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JOHN Dryden, the celebrated poet, son of Erasmus Dryden, of Tichmersh in Northamptonshire, baronet, was born at Aldwinkle in that county, in 1631. He was educated at Westminster, where he was king's scholar, under the famous Dr. Busby; whence he was elected, in 1650, scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge.
In 1662, he was chosen fellow of the Royal Society; and on the death of sir William Davenant, in 166$, was made poet-laureat and his.toriographer to Charles II. Soon after the accession of James II. Dryden was converted to popery; in consequence of which, he was dismissed at the revolution from his office of poet-laureat. His life is so well known that it were
needless to add other particulars. He died in 1701.
The prose works of Dryden were collected, in 1800, into four volumes octavo, by Mr. Malone, with notes and illustrations; to which is prefixed an account of the life and writings of the author. This publication contains also a collection of his letters, the greater part of which was never before published. It were superfluous to specify the several particulars in this collection. It is sufficient to observe, that the most valuable of the prose productions of Dryden, is his “Essay on Dramatic Poesy,” from wbich alone I shall make my selections. This celebrated essay contains the relation of a dialogue, supposed to have taken place between Eugenius, Çrites, Lisideius, and Neander, who, on occasion of the engagement between the English and Dutch fleets, June 3, 1665, about eight leagues to the east of Lowestoff in Suffolk, are represented to have taken a barge, and proceeded down the - Thames towards Greenwich, that they may listen more. attentively to the low and hollow murmurings, arising from the reports of the distant canon. When the noise had ceased, and they had congratulated each other by anticipation on tbe
victory of their country, the conversation began with Crites' expressing his apprehension, that they should now be inundated with a deluge of bad verses on that memorable occasion. After some desultory talking, the dispute is limited to dramatic poetry, when Lisideius* defines a play to be :
- A just and lively image of human nature, representing its passions and humours, and the changes of fortune to which it is subject, for the delight and instruction of mankind.”
I have room only for his admirable characters of our principal dramatists.
The characters in this dialogue allude to real personages,who are thus identified by Mr. Malone :-" The person hid under the feigned name of Eugenius, as we shall presently find, was Charles, earl of Dorset. Crites and Lisideius, perhaps, were meant to represent Wentworth, earl of Ruscommon, (or as he corrects himself in a subsequent note, more probably sir Robert Howard) and John Sheffield, earl of Mulgrave, afterwards duke of Bucks and Normandy, under the character of Neander, who, in the latter part of this essay, appears as a strenuous advo. cate for rhyming tragedies. Our author himself, I conceive, is shadowed."
sions, and consequently the spring of all human actions; yet this sensitive soul they gave up to death, as well as the body, and preserved nothing but the pure intellectual mind. And yet it is something surprising to think that a mere rational mind should be the same individual with a man, who consists of a rational mind, a sensitive soul, and a body. This carries no probability with it at first sight, and reason cannot undertake much in its behalf.
But whatever becomes of these speculations, there is a farther difficulty, which can hardly be gut over ; which is, that this notion of immortality and future judgment, can never serve the ends and purposes of religion; because it is a notion which the generality of mankind can never arrive at. Go to the villages, and tell the ploughmen, that if they sin, yet their bodies shall sleep in peace; no material, no sensible fire shall ever reach them; but there is something within them purely intellectual, which shall suffer to eternity: you will bardly find that they have enough of the intellectual to comprehend your meaning. Now natural religion is founded on the sense of nature; tiat is, upon the common apprehensions of mankind; and therefore abstracted metaphysical potions. beat out upon the anvil of the schools, can never support natural religion, or make any part of it.
In this point, then, nature seems to be lame, and not able to support the hopes of immortality which
she gives to all her children. The expectation of the vulgar, that they shall live again, and be just the same flesh and blood which now they are, is justifiable upon no principles of reason or nature. What is there in the whole compass of things which yields a similitude of dust and ashes rising up again into regular bodies, and to perpetual immortality ? On the other side, that the intellectual soul should be the whole
man, how justifiable soever it may be in other respects, yet it is not the common sense of naturé, and therefore most certainly no part of natural religion.
But it may be worth enquiring, how nature comes to be thus defective in this material point. Did not God intend men originally for religious creatures ; and, if he did, is it not reasonable to expect an original and consistent scheme of religions which yet in the point now before us seems to be wanting. 'The account of this we cannot learn from reason or nature : but in the sacred history the fact is cleared beyoud dispute.
Lastly, If we consider how our Saviour has énlightened this doctrine, it will appear that he has removed the difficulty at which nature stumbled. As death was no part of the state of nature, so the difficulties arising from it were not provided for in the religion of nature. To remove these was the proper work of revelation; these our Lord has effectually VOL. III.