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Thus I lost him who had been for so many years the chief guide of my whole life. He had lived ten years in Sussex, in great privacy, dividing his time wholly between study and retirement, and the doing of good; for in the parish where he lived, and in the parishes round about, he was always employed in preaching, and in reading prayers. He distributed all he had in charities, choosing rather to have it go through other people's hands than his own; for I was his almoner in London. He had gathered a well-chosen library of curious as well as useful books, which he left to the diocese of Dumblane for the use of the clergy there, that country being ill provided with books. He lamented oft to me the stupidity that he observed among the commons of England, who seemed to be much more insensible in the matters of religion than the commons of Scotland were. Ile retained still a peculiar inclination to Scotland; and if he had seen any prospect of doing good there, he would have gone and lived and died among them. In the short time that the affairs of Scotland were in the Duke of Monmouth's hands, that duke had been possessed with such an opinion of him, that he moved the king to write to him, to go and at least live in Scotland, if he would not engage in a bishopric there. But that fell with that duke's credit. He was in his last years turned to a greater severity against popery than I had imagined a man of his temper and of his largeness in point of opinion was capable of. He spoke of the corruptions, of the secular spirit, and of the cruelty that appeared in that church, with an extraordinary concern; and lamented the shameful advances that we seemed to be making towards popery. He did this with a tenderness and an edge that I did not expect from so recluse and mortified a man. He looked on the state the church of England was in with very melancholy reflections, and was very uneasy at an expression then much used, that it was the best constituted church in the world. He thought it was truly so with relation to the doctrine, the worship, and the main part of our government; but as to the administration, both with relation to the ecclesiastical courts and the pastoral care, he looked on it as one of the most corrupt he had ever seen. He thought we looked like a fair carcass of a body without a spirit, without that zeal, that strictness of life, and that laboriousness in the clergy, that became us.
There were two remarkable circumstances in his death. He used often to say, that if he were to choose a place to die in, it should be an inn; it looking like a pilgrim's going home, to whom this world was all as an inn, and who was weary of the noise and confusion in it. He added, that the officious tenderness and care of friends was an entanglement to a dying man; and that the unconcerned attendance of those that could be procured in such a place would give less disturbance. And he obtained what he desired, for he died at the Bell Inn in Warwick Lane. Another circumstance was, that while he was bishop in Scotland, he took what his tenants were pleased to pay him. So that there was a great arrear due, which was raised slowly by one whom he left in trust with his affairs there. And the last payment that he could expect from thence was returned up to him about six weeks before his death. So that his provision and journey failed both at once.
[Character of Charles II.]
[From the same.]
Thus lived and died King Charles II. He was the greatest instance in history of the various revolutions of which any one man seemed capable. He was bred up the first twelve years of his life with the splendour that became the heir of so great a crown. After that,
he passed through eighteen years of great inequalities; unhappy in the war, in the loss of his father, and of the crown of England. Scotland did not only receive him, though upon terms hard of digestion, but made an attempt upon England for him, though a feeble one. He lost the battle of Worcester with too much indifference. And then he showed more care of his person than became one who had so much at stake. He wandered about England for ten weeks after that, hiding from place to place. But, under all the apprehensions he had then upon him, he showed a temper so careless, and so much turned to levity, that he was then diverting himself with little household sports, in as unconcerned a manner as if he had made no loss, and had been in no danger at all. He got at last out of England. But he had been obliged to so many who had been faithful to him, and careful of him, that he seemed afterwards to resolve to make an equal return to them all; and finding it not easy to reward them all as they deserved, he forgot them all alike. Most princes seem to have this pretty deep in