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sthenes, fades away before it. In a few lines is exhibited a character, so extensive in its comprehension, and so curious in its limitations, that nothing can be added, diminished, or reformed; nor can the editors and admirers of Shakspeare, in all their emulation of reverence, boast of much more than of having diffusedand paraphrased this epitome of excellence, of having changed Dryden's gold for baser metal, of lower value, though of greater bulk.
In this, and in all his other essays on the same subject, the criticism of Dryden is the criticism of a poet; not a dull collection of theorems, nor a rude detection of faults, which perhaps the censor
was not able to have committed; but a gay and ) | vigorous dissertation, where delight is mingled with instruction, and where the author proves
his right of judgement by his power of performance.
The different manner and effect with which critical knowledge may be conveyed, was perhaps never more clearly exemplified than in the performances of Rymer and Dryden. It was said of a dispute between two mathematicians, ' “ malim cum Scaligero errare, quam cum Clavio recte sapere ;" that "it was more eligible to go wrong with one, than right with the other." A tendency of the same kind every mind must feel at the perusal of Dryden's prefaces and Rymer's' discourses. With Dryden we are wandering in quest of truth; whom we find, if we find her at all, drest in the graces of elegance; and, if we miss her, the labour of the pursuit rewards itself; we are led only through fragrance and flowers. Rymer, with
out taking a nearer, takes a rougher way; every step is to be made through thorns and brambles; and Truth, if we meet her, appears repulsive by her mien, and ungraceful by her habit. Dryden's criticism has the majesty of a queen ; Rymer's has the ferocity of a tyrant.
As he had studied with great diligence the art of Poetry, and enlarged or rectified his notions, by experience perpetually increasing, he had his mind
stored with principles and observations; he poured out his knowledge with little labour ; fór of labour, hki ta notwithstanding the multiplicity of his productions, labor there is sufficient reason to suspect that he was not la lover. To write con amore, with fondness for the employment, with perpetual touches and retouches, with unwillingness to take leave of his own idea, and an unwearied pursuit of unattainable perfection, was, I think, no part of his character.
His criticism may be considered as general or occasional. In his general precepts, which depend upon the nature of things, and the structure of the human mind, he may doubtless be safely recommended to the confidence of the reader ; but his occasional and particular positions were sometimes interested, sometimes negligent, and sometimes
capricious. It is not without reason that Trapp, speaking of the praises which he bestows on Palamon and Arcite, says, “ Novimus judicium Drydeni de poemate quodam Chauceri, pulchro sane illo, et admodum laudando, nimirum quod non modo vere epicum sit, sed Iliada etiam atque Æneada æquet, imo superet. Sed novimus eodem tempore viri illius maximi non semper accuratissimas esse cen
suras, nec ad severissimam critices normam exactas : illo judice id plerumque optimum est, quod nunc præ manibus habet, et in quo' nunc occupatur.'
He is therefore by no means constant to himself. His defence and desertion of dramatick rhyme is generally known. Spence, in his remarks on Pope's Odyssey, produces what he thinks an unconquerable quotation from Dryden's preface to the Æneid, in favour of translating an epick poem into blank verse ; but he forgets that when his author attempted the Iliad, some years afterwards, he departed from his own decision, and translated into rhyme.
When he has any objection to obviate, or any licence to defend, he is not very scrupulous about what he asserts, nor very cautious, if the present purpose be served, not to entangle himself in his own sophistries. But when all arts are exhausted, like other hunted animals, he sometimes stands at bay; when he cannot disown the grossness of one of his plays, he declares that he knows not any law that prescribes morality to a comick poet.
His remarks on ancient or modern writers are not always to be trusted. His parallel of the versification of Ovid with that of Claudian has been very justly censured by Sewel*. His comparison of the first line of Virgil with the first of Statius is not happier. Virgil, he says, is soft and gentle, and would have thought Statius mad, if he had heard him thundering out
Quæ superimposito moles geminata colosso
* Preface to Ovid's Metamorphoses.
Statius perhaps heats himself, as he proceeds, to exaggeration somewhat hyperbolical ; but undoubtedly Virgil would have been too hasty, if he had condemned him to straw for one sounding line. Dryden wanted an instance, and the first that occurred was imprest into the service.
What he wishes to say, he says at hazard; he cited Gorbuduc, which he had never seen; gives a false account of Chapman's versification; and discovers, in the preface to his Fables, that he translated the first book of the Iliad without knowing what was in the second.
It will be difficult to prove that Dryden ever made any great advances in literature. As having distinguished himself at Westminster under the tuition of Busby, who advanced his scholars to a height of knowledge very rarely attained in grammar-schools, he resided afterwards at Cambridge; it is not to be supposed, that his skill in the ancient languages was deficient, compared with that of common students; but his scholastick acquisitions seem not proportionate to his opportunities and abilities. He could not, like Milton or Cowley, have made his name illustrious merely by his learning. He mentions but few books, and those such as lie in the beaten track of regular study; from which if never he departs, he is in danger of losing himself in unknown regions.
In his Dialogue on the Drama, he pronounces } .with great confidence that the Latin tragedy of Medea is not Ovid's, because it is not sufficiently interesting and pathetick. He might have determined the question upon surer evidence; for it is
quoted by Quintilian as the work of Seneca; and the only line which remains in Ovid's play, for one line is left us, is not there to be found. There was therefore no need of the gravity of conjecturé, or the discussion of plot or sentiment, to find what was already known upon higher authority than such discussions can ever reach.
His literature, though not always free from ostentation, will be commonly found either obvious, and made his own by the art of dressing it; or superficial, which; by what he gives, shows what he wanted; or erroneous, hastily collected, and negligently scattered.
Yet it cannot be said that his genius is ever unprovided of matter, or that his fancy languishes "in
penury of ideas. His works abound with knowledge, and sparkle with illustrations. There is scarcely any science or faculty that does not supply him with occasional images and lucky similitudes; every page discovers a mind very widely acquainted both with art and nature, and in full possession of great stores of intellectual wealth. Of him that knows much it is natural to suppose that he has read with diligence: yet I rather believe that the knowledge of Dryden' was gleaned from accidental, intelligence and various conversation, by a quick apprehension, a judicious selection, and a happy memory, a keen appetite of knowledge, and a powerful digestion; by vigilance that permitted nothing
without notice, and a habit of reflection that suffered nothing useful to be lost. A mind like Dryden's, always curious, always active, to which every understanding was proud to be associated,