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Dryden's poetry is very artificial, abounding in conceits and overstrained metaphors. But though he seldom writes twenty lines without something false and unnatural, his general conceptions are almost always noble, and he often exhibits in their execution an astonishing richness and sublimity of imagination. His great excellence lies in the mingled stateliness and harmony of his numbers. His versification is flowing and musical, and at the same time grand, energetic, and resounding, beyond that of any other English poet. He possessed great lyrical powers, as is evident from the few odes which he composed. His abilities as a satirist were likewise very admirable.
Yet he possessed no power of tenderness or pathos, very little wit or humour, and not much felicity in natural description. “The power that predominated in his intellectual operations,” says Dr Johnson, 6. was rather strong reason than quick sensibility. Upon all occasions that were presented he studied rather than felt, and produced sentiments not such as nature enforces, but meditation supplies.”
The moral character of a great part of Dryden's poetry deserves the severest censure. It is degraded and licentious in its tendency. For this there is no excuse in the assertion that he stooped to accommodate his writings to the depraved taste of the age in which he wrote. It is the characteristic of a virtuous mind not only to keep itself unspotted amidst the general corruption, but to send forth from its own purity a powerful counteracting and renovating influence. And Dryden possessed powers which might have enabled him to elevate and purify the moral sensibilities of the whole English nation. While he was a musing with his strains a sensual monarch and an immoral court, Milton was composing the Paradise Lost, in his own comparatively lonely, but virtuous and dignified retirement.
Dryden's prose is superior to his poetry. His style is exceedingly pure and beautiful ; rich in the genuine idioms of his native tongue, chaste and regular in its flow, with full, but not superfluous ornament. It is often splendid, always musical, yet clear, easy, natural, and energetic.
His personal character presents much which is amiable and pleasant, but nothing noble or sublime. Hy was neither immoral nor religious.
A PARISH priest was of the pilgrim train ;
An awful, reverend, and religious man.
His eyes diffus'd a venerable grace,
And charity itself was in his face.
Rich was his soul, though his attire was poor ;
(As God had clothed his own ambassador)
For such on earth, his bless'd Redeemer bore.
Of sixty years he seem'd; and well might last
To sixty more, but that he liv'd too fast;
Refind himself to soul, to curb the sense,
And made almost a sin of abstinence.
Yet had his aspect nothing, of severe,
But such a face as promis'd him sincere:
Nothing reserv'd or sullen was to see,
But sweet regards, and pleasing sanctity;
Mild was his accent, and his action free.
With eloquence innate his tongue was armid,
Though harsh the precept, yet the preache: charm’d.
For, letting down the golden chain from high,
He drew his audience upward to the sky:
And oft with holy hymns he charm'd their ears,
(A music more melodious than the spheres :)
For David left him, when he went to rest,
His lyre; and, after him, he sung the best.
He bore his great commission in his look,
But sweetly temper'd awe, and softened all he spoke.
He preach'd the joys of Heaven, and pains of hell,
And warn'd the sinner with becoming zeal ;
But on eternal mercy lov'd to dwell.
He taught the gospel rather than the law,
And forc'd himself to drive, but lov'd to draw:
For fear but freezes minds; but love, like heat,
Exhales the soul sublime to seek her native seat.
To threats the stubborn sinner oft is hard :
Wrapt in his crimes, against the storm prepar'd;
But when the milder beams of mercy play,
He melts, and throws his cumbrous cloak away.
Lightning and thunder (heaven's artillery)
As harbingers before the Almighty fly:
Those but proclaim his style, and disappear;
The stiller sound succeeds, and God is there!
The tithes his parish freely paid, he took,
But never sued, or curs'd with bell and book:
With patience bearing wrong, but offering none,
Since every man is free to lose his own.
The country churls, according to their kind,
(Who grudge their dues, and love to be behind,)
The less he sought, his offerings pinch'd the more ;
And prais'd a priest contented to be poor.
Yet of his little he had some to spare,
To feed the famish’d, and to clothe the bare;
For mortified he was to that degree,
A poorer than himself he would not see.
“True priests,” he said, “and preachers of the word,
Were only stewards of their Sovereign Lord;
Nothing was theirs, but all the public store,
Intrusted riches, to relieve the poor;
Who, should they steal, for want of his relief,
He judg’d himself accomplice with the thief.”
Wide was his parish, not contracted close
In streets, but here and there a straggling house ;
Yet still he was at hand, without request,
To serve the sick, to succour the distress'd,
Tempting, on foot, alone, without affright,
The dangers of a dark tempestuous night.
All this the good old man perform'd alone,
Nor spar'd his pains; for curate he had none :
Nor durst he trust another with his care;
Nor rode himself to Paul's the public fair,
To chaffer for preferment with his gold,
Where bishoprics and sinecures are sold:
But duly watch'd his flock by night and day,
And from the prowling wolf redeem'd the prey,
And hungry sent the wily fox away.
