« ElőzőTovább »
with an adverse name. He condescended indeed to a controversy with Settle, in which he perhaps may be considered rather as assaulting than repelling; and since Settle is sunk into oblivion, his libel remains injurious only to himself.
Among answers to criticks, no poetical attacks, or altercations, are to be included; they are like other poems, effusions of genius, produced as much to obtain praise as to obviate censure. These Dryden practised, and in these he excelled.
Of Collier, Blackmore, and Milbourne, he has made mention in the Preface of his Fables. To the censure of Collier, whose remarks may be rather termed admonitions than criticisins, he makes little reply; being, at the age of sixty-eight, attentive to better things than the claps of a playhouse. He complains of Collier's rudeness, and the “horseplay of his raillery;" and asserts, that, “ in many places he has perverted by his glosses the meaning" of what he censures; but in other things he confesses that he is justly taxed; and says, with great calmness and candour, “ I have pleaded guilty to all thoughts or expressions of mine that can be truly accused of obscenity, immorality, or profaneness, and retract them. If he be my enemy, let him triumph; if he be my friend, he will be glad of my repentance.” Yet as our best dispositions are imperfect, he left standing in the same book a reflection on Collier of great asperity, and indeed of more asperity than wit.
Blackmore he represents as made his enemy by the poem of Absalom and Achitophel, which “he thinks a little hard upon his fanatick patrons ;” and
charges him with borrowing the plan of his Arthur from the preface to Juvenal, “ though he had," says he, “the baseness not to acknowledge his benefactor, but instead of it to traduce me in a libel.”
The libel in which Blackmore traduced him was a Satire upon Wit; in which, having lamented the exuberance of false wit and the deficiency of true, he proposes that all wit should be re-coined before it is current, and appoints masters of assay
who shall reject all that is light or debased.
'Tis true, that when the coarse and worthless dross
And wicked mixture, shall be purged away! Thus stands the passage in the last edition; but in the original there was an abatement of the censure, beginning thus :
But what remains will be so pure, 'twill bear
Th' examination of the most severe. Blackmore, finding the censure resented, and the civility disregarded, ungenerously omitted the softer part. Such variations discover a writer who consults his passions more than his virtue; and it may be reasonably supposed that Dryden imputes his enmity to its true cause.
Of Milbourne he wrote only in general terms, such as are always ready at the call of anger, whether just or not: a short extract will be sufficient. “He pretends a quarrel to me, that I have fallen fou upon priesthood; if I have, I am only to ask pardon of good priests, and am afraid his share of the reparation will come to little. Let him be satisfied that he shall never be able to force himself upon me for an adversary; I contemn him too much to enter into competition with him.
“ As for the rest of those who have written against me, they are such scoundrels that they deserve not the least notice to be taken of them. Blackmore and Milbourne are only distinguished from the crowd by being remembered to their infamy.”
Dryden indeed discovered, in many of his writings, an affected and absurd malignity to priests and priesthood, which naturally raised him many enemies, and which was sometimes as unseasonably resented as it was exerted. Trapp is angry that he calls the sacrificer in the Georgicks “ The Holy Butcher:" the translation is not indeed ridiculous; but Trapp's anger arises from his zeal, not for the author, but the priest; as if any reproach of the follies of paganism could be extended to the preachers of truth.
Dryden's dislike of the priesthood is imputed by Langbaine, and I think by Brown, to a repulse which he suffered when he solicited ordination ; but he denies, in the preface to his Fables, that he ever designed to enter into the church ; and such a denial he would not have hazarded, if he could have been convicted of falsehood.
Malevolence to the clergy is seldom at a great distance from irreverence of religion, and Dryden affords no exception to this observation. His writings exhibit many passages, which, with all
'the allowance that can be made for characters and occasions, are such as piety would not have admitted, and such as may vitiate light and unprincipled minds. But there is no reason for supposing that he disbelieved the religion which he disobeyed. He forgot his duty rather than disowned it. His tendency to profaneness is the effect of levity, negligence, and loose conversation, with a desire of accommodating himself to the corruption of the times, by venturing to be wicked as far as he durst. When he professed himself a convert to popery, he did not pretend to have received any new conviction of the fundamental doctrines of christianity.
The persecution of criticks was not the worst of his vexations ; hę was much more disturbed by the importunities of want. His complaints of poverty are so frequently repeated, either with the dejection of of weakness sinking in helpless misery, or the indignation of merit claiming its tribute from mankind, that it is impossible not to detest the age which could impose on such a man the necessity of such solicitations, or not to despise the man who could submit to such solicitations without necessity.
Whether by the world's neglect, or his own imprudence, I am afraid that the greatest part of his life was passed in exigences. Such outcries were surely never uttered but in severe pain. Of his supplies or his expenses no probable estimate can now be made. Except the salary of the lauréat, to which King James added the office of historiographer, perhaps with some additional emoluments, his whole revenue seems to have been casual ; and it is well known that he seldom lives frugally who
lives by chance. Hope is always liberal; and they that trust her promises make little scruple of revelling to-day on the profits of the morrow.
Of his plays the profit was not great; and of the produce of his other works very little intelligence can be had. By discoursing with the late amiable Mr. Tonson, I could not find that any memorials of the transactions between his predecessor and Dryden had been preserved, except the following papers :
“ I do hereby promise to pay John Dryden, Esq. or order, on the 25th of March, 1699, the sum of two hundred and fifty guineas, in consideration of ten thousand verses, which the said John Dryden, Esq. is to deliver to me Jacob Tonson, when finished, whereof seven thousand five hundred verses, more or less, are already in the said Jacob Tonson's possession. And I do hereby farther promise, and engage myself, to make up the said sum of two hundred and fifty guineas three hun. dred pounds sterling to the said John Dryden, Esq. his executors, administrators, or assigns, at the beginning of the second impression of the said ten thousand verses.
* In witness whereof I have hereunto set my: hand and seal, this 20th day of March, 169%.
6. Jacob Tonson. “ Sealed and delivered, being
first duly stampt, pursuant
“ Ben. Portlock,