them, and to think that they ought never to remember past services, but that their acceptance of them is a full reward. He, of all in our age, exerted this piece of prerogative in the amplest manner; for he never seemed to charge his memory, or to trouble his thoughts, with the sense of any of the services that had been done him. While he was abroad at Paris, Colen, or Brussels, he never seemed to lay anything to heart. He pursued all his diversions and irregular pleasures in a free career, and seemed to be as serene under the loss of a crown as the greatest philosopher could have been. Nor did he willingly hearken to any of those projects with which he often complained that his chancellor persecuted him. That in which he seemed most concerned was, to find money for supporting his expense. And it was often said, that if Cromwell would have compounded the matter, and have given him a good round pension, that he might have been induced to resign his title to him. During his exile, he delivered himself so entirely to his pleasures, that he became incapable of application. He spent little of his time in reading or study, and yet less in thinking. And in the state his affairs were then in, he accustomed himself to say to every person, and upon all occasions, that which he thought would please most; so that words or promises went very easily from him. And he had so ill an opinion of mankind, that he thought the great art of living and governing was, to manage all things and all persons with a depth of craft and dissimulation. And in that few men in the world could put on the appearances of sincerity better than he could; under which so much artifice was usually hid, that in conclusion he could deceive none, for all were become mistrustful of him. He had great vices, but scarce any virtues to correct them. He had in him some vices that were less hurtful, which corrected his more hurtful ones. He was, during the active part of life, given up to sloth and lewdness to such a degree, that he hated business, and could not bear the engaging in anything that gave him much trouble, or put him under any constraint. And though he desired to become absolute, and to overturn both our religion and our laws, yet he would neither run the risk, nor give himself the trouble, which so great a design required. He had an appearance of gentleness in his outward deportment; but he seemed to have no bowels nor tenderness in his nature, and in the end of his life he became cruel. He was apt to forgive all crimes, even blood itself, yet he never forgave anything that was done against himself, after his first and general act of indemnity, which was to be reckoned as done rather upon maxims of state than inclinations of
mercy. He delivered himself up to a most enormous course of vice, without any sort of restraint, even from the consideration of the nearest relations. The most studied extravagances that way seemed, to the very last, to be much delighted in and pursued by him. He had the art of making all people grow fond of him at first, by a softness in his whole way of conversation, as he was certainly the best-bred man of the age. But when it appeared how little could be built on his promise, they were cured of the fondness that he was apt to raise in them. When he saw young men of quality, who had something more than ordinary in them, he drew them about him, and set himself to corrupt them both in religion and morality; in which he proved so unhappily successful, that he left England much changed at his death from what he had found it at his restoration. He loved to talk over all the stories of his life to every new man that came about him. His stay in Scotland, and the share he had in the war of Paris, in carrying messages from the one side to the other, were his common topics. He went over these in a very graceful manner, but so often and so copiously, that all those who had been long accustomed to them grew weary of them; and when he entered on those stories, they usually withdrew. So that he often began them in a full audience, and before he had done, there were not above four or five persons left about him, which drew a severe jesting to what was generally believed to have fallen from from Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. He said he won- Lord Clifford, that if the king must be in a dependdered to see a man have so good a memory as to re-ence, it was better to pay it to a great and generous peat the same story without losing the least circum- king, than to five hundred of his own insolent substance, and yet not remember that he had told it to jects. the same persons the very day before. This made him fond of strangers, for they hearkened to all his often-repeated stories, and went away as in a rapture at such an uncommon condescension in a king.
