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An horrid stillness first invades the ear,
for which he was persecuted with perpetual ridicule, perhaps with more than was deserved. Silence is indeed mere privation; and, so considered, cannot invade; but privation likewise certainly is darkness, and probably cold ; yet poetry has never been refused the right of ascribing effects or agency to them as to positive pow
No man scruples to say that darkness hinders him from his work; or that cold has killed the plants. Death is also privation; yet who has made any difficul. ty of assigning to Death a dart and the power of stri
In settling the order of his works there is some difficulty ; for, even when they are important enough to be formally offered to a patron, he does not commonly date his dedication; the time of writing and publishing is not always the same; nor can the first editions be easi. ly found, if even froin them could be obtained the necessary information.
The time at which his first play was exhibited is not certainly known, because it was not printed till it was, some years afterwards, altered and revived ; but since the plays are said to be printed in the order in which they were written, from the dates of some, those of others may be inferred; and thus it may be collected, that in 1663, in the thirty-second year of his life, he commenced a writer for the stage; compelled undoubtedly by necessity, for he appears never to have loved that exercise of his genius, or to have much pleased himself with his own dramas.
Of the stage, when he had once invaded it, he kept possession for many years; not indeed without the competition of rivals, who sometimes prevailed, or the censure of criticks, which was often poignant and often just; but with such a degree of reputation as made him at least secure of being heard, whatever might be the final determination of the publick.
His first piece was a comedy called The Wild Gallant. He began with no happy auguries; for his performance was so much disapproved, that he was compelled to recall it, and change it from its imperfect state to the form in which it now appears, and which is yet sufficiently defective to vindicate the criticks.
I'wish that there were no necessity of following the progress of his theatrical fame, or tracing the meanders of his mind through the whole series of his dramatick performances; it will be fit, however, to enumerate them, and to take especial notice of those that are distinguished by any peculiarity, intrinsick or concomitant; for the composition and fate of eight-and-twenty dramas include too much of a poetical life to be omitted.
In 1664, be published The Rival Ladies, which he dedicated to the Earl of Orrery, a man of high reputation both as a writer and as a statesman.
In this play he made his essay of dramatick rhyme, which he defends, in his dedication, with sufficient certainty of a favourable hearing; for Orrery was himself a writer of rhyming tragedies.
He then joined with Sir Robert Howard in The Indian Queen, a tragedy in rhyme. The parts which either of them wrote are not distinguished.
The Indian Emperor was published in 1667. It is a tragedy in rhyme, intended for a sequel to Howard's Indian Queen. Of this connection notice was given to the audience by printed bills, distributed at the door; an expedient supposed to be ridiculed in The Rehearsal, where Bayes tells how many reams he las printed, to instil into the audience some conception of his plot.
In this play is the description of Night, which Rymer has made famous by preferring it to those of all other poets.
The practice of making tragedies in rhyme was introduced soon after the Restoration, as it seems by the Earl of Orrery, in compliance with the opinion of Charles the Second, who had formed his taste by the French theatre; and Dryden, who wrote, and made no difficulty of declaring that he wrote only to please, and who perhaps knew that by his dexterity of versification he was more likely to excel others in rhyme than with. out it, very readily adopted his master's preference. He therefore made rhyming tragedies, till, by the prevalence of manifest propriety, he seems to have grown ashamed of making them any longer.
To this play is prefixed a very vehement defence of dramatick rhyme, in confutation of the preface to The Duke of Lerma, in which Sir Robert Howard had censured it.
In 1667 he published Annus Mirabilis, the Year of Wonders, which may be esteemed one of his most ela borate works.
It is addressed to Sir Robert Howard by a letter, which is not properly a dedication; and, writing to a poet, he has interspersed many critical observations, of which some are common, and some perhaps ventured without much consideration. He began, even now, to exercise the domination of conscious genius, by recommending his own performance: “ I am satisfied that
as the Prince and General (Rupert and Monk] are "incomparably the best subjects I ever had, so what I “ have written on them is much better than what I " have performed on any other. As I have endeavour"ed to adorn my poem with noble thoughts, so niuch more to express those thoughts with elocution.”