The proud'he tam'd, the penitent he cheerd,
Nor to rebuke the rich offender fear'd.
His preaching much, but more his practice wrought,
(A living sermon of the truths he taught :)
For this by rules severe his life he squar'd,
That all might see the doctrine which they heard :
“For priest,” he said, “ are patterns for the rest,
(The gold of heaven, who bear the God impress’d:)
But when the precious coin is kept unclean,
The Sovereign's image is no longer seen,
If they be foul on whom the people trust,
Well may the baser brass contract a rust.”.
The prelate, for his holy life he priz'd;
The worldly pomp of prelacy despis’d.
His Saviour came not with a gaudy show,
Nor was his kingdom of the world below.
Patience in want, and poverty of mind,
These marks of church and churchmen he design’d,
And living taught, and dying left behind.
The crown he wore was of the pointed thorn;
In purple he was crucified, not born.
They who contend for place and high degree,
Are not his sons, but those of Zebedee.
Such was the saint, who shone with every grace,
Reflecting, Moses like, his Maker's face.
God saw his image lively was express’d,
And his own work, as in creation, bless'd
FROM THE EPISTLE TO SIR GODFREY KNELLER,
SURE some propitious planet then did smile, When first you were conducted to this isle: Our Genius brought you here, to enlarge our fame ; For your good stars are every where the same.
Thy matchless hand, of every region free,
Adopts our climate, not our climate thee.
Great Rome and Venice early did impart
To thee the examples of their wond'rous art,
Those masters then, but seen, not understood,
With generous emulation fir'd thy blood :
For what, in Nature's dawn, the child admir’d,
The youth endeavor'd and the man acquir’d.
If yet thou hast not reach'd their high degree,
'Tis only wanting to this age, not thee.
Thy genius, bounded by the times, like mine,
Drudges on petty draughts, nor dare design
A more exalted work, and more divine.
For what a song, or senseless opera,
Is to the living labour of a play;
Or what a play to Virgil's work would be,
Such is a single piece to history.
But we, who life bestow, ourselves must live :
Kings cannot reign, unless their subjects give ;
And they who pay the taxes bear the rule:
Thus thou, sometimes, art forc'd to draw a fool;
But so his follies in thy posture sink,
The senseless idiot seems at last to think.
How strange! that sots and knaves should be so vain,
To wish their vile resemblance may remain!
And stand recorded, at their own request,
To future days, a libel or a jest!
Else should we see your noble pencil trace
Our unities of action, time, and place;
A whole compos'd of parts, and those the best,
With every various character exprest:
Heroes at large, and at a nearer view;
Less, and at distance, an ignobler crew;
While all the figures in one action join,
As tending to complete the main design.
More cannot be by mortal Art exprest;
But venerable Age shall add the rest :
For Time shall with his ready pencil stand,
Retouch your figures with his ripening hand,
Mellow your colors, and imbrown the tint,
Add every grace which Time alone can grant;
shall your fame convey,
And give more beauties than he takes away.
Born 1672-Died 1719. Addison's name is early and delightfully connected with all our ideas of whatever is easy, idiomatic, and delicately humorous in the English prose literature. His poetical celebrity rests exclusively on his letter from Italy, one or two devotional hymns, and his tragedy of Cato. The latter production, in Dr. Johnson's language, is rather a poem in dialogue than a drama, rather a succession of just sentiments in elegant language than a representation of natural affections, or of any state probable or possible in human life.
His life was divided between literature and politics, and he is a solitary example of a poet rising so high in the favour of the court as to hold the office of Secretary of State. His death was triumphant in the hopes of the Christian religion, and afforded a most solemn and instructive scene. When he found life drawing to its close he sent for his step-son, the licentious Earl of Warwick, and when the youthful nobleman desired to receive his last injunction, “I have sent for you," he said, “ that you may see how a Christian can die.”
ODE FROM THE NINETEENTH PSALM.
The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue etherial sky,
And spangled heavens, a shining frame,
Their great original proclaim.
Th’ unwearied sun from day to day,
Does his Creator's power display;
And publishes to ev'ry land,
The work of an Alnighty hand.
Soon as the evening shades prevail,
The moon takes up the won'drous tale,
And, nightly, to the list’ning earth,
Repeats the story of her birth;
Whilst all the stars that round her burn,
And all the planets in their turn,
Confirm the tidings as they roll,
And spread the truth from pole to pole.
* The biographer of Andrew Marvell, has made it appear very probable that this beautiful Ode and the Hymn beginning“ The Lord mỹ pasture shall prepare,” were written by that pleasant poet and excellent man. They were both inserted in the Spectator, without the name of the author, and have accordingly always passed as Addison's. The reader will see that they bear a great resemblance to the Hymn of the Emigrants, quoted from Marvell, on page 73.