tion of popery, make such a chain of black actions, flowing from blacker designs, that it amazed those who had known all this to see with what impudent strains of flattery addresses were penned during his life, and yet more grossly after his death. His contributing so much to the raising the greatness of France, chiefly at sea, was such an error, that it could not flow from want of thought, or of true sense. Ruvigny told me he desired that all the methods the French took in the increase and conduct of their naval force might be sent him; and he said he seemed to study them with concern and zeal. He showed what errors they committed, and how they ought to be corrected, as if he had been a viceroy to France, rather than a king that ought to have watched over and prevented the progress they made, as the greatest of all the mischiefs that could happen to him or to his people. They that judged the most favourably of this, thought it was done out of revenge to the Dutch, that, with the assistance of so great a fleet as France could join to his own, he might be able to destroy them. But others put a worse construction on it; and thought, that seeing he could not quite master or deceive his subjects by his own strength and management, he was willing to help forward the greatness of the French at sea, that by their assistance he might more certainly subdue his own people; accord
His person and temper, his vices as well as his tunes, resemble the character that we have given us of Tiberius so much, that it were easy to draw the parallel between them. Tiberius's banishment, and his coming afterwards to reign, makes the comparison in that respect come pretty near. His hating of business, and his love of pleasures; his raising of favourites, and trusting them entirely; and his pulling them down, and hating them excessively; his art of covering deep designs, particularly of revenge, with an appearance of softness, brings them so near a likeness, that I did not wonder much to observe the resemblance of their faces and persons. At Rome, I saw one of the last statues made for Tiberius, after he had lost his teeth. But, bating the alteration which that made, it was so like King Charles, that Prince Borghese and Signior Dominico, to whom it belonged, did agree with me in thinking that it looked like a statue made for him.
No part of his character looked wickeder, as well as meaner, than that he, all the while that he was professing to be of the church of England, expressing both zeal and affection to it, was yet secretly reconfor-ciled to the church of Rome; thus mocking God, and deceiving the world with so gross a prevarication. And his not having the honesty or courage to own it at the last; his not showing any sign of the least remorse for his ill-led life, or any tenderness either for his subjects in general, or for the queen and his servants; and his recommending only his mistresses and their children to his brother's care, would have been a strange conclusion to any other's life, but was well enough suited to all the other parts of his.
[The Czar Peter in England in 1698.]
I mentioned, in the relation of the former year, the Czar's coming out of his own country, on which I will now enlarge. He came this winter over to England, and stayed some months among us. I waited often on him, and was ordered, both by the king and the archbishop and bishops, to attend upon him, and to offer him such informations of our religion and constitution as he was willing to receive. I had good interpreters, so I had much free discourse with him. He is a man of a very hot temper, soon inflamed, and very brutal in his passion. He raises his natural heat by drinking much brandy, which he rectifies himself His ill conduct in the first Dutch war, and those with great application; he is subject to convulsive terrible calamities of the plague and fire of London, motions all over his body, and his head seems to be with that loss and reproach which he suffered by the affected with these; he wants not capacity, and has a insult at Chatham, made all people conclude there larger measure of knowledge than might be expected was a curse upon his government. His throwing the from his education, which was very indifferent; a want public hatred at that time upon Lord Clarendon was of judgment, with an instability of temper, appear both unjust and ungrateful. And when his people in him too often and too evidently; he is mechanihad brought him out of all his difficulties upon his cally turned, and seems designed by nature rather to entering into the triple alliance, his selling that to be a ship-carpenter than a great prince. This was his France, and his entering on the second Dutch war chief study and exercise while he stayed here; with as little colour as he had for the first; his wrought much with his own hands, and made all beginning it with the attempt on the Dutch Smyrna about him work at the models of ships. He told me fleet, the shutting up the exchequer, and his declara- he designed a great fleet at Azuph, and with it to tion for toleration, which was a step for the introduc-attack the Turkish empire; but he did not seem cap
Few things ever went near his heart. The Duke of Gloucester's death seemed to touch him much. But those who knew him best, thought it was because he had lost him by whom only he could have balanced the surviving brother, whom he hated, and yet embroiled all his affairs to preserve the succession to
able of conducting so great a design, though his conduct in his wars since this has discovered a greater genius in him than appeared at that time. He was desirous to understand our doctrine, but he did not seem disposed to mend matters in Moscovy. He was, indeed, resolved to encourage learning, and to polish his people by sending some of them to travel in other countries, and to draw strangers to come and live among them. He seemed apprehensive still of his sister's intrigues. There was a mixture both of passion and severity in his temper. He is resolute, but understands little of war, and seemed not at all inquisitive that way. After I had seen him often, and had conversed much with him, I could not but adore the depth of the providence of God, that had raised up such a furious man to so absolute an authority over so great a part of the world.
