indu

JOHN DRYDEN.

6

At the restoration of the monarchy the drama was also restored, and with new lustre, though less decency. Two theatres were licensed in the metropolis, one under the direction of Sir William Dave-bitable genius should have combined to debase, and nant, who, as already mentioned, had been permitted vulgarise, and pollute such a poem as the Tempest.' to act plays even during the general proscription of The marvel is enhanced when we consider that the drama, and whose performers were now (in com- Dryden writes of their joint labour with evident pliment to the Duke of York) named the Duke's complacency, at the same time that his prologue Company. The other establishment was managed to the adapted play contains the following just and by Thomas Killigrew, a well-known wit and courtier, beautiful character of his great predecessor :whose company took the name of the King's Servants. As when a tree's cut down, the secret root Davenant effected two great improvements in thea-Lives under ground, and thence new branches shoot;

So, from old Shakspeare's honour'd dust, this day
Springs up and buds a new reviving play.
Shakspeare, who (taught by none) did first impart
To Fletcher wit; to labouring Jonson art;
He, monarch-like, gave these his subjects law,
And is that nature which they paint and draw.
Fletcher reach'd that which on his heights did grow,
Whilst Jonson crept and gather'd all below.
This did his love and this his mirth digest;
One imitates him most; the other best.

If they have since outwrit all other men,

'Tis with the drops which fell from Shakspeare's pen.
The storm which vanish'd on the neighbouring shore,
Was taught by Shakspeare's Tempest first to roar.
That innocence and beauty which did sinile
In Fletcher, grew on this Enchanted Isle.
But Shakspeare's magic could not copied be;
Within that circle none durst walk but he.

formed, like all his other plays, by scenes of spu rious and licentious comedy, it contains passages that approach closely to Shakspeare. The quarrel and reconciliation of Sebastian and Dorax is a masterly copy from the similar scene between Brutus and Cassius. In the altercation between Ventidius and Antony in All for Love,' he has also challenged comparison with the great poet, and seems to have been inspired to new vigour by the competition. This latter triumph in the genius of Dryden was completed by his Ode to St Cecilia' and the 'Fables,' published together in the spring of 1700, a few weeks before his death-thus realising a saying of his own Sebastian

Dryden was in the full tide of his theatrical popularity when Davenant died, in 1688. The great poet commenced writing for the stage in 1662, when he produced his Wild Gallant, which was followed next year by the Rival Ladies, the serious parts of which are in rhyme. He then joined Sir Robert Howard in composing the Indian Queen, a rhyming heroic play, brought cut in 1664, with a splendour never before seen in England upon a public stage. A continuation of this piece was shortly afterwards written by Dryden, entitled the Indian Emperor, and both were received with great applause. All the defects of his style, and many of the choicest specimens of his smooth and easy versification, are to be found in these inflated tragedies. In 1667 was represented his Maiden Queen, a tragi-comedy; and shortly afterwards the Tempest. These were followed by two comedies copied from the French of Moliere and Corneille; by the Royal Martyr, another furious tragedy, and by his Conquest of Granada, in two parts, in which he concentrated the wild magnificence, incongruous splendour, and absurd fable that run through all his heroic plays, mixed up with occasional gleams of true genius. The extravagance and unbounded popularity of the heroic drama, now at its height, prompted the Duke of Buckingham to compose a lively and amusing farce, in ridicule of Dryden and the prevailing taste of the public, which was produced in 1671, under the title of the Rehearsal. The success of the 'Rehearsal' was unbounded; the very popularity of the plays ridiculed aiding,' as Sir Walter Scott has remarked, the effect of the satire, since everybody had in their recollection the originals of the passages parodied.' There is little genuine wit or dramatic art in the 'Rehearsal,' but it is a clever travesty, and it was well-timed. A fatal blow was struck at the rhyming plays, and at the rant and fustian to which they gave birth. Dryden now resorted to comedy, and produced Marriage a-laMode, and the Assignation. In 1673 he constructed a dramatic poem, the State of Innocence, or the Fall of Man, out of the great epic of Milton, destroying, of course, nearly all that is sublime, simple, and pure, in the original. His next play, Aureng-Zebe (1675), was also 'heroic,' stilted, and unnatural; but this was the last great literary sin of Dryden. He was now engaged in his immortal satires and fables, and he abandoned henceforward the false and glittering taste which had so long deluded him. His All for Love, and Troilus and Cressida, are able adaptations from Shakspeare in blank verse. The Spanish Friar is a good comedy, remarkable for its happy union of two plots, and its delineation of comic character. His principal remaining plays are Don Sebastian (1690), Amphitryon (1690), Cleomenes(1692), and Love Triumphant (1694). Don Sebastian' is his highest effort in dramatic composition, and though de

