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234

THE TRIAL AND DEATH OF BAXTER.

A.D.

sufficient ground for a charge of sedition against the veteran minister, now worn down by age and illness. The trial came on at Guildhall, before that bloated drunkard, who, a little later, stained the pure

ermined robe of English justice deep red in the slaughter 1685 of the Bloody Assizes. All attempts on the part of

Baxter and his lawyers to obtain a hearing were roared

down by the brutal Jeffreys. “Richard, Richard, dost thou think we will let thee poison the court ? Richard, thou art an old knave. Thou hast written books enough to load a cart, and

every book as full of sedition as an egg is full of meat.” From such a judge, and a servile jury, there was no escape. Pronounced “Guilty" after a moment's conference, the old man was sent to jail, because he could not pay the heavy fine imposed upon him; and he lay in the King's Bench prison for nearly eighteen months. Soon after his release, which was obtained by the kindness of Lord Powis, he had the joy of seeing the great second Revolution usher in a brighter day of civil and religious freedom. Then, full of years and crowned with their good works, he descended into an honoured grave, December 8th, 1691:

His published writings, which were nearly all upon divinity, reached at least to the enormous number of one hundred and sixtyeight. In the quietude of his study at Kidderminster he composed those two works of great practical power, by which he is best known, The Saints' Everlasting Rest, and A Call to the Unconverted. We have also from this gifted pen A Narrative of his Own Life and Times, to which Johnson and Coleridge agree in awarding the highest praise. The wonder of Baxter's laborious life becomes yet greater, when we remember that, like our Saxon Alfred and other illustrious men, he liad to struggle through nearly all his years with a delicate and feeble frame.

How he spent

his vacation hours, when heavy sickness compelled him to snatch a little rest, may be judged from the following passage :

BAXTER REGRETS HIS HASTE IN WRITING.

Concerning almost all my writings, I must confess that my own judgment is, that fewer, well studied and polished, had been better; but the reader, who can safely censure the books, is not fit to censure the author, unless he had been

SPECIMEN OF BAXTER'S PROSE.

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upon the place, and acquainted with all the oocasions and circumstances. In. deed, for the Saints' Rest, I had four months' vacancy to write it, but in the midst of continual languishing and medicine; but, for the rest, I wrote them in the crowd of all my other employments, which would allow me no great leisure for polishing and exactness, or any ornament; so that I scarce ever wrote one sheet twice over, nor stayed to make any blots or interlinings, but was fain to let it go as it was first conceived: and when my own desire was rather to stay upon one thing long than run over many, some sudden occasions or other extorted almost all my writings from me; and the apprehensions of present usefulness or necessity prevailed against all other motives ; so that the divines which were at hand with me still put me on, and approved of what I did, because they were moved by present necessities as well as I; but those that were far off, and felt not those nearer motives, did rather wish that I had taken the other way, and published a few elaborate writings; and I am ready myself to be of their mind, when I forget the case that I then stood in, and have lost the sense of former notives.

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DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON, borrowing a classic metaphor, which describes what Augustus did for Rome, says in reference to English poetry, that Dryden found it brick and left it marble. Let it not be forgotten that Johnson, in his “Lives of the Poets,” (a most unsafe book,) has ignored Shakspere and vilified Milton. To the mental

eye of the ponderous critic, “Paradise Lost” and “Macbeth” were built of common brick, while Dryden's Satires and Fables shone with the lustre of Parian stone. We condemn the comparison as wholly exaggerated, and partly untrue; and yet we would not for a moment deny Dryden's exalted rank as a poet and a master of the English tongue. Our knowledge of Dryden's early life is meagre. Born of Puri

tan parents, on the 9th of August 1631, at Aldwinckle 1631 in Northamptonshire, he received his school education

at Westminster, under Dr. Busby, of birchen memory.

Then, elected a Westminster scholar, he passed to Trinity College, Cambridge, where, no doubt, he wrote English verses, as he had often done at school. But he seems to have passed without marked distinction through his college course.

When the great Oliver died, the young poet created some sensation by a copy of verses which he wrote upon the sad event. Two years later, he celebrated the restoration of Charles Stuart, in a poem called Astroa Redux. So sudden a change of political

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WRITING FOR THE THEATRES.

