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False criticks have been the plague of all ages; Milton himself, in a very polite court, has been compared to the rumbling of a wheel-barrow: he had been on the wrong side, and therefore could not be a good poet. And this, perhaps, may be Mr. Philips's case.
But I take generally the ignorance of his readers to be the occasion of their dislike. People that have formed their
taste upon the French writers can have no relish for Philips; they admire points and turns, and consequently have no judgment of what is great and majestick : he must look little in their eyes, when he soars so high as to be almost out of their view. I cannot therefore allow any admirer of the French to be a judge of Blenheim, nor any who takes Bouhours for a complete critick. He generally judges of the ancients by the moderns, and not the moderns by the ancients; he takes those
passages of their own authors to be really sublime which come the nearest to it; he often calls that a noble and a great thought which is only a pretty and a fine one: and has more instances of the sublime out of Ovid de Tristibus, than he has out of all Virgil.
I shall allow, therefore, only those to be judges of Philips, who make the ancients, and particularly Virgil
, their standard.
But, before I enter on this subject, I shall consider what is particular in the style of Philips, and examine what ought to be the style of heroick poetry; and next inquire how far he is come up to that style.
His style is particular, because he lays aside rhyme, and writes in blank verse, and uses old words, and frequently postpones the adjective to the substantive, and the substantive to the verb; and leaves out little particles, a, and the ; her, and his ; and uses frequent appositions. Now let us examine whether these alterations of style be conformable to the true sublime.
WILLIAM WALSH, the son of Joseph Walsh, Esq. of Abberley in Worcestershire, was born in 1663, as appears from the account of Wood, who relates, that at the age of fifteen he became, in 1678, a gentleman commoner of Wadham College.
He left the university without a degree, and pursued his studies in London and at home; that he studied, in whatever place, is apparent from the effect, for he became, in Mr. Dryden's opinion, the best critick in the nation.
He was not, however, merely a critick or a scholar, but a man of fashion, and, as Dennis remarks, ostentatiously splendid in his dress. He was likewise a member of parliament and a courtier, knight of the shire for his native county in several parliaments; in another, the representative of Richmond in Yorkshire; and gentleman of the horse to Queen Anne, under the Duke of Somerset.
Some of his verses shew him to have been a zealous friend to the Revolution; but his political ardour did not abate his reverence or kindness for Dryden, to whom he gave a dissertation on Virgil's Pastorals, in which, however studied, he discovers some ignorance of the laws of French versification.
In 1705, he began to correspond with Mr. Pope, in whom he discovered very early the power of poetry. Their letters are written upon the pastoral comedy of the Italians, and those pastorals which Pope was then preparing to publish.
The kindnesses which are first experienced are seldom forgotten. Pope always retained a grateful memory of Walsh’s notice, and mentioned him in one of his latter pieces among those that bad encouraged his juvenile studies :
Granville the polite,
In his Essay on Criticism he had given him more splendid praise; and, in the opinion of his learned Commentator, sacrificed a little of his judgment to his gratitude.
The time of his death I have not learned. It must have happened between 1707, when he wrote to Pope; and 1711, when Pope praised him in his Essay. The epitaph makes him forty-six years old: if Wood's account be right, he died in 1709.
He is known more by his familiarity with greater men, than by any thing done or written by himself.
His works are not numerous. In prose he wrote Eugenia, a Defence of Women; which Dryden honoured with a preface.
Esculapius, or the Hospital of Fools, published after his death.
A collection of Letters and Poems, amorous and gallant, was published in the volumes called Dryden's Miscellany, and some other occasional pieces.
To his Poems and Letters is prefixed a very judicious preface upon Epistolary Composition and Amorous Poetry.
In his Golden Age restored, there was something of humour, while the facts were recent; but it now strikes no longer. In his imitation of Horace, the first stanzas are happily turned ; and in all his writings there are pleasing passages. He has, however, more elegance than vigour, and seldom rises higher than to be pretty
Of the great poet whose life I am about to delineate, the curiosity which his reputation must excite will require a display more ample than can now be given, His contemporaries, however they reverenced his genius, left his life unwritten; and nothing therefore can be known beyond what casual mention and uncertain tradition have supplied.
JOHN DRYDEN was born August 9, 1631, at Aldwinkle, near Oundle, the son of Erasmus Dryden of Titchmersh; who was the third son of Sir Erasmus Dryden, baronet, of Canons Ashby. All these places are in Northamptonshire; but the original stock of the family was in the county of Huntingdon.
He is reported by his last biographer, Derrick, to have inherited from his father an estate of two hundred a year, and to have been bred, as was said, an Anabaptist. For either of these particulars no authority is gi
Such a fortune ought to have secured him from that poverty which seems always to have oppressed him; or, if he had wasted it, to have made him ashamed of publishing his necessities. But though he had many enemies, who undoubtedly examined his life with a scrutiny sufficiently malicious, I do not remember that he is ever charged with waste of his patrimony. He was indeed sometimes reproached for his first religion. I am therefore inclined to believe that Derrick's intelligence was partly true, and partly erroneons.
From Westminster School, where he was instructed as one of the King's scholars by Dr. Busby, whom he long after continued to reverence, he was in 1650 elected to one of the Westminster scholarships at Cambridge.
Of his school performances has appeared only a poem on the death of Lord Hastings, composed with great ambition of such conceits as, notwithstanding the reformation begun by Waller and Denham, the examVol. VI.
ple of Cowley still kept in reputation. Lord Hastings died of the small-pox; and his poet has made of the pustules, first rosebuds, and then gems; at last exalts them into stars; and says,
No comet need foretell his change drew on,
At the university he does not appear to have been eager of poetical distinction, or to have lavished his early wit either on fictitious subjects or publick occasions. He probably considered, that he who proposed to be an author ought first to be a student. He obtained, whatever was the reason, no fellowship in the College. Why he was excluded cannot now be known, and it is vain to guess; had he thought himself injured, he knew how to complain. In the life of Plutarci he mentions his education in the College with gratitude; but, in a prologue at Oxford, he has these lines :
Oxford to him a dearer name shall be
It was not till the death of Cromwell, in 1658, that he became a publick candidate for fame, hy publishing Heroic Stanzas on the late Lord Protector ; which, compared with the verses of Sprat and Waller on the same occasion, were sufficient to raise great expectations of the rising poet.
When the King was restored, Dryden, like the other panegyrists of usurpation, changed his opinion, or his profession, and published ASTREA Redux, a Poem on the happy Restoration and Return of his most sacred Majesty King Charles the Second.
The reproach of inconstancy was, on this occasion, shared with such numbers, that it produced neither hatred nor disgrace! if he changed, he changed with the nation. It was, however, not totally forgotten when his reputation raised him enemies.
The same year, he praised the new King in a second poem on his restoration. In the ASTREA was the line,