to the humours of his people, to make himself and his notions more acceptable to them. This, in a government that has so much of freedom in it as ours, was more necessary than he was inclined to believe. His reservedness grew on him, so that it disgusted most of those who served him; but he had observed the errors of too much talking, more than those of too cold a silence. He did not like contradiction, nor to have his actions censured; but he loved to employ and favour those who had the arts of complacence, yet he did not love flatterers. His genius lay chiefly to war, in which his courage was more admired than his conduct. Great errors were often committed by him; but his heroical courage set things right, as it inflamed those who were about him. He was too lavish of money on some occasions, both in his buildings and to his favourites, but too sparing David, considering the great things God had made for in rewarding services, or in encouraging those who the use of man, broke out into the meditation, What brought intelligence. He was apt to take i imis man that thou art so mindful of him?' But here pressions of people, and these stuck long with him; there is an occasion for reversing these words, since but he never carried them to indecent revenges. He man seems a very contemptible thing in the sight of gave too much way to his own humour, almost in everyGod, while such a person as the Czar has such multi-thing, not excepting that which related to his own tudes put, as it were, under his feet, exposed to his health. He knew all foreign affairs well, and underrestless jealousy and savage temper. He went from stood the state of every court in Europe very particuhence to the court of Vienna, where he purposed to larly. He instructed his own ministers himself, but he have stayed some time; but he was called home, did not apply enough to affairs at home. He tried how sooner than he had intended, upon a discovery or a he could govern us, by balancing the two parties one suspicion of intrigues managed by his sister. The against another; but he came at last to be persuaded strangers, to whom he trusted most, were so true to that the Tories were irreconcilable to him, and he him, that those designs were crushed before he came was resolved to try and trust them no more. He beback. But on this occasion he let loose his fury on lieved the truth of the Christian religion very firmly, all whom he suspected. Some hundreds of them and he expressed a horror at atheism and blasphemy; were hanged all round Moscow; and it was said that and though there was much of both in his court, yet he cut off many heads with his own hand. And so far it was always denied to him, and kept out of sight. was he from relenting, or showing any sort of tender- He was most exemplarily decent and devout in the ness, that he seemed delighted with it. How long public exercises of the worship of God; only on he is to be the scourge of that nation, or of his neigh- week-days he came too seldom to them. He was bours, God only knows. So extraordinary an incident an attentive hearer of sermons, and was constant in will, I hope, justify such a digression. his private prayers, and in reading the Scriptures ; and when he spoke of religious matters, which he did not often, it was with a becoming gravity. He was much possessed with the belief of absolute decrees. He said to me he adhered to these, because he did not see how the belief of Providence could be maintained upon any other supposition. His indifference as to the forms of church-government, and his being zealous for toleration, together with his cold behaviour towards the clergy, gave them generally very ill impressions of him. In his deportment towards all about him, he seemed to make little distinction between the good and the bad, and those who served well, or those who served him ill. He loved the Dutch, and was much beloved among them; but the ill returns he met from the English nation, their jealousies of him, and their perverseness towards him, had too much soured his mind, and had in a great measure alienated him from them; which he did not take care enough to conceal, though he saw the ill effects this had upon his business. He grew, in his last years, too remiss and careless as to all affairs, till the treacheries of France awakened him, and the dreadful conjunction of the monarchies gave so loud an alarm to all Europe; for a watching over that court, and a bestirring himself against their practices, was the prevailing passion of his whole life. Few men had the art of concealing and governing passion more than he had; yet few men had stronger passions, which were seldom felt but by inferior servants, to whom he usually made such recompenses for any sudden or indecent vents he might give his anger, that they were glad at every time that it broke upon them. He was too easy to the faults of those about him, when they did not lie in his own way, or cross any of his designs; and he was so apt to think that his ministers might grow insolent, if they should find
[Character of William III.]
[From the same.]