A setting sun

Should leave a track of glory in the skies. Dryden's plays have fallen completely into oblivion. command of rich stores of language, information, He could reason powerfully in verse, and had the and imagery. Strong energetic characters and passions he could portray with considerable success, but he had not art or judgment to construct an interesting or consistent drama, or to preserve himself from extravagance and absurdity. The female chabeyond his reach. His love is always licentiousness racter and softer passions seem to have been entirely

his tenderness a mere trick of the stage. Like Voltaire, he probably never drew a tear from reader or spectator. His merit consists in a sort of Eastern magnificence of style, and in the richness of his versification. The bowl and dagger-glory, ambition, lust, and crime are the staple materials of his tragedy, and lead occasionally to poetical grandeur and brilliancy of fancy. His comedy is, with scarce an exception, false to nature, improbable and illarranged, and subversive equally of taste and morality.

Before presenting a scene from Dryden, we shall string together a few of those similes or detached sentiments which relieve the great mass of his turgid dramatic verse:

Love is that madness which all lovers have;
But yet 'tis sweet and pleasing so to rave.
"Tis an enchantment, where the reason's bound;
But Paradise is in th' enchanted ground.
A palace void of envy, cares, and strife;
Where gentle hours delude so much of life.
To take those charms away, and set me free,
Is but to send me into misery.
And prudence, of whose cure so much you boast,
Restores those pains which that sweet folly lost.
Conquest of Granada, Part II.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

By all the heavenly nations she is blest,
And each with secret joy admits her to his breast.

Ibid. Part I.

Love various minds does variously inspire:
He stirs in gentle natures gentle fire,
Like that of incense on the altars laid;
But raging flames tempestuous souls invade.

A fire which every windy passion blows;
With pride it mounts, and with revenge it glows.
Tyrannic Love.

[Savage Freedom.]

No man has more contempt than I of breath;
But whence hast thou the right to give me death?
I am as free as Nature first made man,
Ere the base laws of servitude began,
When wild in woods the noble savage ran.
Conquest of Granada, Part I.

[Love and Beauty.]

A change so swift what heart did ever feel!
It rush'd upon me like a mighty stream,
And bore me in a moment far from shore.
I've loved away myself; in one short hour
Already am I gone an age of passion.
Was it his youth, his valour, or success?
These might, perhaps, be found in other men.
'Twas that respect, that awful homage paid me;
That fearful love which trembled in his eyes,
And with a silent earthquake shook his soul.
But when he spoke, what tender words he said!
So softly, that, like flakes of feather'd snow,
They melted as they fell.

Spanish Friar.

[Midnight Repose.]

All things are hush'd, as Nature's self lay dead;
The mountains seem to nod their drowsy head,
The little birds in dreams their songs repeat,
And sleeping flowers beneath the night-dew sweat ;
Even lust and envy sleep, yet love denies
Rest to my soul and slumber to my eyes.
Three days I promis'd to attend my doom,
And two long days and nights are yet to come;
'Tis sure the noise of a tumultuous fight;

[Noise within.

They break the truce, and sally out by night.
Indian Emperor.
[Wordsworth has remarked that these lines, once
highly celebrated, are vague, bombastic, and
less.' Their charm consists in their melody.]

[blocks in formation]

The next a swarm of base ungrateful thoughts
May mount aloft; and where's our Egypt then?
Who would trust chance? since all men have the seeds
Of good and ill, which should work upward first.

Cleomenes.

[Fear of Death.]

BERENICE. SAINT CATHERINE.

