« ElőzőTovább »
TRANSLATION OF VIRGIL
tation, occurred at a time when such a change was the high road to royal favour. It is right, however, to say, that the pension of £100, which some believe him to have received as the reward of his defection, had been already granted by Charles, and was now merely restored by James. On the whole, the change seems to have been one for which Dryden had deeper motives than the desire of gold or royal favour. He reared his children, and died in the Roman Catholic faith. In a beautiful allegory, The Hind and Panther, he exhibits his new-born affection for the Church of his adoption, which he paints as a “milk-white hind, immortal and unchanged." The Church of England is represented by the panther, “the fairest creature of the spotted kind”; while dissenting sects play their various parts as bears, hares, boars, and other animals. In spite of the grotesque antithesis involved in making wild beasts discuss theology, it affords a splendid specimen of Dryden's chief quality—his power of reasoning in rhyme.
When William and Mary ascended the English throne, Dryden, who thus lost his laureateship with its guineas and its wine, sank into a bookseller's hack, depending for daily bread alınost entirely upon his pen. He then undertook a work for which his genius was quite unfitted—the translation into English verse of the sweet and graceful Virgil. The verses of the Latin poet have the velvet bloom, the dewy softness, the delicate odour of a flower; the version of the Englishman has the hardness and brilliance of a gem : and, when we find only flowers cut in stone, where we expect to see flowers blooming in sweet reality-no matter how skilful the lapidary, how rich the colouring, or pure the water of the jewel-admiring the triumph of art, we miss the sweetness of nature, and long to exchange the rainbow play of coloured light for the stealing fragrance and tender hues of the living blossom. For this heavy task of turning the Georgics and the Æneid into English pentameters, the work of three toilsome years, the poet received £1200. The translation 1697 was published in 1697. It was not his first task of the kind. The year before, he had translated part of Juvenal and all Persius; and, earlier, had employed his pen upon scattered
240 “ ALEXANDER’S FEAST” AND “THE FABLES.” poems from Horace, Ovid, and Theocritus. We think sorrowfully of the old man toiling at his desk upon this heavy task, often pursuing the “sad mechanic exercise” with little heart; for we believe he must have felt that his English rendering did not breathe the true spirit of Virgil's verse. Yet, in spite of such occasional clouds, the sunset of his life was fair. He was the great literary lion of his day; and no country stranger, of any taste for letters, thought his round of London sights complete, unless he had been to Will's Coffee-house in Russell Street, where, ensconced in a snug arm-chair, by the fire or out on the balcony, according to the season, old John sat, pipe in hand, laying down the law upon disputed points in literature or politics. Happy was the favoured rustic who could boast to his admiring friends that he had got a pinch of snuff from the great man's box!
During these sunset years he wrote his finest lyric—the Ode for St. Cecilia's Day, which is generally known as Alexander's Feast, and which, notwithstanding Hallam's unfavourable opinion, still remains a favourite ; and not without deserving to be so. It cost him a fortnight's toil. Changing his metre with the variations of his theme, the poet sweeps the strings of the fierce and softer passions of the human breast; or, to use another figure, choosing with rapid and skilful finger the brightest threads from what is to many the tangled skein of our English tongue, he weaves of them a brilliant tapestry, glowing with a succession of fair and terrible pictures. No English poem better illustrates the wonderful pliancy of the tongue we speak. But it takes a master's touch to weave the threads as Dryden did ; his silk and gold would change in meaner hands to grey hemp and rusted wire.
The composition of his Fables occupied the poet's last two years. For this work, of about twelve thousand lines, he received somewhat more than £250 from Jacob Tonson, who sold books at the Judge's Head in Chancery Lane. “ The Fables” rank with Dryden's finest works. Consisting of tales from Boccaccio and Chaucer, dressed in modern diction, they are, unhappily, often stained with a deeper tinge of licentiousness than even the originals possess.
After a life of literary toil, productive of many splendid works, yet scarcely one whose splendour is not crusted over with
May 1, the foul, obscuring fungus of a vicious age, Dryden let
1700 fall his pen from a dying hand. At sixty-eight, a ne
A.D. glected inflammation of the foot carried him off after a short illness. His body was buried in Westminster Abbey, where his name may be read among the names of many wiser and purer
Most of this poet's faults sprang from the corrupting spread of French influences. Ever since the days of the Confessor and the Conqueror, France has been the arbiter of English fashions in the way of dress: our British ladies still prize the bonnets, silks, and gloves of Paris and Lyons far beyond those of their native land. Little harm in all this. But it was a black day for England, when the ship which carried Charles the Second to a throne bore also over the narrow sea a cargo of French vices and false tastes, to spread their poison through court and coffee-house, and even to mingle with the ink that dropped from the poet's pen. The trick of writing tragedies in rhyme—the trick of intermingling firm, strong English sense, with tinsel-scraps of French, like fraicheur and fougue—the trick of often substituting cold, glittering mannerisms, for the sweet fresh light of natural language—are the chief symptoms of this foreign disease in Dryden's work. In that marble palace which, according to Johnson, he reared from the rude blocks of the English tongue, there are too many gilded cornices and panellings from Versailles. Yet in this foreign adornment he was far surpassed by his imitator and admirer of the next generation, little Alexander Pope, who unquestionably ranks facile princeps among the painters and decorators of the literary guild.
CHARACTER OF SHAFT ESBURY.
(FROM ABSALOM AND ACHITOPHEL.”)
SPECIMENS OF DRYDEN'S VERSE.
Restless, unfixed in principles and place ;
CHARACTER OF BUCKINGHAM,
Some of their chiefs were princes of the land :
LOCKE's great work, An Essay concerning Human Understanding, has done more than any other book to popularize the study of mental philosophy. He, therefore, well deserves a place among the great names of English literature.
Born in 1632, at Wrington near Bristol, he received his education at Westminster School, and Christ Church, Oxford; and in the halls of that venerable college he learned, as the illustrious Bacon had learned at Cambridge, to dislike the philosophy of old Aristotle, at least when applied to the production of mere wordy bubbles by the schoolmen of Western Europe. Choosing the profession of medicine, he bent his great mind to the mastery of its details ; but the feebleness of his constitution prevented him from facing the hard and wearing work of a physician's life. Well for England that it was so; else one of the greatest of our mental philosophers might have drudged his life away in the dimness of a poor country surgery, had he not most luckily possessed a pair of delicate lungs. So the thin student turned diplomatist, and went to Germany as secretary to Sir Walter Vane. Declining an invitation to enter the Church, he afterwards found a home in the house of Lord Ashley, where he acted as tutor to the son, and afterwards to the grandson, of his patron. The lastnamed pupil became that distinguished moralist whose lofty periods delighted the literati of Queen Anne's reign. To the fortunes of Lord Ashley, who received the earldom of Shaftesbury in 1672,