Thus lived and died William III., King of Great Britain, and Prince of Orange. He had a thin and weak body, was brown-haired, and of a clear and delicate constitution. He had a Roman eagle nose, bright and sparkling eyes, a large front, and a countenance composed to gravity and authority. All his senses were critical and exquisite. He was always asthmatical; and the dregs of the small-pox falling on his lungs, he had a constant deep cough. His behaviour was solemn and serious, seldom cheerful, and but with a few. He spoke little and very slowly, and most commonly with a disgusting dryness, which was his character at all times, except in a day of battle; for then he was all fire, though without passion; he was then everywhere, and looked to everything. He had no great advantage from his education. De Witt's discourses were of great use to him; and he, being apprehensive of the observation of those who were looking narrowly into everything he said or did, had brought himself under a habitual caution, that he could never shake off; though in another scene it proved as hurtful as it was then necessary to his affairs. He spoke Dutch, French, English, and German equally well; and he understood the Latin, Spanish, and Italian, so that he was well fitted to command armies composed of several nations. He had a memory that amazed all about him, for it never failed him. He was an exact observer of men and things. His strength lay rather in a true discerning and a sound judgment, than in imagination or invention. His designs were always great and good. But it was thought he trusted too much to that, and that he did not descend enough
that they had much credit with him, that he seemed to have made it a maxim to let them often feel how little power they had even in small matters. His favourites had a more entire power, but he accustomed them only to inform him of things, but to be sparing in offering advice, except when it was asked. It was not easy to account for the reasons of the favour that he showed, in the highest instances, to two persons beyond all others, the Earls of Portland and Albemarle, they being in all respects men not only of different, but of opposite characters. Secrecy and fidelity were the only qualities in which it could be said that they did in any sort agree. I have now run through the chief branches of his character. I had occasion to know him well, having observed him very carefully in a course of sixteen years. I had a large measure of his favour, and a free access to him all the while, though not at all times to the same degree. The freedom that I used with him was not always acceptable; but he saw that I served him faithfully; so, after some intervals of coldness, he always returned to a good measure of confidence in me. I was, in many great instances, much obliged by him; but that was not my chief bias to him; I considered him as a person raised up by God to resist the power of France, and the progress of tyranny and persecution. The series of the five Princes of Orange that was now ended in him, was the noblest succession of heroes that we
find in any history. And the thirty years, from the year 1672 to his death, in which he acted so great a part, carry in them so many amazing steps of a glorious and distinguishing Providence, that, in the words of David, he may be called The man of God's right hand, whom he made strong for himself.' After all the abatements that may be allowed for his errors and faults, he ought still to be reckoned among the greatest princes that our history, or indeed that any other,
can afford. He died in a critical time for his own
glory, since he had formed a great alliance, and had projected the whole scheme of the war; so that if it succeeds, a great part of the honour of it will be cribed to him; and if otherwise, it will be said he was the soul of the alliance, that did both animate and knit it together, and that it was natural for that body to die and fall asunder, when he who gave it life was withdrawn. Upon his death, some moved for a magnificent funeral; but it seemed not decent to run into unnecessary expense, when we were entering on a war that must be maintained at a vast charge. So a private funeral was resolved on. But for the honour of his memory, a noble monument and an equestrian statue were ordered. Some years must show whether these things were really intended, or if they were only spoke of to excuse the privacy of his funeral, which was scarce decent, so far was it from being magnificent.