Ber. Now death draws near, a strange perplexity
Creeps coldly on me, like a fear to die:
Courage uncertain dangers may abate,
But who can bear th' approach of certain fate?
St. Cath. The wisest and the best some fear may show,
And wish to stay, though they resolve to go.

Ber. As some faint pilgrim, standing on the shore,
First views the torrent he would venture o'er,
And then his inn upon the farther ground,
Loath to wade through, and loather to go round:
Then dipping in his staff, does trial make
How deep it is, and, sighing, pulls it back :
Sometimes resolved to fetch his leap; and then
Runs to the bank, but there stops short again :
So I at once

Both heavenly faith and human fear obey;
And feel before me in an unknown way.
For this blest voyage I with joy prepare,
Yet am asham'd to be a stranger there.

Ber. My carthy part,

Which is my tyrant's right, death will remove.
I'll come all soul and spirit to your love.
With silent steps I'll follow you all day,
Or else before you in the sunbeams play;
I'll lead you thence to melancholy groves,
And there repeat the scenes of our past loves.
At night, I will within your curtains peep;
With empty arms embrace you while you sleep.
In gentle dreams I often will be by,
And sweep along before your closing eye.
All dangers from your bed I will remove,
But guard it most from any future love.
And when, at last, in pity, you will die,
I'll watch your birth of immortality;
sense-Then, turtle-like, I'll to my mate repair,
And teach you your first flight in open air.

Tyrannic Love.

[Love Anticipated after Death.]

PORPHYRIUS. BERENICE.

Por. You either this divorce must seek, or die.
Ber. Then death from all my griefs shall set me free.
Por. And would you rather choose your death than
me?

[Adam after the Fall.]

ADAM. RAPHAEL. EVE.

Ibid.

Adam. Heaven is all mercy; labour I would choose;
And could sustain this Paradise to lose:
The bliss; but not the place. Here,' could I say,
"Heaven's winged messenger did pass the day;
Under this pine the glorious angel stay’d :'
Then show my wondering progeny the shade.
In woods and lawns, where'er thou didst appear,
Each place some monument of thee should bear.
I, with green turfs, would grateful altars raise,
And heaven, with gums and offer'd incense, praise.
Raph. Where'er thou art, He is; th' eternal mind
Acts through all places; is to none confined:
Fills ocean, earth, and air, and all above.
And through the universal mass does move.
Thou canst be no where distant: yet this place
Had been thy kingly seat, and here thy race,
From all the ends of peopled earth, had come
To reverence thee, and see their native home.

[blocks in formation]

Adam. The deaths thou show'st are forced and full
of strife,

Cast headlong from the precipice of life.
Is there no smooth descent-no painless way
Of kindly mixing with our native clay?

Raph. There is—but rarely shall that path be trod,
Which, without horror, leads to death's abode.
Some few, by temperance taught, approaching slow,
To distant fate by easy journeys go;
Gently they lay them down, as evening sheep
On their own woolly fleeces softly sleep.

Adam. So noiseless would I live, such death to find,
Like timely fruit, not shaken by the wind,
But ripely dropping from the sapless bough,
And, dying, nothing to myself would owe.

Eve. Thus daily changing, with a duller taste
Of lessening joys, I, by degrees, would waste:
Still quitting ground, by unperceived decay,
And steal myself from life, and melt away.

State of Innocence.

[Scene between Mark Antony and Ventidius, his general.] [Dryden says he preferred this scene to anything which he had written of that kind. It occurs in the first act of All for Love,' a tragedy founded on the story of Antony and Cleopatra, and avowedly written in imitation of Shakspeare. All for Love' was the only play Dryden ever wrote for himself; the rest, he says, were given to the people. It will be observed that

this scene, as also that between Dorax and Sebastian, is copied from the quarrel between Brutus and Cassius in Julius Cæsar.']

Ant. They tell me 'tis my birth-day, and I'll keep it With double pomp of sadness.

"Tis what the day deserves, which gave me breath.
Why was I rais'd the meteor of the world,

Hung in the skies, and blazing as I travell'd,
Till all my fires were spent, and then cast downward
To be trod out by Cæsar?