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principle has been harshly blamed; but we can scarcely censure young Dryden for feeling, as all England felt at the time, that a load of fear had rolled away when Charles came back from exile to fill his father's throne.

Inheriting only a small estate of £60 a year, Dryden was compelled to take to literature as a profession, devoting his pewat first to the service of the newly-opened theatres. The Wild Gallant was his first play. His marriage with Lady Elizabeth Howard took place about the opening of his theatrical career.

Then play after play came flowing from his fertile pen; all tainted, sad to say, with the gross licentiousness of that shameful age; and cramped, like the shape of a tight-laced fashionable, into rhyming couplets, which were but a poor substitute for the noble music of Shakspere's blank-verse. In all, during eight and twenty years Dryden produced eight and twenty plays; among the chief of which we may note The Indian Emperor (1667), and The Conquest of Granada (1672). This dramatic authorship was then the only field in which an author could hope to reap a fair crop of guineas, for the sale of books was as yet miserably small. It is sad to contemplate a man of genius driven to waste the electric force of his mind upon a kind of writing for which his talents were but slightly fitted-sad to see the composer of one of the finest English odes, and of satires that rival the master-pieces of Juvenal, forced to drudge for a dissolute green-room, and to play the rhyming buffoon for a coarse and ribald pit. Nor was this the only evil. Mean passions were engendered by this pitiful struggle for popular applause. Poor Elkanah Settle, a rhymster of the day, one of Rochester's creatures, who was afterwards impaleů on the point of Dryden's satiric pen, incurred great John's wrath by some slight successes in the dramatic line, which the silly man had prefaced with a puny war-blast of defiance. The torrent of abuse, which Dryden poured round this shallow brain, would better become a shrewish fishwife than one of England's greatest bards.

Let us turn from the mournful sight of wasted and degraded genius to Dryden's other works. Though writing so busily for the stage, he had yet found spare hours to produce his Annus

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ABSALOM AND ACHITOPHEL.”

Mirabilis, a poem on the year of the Great Fire, and his Essay on Dramatic Poesy; in the latter of which he labours hard but vainly to prove that rhyme is suited to tragedy. The Essay is a valuable piece of criticism, which derives additional charms from the elegance of its prose and its frank avowal of Shakspere's surpassing genius. And here, dismissing Dryden's prose, we may say that few English authors have written prose so well. His Prefaces and Dedications—things which, though now nearly banished from our books, were then most elaborate pieces of writing—are brilliant and polished essays upon various topics of literature and art.

Not unprofitably did Dryden fight the battle of life with his pen. His dramatic work brought him over £300 a year; in 1670 he became poet-laureate (worth £100 a year and a tierce of wine), and royal historiographer (worth another £100 a year.) The pity is, that for this £500 a year he had to dip his pen in pollution, on peril of losing the favour of a wicked Court

At fifty, Dryden's genius was in full bloom. In 1681 he produced that marvellous group of satiric portraits which forms the first part of Absalom and Achitophel. Old Testament names, borrowed from David's day, denote the leading men of the corrupted

English court. Monmouth was Absalom; Shaftesbury, 1681 Achitophel; Buckingham, Zimri. * And never has poet

winged more terrible weapons of political warfare than

the shower of bright and poisoned ļines that fell on the luckless objects of Dryden's rage. Conscious for the first time, after this great effort, of the dreadful wounds his pen could give, the poet did not henceforth

spare

Other satires, The Medal, launched against Shaftesbury alone, and Mac Flecknoe, hurled at the head of poet Shadwell, speedily followed; but neither of these came up in poetry or point to his great satire of 1681.

The poem, Religio Laici, written about this time, displays the author's mind convulsed with religious doubts. A severe mental struggle resulted in his abandonment of Protestantism for the Roman Catholic faith; an event which, unhappily for his repu

A.D.

its use.

• The satirist had a special grudge against Buckingham, who, in 1671, brought out a farce called The Rehearsal, in which Dryden and his heroic dramas were held up to public ridicule.

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