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whether they were ever opposed by Sir Edward Sherburne, a man whose learning was greater than his
powers of poetry, and who, being better qualified to give the meaning than the spirit of Seneca, has introduced his version of three tragedies by a defence of close translation. The authority of Horace, which the new translators cited in defence of their practice, he has, by a judicious explanation, taken fairly from them; but reason wants not Horace to support it.
It seldom happens that all the necessary causes concur to any great effect: will is wanting to power, or power to will, or both are impeded by external obstructions. The exigences in which Dryden was condemned to pass his life are reasonably supposed to have blasted his genius, to have driven out his works in a state of immaturity, and to have intercepted the full-blown elegance which longer growth would have supplied. .: Poverty, like other rigid powers, is sometimes too hastily accused. If the excellence of Dryden's works was lessened by his indigence, their number was increased ; and I know not how it will be proved, that if he had written less he would have written better; or that indeed he would have undergone the toil of an author, if he had not been solicited by something more pressing than the love of praise.
But, as is said by his Sebastian,
What had been, is unknown; what is, appears.
Ve know that Dryden's several productions were so many successive expedients for his support; his
plays were therefore often borrowed; and his poems were almost all occasional.
FOCCASIOUX In an occasional performance no height of ex
PORTY cellence can be expected from any mind, however fertile in itself, and however stored with acquisitions. He whose work is general and arbitrary has the choice of his matter, and takes that which his inclination and his studies have best qualified him to display and decorate. He is at liberty to delay his publication till he has satisfied his friends and himself, till he has reformed his first thoughts by subsequent examination, and polished away those faults which the precipitance of ardent composition is likely to leave behind it. Virgil is related to have poured out a great number of lines in the morning, and to have passed the day in reducing them to fewer.
The occasional poet is circumscribed by the narrowness of his subject. Whatever can happen to man has happened so often that little remains for fancy or invention. We have been all born ; we have most of us been married ; and so many have died before us, that our deaths can supply but few materials for a poet. In the fate of princes the publick has an interest; and what happens to them of good or evil, the poets have always considered as business for the Muse. But after so many inauguratory gratulations, nuptial hymns, and funeral dirges, he must be highly favoured by nature, or by fortune, who says any thing not said before. Even war and conquest, however splendid, suggest no new images; the triumphant chariot of a victorious
monarch can be decked only with those ornaments that have graced his predecessors.
Not only matter but time is wanting. The poem must not be delayed till the occasion is forgotten. The lucky moments of animated imagination cannot be attended; elegances and illustrations cannot be multiplied by gradual accumulation ; the composition must be despatched while conversation is yet busy, and admiration fresh; and haste is to be made, lest some other event should lay hold upon mankind.
Occasional compositions may however secure to a writer the praise both of learning and facility; for they cannot be the effect of long study, and must be furnished immediately from the treasures of the mind.
The death of Cromwell was the first publick event which called forth Dryden's poetical powers. His heroick stanzas have beauties and defects; the thoughts are vigorous, and, though not always proper, show a mind replete with ideas; the numbers are smooth; and the diction, if not altogether correct, is elegant and
easy. Davenant was perhaps at this time his favourite author, though Gondibert never appears to have been popular; and from Davenant he learned to please his ear with the stanza of four lines alternately rhymed.
Dryden very early formed his versification; there are in this early production no traces of Donne's or Jonson's ruggedness; but he did not so soon free his mind from the ambition of forced conceits. In his verses on the Restoration, he says of the King's exile,
He, toss'd by Fate-
And afterwards, to show how virtue and wisdom are increased by adversity, he makes this remark:
Well might the ancient poets then confer
His praise of Monk's dexterity comprises such a cluster of thoughts unallied to one another, as will not elsewhere be easily found :
'Twas Monk, whom Providence design'd to loose
But the well-ripen'd fruit of wise delay.
He, like a patient angler, ere he strook,
He had not yet learned, indeed he never learned well, to forbear the improper use of mythology. After having rewarded the heathen deities for their care,
With Alga who the sacred altar strows?
He tells us, in the language of religion,
Prayer storm'd the skies, and ravish'd Charles from thence,
And afterwards mentions one of the most awful passages of Sacred History.
Other conceits there are, too curious to be quite omitted ; as,
For by example most we sinn'd before,
ow far he was yet from thinking it necessary to und his sentiments on nature, appears from the travagance of his fictions and hyperboles :
The winds, that ever moderation knew,