among the specimens which can be furnished of vigorous and genuine idiomatic English. In addition to the qualities just enumerated, it possesses those of equability and freedom from mannerism. Speaking of this attribute of Dryden's style, Dr Johnson observes, He who writes much, will not easily escape a manner-such a recurrence of particular modes as may be easily noted. Dryden is always another and the same; he does not exhibit a second time the same elegances in the same form, nor appears to have any art other than that of expressing with clearness what he thinks with vigour. His style could not easily be imitated, either seriously or ludicrously; for, being always equable and always varied, it has no prominent or discriminative charac ters. The beauty who is totally free from disproportion of parts and features, cannot be ridiculed by an overcharged resemblance.**
Dryden has left no extensive work in prose; the pieces which he wrote were merely accompaniments to his poems and plays, and consist of prefaces, dedications, and critical essays. His dedications are noted for the fulsome and unprincipled flattery in which he seems to have thought himself authorised by his poverty to indulge. The critical essays, though written with more haste and carelessness than would now be tolerated in similar producthoughts on subjects connected with polite litetions, embody many sound and vigorously-expressed have not the formality of a settled style, in which rature. Of his prefaces Dr Johnson remarks, They the first half of the sentence betrays the other. The clauses are never balanced, nor the periods modelled; every word seems to drop by chance, though it falls the whole is airy, animated, and vigorous; what is into its proper place. Nothing is cold or languid; little is gay; what is great is splendid. He may be thought to mention himself too frequently; but while he forces himself upon our esteem, we cannot refuse him to stand high in his own. Everything is excused by the play of images and the sprightliness of expression. Though all is easy, nothing is feeble; though all seems careless, there is nothing harsh; and though, since his earlier works, more than a century has passed, they have nothing yet uncouth or obsolete.'
According to the same critic, Dryden's Essay on Dramatic Poesy was the first regular and valuable treatise on the art of writing. He who, having formed his opinions in the present age of English literature, turns back to peruse this dialogue, will not perhaps find much increase of knowledge, or much novelty of instruction; but he is to remember that critical principles were then in the hands of a few, who had gathered them partly from the ancients, and partly from the Italians and French. The structure of dramatic poems was then not generally understood. Audiences applauded by instinct, and poets, perhaps, often pleased by chance.
A writer who obtains his full purpose, loses himself in his own lustre. Of an opinion which is no longer doubted, the evidence ceases to be examined. Of an art universally practised, the first teacher is forgotten. Learning, once made popular, is no longer dis-learning; it has the appearance of something which we have bestowed upon ourselves, as the dew appears to rise from the field which it refreshes.
DRYDEN, who contributed more than any other English writer to improve the poetical diction of his native tongue, performed also essential service of the same kind with respect to the quality of our prose. Throwing off, still more than Cowley had done, those inversions and other forms of Latin idiom which abound in the pages of his most tinguished predecessors, Dryden speaks in the language of one addressing, in easy yet dignified conversational phraseology, an assemblage of polite and well-educated men. Strength, ease, copiousness, variety, and animation, are the predominant qualities of his style; but the haste with which he composed, and his inherent dislike to the labour of correction, are sometimes betrayed by the negligence and roughness of his sentences. On the whole, however, to the prose of Dryden may be assigned the foremost place
To judge rightly of an author, we must transport ourselves to his time, and examine what were the wants of his cotemporaries, and what were his means of supplying them. That which was easy at one time was difficult at another. Dryden, at least, imported his science, and gave his country what it
* Johnson's Life of Dryden.
wanted before; or rather he imported only the materials, and manufactured them by his own skill.
The consideration of this made Mr Hales of Eton
The Dialogue on the Drama was one of his first essays of criticism, written when he was yet a timorous candidate for reputation, and therefore say, that there was no subject of which any poet ever laboured with that diligence, which he might allow writ, but he would produce it much better done in himself somewhat to remit, when his name gave Shakspeare; and however others are now generally sanction to his positions, and his awe of the public preferred before him, yet the age wherein he lived, which had contemporaries with him Fletcher and was abated, partly by custom and partly by success. It will not be easy to find, in all the opulence of our And in the last king's court, when Ben's reputation Jonson, never equalled them to him in their esteem. language, a treatise so artfully variegated with sucwas at highest, Sir John Suckling, and with him the cessive representations of opposite probabilities, so enlivened with imagery, so brightened with illus-greater part of the courtiers, set our Shakspeare far trations. His portraits of the English dramatists are wrought with great spirit and diligence. The account of Shakspeare may stand as a perpetual model of encomiastic criticism; being lofty without exaggeration. The praise lavished by Longinus on the attestation of the heroes of Marathon by Demosthenes, fades away before it. In a few lines is exhibited a character so extensive in its comprehension, and so curious in its limitations, that nothing can be added, diminished, or reformed; nor can the editors and admirers of Shakspeare, in all their emulation of reverence, boast of much more than of having diffused and paraphrased this epitome of excellence of having changed Dryden's gold for baser metal, of lower value though of greater bulk.