Vent. [Aside] On my soul

'Tis mournful, wondrous mournful!

Ant. Count thy gains,

Now, Antony: wouldst thou be born for this?
Glutton of fortune, thy devouring youth
Has starv'd thy wanting age.

Vent. [Aside.] How sorrow shakes him!
So now the tempest tears him by th' roots,
And on the ground extends the noble ruin.

Live in a shady forest's sylvan scene;
Stretch'd at my length beneath some blasted oak,
I lean my head upon the mossy bark,
And look just of a piece, as I grew from it:

[blocks in formation]

Where have you learn'd that answer? Who am I?
Vent. My emperor; the man I love next heav'n.
If I said more, I think 'twere scarce a sin:
You're all that's good and godlike.

Ant. All that's wretched.
You will not leave me, then?
Vent. 'Twas too presuming

To say I would not: but I dare not leave you;
And 'tis unkind in you to chide me hence
So soon, when I so far have come to see you.

Ant. Now thou hast seen me, art thou satisfied?
For, if a friend, thou hast beheld enough,
And, if a foe, too much.

Vent. Look, emperor, this is no common dew;
I have not wept this forty years; but now
My mother comes afresh unto my eyes;
I cannot help her softness.

Ant. By heav'n, he weeps! poor good old man, he
weeps!

The big round drops course one another down
The furrows of his cheeks. Stop 'em, Ventidius,
Or I shall blush to death; they set my shame,
That caus'd 'em, full before me.

Vent. I'll do my best.

Ant. Sure there's contagion in the tears of friends;
See, I have caught it too. Believe me, 'tis not
For my own griefs, but thine- Nay, father-
Vent. Emperor!

Ant. Emperor! Why that's the style of victory.
The conqu'ring soldier, and with unfelt wounds,
Salutes his general so: but never more
Shall that sound reach my ears.

Ant. [Having thrown himself down.] Lie there, thou
shadow of an emperor;

The place thou pressest on thy mother earth
Is all thy empire now: now it contains thee;
Some few days hence, and then 'twill be too large,
When thou'rt contracted in thy narrow urn,
Shrunk to a few cold ashes; then Octavia
(For Cleopatra will not live to see it),
Octavia then will have thee all her own,
And bear thee in her widow'd hand to Cæsar.
Cæsar will weep, the crocodile will weep,
To see his rival of the universe

But Antony

Lie still and peaceful there. I'll think no more on't. For Julius fought it out, and lost it fairly;
Give me some music; look that it be sad;
I'll sooth my melancholy, till I swell,
And burst myself with sighing.

"Tis somewhat to my humour. Stay, I fancy
I'm now turn'd wild, a commoner of nature;
Of all forsaken, and forsaking all;

Vent. I warrant you.

Ant. Actium, Actium! Oh

Vent. It sits too near you.

Ant. Here, here it lies; a lump of lead by day; And in my short, distracted, nightly slumbers, The hag that rides my dreams

Vent. Out with it; give it vent.

Ant. Urge not my shame

I lost a battle.

Vent. So has Julius done.

Ant. Thou favour'st me, and speak'st not half thou think'st;

Vent. Nay, stop not.
Ant. Antony

(Well, thou wilt have it), like a coward, fled,
Fled while his soldiers fought! fled first, Ventidius.
Thou long'st to curse me, and I give thee leave.

I know thou cam'st prepared to rail.

Vent. I did.

Ant. I'll help thee-I have been a man, Ventidius.
Vent. Yes, and a brave one; but-

Ant. I know thy meaning. But I have lost my reason, have disgrac'd The name of soldier with inglorious ease; In the full vintage of my flowing honours Sat still, and saw it press'd by other hands, Fortune came smiling to my youth, and woo'd it. And purple greatness met my ripen'd years. When first I came to empire, I was borne On tides of people, crowding to my triumphs. The wish of nations, and the willing world, Receiv'd me as its pledge of future peace. I was so great, so happy, so belov'd, Fate could not ruin me; till I took pains, And work'd against my fortune, chid her from me, And turn'd her loose: yet still she came again. My careless days and my luxurious nights At length have wearied her, and now she's gone; Gone, gone, divorc'd for ever. Help me, soldier, To curse this madman, this industrious fool, Who labour'd to be wretched. Pr'ythee curse me. Vent. No.