It is written in quatrains, or heroick stanzas of four lines; a measure which he had learned from the Gone dibert of Davenant, and which he then thought the most majestick that the English language afforis. Of this stanza he mentions the incumbrances, increased as they were by the exactness which the age required. It was, throughout his life, very much his custom to recommend his works by representation of the difficulties that he had encountered, without appearing to have sufficiently considered, that where there is no difficulty there is no praise.
There seems to be, in the conduct of Sir Robert Howard and Dryden towarris each other, something that is not now easily to be explained. Dryden, in his dedication to the Earl of Orrery, had defended dramatick rhyine ; and Howard, in the preface to a collection of plays, had censured his opinion. Dryden vindicated himself in his Dialogue on Dramatick Poetry; Howard, in his preface to The Duke of Lerma, animadverted on the vindication ; and Dryden, in a preface to The Indian Emperor, replied to the Animadversions with great asperity, and almost with contumely. The dedication to this play is dated the year in which the rinnus Mirabilis was published. Here appears a strange inconsistency; but Langbaine affords some help, by relating that the answer to Howard was not published in the first edition of the play, but was added when it was afterwards reprinted; and as The Duke of Lerma did not appear till 1668, the same year in which the dialogue was published, there was time enough for enmity to grow up between authors, who, writing both for the theatre, were naturally rivals.
He was now so much distinguished, that in 1668 he succeeded Sir William Davenant as poet-laureat. The salary of the laureat had been raised in favour of Jonson, by Charles the First, from an hundred marks to one hundred pounds a year, and a tierce of wine; a revenue in those days not inadequate to the conveniencies of life.
The same year, he published his essay on Dramatick Poetry, an elegant and instructive dialogue, in which we are told, by Prior, that the principal character is meant to represent the Duke of Dorset. This work seems to have given Addison a model for his Dialogues
Secret Love, or the Maiden Queen, (1668), is a tragicomedy. In the preface he discusses a curious question, whether a poet can judge well of his own productions? and determines very justly, that, of the plan and disposition, and all that can be reduced to principles of science, the author may depend upon his own opinion ; but that, in those parts where fancy predominates, selflove may easily deceive. He might have observed, that what is good only because it pleases, cannot be pronounced good till it has been found to please.
Sir Martin Mar-all (1668) is a comedy, published without preface or dedication, and at first without the name of the author. Langbaine charges it, like most of the rest, with plagiarism; and observes, that the song is translated from Voiture, allowing however that both the sense and measure are exactly observed.
The Tempest (1670) is an alteration of Shakespeare's play, made by Dryden in conjunction with Davenant; « whom,” says he, “ I found of so quick a fancy, that
nothing was proposed to him in which he could not “suddenly produce a thought extremely pleasant and “surprising; and those first thoughts of his, contrary “ to the Latin proverb, were not always the least happy ; “and as his fancy was quick, so likewise were the pro“ ducts of it remote and new. He borrowed not of any “other; and his imaginations were such as could not easily enter into any other man."
The effect produced by the conjunction of these two powerful minds was, that to Shakespeare's monster, Caliban, is added a sister-monster, Sycorax; and a woman, who, in the original play, had never seen a man, is in this brought acquainted with a man that had never
seen a woman.
About this time, in 1673, Dryden seems to have had his quiet much disturbed by the success of The Empress of Morocco, a tragedy written in rhyme by Elkanah Settle; which was so much applauded, as to make him think his supremacy of reputation in some danger. Settle had not only been prosperous on the stage, but, in the confidence of success, had published his play, with sculptures and a preface of defiance. Here was one offence added to another; and, for the last blast of inflammation, it was acted at Whitehall by the court ladies.
Dryden could not now repress those cmotions, which he called indignation, and others jealousy; but wrote upon the play and the dedication such criticism as malignant impatience could pour out in laste.
Of Settle he gives this character: " He's an animal " of a most deplored understanding, without reading “and conversation. His being is in a twylight of sense, "and some glimmering of thought which he can never “ fashion into wit or English. His style is boisterous " and rough-hewn, his rhyme incorrigibly lewd, and “his numbers perpetually harsh and ill-sounding. The " little talent which he has, is fancy. He sometimes “ labours with a thought; but, with the pudder he “makes to bring it into the world, 'tis commonly still