In this, and in all his other essays on the same subject, the criticism of Dryden is the criticism of a poet, not a dull collection of theorems, not a rude detection of faults which, perhaps, the censor was not able to have committed, but a gay and vigorous dissertation, where delight is mingled with instruction, and where the author proves his right of ment by his power of performance.'
"The prose of Dryden,' says Sir Walter Scott, may rank with the best in the English language. It is no less of his own formation than his ver
sification; is equally spirited, and equally harmonious. Without the lengthened and pedantic sentences of Clarendon, it is dignified when dignity is becoming, and is lively without the accumulation of strained and absurd allusions and metaphors, which were unfortunately mistaken for wit by many of the author's contemporaries.'
[Beaumont and Fletcher.]
Beaumont and Fletcher, of whom I am next to speak, had, with the advantage of Shakspeare's wit, which was their precedent, great natural gifts, improved by study; Beaumont especially, being so accurate a judge of plays, that Ben Jonson, while he lived, submitted all his writings to his censure, and, 'tis thought, used his judgment in correcting, if not contriving, all his plots. What value he had for him, appears by the verses he writ to him, and therefore I need speak no farther of it. The first play that brought Fletcher and him in esteem was their Philaster;' for before that they had written two or three very unsuccessfully as the like is reported of Ben Jonson, before he writ Every Man in his Humour.' Their plots were generally more regular than Shakspeare's, especially those which were made before Beaumont's death; and they understood and imitated the conversation of gentlemen much better; judg-whose wild debaucheries, and quickness of wit in repartees, no poet before them could paint as they have done. Humour, which Ben Jonson derived from particular persons, they made it not their business to describe: they represented all the passions very lively, but above all, love. I am apt to believe the English language in them arrived to its highest perfection: what words have since been taken in, are rather superfluous than ornamental. Their plays are now the most pleasant and frequent entertainments of the stage; two of theirs being acted through the year, for one of Shakspeare's or Jonson's: the reason is, because there is a certain gaiety in their comedies, and pathos in their more serious plays, which suits generally with all men's humours. Shakspeare's language is likewise a little obsolete, and Ben Jonson's
wit comes short of theirs.
It is recorded by Malone, that Dryden's miscellaneous prose writings were held in high estimation by Edmund Burke, who carefully studied them on account equally of their style and matter, and is thought to have in some degree taken them as the model of his own diction.
As specimens of Dryden's prose composition, we here present, in the first place, his characters of some of the most eminent English dramatists.
say he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of poets,
Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi.1
To begin, then, with Shakspeare. He was the man, who, of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily. When he describes anything, you more than see it you feel it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation. He was naturally learned; he needed not the spectacles of books to read nature; he looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot say he is everywhere alike; were he so, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest of mankind. He is many times flat, insipid; his comic wit degenerating into clenches, his serious swelling into bombast. But he is always great when some great occasion is presented to him; no man can
As for Jonson, to whose character I am now arrived, if we look upon him while he was himself (for his last plays were but his dotages), I think him the most learned and judicious writer which any theatre ever had. He was a most severe judge of himself, as well as others. One cannot say he wanted wit, but rather that he was frugal of it. In his works you find little to retrench or alter. Wit, and language, and humour also in some measure, we had before him; but something of art was wanting to the drama, till he came. He managed his strength to more advantage than any who preceded him. You seldom find him making love in any of his scenes, or endeavouring to move the passions; his genius was too sullen and saturnine to do it gracefully, especially when he knew he came after those who had performed both to such a height. Humour was his proper sphere; and in that he delighted most to represent mechanic people. He was deeply conversant in the ancients, both Greek and
1 As the cypress is above surrounding shrubs.