Ant. Why?

Vent. You are too sensible already

Of what you've done; too conscious of your failings.
And like a scorpion, whipp'd by others first
To fury, sting yourself in mad revenge,

I would bring balm, and pour it in your wounds,
Cure your distemper'd mind, and heal your fortunes.
Ant. I know thou wouldst.

Vent. I will.

Ant. Ha, ha, ha, ha!

Vent. You laugh.

Ant. I do, to see officious love

Give cordials to the dead.

Vent. You would be lost, then?

Ant. I am.

Vent. I say you are not. Try your fortune.
Ant. I have to th' utmost. Dost thou think me
desperate

Without just cause? No; when I found all lost
Beyond repair, I hid me from the world,
And learn'd to scorn it here; which now I do
So heartily, I think it is not worth
The cost of keeping.

Vent. Cæsar thinks not so:

He'll thank you for the gift he could not take.
You would be kill'd like Tully, would you? Do
Hold out your throat to Cæsar, and die tamely,

Ant. No, I can kill myself; and so resolve.
Vent. I can die with you, too, when time shall

[blocks in formation]

Vent. They petition

You would make haste to head 'em.
Ant. I'm besieg'd.

Vent. There's but one way shut up.
Ant. I will not stir.

Vent. They would perhaps desire A better reason.

Ant. I have never us'd

My soldiers to demand a reason of

My actions. Why did they refuse to march ?
Vent. They said they would not fight for Cleopatra.
Ant. What was't they said?

Vent. They said they would not fight for Cleopatra.
Why should they fight, indeed, to make her conquer,
And make you more a slave? To gain you kingdoms
Which, for a kiss, at your next midnight feast
You'll sell to her? Then she new names her jewels,
And calls this diamond such or such a tax.
Each pendant in her ear shall be a province.

Ant. Ventidius, I allow your tongue free license
On all my other faults; but, on your life,
No word of Cleopatra; she deserves
More worlds than I can lose.

How came I [hither?

Vent. Behold, you pow'rs,

To whom you have intrusted humankind;
See Europe, Afric, Asia put in balance,

And all weigh'd down by one light worthless woman!

I think the gods are Antonies, and give,

Like prodigals, this nether world away

To none but wasteful hands.

Ant. You grow presumptuous.

Vent. I take the privilege of plain love to speak. Ant. Plain love! plain arrogance, plain insolence! Thy men are cowards, thou an envious traitor; Who, under seeming honesty, hath vented The burden of thy rank o'erflowing gall. Oh, that thou wert my equal; great in arms As the first Cæsar was, that I might kill thee Without stain to my honour!

Vent. You may kill me.

You have done more already-call'd me traitor. Ant. Art thou not one?

Ant. Forgive me, soldier;

I've been too passionate.

Vent. For showing you yourself, Which none else durst have done. But had I been That name which I disdain to speak again, I needed not have sought your abject fortunes, Come to partake your fate, to die with you. What hinder'd me to 've led my conqu'ring eagles To fill Octavius' bands? I could have been A traitor then, a glorious happy traitor, And not have been so call'd.

Vent. You thought me false;

Thought my old age betray'd you. Kill me, sir; Pray, kill me; yet you need not; your unkindness Has left your sword no work.

Ant. I did not think so;

Vent. No prince but you Could merit that sincerity I us'd;

I said it in my rage; pr'ythee forgive me. Why didst thou tempt my anger, by discovery Of what I would not hear?

Nor durst another man have ventur'd it;
But you, ere love misled your wand'ring eyes,
Were sure the chief and best of human race,
Fram'd in the very pride and boast of nature.
Ant. But Cleopatra-

Go on; for I can bear it now,

Vent. No more.

Ant. Thou dar'st not trust my passion; but thou may'st;

Thou only lov'st, the rest have flatter'd me.

Vent. Heaven's blessing on your heart for that kind

word.

May I believe you love me? Speak again.

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »